Monday, May 30, 2016

The Loved One, Part II: The Rent A Minister

My MIL was raised a Unitarian.

She was not a High Church woman.  She embraced all things, all people, all viewpoints in which people could be themselves.

She believed in the good that science could create, but she understood that science could also create things that were not good.

My MIL saw God in a daffodil, in a hot air balloon and in the artwork of all the continents of the world and all of the peoples of this earth.

She also love cooked shrimp.

When my father in law died, we asked the sister of a dear friend, who is a minister to run the service.   It was beautifully handled and masterfully guided.

So when it came to find someone to preside over the service, being that we had a holiday weekend, our options were limited.  We settled on Fortesque and Son's go to guy, "Pastor Mike".  I changed his first name, because we have no idea what his last name is.  It never came up.

We explained that MIL was a woman of faith, but that her faith was not derived from an old or new testament, but from the laughter of children, the prism of a crystal reflecting on the wall or a kousa dogwood in bloom.

What we got at the graveside, which happened before the service, was Psalms and "Biblisms".

So the husband pulled Pastor Mike aside and explained, less evangelicalism, more in the faith of mankind.

And when the service started after calling hours...

What. The. Fuck.

We got psalms.  We got passages.  We got sermoned.

My sister in law, a forty year old, 6'4" tall man named Matthew - who is married to my brother in law,  leaned over and said whispered "Sweet smoking Jesus...this is toned down?"

I spoke, my sister in law spoke, MIL's step brother spoke, MIL's sister spoke, all of it was lovely.  None of it was Churchy.  We were hoping that Pastor Mike would have gotten the message.

He did not.

"And, oh, what a friend we have, in Je-sus..." crapola started anew.

And every time he said Jesus, a bit of me winced inside.   I could hear my mother saying "I hate it when these bumpkin ministers throw around Jesus' name like he's their bowling buddy.  It is Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ after the first, and Jesus Christ, thereafter..."

From behind my husband, I could see his shoulders hitching up with each preachy word.

As we were leaving, Pastor Mike kept asking how he had done.  And we said that he was certainly on his message.

Trust me people when I say this: bargain ministers at a bargain price are no bargain.

Sometimes, I wonder if men of "God" stop believing that this is about helping people and just go on autopilot.   Actually, none of the funeral home rental ministers I have ever seen have ever been any good.  Maybe that's the price you pay for not having a relationship with an organized body.  On the other hand, we should have done a Jewish service.  Simple.  To the point.  Let's go and eat.

In the end I think that a minister at a funeral is simply about having someone who can do and say something so the family of the deceased don't have to do much.

As for me, keep mine, when the time comes, short and sweet.  Then everyone should go and eat - a big meal.  And maybe a movie.  Something to make people laugh.  Hang a crystal in the window.  Think of me when the light refracts.

Just as I will when I see the same and think of my mother in law.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Loved One

Today, Cookie finds himself on the otherside service and burial for our Loved One.

If you have seen the Loved One (1965), the black comedy movie based on the book by Evelyn Waugh, then you are familiar about that, which I am going to write and you to read.  If not, well then, You'll just have to watch it, and then write a 150 word theme on why Mrs. Joyboy's eating habits were very poor.

But, let's get back to me.

When I tell you that I really thought I found myself inside the movie in preparing for my MIL's funeral, then you have a idea of what kind of surreal nightmare where one is simply appalled, and yet one cannot not help but snigger and shoot looks at the others to see if they too are holding their outrage in.

We arrived at Fortesque and Son's the morning of our Loved One's passing.  Young Mr. Fortesque, a fourth generation Funeral Director, was going to handle my MIL's funeral.  His father, Old Mr. Fortesque had handled my FIL's funeral.  At that time, and among the lies that we were told was that FIL chose to be cremated, and therefore we had to buy a casket.

"But, why?" we asked?

