Barry Herzog

Cremains

My wife and I visit the cemetery where her parents are buried to pursue “pre-planning” pricing research common to people in our age range.

The cemetery is located adjacent to a freeway in downtown Los Angeles and laid out on a series of gentle, pleasing hills with closely mowed grass and the graves of thousands of dead, apparently well-off Jewish people.

We meet our pre-planner in the mortuary building, a nebbishy gent in his forties who offers us mini water bottles labeled with the cemetery’s logo and displays a three-ring binder containing funeral plot prices and number-coded, multi-color maps detailing available gravesites in the facility. Any plots for sale in the Garden of the Covenant? Sure. How about husband and wife side-by-side spaces near my wife’s parents in the Garden of Shemot? A tad pricier, he says. I mean, you get gorgeous freeway views from there.

Freeway views? You’re kidding. I either die and sink into perpetual oblivion or transmogrify into an ethereal soul-in-transit. Either way, I doubt that a gorgeous freeway view will be much of a priority.

No, he says, the view’s not for you. It’s for your families when they come to visit on the anniversary of your “passing.” Oh. To ignore the family’s viewing needs would be darn right selfish on my part. Sorry, I misunderstood.

Eyeing the paperwork, enduring his spiel, we come around to price. A his-and-hers adjoining set of burial plots with freeway view? About forty-seven grand, which includes perpetual care but no plaque. No plaque? Headstones are a no-no here. You get to buy an eighteen-by-twenty-four inch copper or granite plaque to embed in the ground with enough room for three or four lines of English and Hebrew text, some dates. Larger, more expensive plaques are available, of course. Examples of grander ones are on view to your left as you exit toward the parking lot. For big, big bucks.

My wife reviews her notes and inquires after funeral costs. Those are extra and do not include the rabbi’s fees or flowers. Your basic, plain pine box goes for just under a thousand bucks, but if you want a shiny polished coffin with satin pillows for your head, maybe a Jewish star to decorate the lid and sturdy brass handles on the sides, you’re looking at two to seven grand, more if you’re a Corleone. The funeral service (including use of the chapel, a hearse, prayer hats, a memorial candle, prayer pamphlets) comes in at around three grand more, which includes schlepping one’s corpse from its place of rest to the mortuary, extra for any facial make-up.

All in all, a tidy sum.

My wife and I seek to verify a rumor out there that a husband and wife can be buried atop each other in a single plot. Sure, and at considerable savings. His-and-hers double-deep plots come in at well under forty grand. Assuming that I die first, I want to know if I can get buried on my back and have my beloved join me later facing downward in the “female superior” position. I decline to ask this question.

We raise one final issue before heading to our pre-planner’s car to tour the cemetery. Given that our first house came in at thirty thousand clams (granted, many years ago) we ask if we can have our cremated remains buried here to save on space and money. Sure, he says, and at a mere three grand plus change for the cremation cost, another thirty-five hundred each per plot for the urns. We don’t even have to spring for a plastic urn; we can have our ashes planted in a shoe box or a shopping bag from Gelson’s. The “cremains” get stuffed, vertically I assume, into irregularly shaped, smaller plots located on the fringes of the bigger ones. A lovely his-and-hers cremation slot is available in space 358, a quick hike from my wife’s parents’ full-size Maserati graves.

Our pre-planner hands us our materials in a blue plastic folder and leads us out. We pass the coffin display room, prices neatly printed in bright, bold numbers, glug water from our mini bottles and take our tour: various Gardens, concrete above-ground crypts, freeway views, “cremains” plots and signs posted here and there indicating that deer, mountain lions and rattlesnakes frequent the hillsides regularly. The deer munch flowers left behind by caring relatives.

We bid farewell, walk to our car, visit my in-laws’ graves, check out plot 358 again and leave, pausing to wash our hands at a fountain by the exit. We head off for Chinese dim sum lunch where, while my beloved snarfs chicken feet in black bean sauce and rubbery brown tripe, I comment that we could tour Europe for half the cost of a twin grave plot. She sips her tea and solemnly agrees.

I remind her that when we bought her dream refrigerator some twenty years ago, a side-by-side Sub-zero, she agreed that I can bury her in it, pounding her down into a hole somewhere in El Sereno.

Barry Herzog

Barry Herzog has published a number of poems, short stories and memoir pieces in print and online literary journals. His short story “Mystic Sex” won the 2017 Sweet Corn Fiction Contest of Flyaway: Journal of Writing & Environment and has been nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. He is a retired attorney living in California.