Hype After Death

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By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, May 1, 2005

Because I want to become a better person, I sometimes imagine my own funeral, and think of who might be there and what they might say.

More than anything, I'd want everyone in RFK Stadium to know that I was a simple and unpretentious man who knew my small role in the grand scheme of things, and would have been embarrassed by the Kofi Annan eulogy, the Air Force flyover, and the throngs of mourners wailing, sobbing, firing guns in the air and mobbing the casket.

Like most people, when I think of my funeral, I try to figure out how large the choir should be and whether there should be a special roped-off section for former girlfriends. If we have it at RFK, we could use the National Armory next door as a spillover section. The good thing about outdoor funerals is that you can get those great aerial shots from helicopters, though for safety we should probably make that a pool feed to all the networks. I'm undecided about a coffin-cam. That might be over the top.

Obviously there should be a poem from Maya Angelou. We'll need a bishop, a rabbi, an imam, some senators, and the vice president if he's free. The service could end with a Broadway musical kick line sort of thing, lots of dancers in sequins (some lesbian undercurrents?--just thinking out loud here).

Perhaps it would not be the most religious of ceremonies. Religion hasn't been my strong suit. The preacher may have to be honest with the mourners and say something like, "Sadly, we're pretty sure he's going to Hell."

What else will people say? Impossible to know. I've only got about half their material written so far. Here are some excerpts (subject to revision):

"Women loved him, men wanted to be him, children wished they could call him 'Daddy.' Dogs abandoned their masters to run away with him. Cats spontaneously went into heat in his presence. Hamsters would try to impress him with heroic performances on the wheel. He could go into a park and lay down a blanket and wait for ants to bring him food from other people's picnics. Bacteria of all races and creeds and nationalities considered him a friend and an excellent target for colonization.

"Everyone who met him admired the cut of his jib. Yet he was unaware that he even had a jib. He has generously donated his jib to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

"A devoted family man, he taught his daughters to play sports and rejoice not only in good sportsmanship but also in the sheer pleasure of beating the crap out of the other team. As a forgiving father, he avoided as much as possible making them feel bad about their misperceptions of the infield fly rule. He taught them the difference between right and wrong and how, in awkward social situations, those differences can be carefully obscured. They are here today in spirit even if their actual physical attendance is not permitted by the Department of Corrections.

"He was a man who was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs, both of which involved the proper method of grilling meat. When he saw injustice, he took action to right it. Specifically, he filed a lawsuit against a candy bar manufacturer after eating a 'Fun Size' Milky Way bar that turned out to be not even mildly entertaining.

"His life was marked by many acts of charity. On September 19, 1988, he gave a quarter to a homeless man and declined to write it off on his taxes. On November 3, 1997, his wife had something important to say and, although it was the fourth quarter of a game with playoff implications, he listened. The list goes on and on.

"He firmly believed that, in a world in which many journalists were a mile wide and an inch deep, he could be wider still. His trademark digressions had secondary and tertiary digressions, such that a column that appeared, at first, to be about hot dogs would wind up discussing loop quantum gravity, before circling back to the importance of adding mustard and sauerkraut. We stand in awe of his ultimate achievement, the founding of the 300-circulation newsletter Dorito Aficionado.

"He made us laugh, he made us cry, he made us snort derisively, he made us harrumph, he made us puff up our cheeks and exhale dramatically, he made us cluck in the back of our throats.

"He will be sorely missed. But he would want us today to be joyous. With that, let's welcome a very special guest: Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!"

It's all so humbling to ponder. (Mental note: Check Aretha availability.)

Read Joel Achenbach weekdays at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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