Monday, July 24, 2006

Jack the Mensch, or: Death goes to a party

Note to self: At your funeral, do not show an "homage video" of your life co-starring a talking fish.

Death, the last frontier of conspicuous consumption, has been conquered. As the New York Times reported last week, the Yuppies' latest trend is large, stage-managed funeral parties. I'm not talking about Irish wakes, but full-fledged nouveau riche theme "events" with hundreds of invitees, banquet service, guest seating status neuroses, and a "funeral planner" to coordinate it all.

The piece reads:

What they want ... are services that reflect their lives and tastes. One family asked for a memorial service on the 18th green of their father’s favorite golf course, “because that’s where dad was instead of church on Sunday mornings," [said someone who calls himself a "funeral concierge"]. Line up his buddies, and hit balls.” Another wanted his friends to ride Harleys down his favorite road, scattering his ashes. ...

A personal aside: My dad would be sitting in his underwear watching a Yankee game, and very few guests would be able to tell the difference.

The biggest change is that as more families choose cremation — close to 70 percent in some parts of the West — services have become less somber because there is not a dead body present. “The body’s a downer, especially for boomers,” said the concierge. “If the body doesn’t have to be there, it frees us up to do what we want. They may want to have it in a country club or bar or their favorite restaurant."

The body is a downer. So check Dad at the door. Leave Mom with the corpse-check girl. And let's paaarrrttyyy!

[Mr. Biggins] arranged a service for Harry Ewell, a man who had been an ice cream vendor. Mr. Ewell’s old ice cream truck led the funeral procession and dispensed Popsicles at the end. “If you call that over the top, then I guess I’m guilty,” Mr. Biggins said.

Hey, kids! Here comes the ice cream hearse! When you hear that familiar tune, the "Volga Boatman," squealing from the tinny speakers, you know it's time for Mr. Softee! And what would be a bigger surprise for the tots than catching a glimpse of good old Mr. Ewell's cryogenically frozen body in the back of the truck, lying among the Klondike Bars.

Some Yuppies are leaving explicit instructions for their demise, such as one woman, who insisted that "an all-out disco party be held on top of a mountain" and that the guests must wear suitable 70s attire.

And you thought disco was hell the first time around. The top of a mountain! God, you'd hope the Sierra Club would nip that in the bud.

One funeral director envisioned day when “our mainstream celebrities would make appearances at funerals to enhance the service.” Brilliant! But who could I afford? Maybe Ricardo Montalban. "Not only was Jim a great writer and humanitarian, but the inside of his coffin is lined in fine Corinthian leather."

But the future ex-Yuppies' most hubristic preference is for an "homage video," a self-congratulatory cavalcade of narcissism. But here, I can't make this stuff up:

For Jack Susser, a real estate agent in Santa Monica, Calif., the sendoff can have benefits now. Mr. Susser, who is 57 and healthy, hired Ms. Isenberg [a funeralpreneur] to create a tribute video so that his future grandchildren and great-grandchildren could know his life in ways he’d never known his grandparents’. Ms. Isenberg developed a 20-minute video called “Jack the Mensch,” with an original script, professional actors, animation and a $75,000 budget. The lead characters are Mr. Susser and a talking fish.

Is that really how you want your grandkids to know you -- as a megalomaniacal, self-aggrandizing schmuck who co-stars with a talking fish?

And what about the poor actors who were desperate enough to act in this cinematic sarcophagus?

ACTOR #1: So, Bob, what are you up to these days?
ACTOR #2: I just finished, "Jack the Mensch." Indie thing. You know, very edgy. I had this awesome part as this...creature who, like, talks.

Speaking of which, Mr. Susser himself, like everyone else in L.A., is a part-time actor who was so pleased with the production values of "Jack the Mensch" that he intends going to send it to agents. I'd love to overhear the agent trying to pitch Jack to a producer:

"Jack Susser? Yeah, he's new. A fresh face. He can do anything. Act with anybody. Cruise. Denzel. A talking fish...Yeah, there's only one downside. He's dead ... but he still gets union scale."


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