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Monday, April 25, 2005

The Funeral Diaries, Part 4

One of the weirdest parts about someone dying is that someone else has to go through all of their stuff. As materialistic as it sounds, the things we own say a lot about who we are. And the things we get when we divvy up a deceased relative's belongings might say more.

When my dad died, I ended up with a TV, his ID badge from work that shows him with a ridiculously huge grin, and a couple Kirbyesque pencil-drawing he did of the Silver Surfer, Odin, and the Fates. And on the trip for Ruby's funeral, I got my sister to give me a deck of tarot cards designed by Aliester Crowley that he happened to have laying around.

What does that all say about dad? What does it say about me that those are the things I chose to remember him by? Like I said, it's weird.

Going through Ruby's things was even weirder.

For one thing, she had tiny amounts of cash hidden everywhere. Under the carpet, in the kitchen cabinets, everywhere. We kept finding it during the part of the trip that I took to calling "The Legend of Ruby's Gold" in my best Jack Palance impression. And if that wasn't strange enough, it was all divided into the envelopes you get at the bank when you make a withdrawl, which made me pretty sure that Ruby would occasionally go to the bank, take out some money, label it "March, 1998," and just throw it behind the coffee cups. Utterly bizarre.

And then there was the gun.

Go back and read that sentence again, making sure to remember that she was a 75 year-old atshmatic who wore prescription glasses, and then tell me that's not a terrifying thought. It was an old .22 pistol--surprisingly heavy for being so small--that looked like something that would pop out of Jim West's sleeve at a crucial moment. Again, weird enough on its own, but the presence of the .45 ACP round we also found (with no gun to match) made me feel like we were going through a Dasheill Hammett story. Had my grandmother once been a dame who was nothin' but trouble from the moment I saw her?

God, I hope not.

So while mom was busy with all that, I found a few items of my own personal interest. In the hall closet, I found a couple of paperbacks from the sixties, the kind you pick up at Friends of the Library used book sales or find in, well, your grandmother's hall closet.

Now before I go on, I think it's important to note that my grandmother was a devout Baptist. To borrow a phrase from Sarah Vowell, her favorite book was simply called "Matthew." So try to keep that in mind when I explain these things.

The first one was bright red (a color that's showing up in this story with David Lynchian amounts of symbolism) and was a steal in 1966 at a mere 75 cents. Its cover read;

THE POWERS THAT BE!
Strange!
Unbelievable People!
Actual Authenticated Cases of Man and the Supernatural!


Then there's four illustrations, divided into panels. One's of a mideval figure with what looks like Aquaman's telepathy emanating from his head with the caption: "Paracelsus and the mysterious force that heals--and kills." The others are along similar lines: "Dr Ash: Modern healer who drove out an ancient devil" and "Fantastic case of the pretty pianist's vanishing eyes."

Flipping over to the back, you get two more illustrations. I'm guessing they were put on the back cover due to their content, because here's the captions: "Miss Penrose: She finds fortunes through her secret vibrations" and--I shit you not--"The Professor worked a miracle with his 'magic rod'."

How could this book get any better? Well how about the back cover copy:

"WHO ARE THESE MEN AND WOMEN OF STRANGE AND UNKNOWN POWERS?

Throughout the centuries, certain men and women have wielded mysterious and uncanny powers. Here is a book which traces those powers to the 'X' Force--a certain kind of supernatural energy. This book may astound and amaze you. But you will be undable to deny its incredible truth..."

Oh yes. They dropped the X-Bomb. I don't know about not being able to deny it, but I'm definitely astounded and amazed. It was the single most awesome book I'd ever seen until I moved it aside to see the one under it.

Book #2 has a black cover with the following copy:

The seeds of civilization were sown by
THE GODS WHO MADE HEAVEN & EARTH
The Evidence for Alien Visitors to Earth Before the Dawn of History


I saw that and knew I had to have it. The first twelve pages are missing and the cover's detatched, but don't worry, there's gems to be had. Such as:

"When we read the Bible in that way, we must first note that the Hebrew word Elohim usually translated as 'God,' is a plural. If we read 'Those who came from the sky,' or 'the Celestials,' each time the plural Elohim occurs, we find ourselves reading a narrative that needs no exegesis, no helpful prodding, no religious conviction in order to be thoroughly coherent."

Wow. The author goes on to reference Voltaire, but I'm stuck on this bold new concept. Next time you read YOUR favorite religious text, try substituting random phrases like "The Celestials," "Hollywood Producer Michael Bay," or "The Incredible Hulk" for the name of the principal figure. You might find the results intriguing.

The only other thing I took was a small green box. To understand the significance, I have to explain that my grandmother put labels on everything and kept the receipt for everything she bought. Open up the refrigerator, and everything you see has a piece of masking tape or a post-it on it with its name and date of origin in her terrible handwriting. I half expected to see little notes on the paperbacks that read: "Paperback novels on the occult. Bought them for a laugh. 11/84" wedged into the pages along with a sales slip that would let me know where the hell she could've bought those things, but no such luck.

So now I've got this box. It's about seven inches long, two wide, and two deep. Emerald green with gold trim. Inside is another box, green velvet, the kind you'd get at a jewelry store. Inside that box is a small square of yellow paper covered in cramped black handwriting.

"Bracelet box. I have no idea what was in this. Christmas, 12/98."

Next: Roadside Attractions

2 Comments:

Blogger J. Kern said...

i'm donating my body to science, but i don't want to put out all the poor folks i've left behind. Thanks to you, i now know what must be done.

Open casket funeral. Beautiful mahogany coffin draped with flowers. The viewing line will likely go out the door - everybody'll want to see the body of the guy who died in a shoot-out with FBI agents over the production and distribution of certain quasi-pornographic leaflets involving the President and a passel of Taiwanese midget hookers. Gawkers and mourners alike will walk up to a casket, empty save for a small Post-it reading, "Back in 5 minutes".

4/26/2005 2:15 PM

 
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12/13/2008 1:08 AM

 

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