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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Cleaning Up After Idiots

I have mentioned on this blog that I spent a decade as a volunteer fireman, and a byproduct of that I interacted with people who died in gruesome circumstances. I was driving home this morning and passed one of those spontaneous roadside memorial shrines that teens and family assemble near the site of a fatal accident. There are flowers, stuffed animals, candles, mylar balloons and poems written on plywood, propped against trees or fenceposts. It is a sad sight, and romanticizes the death of a young person who seems to be imagined as an angelic visage rising to meet Jesus. This fantasy version of death everything is clean and airbrushed. It is my experience that heads are caved in and faces smashed. Everyone who dies from violent trauma craps their pants. Bowels are loosened and bladders set free to empty. That goes for quarterbacks and prom queens along with overweight pimply nerd who that football star and beauty barely think of as human. Nothing is pretty or dreamy or romantic. Our fire department rarely came across people needing rescue after car wrecks. We were the body recovery and small parts clean up team. The EMTs took care of the survivors, if any.

When I see those memorials I can only think that there are public servants somewhere that had to collect the remains and wash the blood off the roadway. If the family is lucky or can afford the expense of mortuary reconstruction there can be an open casket ceremony, and the fantasy is reinforced. Popular culture is awash with "Teen Angel" songs and romantic movies involving returning ghostly eternally teenaged shades come to work magic on us mere mortals. Who wouldn't want to join that cadre of immortal youth. Sadly soon after the firemen have washed the blood and guts off their hands and thrown up at the station, the candles at the memorial burn out, the flowers wilt and the balloons go flat. The victims of the tragedy are mentioned less and less often, and the county road crew picks up the remains of the memorial and that's that.

Those roadside shrines depress the hell out of me.

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