Tag Archive for 'marilyn monroe'




Chapels are filling. Mourners are milling. Rabbis are chafing. Patience is waning. Thoughts turn to the lox and bagels, the chopped liver and pickled herring–the rugelach and Russian coffee cake that await the bereaved at the end of this long day. But the caskets stay in the service elevator. The lockstep march of funerals has abruptly halted. Every employee of Riverside Memorial Chapels is jammed in the back room watching my interrogation.

I’m downplaying the incident, but they’ll have none of it.

“Did she scratch your wrist with her nail?” Aiello/Shmattner asks.

“Maybe accidentally,” I say. “She didn’t want to fall on the ramp…”

DeSousa/Strauss grabs my hand. “Did she gently rub your palm with her fingertip, like this? That’s the universal fuck me signal.”

I hesitate…

“He don’t remember,” says Cesario, the mobbed up chauffeur, full of contempt. “You were scared, weren’t you kid?”

“Did she ask your name first or did you tell her?” someone asks.

“She asked me first, I think,” I say.

You think?”

Albino pushes his way in, flushed and indignant. “You didn’t do what I tolya, didja?”

“I made conversation,” I say.

“Didja look in her eye and imagine her takin’ her clothes off like I tolya? Didja imagine her pullin’ that dress over head…?” He shakes his head, mourning my lost opportunity. “While you were makin’ small talk didja imagine that soft white skin, those boobs swayin’ to and fro. ‘Cause that’s part of it. You hafta send a signal. I told you that…” He addresses the crowd. “I tole him to do that…” He waves an accusing finger. “Didja leave an opening where you had a good excuse to call her? You didn’t, didja?”

My voice cracks. “It all happened so fast..”.

“Was she lookin’ at your crotch when she talked to you?” DeSousa/Strauss asks.

“I couldn’t see her eyes, she was wearing dark glasses.”

“When she bumped you in the elevator, did she rub against your pants ?” someone asks.

“I’m not sure. You know how that elevator kinda jerks when its starts…”

“Like you’re gonna be jerkin’ for the rest of your life,” Cesario says and turns on Sconzo. “See, that’s what you get for sendin’ a boy on a man’s job.”

“He won the lottery,” Sconzo says. “Besides, what makes you think she’d fall for you? She’s already had one guinea in her life–Joe Dimaggio– and kicked him out.”

I have been shunted to a corner of the back office, dismissed as the the least reliable witness to my own encounter.

Arguments break out all over the room.

First the coat:

“Dyed mink,” Albino says.

“Dyed mink is what a Jew dentist buys his wife when he’s caught cheatin’,” Rizzo says. “This is Marilyn Monroe. They give her the coat just to wear it around. It’s a ten thousand dollar sable.”

Every moment of the experience is deconstructed.

“She likes the kid,” Albino says. “I seen her lean over the balcony and take her coat off to show him her ass.”

“She was waving to the old man,” I correct timidly from exile.

“This is Marilyn fuckin’ Monroe,” Albino cries out on agony. “You think she don’t know what she’s doin’ with her ass?”

Rizzo snaps his fingers as he remembers. “Yeah! She took her coat off when she got into the car. And shook it right in his face…” He shoves me. “She likes you, whaddya arguin’?”

They grab the matchbook out of my hand.

“She dropped this for him,” Albino says.

“It fell out of her pocket,” I say.

“She dropped it on on purpose, you little putz!”

They examine it like archaeologists with a puzzling find.

“Danny’s Hideaway,” Cesario says. “That’s Dimaggio’s favorite hangout.”

“Maybe they’re gettin’ back together.”

Cesario offers more inside information. “Danny’s is a protected joint. Frank Costello said they didn’t hafta have the union…”

“Betcha she’s bangin’ Costello,” Rizzo says. “These movie stars love the tough guys. Bugsy Siegel banged Lana Turner…”

“Longie Zwillman banged Jean Harlow,” says Cesario.

“Look at this!” Rizzo says. And turns to me with a smile. “You’re in, you lucky bastard.”

It’s a phone number behind a row of unused matches. An “M” has been hastily scrawled over a number that is smudged and hard to read.

This is 1961 and all phone numbers start with letters which give an idea of the part of the city where the phone is located. This number begins with MU…

Rizzo snaps his finger again. “Murray Hill. Midtown, East Side. She lives there, right by the river…My brother-in-law dropped her off in his cab…”

Cesario grabs the matchbook. “The numbers are blurry. Like she wrote it at the bar and it dropped in a puddle or somethin’…”

Rizzo grabs it back. “If it fell in a bar puddle how come the matches are dry? She wrote it in a hurry with a ballpoint pen is what happened.” He squints hard at the number. “Can’t make out the last two digits…” He hands the book back to me. “You gotta dial every combination…You’ll get it.”

“Call her,” someone urges. It swells to a chorus.

“Call her!”

“Can’t do it cold.” Albino says. “Too obvious. It’ll put her off.”

