Rest in peace.

Some rather startling photos from the funeral of Malcolm McLaren in London yesterday. The Sex Pistols’ manager was laid to rest in a coffin emblazoned TOO FAST TO LIVE TOO YOUNG TO DIE. I suppose we’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing — the “fun” funeral, that is — as the generation-that-younger-people-wish-would-not-be-named starts heads down the Ghost Road in greater numbers.

I feel the same way about this that I do about all the other rituals my contemporaries found wanting, when it came to be their turn: [Shrug.] Every so often I meet a hand-wringer who frets that, by throwing out (insert number of years) of tradition, we have somehow ruined the wedding/funeral/christening/whatever. I reply that when a person has lived a full life and — in McLaren’s case, anyway — had at least a reasonable allotment of years, what’s the problem with turning their funeral into something other than damp hankies and hushed conversations? And if the old model was so satisfying, why did it suck so bad? It’s one thing to be laid to rest by a clergyman who knew you all your life. But I’ve been to many, many funerals where the officiant needed crib notes and all but mispronounced the decedent’s name. Bah. Throw it out.

When things started to turn bad in the newspaper business, I had a fantasy: I would take my buyout money (ha!) and start a small business out of my bedroom, providing digital slideshows with musical accompaniment for funerals. These would play during visiting hours, and anyone who wanted one could buy the DVD. I even had a name: Kinflicks. I still think it was a good idea, although it would have made a lousy business, because it’s so easy to do now that most funeral homes prepare them in-house, or else it’s punted to a nerd cousin who knows how to drag and drop. (My slideshows would have been distinguished by the quality of music, I decided; none of that “My Way” stuff. Instead, maybe “Anarchy in the U.K.”) At the time, the idea of having a slideshow play at a funeral, even at a visitation, was sort of edgy. Now every Slumber Room has a flatscreen.

I don’t know what McLaren’s funeral was like, aside from the casket, but if you haven’t seen it, Roger Ebert has a fabulous remembrance of his intersection with the Sex Pistols, which includes a few scenes from a planned Sex Pistols film, to be directed by Russ Meyer. As always with Roger, it’s the details that sell it:

I’ve mentioned before that, for Russ, typing was synonymous with writing. If he didn’t hear the typewriter, no writing was being done. When I was writing “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens” for him, he located me in his living room (all office furniture) and listened from his upstairs office. When my typewriter fell silent, he’d call down, “What’s the matter?”

Which is as good a way as any to kick off the bloggage:

While Rome burned, the SEC…watched porn?

Look out, world, Monica Conyers is already planning her next chapter. I’m sure MMJeff will be pleased to hear what it is: Divinity school.

I haven’t had anything to say about “Treme” yet, I know. I’d like to watch a couple more episodes and let the vibe set in. But in the meantime, a story that gives background on one of the subplots — the disappearance of LaDonna’s brother in the Orleans Parish Prison meltdown/flooding. What does one do with a prison full of inmates in rising waters? Good question.

Can you give a dime, a dollar, or a pair of socks? Restore Stephen Baldwin!

So, what’s the tackiest funeral you’ve ever attended?

Posted at 9:14 am in Current events, Popculch |

78 responses to “Rest in peace.”

  1. Sue said on April 23, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Nancy, I see Bossy is in Detroit on May 10. Will you be there?

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  2. alex said on April 23, 2010 at 10:10 am

    The tackiest funeral? It was one where the adult children and ex-wife (Roman Catholic, who never regarded herself as divorced in the eyes of the church) bodily ejected a man’s live-in girlfriend of twenty-some years and her children. Of course, these same adult children feuded amongst themselves for weeks over whether to pull the plug on the comatose and never-to-recover decedent and basically watched their entire inheritance go pffft in a matter of days.

    As far as tacky unconventional Boomer/Gen X funerals, haven’t been to one yet.

    And amen hallelujah, Nance, regarding tacky “didn’t know the pastor” funerals. I remember one that was so awful I told my family on the way out the door that should I precede them, please don’t have anyone officiate at my funeral who did not know me personally and know me well.

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  3. judybusy said on April 23, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Three words to Stephen Baldwin: get a job.

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  4. Jeff Borden said on April 23, 2010 at 10:33 am

    It was startling to see Stephen Baldwin on the goofy “I’m a Celebrity. . .Get Me Out of Here” reality show last year. (Yeah, I watched it to see what happened to Lady MacBeth, I mean, Patti Blagojevich.) The slender, handsome actor from “The Usual Subjects” was a tattooed tub o’ lard with a spare tire suitable for use on a Caterpillar earthmover. He “baptized” Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, which had me wishing the river he used was teeming with piranha, but alas, no such luck.

    He was most recently in the news for hosting a “hip” lounge for younger conservatives attending the CPAC convention. I’m not completely sure, but isn’t Stephen Baldwin where hip goes to die?

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  5. coozledad said on April 23, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I have an idea for a funeral related business, but I haven’t really sifted through all the legal issues. It’s called “Best Served Cold”. For a couple hundred dollars, you can have a tranny in widow’s weeds show up at your bosses’, or personal enemy’s or frat brother’s funeral and make spontaneous declarations of the deceased’s sexual prowess, or how he kept them in luxury. A thousand gets you a tearful interruption of the eulogy, and two thousand gets a hysterical grabbing and shaking of the corpse. We can provide the script, but you have the option of writing your own.

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  6. Bob (not Greene) said on April 23, 2010 at 10:42 am

    The porn story is completely stupid and just another in a long line of attempts by the GOP to prove that government can’t function. There most recent attempt, getting Gerorge W. Bush elected, was a sterling example of the ability of the GOP to not govern. But that’s another story.

