A few of my so-called friends have approached me recently and have asked me – rather bluntly I might add – why I am so cheap, and they have even had the temerity to accuse me of never having bought anything at my Shoprite that wasn’t on sale. First of all, I reject their assertions about my cheapness because they have no idea where I have or what I do with my money. (Even my own brother calls me a cheap bastard. How many times do I have to correct him and tell him that I’m not a cheap bastard, I’m a frugal bastard.) … And what’s wrong with having the discipline, prudence and patience for waiting for the half-price sales at the supermarket anyway? Nevertheless, I end up forced to explain myself and, regretfully, I do so rather defensively. I disclose to them a long-held secret about most of my cash being under my mattress (I count it before I go to sleep every night, plus a thief would never look there!) and then I finally admit that all my money, month after month, has been going into perpetual care. Most of these detractors and disparagers of the truth don’t know what that is – they should – so I have to spell it out for them. It’s something that they should explore. It’s an investment into their own futures – it’s not just for me.
Perpetual Care is a program devised by most cemeteries to take good care of your grave site after you’ve croaked. Simple. It’s like a forever grooming service. It provides for a complete grave maintenance and cleaning operation for all time (until the cows come home, as my father would say). For example, when I spoke to the warm and solicitous burial people at the beautiful park where I was hoping to spend my underground days, I specifically asked that the grass never exceed one and a half inches and that some English Ivy nearest my head should be pruned at least once a month so as not to obstruct my ping pong records etched on my tombstone. (It commemorates my having beaten Ed Thompson 11-0, 11-1 & 11-0 in the finals of a ping pong tournament aboard a Carnival cruise ship in 1997. Who is Ed Thompson? I can hear you asking. The answer is, I don’t know. Haven’t the foggiest idea. I never heard of him, either, but all I can say is that the guy put up a valiant fight – he wouldn’t give up.) These very nice, dutiful cemetery people in their black suits with carnations stuck in their lapels, all assured me that these two simple landscaping requests could easily be carried out, that they would be more than happy to oversee such reasonable last wishes. Since these earnest individuals seemed so sincere, and since none of them was wearing pointy Italian shoes (don’t trust anyone so shod), I signed on the dotted line several years ago and that contract, ladies and gentlemen, is where my mattress money goes – a little bit every month. And believe you me, that despite the lack of cushioning I once had when all those dollars acted as a quasi-box spring, I feel a trouble-free contentment and reassurance knowing that my burial site will be well groomed to my personal specs after I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Everything would have been copacetic as far as these burial details were concerned, but that proved not to be the case as a result of a fortuitous visit from an Army buddy from the 60’s who suddenly appeared unannounced. (I hate it when people come without warning me in advance. It’s just a lucky thing that I happened to have cleaned the joint the previous month, otherwise he would have pigeonholed me as a real slob – what the Army would call a dirty bird.) We were just shooting the breeze for a while, when he says something to me that totally shook me up. I mean I was aghast when he explained that I didn’t have to put ANY money into perpetual care because the Army will do it for you!!! he said. At first I couldn’t believe it, but he kept on explaining how Uncle Sam and the Army take care of its own. “They’ll bury you for nuffin’,” he finally blurted out. Oh, God! All that money I’d given those thoughtful and compassionate undertakers! Jeez! But was this really true? I needed more details.
“Will they cut the grass over me the way I want?” I asked.
“Sure, sure. You just tell ‘em how long you want it and they do it – for free.”
“An inch and a half. I don’t want it more than that.”
“Consider it done. But, listen, you have more options. Depends on your service, of course. When you got out, what rank were you?”
“I was a major,” I said boasting a little, ‘cause I knew my pal had remained just a lowly enlisted guy. Whereas I was initially sent north from Fort Jackson to Virginia relating to my veterinary experience, my poor Army buddy had to stay on Tank Hill (= Fort Jackson) to undergo advanced infantry preparing him for the prestigious (not) 11Bravo Army MOS (= main occupation status; 11 Bravo is a grunt = infantryman). Soon afterward he found himself in Nam as a hemorrhoid (a driver of a deuce-and-a-half truck).
“You were a major?” he says to me incredulously.
“Yeah, I was,” I said.
“How the hell did you manage that?”
“I dunno. I think it was because I was breathing.”
“You were breathing?”
“Yeah, both in and out. If you don’t do both you never make major, but I just came to it naturally. I had no trouble in that department. They made me a 2nd Luey at first, but with my special breathing talent which was soon recognized and, frankly, impossible to ignore, I got the silver bar of a 1st Lieutenant which was quickly followed up by two bars on my epaulets when people started calling me Captain. And, then, after I convincingly showed the Army that my weight was always 165 – they kept inquiring month after month, I tell you they were obsessed with this weight thing – they moved me up to major with the understanding that my unwitnessed report to them (by mail) included the fact that my breathing still consisted of both in and out. Of course, by then my chest was full of ribbons. Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly a fruit salad, but I had enough of them commemorating my valiant service to the nation, including that yellow and red one for having survived basic training. (It’s the 90 day wonder award which everyone gets unless you punch out your training first sergeant or murder the Charlie Oscar (commanding officer of your company).
“How many years of service did you end up with? my buddy asked.
“Fourteen years,” I said.
“How come you didn’t go for 20 and the pension?”
