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The Grass is Always Greener and other stories
by Sandra Balzo
Book Excerpt:

My Best Friend's Funeral
By Sandra Balzo

Philosopher George Santayana once said, "An invitation to the dance is not rendered ironical because the dance cannot last forever."
That "dance" George is talking about is life. He figured that wasting the time you do have on this earth, worrying about the time you don't have, is...well, George called it "ironical."
Me? I call it stupid--though, admittedly, lucrative.
You see, I plan parties. For the dead.
I know what you're thinking--that maybe I'm one of those guys on TV hawking "pre-planned" funerals. You know: Pick your box, pick your plot. Now what's for lunch?
That's not me. I'm a special event planner, and what could be more special, I ask people, than the day you kick-off?
My clients pay me big bucks to make sure they leave this earthly dance on happy feet. Want to be shot up in rocket? Easy. Carried out to sea in a bottle, while bikini-clad mourners get lei-ed on shore? No problem. Relax and enjoy the afterlife secure from nuclear fall-out, acid rain, or--once--Kryptonite? Got you covered. At the moment, I was working with a woman who loved the old Andy Griffith show and wanted her funeral at a bed-and-breakfast that was an exact replica of Sheriff Andy Taylor's house in Mayberry. For an extra $30,000, I had a line on getting her ashes a permanent spot on Aunt Bee's dresser.
My office door is stenciled in gold leaf, "Joe Cardigan's Going Out in Style: Funerals Done Your Way." Baby-boomers, especially, seem to love the idea they can micro-manage even the last item on their cosmic calendars. Control freaks, every one of them. And, God bless them, they have disposable income. It becomes even more disposable when they're dead. The hell with the kids--let's have a party.
"I've been to way too many crappy funerals lately." The boomer across the table from me picked up his wine glass. "It's not until afterwards, when everybody is swapping stories in the bar across the street, that you feel like you even knew the poor schmuck who died."
"Better to start off in the bar," I agreed, lifting my own glass in a salute. It was an interesting thought. Liquor licenses for funeral parlors? Quite the revenue stream, I would bet. "But you know what they say, Mr. Tazak. Funerals are for the living."
"But not yours, right?"
"The ones I plan, you mean?" I said, with a smile. "No. Mine are all about the client--the deceased."
"I was at the gig you threw for Andrew Dunn," Frederick Tazak said. "Great party, not to mention a nice racket for you. By the time you actually do your job, you've been paid and the 'client' is dead." He set down his glass and pulled out a check for $100,000--fifty down and fifty to go into escrow for "the day of reckoning." The deceased, with his Maker. Me, with my accountant.
"I've had very few complaints," I admitted, taking the check and setting it on top of my portfolio. I keep copious notes, detailing the arrangements and the people who provide them. That way I don't have to reinvent the wheel--or cryogenics lab--every time a request comes in.
Tazak laughed. "You haven't met my wife. She'd go nuts if she knew I was paying you this kind of money."
"Ahh, but your wife isn't my client. You are."
"Yup, and it's worth every penny knowing I won't have to listen to her bitch that last time."
"No, sir, you won't. That will be my job. So what's your pleasure? You want to be fed to sharks? Tossed off a mountain?" I nodded at his wine glass. "Maybe planted in your favorite vineyard, so your descendents can drink to your posthumous health?"
"No descendents and it's not the 'what' or the 'where,' so much as the 'who.' I have a guest list for you." He fished in the pocket of his khakis and came up with a folded sheet of lined paper, ragged from where it had been torn out of a notebook. "I want you to invite these lovers to my funeral. Think you can do that?"
Believe it or not, it wasn't the first time I'd been asked Tazak's question. In fact, I'd come to think of it as a humane thing to do. I mean, mistresses need closure, too.
"Sure," I said, reaching for the paper. "How many of them are there?"
"Twelve."
"An even dozen, huh?" I unfolded the list. "Of course, I can't be held accountable for the number who ultimately attend."
"Understood. By the time you know who does come, God knows I won't be able to ask for a refund."
I was looking over the list. All male names. "Is your wife aware you're bisexual?" I liked to know how far away I should be standing from the bereaved spouse when the shit hit the fan.
He looked at me, confused for a second. Then it dawned on him. "No, no--these aren't men I had affairs with. They're ones my wife did."
Oh, now that made more sense. Or not. "Let me get this straight." I flattened out the paper on the table between us. "You want me to invite these men--your wife's lovers--to your funeral? Why in the world would they come?"
"Oh, they're all friends of mine, too. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that power and money in this town are incestuous. We all know each other. Do business. Play golf. And, apparently, screw each other's wives."
Tazak pointed to the first name on the list. "See Frank Gleason? He's my doctor. Next guy down, Marcus Datzer? My accountant. Raymond Cheney, my mechanic. Brian Colorez? He's a reporter on the Rocksville rag and my best friend since high school."
Tazak sat back and shook his head. "My best friend," he repeated. "Can you believe that?"
I didn't answer, thinking that I knew a thing or two about insidious "best friends."
Tazak flashed a grin. "But you know what? Once I'm dead, this," he tapped the check, "ensures that you are my new best friend. And as such, you'll want to read a little something during the eulogy." He held out a sealed white envelope.
A "little something," my ass. The guy wanted me to be the hammer nailing a cheating wife and her lovers at his own funeral. Still, I liked the idea of keeping your secrets sealed in a #10 envelope, to be read at the appropriate--or inappropriate--moment. I mean, confession is good for the soul, right? Did it matter if that soul was already separated from its body?
I took the envelope, feeling a twinge of disloyalty. One of the names on Tazak's list belonged to Marcus Datzer. Marcus was my accountant, too, as well as my friend. Ever the businessman, though, I thought Marcus would understand. After all, ours is not to reason why, ours is to make a living.
Off the dead.
I just didn't know who all was going to be dead. Or how soon.
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