I’ve alluded to this topic before, but haven’t really gone into a great deal about it. People ask me, usually politely, about necrophilia. Does it go on? Do people get into this line of business because they have a thing for dead bodies? Have I ever been turned on by a dead body? Have others? Those who don’t feel comfortable about asking me still wonder about it; it seems to be a question, spoken or unspoken, at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.
I remember long before I got my position in body delivery that I had once read an interview with former funeral home employee Karen Greenlee, who was arrested in 1979 for conducting necrophilic acts with corpses under her care. The interview was entitled “The Unrepentant Necrophile”, and was a sensationalistic piece in which Greenlee spoke of her arousal from death and described how she was able to engage in sexual activity with the corpses.
I don’t know whatever happened to Greenlee; if she’s still alive, she’s approaching 60 years old now. However, I do know her story stayed with me. I didn’t think of it much until I took the job, but then it came back and haunted me. Not because I found her account titillating, but because I was mind-boggled by it. Although I tolerated dead bodies in my pursuit of a buck or two above minimum wage, I never found them enticing. I wondered, as I began working, if my coworkers were potential Greenlees in disguise. When I dropped off my cargo, I looked at the funeral directors, the embalmer, even the groundskeepers for signs of unwarranted ardor. However, I saw nothing that seemed amiss.
I never did witness any necrophilia or hear anyone mention it or even joke about it. I wasn’t around at night, when the grounds were locked up, and I had no way of knowing what anyone was up to if they were up to something they needed to hide. However, I never caught a whiff of it. I daresay the number of necrophiliacs are probably the same in any industry, from nursing to taxi driving to coaching football.
However, I can say that while there appears to be no necrophilia among among funeral home workers, aside from the rare freak who is caught, like Greenlee, there is plenty of necromancing. The distinction is important. Necrophiles are aroused by dead bodies. Necromancers have strange, romantic ideas about death itself. None of the funeral directors and their assistants that I met had much use for specific dead bodies. However, as a whole, they seemed to be a fairly sexed-up bunch at my particular place. Office romances and hookups were frequent and tangled; nearly everyone was seeing someone at the office, and had hooked up with even more. This in itself may not be different from other offices, but in ours, it meant trysts in mausoleums and the columbarium.
I wouldn’t have known it myself were it not for the time I was between retrievals and I decided to walk the grounds for a little exercise one day. I circled past the Russian section of the cemetery, with its gaudy, laser-etched monuments. I passed the old section of the cemetery, where the monuments were weathered so much you could no longer read who was interred there. I passed the duck pond, which had been taken over by a gang of geese, one of whom was gigantic and dangerous, and followed the curve past the first mausoleum, which had been filled to the brim by the 1930’s and no longer saw active services. It was at this point, I heard the unmistakable sounds of sex echoing from inside.
I decided not to rat anyone out, but I was curious who was involved, so I found an inconspicuous place to sit nearby where I could see who emerged from the mausoleum. As it turned out, it was something of a heartbreaker; my favorite assistant funeral director of them all, Chloe, with her 1920’s movie star hair, vaguely gothic attire, and sweet disposition emerged with Kurt, a somewhat seedy-looking assistant director who had been working there all of two weeks. They didn’t see me as they walked discreetly to one of the golf carts and drove off in the direction of the office.
As time went by, I learned that the old mausoleum on the south side was the most common trysting place for employees. The storage shed, which had a lock on it, was another spot. The groundskeepers, who were all Mexican and did not mingle with the funeral home staff, had their own secret room which stored booze and pornography, and was sometimes used for trysting as well.
The cemetery in those days used to have special celebrations open to the public. One was Mexican Day of the Dead, the ultimate necromancer holiday, in which colorful, decorated skulls was the general motif. Halloween was usually office party night; revelry would go on in the columbarium, where liquor flowed and people sang songs that echoed well past midnight. All summer, there were midnight movie showings right on the cemetery grounds, also open to the public, many of which were classic horror film with vaguely necromantic themes, like Dracula. All of this struck me as weird; I just never was in love with death enough to see why anyone would want to party in a cemetery, much less bang a coworker in a marble hall filled with boxes of bones.
It was Chloe herself who explained it one day to me. “We do it to feel alive”, which is as good of an explanation as any. However, I always found things like dirt biking or rock climbing or swimming or playing with dogs to be a better way to feel alive.
“I just think it seems a little disrespectful of the dead”, I told her. “This doesn’t feel like a party place to me”
This seemed to offend her a little, and her countenance darkened, although she tried not to let on. “It is not disrespectful”, she said emphatically. “It is natural. It is not disrespectful to the deceased. It is a way of saying ‘fuck you’ to death”
I couldn’t argue with that.