    What exactly does this SEC report say? How many people are employed by the SEC? I have no idea. I’m guessing hundreds. How many people were downloading porn? Can’t say for sure, but they “probed” 33. Of those, 17 were “senior.” How many are detailed in the story? TWO.

    And when did all this porn surfing happen? Well, under the GOP’s watch, according to the story. So what exactly, is the GOP trying to prove here by demanding this report?

    Another example of how the GOP fails to govern? Nope, it’s that in an organization of hundreds there are some horndogs looking at porn. If ONLY those two guys downloading all that porn had been working harder, the real estate market would still be riding high and all banks would be lending money to beat the band. I don’t think so.

    So what is it then? It’s just another bone to the Tea Party knuckle-draggers, who can howl about the immoral revenooers wasting all our precious tax money. Thanks, Grassley.

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  7. nancy said on April 23, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Coozledad, FTW. And so early in the day!

    Bob, I know what you mean about the porn story. It’s interesting, but on closer read contains an awful lot of “up to” and “as much as” weaseling. When did the AP become so happy to echo GOP talking points? I usually go by the byline; if it’s by one of the staff beat writers, I figure it’s solid. Maybe not so much anymore.

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  8. Deborah said on April 23, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I think I’ve mentioned this here before: a friend of mine died in St. Louis about 10 years ago. He was a crazy guy and of course he had to have a crazy funeral. He had a brain tumor, lived for about a year knowing he was going to die, and he was a designer so he planned his funeral down to the tiniest detail. There was a cardboard cut out of the deceased for getting your photo taken with, there was an Elvis impersonator, a live (loud) band and lots of booze. It was held in a funeral home, but it was rigged up to look more like a brothel. I’m surprised they allowed it. The experience was a mixture of fun, sad and horrifying.

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  9. Snarkworth said on April 23, 2010 at 11:08 am

    My older son spent a night in Orleans Parish Prison, due to Spring Break-related activities. We had to wire bail money. I’m surprised OPP has money problems.

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  10. Jeff Borden said on April 23, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Regarding Cooz’s idea, I’m pretty sure I’ve read about “professional mourners,” but I’ll be damned if I can remember whether it was in a novel or a non-fiction venue. These were people paid to show up in black and cry, wail and moan loudly to show how greatly the deceased would be missed.

    I don’t see why we can’t kill two birds with one stone. Why not hire Stephen Baldwin to show up and cry at your funeral? He makes a few bucks and your friends think you knew a D-list celebrity. Win-win, right?

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  11. Sue said on April 23, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Here’s some humor for a Friday. Hate the commercials, love the youtube:

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  12. Sue said on April 23, 2010 at 11:21 am

    And… for those of you who have been following the chickens-as-payment-for-healthcare discussion – From TPM (the last sentence is the prize):
    “So with all the discussion surrounding Nevada Senate candidate Sue Lowden’s idea to use bartering as a way to pay for health care, we thought we’d take a look at whether the idea would actually work. Since Lowden, a Republican, touted the fact that her grandparents’ generation would bring a chicken to the doctor for payment, we decided to look at whether the math would work for a chicken-based health care economy. The answer? Absolutely Not. There aren’t enough chickens in the world — let alone the United States — to cover the costs of health care in this country alone.
    The numbers on chicken economics

    Total U.S. health care costs in 2008: $2.3 trillion
    US population: About 300 million
    Average cost of health care per person: $7,681
    Average weight of a chicken: 5.9 lbs
    Market price per pound: 85 cents
    Average spot price per chicken: $5.02
    Average number of chickens per resident needed to cover health care costs: 1,530 chickens
    Total number of chickens needed to cover United States health care costs: 459 billion chickens
    Estimated worldwide chicken population: 16 billion chickens
    Current worldwide chicken shortage to cover U.S. health care: 443 billion cluckers
    Of course, it should be noted that chickens are only one of many commodities, and are thus only one component of a barter economy — for example, Tennessee state Rep. Mike Bell (R) has referred to Mennonites paying for health care with vegetables. There are also the options of beef, pork, turkeys, sugar, metal ore, or even finished products like iPods or gasoline. What would really help here is if there were some kind of single, universally accepted commodity, which could be used as a medium of exchange for all the others…”

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  13. Cosmo Panzini said on April 23, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Cooz at 5: I’m still laughing. No wait, the tears are coming. I’m blaming the infarction on you, dammit.

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  14. Julie Robinson said on April 23, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Coozledad, have you seen Death at a Funeral? Your script is similar to the movie’s plot. I haven’t talked to anyone who has seen the new one, but the British version is a hoot.

    I absolutely despise funeral homes and the way they take advantage of those in grief for their own personal profit. That makes just about every funeral and visitation I’ve ever been to tacky. Just take anything you can use from my body, stick it in a cardboard box and cremate it. Then have a nice church service with all the hymns I love and a potluck afterwards. And please, none of those awful flower arrangements.

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  15. Jeff Borden said on April 23, 2010 at 11:46 am


    I sent an e-mail to the Lowden campaign website explaining my plight as an urbanite who cannot raise chickens, but asking if they might suggest where I could trade the old clothing we usually give to the Salvation Army for an MRI. I’m still waiting for a response.

    You know, this is funny, but it’s not so amusing that this macaroon is going to defeat Harry Reid, who is trailing her by double digits. We will have yet another idiot in what was once called the world’s greatest deliberative body.

    By now, there are enough stupid idiots in the Senate that they could caucus together…kind of a meeting of the morons. When I ponder the notion that proudly ignorant tools like David Vitter, James Imhofe, Jim Bunning and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions have a hand in running our nation, I despair. Are intelligence and competence so vastly underrated by voters that empty husks like this can win statewide election? Clearly, the answer is yep.

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  16. Bob (not Greene) said on April 23, 2010 at 11:51 am

    And did I write “there” instead of “their”? Holy crap, get me rewrite.

