A few years ago, right around this time, in fact, a friend of mine drowned. It was as terrible a day for those who cared about him as you would imagine. I won’t get into the details of his death or the hours spent that afternoon, frantically at first, then solemnly, trying to find him, or recover his body: that too was as awful as you think. He was a funny, cheerful, fundamentally goofy guy, quick to laugh, especially at his own folly. That’s how I remember him, and so in that spirit, I want to talk about something else.
At work two days after it happened, a coworker overheard me telling my friend Chris about it, and she said, “I’ve heard drowning is the best way to go. Very peaceful.”
I had no immediate reaction to that statement: in a sense I was far away and barely heard her, for one thing, but for another, I don’t tend to jump on inane comments right away because my inner voice is too busy tossing it around: Did she really just say that? What the fuck does that mean? Why do people say shit like that? Heard from whom? Is she communing with the souls of the dead, polling them on their particular death experiences? Even if she does have access to the dead, what can they really tell her? None of them have any frame of reference for comparison. It’s not like the guy who was shot in the head has any basis for believing he had it worse than the guy who was burned alive. Seriously, what the fuck?
Seriously, this is what was going on in my head, and by the time that monologue came to a close, my coworker had walked away so I couldn’t ask her. Probably for the best, she would have misunderstood and gotten all butt-hurt. Is there a word for the way people who actually believe the nonsense they pull out of their asses get bent out of shape when you call them on it? I’m drawing a blank.
But I don’t want to be mean: I want to be better than that. And so I decided to take what she offered and make something of it, and here’s what I came up with: my Top Ten Ways to Go. And if you’re reading this and you happen to actually be dead, don’t bother telling me I got it all wrong: life is for the living, gang, and you had your chance.
TOP TEN WAYS TO GO
Number 10: Extreme old age
This is actually a Woody Allen joke, but I’m going to steal it because, in my forty-plus years on the planet, I have yet to encounter as many as five people who have seen that movie, and I’m only outing myself as a poacher as a courtesy to the memory of Woody when he was, you know, good. This way-to-go comes with a big caveat: it only applies when facing execution and being given the choice of how you want to die (does not apply to firing squads – see below), i.e., if you’re on death row in, say, Texas or Georgia – although, would you really want to grow old in either of those places? Personally, I would rather not.
Number 9: Any death that is so uncanny people are still talking about it years later
Houdini got punched in the stomach (bad timing, poor communication: the word “No” can sound a lot like “Now” when you have a bit of a Hungarian accent), Isadora Duncan was dragged out of a moving car when her signature scarf got tangled in the car’s wheels (allegedly her chauffeur thought she was doing an interpretive dance), Steve Irwin managed to prove his point about the precision with which a stingray can strike (Crikey, mate!), Elvis died on the can (crap). I’ll remember you all, always.
Number 8: Firing squad
Yeah, I said it. Look, if you find yourself standing in front of a firing squad, chances are you did something notoriously cool to get there. So pat yourself on the back, smoke one last Gauloises, and tell ’em to stick that blindfold up their fat fascist asses, cuz you’re the kind of dude who wants to see it coming. Fuck yeah.
Number 7: Bacon coma
Do I need to explain this? You eat bacon, and it makes you happy, so you keep eating bacon, and your body is so thoroughly overjoyed by this bounty of awesomeness that it just stops: because it knows there will never be a day that’s better than this. If you’re in a hurry, go with the bacon appetizer at Peter Luger’s Steakhouse: it’ll cost you a little more, but it will get the job done fast, and you’ll be dead anyway, so what are you holding onto your money for?
Number 6: On a high note
I used to have these fantasies when I was a kid, before my favorite team, the Red Sox, had won a championship in my lifetime. I pictured myself digging in against a quintessentially great post-season pitcher like Orel Hershiser or Jack Morris, it’s the seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, two outs, we’re down by a run and the slowest, fattest guy to ever step on a diamond is our runner at first (we’ve blown through our whole roster playing catch-up since the second inning, because we’re the Red Sox and we’ve made a legacy out of shitting in our own hats), but no worries, because I take an 0-2 pitch in on my hands and muscle it up and over the Green Monster and, for the first time since 1918, the SOX ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS! I round the bases as the stands collapse under the weight of drunken, blissful tears, and as my toe touches homeplate and my teammates mob me, zing, I’m dead. And, as any Red Sox fan will tell you, I go straight to heaven (God, it turns out, fucking hates the Yankees, as he should). These days of course the Red Sox win all the time, so if I want to go out on this particular high note, I’m going to have to move to someplace like Cleveland or Milwaukee. If that’s the case, I think I’d rather just die some regular crappy way.
Number 5: Wearing clean underwear
I say this in part to satisfy my mom’s gravest lifelong concern, but also because wouldn’t it be pretty fantastic to be the first person in the history of undergarments to actually show up at the morgue in pristine undies? That would be one for the books, people.
Number 4: Laughing
Last week I was at the bar with my friends Chili and Smurfette, and as our waitress was walking away (Smurfette and I both kind of have a thing for her, but not Chili, because he’s Smurfette’s boyfriend, and he only has a thing for Smurfette because he’s not an idiot) I said, “Gosh, she’s so great, always so nice to me and stuff. Still, she’d never go out with me,” to which Smurfette replied, “Actually, I bet she would, she has terrible taste in men.” Smurfette gets on a roll every once in a while, and for days at a time the things that come out of her mouth that she intends to sound like encouragement actually sound like insults – just exactly like insults, and the only way you know they’re not insults is that she immediately dies laughing. Each time it happens I believe for a few seconds that she actually is dead because her eyes get very big like she’s looking into a not too distant light and she loses the power of speech. It’s like she’s having a caustic wit-induced stroke. I don’t want Smurfette to ever die, but I wouldn’t mind going out that way.
Number 3: In clown makeup
This is mostly for the sake of the first responders who find you. Think about their lives, climbing six flights of stairs to dirty, cramped apartments where they bag and tag stiffs who’ve been left to air out for three or four days before somebody realizes that’s not bad Indian food they’re smelling. They open the door, and there you are in suspenders and giant clown shoes, your face all made up in a big sloppy grin, red ball on your nose, spray seltzer bottle still clutched in your lifeless hand. Remember the clown’s credo: Always leave ’em laughing.
Number 2: Fulfilling a promise
Say you’re dating someone you know has one foot out the door, and you say, “I don’t know what I’d do if you ever left me – I’d probably die.” And of course she leaves, and then you die. Imagine the possibilities. Your mother would spit in her face. All your friends would hate her. They’d run into her on the street and be like, “Hey, have you seen Steve? Oh, wait, that’s right, he’d dead. He died because you left him.” Revenge is a dish best served at my wake.
And the Number 1 Way to Go: Fucked to death
Obviously. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m not saying you have a heart attack or the other person inadvertently chokes you out. No, you’re just fucking, and it’s the best fucking two people have ever – ever – engaged in, and you both do your thing, and the second it’s over, you die. It’s essential, though, that only one of you dies, because the other one has to walk the earth telling your story. Your legend must not die with you in that Motel 6.
Tune in next time when I’ll be offering up my Top Ten Ways Not To Go. Some of you are going to want to pay very close attention to that list.