I’m not going to lie: when my publisher told me I was supposed to write a guest blogpost for Big Al I assumed she meant Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. (Man, that was a scary movie. Still is. Seriously. Go back and watch it.)
So I spent quite some time pondering what, precisely, a bigrig-driving ghost who picks up and terrifies innocent man-child hitch-hikers would be looking for in a guest blog post. Tips for keeping your scary claymation face its clearest? Something about how to meet your Sam Wheat while avoiding your Beetlejuice?
Then it struck me: funerals. Not only are they “fun” (it’s right there in the word!) but surely ghosts must appreciate them. I think for a ghost funerals must be something like a prom or a wedding: you get all dressed up, you’re the center of attention, everyone eats a bunch of food. Plus all the crying. (Well, my prom date cried, anyway. It took us hours to pry her out of her parent’s bathroom and get her into the limo.)
It was only much much later that I found out Big Al and Large Marge are totally different entities, but by then I already had this post about funerals all locked and cocked, so I’m just going to go ahead with it, if nobody objects. Does anybody object?
Okay, works for me. So, like I said earlier, I’ve been to a disproportionate number of funerals in my life. The reason for this is that for about eighteen months, between 2006 and 2007, my army battalion, the legendary 2-4 FAR (DEEP ATTACK!) was placed on funeral detail for pretty much the whole mid-southwest. Any time a veteran died in Missouri, Oklahoma, or Arkansas the undertaker could request to have an honors team show up, fold the flag, and present it to the grieving family.
Here’s where I come in. At the time I was a first lieutenant. A lieutenant technically outranks something like 84% of the army, but we’re generally not placed in such hyper-important positions that we can’t be spared. And the thing about conducting military funerals is the honor guard has to equal or outrank the deceased. So, I couldn’t serve for say, some retired general, but for the bulk of the Vietnam, World War II, and Korea vets who were starting to die at that time in that area I was the perfect guy.
Think about it this way: suppose an E-5 sergeant died so my battalion dispatched an honors team with at least one E-6 in it to fold the flag. Then, while they were on the road, an E-7 died. (It’s numerical, you see.) That E-6 could not do the second funeral.
Ah, but when I was on the road it went like this: an E-5 died so I did the funeral. Then an E-6 died while I was on the road so I turned the car around and drove to Little Rock and did that funeral. Then an E-3 died in OKC and I got turned around and…
You see where I’m going with this. I would get stuck out on the road for sometimes weeks at a time.
The whole experience was profoundly affecting. For one thing, I was really in awe of the responsibility that the army entrusted me with, and I certainly never let down the memory of any of those veterans. When we were up on the rostrum, we were always smart and professional.
But I’ll tell you something. What ended up happening was that I was spending a lot of my time hanging around in cemeteries. We would usually show up at least an hour ahead of time, and that’s assuming that the funeral procession wasn’t running late, which it almost always was. (One time we had to hike in dress greens two miles in the wrong direction to find out the roadmap was wrong and the graveyard was four miles back the other direction. Then even the mortician got lost and the funeral started two hours late…but that’s another story.)
Then we’d usually wait around until the whole party had left. Then we’d have to find a place to change before we could move on to either dinner or the hotel. So I ended up spending three, four hours a day every day in a boneyard. It’s hard to do that without losing a little bit of your awe of the place. It’s certainly where I started to develop my gallows humor.
The way I see it, you can take two attitudes towards death. Either it’s this great big looming tragedy that’s stalking you or it’s just the punchline to some silly cosmic joke. You can either be grim about it or you can laugh about it. I choose to laugh about it.
Which leads me in a circuitous way to my debut novel, Braineater Jones. It’s a comedy about dead people. It’s got gore and horror and mystery, but it’s also got laughs. I’ve always found zombies to be funny. There’s a long history of hilarious zombies, starting with the fat-guy-in-a-speedo zombie in the original Dawn of the Dead, and all the way up to modern classics like the clown zombie in Zombieland. I defy anyone, by the way, to get through Dead Alive without busting a gut…either literally or metaphorically.
I suppose I’ll catch some flak for writing a slapstick horror novel from gorehounds who like their killers serial, their cabins abandoned, and their tones chilling. But like anything else, the horror of Jones is only part of the pleasure of it. If you’re going to have thinky zombies you may as well have them throwing heads as footballs, spackling their gunshot wounds, and having hilarious moldy sex.
But maybe that’s my fault. I can’t help finding death funny. I blame it on the army.
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