About Us
Contact Us

|-  -|
Turn Your Head and Cough #9
by Jason Torchinsky

Today is the fifth anniversary of my Uncle Morris' death. Don't bother sending a card- I did for the past three years and not once did I get so much as a thank-you. Never once did Uncle Morris appear and tell me that he was glad I remembered. Ingrate. See if I send him a gift assortment this year! Who'll be laughing then? Me, that's who, because I'm the one that can still breathe. Now, before anyone gets all upset and accuses me of not having any respect for the dead, let me explain. I can say this about Uncle Morris because he is not just dead, he is fictitious. And not only is he fictitious, he's short, overweight, and has a pegleg and a lisp. So it's okay, see?

By the way, to be brutally frank, I don't really have much respect for the dead. Why should I? I respect individual people and their achievements, but, hell, any idiot can die. In fact, many have, I'm told.

Anyway, it was the specific way that Uncle Morris died that caught my mind. He had just had a pacemaker installed (he didn't need one, but the price was so good, well, who could resist?) and was sitting around, flipping channels on the TV. He was changing stations, too. Then, by some crazy quirk of fate, there was some kind of short in his pacemaker which caused it to respond to the TV's remote control, so when Morris turned the volume up, the pacemaker responded accordingly, increasing his heart rate to 600 beats a minute and giving him the metabolism of a hummingbird. This new metabolic speed naturally required more energy, and caused Uncle Morris to starve to death in under 10 minutes. What a senseless, miserable way to go! Here was a man, a human being, who had his mortal coil jerked from his grasp for no good reason whatsoever! Well, actually, now that I think about it, most of my family could have found some pretty good reasons, actually, especially if you count the way he behaved at last year's Seder. I'm sorry, Morris, but imaginary friends don't knock over entire tables!

I'm digressing. I apologize. Morris' death profoundly affected me. When I heard the story, I made a decision. I was not going to go in the same, senseless manner as Morris! This was not too hard a promise to make, as the faulty pacemaker was made into a pendant. No, despite my firm conviction that dying will be the last thing anyone will catch me doing, I made a pledge that I was not going to die without good reason, such as my heart stopping or my head exploding.

I soon realized that I probably never will ever be able to find a good reason for dying, so I changed my pledge to state that when I go, it's going to be something big. I have no urge to die comfortably in some hospital bed- I want to be noticed, to make a loud noise, or spread some cloud of debris that blots out the sun for a week. This kind of pledge has its pitfalls, however. I now find myself with the uneasy feeling that whenever some big crazy natural disaster or industrial accident comes along, shouldn't I try to get involved? I mean, if something really spectacularly dangerous comes along, like, say, a living, rabid pterodactyl is found and is released over Wyoming, shouldn't I try to get killed by it? How will I know that I'm not missing some great opportunity? I don't want to miss out on some spectacular death, do I?

Er, yeah. I do. I just got spooked. So now you may rightly as yourself "Is this my leg I'm scratching?" or, perhaps more pertinent to this column, "What is my buddy Jason getting at with all this talk of death? Surely he's not trying to convince me he's some kind of bohemian thinking man? Is he?" No, Mr. or Ms. Assume, I'm not. Geez. I'm thinking about this because, as you all know, yesterday was Halloween. Actually, when I'm writing this, tomorrow is Halloween. I don't get it either.

Now, there's been reams and reams of stuff written about how peculiar a holiday Halloween is, so I'll try to give fresh insights. For example, a vignette from my own family's traditions. It used to be that Halloween was a big deal in my family, because, being Jews, it was nice to have a holiday that you didn't have to think so damn much about. My mom and dad would spend weeks preparing a beautiful Halloween buffet, with wonderful rich foods and sauces and breads, fruit, parsley, wadded paper, you name it, it was there. Well, not that. But most stuff. We'd set this buffet up outside our front door, and, as each kid came by in his Halloween regalia, we'd hand them a china plate he could keep and just let them load up on yummy foodstuffs. Ah, it was beautiful.

Then, one year, some punk kid dressed as a nostril tricked my dad into leaving our family and opening a Stuckey's off of I-85. Three years later, when he returned, Halloween was not the same. Instead, when kids came by our door, my parents would hand them a bag of what looked like candy, but really contained an anvil. The bag had a mechanism that would lock on the kid's wrist, trapping him as the rottweillers were released. You can't go back.

Halloween is an odd concept in that it reveals the strange enjoyment humans get out of being frightened. Quite honestly, I'm not the biggest fan of fright, and I am wary of those who take too much of a delight in it. I've heard people state that they like to be scared because it "reminds you that you're alive." Hm. Actually, that's never really been a problem for me. I don't think I've ever wandered to some graveyard, shoved open some mausoleum, snuggled down in the crypt and then smacked my self on the head, saying "Wait a minute! What was I thinking? How could I forget? I'm alive!" I think the process of breathing is usually enough to keep me informed as to which side of the mortality fence I'm grazing in.

Ghosts are weird, too. They're dead guys, right? Why are we so scared of them? It would seem that if you can trust a dead guy not to bug you, then something's wrong. Hell, we're the brainy animals, but to every other lower species a fellow animal who happens to be dead is pretty much just a snack. Not that I'm condoning cannibalism, mind you, but still, you have to admire the pragmatic way animals view their fallen counterparts. I guess. Actually, our way sounds more fun. Most dead animals don't seem to be having a particularly kicky time, but some human ghosts get pretty wild, I'm told.

I'm reading back over my efforts at eliminating white spaces from this newspaper, and, I'll level with you. This column seems a bit odd, even to me. I guess all of that death stuff just gets to you after a while. Or maybe it's those two bottle of Log Cabin I just sucked down. Who can tell? Probably a urologist. Have fun, compatriots. And remember, you shouldn't be able to shave with an apple. You know what I mean. Happy Halloween. Solidarity.

Back to the list o' columns.


© copyright 2000 The Van Gogh-Goghs