Thursday, November 17, 2011
The Fine Art of Embalming....and other food for thought
“Now, when you’re working on a body, it’s vitally important to use a water-based embalming solution, rather than a chemical solution. The hydration keeps the skin looking more natural, less….well…less dead.”
I have to laugh at the way Jul, uh Jeremiah keeps using the term “you,” as if I’m his mortician’s apprentice, as if embalming dead bodies is something I do with the frequency of making dinner and weeding my garden.
There are certain conversations I know with certainty that I’ll have everyday: baseball scores and highlights with my son Andrew, philosophy and apologetics with my son Jack, and “Angela, what on earth are you doing with your time and company credit card,” with my boss. But honestly, a primer in the art of human body preservation was nowhere near today’s to-do list. In fact, all I did to initiate this half hour lecture was ask “so, how’s it been going.” I have to remember to ask Jeremiah that question only when I have time for a response that should come with college credits.
In case you’re wondering who Jeremiah is, he’s a barista at a local coffee shop. He’s the clean cut, quiet one, the only one who doesn’t sport the same My Chemical Romance t-shirt five days a week. Jeremiah doesn’t offer much in the way of conversation or reassurance that he’s not a serial killer…although he says he’s not. Yes, I asked. But honestly, I wonder how many serial killers, when posed that question would playfully smack their brow and say “wow, you’re good. Was it the blood under my fingernails?”
I didn’t learn about Jeremiah’s passion for human taxidermy right away. It was after about a year of ordering the same vanilla latte (well, not the same one exactly, If I had to go back and order the same one everyday, I think I’d have given up after a few times) But I digress….he was handing my change back to me and I asked “so, are you the manager here at Juice Bird?”
“No,” he assured a little too readily. “It’s just a job to pay the bills. My real passion is embalming.” He said it like I would surely be impressed to the point of asking for his autograph. But all I could muster was “you wear gloves, right?” Then I began to think of that day when my latte had a slight formaldehyde scent to it.
It’s not that I’m not interested in embalming. It’s just that there are many other hobbies I’d like to learn before bringing home my first roadkill to mannequinize; which leads to a question. Why aren’t more morticians also taxidermists? It seems like they sort of do the same thing, doesn’t it? Not that I’d want Uncle Elmer mounted above the fireplace, but it’d be nice to have the option.
I think I’ll go ask….Be right back.
“Hi Jul, uh Jeremiah, since you’re so passionate about embalming humans, why don’t you also work on animals? Seems like it’d diversify your business and provide marketable growth potential,” I say, clearly having watched too much CNBC lately.
“Work on animals? It’s not my art form. Would you ask a sculptor why he doesn’t paint? I think not. But you find it suitable to assume that I should embalm any old dead thing that I can dig up. I don’t really mean dig up…bad choice of words. You wouldn't ask your hair dresser if she'd groom your dog, would you? Would I work on animals.....honestly!”
“I get it. Okay. Thanks,” I say to Jeremiah, who is now perspiring and so rattled from our exchange that he spills the crème brulee latte he’s whipping up.
The other day Jeremiah told me that he‘d recently won an award for his work on recapitating a headless body so that the victim, whose head was once lying across a four lane highway, now reunited with his cranium, appeared to be sleeping.
“What if his head had rolled down into a ravine and you couldn’t retrieve it? Could you use another head and make it look natural? I ask, seriously curious.”
Jeremiah rolls his eyes, “I ain’t Jeffrey Dahmer. We’re not a body part storehouse.”
I didn’t know there were awards for embalming. How do you submit an entry? Or is it like the Pillsbury Bake-Off where contestants are shown to individual work stations topped with old newspapers, fresh cadavers and embalming gadgets?
Jeremiah says that’s exactly what it’s like. Participants get credit for entering the body through only one point, as opposed to three points (the things you learn). They’re also judged on whether or not fluid leaks from the body. “This one dude’s corpse was lying in a puddle of fluid and we were all like ‘amateur.’”
Well I’m convinced. Anyone who wins the Pillsbury Bake-Off of embalming is good enough to get my business. If I get hit by a bus anytime soon, just drop my body off at Juice Bird. Jeremiah will know what to do.