"The Loved One is cremated in casket," began Mr. Fortesque.  "Shall I show you our Ebony Master, a casket made of only the finest woods harvested from pristine Amazon basin...."

I interrupted.  "Did you just say that you cremate the body in a retail casket?"

"Yes, Commonwealth law," he said, "and over here we have heartwood cherry, resplendent with a seven coat finish..."

Now Cookie has been around.  And as a genealogist, Cookie knows funeral homes and the funeral business.  Cookie's former husband was a licensed funeral director (although he was not in the business at the time we were together) so I know the scams.

So I decided to fuck with him.

"And this one," says I, pointing at a $20,000 bronze model with a triple seal lid.

"A wise choice..."

"And you cremate with this?"

"Yes, We.."

I called bullshit by saying "I call bullshit.  No one on earth has a crematory for that unless you are a alchemist."

So I called my mortician in Ohio and I asked him what was going on.  He called bullshit, too.

So back in, in front of my in-laws I said "Pine cremation casket."

He gave me a very disgusted look.  But he knew I was onto him.

Well this time, MIL wanted to be buried, so we had to buy a casket.

Husband asked about price and Young Fortesque (who is in his mid 60's) said its all one price, $9,500.

He then took out five envelopes and began writing on them.  "These are for the outside costs we cannot control..."  $500 for the weekend dig.  $750 permits and the vault.  $250 for the rent-a-minister.   "$110 for the town clerk for the death permit and the ten certificates."

"You need a permit to die?  Couldn't we have gotten that in advance and saved a couple dollars?"

That got me a dirty look.  "I don't set the outside costs, sir..."

Then, when the minister and the cemetery personnel were secured, then we went casket shopping.  That took us down, down flights of stairs into the dank recesses of what looks like a rumpus room from the early 1950s. There were three rooms.  The front room, the middle room, and the "value line" room.

I figured that Ebony Master would have marked down, given that the model was three years old, but no.  Now we had the New Ebony Master Supreme.  "In addition to the improved seals, the Loved One now rests on a memory foam and gel mattress for eternal comfort."  And the cost?  $21,000, includes all of our services of limo, room rental...excludes outside costs."

Then were were shown:

"Eternal Ironwood, with a pure silking...2k gold plated hardware...down eternal rest mattress that is also coated for waterproof durability... $15,000 includes all services..."

"Cherry Hill, pure silk...bronze hardware, and the departed's name is laser etched in the lid...$14,500..."

"Eternal Rest Bronze, now with a four lid seal, with two inner lids and two inner lids...$18,000..."

So the husband asked "What happened to $9,500, all costs included?"

He took us to the very back of the Value Line room, back to an area where the carpet yielded to a painted concrete floor, flipped on a buzzy fluorescent shop light.  There, on the lowest display level was the "Ticonderoga".  The Ticonderoga was shiny battleship gray - everything.  Casket, hardware, lift handles, everything.  He opened up the lid, which sounded hollow.  the interior was upholstered in "poly tricot with a fiberfill pad."

He let the lid down and it sounded like the door to a Toyota Echo.

"20 gauge steel, same as car panels.  Comes with a three year leakproof guarantee.  We sell this model mostly to budget minded families and next of kin.  I would suggest a closed casket viewing with this model."

"Of course," Mr. Fortesque intoned, "She was a longtime resident of our community, so she understood our local customs and standards..."  And with that, the Ticonderoga slipped off into the distance.

At this point I stepped aside.  This was a decision for the husband and the siblings.

When we were done - and they went with the "Roselle", which MIL would have liked.  But it wasn't $9,500.

THEN it was time for the vault.

"Of course, we don't sell the vaults," said the undertaker.

"Of course," said I.

 The vault is sold by the Commonwealth Vault Company.  He pressed a button and in a minute we were joined by "Jonathan" who worked for the vault company.  "We have an office on premises and the Fortesque's said that you would visiting.  We then went on the grand tour of vaults.  For this, they settled on one and a price was named, which was not covered in the funeral estimate because the vaults were sold separately.