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  17. Sue said on April 23, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Speaking of senators, this has been bothering me:
    Hockey fans, why is the logo for the Ottawa Senators a Roman Centurian? Don’t they need a toga guy?

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  18. Jen said on April 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I haven’t been to many funerals or viewings in my life, but I had to go to my husband’s cousin’s viewing at a funeral home after she died a month or so ago. It was so bizarre – she was laying in the casket (open casket – eek!), and everybody was standing in the back of the room chatting with my husband’s uncle and cousin who had just gotten back from a mission trip to Haiti. It was like an awkward family reunion where everyone was dressed up and there was a dead person in the room.

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  19. Julie Robinson said on April 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Jen, you’ve perfectly described most visitations.

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  20. Peter said on April 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Jeff, I don’t know about these parts, but my dad’s from the old country and you could hire some gypsies to dress up and cry for the entire ceremony.

    I’ve made a video for my wake, and I hope to remember to update it every few years or so. Just saying that I hope you’re doing well, but stopping every so often and pointing to the camera “hey, how you doing; Hey, nice that you’d show up; Food’s downstairs, assface..” etc.

    I wanted an open buffet at my wake with a carving station, and I in the casket would hold the mustard and mayonnaise jars, but a funeral home guy I now said that’s strictly forbidden in Illinois – a corpse being a toxic thing that can contaminate the food. He thinks it’s OK in California, so I may have to move.

    I don’t have the time nor room in this comment to tell you my strange funeral stories; suffice it to say that we tell it every Christmas after drinks and we all laugh so hard we pee in our pants.

    ALSO, Pilot Joe and others, thanks for your suggestions about aviation programs for my son. He’s really big on North Dakota and Purdue, and he is interested in the Air Force.

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  21. Dorothy said on April 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Jen are open caskets an unfamiliar thing to you? The vast majority of them are open casket. Depends on the wishes of the deceased, and sometimes the manner of death. I’ve only been to a couple of funerals where the deceased was either cremated or had a closed casket.

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  22. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Peter, it’s Purdue all the way . . .

    There’ve been a number of shamed politicians who made their next stop a seminary or divinity school, and it’s a shame New York’s ex-governor Eliot Spitzer didn’t try rabbinical training instead of working his way back up the greasy pole by way of MSNBC. If seminary is a way of getting your bearing reoriented and focusing on having a life direction instead of career goals, good on them; if it’s a cheaper alternative to checking into a rehab facility, not so much.

    The real “oh, great” moment in the Conyers story is when she says, as so many do “but I don’t want to go into ministry, I want to be a counselor.”

    Wonderful. Sigh.

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  23. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Oh, and open vs. closed (it seems as if we’d discussed this here not long ago, but the years do fly by): that tends very much to be a regional and/or ethnic thing. I grew up with “open” at visitation, and “closed” at the funeral, but as my life has moved closer to the Appalachians, I’ve had to adapt to “open” at visitation, at the funeral, after the service is over, and often the family requests a final “open” at the graveside before the committal. It’s almost shocking to me to go back to Chicago or NW Indiana and be at funerals where the casket is closed, now that I’ve acclimated. I’d rather, as a presider, have the casket closed before the service (it’s morbidly interesting twice over to be up front watching most of the mourners and their expressions either a) looking at the corpse or b) working hard to not look at the corpse), but that’s just not what’s done in central Ohio or West Virginia.

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  24. 4dbirds said on April 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    My limited funeral experience is mostly closed caskets. Only open one was my grandfather’s. He insisted on it so much it was in his will. Per my sister’s wishes, we did direct cremation and had a memorial dinner a couple of months later. No tacky funeral stories, everyone was sad, quiet and feeling awkward about what to do or say.

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  25. nancy said on April 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I grew up with open-visitation, closed-funeral too, Jeff. As you point out, many of those customs are regional, even hyper-regional. In Appalachia at one time, it was common for the one and only photograph ever taken of a person to be in their coffin, and that dictated a lot of practice. Of course, critiquing the undertaker’s work is a time-honored pastime at funerals, as well, and requires the box stay open long enough for all to get a look. Because there was so much death in “The Sopranos,” I learned a lot about Italian-American/Catholic funerary traditions; the emphasis on open caskets is both ethnic and religious, but mostly religious. Someone in the family was always remarking that hits were only sporting if you left the corpse in good enough shape for an open casket. And until my mom died, I never knew that cremation had once been forbidden by the One True. (Now it’s sort of politely not-encouraged, but officially OK.) The thinking is that Jesus was incarnated in human flesh, so we honor the vessel by, I dunno, looking at it, I guess.

    Scattering ashes is taboo for Cat’lics, however. Buried or otherwise interred only.

    Did you ever read “Edie,” the George Plimpton book about Edie Sedgwick? There was all this discussion about the family burial ground in New England, the Sedgwick Pie, so named because the dead are laid to rest in a series of concentric circles, feet in, patriarch and wife at the center. There are rules about who can be buried in the Pie and who can’t, blah blah blah. And then someone drops the bomb: They’re buried that way, and the Pie is so exclusive, so that on Judgment Day, when they are risen from the grave, they will only have to look at other Sedgwicks.

    I would love to sneak into that place at night and plant some dandelions.

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  26. Joe Kobiela said on April 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Greetings from New Hampshire where Mrs Pilot Joe and I are visiting our youngest daughter. Pretty out here,but so far I haven’t found many conservatives. As far as funerals go, its cremation for me, the wife is to take enough ash from my carcass and give it to the fw rugby team in order to make a tee and kick off a game in my honor. Then buy a keg and the drinks will be on me.
    Pilot Joe

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  27. Sue said on April 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    A chicken calculator, to help you figure your health care expenses:

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  28. Jeff Borden said on April 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I want all the visitors to my funeral to do the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey, just like these fine folks are doing at this link:

    It will amaze you.

