Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Best Mourning Ever

With the debut of TLC’s newest reality series Best Funeral Ever, professional mourners (or moirologists) have been thrust back into the public eye. Clips of the show highlight interviews for prospective employees where they must display their ability to wail and weep for up to two hours. The idea is that grief, like laughter, is infectious and once a few people get the ball rolling the weeping will continue of its own accord. 
The BBQ Casket from Best Funeral Ever
Many defenders of professional mourning point to Biblical references to the practice. In the Book of Jeremiah, God himself appears to require their services, “Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them. Let them come quickly and wail over us till our eyes overflow with tears and water streams from our eyelids.” (9:17-18) Not only does God acknowledge their existence, he indicates a sort of lamenting hierarchy where some practitioners exhibit more skill than others.

In a New York Times article from 1877 titled “Professional Weepers,” the writer acknowledges hired mourning as a long held custom in the Orient that would be rather convenient if you lost an uncle that you weren’t particularly fond of. Instead of feigning anguish for a couple of hours, you could simply hire some local talent to give him a proper sendoff. The author insists that “The American will die when occasion requires, but he will never disgrace himself by public and demonstrative sniveling.”

Moirologists, while somewhat rare in the United States, are still prevalent in many Indian cultures where a practice known as oppari involves a group of women who will perform at the funerals of local residents and sing mourning songs. Even in India, actual statistics are difficult to come by since most professional mourners do not advertise their services and there is no formal training for the practice.

I believe that professional mourning is primed to make a big comeback in Western culture. Each one of us has an acquaintance blessed with a morose predisposition who is constantly upset about something. Why not put that sniveling to work and generate some disposable income in the process? I am sure there are plenty of moderately-wealthy Americans, whose family despises their very existence but still wishes to ensure they are properly lamented over.

At first the idea of compensating someone for pretending to be distraught over my passing seemed offensive, but the more I thought about it, the more attractive the idea became. This is especially true if, say, your spouse or offspring have a competitive nature and would attempt to “out-mourn” the hired help. Once the sadness began escalating, everyone within a two mile radius would remember my memorial service. I would even have Willem Dafoe flown in so that he could recreate the movie poster for Platoon while Adagio for Strings played in the background.

Pretty soon, DeVry will be offering two year degrees in contractual sobbing and various standardized tests will be used to determine one’s sorrow factor. Before you know it, we will have the first malpractice suit filed against a moirologist for underselling their grief. Since I assume only the closest family members would be involved with the hiring of professional mourners, I always wondered how the mourner would respond if Cousin Tom inquired as to how they knew the deceased. I suppose the easiest way out would be to place your hand over your eyes and admit that “It was just too painful to talk about.”

Having done some research I have identified the following professional mourner techniques for those interested in a second career:

The Casket Crawl* – Overcome with grief, the mourner falls to their hands and knees as they approach the coffin of the deceased. This may or may not involve the placement of an outstretched trembling hand on the burial apparatus.

The Platoon – As detailed previously, this consists of facing the heavens with outstretched hands in supplication to the Lord. Must be accompanied by forceful utterances of disbelief (Why God Why!?! etc..)

The Wail & Bail* –This consists of a series of guttural noises emitted during opportune pauses in the proceedings. The implication is that the trauma of the loss has rendered them unable to form words leaving them with only primal howls. They will often step outside to “regain their composure” only to reappear as needed.

The Duck & Tuck – Here, the aggrieved places their hands on their head and their head between their legs while rocking back and forth in a steady, rhythmic motion. This outward display is meant to signify the inward emotional tumult. 

The Stare & Shake –Wearing a blank expression, the practitioner punctuates each and every sentence of the eulogy by emphatically shaking their heads in disbelief. Their unfocused gaze indicates the bleak future they foresee without the presence of the departed.

The Finisher – Essential to any successfully-staged send off, these sleeper cells remain unmoved until the final moments of the service when, being unable to contain their emotional torment, they collapse in a grand finale of distress.

