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?