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  29. Jean S said on April 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey is what happens when you’re desperate to get those 20-somethings into church….

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  30. Jeff Borden said on April 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    If the church ever starts to experiment with a Holy Ghost alligator dance, I am there.

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  31. Rana said on April 23, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    I know I’m younger than most of the crowd here, but I’ve never been to a funeral. I’ve attended a couple of memorial services, and have scattered the ashes of relatives and loved ones, but an actual funeral, with dead body present? No. Honestly, I find it more than a little disturbing, thinking of seeing the body of someone I loved, once that someone has left the premises. I suspect it would give me nightmares.

    But, then, I’m not a person who needs to see the body to grasp that the person is gone. One weird benefit of moving so often as a kid, and repeatedly leaving people behind to never hear or see them again, I suppose. Death doesn’t feel that much different, after the initial period of grief.

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  32. jcburns said on April 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    I’m glad you can be sociable with all those non-conservatives you’re rubbing elbows with up there, Pilot Joe…because, of course, of your restraint and hard work and patience here in the NN.C comment section. Enjoy New England! (Is it mud season?)

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  33. nancy said on April 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Almost forgot. Someone asked hours ago if I was going to the Bossy meetup. No, I’m not. It was dicey under the best of conditions — she is coming on a weeknight — and so I didn’t chime in when the e-mails started arriving, trying to decide on a location convenient to all. I wanted to see what they’d all decide on. And, once again, I watched this curious Metro-D phenomenon, in which “central” starts in Royal Oak and moves farther and farther west. Finally, someone proposed a vote between Royal Oak and Novi. So I spoke up, and said I would go to Royal Oak but not to Novi. Then sat back and watched what I knew would happen next:

    Everybody says, OK, Royal Oak! Great! One restaurant is suggested, but oh no, it’s closed Monday, and then there’s some dithering over Dearborn (still doable for me), and allofasudden “central” has become Plymouth. I should note here that Royal Oak has a main drag that is lined with bars and restaurants for everyone from college students to yuppies, and it’s adjacent to Ferndale, which is equally crammed with nightspots. But one person says, “I know this brewpub in Plymouth” and it’s all over.

    I didn’t know when we moved here that the east side of the Metro is Siberia, but I certainly know it now. I don’t expect anyone to come all the way over close to me, because that’s why Royal Oak was invented. But I’ll be damned before I’ll drive to Plymouth on a weeknight when I have to be home early anyway. It’s 45 minutes! One way!

    Next time. Maybe.

    View Larger Map

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  34. jcburns said on April 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Boy, I like a blogmistress who can embed a Google map in a comment to prove her point.

    Youall are way, way east, in Michigan terms. But we’re still happier visiting you there than the old days of way, way west to Fort Wayne.

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  35. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 23, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Note re: cremation being a general no-no — classic Christian teaching is that resurrection, as in the General Resurrection, aka Last Trump (not to be confused with The Donald’s hair being the sixth seal of the apocalypse): this is understood as a restoration of spirit and body, which is why you see in traditional grave placement the feet to the east and the head to the west, so the Final Judgment is met sitting up out of your riven sepulchre . . . you wouldn’t want to have to twist around in your coffin to see the Divine Glory rising up behind you, right? Unless you’re on the wrong half of the Sedgwick Pie.

    It shows up most clearly in the Anglican (US – Episcopal) Book of Common Prayer from 1789 designed for use in the Royal Navy, where often a body could not be kept for return to a homey churchyard where the corruptible can wait to put on the incorruptible (unless you were important enough to warrant a barrel full of brandy to pickle your carcass all the way home). The burial at sea prayer is inserted into the committal where you would normally say “and we commit our brother’s/sister’s body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Obviously as you tip a plank up with your friend sewed into a hammock, two cannonballs at your feet, those lines won’t do, and the standard theology would seem a bit foggy to the average crewman standing along the rail, so they came up with this:

    “We therefore commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the sea shall give up her dead, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who at his coming shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”

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  36. Little Bird said on April 23, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    My great-grandfathers funeral was open casket. And awkward as can be. My grandmother was cremated and there was a memorial service that the whole church was invited to, so THAT was beyond awkward (I didn’t know anyone but family and EVERYONE wanted to talk to me). I have already informed my loved ones that I wish my body to be donated to the study of neurofibromatosis. I figure that way I can do some good. I would hope that they (my loved ones that is) would have a party, and remember the good times. But Deborah, please, no cardboard cutouts!!

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  37. nancy said on April 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    That’s what the monsignor told us, Jeff: “As long as you’re not doing it to deny the Resurrection, it’s fine.” I had no idea we were still being so…literal.

    BTW, it’s that same belief that has worked against organ donation. Don’t want to meet Jesus absent your corneas, you know. Because that’ll be a sight to see.

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  38. Deborah said on April 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    It’s a deal no cardboard cut-outs for either of us. As Littlebird knows I want to be cremated and my ashes strewn on our mesa in New Mexico.

    Seeing dead bodies is not my favorite thing to do but it doesn’t creep me out to the point of having nightmares. My mother died when I was 14 and she had an open casket, my father died 20 years ago and it was my choice to make so I said no viewing, closed casket. I saw all of my dead grandparents and a few other folks. But when a friend of mine had a baby who died of SIDS I couldn’t bear to go to the viewing, I was shocked that they actually had one. I went to the funeral for the baby, with a closed casket. That sad, sad little casket.

