Last week, I found myself thinking more about death and dead people than usual, and it wasn’t until about Wednesday that I realized I was probably reacting to the Day of the Dead celebrations. I was relieved to find out I wasn’t just showing my age.
One of the thoughts that struck me the most was remembering seeing the nation’s biggest cemetery from an elevated train passing through Queens when I was nine years old. Not 73, nine. My father was in military training near New York City, and my mother saw an opportunity to unload me on her saintly sister, a former teacher and later civil service worker who had retired a year or two earlier and was living then in Flushing.
My aunt was living in a one-bedroom apartment in a high rise. She paid $110 a month in rent for it when she moved in. She was there 50 years later before she died at 99 and was still paying $110 per month. Don’t you wish Seattle could get rent control like that? If we had that kind of rent control, we wouldn’t have so many homeless people here now. Sigh.
Well, like I said, she’d been a teacher, and it was still in her system. So, every day of the month I was living there, she came up with field trip ideas. Most involved subway trips to Manhattan. We went to art museums. She took me to see the United Nations complex (boring). I had to see Grand Central Station (cool). We dined at automats (very cool). She also took me to see the site of the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing.
My absolute favorite educational experiences involved taking in the views from the elevated trains in Queens on the way to and from Manhattan, including the Calvary Cemetery, which is said to be the cemetery that has the most burial plots of any in the U.S. There’s now 3 million dead people buried there. Even 64 years ago, it was gigantic. You could look out of the train at it and not see how far it extended. It awakened the budding goth in me. I don’t think my aunt approved of my fascination with it, but her teacher side took over and she gladly answered all my questions. It was founded before the Civil War and probably held lots of Civil War casualties and veterans.
Thinking about that memory triggered other thoughts about alternatives to burials in caskets and coffins. Most of my adult life, I’ve assumed I’d be cremated and end up being buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Renton as an indigent. But what I always really wanted was to be chopped up and fed to birds. Either that or I’d arrange to die on the side of a mountain in the Cascades — off trail — and picked at by wildlife. It’s not legal to litter in the mountains like that, but what are they going to do, issue me a ticket?
Recently, though, another attractive possibility opened up. It is now legal in Washington state to be composted and have trees planted in the soil made from you. There’s an organization that has taken advantage of this law and does the composting for a fee. One of my coworkers informed me that it isn’t prohibitively expensive because they have sliding rates. If I’m poor enough at the time I die, I might get composted for as little as the cost of dinner for two at a two-star restaurant. That’s a dream come true. I would really like to push up a pear tree.
Speaking of being ticketed for dying inappropriately: Los Angeles has had some of the highest fines against jay-walking in the country. But now they’re trying something new, according to a New York Times article. From what I read, it looks like they are following the UK model. In the UK, jaywalking is usually up to you. It’s your own look out. The police have the discretion to fine you if you are interfering with traffic in a hazardous fashion, but as long as you don’t do that and just scamper across the road like a scared squirrel, they’re supposed to leave you alone.
So my wish list now includes: New York City-style rent control, cheap composting when deceased and freedom to jaywalk at will.
Read more of the Nov. 9-15, 2022 issue.