Monday, August 17, 2009

Just Another Container?

One of the most unique urns I've seen in my career is a pyramid. It's made of wood, stained and adorned with gold-colored trim. When I walked into our urn display room one day, I was instantly drawn to it. You can't help it uniqueness.

But, the question was, more than being a unique piece of art, would anyone choose it for their loved one's ashes? I was about to find out.

Turns out, one fine day, I met with a family and the instant they saw that piece, they declared, "That's the one!" They looked no further. They had found the urn, which fit their loved one perfectly. It was unique to their needs.

Though we strive to find the best offerings in merchandise available, we may or may not have the one piece that meets a family's needs. The pyramid urn was a unique combination of circumstances, but wouldn't it be nice to have a your disposal a place, which will create unique, customized pieces every time?

Matthew S. Kennedy at is doing just that -- offering urn customization.

In reading about Mr. Kennedy of Southern California, I found he takes an artisan approach to each and every urn, rather than mass production by pre-fabricated blue prints. One unique aspect that caught my attention was, "My art is unique and different with the hand carved rocks that adorn the top of each urn for the knob."

On the site, you will find a number of artists pursuing the same cause, each with their own individual style and abilities.

And though jewelry specific to ash preservation is a rather new, especially here in the South, it is also offered here The idea of jewelry as a keepsake may or may not appeal to you, but at the very least it is available.

What is true is that more and more people are considering cremation as a final disposition, certainly my generation. It's nice to know there people painstakingly creating art, which will honor and preserve the most precious of all things -- your loved one's remains.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bull Killers

I love animals, but I don't consider myself an animal lover. I enjoy a good steak and fried fish, and ironically my favorite animals are the bull and shark.

But, that's me. Now I have two daughters and they were formed (biologically) from some of my parts and some of my wife's. Now that they are coming of age they are forming well defined personalities, and one of them is very much a lover of all things natural -- certainly animals. She made me change the channel the other day from a show about loggers, though I really wasn't watching it. And, anytime anything remotely sounds like animal cruelty, her blood pressure rises. It's quite amazing, actually. One of the best parts of being a parent is witnessing your offspring mature.

The other day at lunch, the question was asked of me, "What do you think of bullfights?" He was referring to the mural in the restaurant, where a matador is illustrated as a suave, elegantly poised fighter against beast -- in this case a bull. I have been to many bullfights with my grandfather, the same man who gave us love for baseball. So, in some regard I feel I'm betraying him, as he loved "La fiesta de torros" (the party of the bulls) on Sunday evenings in Mexico. But, even then, I didn't like them. I certainly don't like them now. Internally, I cheered when the bull got the best of the matador (at least temporarily), as anytime the matador would be in trouble, a mob of helpers would come and put down the bull with a combination of daggers, spears, etc.

The only thing bullfights created in me is this: bulls became and are my favorite animal.

My thinking is simple. In a bullfight, the bull never has a chance. He's subjected to a series of rounds, where sharp weapons are employed ( First, a man clad in armor (picador) comes out to ring, galloping on a horse (also protected with a heavy, dense blanket). He has with him a long spear, which he jabs into the bull as it (the bull) comes charging. If he's considered good, he nails the bull right on the mound of muscle on the bulls neck, which brings a lot of bleeding. The idea is to weaken the bull and try and keep his head down for the rest of the sacrifice.

Next, the banderilleros come with wooden rods, adorned in color (like piƱata sticks), and with large razor sharp hooks on one end (meant to penetrated the bull, but hold the rod in place). The idea is for these men to stab these rods into the bull, as close to the wound as possible, further weakening it and "decorating" it. The bull has to endure three rounds of this, with the idea that he'll have six rods hanging from his upper neck, tearing up tissues under the skin.

Violent enough so far? It gets better.

After the bull is taunted and tortured through these two steps, usually a rookie bullfighter comes out to dance around with the bull a bit. It gives the showcase fighter ideas about how the bull moves and what sides he prefers. It also lets spectators get sloshed and become more rowdy.

Then, in grand fashion, and with live traditional music blaring through the arena, the star bullfighter (matador) is introduced. He is essentially wearing very intricately embroidered ballet clothes. As macho as this sport is proclaimed, the man is wearing tights, his hair a small bun, and ballet shoes. No offense to ballet dancers.

During this grand moment, I always stared at the bull. Most of the time, the poor beast was gasping for air and life in center ring, surely wondering, "WTF just happened?!"

The star matador prances out, acknowledging the crowd with a little black hat, meant to emulate horns in some way. He is carrying a red cape and a long sword. His job is simple. He continues to dance with the bull, and when the bull is showing signs of near death, i.e., tripping on his own feet, falling to the ground exhausted, etc., he's to take position, point the sword and charge at the bull. The target is that open wound made by the picador. If he is good, the sword will penetrate the bull entirely, puncturing every major organ in its route.

Every now and then bulls would be lying there, open wounded, six rods hanging, and a 36" sword injected down the entirety of its body. The people cheer the matador, while the bull dies, humiliated in the middle of the ring. I have seen bulls make one last effort to get up, and charge the matador one more time. Once a bull did and knocked the hell out of that man, silencing the crowd. He died immediately after that -- the bull and the matador.

On the occasion when bulls do not die, one last act of cowardice happens. Usually, a little short fat S.O.B. comes behind the bull and jabs a dagger in the back of the bull's head, right under the horns, severing the spinal cord. The bull's head finally falls.

Understandably, this is bull fighting 101 in simple terms. It's not pleasant to talk about, and probably not pleasant to read about, either. And, though it's part of my heritage, I don't support it as an adult.

Bodacious is a famous bull, R.I.P. A few of you, maybe very few, will know what I'm talking about.

Though rodeos are not in favor of many animal lovers either, in a rodeo beast and human truly challenge each other. Specific to our topic, bull riding vs. bull fighting is a whole different story.

Bodacious is in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. At some 1,800 lbs., Bodacious was only ridden 10 of 135 times. If he was a baseball pitcher, his ERA would be 0.07. If he was a NFL left tackle, he'd merit a $150 million contract for only allowing ten sacks in 135 games. Get the picture?

For you rodeo innocent, a successful bull ride must last 8 seconds. A rider falls off before the horn, there is no score. Once the rider is in place, the shoot opens, and his only protection are his athletic abilities to stay on the bull 8 seconds (to make money) via a rope held by one hand, and an non-deadly way of getting off the bull. Yeah, they don't stab or hold the bull down so the rider gets off safely. He's on his own, even if the ride was successful.

One of the men who rode Bodacious (stayed on 8 seconds) was Tuff Hedeman. Google him if the name rings no bells. But, Tuff didn't win the battle against Bodacious all the time. Bodacious got the better of him once, when Tuff's face met Bodacious, Tuff's face literally broke to pieces. Many surgical procedures later, Tuff lived to tell.

Bodacious was retired and died later of natural causes.

Animal rights purists will argue that rodeo animals, circus animals, et al, endure a lot of mistreatment, too.


But, in rodeos, bulls have an equal shot and letting the rider know who the boss is.

Matadores sometimes earn body parts, if those in charge feel the round was worthy. They'll cut the bull's tail, ear, etc. (post humus), and give it to the matador as a further show of the fiesta. I always wondered where they kept those? After all, they do decompose.

History has a long chronology of the fight between man and beast. Every time I see a bull, I hope he gets a fair shot a defending himself in any fight.

Sorry grandpa, I just don't dig it.