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  39. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Closure is a word that gets oppressively overused, but there is a sort of switch that goes click when you see the person dead, and in the casket. It’s very common for folks to say that when there was no viewing, or when they couldn’t make it to the viewing, that they’d keep “seeing” the person, over and over on the street and in passing cars and in crowd scenes on TV, etc. But when you’ve seen the person, the “loved one” laid out, it tends to happen less . . . dreams, on the other hand, are a whole ‘nother subject.

    My theological sense is that if God can reassemble the materials needed from the dust of Babylon, the mud of Italy, or out of the Marianas Trench, to have a proper vessel for the soul to call a resurrected body, cremation shouldn’t create that much of a challenge to the Boss. Especially since we swap out almost every iota of material every seven years anyhow — why should the skin cells and hair follicles at the particular moment of death have a privileged role? The point of “a body” in the life beyond life is that you will “know and be known,” and not just be data points in the Great Singularity.

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  40. kayak woman said on April 23, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Ah, funerals. Sigh. I have been to quite a few open casket things. The Detroit-area side of my family always uses Sullivan’s on 11 Mile in Royal Oak. The last time I was there, after a little ker-fluffle about how my [very elderly] mom didn’t really want to sit with her even more elderly [obnoxious] sister, I was angling to take a picture of the the surviving siblings in the row in front of me, when I realized that the deceased’s head would be in the photo between other people’s heads. Not quite what I wanted.

    My younger brother died too young, at 47. His wife arranged a visitation and it was wonderful and many of his friends attended (no blasted open casket). And then, we scattered bits and pieces of his ashes absolutely everywhere up in the Great White North where we grew up and own a beach. There have been some encroachments by real estate developers in the last 15 years or so partly because my family made a land conservancy donation that went bad. I made sure to put a few of my brother’s ashes on the seat of a developer’s bulldozer. I knew he would’ve wanted that. We still have quite a few of his ashes.

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  41. Linda said on April 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Just got done talking to a friend. Her sister died, and the funeral was open casket, which the whole family regretted, since sis was in such bad shape physically that there was nothing the undertaker could do to make her look better. People couldn’t bear to see her that way.

    Re: Mafia “hits” and open caskets. An interesting passage in the book Wise Guys relates the story of a mobster’s son who stupidly kept robbing places that were under the mob’s protection, figuring that he wouldn’t be dealt with. They in fact did kill him, and the only concession made to his father’s position was that he was killed in such a way as to allow an open casket funeral.

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  42. Dexter said on April 23, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    My dad passed away, then four days later Six Feet Under premiered on HBO. That show about the Fisher family of Los Angeles really helped me deal with Dad’s death. It was such perfect timing for me. That show touched so many people in such very real ways. I met a lot of people on the boards of that show, and my very best online friends are still those same people. We truly are like family…we share personal stuff like brothers and sisters. It was an amazing run, that Six Feet Under show.
    Anyway, here’s a sort of different kind of burial, common now, especially in Appalachia, I hear, mostly in Virginia.
    It’s Nate Fisher’s burial; Nate was the elder son of Nathaniel Fisher, Sr., proprietor of Fisher’s Funeral Home in the show.

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  43. Sue said on April 23, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I wish it were common practice to request that people wear nametags at a visitation, even if they’re just zipping through the receiving line. Wouldn’t it be nice, if you are the one shaking hands with dozens of people, or if you are one of the ones hanging around being supportive, just to quickly look at a nametag instead of waiting for people to identify themselves? It’s a bad time for people anyway, even worse when you don’t recognize people you should know. Since I have a small problem with face recognition and sometimes don’t recognize people, having to fake it through several hours of a visitation makes an uncomfortable situation worse.

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  44. Linda said on April 23, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Sue, it used to be worse. When I was a kid, visitation was 2-3 days. That’s ghastly–the family in mourning having to be “hosting” a funeral when they have just had a loved one taken from them. And it’s true that there are lots of people who you don’t know. My dad was in AA for the last 40 years of his life, and many people he sponsored and mentored showed up at his funeral, whom we did not know at all. But it was great meeting people who credited him with helping their lives.

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  45. brian stouder said on April 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    So, what’s the tack­i­est funeral you’ve ever attended?

    Some years ago, we attended a funeral on my lovely wife’s side of the family, and the decedent had lead a long life and had earned his rest, yadda yadda yadda….but the hushed talk around the funeral home was of the 20-something woman – someone’s girlfirend, presumeably – who wore a tight yellow dress with no discernible underwear on. (not sure what she was thinking, but it was an entertaining diversion from the business at hand)

    Deborah at 38 – oh my. Pam and I attended a funeral for the infant son of one of her best friends; the little fellow had been murdered by his daycare provider. The whole event was exactly like a nightmare – in fact it was a waking nightmare. The church was new and had that new carpet/new paint/new house smell; we went down a long corridor to a preschool classroom, where a tiny alabaster coffin was placed near a window, which had brilliant sunshine streaming in; the casket was open and the baby looked radiant and beautiful, despite being lifeless; we eventually proceeded to the main sanctuary, and the casket came along, and the church was lead to sing “Jesus Loves me, this I know” and other children’s songs, until all of our hearts were broken. I remember seeing a woman crying near the back of the church, and when the service ended, she went out the front door and had a smoke; she was the Indianapolis Star reporter covering the case. The police were keeping the crowds and the electronic media back away from the church, out on the curb.

    That was the only funeral where I was ever moved to tears.

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  46. Jolene said on April 24, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Both of my parents died in the past year–Dad last May and Mom in January–so I have lots of recent experience w/ all these things.

    While there were things that were awkward and formulaic both times around, there was also much that was comforting and, accepting the standards of repressed rural Scandinavians, even a bit of fun.

    Of course, both my parents were elderly, had led very rich lives, and had not suffered greatly before dying, so there was nothing tragic about their deaths. Also, they had lived in more or less the same place their whole lives, which meant that there were many people who came to mourn them–even though many friends and family members were already among the departed.

