Many many many many years ago, I wrote a column for my ex-employer about makeshift memorials. If it wasn’t the hot new trend that was sweepin’ the nation, it was the first I noticed it. There was a little cross that stood along the bike path I used, periodically refreshed by its tender; it marked the place where a jogger had been killed by a teenage motorist. The dead man’s wife said she felt closer to her late husband there, where he died, than in the cemetery where his body lies, the conventional place for mourning.
At the time, “makeshift memorial” hadn’t entered the lexicon. With the exception of crosses like this, and the elaborate ghetto murals/shrines to fallen gangbangers (which earnest grad students told us were rooted in various ethnic heritage rituals), they were only starting to pop up in the wider culture. But when they did, it didn’t take long. Two kids die when their car fails to beat a train at the crossing? Their friends flock to the spot and leave beer bottles, cigarettes and teddy bears.
As a square ol’ suburban American who religious training was traditional and conventional, I fall in The Onion camp:
To cope with this incalculable loss of life, within hours of the accident, the citizens of Mound City responded with a spontaneous outpouring of crappy mementos. Despite the presence of such disturbing reminders of the crash as tire marks, headlight shards, and blood-stained pavement, Mound City residents have come here day after day, adding more tacky shit to the steadily growing pile.
But I’m open-minded about it. There is no correct way to grieve. Young people in particular are always astonished by their first brush with unexpected death, and as traditional religious rituals fall by the wayside, so too do the long-established ways of mourning. They want to stand in front of a pile of crap with a candle in a paper cup, hold hands and cry. As I recall, Ashley wrote me a nice note after Dale Earnhardt died, explaining rather succinctly why people do these things, and why there’s nothing to sneer at there. My position stands on two legs: a) I think it’s wise that there be a statute of limitations on how long a memorial can be maintained, especially if it’s on public land; and b) you won’t catch me dead at one, especially for a professional athlete. But if it helps you get over it, fine.
Remember the gas-station owner shot to death last week? He has one. But note, also, this detail:
It’s been six months since a pregnant woman and her three young children died in an accidental fire at their home in the 3400 block of Lane in southwest Detroit. But the cards, Mylar balloons and stuffed animals remain.
Most of the toys are now a ghastly gray, from months of exposure. The 3-foot-high Spider-Man is still visible, as is the Winnie the Pooh. The single-family home has never been boarded up, and its front door is missing. “I want this gone. I really do,” said Robert Santos, who lives down the street and knew the family who died in the blaze sparked by a back porch grill.
It’s not the vacant, derelict house he wants gone — Santos said he’s used to those in the city — but rather the toys left in tribute.
“Every time I go by, I’m reminded of how those children died. There should be some limit on how long this can go on,” Santos said. “I want my wound to close.”
Cemeteries exist for a reason other than protection of public health. Compartmentalization isn’t always a bad thing.
A personal note: Let’s all hold hands and think positive thoughts about Alan’s car, which of late has expectorated — with great, rifle-shot sound effects — two spark plugs (from the same cylinder). We’re hoping the repair on this 12-year-old Subaru will be of the cheap variety and not the $1,800 new cylinder head, because even though we’ve pretty much planned on a new car purchase sometime in 2008, it’s still 2007 and would be a major pain in the ass to swing at the moment. These old Japanese pluggers just keep rolling along; let’s hope this one will roll a few more months.
Speaking of ridiculous expense, my husband has also informed me he wishes to take up sport shooting in the new year, and wants to buy a shotgun. A cool pump-action model like the one on the cop shows, that I can conceal in the folds of my overcoat and use to rob liquor stores? I asked eagerly. No. Some boring over-under Browning from the used market that, properly maintained, will hold its value for many years. Damn. I’ve wanted one of those Remingtons ever since our next-door neighbor in Fort Wayne used his to scare off someone trying to jimmy his front door at 2 a.m. one summer night. “That sound the slide makes when you rack it, it’s like no other,” he said, smiling at the memory of footsteps fading away at high speed.
Well, if nothing else, I want The Back-Up. Ah, not with children in the house. Probably a gun safe and multiple trigger locks.
Roy rounds up the Hillary’s-a-dyke innuendo — this week’s, anyway.
Why are you so awesome, Rudy? Giuliani has a superfan, too.
Sometimes I write the copy for my sister’s eBay auctions, but I can’t touch how people sell shit on Craigslist: For an electric wine-bottle opener (yes, they exist), opens a bottle in seconds, allowing you to spend more time with your guests. Because that’s really a problem at most social gatherings, isn’t it?
Back later, peeps. Still on deadline.