Wednesday, July 11, 2012

From the Vault V: The Dead Make Excellent Supervisors

For Nellie Vaughn (if you're not reading her, you really should, oh yes, you really should) who asked for it. I hope it makes her as happy as she said it would.

I needed the money. It was as simple as that. 

Fresh out of college, I knew for certain only two things:

A) I still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, and
B) I had debt collectors swarming.

So I got a job. Then I got a second job. But it still wasn't enough. Since, I was already working 12-hour days during the week, the only thing left to do was to find something that paid well - preferably something low key - requiring me to work weekend hours only.

When I stumbled across the employment ad in the newspaper for a weekend receptionist at one of the local mortuaries then, I didn't hesitate. I applied. I interviewed. I got the job. $10 an hour (damn good money even now all things considered) and it was perfect for my schedule. 12-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday - no breaks as I was typically the only one there...I mean, aside from the dead and they aren't very good about answering the phone. 

The job didn't ask much of me except to type up death notices on an actual typewriter for the newspaper, check the deceased guests for seepage of embalming fluids or slipping of skin regularly, and take down information from first calls1. Sometimes I watered floral arrangements and freshened them up using my previously learned skills as a floral designer. I brewed coffee no one ever drank and put out cookies and crackers for visitors who never came. The rest of the time I spent reading, writing, playing solitaire on the PC. There was no internet on that computer then. It was 1996. The world  at large had barely heard of the internet and it certainly wasn't used in business settings as it is used today. Hard to believe and yet true2.

It was a pretty good gig for someone who spent the vast majority of her time during the week treading water in the teaming-with-life oceanic chaos of an elementary school office and then dealing with the customers of a flower shop. It was quiet there.

Deathly quiet.

And it was good.

The dead make no demands. They don't throw up on you or ask any "why" questions. They don't interrupt you when you're in the middle of a puzzle. They don't get snotty or rude when an order they'd placed wasn't delivered exactly at 3:04 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. I never had to tell them to sit down and be quiet or to stop touching things that didn't belong to them. They don't scold, berate, belittle. Mostly, the dead just lie there waiting for loved ones who don't show up to impart final goodbyes.

While not the best company to keep as they aren't particularly well-versed in the art of conversation, the dead do make relatively lovely companions. They are, at the very least, excellent listeners. They make few demands and never criticize. They don't want you to connect with them even. I felt no sadness at any passing except, perhaps, the little red-headed girl who'd died of anaphylactic shock from bee stings. Their spirits certainly don't hang around the funeral home either. There was nothing to be creeped out by as any malevolent spirit was out busy haunting and harassing other people and other places...people who'd wronged them and that certainly wasn't me...someone they'd never known. Never would know.

Yes, in the scheme of things, it was a perfect job.


Security was tight at the mortuary. On my first day, I was given a key and my unique code to the alarm system, assigned only to me, which would gain me entrance and exit to the back door next to the bay. Believe it or not, there are people who would break into a mortuary and steal the virtue of the deceased if they could. Or maybe the powers that be were simply trying to keep Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her gang of meddling kids out. I don't know. What I know is that I was entrusted with this key and alarm system code. And I was diligent about checking all the doors and windows before I left each evening, checking the locked status of the back door as I made my final exit a number of times...just to be sure.

So when I received the phone call from my irate living boss first thing on a Monday morning, I was perplexed and mortified.  It appeared as though someone had left the back door unlocked, the alarm system disengaged for hours overnight. 

He blamed me.

Not only did he accuse me of such blatant disregard for security, he was ugly, mean, condescending. He called me stupid and inept.

So I asked him, "Did you call the alarm monitoring company and ask them what code was entered last? Because I'm certain the alarm was set and the door locked when I left."

He grumbled. "No. I'll call you back."


He was all sugar and sunlight when he called back full of apologies 10 minutes later. It seems the culprit was the printing press company who'd dropped off a delivery of memorials in the wee sma's of the morning who had forgotten to reset the alarm or lock the door. Probably because the delivery driver was new and afraid of the dead.

But I quit anyway. 

Why? Because he called me stupid and inept, yelled at me, before checking all his facts. It would have taken one phone call - ONE! - to verify who was to blame. Instead, he called me, blamed me, railed at me for something I hadn't done.

So I quit.

Walked into my boss's office, left my key and letter of resignation on his unoccupied desk, and said goodbye to the dead. For good. And I was glad to be free of a 3rd job I kinda needed but not as much as I need my self-respect. I hope he treated the dead better than he treated me.

And that's the story of me and the dead who didn't dance. Any questions?  

1: A "first call" is the first notification to the mortuary that someone has died and will be transported into the care of said mortuary. It is usually placed by the morgue or a hospice worker. Never from a family member.

2: Can you believe what a disappointment it would have been to die before the internet?! Word.


miss modchen said...

fuck yeah. inept bosses deserve to be shitsmacked by good employees, and left wondering how they fucked up.

fuck that shit. he's lucky you're not on glassdoor.

Gaelyn said...

What an ignorant bastard. Better the polite quiet of the dead.

Margi said...

Eep. Good for you for speaking your mind and for standing up for yourself. I hope he learned and treats employees since then with more respect.

Graciewilde said...

Love this! Love your style and the humor. I would have quit too.

Anonymous said...

Loved it, thank you.
I am still having a hard time believing that the spirits did not hang around the mortuary. Well, I suppose that's not where I would choose to spend time at as a ghosts. I would go to Disneyland. Finally, free entrance.