Saturday, January 30, 2010

Abbie Normal

I don't know how many times I've said I wished I had my father's brains. I'm just glad I never mentioned that out loud at the funeral home.

A New Mexico family is suing (the hell out of) two funeral homes for giving them a little more service than they wanted. Their mother perished in an auto accident in Utah, and her remains and personal effects were bundled up by a local funeral home and sent to the New Mexico funeral home. On the day of the funeral, a box containing the dead woman's personal effects was solemnly passed to the family, who stowed it in their car, and there it stayed, unopened, until a day later when it acquired an aroma. There in the box was an assortment of personal items and a bag of brains. Mom's brains. We shall assume.

We shall not dwell overmuch on how the brains came to be separated from the rest of the body. It was by all accounts a dreadful car wreck. And someone has the unfortunate task of picking through the wreckage and gathering up items which should be returned to the surviving family members. Sunglasses, pearl necklace, rings, road map, little pine tree deodorizer, brains. One of these things is not like the others. Do you know which one? Just off the top of your head?

No one is saying her brains should have been ignored, and that can happen. If you will recall, Bob Crane, who played Col. Hogan in Hogan's Heroes, was murdered by bludgeoning in a case that remains unsolved to this day. The detective on the case got so far as determining that the murder weapon was a tripod, and he had a tripod-owning suspect who had rented a car on the night in question, but other than that he was stumped ("I know nothing"). Fourteen years later, someone discovered some brains in the rental car that had been overlooked the first time around.

"Whoa, Ned! Check it out!"

"I'll be go to hell. Looks like brains. Don't that beat all?"

"Well, put them back--we're looking for a signed confession, here. Focus! Focus!"

For their part, the funeral home in Utah defended its actions as standard procedure. According to misleadingly named Serenicare's director, the redundantly named Dick Johnson, "it is common practice to ship it inside a bag. If we put it back in [the head], it could have been a soggy, leaky mess." Whereas this is no doubt true, it may be the biggest example of Missing The Point since Sarah Palin's handler suggested she might be more comfortable in flats and a pantsuit. People! No one doubts you did a nice, tidy job of it. But this isn't Safeway, and that's not a pork roast. Don't put it in the cart.

Mr. Johnson went on to explain that in these situations the family is "typically encouraged to let the funeral home discard the bag rather than take it home with them," implying that there may have been a communications lapse on the New Mexico end, or even a poor choice on the part of the family. There seems to be some confusion all around, so I have taken the trouble of drafting some guidelines for this situation in the future:

(1) Always keep in mind that we want to remember Mom as she was when alive. Most of us.

(2) In circumstances like these, we would like other, unrelated people to get the spatulas and whatnot and get her scooped up, recombobulated and as presentable as possible and transported to a burial site.

(3) This includes her brains.

(4) Standard procedure is to bag up any stray brains and insert them into the torso for shipping, just like gizzards in a Butterball.

(5) We do not want to receive her brains along with her personal effects. Even if they are double-bagged.

(6) Seriously. You can ask the next hundred people you meet, and not one of them is going to want a bag of their mom's brains. A rib-eye or a bit of brisket, max.


  1. redundantly named""...hahahahahaha

  2. I can honestly say I have never before read an essay in which I could agree on all points!

    Very well put, and so funny--the things you'd think didn't need saying out loud, right?!

  3. I will here ever after, double check the little packages inside the butterball turkeys, in case of some foul, er fowl, mix up if ever a turkey farmer is in an accident with a full load.

  4. You might tell Ned et al. to attend the OMSI-sponsored Science Pub rerun in April on confessions in forensics. (That's Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, for you out-of-Portland people.) The blurb doesn't mention where they have misplaced brains--would you want to confess that?--but tell Ned there's always a Q and A, and the blurb phrase "tells all" makes one hopeful. Then again, Ned might learn a little about detecting.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010, at the Mission Theater

    Crime Lab Confessions: A Forensic Scientist Tells All

    You can't turn on the TV these days without seeing a show about scientific evidence in criminal cases, but how close are these programs to how actual forensic analysis is conducted?

    Learn the “Top 10 CSI Myths” and hear responses to each from a real forensic scientist (hints: it takes more than one person to do all the analysis, and it’s not all push-up bras and Humvees). This Science Pub will focus on the major areas of forensic analysis, including firearms, latent prints, drug chemistry, and DNA.

    Kori Barnum is a scientist at the Oregon State Police Forensic Laboratory in Clackamas, with a background in anthropology, firearms identification, and forensic biology (examining physical evidence for biological stains.) Her favorite types of evidence are thong underwear and AK-47s.

  5. I'm with Barb Jensen: I lost it at "the redundantly named Dick Johnson." I am losing it again, just thinking about it, as I write this. Murr, you are truly a treasure.

  6. I marvel at how many of the same pop-cultural points of reference we have...Marty Feldman saying, "I took them from a jar. They belonged to someone named Abbie Normal." Waak!

    I don't know if you recall Latka from the old series Taxi (played by Andy Kaufman) saying he'd just gotten a letter addressed to "Dear Allen." And Danny DiVito yells, "That says, 'Dear Alien!'"

    And "redundantly-named Dick Johnson" got a snorty spurt out of me.

    Egad, I hate the funeral industry. I'm sorry, but I do. Put me out for the vultures, please.

  7. You bring tears (of laughter) to my eyes on many occasions, and this was one of them.

  8. You bring tears (of laughter) to my eyes on many occasions, and this was one of them.

  9. I'm with Barb Jensen: I lost it at "the redundantly named Dick Johnson." I am losing it again, just thinking about it, as I write this. Murr, you are truly a treasure.