Unioffically, we were on the BOHICA plan.

After the funeral my husband and his family rode off in the limo, and my sister in law Matthew and I went to the market to pick up some food for the after visitation.  When Matt's phone went off.

"It's you husband, and you haven't answered his calls," I turned the phone off, " he wants to know if he tips Tim the limo driver from Fortesque's.

I said, tell him to tell Tim that that the tip was already settled with Young Mr. Fortesque.

"It was included in the price."

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Farewell, dear woman

We used to laugh about how much my mother in law (MIL) loved her "buttah" with her "lobstah".

Or how she would tell the same stories about her friends from her childhood.

Or how she would say "We thought about moving to Cahn-card when we moved back from Colorado, but it's so swampy and 'they'* had lost several children in the swamps..."

Or how she told the story of when Van Johnson was in Boston once and dining at the same restaurant she and friend were eating at, and the movie came over to compliment her on her hair.

You couldn't help but love her.  She was an amazing woman, with an infinite capacity to love and accept everyone she met.

She was also a woman who stood by you.  Through thick and thin.

And she was also ardent supporter of LGBT rights and equality.

At her core though, was her faith in humanity, in facts and in everyone around her.

I will miss her.

And, as I keep telling myself, a lady knows when leave and leave others wishing that she had stayed longer.

*We never did find out who "they" were.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Noted Authority Figureheads: Valeria Hopkins Parker, M.D.

Words of Wisdom: "Your problems are your problems," says Dr. Parker.

On how you found yourself with a problem: "You created it," explains Dr. Parker

On how to solve them: "The answer lies within you," Dr. Parker reminds us.

For fun she likes to: "Relax by working on Hardanger Embroidery."

Thank you, Dr. Parker.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Back on watch

What, you may ask, has Cookie been up to lately?

Well, besides the usual bullshit of life, Cookie is sad to report that the Mother in Law is now under hospice care.

Which has me bummed.  Very, very bummed.

MIL was and is an incredible woman with an expansive heart, and undeniable style.  I adored being in her family and it really has me upset that instead of the kind of passing that she deserves, quietly, in the middle of the night, leaving on a sweet dream, she is in the hospital as her body begins to wind down.

You just feel so damn helpless.  Being several hundred hours away doesn't help.

Two weeks ago we spent a weekend visiting with her.  We bought her a new lift chair to replace the one that had stopped lifting.  The assisted living community found her another recliner no longer needed by a former resident, but it was one of those enormous overstuffed chairs that they sell in cheap furniture stores, and honestly, with her so small and frail, she looked like a confused child as Hernando, one of her twenty-four hour care givers, gently lowered her into the monster chair.

After consulting with Hernando ("I don't the chair gives precious mother the kind of comfort that she seeks.") we agreed and found another one, smaller, better support and with a power footrest and recline.

But now she is in a hospital bed.

The annoying thing is that we can't really schedule anything, because we don't know when we'll need to travel to her side.  So we wait.

And the worst part of it for me is that when it comes to funerals, Cookie is doer.  Give me the authority and a funeral, calls, thank you notes, everything gets done.  But because I am an inlaw, not so much.  You have to kind of stand to the side.  But trust me, I could orchestrate an Imitation of Life style funeral.  The only difference is that Mahalia Jackson would be on a memory stick and we would be mulatto-less, but I could do it.

We are supposed to host the progressive dinner cocktail hour at our house, so I met with the "Event Captain" (as she calls herself) and we discussed back up plans.

Event Captain was happy that we had "reached out so far out," from the event and taht we already had three backups for her to choose from.

She liked options one and three.  "But not the J----'s.  She lets her dog drink water from the toilet."

Then she looked right at me and said "Never let that dog lick you." She scrunched up her face.  "That's just so gross.  She wants to have a dog play date with Mitzi and I refuse.  Mitzi is prone to picking up bad habits."

