Good Reading : May 2010
52 goodreading ı MAY 2010 Funeral Family Values Shifting into this new life calls for a few months of wrapping up the old, normal one. When I quit my job at [Canadian broadcaster] CBC, my co-workers, smart young pop-culture journalists, take me for a ritual bye-bye lunch at the Paddlewheel on the top floor of the Bay, an accidentally hip place to get fish and chips and Jell-O squares with the afternoon crowd of mostly seniors who eat there every day. Quitting CBC, in its cur rent climate of siege and underfunding, to work at a funeral home, we decide, is no weirder than quitting CBC to finish, say, a master's in French poetry at McGill, except for the business of tying people's mouths shut with twine and bur ning them to cinders, which might be weirder than deconstructing Baudelaire. Of course the Paddlewheel has a paddlewheel, like the back end of a riverboat, and if you chuck a penny into the waterless pool under neath it'll bring luck. I throw a quarter. The place is sparser and sadder than I remember it from the last time someone quit CBC and we took her for lunch. The few seniors on hand today I can't help studying for traits known to undertakers: light jaundice here, pale knotty hands there, which would call for a Metaflow preinjection to bump up chemical receptiveness in the vascular system, maybe a restricted cervical too to avoid over-injecting the head, which leads to 'eye pop.' The woman gumming her rice pudding is a candidate for the mouth for mer, a clear plastic curtains by Tom Jokinen In this extract from Curtains, TOM JOKINEN eases into his new life, and finds himself thinking as an undertaker would at all times. BOOKBITE Synopsis At 44, Tom Jokinen quit a good government job to work at a family-run funeral home and crematorium as a trainee undertaker. This drastic vocational change gave him an amazing opportunity to explore, first-hand, our culture’s relationship with the dead, dying, and left behind. In a modern society where religion has lost its grip on rituals of transition, the funeral trade is fighting to find ways to make its work relevant to a new, secular, consumer culture, and positioning itself for its biggest potential wave of income ever: the death of the baby boomers. Curtains: Adventures of an undertaker in training is a hair-raising and hilarious first-person account of Jokinen’s adventures. Outside of his work, which includes embalming, dressing bodies and cleaning corpses down to their fingernails, Jokinen attends a funeral trade show in Las Vegas and visits Los Angeles and San Francisco, the meccas of the new funeral customs and eco-friendly or ‘green’ burials: no casket, no embalming chemicals, but straight into the ground, in a forest, to let nature unfold. Some of the new customs approach circus absurdity, but all raise the key issue of ‘What is the appropriate response to death?’ Enlightening, funny and full of life in the midst of death, Curtains lifts the veil on the death and funeral industry in the 21st century.