A funeral story to make your day
April 14, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
I forgot another doctor’s appointment, but my ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist is very understanding. He knows that Meniere’s disease makes you senile when you’re under stress, so at my rescheduled session this morning, he told me a funeral story to make me feel less foolish.
Before I get to that, he also revealed that his childhood home in Saigon was shared by three families totaling almost fifty people, and his father was a commander in the Republic of Vietnam Navy (VNN), one of the largest maritime forces on earth. My doctor is a very funny man who’s had an amazingly difficult life. Last year he went to seven funerals, not counting the one he wasn’t supposed to attend.
Being nocturnal I choose afternoon appointments whenever possible. My rescheduled visit was for 9:00 this morning. I haven’t been up that early in ages. It didn’t help that I wasn’t able to fall asleep until past one, after which I endured possibly the weirdest dream of my life.
Recently I’ve begun having nothing but lucid dreams. No idea why. Even though I’m totally aware that I’m dreaming, I still go through the motions of whatever insanity is required of me. It’s like my mind has split in two: one part is awake and analyzing the dream, and the other part is immersed in the fiction that my poor brain churns out.
Last night I dreamed that I was in my house, waiting for my rescheduled doctor’s appointment. My house was also my doctor’s waiting room, so I was both asleep in my bed and awake in a chair. I was reading a children’s book about President George W. Bush, written by Roald Dahl. That was impossible, I knew, because Dahl had died in 1990, ten years before Bush became president.
The book was titled President Bush’s Big Party. It was both a flat object with covers and paper, and also an animated cartoon on TV, complete with voices and music. In the book-cartoon, the president was both in office and out. I was very confused; I knew it was 2014 and that Barack Obama was president, but I also thought that Bush was still commander-in-chief.
I slumped in my chair and lay in my bed, telling myself to put down this completely ludicrous waste-of-time book. The drawings were done in the style of a cartoon I absolutely despise.
It depresses me that people think it’s clever. In President Bush’s Big Party, the president was an overamped Will Farrell parody of himself. He was running from group to group, yelling happy gibberish into everybody’s faces. Suddenly I was inside the book-cartoon at the party, so now I was in three places at once. The cartoon President Bush took off his clothes, rushed over to me, and said this.
A song very similar to Graham Parker’s “Get Started (Start a Fire)” began playing.
Bush sat on the floor with his back toward us, and his buttocks rose and fell independently, like pistons, in time with the bass. Everyone else was now naked too, sitting in a row and copying the president. It was a butt line-dance. The guests were both cartoons and real people; their pumping rear ends were covered with black hobo stubble.
The me reading the book and watching the cartoon laughed, while the me lying in bed dreaming all of this was disgusted, and the me inside President Bush’s Big Party panicked and ran from the room. I read-saw-dreamed that I went into a huge ballroom full of naked cartoon-real people dancing on their butts. Dick Cheney was there, as were Bill and Hillary Clinton.
President Bush sidled up to me. “Those ain’t nekkid people,” he chortled. “They’re grizzly bears!”
He was partially right. Half the people were actually hairless bears with collars and chains. Each human was paired with a bear; they rolled around in tight embraces, both dancing and fighting, thousands of flesh-colored balls made of torsos and intertwined limbs. The people were laughing and grimacing in pain and fear, while the bears were viciously angry and playful.
In the doctor’s waiting room and beside my bed, Gwyneth Paltrow appeared.
“Have you ever seen anything more perverse in your life?” I asked.
She seemed in shock. “Nothing even remotely like this.”
We were close friends. In fact I was the only person she allowed to know her.
“You look fantastic,” I said. “Don’t ever let those bastards tell you otherwise. And you did an amazing job.”
Her smile melted me. “Thank you so much, Tom. I wasn’t sure if anybody was even aware.”
“Goop,” I crooned. “Goooooop. Gooooooooooooooop.”
I woke up at 7:30, still moaning, “Gooooooooooooooooooop,” which is funny because I don’t even like Paltrow.
At the real doctor’s office, I discussed how stress has made me stupider and barely able to function. My doctor had told me it would take at least a year for me to recover from the physical aftereffects of Mom and Dad’s suicides. He himself had suffered seven deaths in 2013, one being that of the partner in his practice.
His partner’s memorial service was held on a Friday, so my doctor and his wife drove an hour to the funeral home. When they got there, the attendant directed them to the register, which they signed, and then led them upstairs for the service.
“Wow, he had a lot of friends and family I didn’t know,” my doctor told his wife. “I’ve never seen any of these people.”
My doctor chose to not view his partner in his open casket. The service began, in a language that my doctor didn’t understand.
“That’s not Chinese,” he said to his wife. “Do you recognize that language?”
She didn’t. They sat there for an hour, and then when a choir began singing, my doctor slipped out and asked the funeral director if this was indeed the service for his partner, whose name he gave.
“No, that service was changed to tomorrow, Saturday,” the funeral director said. “This is the funeral for ________,” a Korean man. “Since you’re Asian, we thought you were here for him.”
So my doctor went back upstairs, sat next to his wife, and told her they were at the funeral of a Korean stranger, not their Chinese friend. Since they’d signed the register, they stayed for the rest of the service and then skipped the reception.
I wish Mom had heard that story. Her own problem was that she always got the giggles at funerals. She couldn’t help it. People thought she was heartless, but it was just her way of dealing with stress. I wasn’t able to attend her funeral, which is a blessing.
What if I’d started laughing? Or crooning, “Goooooooooooooop”?
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