My sense of the absurd must be one of my dominant traits. How else to explain why, when entering a funeral home to arrange the cremation of my life partner, it arose like a gag reflex – and was almost as hard to suppress?
I admit that I was put off from the start by the air of unctuous, decayed conservatism with which the place was decorated. Neither the wallpaper nor the carpet, I am sure, was really red velvet, but both seemed designed to make you think they were. The impression I had was a striving after grandeur that I had sometimes seen in classic theater palaces, or in some hotels that are trying to convince tourists that they are glamorous, but cannot hide the fact that they have seen better days.
Nor did it help that the meeting room was decorated with prints of cute children looking coy in Edwardian costumes. Norman Rockwell would have been a major advance in taste.
Some, I suppose, might have found the décor comforting – assuming they were over eighty and never had much taste to start with. I found it a mockery of my purpose, and would have preferred a starkly minimalist modern décor that, although soulless, would at least be unobtrusive.
Still, I had a reason for being there, so I did my best to ignore the furnishings. It wasn’t easy. My eyes kept sliding to the prints or other details so that I could control my annoyance as the funeral home representative half-heartedly tried to nickel and dime me to death.
Only, it wasn’t nickel and dimes she was after, of course – it was two hundred here, or five hundred there.
Somehow, though, we ground on through the process. All went well until I thought to ask about the home’s reception facilities.
First, the representative showed me the non-denominational chapel. To me, “non-denominational” suggested a space that was designed to be spiritual without being specific to any religion. But, to the funeral home, the term meant “generic Christian.” Not only was it filled with the sort of narrow, stiff pews that require your body to do penance while the service works on your soul, but one wall had tiles in the shape of crosses.
“How lovely for your Hindu and Muslim customers,” I wanted to say, but with a surprising surge of will, I managed to refrain. Instead, I asked about any alternatives.
“Well, we have a reception area, but I can’t show it to you now,” the representative said. “It doubles as the garage for our second hearse.”
Thinking that I must have misheard her, I asked if she could show me a picture. She showed me a room with small round cafe tables with red checkered table cloths. Sure enough, one wall was a sliding garage door of corrugated aluminum.
With an even greater super-human will, I managed not to succumb to a fit of giggling. I couldn’t wait to tell Trish about what I had just seen.
Then I remembered that I wouldn’t be there if not for Trish. And somehow, that was the most existentially absurd moment of all: me wanting to tell her about absurdities that I never would have encountered if she were still alive.