There may be a few things you never get around to telling the world before you get squashed by a bus, but if you think ahead and make a tape of your remarks, you can now get a talking tombstone.
"We are now making 100 of them by hand," said Stanley Zelazny, co-holder of the patent, "and they will last generation after generation with no maintenance at all. We guarantee them for 40 years, but they should last practically forever.
"We use a space-age technology, with a solar panel set into the monument. If the tombstone is already in place, you could add additional stone to encase the solar unit."
Zelazny, of Sunnyvale, Calif., a senior manufacturing engineer, explained that his plexiglass enclosure is placed in a hollowed-out tombstone. The tombstone contains a small speaker and a three-inch square solar panel.
"This can play up to 90 minutes of pre-recorded gab from the grave, and the solar device operates under all extremes of weather -- even buried under snow," Zelazny said.
One sample, he said, features a funeral address for John Kennedy by Cardinal Cushing.
On the other hand, if you think ahead, you could make your own tape that would play right on down the ages, and it could be rigged up so that only your wife, say, could tune in ("Now, Emma, remember what I told you about ever trusting that pig, Ephraim, at the bank. Always was a bounder. Furthermore, etc.") or, more nobly, you could record Great Thoughts for all:
"Traveler, pause, and hear the message of one who was once handsome and tall as you. In my earthly course, I learned these things, which I now pass along for your instruction. First, keep the feet warm at all times, and etc., etc."
If, further, you have no great faith that the sad and solemn priests are going to keep prayers going for you, you could tape your own and, perhaps with a special activator, keep them rising to heaven until well after you got there. Not that these are suggestions of the firm at 1630 Ottawa Court, Sunnyvale, Calif. 94087, but they give you an idea of the possibilities.
Zelazny said, in a phone chat about this boon to the world, it would be a natural for the monuments at Gettysburg, and "definitely" should find takers at Forest Lawn and perhaps other California burial grounds.
Asked to recall the instant that the talking tombstone came to him, he said:
"Let me take you back five years. My friend, Michael O'Piela (who lives in Topeka, Kan.) and I were sitting in my backyard having a barbecue picnic, when he suddenly said, 'What this country needs is a good solar talking tombstone,' and you know, our eyes met and it occurred to both of us that was not a dumb idea at all but a great one.
"We've been five years developing it. There's nothing morbid about it. We've had no negative feedback whatever. You know, we live in a technological age, okay, and here we change a static epitaph to a dynamic one.
"The limited edition models will sell for about $10,000, okay, but remember they are all made entirely by hand, custom made, and the price would be lower if the demand justified mass-production methods.
"Me? I'm 37, and yes, I have made a tape, but they're going to have to wait a long time to hear it, I hope."
One beauty of the talking tombstone is that you can of course still have your carved angels and the quotation from Ovid, etc., carved right there as formerly, only with the addition of your beautiful voice comforting (or lecturing) all future ages.
In case posterity would like to know what the co-inventors were feasting on at the time of their illumination, it was "two steaks, don't remember just what kind, but two steaks."