Place Of The Skull

“Profit motive” means very simply: you give less than you take. If you give less than you take, you grow mean and stingy. Everybody suffers. Morality is totally impossible.

—Lew Welch

Fukushima is still leaking and steaming and bubbling and melting, and will be, best guess, for at least another nine months.

And yet, the vultures are already out there, flying high, circling, “eager” to rake in the billions in profit they estimate will come their way, through decades of “cleanup” efforts, transforming the dead zone of Fukushima into a place where human beings may tread without fear that blood will immediately spout from their orifices, or tumors later sprout all over their bodies.

Both companies [Hitachi and Toshiba] have large nuclear-related businesses and appear to be eager to speak about endgame possibilities for a crisis that has heightened global public mistrust of nuclear power. Billions of dollars are likely to be at stake in the cleanup, which could help Hitachi and Toshiba improve their bottom lines.

Making money: I guess I get it. A primitive stage in the development of primates, as they evolve towards beings of light. But aren’t we there yet, to the place where there are at least some limits? Why should people be permitted to get fat off sealing a glow-tomb?

Lots of things about money annoy me, but for some reason the fact that people profit off the dead I find particularly irksome.

All made of flesh must eventually die—there’s no getting around it—and the Second Law Of Thermodynamics eventually bungs up all non-living physical systems. Raking in coin disposing of the inevitable—the dead—seems to me to be . . . just . . . not cricket.

You can still manage to get born in the USA without pumping forth dimes, but dying there is another matter. When tasked with rendering the remains of my brother, I discovered that about $1000 is the, uh, bare-bones cost of getting yourself dead here in California. That covers incineration, placement in a jar, and a blizzard of Papers.

Later, he’ll go in the ground, my brother, together with my still-very-much-alive mother, in a plot of earth purchased for jeebus knows how many money-grubbing thousands of dollars, in a cemetery where there aren’t even any tombstones, just flat plaques set in the grass.

Some years ago I set out to determine why tombstones had disappeared from the nation’s cemeteries. Answer? Money. Where there are tombstones, the surrounding grass must be cut by hand, by human beings, with attention. This costs Money. Perish the thought. So heave the tombstones out of the cemetery, require the dead to lie beneath but flat plaques embedded in the earth, and then you can turn the whole place over to one lard-ass aboard a loud chundering motorized mower.

We’ve thought about planting my brother, with my mother, when the time comes, in CE 2148 or so, in my mother’s backyard. But if we tried that, we’d all get thrown in the pokey. As they frog-marched us into the wagon, my mother and brother would be dug up and placed in some flash-freeze facility, for which we’d be charged hundreds of dollars a day in storage fees, until we could manage to post bail and escape the cage, at which time we would be forced to Agree to inter them in An Authorized Normal Place. For more Money.

I learned from Ken Kesey that, up in Oregon, if you possess the proper Papers proving that you “own” your property, you can plant deceased family members on your land . . . just like it used to, here in ‘Murica. That this is permissible there is attributable to the fact that the people of Oregon occasionally burst into pioneer-style communism; all the state’s beaches, for instance, belong to all the people of the state, rather than to whatever rich-o happens to fork forth the requisite number of greenbacks to purchase a piece, as is the case here in California.

Kesey was forced to become acquainted with his state’s burial requirements in 1984, when his son Jed was killed in an auto accident, while on his way to a school wrestling tournament. Killed because the tires on the school van in which he was a passenger lacked sufficient tread. The tires bald because the people of Oregon, in one of their occasional bursts of pioneer-style Calvinism, had deprived their schools of the necessary funds to ensure even that their children could safely be transported to and fro. Jed, then, killed by Money.

Kesey’s friend Bill Graham paid for a memorial to Jed set atop Mount Pisagh, near the Kesey home in Pleasant Hill. When in late October of 1991 Graham perished in a helicopter crash, Kesey bulled his way on stage during a Halloween Grateful Dead concert, and, as the band played “Dark Star,” from a belly full of jug wine, and a heart cut to pieces, he hurled at the world, the flesh, and Mr. Ha-Ha, lines from ee cummings’ “Buffalo Bill’s”:

Buffalo Bill’s
defunct
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat

Jesus
he was a handsome man

and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

In 2001 they killed Kesey in the hospital. Today he lies in Pleasant Hill, next to Jed. Probably Kesey’s family was billed for the killing: it occurred of surgery, and surgery, as we know, is expensive. Brings to mind lines from the otherwise forgettable film Night Falls On Manhattan, wherein Ian Holm hotly observes that in these times the average American works all his or her life to accumulate a sum that, come the end, is bled down to zero, there in the cage of the country’s for-profit health-care system, from which, with that money, sails off some hospital administrator, aboard his new boat.

