Tombstones

The following column was in the works for a pre-Halloween run last week. Then Typhoon Yutu stomped onto the scene. I hope that you and your family are faring well during the challenges of the aftermath. Even though Halloween is over, I’m going to run last week’s scheduled column anyway, largely because I can’t let a good Revenge of the Nerds reference go to waste.

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The joke with my pals is that they don’t want to be buried on Saipan because they’ll be forced to move every 55 years.

Well, don’t worry, there are other options.

For example, just in time for the Halloween season, the Oct. 24 Wall Street Journal reported that Disneyland (Anaheim, Calif.) and Disney World (Orlando, Fla.) occasionally have guests who smuggle in human ashes. This is so their dearly departed can spend eternity on Disney grounds.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ll note that the writer Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes were, in accordance with his wishes, fired from a cannon at his funeral in 2005.

As long as we’re sharing stories about kicking ash, I might as well mention I sometimes had to do “ash drops” as a pilot. Ashes aren’t the only part of the equation in those gigs. Sometimes a grieving relative rides along in the aircraft.

Pilots who smoothly accomplish these operations should be granted degrees in applied psychology, with points deducted, of course, if they screw up the physical side of things and let the ashes get sucked back into the aircraft. I managed to avoid those demerits but some of my colleagues weren’t so lucky.

If you’re wondering what happens to ashes that get blown around aircraft cockpits, well, they meet the same fate as ashes deposited on Disney properties: The staff vacuums them up.

As a result, some souls are spending eternity trapped within the folds of HEPA filters. There’s got to be some deep philosophical truth in this situation.

I was once wandering through an old cemetery in England, and those guys know a thing or two about cemeteries. They’ve got cemeteries dating back to the Middle Ages. As I looked at the old tombstones and tried to correlate their dates with various historical events, it was a reminder that we’re all trapped in the times into which we are born. Whether we rue those times or celebrate them, we’re still trapped in them. So, taking the pragmatically-hedonic approach here, I reckon that we might as well make the best of the ride.

A character named Poindexter in a 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds posed this question to a girl at a party: “Would you rather live in the ascendancy of a civilization or during its decline?”

That’s not a bad conversation-opener. After all, even if you can’t pick your times you can sometimes pick your civilizations. Many great stories and books are based on such adventures. The Saipan Tribune readership doesn’t lack for people who have left one civilization in favor of another.

Anyway, now that I’ve invoked the wisdom of Poindexter I’ve played my best philosophical card. Having contemplated times and tombstones, Halloween and HEPA, we’ve got a lot of deep thinking to do.

In the meantime, while we’re on this ashes-and-tombstones theme, I’ll take a tangent. My Sept. 28 column, “Thus spoke Henry,” featured some favorite quotes from Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was a prolific writer but his span of years wasn’t all that long, given that he died at age 44.

Other favorites also passed away before hitting ripe age: George Orwell, age 46; Edgar Allan Poe, age 40; Rod Serling (best known for the Twilight Zone TV series), age 50.

And then there’s John Kennedy Toole, who, apparently frustrated by his lack of success in the publishing realm, took his own life at age 31. After his death his mother found a manuscript that he had written. The manuscript, having been rejected by publishers during his lifetime, was steered into the right hands this time around. The book, A Confederacy of Dunces, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s a richly creative novel and it deserves its accolades.

Still, without the mother’s efforts, the manuscript would have languished in obscurity. As for Mr. Toole himself, had he applied to the amusement-park industry instead of taking the literary route, he certainly would have found a more receptive civilization. After all, I’ve never heard of ashes being smuggled into libraries.

On that note, I wonder what Poindexter would say. He might not have the answer. But I’ll bet he knows the question.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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