Everyone knows that Ms. Smith is dead, but there is a final chapter to be written having to do with her relationship to my illustrious colleague, 80 Hour Man, and an obligation he felt to see her off. 80 Hour Man, of course, is not his real name, but I gave it to him because of his claim that back in the day he consistently worked 80 hour weeks. I guess he was a true working class hero back then, a real example of America’s can-do spirit. I can remember one time telling a former coworker that I once worked a stretch of a month and a half without a single day off (I used to house paint on weekends to make ends meet). 80 Hour Man, who is tuned into every conversation that goes on in the office, immediately barged in by saying, “Oh yeah? Well that’s nothing! I once went three years without a day off!” That might not have been the first heaping, steaming, fly-infested, wheelbarrow load of bullshit he dumped at my feet for my edification and enjoyment, but it was fairly early on in our acquaintance. I have since had it confirmed over and over and over again that dear old 80 Hour Man is an inveterate liar — I could dedicate an entire blog just to the bizarre, unnatural, and sometimes infuriating things he has done to the truth. He is likable, and I regard him as a friend, but 80 Hour Man is a chronic, pathological liar. He just can’t help himself.
Ms. Smith, for reasons my limited intellect will never be able to fathom, had a special liking for 80 Hour Man. The two made an interesting pair: Ms. Smith, Harvard-educated, refined, well-spoken, exact, petite, as feminine and feminine can be, stood in stark contrast to the coarse, loud, slovenly person of 80 Hour Man. Ms. Smith impressed you with her sincerity, while 80 Hour Man always sounded like a con artist desperately trying to talk himself out of an arrest. It is true that 80 Hour Man is a good designer whose layouts satisfied Ms. Smith as much as she ever could be satisfied. But beside his work, it was evident she had a genuine liking for him. Although I suppose this world has seen stranger things, I still must confess to being mystified by it and probably will always be.
We found out Ms. Smith’s wake was set for last Monday, so 80 Hour Man, the creative director and I decided to go pay our respects, not as a group but separately. The creative director brought in her car that day so she could zip over to the funeral home right after work, while 80 Hour Man and I needed to first go to our respective homes to change into suitable clothes before driving over. Visiting hours were scheduled from 4:00 to 8:00 that evening, and, after running an errand on my bike, showering, dressing myself and driving to the neighboring town where the mortuary is, it was already 7:15. Funeral homes are funeral homes I suppose, and one is just as good as another, but this one had an antiseptic, featureless, bland quality to it that reminded me of a million nondescript motel rooms I’ve stayed at in my life. The walls were painted in quiet colors and the woodwork was plain, white and cheap-looking. I was instantly directed to the back of a long, snaking line that wended its way through a couple of reception rooms and into the parlor itself. This line moved very, very slowly and I recognized no one there. Ms. Smith had worked for three companies in the area and she grew up in a town nearby, so those two factors undoubtedly accounted for the huge turnout of family, friends and professional associates. A group of three women, all in their thirties, chattered in sibilant tones in front of me of gossipy things I couldn’t quite pick up while I stood straight as a soldier and advanced one or two steps every couple minutes or so.
Along the way there were various stations featuring collages of Ms. Smith’s life, which I later found out were put together by her brother. Ms. Smith was a baby once, then she became a little girl, and later progressed from being a teenager to a young woman. She was blonde in childhood, her hair darkened as she got older, and then it became blonde again. She smiled and smiled and smiled with all her family and friends. Her dad, who is bald now, had long hippy hair when she was a baby, and her mom, who today is a quite attractive, mature woman, had kind of a hippy way about her too back when Ms. Smith was born. At one point along the procession there was a framed 8" x 10" picture of Ms. Smith at 12 or 13: curly, light brown hair, braces on her white teeth, a big smile and cheerful, shining eyes. I looked at it for a long time. You could tell she was a really nice kid.
I glanced around for 80 Hour Man but couldn’t find him. Within 10 minutes I felt sure he hadn’t arrived. I continued to patiently stand and wait and finally, after more than a half hour, I entered the parlor or viewing room or whatever they call it. The hold-up, as it turned out, was Ms. Smith’s family, which consisted of her mother, father, brother and sister-in-law. They talked at great length to everyone and showed no signs of fatigue despite having been at it now for almost four hours. Ms. Smith’s mother cried sometimes, and at other times she laughed at amusing anecdotes people told her about her daughter. Her father struck me as a real stand-up guy, greeting everyone with a firm handshake, a pleasant smile and a straight look in the eye. Ms. Smith’s brother looked a little like her and his wife looked a little like Ms. Smith’s mom back when Ms. Smith was a baby.
I was, as I said, in the main room now, but the stagnant line continued along three of the walls to finally terminate where the family stood. In one corner there was an exit and, when my watch indicated it was 8:10, I told myself I had dressed up in nice clothes and stood in line for a long time and looked at all the pictures and thought about Ms. Smith very hard, and for those reasons it would be all right for me to leave without speaking to the family. Quite honestly, I would have been stuck for things to say anyway. But if I did tell them I missed her, maybe that would have been true. We certainly weren’t friends and she drove me crazy, but I was accustomed to her. I felt very sorry she died.
The next morning 80 Hour Man was already at work when I arrived. He asked me what time I got to the wake and I told him around 7:15. 80 Hour Man said he couldn’t get there until very late because his son’s car broke down and he had to help him first. He thought he got to the funeral home well after 8:00, and, by that time, it was mainly just he and the family, so he was forced to talk to them. Remembering how long the line was behind me, I asked him how many people were left when he arrived and he said not many. It turned out he didn’t have much of a chance to look at the pictures of Ms. Smith, so we really couldn’t discuss them. Then 80 Hour Man told me how sad he felt during the whole thing and expounded at some length on how much he hated going to wakes and funerals.
Later on, Lone Female Coworker came in, and, when I had a chance to get her alone, I asked her to ask 80 Hour Man how Ms. Smith looked. She readily agreed, but before she had the chance, my two remaining coworkers, John H. and Moonshadow, arrived and enquired of 80 Hour Man details of last night’s wake. 80 Hour Man replied yes to the question of if it was open casket, and informed Moonshadow, who wanted to know how Ms. Smith looked, that she appeared to be “fuller-looking.” Later on the creative director came in and she and I discussed the wake with 80 Hour Man throwing in his two cents every now and again.
The president of our company, who didn’t go to the wake, got a full report from his sister, the creative director, and later I told him about 80 Hour Man’s assessment of how Ms. Smith looked. The president thought it was very interesting and I agreed with him, it was
very interesting. A few hours later, the president called 80 Hour Man into the his office for a five minute conversation. Later on, after work, the president told me exactly what transpired.
“80 Hour Man,” he said after instructing him to close the door, “word has it you went to the wake last night.”
80 Hour Man said that was correct.
“So you think Ms. Smith looked a little ‘fuller,’ is that right?”
Yes, a little fuller, 80 Hour Man confirmed.
“Well, I think that’s funny, because Schprock and my sister both tell me Ms. Smith was cremated.”
80 Hour Man’s face instantly dropped.
Now, I want to tell you something I noticed about 80 Hour Man’s demeanor when he walked back to his desk after getting chewed out by the president for telling his colleagues such a stupid, brazen, horrendous lie: he betrayed not a trace of shame or remorse. He looked just the same as always, completely unruffled. And I think I know the reason why: because 80 Hour Man knows that if he waits five minutes after getting caught, everyone will forget and he can go on fooling people again. Honest to God, I really believe that’s how his mind works.