Voices are raised in protest. “But she wants him to call,” Rizzo says.

Albino, raises a silencing hand. “I know how this is done, alright?” He’s a dwarf with a comb over and a hairy wart on his beak, but everyone accepts his authority. “You don’t wanna spook her by bein’ too anxious. You gotta have an excuse…” He leans back, eyes closed… “Go into the lost and found. Pick up somethin’ she mighta dropped like a glove. You call her. This is Heywood, from Riverside, Miss Monroe. Did you by any chance leave a glove?”

His voice gets breathy. “I think I did, she says. Then you say I can bring it over if you wish…She says, sure, why don’t you come by tomorrow afternoon?”

He’s lost in a reverie.

“Matinees are the best times,” he says. “Don’t worry about bein’ a superman. She’ll do everything…Then one day you say I need a suit for my cousin’s wedding. She slips you the cash…” He opens his eyes with a beatific smile…”You’re set…”

Rizzo pinches my cheek. “Look at the fatchim on this kid. Cheer up, you’re set.”

They were romantics with an unshakable faith in male power. But I was a timorous boy, convinced nothing momentous could ever happen to me. I never called.

When they asked I said a man kept answering.

“Some wise guy got there first, and he’s keepin’ her out of circulation,” Albino said.

I carried the matchbook around with me for a few years. I would take it out and say: “Marilyn Monroe gave this to me.”




She’s Marilyn Monroe. But she has to go.

We have twenty funerals today. The Miller mourners have departed, leaving wisps of smoke, gum wrappers and crushed dixie cups. Now the reposing room has to be turned over. Porters are poised in the doorway with dustpans, vacuum cleaners and air fresheners. Behind them Shmattner/Aiello and Plotzstein/Celiberti have wheeled out another casket containing another freshly embalmed, cosmetized and dressed decedent. In the lobby a new bereaved family is waiting to enter the room and receive visitors.

I take a baby step toward Marilyn.

“Uh…The service is about to begin…”

She has been standing under light in the casket alcove like an actress on stage. She blinks and stares at me in utter disbelief.

“Excuse me…?”

In a life to come I will realize how presumptuous I must have seemed. Nobody tells Marilyn Monroe what to do. She is famously late and everyone waits. Directors, movie stars, studio heads, columnists–she even showed up late to sing “Happy Birthday ” to JFK.

“The service is in the main chapel,” I say. Another non-sequitur, but Marilyn understands.

“Look…I don’t want to draw attention to myself. Is there a private room or something?”

There is a small two-seat opera box overlooking the chapel. No one ever sits there. It’s used as a make out spot with the girls picked up in the bowling alley across the street.

“We have a special reserved balcony area for private viewing,” I say. “Mr. Shmattner, would you tell Mr. Squires I’m taking Miss Monroe to the special balcony,” I say.

The room is on the other side of the building, which means another trip down the service elevator through the basement. We pass the tohora room where the watcher stands over the shrouded body chanting in fervent prayer.

“Does he do this all day long?” Marilyn asks.

“He’s supposed to,” I say.

In the embalming room Krieger/Carraciola and Strauss/De Sousa are eating huge hero sandwiches, tomato sauce dripping. Behind them two cadavers raised up on the tables, seem to be staring covetously at their lunch.

A small elevator takes us to a dark vestibule on the second floor. There’s the distinct odor of stale beer and drugstore perfume. I open the door. Heads turn in the chapel below; it’s amazing how Marilyn broadcasts her presence. Everybody looks up at her, but Arthur, who stares straight ahead. I open a folding chair. Marilyn slips her coat over her shoulders. The rabbi waits until she is settled before he begins.

“I’ll be outside,” I whisper.

She doesn’t seem to hear me.

In the vestibule, Albino’s cigarette is glowing.

“She likes you,” he whispers. “See how she put her hand on your wrist? Didja make small talk like I told you?”

“I told her I was working my way through college…”

“Keep it up. Give her an opening to make a date…”

“But what can I say?”

“Tell her you wanna be an actor and can she recommend a class,” he says. “She’ll say the Actors Studio where she goes and maybe she can put in a word. Get your foot in the door. Make your breaks…Don’t be a schmuck all your life.”

The rabbi is a pro, no long eulogies. Soon, I hear the announcement: “The funeral cortege will be leaving from the back parking lot.” Marilyn is leaning over the balcony, waving to Mr. Miller. He beckons. She shakes her head and blows him a kiss. In a moment the chapel is empty. The casket is moved behind a curtain to a covered driveway where it will be loaded into the hearse. Another casket is wheeled in from behind another curtain. Flower pieces are arrayed. Shmattner/Aiello steps back to make sure the arrangement is perfect. The chapel door is opened and a new group of mourners ushered in.

“It’s like a funeral factory in here,” Marilyn says.

Is she giving me an opening?

“Twenty funerals,” is all I can reply..

She shrugs back into her coat. Does she want me to help? What if I try and she brushes me off like she did to Albino?

“Can you take me back to my car?” she asks.