Never let that dog lick you...that's just gross...

Mitzi is a six pound Yorkie.  "You think that she would consider drinking from a toilet?  It would be a reach."

"I have a squatty potty - SWEAR BY IT," she sang out, "and I don't want Mitzi to think that's her stepping stool to a drink or a drinky poo."

All right, then.

So to get ready for this event we removed the basketball pole and hoop from the basketball court, and weather permitting, we'll stage that court as an outdoor living room.

So for now we wait.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Listen to this here album...

I seen this album and I decided that I need to show you so you could say you had seen it too.

Hulda looks like a perfectly lovely woman on this album cover.

But to today I had to deal with another woman named Hulda who had hired me to scan a few of her cherished family photos that she refused to leave her house.

A delightful woman, Hulda also possessed the absolute worst language skills I have encountered in a while.

Among the phrases that caused my fillings to vibrate were these:

1) This here is my Momma.

2) The cancer got her.  

3) The cancer took her to a heavenly place where she met Daddy.  

4) Jesus called her home.

5) That is Sister.

6) That little black baby was Rolly.  Don't know his real name.  Momma called him Rolly.  He did something with himself.

7)  You crave Dr. Pepper?

8) Why is it that?

9) House come?

10) All them pictures is in this stick thing?

I learned that Hulda was from "Oakland" the biggest city in the furthest reaches of Maryland.  "We come here when Daddy got a job in the ship yards during the war."   The family stayed.  Hulda's house was a town home over by Loch Raven Boulevard.

She talked about "the cancer" like it was an octopus out in the bay, its tentacles reaching out and taking her Daddy while he slept and her mother while she was in a nursing home.  She drank a 2 liter of Dr. Pepper while I was there.  "The doctor says it's a miracle that I ain't got no sugar.  I'm as healthy as a mule."

"When we moved here it was white folk like us.  Now it ain't.  But they'll have a bad time getting me outta here because I ain't going till Jesus calls me home."

She paid me my money, in cash.  "I don't trust them bankers in New York."

I asked her what she was going to do with the electronic images that I had made, but I knew the answer.  She was taking them to Wal Mart.

"Sister's great grandbaby is doing a family tree for her school project and she wanted something for people to look.  So this way she gets the pictures and I don't have to worry about them going missing.  WalMart's got the best prices and they make them while I shop.  You been to the WalMart in Towson.  It's fancy.  Has escalators like the big stores downtown used to have."

She asked me if I had gone to college and I explained that I had.  "Me too," said Hulda.  "Daddy made me go to Goucher."  This surprised me, because Goucher has never been an inexpensive education.   "I learned a lot, but none of it other than the music stuck with me.  They weren't my kind of people."

I asked what did she study.

"Music.  I love to play piano.  The classics mostly. I could have gone on with it, but with the world being what it is I didn't want to leave Pa and Momma.  I gave lessons for a lotta years.  You know, when you play, no one gives two shits about how you sound.  They only care if you hit the right notes and the piano is tuned."

She thanked me and walked me to the door, undid the six locks and I left.

And I left too ashamed to ask about the baby that did something with himself.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Comes with dresses that SPARKLE!

Comes with its own paper Sam Giancana.  

List of Hits for the sisters, and Giancana printed on the back, inside cover.  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

So how was your May Day?

May Day means one of two things for you.

It is either a day for nymphs to dance around a May Pole in a pagan ode to spring.  Or...

...It is the day that Lenin chose to honor the proletariat of the world in honor of their sacrifices.

For me it is the day that brings both.  Back home, a local college that is tied to our family through 19th century donations holds a weekend honoring the family name, and features young women who partake in this ancient right.

But it also reminds me of the day the Internationale invaded my work life.

In the winter and early spring of 2008, Cookie was doing temp work at a union.  My placement person had told me what was up, that this guy had been through a couple temps, would I give it a try?  Sure.  How bad could it be?

