Story Time With Hank | Story Time Mail Time!
Buenos dias, chicas. I did a learn-Spanish-by-tape thing once and the guy would say that at the beginning of every lesson. Or maybe it was one lesson, and it just really stuck with me. Either way, you could hear this dude winking and throwing up finger-guns and having a mustache and not wearing a shirt and it was wonderful. Changed my life. My Spanish is still awful.
You know, I wasn’t one-hundred-percent certain what to do with this space this week. Coming off an entire month of pretty intense reminiscences by special guest-writer Coyote—who is a genuine saint to whom I’m certainly very grateful—it seems we might all benefit from a change of pace and a chance to catch our breath. So I opened up the ol’ inbox and whaddayaknow, it’s Story Time with Hank | Story Time Mail Time.
Reader Dan writes:
Hey…I just found this site for the first time last week and since it was a slow day at work I went ahead and just kind of clicked around it randomly for half an hour. A while back you guys did one of those roundtable discussion things about how you’d like to die (I don’t think you participated in that one, though…). It got me thinking, and in the process of forming my own answer to that question, I stumbled on a different, follow-up question. No one can really control how they’re going to die (outside of suicide, I guess), but you can control what kind of funeral you have. Just leave directions in your will, maybe some money, and you’re set, right? So first, how would you like to die? And second, after dying, what do you want your funeral to look like? (Personally, I want my funeral to be absolutely normal in every way, except it’s open-casket and I’m dressed like a clown the entire time.)
Thanks, Dan. The answer to your first question is obvious. Maybe that’s why I didn’t bother with the discussion the first time around. Like anyone, if I had my druthers, I’d prefer to die sword-fighting a clone of Hitler on top of his zeppelin flagship over a major American city. His face is painted in angry three-fourths profile on the dirigible’s side. Also Hitler-2, having been raised in a sterile lab beneath Wisconsin, has never actually seen any members of the races that so disgust him and thus confuses them with one another constantly. That humanizes him, which will be important to the film adaptation. Anyway, I’m mortally wounded, preferably through unforeseeable treachery rather than any fault of my own) but with my last breath I tackle Hitler Jr. off the side of his war engine. We plummet to our deaths. The Forth Reich (The “u” is omitted for branding reasons, the inspirational implications of “Forth” having tested better with focus groups than the purely ordinal “Fourth”) is finished. The last thing Hitler-Prime sees is me flipping him the bird.
I don’t remember that roundtable though. How many people’s answers involved Hitler? Had to be at least half of them.
Question number two is trickier. You don’t want to leave your loved ones footing a bill, so like you said, you’d have to set aside some cash. In fact, let’s go ahead and assume you’re rich in this scenario.
The other issue is this: do you want to go out in a tasteful, down-to-earth (pun very much intended) ceremony? Or do you pull out all the stops and make it something memorable? The first option is the safer bet, because everyone will definitely leave thinking about what a classy guy you were to have been so rich and successful but stayed so humble. Your coffin’s made out of cardboard in this scenario.
Putting on a show, on the other hand, is a gamble. If you’re lucky, then people will reminisce afterward about what a whimsical character you were, but just as likely, they’re all deeply offended by the whole gauche affair. People are mourning here, Jack. What would your mother say?
To be honest, I don’t think I have the outsized personality in life to really make Option Two work, but I’d want to try it anyway. You only die once. So here’s the scene:
The funeral is on a deserted beach. At dawn, let’s say. But hopefully it’s overcast. Chairs are set to face the water. There is no coffin. Mourners arrive, take their seats … and wait. Ten minutes pass. Fifteen. Hey, wait a minute, is that … what is that? Is there something out there on the horizon? Yes. It’s a sailboat of some kind. I don’t know boat names. It has a black flag at half-mast. It makes its way to shore, the anchor is dropped, and a ramp is unfolded by two burly sailors, a ramp all the way to the beach. Music starts to play—something by Ennio Morricone—and keeps playing for several minutes. Then the pallbearers appear.
They carry my coffin up out of the boat and down the long ramp. As they draw nearer to the beach where they’ll set the beautiful, black box down, the music changes, subtly. It morphs seamlessly into that song by The Heavy. “Short Change Hero.” I just looked it up. I don’t really even like The Heavy, but this one song, though I don’t know the lyrics and won’t bother looking them up, seems appropriate. Four to six striking women in mourning black with veils and hats have followed the pallbearers off of the boat. Now their procession bifurcates; they arrange themselves symmetrically on either side of the casket and gyrate in a low-key kind of way to the music. Like Sherilyn Finn in Twin Peaks. If Sherilyn Fenn herself could make it, that would be fine. But she’s probably busy.
The music ends, and the women stand still, looking at the ground while, one after another, friends and family members come up, stand in front of the coffin, and deliver tearful speeches about how great I was. The speeches are good, but not too good. Not too polished. You want your funeral addresses to be a little raw around the edges.
Finally everyone is done talking. The beguiling dancers converge on the casket, their backs to the audience, obscuring what they’re doing, but they’re definitely doing something. Then they retreat to the rear of the crowd, where four to six fires (depending on the number of women) have been burning this whole time. The women pull collapsible bows and arrows from wherever they’ve been hidden. They light their arrows in the fires, draw in unison, and fire four to six perfect shots that strike my casket simultaneously. It bursts into flame! And suddenly it becomes clear what the women were doing before, when they gathered around the coffin, because as the hot air from the pyre rises, a large black balloon rises with it, and the casket, fixed to the balloon by a clever harness, is carried out over the ocean on the prevailing winds. Maybe more Morricone is played (“Ecstasy of Gold?”) or maybe ZZ Top is there to do “Hot, Blue and Righteous.”
But the coffin disappears over the horizon. And eventually, when it’s out of sight and the fuel is spent, the fire dies, and whatever remains of my remains is dropped into the sea.
Or if money’s tight, just take a crane and raise my casket fifty feet over the prepared grave and drop it from that height directly into the hole, or as close as you can get. Seems like aiming would be hard. As long as my body plummets from high up, that’s the main thing.
I don’t care if it’s in a closet at the YMCA where homeless people roger one another, Hank Henry’s is a funeral to which I’d love to go. Or not so much go to as read about. Or anyway, hear mentioned in passing. I’m very busy. My point is I don’t like him. But you can send him emails at [email protected].