We go back down in the elevator. She bumps against me? Is she making a move? Could be the air. People get woozy in funeral parlors. We get a lot of fainters.

In the basement the porters are washing an old Packard hearse. Marilyn steps gingerly through the soapy puddles and takes my wrist between her thumb and forefinger, grazing me with her nail. A little electric chill shoots through me. Did she do it on purpose? I don’t know, but she just made it onto my fantasy team.

The cortege rides alongside of us as we walk to her car. Every face in every window is turned to Marilyn. She puts on her dark glasses and speeds up, her heels clacking on the sidewalk. The chauffeur jumps out to open the door.

Some guys ride by in an Impala convertible. “We love you Marilyn,” they shout. She waves, absently in their general direction. Then turns to me.

“You’ve been very patient with me, Mr…What’s your name, anyway?”

“Heywood,” I say.

“Heywood,” she says. “Is that your mother’s maiden name or something?”

“My father named me after a famous newspaper writer, Heywood Broun,” I say.

“Well, what do they call you for short?”

I can’t believe I’ve hit a bonanza of small talk over my name.

“Woody,” I say. “I get made fun of a lot. You know Woody the Woodpecker or Hey-is-for horses…Heystacks Calhoun–he’s a wrestler. Stuff like that…”

“You poor baby,” she says. “Well, at least, no one will ever forget your name…”

The chauffeur has been holding the door during this exchange. Big guy with a booze dark face, he’d just love to step between us and give me a shove. “Is this guy botherin’ you, Miss Monroe? Take a walk, pal…” Instead, we’re having a pleasant conversation. And now he gapes as she reaches up and strokes my face. “Goodbye Heywood…”

Her fingers are warm and moist. “Goodbye, ” I say.

She shrugs out of the coat and throws it in the back seat. Her butt bobbles as she climbs into the car. In another life I’ll become an expert at spotting panty lines, but for now I’m convinced she is naked under that dress.

Something has dropped out of her coat pocket. A matchbook. I retrieve it as the car pulls away. I can call out to her, stop the car and return it. Instead, I put it in my pocket and saunter back to the chapel where everybody is clustered at the door eager to hear my story.








I have a guilty secret: I’m not attracted to Marilyn Monroe. I’m a serial self-abuser when it comes to her earthy imitators–Mamie Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield. I can sit through seven cartoons, a newsreel and a Randolph Scott western just to get a second look at Jane Russell in The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown. After I see Janet Leigh in Psycho, I lock myself in my room for days, only coming out for meals. I’ve spent so much time in the shower with Yvonne De Carlo I’m getting webbed fingers. But Marilyn just isn’t on my Fantasy team. She has an aloof, distracted look like she’s getting messages from another dimension. I can’t fit her into any imaginary scenarios and it bothers me. I fear for my masculinity.

Marilyn is standing so close I can smell her perfume. It’s a warm April day, but she is wearing an ankle length fur coat, opened slightly onto a black dress. Her breasts seem to quiver with the slightest movement. I’ve never known a woman, from 11 to 90, to go braless so I am transfixed. No jewelry, nail polish, make up or lipstick. Her skin isn’t blushing ivory as it is in Technicolor, but pasty with a tiny pimple here and there. Her eyes are invisible behind the dark glasses and her white blonde hair disappears in the sunlight.

“Miss Monroe?” I ask.

She gives me the “Duh” smile.

“I’d like to see the the Miller family?” she says.

“I will direct you,” I say with my best funereal politesse.

“Do we have to go through there?” She gestures toward the milling lobby. News of her arrival must have spread through the ether. People are peering through the glass doors. A traffic jam is forming on Coney Island Avenue. A mounted cop rides out of the park at full gallop. ” I don’t want to draw attention,” she says. “Is there another way?”

“We can take the back elevator,” I say.

I lead her around the corner. My colleagues are standing at the office window, waving and shaking their heads. In the parking lot the chauffeurs step out of their limos, putting on their caps. Sconzo runs out the back door, buttoning his coat.

“Mr. Gould,” he calls

“Excuse me, it’s my boss,” I say and leave her on the ramp leading to the basement.

“Are you fuckin’ crazy?” Sconzo whispers.

“She didn’t want to draw attention so I’m taking her through the back elevators,” I say.

“You’re gonna walk her right by the embalming room for Chrissake,” he says with a panicky look. “Alright, alright, I’ll call down and tell them to close the door…” He shoves me. “Go, go…”

It’s been fifteen seconds and already Marilyn has drawn a crowd. A column of horseback riders from the Prospect Park Riding Academy next door rides by. There is a chorus of “whoas!” The horses stop and plop. Bowlers pour out of the Park Circle Lanes across the street, some still holding their balls.

“Hope I’m not causing any bother,” she says.

“Of course not,” I say.

She teeters on her heels and grabs my wrist as we walk down the steep ramp. The sunlight stops at the garage overhang. It is suddenly very dark and shivery. I walk her past the hearses down a narrow hallway. Marshall, the porter emerges from the supply closet lighting a cigarette. He gapes, match in midair.

