June 1, 2011

Thinking beyond the box

LEO senior account executive James Hewett’s drive home from work on the sunny afternoon of May 5 might have been his last.

While he was heading toward Hurstbourne on Interstate 64, traffic came to a standstill.

Instinctively, James peered into his rearview mirror, and he saw a car barreling toward him.

“I thought I was gonna die,” he says.

Had he expired, everyone would have been left to guess about his last wishes. He had never verbalized — much less surmised — his posthumous arrangements. Healthy people don’t expect to die young.

He assumes he would have been buried in the ground, because that’s what Hewetts do. Sub-cultural icon John Waters, writer and director of “Polyester” and “Hairspray,” would approve.

“I love the idea of graveyards. I like people visiting,” he said on NPR’s “Fresh Air” last Friday while promoting his book, “Role Models.” “I love the atmosphere. I like ‘the worms go in, the worms go out.’ Maybe I believe in the Resurrection, the only thing I’ve ever been taught that sounds like a good idea. But then I panic about real estate prices and what are we supposed to wear — and are we nude?”

As I listened and snickered, my thoughts shifted to my own final desires. I can’t escape the allure of the sea. It first inspired me as a final resting place when I heard Joni Mitchell’s “The Dawntreader,” a song so rich in exotic, aquatic imagery that I fell in love with her soulful poetry and the mystique of the sea.

Hence I’m inclined to be reunited with the marine mass of microbiology from which I think we evolved — and upon which others believe dinosaurs once floated aboard a vast wooden ark. My morbid dilemma is whether to be dumped intact or scattered as ash.

Cremation necessarily entails a terrific blast of thermal energy — a final stomp of the carbon foot — a notion that singes the wings of my greener angels.

Yet as a frugal bugler of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), I’m conflicted. The materials, costs and regulations involving human air cargo are daunting. According to U.S. Funerals Online, “Prices for transporting within the U.S. can start from around $140 but amount to as much as $2,000 (before fuel surcharges and tax).”

Southwest Airlines requires that un-embalmed remains “be placed inside two sealed body bags; or a sealed casket or metal container that prevents the escape of offensive odors or fluids.”

American Airlines offers non-reusable “paperboard adult-sized airtrays, which meet the requirements for an outside shipping container” for $50 — available only in conjunction with other services.

What’s more, there’s the expense of renting a boat and EPA requirements relating to distance from shore as well as depth of water. And there’s paperwork, which must be filed within 30 days, including the question, “Did the remains appear to rapidly sink to the ocean’s floor?”

If not, they may give rise to a death probe (no peace for the restless or the begrieved).

For that reason, in “How to Bury a Loved One at Sea in 4 Easy Steps,” Reuters recommends securing stainless steel chains around the length and width of a casket four times the weight of the body, drilling two 6-inch holes in the bottom and lid — and using “a seacraft equipped with a crane.”

I want my survivors to skip the casket and crane. I’d rather them risk having an errant burial be re-enacted to climax an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with Larry David screaming between a capsized craft and a buoyant body.

If they’re willing to risk prosecution, I’d just as soon be dumped into the mighty Ohio because, as Sting sings, “The river flows, endlessly, to the sea.”

Most folks who prefer cremation wish to be scattered in a pristine place of natural beauty. Many seek to be returned to soil fertile with blissful childhood reminisces. According to the Cremation Solutions website’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” section, “There are no ‘scattering ashes police’ in any state to ensure proper etiquette, permits, or permission …”

Nevertheless, I’d be content to have what Osama had. As death and disposal go, he was lucky. He died suddenly and was shunted into the sea, idyllically — with all expenses paid by his enemies.

Most of us dilapidate, suffer and exit to be praised and buried at staggering costs.

When the party is over, I want to go home.