    We had closed-coffin funerals and open-coffin wakes/visitations for both. Seeing them was a mixed experience at best. They didn’t look bad; they just looked sort of fake. Worst was touching my father’s hands, which were cold as ice and gave me the creeps– a feeling that recurs whenever I think about it.

    We personalized the usual forms in a number of ways. I wrote long, detailed obituaries for both, and my artist sister designed programs. We brought in lots of old pictures–no slide shows, though–and some other things such as some of the “special occasion” that mom made for us when we were kids. My father had told us that we should have a party when he died, so we had the wake in the town hall where wedding receptions and such are usually held and, after speeches by friends to set the tone, we served beer and some of his favorite foods. My mom loved Andy Williams and Nat King Cole, so, at the end of the speeches at her visitation, we played some of their music and another of my sisters and one of my nieces danced together wearing my parents’ wedding clothes. It was a pretty sweet moment.

    Mostly, it was nice to be able to put behind us, to some extent, their last years of infirmity and be reminded of the good times from the years when Mom and Dad were really living.

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  47. Jolene said on April 24, 2010 at 12:26 am

    Oh my, Brian. Your post went up while I was composing mine. Talk about contrast!

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  48. Denice B. said on April 24, 2010 at 12:48 am

    Julie Robinson: When my mom died, she had a pre-paid cremation. She despised funerals/rituals and made it clear she was donating any tissues/bones of her’s they could use to help others and then be quickly cremated. Well, she died the night/morning of Christmas Eve. The funeral home that was to deliver her remains to the crematorium charged us $300 A DAY to hold her body until the day after Christmas. Rip-Off! Anyway, later that summer we had a party with lots of drinking, cursing and memories. It was ‘tacky’ and so much fun. Mom would have loved it seeing us have fun and remember how she was. And when we threw some of her ashes in the lake where she loved to be, it blew back into our faces. Her final joke. But funerals in those ‘homes’? Not for us.

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  49. Dexter said on April 24, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Jesus Christ, Denice B.! Was your mom’s name Donny?

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  50. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 24, 2010 at 7:15 am

    From “The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman,” by Juliet V. Strauss, 1908 — the newspaper columnist who is the reason why Turkey Run is preserved in Indiana, and in no small part why Indiana has state parks, influencing the shape of what became the National Park movement:

    “Society is not life. While its narrow round is sounding its brass and tinkling its cymbal, life is going fiercely on, down in narrow street where we struggle for bread, out in the barn-yard where the feathered folk are stirring to spring industries and the patient beasts are waiting our demands.

    Life is here in the kitchen, where the woman must, with consummate cleverness, never to be excelled by any art or accomplishment, minister to the bodily wants of a few of her fellow-creatures.

    It is the woman who has walked across fields on a wild winter night to help a sister woman in her hour of trial, the woman who has dressed the new-born baby and composed the limbs of the dead, learned the rude surgery of the farm, harnessed horses, milked cows, carried young lambs into the kitchen to save them from perishing in the rough March weather — it is she who has seen life.”

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  51. Joe Kobiela said on April 24, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Talk about changing the subject. My brother who chimes in from time to time as Dave K. called me from Detroit last night where he and his wife were welcoming their 3rd grand child, Amelia May Kobiela. New Polock in Detroit!!
    Pilot Joe

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  52. basset said on April 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    For some unknown reason, Nancy at 33 reminds me of Bob Seger introducing the Silver Bullet Band on “Live Bullet”… one of them was from Plymouth, forget which.

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    • nancy said on April 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm

      One was from Grosse Pointe, too. I bet they very rarely saw one another.

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  53. Rana said on April 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Joe, congrats to you and your family!

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  54. MarkH said on April 24, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Jeff(mm) @ 35 and 39: very profound posts re the departed; thanks for sharing.

    Linda @ 44: That last part brought tears to my eyes. Hearing how your father helped so many people you never knew before must have been very moving.

    Oddest funeral I have ever been to was my cousin’s 37 years ago. He was killed in a car accident and very badly disfugured. Yet, my aunt, being a good catholic (I guess) insisted on an open casket, much to my uncle’s anger; he just couldn’t bear to remember his son that way. The undertaker did a heroic reconstruction job, but Ted still looked like an awful Madam Tussaud’s reject.

    Open casket, closed casket, no matter. Funerals always remind me of this:

    Only James Best could do that spooky role justice.

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  55. Andrea said on April 24, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    You don’t even need a nerdy cousin to compose a slideshow anymore. My mom passed away in October and we had three different digital photo frames at the viewing, each one running with a different theme. One of them even had the ability to play music.

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  56. brian stouder said on April 24, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    The only definite wish I have regarding my own funeral is, NO BOX; or certainly, no open box! At my dad’s funeral/visitation, 27 years ago, there was no box at all – and people were lively and talkative and engaged. It made a huge, positive impression upon me.

    Aside from that, I’m thinking of travelling to Arizona and seeing if I can act sufficiently like I’m an illegal alien, so as to cause The Man to demand to see my papers. I am told it’s positively not a racial thing, but actually has more to do with my wardrobe, or my hair, or my shoes. A fascinating theory, that. Somehow, I bet we can disprove it

    *Rachel Maddow conducted an entertaining exploration of that the other evening

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  57. Deborah said on April 24, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Just back from a walk up and back on the lake shore, was very foggy in Chicago today, but not cold, which made for a melancholy, mysterious atmosphere. Kind of like this thread about funerals and such.

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  58. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 24, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    “Papers? We ain’t got no papers. We don’t need no papers! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ papers!”

