It all started the day my neighbor, Pebbles “Champagne” Butts, walked past the Golden Gates Funeral Parlor where Herb Flair was being waked out. Flair was that guy who everybody believed interviewed a soldier dying on D-Day for his radio program back in the ‘40’s but it turned out he just interviewed some hobo in the alley behind the station and had his buddy the engineer add background noises to the tape. The station fired him, but his friends at the Herald-Clarion got him started up again as a reporter under a false name. He got found out there, too, though but by that time nobody cared because we had Watergate to worry about. Anyway, old Pebbles walks in and asks to use the Ladies, but I think “demanded” was more like it because that’s how she is. She was no doubt wearing her usual outfit, which was a tight low-cut dress in some blinding bright color and with a pattern that gave you crossed eyes. This other Herald-Clarion reporter, name of Olstan Bleweth, saw her yelling at the funeral director after he told her the crapper was for employees, mourners and corpses only, and got a bright idea. Week later, there’s Pebbles on the cover of the paper, looking like a stuffed sausage in a dress even tighter than the ones she usually wears, standing in front of Flair’s corpse in the coffin. “It Was the Year Everyone Wore Hoochie Dresses to Funerals by Olstan Bleweth, Features Reporter” was the big headline. She had someone run her up a hoochie dress made from the front page and sat in the diner all day every day for a week signing autographs. That’s Pebbles for you.
Then, a crazy thing happened: people started advertising funerals in the paper. I don’t mean in the obituary section, either; I mean they were taking out full-page ads, usually with a photo of the surviving wife or sister sporting a hoochie dress. Then stories started going around about how these wakes were turning into parties, with people bringing six packs and ordering pizza deliveries, and all the ladies wearing hoochie dresses, even the ones who probably shouldn’t have been wearing them. Then the funeral homes started providing the pizza themselves, and taking out ads on benches and distributing flyers at the diner. The topper was when Magda Monroe-Bobak, that former Hollywood actress who runs the dating service, got involved, and started a “Ladies Night” at the Golden Gates, for funerals on Friday or Saturday nights. She set her cousin the tarot card reader up at a table to guide people toward their best prospective mates, and her brother brought his portable bar and served drinks. And pretty soon all the funerals were taking place only on weekends, which was hard to manage since there were only two funeral homes in town, and most people didn’t want their loved ones on ice if they happened to die early in the week. But that problem got solved when Edna and Curly bought up the old railroad hotel next to the tavern and turned it into “Edna and Curly’s Hair of the Dog Tavern and Funeral Emporium.”
I went to one of them funerals at the Emporium. I didn’t even know who the corpse was, but it was getting to be a thing in the town, and if you didn’t go people started looking at you funny, like you were anti-social, or a socialist, or something. All the ladies were in hoochie dresses, and some looked better than others, but most looked like those balloon animals that clowns twist up at little kids’ parties. Now, another thing that developed was, since the men couldn’t wear hoochie dresses they got to dress up as their favorite characters from stage, screen or television. So mixed in with the hoochie dresses I saw Star Wars storm troopers, Mr. Spocks, Marlborough men, Frankensteins and Draculas, Sherlock Holmeses, and guys in togas who were supposed to be one of the Greek gods. This one guy, I thought he was too scary. He was dressed as the Devil with big horns. And so I went up to him and asked him if that was really appropriate, dressing up like the Devil, considering it was still a funeral, and some people might think he was sending a message about where their loved one might be headed.
“I’m not the Devil,” he said, sounding offended. “I’m Krampus. A demon from Alpine folklore. And I’m sick of these funerals providing fake cheese for people who have allergies. Are we supposed to cater to every fringe group? And, what, I’m supposed to put this ‘nut milk’ in my coffee?”
Well, if I had to eat fake cheese and drink nut milk when I was expecting something else at a funeral I'd be a demon from Alpine folklore too. Next time, I decided, looking around, I’m dressing up. I’ve always wanted to be Elton John.
-- Sharon Mesmer
Sharon Mesmer once trekked in the Himalayan foothills for two weeks in second hand sneakers. She still can't believe she scaled that slippery ravine and lived to see the Big Dipper arrayed above five snow-capped peaks at 3 in the morning. She is the author of many books of poetry and fiction. Her newest poetry collection, as yet untitled, will be out from Bloof Books this fall. Her rarely updated blog is https://dubiouslabia.wordpress.com/