“Hi,” Marilyn says.

At the end of the hallway is the harsh light of the embalming room. Two bodies are on the white porcelain embalming tables. Marilyn stops for a moment. A dark figure–probably Marshall– whooshes by and closes the door, but we can still hear the tinny radio playing rock and roll.

“Is that the morgue?” Marilyn asks.

“The embalming room,” I say.

She walks on ahead of me.

“Then, what’s this?”

I realize with a jolt that we haven’t closed the door of the tohorah room where Orthodox Jews prepare their dead for burial.

“That’s for the very religious people,” I say. “They have a special ceremony…”

Marilyn is staring into a small bare room where a shrouded body lies under a bare bulb on a long wooden table. It is a female–we can see the sparse white hair against the bony skull. An elderly woman is bustling around the body with a sponge.

“What’s she doing?” Marilyn asks.

“Purifying the body,” i say. “You see the religious people don’t believe in embalming. They wash the body in vinegar and eggs and bury the person within twenty-four hours.”

A bent old man with a white beard comes out of a dark corner, mumbling. Marilyn gasps and reaches for me. “Who’s that?”

“That’s the shomer,” I say. “The religious people believe the deceased should never be left alone. This man watches the body and prays over it…”

“He scared me to death,” she says.

The service elevator is full of casket dollies. I push them out and escort Marilyn in. The door creaks slowly shut. The cables squeal and the elevator labors.

“You know a lot about this,” Marilyn says.

“I’m working my way through college,” I say. It’s a senseless response, but she doesn’t seem to notice.

“Oh,” she says.

The door creaks open on the second floor. I lead her down a crowded hallway. Mourners from other funerals are jostling for a look.

As we approach the Miller family room Marilyn steps behind me. Nobody ever wants to enter a reposing room. No one knows how to condole. I suddenly feel protective.

“Excuse us please,” I say.

The crowd around the door parts. An old man staggers up from a sofa near the casket.



He falls into her arms.

“They’re very close,” a woman whispers. “He’s the father she never had…”

The visitors step back as she leads him to the couch.

“Watch, see, if she even says a word to Arthur,” a woman says. “From what I hear it’s not amicable.”

Mr. Miller reaches under Marilyn’s coat to embrace her.

“That’s right Izzie, get a good handful,” someone says.

It’s a bent, squinty old man with Maalox crust around his lips.

“Shut up Ben…”

This from a stout old lady with swollen ankles in a black dress with a lace collar.

“Wonder who I can get when you go,” the old man says.

“I’m warning you, Ben…”

The old man prods me in the ribs with thick working man fingers. “Hey kid, you booking this? Can you get me Mitzi Gaynor for her funeral?”

Albino, the semi-dwarf with a beak nose and patent leather hair, steps into the room and clears his throat, dramatically.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, will you all please take your seats in the chapel now for the Miller services. Only the immediate family need remain.”

The visitors file out, leaving Marilyn, the old man and a young women who I guess is the daughter. The tall guy standing by the window must be the son, the famous playwright, Arthur Miller.

Albino gives me the let-me-show-you-how-it’s done wink. He tries to take Marilyn by the arm.

“If you’ll come with me, Miss Monroe…”

But she pulls away from him…”Wait…” And goes to the tall man by the window. He stares down at her as if he doesn’t understand what she’s saying. She turns away and looks around like she’s lost.

“Come Marilyn, sit with me,” the old man says.

“No, no, Papa, I’ll see you later,” she says.

Reluctantly, Albino, leads the family out of the room.

Now it’s just the two of us. Protocol dictates that the last visitor be out of the room before the casket is moved.

“Do you wish to be seated?” I ask Marilyn.

“No, no, wait,” she says.

Aiello and Celiberti appear in the doorway.

“Mr. Shmatzner, Mr. Plotzstein,” I call. “You can come in…”

They enter…”Excuse us…”

As they are wheeling the casket out, Marilyn turns to me.

“Stay with me, please…”





Hollywood has names for them. The “double-takers” –the ones who look familiar so you look again and still can’t remember their names. The “isn’t that,” or “wasn’t he in” celebrities. I’ll learn those categories in a life to come. Now it’s 1961 in the Riverside Memorial Chapel across from Prospect Park, and we get plenty of double-takers. Comedians, supporting actors, politicians–a slight thrill of recognition and they melt into the crowd.

But everybody in the world knows Marilyn. Every man has fantasized a lurid encounter with her. Every woman has wondered what it must be like to have every man in the room lusting after you. Gay men, too, I suppose, but they are still in very deep cover.

How much seed has been spilled over Marilyn’s calendar? How often has she substituted for a humdrum partner?

And now she’s coming to a funeral. She’ll walk through that door and one of us will be there to escort her.

Thirty guys are jammed into the tiny back office, each hoping to be the lucky one.

Sconzo, the day manager, originally appointed himself to the job. But he has been shouted down by the mob.

