What a Way to Go:
Baby, I’ve been thinking it over, and you can just forget that Mitford book. She may be right—I’m sure the embalmers take you to the cleaners. I don’t care. I want to do it up in style. I deserve it, I’m insured. You can’t take it with you, so you might as well burn through a little of it, right? And if we discuss this thing in advance, you won’t have to dicker with the morticians in your time of distress. We should plan my dream funeral now.
First you’ll need to call the papers with the particulars. Give them the highlights. For instance:
Age at Death: 88
Cause of Death: Uremic poisoning
Survivors: You; our impoverished drunkard son, Harilal; my estranged second wife, Natacha Rambova (the former Winifred Hudnut)
Close Calls: Suffered severe burns from an electrical fire in his home and was subsequently confined to a wheelchair.
Last Words: “I’m going into the bathroom to read.”
And let them know where I came from. Give them a few talking points. Something like:
Best Known For: His reign of terror
First Job: Varnishing wooden soles of shoes
Avocation: Performance art
They’ll also want frank talk about my love life. Don’t hold back. Tell them how I got my start as a courtesan in my mother’s bawdyhouse. Remind them of my affair with Yves Montand. Explain that Joltin’ Joe is so wrapped around my finger that he’ll bring a rose to my grave every year. (Lil’ Kim will probably want to move in with my moms in Teaneck and kiss my urn every day.) As for my four unhappy marriages—or was it five?—tell all. Non, je ne regrette rien.
Have them print my ghazal for the daughter of the Prophet. The one that goes, “I have become imprisoned, O beloved, by the mole on your lip! I saw your ailing eyes and became ill through love.”
The real focus, though, should be on the adoring outpouring of sympathies from my fans, subjects, followers, and the general public. Readers will want to know how I, an outsider, renowned for my banana dances at the Folies-Bergere, rose to prominence in the Party and gained acceptance from the Monegasques. No, not acceptance—it was more than that. It was love, love like that of the million Chinese who will fill Tiananmen Square; of the hundreds of thousands of my countrymen who will line the Avenida de Mayo; of the 60,000 citizens, black and white, male and female, young and old, who will pass solemnly through the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
And it’ll be up to you to make it all happen.
The guest list is crucial. Eamon De Valera should be there; so should Haile Selassie. Have Clive Davis escort the Junior M.A.F.I.A. Harry Houdini, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, and Donatella Versace should receive invitations, as should Princess Benedikta. Don’t freeze out the Rat Pack. Elton will want to be involved.
Let President Hoover dim the lights across the country. Let all the subways come to a halt. Have Michael Jackson and the Philharmonic cancel their performances. The queen may choose to remain at Balmoral. Let her—the public will make its wishes known. If Herbert Read’s eulogy could place me in the company of Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Goethe, I’d be honored.
The florists should be prepared for anything. If the flowers rise to the second floor of the Ministry of Labor, well, that’s as it should be. The Pioneers’ wreath should read “Farewell, Master.” Ford will want to include goldenrod in his; peculiar, I know, but it has a sentimental meaning, one captain of industry to another.
The marchers should maintain 100 paces per minute, all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Ganges. A float should back up the soldiers; it should have a huge likeness of my open hands—think what I have given to our people! The eight-gun salutes will upset Fala—poor thing doesn’t understand. We’ll need mules, horses, boots backward in the stirrups—anyway, something equestrian. Have a B-52 lead the flyover; the rest can be P-47s. Barring that, 50 jets, one per state, will suffice. Air Force One can follow.
Gondoliers, dressed in the customary garb, should squire my body to Pere Lachaise, where I’ll be placed near Diaghilev. Veterans will bawl like babies. A former lover will take her life. If my subjects storm the cortege and topple my half-naked corpse into the street, so be it. They will be overcome with grief. Hundreds will be injured in the crush of humanity; some will die, dozens more in the riots to follow. I won’t require you to throw yourself on the pyre, though naturally I wouldn’t object.
After a week, the radio ban on dance music may be lifted. Let the people vote on a commemorative stamp—do they want me fat and satisfied or young and hungry? Get them a picture they like and you could sell half a billion. You’ll get lots of lawyers calling, asking if they can put my face on calendars and collectibles. Do whatever you like, but I’d turn down the ones for toilet paper and maxi-pads.
There will be conspiracy theories. It’s a fact of life. Maybe the gunman wasn’t working alone; that bar owner might say he had something to do with it. Someone could have jumped me with a Nembutal enema. Who knows? It might even emerge that the fanatic who snuffs me for supporting partition failed to understand that all along I’d wanted the subcontinent to be united. These things happen.
I think that’s everything. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s doable. In fact, it’s all been done. I got everything out of this book I was flipping through—Way to Go, Dead Guy, or something—kind of a coffee-table book for funeral homes pushing the upsell, I guess. (Well, it would be if it came with a gold-embossed, padded pleather cover and sold to the trade for $89.95. They’re not marketing it right.) Anyway, you read about all these people—Rudolph Valentino, Grace Kelly, Mao, Gandhi, Churchill, Evita, that 23rd John pope guy, Biggie Smalls—and the send-offs they got, and it really makes you wonder if yours is going to be memorable at all. I figured I’d just take a little bit of this, a little of that, and voila—a graduation party to top ’em all. So I guess you’ve got a few favors to line up. Right now I’m hale and hearty, but who knows? Better get cracking, Buttercup.
Oh, one last thing. Get somebody to sing “It’s Not Easy Being
Green” at the church. How about Big Bird? CP