Thursday, September 30

The Cerebral Ganglia Of The Beast

I AM the executor of my mother's estate. She died a few weeks ago when dementia took from her the memory of what to do with food. Condolences are not in order; the disease took her identity years ago, and death took away the disease. Dealing with dementia is much worse than dealing with death.

That's just set-up, of course: I mentioned a while back that posting here would be as light in quantity as it is in quality for a time. I didn't want to write about it then, and I don't now, not out of some personal or emotional tangle, but because writing is hard, while being a smartass is easy.

So this finds me not at the cemetery, nor watching the river flow (no water in it these days, anyway), but on the 17th floor of Indianapolis' City/County building, which the City Fathers erected in the early 1960s. I was so young I have but vague recollections of it being built, but the optimist in me has always chosen to believe we did so to stop people calling the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, aka the Circle, the ugliest edifice in the history of architecture.

It's an intensely uncomfortable building made much worse now that its welcoming atrium bears the twin scars of a Liposuction of Freedom, the crawling security lines where I was forced to disrobe. This, in turn, informs the wait for the elevators, which must've been insufficient by 1965, though if you knew Indianapolis in the 50s you wouldn't really blame the architects for figuring that within a decade at most the place would be all but deserted. There are maybe thirty people crammed into the hallway, migrating en masse like a hopeful covey as the electronic elevator scoreboard handicaps which descending carriage is likely to arrive next. (Fortunately their number grows slowly, since most people choose to put their clothes back on before continuing.) I managed to catch the third car, which I thought was probably pretty good for a rank amateur.

The trip up, naturally, reminds you that you share a country, not to mention the occasional confined space, with the sort of person who thinks nothing whatsoever of pressing a button to halt a roomful of people in order that the buttoniere may ride one or two floors to his destination. And, also naturally, that the very people who do this not only could've climbed the stairs between those floors in one-quarter of the time but, generally, could really have used the exercise.

Got there, found my lawyer, got in to see the judge. My sense of discomfort in such situations is profound. I sit making professional small-talk with His Honor, which is designed for him to decide if I am mens sana while I, entirely out of self-interest, pretend not to know that's what he's up to. It's like being the Washington Generals. I'm nearly overcome by the urge to grab him by his insurance adjuster's tie and yell, "You've got a lot to atone for, buddy." I manage to resist. He approves me. I can tell he's actually figured me for a potential tie-grabber, but the alternative would mean more paperwork.

On then to where the real work is done, the secretarial pool, where we witness a full quarter-hour of document stamping. Real document stamping, not virtual document virtual stamping. I wonder if I could have gotten coffee past Security. I marvel at the sweeping view of the city, dotted with taxpayer-swindling arenas and centers and malls and attractions hatched in this very building, back when all you could've seen from there was train tracks and warehouses and a block of 19th century department stores. The stamping resonates with that, a time when we did things with steel, and steam, and brawn. A time when we did things because we thought they were worth doing, not because they increased your odds of getting on teevee. Then on to another office, and more stamping. (This time, though, the fancy computer thing came into play, because my attorney failed to tell me I should bring a copy of the death certificate, or, alternately, memorize my late mother's Social Security number, and he had to sweet-talk the supervisor into looking it up for us. I had one in the car, a few blocks and seventeen floors away, but if I'd'a had to go through that line again they would have had a security problem.)

It was interesting, really, that when it comes to important stuff, like divvying up a dead person's possessions, we rely on people and paper and eyeballs and ink. I mean, it's not like we were just there voting or something.


Scott C. said...

No, condolences, I've been there. Still, even when Death has been prompt with the mind but tardy in collecting the flesh, the aftermath can leave you feeling like you're walking around with a slow leak.

I hope it all gets better soon.

Rugosa said...

Condolences and deep sympathy for having lost your mother long before her body gave way.

Weird Dave said...

Ahhhh, this fucking world.

"I mean, it's not like we were just there voting or something."

It's because death is important.

whetstone said...

I was just visiting my mom last weekend, and she talked about the ongoing process of winding down her own mother's estate (who died once, then twice, under similar circumstances). Despite what I--ok, I'm still in Extended Gen X Adolescence and thus somewhat ignorant--assumed would be a fairly straightforward process given two children, a handful of grandchildren, no property, the savings of a thrifty working-class Depression couple, and no disputes that I'm aware of, it's been endless, and she's wanted to pull some ties.

My mom told me that when her time comes she's just going to bury all the money in the backyard and leave me a map. I told her that would probably come with its own legal complications, and that she should just spend it all.

I'm glad you were able to find some solace in the document stamping. And, for what small bit it might help, I remain grateful for BL/TR.

Keifus said...

No condolences, but I hope you don't mind if I continue to become depressed about the horrors we get to face even in the best of circumstances, the couple of people I've loved who have gone that way, not to mention the sad perfunctory bureaucratic wind-down as the coda to a worthy individual's passing.

Whetstone, you could have described my grandparents too...nothing particularly valuable in there, but there were mom and dad, going through and auctioning or binning a lifetime of memory. They emerged with a few artifacts that end up hard to describe the value of.

Grace Nearing said...

my attorney failed to tell me I should bring a copy of the death certificate

When I was settling my father's estate, I never left the house without a folder full of embossed-stamped death certificates. I was handing them out like business cards.

And then Phase 2 set in: Some recipients started declaring that the embossed-stamped death certificates were not "fresh" (actual term) enough. So I laid in a new supply of embossed-stamped death certificates.

And then one day, it was all over. No one was pestering me for fresh copies of embossed-stamped death certificates anymore.

Probate is just weird.

bjkeefe said...

This is the saddest and most beautiful thing I have read in some time.

I am going to give you my condolences: for having to deal with the continuing indignities that death brings upon us.

It is never easy, is it?

CAPTCHA: trevali ← how does it always know?

heydave said...

Stories abound. Thanks for taking us up to the 17th floor.

Take care.

R. Porrofatto said...

Condolences anyway. Finality sucks even if hope died a long time ago. Glad to see your exquisite and much tested sense of humor still going full guns.

Kevin Robbins said...

After my mother died I was able to recite her SSN as well as I could my own for awhile. And I thought I'd never have enough certified death certificates. Good luck getting everything straight.