“Okay, we’ll make it democratic,” he says.

He takes out a handful of toe tags, the name tags, tied to the toes of the deceased to identify them.

“Everybody pays a five dollar entry fee and gets a tag,” he says.

There is a roar of protest, but Sconzo doesn’t waver.

“If you guys give me a hard time I’ll pull rank and you can all take a walk,” he says. “You buy a ticket for the Irish Sweepstakes, don’t ya? Well, this is the Marilyn Monroe Sweepstakes…”

“Yeah, but five bucks,” whines Aiello, a young apprentice.

“You give three bucks to that fat old hooer on Pitkin Avenue,” Sconzo says. “You won’t pony up a fin for Marilyn Monroe?”

Out come the fives.

“No owsies,” Sconzo decrees.

“But I only have three bucks on me,” says Rizzo, the grave robber.

“So go borrow a deuce from your wife,” says Sconzo.

The limo drivers in their dark coats and gray striped pants take a flyer. Earl, the handyman in his greasy work clothes, promises to rush home and put on a suit if he wins. The black porters, Marshall, Bill and Walter, right off the tobacco fields of South Carolina, watch from the doorway. Sconzo waves to them.

“You guys in?”

“Who you kiddin’?” Marshall says.” You just gonna palm our tags.”

“If you win, you win,” Sconzo says.

The porters caucus, still mistrustful, and decide to buy one ticket with all three names on it.

“If we win, we’ll pick the guy,” Marshall says.

We write our names on the tags. Sconzo puts them in a trash can and starts to draw.

“No, no,” says Rizzo, also a card cheat and a thief. “You could crimp your own tag that way.”

“Mix ‘em up,” we say.

Sconzo empties another can and pours the tags from one into the other, mixing before and after each pour. After the fourth pour he looks up.


“Okay draw…”

“Draw already…”

He reaches into the can and comes out with a tag. “And the winner is…Gould…”


A chorus of groans, a shaking of disgusted heads.

“The kid?”

“Marone, what a waste.”

I am pushed, reviled.

“He wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

A shove from Albino, a semi-dwarf with a banana nose, who fancies himself a great lover.

“Tell the truth, kid. Didja ever get laid?”

I take a beat too long to answer.

“Sure I did…”

Albino reaches up and clocks me with the heel of his hand. “Fatchim! I’m not talkin’ about a handjob under the stairs.” His face screws up and he blinks back a tear. “I’m talkin’ about makin’ love to a real woman.” And turns away in despair. “This is a tragedy. A fuckin’ tragedy…”

Cesario, a hearse driver, shoves a handful of bills at me. “Cut the crap. Thirty bucks for your tag.”

The room gets quiet. Ceasario is rumored to have mob connections.

Still, I waver. I am stung by the sneers at my manhood, my inexperience. I know that if I surrender the ticket I will be seen as a coward.

Then, Sconzo comes to my rescue.

“He won it fair and square,” he says.

Cesario turns to him. “And I’m makin’ him a fair offer,” he says.

“No propositions,” Sconzo says. He checks his watch. “Funeral’s at one. They said she’d be here at twelve-forty five. Better get out there to meet her.”

Cesario is humbled, his power broken. He pockets his money and walks out. In a second the mood has changed. Everybody is grooming me for my big moment.

“Button your jacket…”

“Stand straight and look her in the eye.”

“If you get a chance to shake her hand, see if you can put her finger on her pulse. That gives broads chills…”

Albino takes me aside with an urgent look. “When you talk to her, keep a normal face, you know what I mean, but try to imagine her takin’ her clothes off. You know like pullin’ the skirt to unhook the stockings. Unbuttonin’ the blouse…Just keep thinkin’ it, y’see and that’ll give her the idea…” He breathes a blast of expresso and Lucky Strikes in my face. “Okay?”


Mourners mill in the lobby. Nobody knows that Marilyn Monroe is coming today.

It’s a warm April day. The chapel is on a traffic circle that feeds to the park, the Parade Grounds baseball fields and Coney Island Avenue.

A charcoal Lincoln Continental Convertible, top down, comes around the circle. In the front seat, a chauffeur with a gray cap. In the back seat, a blonde wearing dark glasses. The Continental pulls up to the curb.

I’m frozen.

I hear Albino’s anguished whisper. “Shmuck! Go grab the door for her.”

Too late. The chauffeur opens the door, and offers a helping hand.

Marilyn Monroe steps out and looks around.






It’s 1961. I’m only 18, but my black deeds are mounting. I win an $800 scholarship for high scores on the State Board of Regents exams. I tell my parents I’ll use it for text books and a new typewriter, but my secret plan is to cash the check and run off to Europe where I intend to sport a beret, seduce French girls and write the Great American Novel. I see myself, standing alone on a windswept deck, while my sobbing mother reads my terse note of farewell.

