I am P of red mitten fame. Nina waved some sticks in the air a few months ago, and then, all of a sudden, there was a beautiful pair of red mittens waiting for me in a bush in the middle of Manhattan. That means I am a special person touched by the love of Nina. Sure, there are other “special” people, like Woodrow, who received a pair of socks from Nina and now thinks he’s “special” and “good at making jerky” or whatever - but let’s remember who got mittens first.
Forget about me and Woodrow and the mittens. You're here because of Nina and her beloved dad, whom you've never met but care for in the way that the interweb allows you to care for people you’ve never met. And now that you're here, you're stuck with the most tasteless, lowbrow and completely inappropriate post in all of blogdom - the product of a long night of drinking warm gin out of the cat bowl.
I started this post thinking I was going to write something funny - something about the time my left boob popped out at a bar mitvah in front of the rabbi and his wife. Ha-ha-ha! Right? Boob story! Funny! But something was on my mind and it wouldn't go away - and that something was the hilarious, knee-slapping topic of death.
I read a passage by Ann Lamott this morning about a conversation she had with her dying friend. Her friend was at a low ebb emotionally, and asked Lamott to remind her of the "silver lining." Lamott promptly replied, "You're not going to have to ever see any more naked pregnant pictures of Demi Moore." And that pretty much restored her friend's spirits for the rest of the day. As it would.
My mother’s side of the family knows a thing or two about death. They should because they're Greek. Like Jews and Italians, Greeks have cornered the market on death and mourning. The theatrics that go on at Greek funerals – the rending of hair, the beating of breasts, the wailing, sobbing and keening to and fro - is rivaled only by Hindu brides throwing themselves on the burning funeral pyres of their husbands. My father’s Anglo-Saxon family, in contrast, refuses to acknowledge death as anything but a minor nuisance. When my grandfather died and my dad had to clear out his garage, he came across a Maxwell House coffee can with a piece of yellow masking tape across it. On the masking tape was written, “Uncle Dan.”
“But what did you do with Great Uncle Dan?” I asked my dad.
“I dumped him the garden and drove home.”
Well of course you did!
For most of the Greeks I know, much of the drama goes on for the benefit of others - it's important to show an abundance of grief in public. What happens in those private moments with friends and family is another story altogether. That's when the mask of tragedy falls off and the knee-slapping begins.
Take the death of my Uncle Paul, for example. He survived polio, fought valiantly against cancer for 15 years, and finally died surrounded by his family. Everyone was devastated – Uncle Paul was funny beyond measure, he was loving and kind and a wonderful father. He was also an enormous man, tall and – I’m just going to come out and say it - fat. We’re talking fatty-tat-tat-won't-fit-in-a-coffin-fat. His fatness was due in part to his polio which limited his mobility, and also due to his extreme gluttony. His children and wife decided (against Greek tradition) to cremate him. Instead of a wake, there was a memorial service at which everyone engaged in the usual mourning exercises outlined above. But when we got back to the house, we all went uncharacteristically quiet.
“When is the cremation?” asked one of my aunts, breaking the silence.
“What exactly happens when they cremate a body?” someone whispered.
“They put the body in an oven and bake it at a really high temperature,” said someone else, who was obviously an expert on cremation.
More silence, more quiet contemplation.
“Jesus!” my aunt exclaimed, as though the full magnitude of her brother’s death had just dawned on her. “I hope they have a pan big enough for all of his drippings.”
Everyone in the room howled. It was tasteless and lowbrow and completely inappropriate. And it was exactly what we needed.