If you take a good, hard listen to the conversation around you, both incoming and outgoing, you'll notice that very little, if any, of it is original. It's all been said before, and often quite recently. This is not by way of criticism; I do not mean to imply that we should all strive to amuse and delight every time we open our mouths, tossing out sparkling bon mots and witty epigrams in response to every casual statement or innocent inquiry. Language is, above all, meant to inform, and the questionable business of shaping it into interesting, albeit unnecessary, things like novels and poetry is only the inevitable evolutionary result of man managing to wipe out enough predators and stockpile enough food to be able to sit on his ass for awhile. People engaged in the business of survival don't have time for complex sentences and flowery constructions, and "Look out for that tiger" is, in its way, more valuable than "What light through yonder window breaks" in a real-world, useful sense.
Even today, with all the apex predators either extinctified, sequestered in zoos, or only endangering Third World peasants, survival in the modern, workaday world requires mastery of a method of rote observations and responses in keeping with the systematic drudgery of existence. In other words, we're all doing the same damn thing over and over, and saying the same things that comfort everyone involved and lubricates the entire process.
If I pop into the Stop 'N' Shop for a bucket of soda and a tube of Mentos and Lester behind the counter says, "Hot enough for ya?" and I respond, "Forsooth, I do feel as a molten babbitt in Sol's own crucible," I've done no one any favors. Instead, I say, "Man! I'm tellin' ya!" and we both go away happy at having fulfilled our tiny sub-sub-clause of the social contract.
In addition to "Hot enough for ya?", there's "How's it goin'?" "Ready for the weekend?" "How we comin' on those TPS reports?" and "Get your hand off my ass!" — useful, utilitarian phrases designed for function and clarity.
Now, I'm no Philistine. If there were ever a lover of the beauty inherent in language, then I am he, but I'm fine with it being confined to the usual places — books, plays, bathroom stalls, what have you, and for everyday communication, give me the plain, unvarnished product every time. Nothing is more tedious than someone running around trying to be witty all the time. A particularly virulent and detestable sort of “wit” is the species of slime who engages in unsolicited public punning; encouragement of their crimes by not summarily executing them at the first sign of wordplay is not recommended.
I do, though, appreciate those rare moments when I encounter a construction whose tenor is eminently practical and yet is wholly original in content, so when my friend Packy said to me one day, "You need to come down to Sea Ranch with me to hold a funeral for my lizard," I took a moment to savor it.
I knew right away who the reptile in question was, a large South American lizard called a tegu who went by the unlikely name of Anders and spent his time lounging on a large piece of driftwood under a heat lamp in a chicken-wire enclosure in Packy's living room. Packy had gone to some trouble to recreate the Argentinian pampas in Anders' habitat with tawny grasses and a couple of 1/8 scale guanacoes, but whether Anders appreciated the effort is unknown — his life was confined to that stick and bulb, happy to spend his days just absorbing heat. I confess to feeling a pang on hearing of the noble beast's demise; even though I had often noted and commented on Anders' similarity to a stuffed and mounted diorama exhibit, I thought he cut a pretty fine figure, as lizards go, and I believe we were friends, as much as one can apply the term to a semi-animate creature. Once when a Great Dane came into the room and barked at him, I think I saw him blink once or twice, but that was the extent of any activity I ever witnessed.
"Packy, I am very sorry to hear it," I said. "Anders was a good sort and a pillar of the lizard community. He will be missed."
"Damn right. Nine years I had that guy, man. Nine years! I gotta send him off in style, bro," Packy said.
"Of course, I'll come with you, but why Sea Ranch?"
"There's a chapel down there I think would be perfect for Anders' last goodbye."
Normally I wouldn't be caught dead in a house of worship, but I figured any place that would accommodate a lizard funeral was alright by me. I hoped that Packy had made arrangements and this wasn't going to be some sort of guerrilla operation. As I understood it, most of your principal religions do not extend the privilege of salvation to the lower orders, and an attempt to transship Anders to the celestial realm via their personally sanctified pathway might be taken as an insult. I was all for giving him a proper send-off, but the last thing I needed was to become embroiled in a religious controversy about who does or does not have souls. "The congregation is cool with this?" I asked.
"Not that kind of place — pick you up at six," Packy said.
"Cool. Want me to provide some music for the occasion?" "That'd be nice. See ya then."