Nobody needs to make any money off the sealing of Fukushima. Money built it, and Money killed it; Money doesn’t now need to be rewarded, in putting it forever to bed. Cover the costs, yes, but nobody needs to sail away in any boat for cleaning it up and cementing it over. Bringing that thing under some semblance of control and capping its menace is necessary to the health and well-being of every living creature on this planet: on no ethical earth does anyone turn a profit doing that.

Maybe in Oregon sometimes they get it right, with their beaches and their burials, but down here in California, we are a-flailin’ in the age of the easily snookered. And so in 1975 the state’s voters eagerly rushed to the polls to approve Proposition 13, which more or less forever freezes property taxes at 1975 levels, pace an inflation adjustment not to exceed 2% per year. Reassessment is prohibited unless a property is sold.

This measure was the greatest boon to corporations in the history of the state. Because although every human being will someday die, and therefore their residential properties will inevitably be sold, property tax reassessment proceeding accordingly, corporations never do die, and so therefore their holdings may theoretically be taxed at 1975 levels for centuries, even millennia.

The long-term result of Proposition 13 is the bankruptcy of local, county, and state governments. This county, like most of the state’s rural counties, has been pretty much bankrupt for more than 20 years, and as a result it has become prohibitively expensive here to dispose of non-living things that have gone over: as part of its desperate efforts to raise funds, from somewhere, anywhere, the county extracts absurd fees from people seeking to use the county dump. What this does, of course, is encourage people to just heave things over a cliff (where there is a ravine, too often there is a refrigerator), cram junk into somebody’s dumpster, or let various and sundry forms of festering trash accumulate on their own property.

So while Proposition 13 is more generally credited with destroying the state’s schools, buckling its roads, and shuttering its libraries, it should also be noted that it has also allowed the state to be strewn with trash. Better that, than tax the TransAmerica Pyramid at some level comporting with Sanity and Reason. Such a thing would never Do. Oh no. It would offend Money.

There across the big country, out in Queens, park people are in a frenzy because Jamaica Bay is awash in garbage. Except that those depositing the garbage don’t regard it as garbage at all. The “garbage” is, instead, to them, revered religious materiel.

The Ganges is a long river, winding for some 1560 miles, but it doesn’t run all the way to Queens. Yet there are increasing numbers of Hindus in Queens, mostly immigrants from the Caribbean, shipped to those isles in the 19th Century by the British. And these people need a Ganges. So, to them, Jamaica Bay, the Ganges it is.

It started with the coconuts.

John Zuzworsky, a former ranger, noticed dozens of them washing up in Jamaica Bay a decade ago, even though the nearest coconut trees were probably 1,200 miles away. Then he found flags, bamboo sticks, saris and coins.

After asking around and witnessing a few Hindu rituals, he learned that the items were religious offerings. Hindus must go to the shore and leave offerings to Mother Ganga, the goddess of the river, to show respect and ensure blessings in this life and the next. “The offering is not complete unless it’s finally put in the water,” [Hindu priest Pandit Chunelall] Narine explained.

Cremated remains are a particularly touchy subject. The scattering of ashes in water is among Hinduism’s most sacred rituals, necessary for a successful transition to the next life. The practice has drawn concern from park officials; they issue special permits for spreading ashes on a case-by-base basis, but Hindu leaders acknowledge that some bereaved families do not wait for permission.

“We call it the Ganges,” one pilgrim, Madan Padarat, said as he finished his prayers. “She takes away your sickness, your pain, your suffering.”

Takes away suffering, you say? Then I say: don’t fuck with it. I find it extremely difficult to believe that coconuts, incense stubs, and a couple of cremated Hindus are the worst pollution problems plaguing the waters of New York state. The vast majority of the filth choking those waters arrives there deposited by Money. Not so this stuff. I was recently involved in returning the remains of a Hawaiian to the waters of those isles. Nobody fulminated about that to the New York Times.

It occurs to me that this entire piece consists wholly of what Hunter S. Thompson called “compound tangents.” Oh well. Short of hitting “delete,” nothing can be done about it now.

