- 4-F, and: Legal Assistants
New Haven, 1973, the Year of the Lottery, spring semester the Victorian next door is turned into a funeral home. Look, you say, workers hammering brass letters above the door, they’re putting the fun in Funeral.
Such good neighbors those Victorians, so unobtrusive, so hushed yet so tolerant of our own clash and clatter. Never once do they ask us to turn down the music.
And, too, we have so much in common. Isn’t our favorite band The Dead? Don’t we spend our afternoons riding that train high on cocaine while they ride that same train [End Page 43] to Jordan? And aren’t we all so cool, so damned cool?
Still, we can never bridge the cursed generation gap—you and I such punsters, such pranksters, and the neighbors, let’s face it, a big bunch of stiffs.
Today the rabbi says he’s never heard so much laughter this close to a coffin. He likes it, he says, this send off this jewish, this jazz, these stories of the deceased, how he was both breathless and inspiring, and though his prepared sermon is over and done for he gives us an encore, the story of god’s favorite: the fool.
Often these days I think of those days— my drug-addled youth, you so gorgeously 4-F— and those jokes, all our jokes, and the journey, of course, the train, the tracks, the trips, all that cartoonish truckin’.
It’s us come this far, the gaps full of fresh-shoveled sand, and they’re starting to get us at last, O my draft dodger, my foreign companion, O my alien cornball—
It’s us putting the fun into funeral now, us putting the good god y’all back into goddamned. [End Page 44]
Nearly twenty years Sharing an office. Our simple division of labor: Estate planning, me Estate administration, you. Wills and trusts, me Death and taxes, you. We never fought over clients It was easy to tell mine from yours Mine were the living yours were the dead Mine were the dying yours were the dead Mine were the brave yours were the grave I dealt in increase you dealt in surcease I got the here todays you got the gone tomorrows I took the going, goings you took the going, gones I toyed with the looming you toiled with the loaming I dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s you closed the eyes and crossed the bar I shouted here’s your hat you whispered what’s your hurry I did man’s will you did God’s wont In my corner, summertime and the living is easy In your corner, death is easy, comedy’s hard and I could go on and on just as we used to when we were young [End Page 45] and dying was no more than our living. But now here we are both retired, both out to pasture lay-people now each in our own way— and, Daphne, I am not charmed by your taking so to heart your assignments and your name: earth-planted withered laurel, friable bark fierce roots.
Judith Claire Mitchell is an associate professor in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Creative Writing Program. She is the author of the novel The Last Day of the War.