I smoke marijuana and drink cheap wine every night, curing the morning malaise with a cherry Coke and an egg salad sandwich. My father tells me I look like a raccoon. To cover I make up symptoms–back pain, insomnia, nausea. My mother plies me with cod liver oil and chicken soup–I draw the line at an enema.

I am an erection in search of a home. Candidates can be of any age. Breasts are the main attraction. But I can be driven crazy by thighs swishing through a tight skirt.

I am an eclectic lecher. I nurse a frenzied fantasy for one of my buxom aunts. Somehow she senses it and won’t give me her usual wet kiss when she comes to visit. Occasionally, I am transfixed by the swinging buttocks of police horses.

NY State won’t send the scholarship check until the winner has completed at least one semester with a 3.0. Every morning I wrestle torpor and lose in freshman survey courses at Brooklyn College. In the afternoon I go to the Riverside Memorial Chapel across from Prospect Park where I defame the dead, the bereaved and the faith of my forebears.

NY State law requires all undertakers to serve an apprenticeship. My colleagues are young men whose families own small funeral homes. They are Italian and Irish and Riverside is a Jewish funeral parlor so the night manager, Tom Mammana, gives them Jewish aliases. Celiberti becomes “Krieger;” Aiello is “Altman;” McCadden answers to “Morris.”

But these names are too tame. The boys make up their own burlesque versions, calling to each other across a lobby crowded with mourners…”Mr. Shmatler, will you please take these people to the Gladstein room…” “Mr. Krapinsky, could you please direct these people…” “Be right there Mr. Plotzstein…” And then run into an alcove red-faced with suppressed laughter.

Still, there is some sacrilege not even these pranksters will commit. They’ll wear skull caps, but won’t say the short prayer for the dead. Because I am the only real Jew I’m elected. On Sundays funerals begin at nine-thirty and go non-stop in fifteen minute intervals until three-thirty. I stand in the family room off the chapel keeping an appropriately grave face as Shmatler, Plotzstein and Krapinsky try to crack me up. They lurk out of sight in the wings of the chapel, making faces, obscene gestures, even dropping their pants. I stare at them stony and unmoved. Before the ceremony I recite a short prayer, which the immediate family repeats after me. Then I rend their garments with a razor blade and lead them into the main chapel, requesting the mourners to “please rise,” and then “be seated.”

The families often misunderstand my simple instructions. “Please repeat after me,” I say to one man. “I’m going to cut your tie…”

“I’m going to cut your tie,” he blubbers.

“No, just the prayer,” I say.

“Just the prayer,” he repeats.

“No the Hebrew part…”

“Say the prayer already,” someone interrupts. “He’s only the brother-in-law.”

I begin the prayer…”Baruch atah adonai..”

Aiello/Plotzstein enters at the proper funereal pace. I know what he’s going to do and steel myself.

“Eloheinu melech haolam…”

As Aiello passes he turns to me and opens his mouth. Out pops a lit cigarette. He swallows it and walks on. I bite hard on my lip and finish the prayer.

“Dayan ha emet…”

Most funeral are models of decorum, but there are occasional outbursts, which test my impassivity.

A widow looks down at her husband.

“Harry, how many times did I tell you: Nobody buys pencils. Paper Mate ball points Harry…”

And is cut off by an anguished cry. “Let Daddy rest, Mama, you’ll sell the pencils…”

For weeks after that we greet each other with “Paper Mate ball points, Harry,” and answer in helpless mirth: “we’ll sell the pencils, Esther…”

One night I drink a bottle of Romilar Cough Syrup. An hour later I am whirling, aimless in the cosmos. Space winds howl in my ear. I try to open my eyes, but they have been locked shut. Then I realize:


God is punishing me for my lies to my parents, my petty larcenies and perverted lusts– my disrespect for the dead. I cling to the slimy walls of my sanity, thinking: this isn’t real, this isn’t happening. But the deceased fly by me in their shrouds, their hospital gowns, their sad pajamas. The fat lady I threw onto the stretcher. The old man with the camp tattoos on his arm. Chalk white, blue veins protruding, crabbed fingers pointing.

Somehow I am on the cool tile of my parents’ bathroom. Then under a hot shower. The same God who is sending me to hell has also provided cherry Cokes and egg salad, heavy on the mayo. I am given another chance. Henceforth, I will be truthful, honest and respectful.

But mere days later I am in an Orthodox burial shroud stuffing myself with Italian sausage.

“MARILYN FUCKIN’ MONROE” is coming to the Miller funeral.

We grab the “first call sheet.” The deceased is Augusta…Next of kin, husband Isidore, daughter Joan, son Arthur…

That’s it.

“Arthur Miller, the playwright,” I say.

“Debts of a Salesman…”

” They’re separated,” Sconzo, the day manager says.

The office is now crowded. No one is out on the floor directing the mourners. It’s anarchy. People wandering into the wrong reposing rooms. Looking in the caskets: and running out:

“That’s not my Uncle Max.”