* Indicates suggested use of a “grieving accomplice” to further convey the practitioner’s debilitating anguish.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

As Seen On TV (Part 3)

One of the most exciting new products on the market is the “Pocket Hose,” a small, wrinkled hose that grows and expands to a longer length once water pressure is applied. The infomercial promises that for only $12.99 you can have a hose that will hide in your pocket but grow exponentially when needed. The manufacturer insists that once the hose is expanded it is, “long and strong enough for any job.” The design prevents kinking, twisting, and tangling and the item can be purchased in lengths up to twenty-five feet. It was unclear whether or not cold water accelerated the shrinking process.
The euphemisms and double entendres provided by this product are almost suffocating in their abundance. Seriously, a “pocket hose” that contracts to a smaller size when not needed but will expand under certain conditions. Who is writing copy for these manufacturers? There is probably an adult novelty conglomerate filing an infringement lawsuit as I am typing this. Personally, I feel that one of the best things about a garden hose is they are difficult to misplace due to their unwieldy design. If you find that you lose a traditional hundred foot hose on a regular basis, replacing it with something that will fit into a pair of chinos is unlikely to resolve the issue.

Our next offering is the GoPilot portable urinal system for men and women. The GoPilot consists of a grey reservoir fed by a plastic accordion-style hose and the inlet is sold with an adapter for female use. The deluxe edition runs $44.95 and can hold up to one quart of liquid gold. Inventor, Dr. James Kolter, recommends it for road trips and tailgaters. The discreet storage bag doubles as a modesty cloak when those pesky truck-drivers won’t stop leering. The manufacturer even offers a gas can adapter for times when “a quart just won’t cut it.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the testimonials section where one customer revealed that he had given one to his father so that “he could finally watch an entire Cowboys game without having to get up every twenty minutes to pee, missing all of the best plays!”  Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but wouldn’t it be more dignified to put that $50 toward getting the poor guy a DVR instead of asking him to unzip his pants and lean over a shop-vac while the rest of the family pretends they are unable to hear the sound of dripping urine. I can understand an Interstate traffic jam situation, but once you find a spot for it in the den you may need to pursue other options. On a side note, if you find yourself filling a five-gallon petroleum canister between Little Rock and Dallas, you might want to limit your fluid intake and immediately seek the advice of a medical professional.

The final installment in this series is the “Sauna Pants,” a pair of electrified vinyl shorts guaranteed to give you all the benefits of a heat sauna “in the area you need it most.” For $39.99 you can treat your waist, thighs, and buttocks to a good sweat and melt away all that pesky water weight. The product’s design allows it to accommodate up to a 52-inch waist and the adjustable temperature dial give you complete control over how much heat you wish to apply to your swimsuit area.
Even operating under the assumption that this worked, when could you use it? It is a pair of plastic underwear with a four-foot electrical cord that the manufacturer insists needs at least fifty minutes each day to produce results. Can you imagine walking into someone’s office and noticing that there crotch appears to be plugged into a 15 AMP circuit and a curious amount of moisture has appeared on the front of their trousers? I hate to even fathom the injuries that could be sustained from an ill-timed power surge. Combining this with a GoPilot would be downright criminal negligence. I can tell you that if there was one job I would not want, it’s working in this company’s returns department. I doubt there are enough Febreeze plug-ins in the world to erase the lingering odor of groin perspiration and self-loathing.    

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Baby Story 6

This week, my wife and I attended the first of several “preparing for childbirth” classes offered by our local hospital. I had been warned ahead of time that the videos could be somewhat graphic and the conversation rather forthright but in the interest of being prepared we felt it was the best course of action. We were told to bring two pillows and our curiosity.

Upon arrival, we were instructed to place our pillows in the back of the room and select seats around one of the three tables. Once settled in, we began the task of making immediate snap judgments about our fellow attendees while I fought the urge to launch myself into the mountain of bean-bag chairs stacked in the corner. All of us were around the same age, due the same month, and were first-time parents.

The instructor completed the requisite orientation and distributed a booklet that took each and every opportunity to remind us that it had been funded by Pampers. About one hour into the course we watched our first video about the identification and prevention of pre-term labor. The film featured a young African-American woman speaking directly to the camera as she recalled her own misconceptions about pre-term labor:

“My friend had her baby early and she said that it was great. The hospital kept the baby in a special room for several days and she was able to get some sleep while they took care of him, but when my baby was born early it wasn’t like that at all. Now, my baby is retarded.”

