The other thing about the dry spells is that while I’m in one, I usually can’t think of anything to write about. This was not true in this case. I’ve got any number of good (well, I think they’re good, but then I would, wouldn’t I? Most people are not all that objective about their own ideas until large numbers of their fellow citizens point out how really awful the idea really is. I mean, come on, Michael Dukakis—what the hell were they smoking when they dreamed that one up?) ideas—I’ve even started a couple of different pieces, but I haven’t bothered to finish any of them yet. Sloth, as I’ve mentioned here a couple of times, is my abiding vice, except for that silly thing with cold cuts and lemon Jello, and I haven’t been able to work up the willpower to sit down and finish what I’ve started writing. Maybe I’ll get around to it when the weather improves in the fall.
In the meantime, I am busy with obituaries. You may not believe this, but at one point or another just about everyone in the known universe passed through our happy little burg and some of them stayed just long enough to drop dead. This may seem strange to you, but after going through the fortieth obit of a man or woman who was born here, lived eighty or so years, and then died without every moving more than a couple of hundred yards from the place he or she were born, the obits of the commuting corpses are actually a relief from the relentless sameness of small town American life. Don’t get me wrong—I like Americana and Norman Rockwell just as much as the next guy—but too much is too much. I am pretty sure that I could drop some of these obits (I am doing 1954 at the moment) into today’s paper and no one would notice it at all. Obviously, I’d have to rearrange the dates a little, but other than that, I could leave the rest of the obit alone. A lot of the family names are the same; even the first names are the same, in many cases. I’ve already found about nine decedents whose descendants I went to high school with. I don’t often criticize the goings on here in our happy little burg, but all in all, I’d say a lot of us are in a bit of a rut these days, and apparently we were all in the same rut in those days too.
Now you may be wondering why I am bothering about obituaries at all, especially obituaries from 1954. Except for the Roberts Taft and Capa, did anyone you ever heard of die in 1954? Probably not, and it’s not that I haven’t tried to find them. But the local newspaper, which, I should point out for those of you who don’t know this already, was the worst newspaper ever published; Pravda was a beacon of journalistic truth and technical prowess compared to the local rag, whose owners apparently believed that the John Birch Society was a Communist front, although in its defense I should say you could roll a pretty good-sized joint with the paper, not that I would know that from personal experience, of course. But they did publish the local death notices and the attendant obituaries, and the equally attendant advertisements for the funeral homes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found ads for funeral homes particularly ghastly. No matter how gently you phrase your spiel about attending to the needs of the grieving family, you’re all about dumping dirt on dead people, unless the deceased is going the cremation route, whereupon your business is turning dead people into dirt (just a stray thought: is there a point in that oven when, for the first and last time in your terrestrial existence, you are medium rare and go well with a nice red wine?)
In any case, I am compiling an obituary index, so that travelers from such exotic places as Oregon and Massachusetts can come to the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my daily bread and look for the obituaries of their ancestors. The travelers tend to be very nice people; they are usually on the cusp of old age themselves and I figure that they want to trace their families back as far as they can before they join the ancestors in the choir invisible themselves. This is an inspiring, even noble, venture, I think, and one I applaud wholeheartedly; it’s just that I see no earthly reason why I should be the one who has to compile this damn thing in the first place. But there are times when we are not the masters of our fate, I fear, and this was one of those times. My contribution to the mold pit’s genealogical resources is wholly involuntary, a command performance if ever there was one; in short, I was drafted. Our leader was very nice about it, as she is wont to be, but my plaint that I was ill qualified for a task so burdensome, that I was slow of speech and tongue, found no more resonance with her than when Moses used the same excuse with the Almighty when he tried to duck the Ten Commandments gig. At least I won’t have to split the Red Sea, unless you count parting the waters on the men’s room floor this morning, but I didn’t need the Lord’s help for that; I had a mop. The Lord helps those who help themselves, you know.