Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mr. Foolproof

Stephen King published a book titled, "Everything's Eventual". It is a collection of 14 short stories, some of which have been made into motion pictures. Anyway, he gives a synopsis of the gist of the story and how it came to be. The story below -- fictitious, obviously -- came to me at about 3 a.m. one October night, after I got home from a call at the funeral home. Often times, when I get home in the middle of the night, I cannot go back to sleep. Many thoughts race my busy mind, and I have to find some way to channel them. I took the opportunity of a quiet home to pen this story. It was 2003, and at that time I e-mailed it to close friends and family. We had some fun with it, and in the spirit of five years past, here it is again.

PS - Any people or situations resembling real life are purely coicindental. This is a work of fiction.

My Dear Friends,

The sensationalism of my profession has always attracted much undue attention. At any give soiree, the “I've-always-wanted-to-ask-you-this-question” comment seems to surface. Usually I’m willing to oblige.

I have always satiated your curiosity by explaining that there are very few stories to tell of scary ghosts or moving bodies (postmortem). The scarier stories, and those that we should truly be scared of, have always come by way of the living! The gore and cruelty that we impose on one another fills news everyday. In other words, we must always be afraid of the living and not the dead, "…for they know nothing," says the Good Book.

Until tonight, I could not in good conscience speak of supernatural phenomenon. I have been thinking about the happenings of tonight, and for you, Sherlock Holmes Fans -- if any -- I have consulted with "Dr. Watson" about this matter. And, conclusively, Dr. Watson and I (Dr. Watson being my trained subconscious, you understand) decided to relate this tale for your consideration and or adulation.


The weekend was rough. The goings-on imposed great physical demands on me, at least I feel this way. I arrived home late on Sunday, only to catch the last part of Game 5, Marlins vs. Yankees in the World Series; but just in time to see our ex-Ranger Pudge brilliantly take out Mr. Posada at second base. Try that again, little Jorge! Shortly thereafter, I fell asleep.

I was in the beautiful state of slumber -- the REM portion -- in which the body is in its most unconscious state. You dream in this state and have rapid eye movement, thus the acronym. And, were it not for the splendor of the triage working together in your body: brain, heart and lungs, you are as good as dead. Amazingly, your brain, in addition to keeping you alive is also constantly monitoring for outside activity, specifically danger. Well, my brain this early morning, at about 2 a.m., gave my body the signal to get up, for the phone was ringing, surely a call to duty.

So it was.

I arrived at the parlor (a.k.a. funeral home) thirty minutes later in full suit and with a fresh scent, not that I took a shower. In tribute to the "old fashioned way," I splashed some water on my face and some cologne on my shirt. The night assistant (awaiting me at the parlor) and I headed to the hospital where our departed gentleman took his last breath. In the usual fashion, the night assistant and I exchanged pleasantries on the ride to the hospital in efforts to keep our eyes from shutting close and causing our own demise on I-30 somewhere.

We made our way to the staff elevators and headed to our destination. Through the intercom system, we heard the familiar code announcing to all hospital staff our presence. It's kind of like on the show "ER" when they scream, "Code Blue!" Except ours is not a scream, and it's not color-coded. It's simply a random numerical code privy to nurses and on-duty staff announcing morticians are in the house.

We were nearing our wing of the floor, and as we passed the first set of double doors, a man caught my attention. He was about 70 or 80 and looked frail. Being attentive, I asked if he needed help. He was clad in the usual hospital gown and wearing nothing else. He stopped his pace and looked at me straight in the eye with certain intent.

"No, I don't need help. I do have a question, though. Do you have minute?"

"Sure," I said, "What can I do? Can I get a nurse for you?"

My assistant had moved on forward to the designated nurse's station to retrieve the chart for me to fill-out and sign. Also, he would learn if there was any family waiting for us.

"What is your name, young man," he asked.

"Javier," I said.

"Are you Spanish"

"Well, yes, mostly Mexican," I said with a smile.

"Hmm. Tell me something?"


"When someone is cremated, how hot is the oven?"

Not really knowing where this conversation was headed, I evaded the question and asked, "What is your name sir? Maybe I can get you a nurse."

"My name is Mr. Foolproof. Now, are you going to answer my question or not? I don't have a lot of time, you know?"

The don't-have-enough-time comment threw me off. Here it was 2:30 a.m. in a big city hospital. This gentleman, obviously an inpatient, had nothing but time.

"Well, sir, crematory retorts get quite hot."

"Answer the question, young man!"

His voice, now raised and tired, gave an aura of suspicious intent. I was getting a bit frustrated with our man, as he refused help and/or guidance back to his room.

"Mr. Foolproof, it's about 1600 degrees, if I'm not mistaken."

"OK. Well, I guess that's the way it goes."

And with that, our curious bystander continued his path. I turned for moment to catch a glimpse of my assistant and see if he had learned anything, and not a few seconds passed when I turned back to Mr. Foolproof to see his progress. He was gone. I thought it rather odd, as he wasn't moving fast. I continued my path and found my assistant and our destined room.

When we went in the room, and a white sheet covered our dearly departed completely. I flipped through his medical chart, finding the mortician’s section. I signed it and closed the chart. And, just as I felt the slight wind on my face caused by the chart’s heavy plastic cover as I closed it, a cold chill ran through my body. I was awestruck! I was mortified! I opened it again hastily, and there, in bold black ink, the cover sheet read: John Foolproof.

I must have lost all the color in my face. Several seconds went by before my assistant asked, "Are you OK?"

I told my assistant everything and he too lost color.

We slid the white sheet off Mr. Foolproof. There he laid, the same soul who just minutes earlier asked about the temperature in a cremation retort! We transferred him to our stretcher and followed the same path we used to come in. Hands trembling and minds racing, we managed to find our vehicle and place Mr. Foolproof in our vehicle for transportation back to the parlor.

The ride back to the funeral home, needless to say, was eternal. Not a word spoken. Not a thought exchanged. All our energies and thoughts kept funneling to the man behind our seats, resting ever so peacefully on our stretcher.

It is truly and understatement to say that this was a weird experience!

Now, my friends, to you I pose the question: Is this fact or fiction?

I yearn for you response.

'Till next time

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