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  59. basset said on April 24, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    When my brother died a couple of years ago, we cremated him and buried most of the ashes with our parents at Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington, about twenty yards from Hoagy Carmichael; just as we were dropping the box into the ground, a few of his buddies came up and asked me if they could have some. Well, of course… they threw most of it off a railroad viaduct in Greene County that’s been a popular party location for many years, and saved back a few pinches to drop on the floor in Assembly Hall.

    I tried to will my body to the IU medical school, but they wouldn’t take it… anything over 200 lb they consider too fat, or at least they did when I applied.

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  60. brian stouder said on April 24, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Regarding Nancy’s post at #33:

    I realize that Bossy’s website may well be a dog-whistle sort of thing, appealing only to those attuned to her sense of humor…and that I am not one of the elect, that is so attuned.

    That said, I think I’d rather endure the funeral of casual friend (for example) than become a prop in a stilted promotional tour in support of too-cool-for-school blogger, especially if I was a real-deal writer (as Nance is, for example)

    Just sayin’…

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  61. Linda said on April 25, 2010 at 9:08 am

    MarkH @55:
    Re: Your cousin’s funeral. There is a moving part in the book, The Undertaking, by Thomas Lynch, about a fellow undertaker who worked hard on a murdered, battered girl so that she could have an open casket funeral, and what it meant to her family.

    And Joe–congratulations on the new addition to the family. As a Polack and former Detroiter, I say we can’t have enough Polacks in Detroit.

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  62. brian stouder said on April 25, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Say – here’s a concise article that enlightened me on the basics of the SEC complaint against Goldman…good stuff

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  63. del said on April 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I enjoyed Jeff TMMO’s quote at 50 from The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman, and her view of life.

    Turning to baser concerns — viewing dead bodies — as a college freshman I accompanied a friend to the Wayne County morgue and witnessed several autopsies (he was interested in medicine/pathology and asked me to go for support). Pretty surreal. The autopsied included a SIDS baby, a lovelorn 16 year old (self-inflicted wound), and a middle-aged man referred to as “the floater” who was found in the Detroit River.

    It bothered me, slightly, but only briefly. Such experiences cause me to return me the grander ideas of meaning, the type of broader view expressed in Jeff’s post.

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  64. Jeff Borden said on April 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Brian Stouder,

    If it didn’t require me to spend money in a state so devoted to hating the brown-skinned, I would join you in your trek to Hateazona. I would try to dress like some former Soviet Union type while jabbering in fake Russian and gesticulating wildly. Or maybe a nice burnoose and flowing robes? Then again, this is an open carry state, so you’d best be careful, lest one of those fine, gun-totin’ patriots takes aim at your ass.

    I read yesterday about the ramifications of this stupid law including the possibility of many large lawsuits being filed on behalf of those being stopped. The attorney quoted in the story said it would be next to impossible for Hateazona to purchase insurance covering these kinds of lawsuits, which means the state will be on the hook for every dollar a plaintiff wins.

    Meanwhile, I wrote a letter to the Chicago Cubs, where I am a season ticketholder, arguing the ball club should vacate Mesa. I don’t relish seeing Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol or our other Hispanic players being harassed to and from the ballpark. Plus, I don’t want a dime of my money supporting a fascist state that is trying to eliminate probable cause from its law books.

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  65. beb said on April 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    basset: For some unknown rea­son, Nancy at 33 reminds me of Bob Seger intro­duc­ing the Sil­ver Bul­let Band on “Live Bul­let”… one of them was from Ply­mouth, for­get which.

    Segar himself was from Ann Arbor which is a full hour’s drive away from Detroit!

    But Plymouth isn’t that far away. — From a certain point of view. I hear that in Texas people think nothing of driving for an hour for dinner.

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  66. nancy said on April 25, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    My objection to the get-together has nothing to do with the company. As I said, it would have been touch-and-go under the best circumstances. I’m just amused by what becomes “central” in these situations, because this has happened to me a few times before, and they always go the same way: We start by saying, “let’s all agree on a nice central location, so no one has to drive too far,” and it ends in some west-by-god exurb.

    Thinking back, the first time she was here, a couple years ago, I suggested we meet at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge at 8 Mile and Livernois. [Crickets], followed by an indignant protest that one “wouldn’t feel safe” there. I always figure, if someone is driving across the country to see Detroit, they should see Detroit. Ah, well. That’s one thing to thank my journalism background for — it takes a lot to make me feel unsafe.

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  67. brian stouder said on April 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Southeast Fort Wayne induces the “wouldn’t feel safe” response from lots of folks hereabouts. I grew up there, and my mom still lives in the house they bought 50 years ago, and I feel as “safe” THERE (if not safer, given the visibility of police, in additon to it being part of “my” Fort Wayne) as anywhere else.

    It is amazing how often this “wouldn’t feel safe” (“WFS” hereafter) thing comes up, though. Looks like our son will be attending South Side High School next year, to which many earnestly say to us ‘WFS’. The funny part is, he WANTED to get into North Side, which draws the same WFS reaction. As far as that goes, the altogether excellent Montessori school that he currently attends was easy to get into a few years ago, because it’s smack-dab in the middle of the dreaded southeastern red-zone. (the word is out about that school now, though, and it has a formidable waiting list)

    Indeed, as a penny-pinching consumer I take advantage of this attitude from time to time. Need a set of tires? You can buy the identical set of Firestones (or whatever) at the tire place near where Southtown Mall used to be, for 20% less money than anywhere else in town; and we just bought a new slider phone at the K-Mart across the way from that same place for 40% less than the exact phone could be gotten from anywhere else in Fort Wayne.

    The problem is, though, that stores tend to shutter when they cannot make money – even though plenty of people thereabouts need tires and phones and so on.

