Stream of consciousness time, or something like it. These days I spend most of my journal-like energies on audio recording and payphone calls. I’ve found that this makes typing my thoughts out an ever-more heavy and laborious process. I find the ease of just speaking my mind has weakened my writing muscles.
An interesting excursion on Tuesday left me feeling unsatisfied, but the visit itself seems to have wiped away any existential angst that might have filled me previously.
I went to a cemetery to begin the process of making my final arrangements. There is no urgency to this. I have no immediate plan or anticipation of escape from this mortal coil. But I feel strongly that my demise should be nobody else’s problem or responsibility. I also have clear “wishes”, to use the planning term, about what I want done with this vessel of water and bones.
I’ve talked about doing this for years already but a specific circumstance (unrelated to mortality) led me to at least attempt to get this process started now.
I scheduled a session with a rep from the cemetery. I arrived on time, feeling a little dishonest about the encounter. I decided to record the conversation, using not just my phat Sony field recorder but also my cell phone as backup in case the Sony failed. This is perfectly legal. New York is a single-party consent state for recording conversations or phone calls. I’ve done it a handful of times in the past, recording visits to doctors or dentists. I think it’s perfectly OK to record these things, since doctors can talk too damn fast and offer advice that might slip into one ear and out the other before vanishing into the slipstream of The Forgotten.
That same spirit informed my decision to record this conversation with a cemetery counselor. I did not intend recording this conversation as a setup, or to document the cemetery rep attempting to pressure me into spending more money. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
I went into the meeting thinking I would leave with some concrete step taken, like a security deposit or down payment. Instead I was told I’d have to wait 4 or 5 months before such discussion or action could commence. I want to be cremated and my ashes placed in a glass cabinet niche, one located at “eye level”. No such inventory exists at this cemetery, but a new columbarium under construction should have availabilities by end of summer. I have watched that new columbarium getting built for years now, always with a foggy thought that I will end up there some day.
I chose this cemetery somewhat begrudgingly. I don’t especially like the yard, but more importantly in my experience the security guards who patrol the grounds are needlessly aggressive, and suspicious of my presence there. On account of this I seldom visit the grounds.
But it is in the neighborhood where I have spent most of my life in New York, and while I don’t care for the outdoor grounds I appreciate what they’ve done with the columbarium cabinet niches. These allow creative placement of sentimental tchotchkes and mementos alongside one’s cremation urn. This cemetery is where I first discovered such arrangements.
Given my decades+-long love affair with Calvary you’d think I might want to end up there. They started accepting cremated remains for interment relatively recently, which at first led me to consider Calvary an option.
But the design and æsthetic of Calvary’s first outdoor columbarium do not impress. The uniform design of the niches leaves no opportunity to inject much character, at least not as far as I can tell. If Calvary comes up with an indoor design, with cabinet niches, I’ll reconsider.
Reconsidering is an option, even after I’ve paid in full at this cemetery. For whatever its symbolic meaning a columbarium niche remains nothing more than a piece of real estate. I would be free to resell it should I choose to do so. That kind of practice probably sounds ghoulish to some but the reality is that it happens all the time with burial or interment spots. Circumstances change, and people don’t always die where they expect.
As I proceed to make this purchase I leave open the possibility that I won’t die alone. Check that: We all die alone. But in this context I mean that in the coming years the possibility exists that I might find someone with whom I’ll spend the rest of this life. With that possibility in mind I expect to buy a double-occupancy niche. What woman wouldn’t be seduced by a free spot in a niche cabinet as a bonus for spending the rest of her living days with me?
My most important questions of the cemetery rep got clear answers, though more questions arose later. No perpetual care payments would be levied, unlike traditional in-ground burials. Once the niche is paid for it’s paid for, for eternity. I think the cemetery rep actually used that word.
Cremation ends up being way more expensive than I thought, though I might be able to get some of those costs covered by insurance.
There are essentially no rules about what objects I can place in the niche. Common sense says you don’t place pornographic or blasphemous materials, or living creatures. I was drawn to the idea of putting an ant farm in there, or a Chia Pet, but I got over it. But I like the idea of finding something mechanical that clicks eternally.
Among other objects I intend to place a mirror, or multiple mirrors, within the niche. Anyone who finds me will see themselves in the cabinet with me. I specifically asked the cemetery rep if a mirror, as an artistic statement, was not too weird an idea. He said it was no problem.
A question I did not ask, but to which I assume I know the answer, is if I can place objects in the cabinet before I’m gone. The answer should certainly be yes, but only after payment is made in full.
The rep described the deed as “transferable”. In response to my request for clarification he said “You can buy as many of these niches as you want,” adding that it happens all the time. Who knew money was being made in niche-flipping? But how much money? If a niche goes for $4k today, and I hold on to it for 10 years, would its value double? Triple? It doesn’t seem like too great a long-term investment. Regardless of its profit potential I think that if any amount of money is being made then my ability to secure an eye-level niche becomes subject to the competition of niche-flippers.
In a way the arrangement of cemetery niches is inherently unfair. The cheaper niches are located high enough overhead that full visibility is essentially impossible. The lower level niches require visitors to squat. A solution must exist for making these niches movable, or rotatable. I have no engineering mojo whatsoever to flesh out this concept but a kind of Ferris Wheel contraption could move niches from high-to-low, while ensuring the niches never tip over far enough to disturb objects within. Visitor could rotate this Ferris Wheel-type thing to bring all the niches to eye level, one by eternal one. The cemetery could make a lot more money this way, depending on the space-efficiency of the wheel’s design.
Alright, I have to get going. I miss these somewhat spontaneous 1341-word rants.
If you don’t know what a niche is, here is the first such arrangement I ever remember seeing. This is the niche that turned me off of in-ground burial once and for all. I don’t know anything about Josephine Ann Mackewicz but her arrangement, first spotted by me in 2006, inspired me to choose the niche over anything else. I’ve seen numerous other highly impressive niche arrangements but this remains my favorite. At first glance I thought I had found a tribute to Ace Frehley.