The dead and the restless


On the busy corner of Lake and Cedar in Minneapolis, just 10 feet from the sidewalk, one can find old gravestones standing in stoic silence. Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery is not a peaceful resting place. In the winter the slumber is relatively tranquil, but June, July, and August bring an urban cacophony with the sticky heat as swirling hip-hop sounds mix with Latin beats or trade rhythms with loud engines and car horns. Rumor has it that at night one can sometimes hear voices in this graveyard complaining and commiserating. It's said that it's the sound of rattled souls cursing those who placed them in this gritty, inner-city landscape.

I strolled down to eavesdrop last Friday evening after the bars had closed, and this is what I can report: It's true, and it's terrible. I'll relate as best I can the discourse of two gentlemen who were bellyaching long into the wee hours. One, I believe, had the first name of Stuart, and the other went by Mr. Tumbler. I could not see either one, but as sure as I'm sitting here, I swear I could smell their pungent odor permeating the thick July air.

 "Stuart, my dear boy, I fear it's going to be another long, sleepless stretch yet again tonight. The weekend hooligans are out in force, and I'm afraid the police are just adding to the din with their sirens and horns. I tell you now, if I had it to do over again I'd have been cremated and had my ashes dropped over the Stone Arch Bridge, so they might have left this god-forsaken city for the warm currents of the Gulf."

"You are preaching to the saved, Mr. Tumbler. I often regret that I feared cremation so. It was childish of me to demand a formal embalming and burial over misplaced concerns that a body might be necessary in the afterlife. Because of my poor logic I sit here again tonight listening to these young Latina girls singing along with their iPods, wearing unfathomably constricting white cotton trousers. What is this new culture dear old Minneapolis has embraced? Look at the slovenly dressed man with the noisy muffler and wretched red beard. There's a Darwinian ambiguity to his evolutionary state, is there not? He seems lost, almost metaphysically, in that bag of cuisine from the Taco Taxi."

"Stuart, I have relatives in the suburbs who tonight rest quietly under linden trees, miles from any major thoroughfare. Near their graves one can find a gentle pond where the only sound is that of crickets. What did those fortunate souls have that I did not? Kin capable of comprehending the meaning of 'rest in peace,' that's what. I was a Navy man, Stuart, veteran of the Great War. I qualified for burial at sea. That's where I belong."

"Tumbler, you seem fixated on getting to the ocean, and yet we couldn't possibly be more landlocked. Quit torturing yourself with a dream that can't be realized. I don't need the Atlantic. I'd be thrilled with a move two blocks north."

"What was it like for you, Stuart, the whole death process? What was the experience all about? Did you traverse the tunnel as well, following that bright white light as if summoned?"

"Well, I think we all had the long tunnel and white light, Mr. Tumbler. That's universal. But Winthrop over there told me last night that his great grandson passed away a week ago and the experience has changed greatly. The deceased reported traversing the Lowry Hill tunnel, if you can believe that, and the white light was from an after-dark highway construction project. This person had relatives who could have met him to help him pass over, but instead he found Hubert Humphrey in a fishing vest and Herb Carneal driving some sort of golf cart. The fellas were nice enough, but they insisted he join them way up in Brainerd. They claimed they had a cabin there with Peter Graves and Bob Dylan's parents."

"I wish we had all ended up in Brainerd, Stuart. Think of the dead in that bastion of lakes and loons. They call it God's country for a reason, my friend. That's where souls were intended to migrate. That was supposed to be home for us all."

"Well, enough whining, Tumbler. We're sounding like old ladies again. Our lot is cast, dear friend. We have each other, thank God...and we have our cigarettes."

"Yes, but these are the last two, Stuart...unless we can scare those girls again tonight and get them to drop another pack of Camels."  

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