Monday, April 12, 2004

DEATH AND TAXES



I came home on Saturday after a four day memor-a-thon in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, we held a memorial service for my grandfather (who died the Friday before, never having regained consciousness from his burst aneurysm). On Thursday, there was a much smaller, family-only "ceremony" (if one can call it that) at the mortuary where we cremated his remains. On Friday, we buried his ashes in the family plot where my grandmother's ashes have lain since 1987, when she passed from cancer. Then on Saturday, I accompanied Sharon as her grandmother's ashes were buried (she actually passed away over 7 weeks ago, but it's Japanese Buddhist custom to wait 49 days until actually interring the remains).

I have much more to say about this, but I'm still sitting with my thoughts about my grandfather and haven't sorted everything out yet. One thing I wanted to share for now is just how fascinating cemeteries are. I don't mean this is some kind of macabre, spookalicious way - I'm just struck at how sentiment, commerce and industry collide in most large cemeteries. As HBO's Six Feet Under has helped shed the light on (however fictitious), running a cemetery is a major service industry and while mourners don't usually want to think about that, the reality is usually not that hidden to see.

My grandparents are buried in Forest Lawns in Glendale, a huge, sprawling cemetery that's grand and ornate enough to host art exhibits (they're current showing watercolor paintings by Vincent Takas). (They also sell crucifixation nails in the gift shop. Nice.) Because the property is so huge, the grounds require round-the-clock tending and this creates odd juxtapositions of serene, green beauty with the cold, hard machinery of industry. For example, after the cremation service, we walked past the main entrance to Forest Lawns and on this large glade, I saw what looked like a half-a-dozen gardeners swarming up the hill. They were all wearing orange doo-rags that made for a stark contrast with the green grass, and I could hear their weed-whackers and other equipment noisily buzzing. It was like an army of ants scuttling up and down the hill, not at all in synch with the otherwise austere scenery around them.

Also, there are large, 16 wheeler trailer/trucks hauling dirt around the cemetery. They're hard to miss, especially since the roads are relatively narrow and these trailers loom large wherever they go. Most striking however are the bulldozers that facilitate the burials. They are large and green and about as subtle as a firecracker in a library. During the ceremony itself, the 'dozer crew stand off to the side and out of the way but the moment the proceedings end, they bring it in, this enormous tractor rolling over brass name plates, and it scoops up these enormous piles of dirt into the gravesite. Then it turns the scoop flat in order to stamp and pound the dirt tightly into into the grave.

I suppose the upside is that the process goes very quickly thanks to the heavy machinery but it also lacks a human touch. In comparison, when we buried Sharon's grandmother's ashes, there was a single person there to help fill in the grave, using a shovel basically. However, that too was a little awkward, watching this man fill in the grave because there's nothing else to do but watch him. Who knows what graveside etiquette is supposed to be?




I got back to the Bay in time to spin at a cool gig with Hua and DJ Anna. Alas, I woke up on Sunday to have a ton of paperwork to handle. Yeah: taxes. I shouldn't complain since I'm getting a small refund this year but it's always a little scary to learn how much you actually made and more to the point: how much you spent. I won't get into how much I spent on records in '03 but at least it's less than what I pay in rent (unlike in 2001, my insane, banner year for outrageous vinyl expenditures).