Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession.
Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.
Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?
Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

I've seen my share of dead bodies in my life but I've only been to one funeral where I actually knew the person - my grandfather (who looked exactly like the sergeant in the Andy Griffith flick No Time for Sergeants) who had passed on from smoking four packs of Camel non-filtered smokes a day and who looked like it. Even with all the make up he still has a hideous ashy gray color to him & I swear I could still smell cigarettes on him.

I visited the local funeral home several times as a kid purely out of morbid curiosity - once for some unknown fucking reason to see the school janitor who had died & another time to see a classmate who had died from some disease just so I could watch girls from my class wail hysterically and gnash their teeth & shake their hands at the heavens even they barely knew or even liked her.

While in the military I saw dead green bodies munched on by crabs, fish, and sharks floating in the harbor after they had jumped to their death off bridges or shot full of holes on Los Angeles & San Diego street corners after drug deals gone wrong. And I used to volunteer to work military funerals just so I could escape the boredom of daily military duties. One dude must have weighed 3 bills and of course his family had bought the heaviest fucking casket they could afford!

But I've only been to a crematorium once. A drug dealer had been shot to death during a DEA bust and had bled all over the cash so it had to be burned. I was an armed escort that helped carry the coke & blood splattered cash into the funeral home and I stood their in wonder and sadness as I watched about 300 grand go up in smoke. 

If I had been the only way one there I would have tried to cut a deal with the minimum wage crematory worker to split the loot & no one would have been the wiser.

This is a very good - and weird book that a lot of people won't be interested in reading because of the subject matter. I'd give it four out of five stars. For some reason the author gave me a Morticia Adams sort of feel when I saw her photo on the book jacket. Strange yet sexy.

The crystal coffin inside the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. (Internet photo)


Do you think the rumor is true about Marilyn Monroe and the guy that embalmed her?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A darker twist on Orange is the New Black, this true insider's account delivers an eye-opening look into the nation’s largest state-run forensic hospital, a facility that houses the real-life Hannibal Lecters of the world.

Psychiatrist Stephen Seager was no stranger to locked psych wards when he accepted a job at California’s Gorman State hospital, known locally as “Gomorrah,” but nothing could have prepared him for what he encountered when he stepped through its gates, a triple sally port behind the twenty-foot walls topped with shining coils of razor wire. Gorman State is one of the nation’s largest forensic mental hospitals, dedicated to treating the criminally insane. Unit C, where Seager was assigned, was reserved for the “bad actors,” the mass murderers, serial killers, and the real-life Hannibal Lecters of the world.

Against a backdrop of surreal beauty—a verdant campus-like setting where peacocks strolled the grounds—is a place of remarkable violence, a place where a small staff of clinicians are expected to manage a volatile population of prison-hardened ex-cons, where lone therapists lead sharing circles with sociopaths, where an illicit underground economy flourishes, and where patients and physicians often measure their lives according to how fast they can run. To cross through the gates of Gomorrah is to enter a looking-glass world, where the trappings of the normal calendar year exist—Halloween dances and Christmas parties (complete with visits from Santa), springtime softball teams and basketball leagues, but marked with paroxysms of brutality (Santa goes berserk), and peopled by figures from our nightmares.

Behind the Gates of Gomorrah affords an eye-opening look inside a facility to which few people have ever had access. Honest, rueful, and at times darkly funny, Seager’s gripping account of his rookie year blends memoir with a narrative science, explaining both the aberrant mind and his own, at times incomprehensible, determination to remain in a job with a perilously steep learning curve.

I had a personal interest in reading this book since I've worked in three different mental hospitals with one being a security hospital which is also known as a prison for the criminally insane.

Dr. Seager hits it out of the park in this book. I'd have to give it five out of five stars.

The only difference between the Doc and myself is that it seemed he was always in fear when he was inside the walls and I found being inside a source of pure adrenaline.

I worked in a facility in the upper midwest which I won't name but it was in a state that has a pro football team that always seems to set records for drunken driving, spousal abuse, once having a quarterback who set selfies of his crank to a woman when he was on a previous team, and more recently their star running back beat the shit out of his son with a switch - an act that brought unwelcome headline attention to the state and the team.

The facility I had worked in housed murderers, rapists, guys who raped dogs, serial dick flashers, child molesters, and about any other kind of deviant behavior you can imagine.

There were so many oddballs in there it would take all day to document it so here are just a few:

Norm who beat his mother to death with a frying pan. That biscuit eater was so dangerous that he had a leather weight lifting belt locked around his waist with one hand always strapped to it.

Bob who was chucked off a tier in a penitentiary and couldn't feel anything below his waist but could still walk and needed two forced enemas a week which the guards had to witness. To clean out Bob it took 2 Fleet enemas to prime the pump and then a gallon of soapy water to finish the deal.

Danny, who was mostly deaf and stuttered like a fucking traffic cop and who could drop his pants and direct a stream of shit at an enemy like a flame-throwing skunk.

Another Dan, a one eyed Indian who was in for raping young girls and who used to store cigarette butts in his vacant eye socket and who once gave the whole unit head lice in their crotches after he gave everybody a blow job for some smokes.

Patrick, who thought he was in the CIA.

A patient got a 800 number of a pen company in Ohio out of a magazine and called in a bomb threat on the patient phone that cost the company thousands of dollars.

A female patient who was "dating" a other nut from another unit had her beau jerk off in a cup for days and then she drank it down like a glass of expensive champagne when they met up one weekend in the canteen.

It's not a place for the squeamish but I sure had fun in the 13 months I was there. Talk about a life experience!

The first day on the job, fresh out of orientation, the unit boss had within seconds tossed me a set of cuffs and pointed to a dude standing by the security door.

"See that fucking nut there? Cuff his ass and walk up him up to ECT so they can fry his nuts!"