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  68. LAMary said on April 25, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    I live in a place surrounded by WFS areas. My little enclave of woodsiness is surrounded by serious gang terrritory, but in twenty five years of living here I’ve had nothing scary happen. My car radio has been stolen a few times. Someone broke into the ex’s car to get his jazzy looking briefcase once. My kids have been in the public schools and my house has never been broken into. People lie cheat and steal to get into our local elementary school, one of the highest rated in the state.

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  69. nancy said on April 25, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Everybody has their own WFS threshold, and until you know a person, you can’t know why theirs is different from yours. I only get irritated when the WFS dog whistle blows over certain code words. A big one around here is “basketball.”

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  70. Dexter said on April 25, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    I used to go to a lot of sporting events in cities, and my shtick was to carry a bicycle, park my vehicle for free several miles away in a residential area and then pedal to the game. I did that for about twenty years, only losing one bike to theft, in Detroit, on Plum Street, right beside Tiger Stadium.
    When Comerica Park was built, I would still park in a residential area across that pedestrian bridge that crosses the Fisher Freeway , walk my bike over the Fisher and ride on Michigan Avenue to the new ballpark.
    I remember telling this to an older lady at the local Triple A Automotive Club office one time…she knew Detroit…and she clutched her heart and gave me the most horrified expression…she was absolutely incredulous that I would do that. She still had that old 12th Street mentality; the ’67 riots broke out on 12th Street, but that was a long time ago. I did this for day games…I rarely saw another human face until I was halfway to the new ballpark. I felt safe, but the old lady would have died.

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  71. brian stouder said on April 25, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I only get irri­tated when the WFS dog whis­tle blows over cer­tain code words.

    Oh, hell!

    The ones I hear most often for Southeast Fort Wayne are “urban” (as in “lots of urban youth down there”); and “the ‘hood”. Doesn’t take an anthropologist to figure those out.

    I suppose a contra example is “working class”, which (it seems to me) is dog-whistle-speak for “poor, but white” – which might define Fort Wayne’s near-northwest side.

    If a person’s WFS threshold is exceeded by a “working class” area the same as an “urban” area, then at least we can exclude racism from their dog whistle definition. Such people must be the types who buy homes in gated communities, and pay security firms a monthly fee, and own loaded weapons.

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  72. beb said on April 25, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Nancy I admit I didn’t read your original post so I didn’t realize that Plymouth was someone’s idea of a central local in the “Detroit” area. I certainly know what you mean about trying to organize a meeting at an “central” location that ended up being anything but.

    And, Brian, the dog whistle around here is “Detroit.” The city, not the region.

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  73. del said on April 25, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    The WFS threshhold is all subjective and is never wrong because it turns on how much danger you feel you’re in rather than how much danger you’re actually in. There’s definitely a continuum of safety foolhardiness and paranoia.

    As for euphemisms about race, here in the Detroit area people have been leaving the city for the burbs for about 50 years, especially since the ’67 riots. Because racial tensions were much higher decades ago a generation or two of suburban kids — taught by white flight parents — have learned to have a disproporationate fear, even a paranoia, about all things Detroit (like the AAA rep that Dexter mentioned). Some I know were told not to stop at red traffic signal while driving in Detroit if it meant pulling up next to another stopped car, etc. Bizarre.

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  74. brian stouder said on April 25, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    cooz-74 – that’s a very fine dog story of yours, on the other end of that link.

    Del, a fair enough point, about the subjective nature of one’s WFS threshold. I would add that there is a “thumb on the scale” effect, too, wherein a violent crime that occurs on one part of the city will be an expected part of the narrative, whereas the same crime in another part of the city will simply be “a tragedy” that is not associated with where it occurred.

    For example, over the years I’ve had my car vandalized on only two occasions – and both of them occurred on the “nice” end of town (once in Cherry Hill, in the far northeast part of the city, and once near Georgetown, in the near northeast side).

    Whereas I’ve never really been concerned about such a thing in Southeast Fort Wayne, it’s “top of mind” when I park my car in the northeast

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  75. Dexter said on April 26, 2010 at 1:17 am

    del brings up an interesting point about driving in a WFS area. In ‘Johnny 99’ Bruce Springsteen sang “Down in the part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop
    Johnny’s wavin’ his gun around and threatenin’ to blow his top…”

    Satellite radio’s Ronnie Bennington, who is from Philadelphia and now lives in New York, was telling how last summer he was vacationing in Chicago and got lost on the south side and didn’t stop at a red light for many city blocks.
    I certainly would have thought this was all exaggeration and urban legend except for the fact that twice when I visited old army buddies, one in St. Louis, Missouri, and one in Westland, Michigan, near Detroit, both times my host would say something like “here we go…NEVER stop at a red light arond here!”
    I just can’t do that. Sure as hell, when I start interpreting the traffic laws, I lose. Now, most cities have red light cams everywhere. My daughter’s man got a mailed red light violation last week, and he’s the best driver I ever rode with. He entered on a yellow…so he thought, anyway.
    Toledo is starting to “Denver Boot” scofflaws with more than a few violations. All you Chicagoans have seen those damn things. I have seen them in Chicago a lot. Now, Toledo. Have you ever seen a person trying to kick off or somehow remove a Denver Boot him/herself? It’s pretty funny.

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  76. joodyb said on April 26, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    fyi nancy @ 7: when they stopped editing the copy.

    my dear brother-in-law, who grew up an only child on a farm in central Ohio not far from nn, used to play funeral with his cousins. everyone was related in his little dell, and all the children went to all the funerals from the time they could remember. they’d put lots of blankets on the sofa and someone would play the dead person. then they all stood around and talked and someone got to be the preacher. they’d sing and cry. i just love that story. where we grew up all the funerals were open casket, with “calling hours” at the funeral home and the actual service at the church or cemetery.
    billy summers, my school-bus boyfriend, died in a car accident in high school and had a closed-casket service. that was a very big deal.

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