I didn't know if the Pac-man had invited anyone else, but I felt like I could use a little mourning/moral support. Not only that, but the literature is rife with examples of the effects of death on the female libido. I won't go so far as to say I intended exploiting Anders' demise to get laid, but if someone needed comforting, I'd be there.
I shot a text to a registered sex bomb of both of our acquaintances reading as follows: “<Packys tegu no longer current—svcs 2-nite join us [tearful emoji]?>, and received back the response <7?' I?>
I called Holly and explained everything. She agreed to come along and asked if she should bring anything.
"I don't know, some snacks maybe. It's a lizard funeral, I don't know how these things go," I said.
She arrived at about five dressed in black jeans and turtleneck, bearing Smirnoff Ice and Chex Mix. "Perfect," I said. "Love the outfit. Very boho-funeral chic."
"What, these old rags? Anything for Packy's lizard, I guess."
Packy showed up about 45 minutes later and off we went to Sea Ranch, arriving at the chapel as the sun was setting. He bade us wait in the car for a few minutes while he went inside and set things up. He extracted a large box from the trunk, presumably containing Anders' earthly remains, and went inside. I popped a Smice and Holly and I chatted for awhile until Packy whistled from the front door.
He was right about it being just the place for Anders' obsequies. I don't know who or what operated it, being free of any of the usual symbology or hexerei associated with particular religions, but it looked like the kind of place in which Frodo Baggins might feel right at home. Hewn from rock and set with stained glass, its domed structure and cozy-nook ambiance was nothing if not hobbitlike.
Packy stood behind a dais on which rested a purple-velvet draped catafalque bearing, wired to the driftwood he spent his days riding, Anders, flanked by two large, lit candles and looking positively noble in repose.
"Thank you for coming," Packy said, nodding toward the pews. Holly and I sat down about midway back and settled in.
"We are here to honor a lizard," he began. "I got him a couple of months before 9/11, for an eighth of kine bud. I did some research and found out he was worth at least a hundred, so I planned on selling him, but after a couple of days he started to grow on me, and I got used to having him around. I built the enclosure and tried to decorate it like his homeland."
"Anders was an excellent listener. I named him after my grandfather because of his wattles. I thought sometimes about trying to find him an old lady, but I'm gonna be honest: I don't even know if he was a dude. I feel like he was, but he mighta been a chick." He stroked Anders' back idly. "Either way, he was awesome. He liked to eat mealworms and beetles and rhubarb and anything with peanut butter on it. There was probably not an animal more chill in animal history. Since I smoke a lotta pot, he must've, too, and I think that was the basis of his personality and the secret to his longevity."
I nudged Holly. "Is this making you horny at all?" I whispered.
“Shhhh," she hissed, jabbing me in the ribs.
Packy continued. "Is it possible to love a lizard? You're god-damned skippy it is. Anders had my heart, and I had his." He bent his head and a tear dropped onto Anders' leathery hide. Packy thrust his arms high in the air, and, gazing heavenward, shouted, "Lizard gods! Receive this noble creature! His mission here is at an end. Aaaauugh…" He put his head into his folded arms and sobbed.
I took this as my cue, unpacked my guitar and struck up "Dust in the Wind." Packy, without lifting his head, turned a thumb up in approbation. Holly provided the high harmony on the chorus as she recorded the proceedings on her phone.
After the song was over, Packy drew us in for a hug. "Thank you guys. This was awesome."
"Alright," he said, wiping his eyes and slapping his thighs, "only one thing left to do." Holly looked at me questioningly, and I shrugged.
We drove to the beach, and Holly and I sat down on the sand while Packy carried Anders' bier out into the water. The sea was glassy that night and a full moon made jewels dance on the little wavelets. He waded out til the water was about waist high, and set the bier upon the water. Drawing a can of lighter fluid from his pocket, he doused Anders thoroughly, set him alight, and pushed him out toward Hawaii.
I won't soon forget the sight of Packy standing alone in the ocean, solemnly saluting as his flaming lizard bobbed on the water on his way to Valhalla.
On the way back to Fort Bragg we drank Smices and nibbled Chex Mix as Packy told us more about Anders, who apparently led a much fuller and more active life than I'd noticed.
I've never been much for death rituals, but I felt we had truly done right by the lizard and sent him off in grand style. I only hope when my time comes to be so genuinely honored.