There. Now that we've gotten that out of the way.
A little tale from my checkered past has been getting re-told lately, due to a strange conversation I had with a friend, who then passed along my story and...well, word gets around.
I hadn't thought of this in years, since it happened a couple of careers ago and pre-Tank. My memories from pre-Tank days are foggy at best. I blame 3 1/2 years of sleep deprivation.
Anyway, the second worst job I ever had was working for the licensing entity of the state. Professional licenses of all types were governed by this agency and there were a handful of police officers, including myself, who investigated alleged malfeasance, wrongdoing and general butt-headedness on the part of licensed peeps.
So. I worked on one side of things and on the other side of the fence were other licenses, like hair salons and funeral homes. I didn't work funeral homes because I DON'T *DO* DEAD PEOPLE.
One day, I am happily toodling around and pretending to work when I get a call on the radio. There is an emergency that needs to be dealt with right away aaaaand it's at a funeral home. Oh, snap.
The gist of the complaint was this: Dude dies. Family (which lives out of state) pays funeral home for funeral service and cremation. Funeral goes off without a hitch but family never receives ashes. Family calls funeral home, but gets the runaround. Two months go by and no ashes. Family is rightfully p-o'ed. Family wants ashes NOW. The radio call goes on to say that the funeral home insists the deceased's ashes are at their facility, but "we can't take their word for that."
Okay, no problem. All I have to do is go to the funeral home and tell them to get the ashes to the guy's family and quit messing around. And then I hit the first snag. Turns out the funeral home was having some financial difficulties and they wrote a bad check to the crematorium, which then refused to cremate any more of their stiffs. Instead of just telling the family this, the funeral home dodged their calls. "So the body was never cremated?" I ask. No, it was not. "Where is he now?" "In the refrigerated room in back." "Hang on a sec," I say, "I'll be right back."
And here's where I might start to offend people. Dead Dude is African-American. As I was waiting to talk to the funeral director, I noticed a board with recent and upcoming funerals on it. By my count, there are FIVE African-American male bodies on the premises, not including the one I am looking for. I zip out to the car and call in on the radio, explain the situation. I end with, "So how will I know that the body they show me is really him?" The response: We'll just have to take their word for it. To which I replied something about oh, we can't take their word that he's even HERE, but they can show me a random body and I can take their word it's HIM?! I am told that this is, indeed, what I must do. I must also advise the funeral director that the State is seizing control of the deceased's remains effective immediately and they are not to do anything further without our blessing.
So, I trudge back in to the funeral home. The funeral director leads me back through this Byzantine crumbly old mansion that has seen better days. Room after room we pass, some with bodies laid out, others dark, cockroaches darting off here and there. We are heading to the refrigerated room to see Dude.
Did I mention I DON'T DO DEAD PEOPLE?! Just checking.
We finally make it back to the room, which I was expecting to be like the city morgues on TV. "Refrigerated room" in this case actually meant "enclosed former porch with a window A/C running full bore." Did I mention it was July and the average high temperature in July is a hot and sticky 100?
Dude was lying on his back on a table in the "refrigerated room". He was naked. Apparently, you can rent a coffin AND an outfit for the funeral and then those are whisked away for the next guy.
Luckily for me (or unluckily, depending how you look at it), the family had printed a funeral program with Dude's photo on the front. Given a blurry, black and white and not very recent photo to work with, plus a handy toe tag, I was able to identify the body to my satisfaction. (No disrespect here, but I had already decided that if I saw a body that looked like Pamela Anderson, I was going to say it was him and get the hell out of Dodge.)
After making the official ID of the body, I took a severe tone with the funeral director and informed him that the State was, effective immediately, seizing control of the remains of Dead Dude and that he was hereby proHIBited (that's how I said it) from interfering in any way with the return of the remains to the family.
And that's when Funeral Guy looked me dead in the eye and with a straight face said, "So, are you gonna take him with you now?"
Professionalism flew out the window and I sputtered, "WHAT?! No...HAYUL no! Mister, I am in a Chevy MALIBU. What am I supposed to do, strap this poor nekkid man to the top like a surf board and ride through downtown?!"
In the end, I convinced him to keep the body and not bother it until a properly outfitted van could come and remove Dude for more ethical and sympathetic treatment of his earthly remains.
And a short while later, I quit that job.
Some things just ain't worth the money.