To be fair, the video was probably produced just after Reagan left office but it is hard for me to believe that people willing to pay for a four-day course in birth preparation would be unaware that pre-term labor was not a desirable outcome. I was tempted to feign shock and ask the instructor if this meant my wife should stop taking tequila shots on her smoke breaks.

After discussing the differences between true labor pains and Braxton Hicks contractions, we screened the second and final video of the evening. This VHS featured three “birth stories” narrated by the participants or their spouses and grew increasingly more racist as they progressed. 

The first story featured Caucasians Susan (a rotund woman with a rather unflattering bowl-cut) and her husband Jim. They are shown in their idyllic brick home adorned with an American flag and manicured lawn before being admitted to the hospital where Susan bravely delivers her son with minimal complications and no pharmaceutical pain management. Jim was informed, involved, and unfailingly supportive.

The footage is narrated in unflinching monotone by Jim, who appears to regret his contractual obligation to review and provide commentary for the video. He seems unaware that in several segments it sounds as if he is narrating an adult film.

The next story follows a Hispanic woman (Maria) and the man we assume is the child’s father though he is never specifically identified as such. We are given no backstory but it is implied that the couple is somewhat financially stable and although he is not as supportive or informed as Jim it is apparent he is deeply concerned. Unable to tolerate the pain, Maria requests and is give intravenous narcotics and her child has to be immediately treated for a uterine meconium leak upon delivery.

This footage is narrated by Maria who admits that her grasp of medical jargon was limited and during contractions the pain was so intense she momentary lost the ability to speak or comprehend English. 
This necessitated that her partner translate for her.  

The final story features a young African-American woman (Quesha) who we are told had to “take two buses” just to get to the hospital. We are informed that she was admitted primarily due to the city’s unpredictable public transportation system (upon which she is dependent) rather than her current state of dilation. The child’s father is not present nor is he mentioned. Instead, Quesha is reliant on her sister for support during labor. She requests an epidural which then necessitates the administering of Pitocin but eventually the child is delivered successfully.

Quesha narrates the footage and muses that her sister’s only real contribution was providing comic relief in between contractions.

Once the video was concluded were we issued a Similac Swag-Bag and told to remember to bring our pillows for next week. I came away with a greater appreciation for the pain of labor and the knowledge that apparently childbirth is better as a honkey. I can’t wait to see what happens when an Asian couple needs a C-Section.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bullet Holes

One of my hobbies is the observation of, and unsolicited commentary on, automobile accoutrements. In the past, I have written about “Truck Nutz” the plastic scrotum facsimile people pay to have swinging from the bumpers of their vehicles. This week I would like to take a look at bullet-hole stickers, the vinyl paint decals that people attach to their cars to create the illusion that they have been the victim of an attempted homicide.

The vinyl stickers can be purchased in various calibers and quantities so that the customer can create their own patterns. They are designed to blend with every auto surface from glass to sheet metal and can be purchased in sheets of 20 up to rolls of 1,000. A quick Google search took me to where I found quite an inventory of these items and, more surprisingly, some heartfelt testimonials.

J. Speicher of Pennsylvania says:

“I never laughed so hard. I put them on my moms brand new 2002 Isuzu Trooper and when she walked out the house and saw her jeep she screamed!”

G. Mohun from Oregon writes:

“I have a 99 Jeep wrangler that due to paint chips on the front end I put bullet hole stickers over them to prevent rusting. Well I got on the internet and ordered a ton more, and now my Jeep has well over 200 bullet hole stickers on it. It is a traffic stopper people of all ages love it. I need to redo the stickers and found your sight. I am looking forwards to trying out those 50 cal. stickers they are too cool.”
The happiest attempted-homicide victim ever
 The inclusion of testimonials on a website that sells stickers was somewhat surprising given the price-point of the merchandise, but the content proved insightful. For instance, there is nothing funnier than misleading your mother to believe that her brand new car (and by logical extension, her home) are collateral damage in a drive-by shooting. In fact, I believe the site should sell a “prank kit” that, along with the bullet-hole stickers, comes with a plastic cadaver, stage blood, and a Ziploc bag of uncut heroin.