“Well, I was hoping to get it, but they called me up a second time in ’91, and after spending 5 months at Walter Wonderful (Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, D.C.) I resigned my commission. “
“Too bad,” he said to me, shaking his head. “What a waste.”
“Nah, they would have called me up again as it turns out, because they keep finding these wars for us all over the place.”
“True, I know, but by then you were old. Maybe they wouldn’t have called you up.”
“No,” I said. “Are you kidding? They would have … because I was still breathing in and out. My lungs were still serviceable in both the in and out phases. That and the weight thing were the Army’s only interests in determining my capacity for active duty, and I was deemed excellent in both of these critical categories. But, forget about that. I wanna know more about the free burials. See the thing is, I have invested so much already in perpetual care at the Comfort Rest Cemetery. I want to know which plan is better.”
My Nam Vet buddy said his plans had options that no civilian cemetery could match.
“Yeah, like what?” I asked.
“First of all, you can check the box for either cremation or regular burial. If you choose the latter, they zip you up in a free cadaver bag, place you in a free coffin – not a fancy one, though – and drape a flag around it, which is also free, by the way. If you go for cremation, they give you … or, eh, someone you know, an urn, which also doesn’t cost you anything. If you want it in some wall in a national cemetery, they’ll stick it in there. Also, no charge. But if you know someone who wants to put your ashes on a mantel of a fireplace somewhere, you can do that, too. I’m tellin’ you, it’s all complimentary. The Army is payin’ for everything. I’ll tell you this, it’ll save you a sh-tload of money.”
Save me money. Hmm. Yeah, that’s the secret word for me. But I still needed to know a little more before I would decide to move from my cozy Comfort Rest plot. I asked my pal about a funeral ceremony.
“What, are you kiddin’ me? Of course you get a ceremony. This is the Army. You’re gonna have some honor guards shootin’ some rounds off in the sky as a salute to you.”
“Really?” I asked. I kinda liked the idea. I mean why not? I’m an important guy. My mom told me that once. Yeah, so I asked about a ceremony. “Are these guys, the guards of honor, are they gonna be dressed in, you know, in their dress uniforms?”
“C’mon! Of course! You think they come to bury you in their BDU’s? (camouflaged uniform which replaced fatigues worn in the 60’s).”
“How many of these guys shoot into the sky. Do I get a 21 gun salute like they get in the movies?”
“Well, gotta be honest with you here. You’re not gonna get a 21 gun salute. That’s for, like, generals. There probably will be a few guys shooting a few times. It really depends on your rank, I think.”
“Hey, I was a damn major. I would expect no less a volley than say 18.”
“Probably can be arranged,” he conceded.
“Look,” I want a good ceremony. What about horses pulling a caisson. Nice horses. Stallions. Thoroughbreds. Roosevelt and Kennedy had those. Could I get that? I want that.”
“You know, that may be difficult. I can tell you this: They don’t include that in the free packages. I think it’s possible, but you should consider this one thing: Road Apples! The horses can make poop at any time. And they can have loose stools and fart at any time. Do you want a horse with diarrhea detracting from the dignified atmosphere at your funeral? My advice is to put the ixnay on the horses.”
“But even Eisenhower had horses. Jeez, I dunno. What if you don’t feed the horses for a week? Couldn’t we do that? I would be willing to pay extra,” I said.
“So,” my buddy says, starting to get irritated, I could tell, “So, you want starving, non-defecating, flatus-free thoroughbreds? I personally don’t think that the humane animal services will go along with that. And I know you wouldn’t want PETA protesting at your funeral, now would ya?”
“May I remind you that I was a major,” I said to my enlisted ranking friend. “I’m entitled to some respect. Maybe I’d be willing to overlook the horses if they can offer up some honorable alternative.”
“Such as what?” he asks me plainly annoyed.
Gee, the nerve of this guy. I started to wonder whether this guy got the Big Chicken Dinner (bad conduct discharge). “Eh, I was thinking a Flyby.”
“A Flyby?” he asks, barely containing his hostility.
“Yeah,” I said, asserting myself. Ya know, maybe the Blue Angels. Or, maybe the Thunderbirds. And I don’t want them flying too high, either.
“Look,” my erstwhile pal says to me, “The Blue Angels are Navy, The Thunderbirds are Air Force and you were in the Army!”
“Okay, okay. So, what do they have for me instead?”
“Eh, maybe they could get some military vehicle to appear at your ceremony.”
“What about one of those old Huey helicopters? I’d accept one of those.”
He said he was thinking more in line with a backfiring deuce-and-a-half, because that way the Army could save money by not needing to fire any volleys into the sky at all. I told him that I didn’t think that was funny. For a few minutes we didn’t say anything to each other. Was kind of an impasse. I wasn’t sure at this point whether I wanted to go through with it and have the Army bury me. Finally, it was I who broke the silence.
“All right, I think I’ll go along with the Army plan – the free Army plan – on one condition.”
“Yeah, what?” he said.
“I want to lie in state,” I said, to which he burst out laughing.
“That’s the easiest thing you’ve asked for so far.”
“Yeah, why is that?” I asked without laughing.
“Because you always lie – no matter what state you’re in! That’s why!!”
Remind me not to get buried next to that guy. Hey, I was a major! I’d like to see if he can breathe in and out. It’s not as easy as it looks. Lao Du