Well, I soon found out. I was working for a little troll of a man that everyone called Golem behind his back.  By the end of the first week, I understood why the other temps left after a day or so.

He was Golem.  He looked like Golem.  He treated others like they were going to take his precious.

Paranoid and protective of "treasurers" he was an obnoxious little tyrant.  Making chit chat one day in his office I noticed a picture of his son and an a toddler.  Cookie is smart enough to ask the obvious question which was "Is that your son?"

That, he grumbled that they were indeed his sons.  "The older boy has been ruined by his mother who is a miserable wretch.  The younger is my son by my second wife.  She wanted a baby so I gave her one."

What man sees his act of fathering a child as "giving her one."  Why not just say "The young one is my son, too."

No, he "gave her one," which was code for "She wouldn't shut up so I poked in the bush, got her pregnant, and now she's my personal housekeeper for life."

To myself I said "If you really loved her maybe a diamond ring, or you should have jumped off a bridge and left her a big insurance policy," but the smile on my face said "Super!"

IN ANY EVENT, I tell you this because it was at that job, that on May 1, 2008, while seated at my desk, one of the Union's staffers gets on the over head page and says:  "Today is May Day, the day designated by Lenin to honor the workers of the world!  So please stand for the playing of the Internationale!"  And through the speaker came a crackly LOUD online version of the Soviet anthem. The type of loud that over taxed the tiny speakers in the ceiling tiles.

Of course no one was standing that I could see in my general cube farm.  Frankly, I was stunned.  I called my husband and told him what was going on.  He was stunned as well.

All around me, people were working.  No one thought about participating.  No one blinked an eye.  But in their office, one solitary worker was standing, teary eyed.  It was a bit surreal.

The woman whose job I was performing was out sick with vertigo.  At least that what she told them.  On her appointed day to return she came back, spent half a day debriefing me and dealing the Golem, and then left saying that she would only come back if another job opened up.  They offered me an extension, and Golem was sweet as sugar, but two months later even I was done with him.

I adored the job, loved working there and would have stayed if I could have, but that would have meant working for Golum instead of the temp agency.  And they (everyone BUT Golem) loved me.  I was given two goodbye lunches, which Golem hated.  But even the idea of benefits working for Golem were not enough to entice myself to bind my professional self to him.

Shortly thereafter, I decided to exit.  I could have left that night and called the agency and never gone back.  I gave them a months notice hoping they would find a real employee that Golem could have abused, and thus filed a grievance against.   But no, as my final day approached, no job posting.

On my final morning, Golem brought me into his office with his personal flunky and preceded to try rip me an asshole and tell me what a terrible human I was.  I interrupted the grinding of my bones for his ego's meal, I stood and I said "Super!"  I mean if this guy hated me, hated my work and thought I was this despicable, then I must be a decent human being.  And besides the protocol is that he tells HR how horrible the temp is, HR calls the agency and tells the agency how terrible the temp is, the temp is called by the agency and told "they won't be needing you in the morning."

No this was Golem telling  me that I couldn't have his precious, even if I had wanted it.  This was about degrading someone - a worker - who was doing their job and decided to move on.  In his mind, I had betrayed him. Another knife in the back.  It had nothing to do with me.  It was this tiny, small little ego lashing out.  Yawn.

I went out, sat down at my desk and did the job I was paid to do.  That's what a dedicated worker does.  They do their job to the best of their ability.  Even when their supervisor is a sub human worm who clipped his toenails behind his desk.

Golem slunk off in the middle of the day to golf, and my remaining four hours were great. My temp contact called me with another job placement that would start the following Monday, so I was set.  I called his flunky in, explained where every project was left off, and I shook her hand, and I left.

And as I left the building that day, the whole surreal Internationale thing aside, I knew that Golem was the embodiment and reason why there were unions in this world.

To protect workers from management fuck-wit's like him.