In defiance of the laws of the state of California, my brother, I think, was attempting an Oregon solution, burying himself on his own land, when he crawled into the blackberry bushes at the rear of his property, and there breathed his last. Almost worked, too. Wasn’t found for a week.

His plans, alas, were ultimately foiled by his old foes at the mattress company across the slough, with whom he’d been feuding for years. These cretins ran their operation in violation of various laws and ordinances governing noise, chemicals, foul reeks, and the proper disposal of poisons. My brother’s attempts to bring these people to heel were frustrated by the fact that they are connected to various Powers in city and county government; these Powers didn’t want to know about it, did nothing.

In the days after he died, workers at the mattress joint began complaining that they were being subjected to some new and powerful odor that was not among those that the plant itself generated. Supervisorial personnel of course initially paid no attention to these bleatings: when workers complain, the job of a supervisor is to ignore them. Eventually, however, the Mystery Smell began affecting even the high mucky-mucks in the building. Finally, people began dropping tools and racing for the exits, vowing not to return until the Unholy Reek had been identified and eradicated. Plant directors succumbed to Panic—they were losing Money. They began Calling People. And so the police were summoned. And, with a nose for such things, they, in due course, located what was left of my brother.

Somehow, my brother had arranged it so that the reek from his remains traveled only across the slough, there to plague the mattress people; his own land still smelling sweet as the roses he’d planted, tended, left behind. He’d managed his own Mr. Ha-Ha.

Of course, if all that stuff is true about that Jesus fellow, they’ll all have a good laugh together about it someday, my brother, and the mattress miscreants.

In life, my brother expressed a preference for what I call “the Lew Welch option.” When he died, so spake my brother, we were supposed to muscle the spark-fled corporeal-container into a car, drive high up into the Sierra, wind around on some disused logging roads, park, heavy-breathe our burden through the timber for a good long ways, then give him a final salute, propped there against some tree.

Poet Welch used to wander round the woods just up the road here, in recurrent attempts to “get it.” On one such sojourn, he “got” that his totem animal was the turkey buzzard. Though, he confesses, he’d resisted that long, wanting rather (he a Leo) the mountain lion. But once having realized he was a turkey buzzard, it was to the turkey buzzard he wished to return.

And so he left his final instructions amid one of his last long and wandering works, “Song Of The Turkey Buzzard.” Though it didn’t, so far as is known, work out quite that way: in May of 1971, no longer at home at all in this world, he walked off from Gary Snyder’s place, into the forest. No trace of him has ever been found.

Here I said I like to think that he’s still up there, with fellow poet Weldon Kees, roasting acorns over an open fire, swapping poems.

Then again, maybe it all went like he wrote below he wanted it to go. Hard to really know for sure. For, as I noted here, people in these parts can be pretty close-mouthed.

Hear my last Will & Testament:

Among my friends there shall always be
one with proper instructions
for my continuance.

Let no one grieve.
I shall have used it all up
used up every bit of it.

What an extravagance!
What a relief!

On a marked rock, following his orders,
place my meat.

All care must be taken not to
frighten the natives of this
barbarous land, who
will not let us die, even,
as we wish.

With proper ceremony disembowel what I
no longer need, that it might more quickly
rot and tempt

my new form

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6 Responses to “Place Of The Skull”


  1. 1 possum April 24, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Oh, boy. Now you have gone and done it. You have offended Money. I wonder no more attention has been brought to your case for the effort.

    Money drives all of our society these days. From the cradle the grave our lives are manipulated to the point of near full control by the forces of Money. What are we to do? We need some money to live day to day with our meager sustenance.

    But profiteering is the rule today. Money breeds Money. And Money means power which we all know is addictive for far too many.

    It is very sad that even after death Money is the driving force in our world. I am sad for you, your brother, and the remainder of your family for the choices you are forced to make. We humans have lost our way or given up our way to the forces of Money which is not always a good course these days.

    • 2 bluenred April 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

      I realize offending Money has its risks. I have to go to the store in a little while, and probably Money will mug me in the parking lot. : /

  2. 3 possum April 25, 2011 at 7:36 am

    I hear the footsteps of Money on your trail. Better watch your back. :)

  3. 5 soothsayer April 25, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    i don’t imagine that such a poignant piece is supposed to remind me of punk rock : ), but so it does..

    i guess that is the blessing/curse of provocative art and literature, the creator can’t predict how the audience will be inspired..

    so here it is — to add to the mix of Kesey and Dead and Johnson and Williams already here –

    Bury Me With It..


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