I really enjoyed G. Mohun’s narrative of a vehicle so poorly maintained that he needed 200 stickers in order to conceal his rapidly-deteriorating paint. Along with his requisite misuse of basic grammar and spelling, he insists that his sticker-riddled Jeep is a “traffic stopper” for “people of all ages.” I fear that G. Mohun has confused open ridicule with childhood delight. You are drawing people’s attention because it is rare to see someone treat actual paint damage by paying to cover it with a sticker of imitation paint damage. Also, if you have had to graduate to the .50 caliber stickers to cover your rust spots it might be time to trade her in.

The site even suggests using the stickers on “doors, lockers, and beer cans.” How obsessed are you with being a gunshot victim that you are placing these on your beverages? If there is one person I am not going to take advice from it is the guy who has taken the time and money to adorn his Pabst Blue Ribbon cans with a vinyl sticker. I would love to see a comprehensive breakdown of the type of people that purchase and utilize these items.

Perhaps it says something about the American mindset that there is a market for this item. If I understand this correctly, the demographic for these stickers are people fortunate enough to live and work in a safe neighborhood but willing to spend their disposable income in order to create the illusion that they don’t. I cannot imagine this being a hot seller in Compton. Perhaps they buy stickers that look like damage from an Ethan Allen shopping cart or imitation private school decals to cover their actual bullet-holes.   

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snow of the South

Despite having lived in the Southeastern United States my entire life, I am still unable to fathom the level of panic generated by the threat of frozen precipitation. Schools are closed, businesses are shuttered, and traffic slows to a glacial pace at the very mention of “accumulation.” While I understand the danger posed by icy road conditions and would categorize myself as a fan of safety, what is this unrelenting terror that causes educated men and women to cower in their homes and search the skies for an errant flake of snow?

When faced with impending arctic doom, the first order of business is to make your way to a grocery and stockpile bread, milk, and eggs as if your only hope of survival depends on your ability to make French toast on short notice. The store’s interior quickly becomes a heaving tumult of anxious patrons gnawing at the very boundaries of civilized behavior while silently cursing the senior citizen who chose today as their first foray into the world of self-checkout. 

Once in the parking lot your survival depends on your ability to avoid being flattened by oblivious motorists whose panic has long since rendered them incapable of safely operating an automobile. Upon reaching the relative haven of your own car, you will now face the daunting challenge of pulling into traffic while evading the army of municipal trucks preemptively saturating the asphalt with enough salt to relocate an entire deer population.

Having successfully merged into traffic, you will undoubtedly feel the urge to top off your gas tank in the event that the coming blizzard cripples the town’s petroleum infrastructure and you suddenly feel the urge to drive to Kansas. Prudency suggests that you also purchase two lottery tickets and an overpriced quart of orange juice to prevent scurvy.

Realizing that you could be isolated indoors for days, you stop at a Redbox DVD rental kiosk and select one of the only movies still available which means you will either be watching the latest installment of Resident Evil or Gary Busey’s directorial debut. Having made your choice, you head toward home content in the knowledge that you are fully prepared to ride out the storm of the century.

After finally arriving at your residence and putting away your survival supplies you will begin the arduous task of calling/texting/Facebooking your indignation at being forced to deal with all of the “panicky morons” at Kroger and Exxon. This sentiment will be immediately echoed by every other person who stopped by Kroger / Exxon and also felt the number of people there was excessive.

Once you have finished commiserating with friends and family, you will tune into your local television channel so as not to miss the nearly uninterrupted weather updates. For the next several hours you watch with anticipation as the Neapolitan hues of the weather-map inch closer to your barricaded home while terms like “Wintery Mix” are lobbed about like meteorological grenades. 
Even once the broadcast is returned to regularly scheduled programming the entire bottom third of the screen will be festooned by a scrolling marquee listing each and every daycare fight-club and Seventh - Day Adventist luncheon that has been forced to reschedule.

The culmination of all this pageantry will manifest itself in one of two ways:

1.It will simply rain enough to wash away the deployed salt and you will spend the rest of your evening choking down a ham sandwich and a hard-boiled egg while trying to understand why anyone would underwrite a 7th Resident Evil film.
2. The roads will actually become as treacherous as everyone had feared which means you will immediately make plans with your friends to drive around and take pictures of cars that have careened off the road. You will later upload these photos to Facebook with the caption, “What an idiot!”