Sconzo has been on the phone with Marilyn’s secretary. “She says Marilyn is still very close to the family,” he says. “She wants to come and express her condolences, but she doesn’t want to cause a commotion.” He takes a dramatic pause. “She asked if it would be possible for someone to meet her at the door and take her to the family room? Then, escort her to a private place where she can watch the service without drawing attention…Then, back to her car…” Another pause. “I told her it could be arranged…”

The room explodes.

Who’s gonna meet her?

“Me, who else?” says Sconzo.

Suddenly, everybody’s a communist.

“Just ’cause you’re the boss?”

“You don’t have no special privileges…”

“We have just as much rights as you do…”

“What’d we fight the war for?”

“Okay, okay,” Sconzo says with a gleam, as if he had it planned all along. “We’ll do it the democratic way.”




It’s 1961 and Brooklyn isn’t cool yet. It’s still a tributary, sending stenographers and piece workers across the bridge to mother Manhattan. Where colorful locals “tawk like dis” and mourn their departed Dodgers.

No war movie is complete without a “dese and dose” Flatbusher getting a salami from his mommy while he wisecracks in the Army. No B-musical can be filmed without a gum-popping Coney Island chorine who “knows the score.”

The Brooklyn Museum has a world renowned collection of hieroglyphs and papyri; the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens has the finest stand of Japanese cherry trees outside of Kyoto. But those joints (as we say in Brooklyn) are just for tourists and field trips.

Norman Mailer and Truman Capote are Brooklynites, not to mention poet Marianne Moore for whom the term “doyenne” was invented. But they live in Brooklyn Heights, a spit, which broke off from Manhattan Island after the Ice Age and has been trying to reattach ever since.

The real Brooklyn is a seething mass of sexual speculation. Three million people existing in uneasy intimacy with total strangers. Standing nose to nose and crotch to buttock on the subway. Adjoining each other in crowded apartment buildings where you can hear a sigh or smell a fart through thin walls. Looking at each other and wondering: “Does she want to?” “Is that a hint?” “Why is he staring at me like that?” “Should I say something?” ” What if Morty finds out?” “Jeeze, her boyfriend’s a fuckin’ giant…”

You want libidinal chaos? Try Coney Island on a summer weekend. The beach is a heaving mass of wriggling limbs, so jammed you can’t see the sand. Every age and variety of human anatomy is on display. You seesaw from repulsion to infatuation as you tiptoe between the blankets.

In my wanderings I see a clump of humanity, risen like a bush in the desert. That means there’s a hot bod on a blanket. I change course, trampling shrieking infants and dozing oldsters until I find myself on the fringe of a group of desperate men, all trying very hard not to look at what they came to see. A babe in a bikini pretends she doesn’t know she’s being watched and continues doing her nails, smoking a cigarette or, most excruciating of all, lying on her stomach while her friend spreads Bain de Soleil on the backs of her legs. She doesn’t have to be a beauty. A bit of boob peeking out of the bottom of a bra, a wisp of unshaven pube is enough to draw a frenzied mob.

Brooklyn is a place to be from, not to go to. This is proven by who dies and who buries them.

I’m working at Riverside Memorial Chapel, a funeral parlor on Park Circle across from Prospect Park. I’m a “removal man.” Every night I go to cluttered apartments in shabby neighborhoods where a very old person has quietly passed among his/her souvenirs. The deceased can lay undiscovered for days, even weeks, their death scent oozing out from under the door, obscured by cooking smells, gas leaks and general funk. Eventually, the uncashed Social Security checks in their mailboxes sound the alarm and cops arrive with crowbars. I show up soon thereafter, black suit and body bag my badge of office. I walk past stiffly posed photos of the old country, wedding pictures, Bar Mitzvah shots to a rumpled bed where a crumpled person in a cotton nightgown or striped pajamas settled in for a nap and never woke up.

I move bodies out of morgues in large hospitals. The attendant slides open a drawer on staring faces in the blue hospital gowns they died in.

I venture into Brooklyn’s vast, uncharted interior. To forgotten Jewish nursing homes in the encroaching black ghetto. The splintered steps creak. The warped screen door squeals. On the porch skeletons turn.

Is he here for me?

No Shmuel, you’re not dead yet.

The deceased is covered by a threadbare gray sheet. A friend sits by the window, nodding and licking cracked lips. They hand me a small valise and a shopping bag filled with used sundries. I belt it onto the stretcher on top of the body.

Two days later we bury them. The families show up all sleek and suburban in shiny sedans. The men are dressed for the office. The women wear dark suits, fur capes and walk in clouds of scent. The grandchildren bicker and fidget. Everyone has that extra layer of flesh that you get when you’re born in America.

A hired rabbi reads the prayers and gives a brief summary of the person’s life. It’s 1961 so we get a lot of “he/she survived the hell of Auschwitz;” or “came to this country at the age of nine with nothing but the clothes on his/her back; ” or “sent three children through college on a cutter’s salary…”

Occasionally, a cry of grief escapes like a hiccup.

“Momma, don’t leave me…”


“Forgive me Papa…”

It is answered by a brief of chorus of sobs and murmurs. The rabbi waits for silence, then concludes with the prayer for the dead. The chapel empties. We wheel the casket into the hearse. And wheel the next casket in for the next service.

Jews don’t bury on Saturday so Sunday is our busiest day. The manager is Italian, Anthony Sconzo, but he calls himself Yale Slutnick in deference to the clientele. On Sundays his wife cooks dinner for the staff, A big pot of veal pizzaiola with meatballs and chunks of sausage. Baked ziti with eggplant and mozzarella. Broccoli rabe. We eat in the back office, slipping on Orthodox burial shrouds so we won’t get sauce on our suits.

I don’t get this food in my mother’s kitchen so I am gorging myself when the phone rings. Sconzo listens for a while.

“Very funny, Angie” And covers the phone, shaking his head. “My stupid sister-in-law…” But then gets serious.

“Yes, okay, I understand…Sure…We’ll take care of it…”

And hangs up with a look of utter stupefaction.

We watch as he struggles to regain the power of speech.

“Why is this day different from all other days?” he finally gasps.

We pause, forks poised.

He rises and stretches his arms to the sputtering fluourescents, looking like Lazarus in his sauce-spattered shroud.

” Marilyn Monroe will be attending a funeral here,” he announces.

A scream issues from his limbic recesses.






Igor Yopsvoyomatsky,
editor-in chief, paranoiaisfact.com
answers readers’ questions.

Dear Igor,

I sell souvenirs to tourists on the Staten Island Ferry and after eight years of Dubya I can’t give America away. Nobody wants Statue of Liberty piggy banks, FBI caps, “Brooklyn Rules” tees…Not even Michael Jackson wind up dolls. People used to be in awe of how cool we were–NYC, DC, the Grand Canyon, Hollywood. Now they come to sneer and feel superior. Our plunging dollar makes us a cheap date. Our leaders get no respect. After Bush trashed the American brand I thought Obama would turn it around, but his novelty has quickly faded and now I’m stuck with a gross of “Yes I Can” hoodies. I’m afraid America will never be cool again. Is this paranoia or fact?
Distressed Peddler
Sunnyside, Queens

Dear Distressed,

This is fact. According to a recent Pew survey,the US ranked 117th on the cool index, right under Tierra Del Fuego. Only Russia, China, the UK and Zimbabwe were considered less cool than the US.

America created the 20th. Century in its own image. Victorious in two wars, innovative in industry and the arts, it was a magnet for the best minds and most energetic workers in the world. Everyone loved Detroit cars, Broadway musicals, Hollywood movies, American cigarettes and Elvis. American Capitalism vanquished Soviet Communism by promising eternal, exponential wealth.

America was cool.

Now the American financial house of cards has collapsed. General Motors is begging Government handouts, Broadway is ruled by British imports, Hollywood is a limping subdivision of bloated conglomerates, the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer and Graceland is controlled by Scientology.


In its ascendancy, the US had the coolest leaders. FDR betrayed his class to bring the US out of the Depression. Harry Truman fired MacArthur and stood up to Stalin. Dwight D. Eisenhower, wartime commander and Five Star General, turned on his brethren to warn about the “Military-Industrial Complex.” JFK, brought hipness, taste and sophistication into the White House and called Krushchev’s bluff in Cuba. Even Lyndon Johnson had the dignity to withdraw from public life when the people rejected him.


During its slow decline the US has experienced an unbroken chain of bizarre nonentities. Nixon inexplicably recorded his own incriminating statements; Carter, a peanut farmer with delusions of prophecy, left office with a 19% interest rate; Reagan, an underpaid Warner Bros. contract player, actually believed that the rich would allow a minuscule portion of their wealth to “trickle down” to the working class; Clinton, a glib, small town Lothario, enabled Wall Street to take over the American economy. The Bushes are the greatest argument against ruling class inbreeding since the Hapsburgs. Obama has seen ingratiation turn into antagonism and doesn’t know what to do about it.


American celebrities were the coolest in the world. Could anyone top Marilyn or Einstein (he was a citizen), Astaire, Grace Kelly, Jonas Salk, Jackie O, Brando, Duke Ellington, Broadway Joe–the list is truly endless.

Now you have OJ, MJ, Lindsay Lohan, Elliot Spitzer. You have the dangerous nonentities of reality TV. Sports stars who turn themselves into bionic chimeras with steroids and surgery.

But don’t feel too bad, Distressed. At least you can complain. Three quarters of the world must suffer in silence. They live under the heel of oligarchical thugs who maintain their power by censorship, repression, torture, rape and outright massacre.


China hasn’t been cool since Confucius, France since Sartre and Belmondo; the UK since James Bond and he wasn’t even real. Italy has a seventy-three year old President who brags to teenage girls about his sexual prowess. Russia was cool with Rasputin, but Putin poses shirtless like Mr. Universe and Medvedev, the little man who wasn’t there, makes pronouncements that no one hears.

The entire planet is totally, hopelessly…