In May, as our state Legislature considered a bill raising the costs of a variety of death certificates, Baton Rouge Democrat William Daniel asked, "How many ways can you die?"
Actually, quite a few. And in this week of the Feast of All Souls and Mexico's Day of the Dead, it is a good time to present my neology.
Most of us sweat and tire and sicken; we die by inches. But not all of us. Some of us depart this mortal coil in ways that excite the imagination or strain credulity. And some definitely tickle the funny bone.
Perhaps if the weird science of cloning continues apace, dying will be cheapened enough that much more of it will be funny. Until that time, we need keep a sharp eye for the sharp axe of absurdity to preserve mortality's humor. What follows are some dearly departed who left behind the legacy of one last laugh as they entered the land of the gods.
If sacred writings are any guide, the gods seem to have no need of laughter. But this doesn't mean they have no sense of humor. Take the case a few years ago of the holiday boaters. Some lightning cracked on the horizon, and one beery comedian climbed on the stern and shook his fist at the sky, shouting that if there was a God, He should prove it by striking him dead.
There was, and He did.
But often the Lord of Death acts through other agents, even those with whom we share a bathroom. Like the Green Bay fun-loving wife who slew her spouse in what she claimed was a domestic jape gone wrong. She said she and her hubby had often played "gun in the groin," a game in which she'd stick an empty shotgun into his shorts and pull the trigger. Only this time the gun was awesomely loaded.
Then there are the wife's-cooking jokes. Dr. Michael Madigan was kidnapped by the Djapa tribe, a small group of Amazon natives whose women devour their men after mating. (It gives whole new meaning to the old post-coital query "How was it for you?") A colleague found the new Djapa "wife" feasting on the groom. "She was chewing on what remained on the forearm, I believe," the colleague reported. "She grinned."
In August, a Houston woman hired a private investigator to tail her husband. That shamus has video rolling when his employer killed her husband by running him over three times with her silver Mercedes-Benz. "It was an accident," she told police. She was a dentist.
Of course, the murder weapon need not cost $69,000. In June, I caught a TV snippet that told of one Japanese man who'd failed to honor another by using a honorific and, for that oversight, was slain by an umbrella. Naturally, my imagination flamed up around the methodologies by which an umbrella can be turned into a killing tool. But before I could come to any clear visualization, another snippet scrawled across the bottom of the TV screen, informing the world that this was the second umbrella slaying in Japan this month. I gave up. Do you think there will be a movement to ban the sale of umbrellas in Japan?
Sometimes, folks exit the world stage by means of animals. In mid-summer Bangkok, a 40-year-old woman climbed a 6-foot-fence to jump into a pool of crocs. Good Lord, had she never seen Peter Pan? Never smile at a crocodile.
But a far more lethal animal is the chicken, at least in small villages in south Egypt. There, a few years ago, an 18-year-old farmer went down a 60-foot well to rescue a chicken that had fallen in. He got in trouble and soon was joined by a sister, two brothers and two elderly spectators. By the time the affair was over, everyone who'd gone into the well had drowned -- except, of course, the chicken. Those who do not learn from history (even contemporary village history) are doomed to repeat it.
Sadly, that body count in the Egyptian village of Nanlat Imara is not the record for absurd dying on foreign soil. That would belong to Lima, Peru, and a four-story disco named Utopia. Last July, standing next to the club disc jockey, a fire-eating juggler was breathing columns of fire toward the ceiling when nearby curtains caught fire. Two dozen nightclubbers vanished in this disco inferno.
The way to end a column about dumb dying is with a dumb near-death experience -- and this one's a beaut. Two guys in Michigan wanted to go ice-fishing but didn't want the time or trouble of cutting a hole in the ice. So they lit and threw a stick of dynamite with a 40-second fuse out onto the ice. Only their loyal yellow lab bounded out to retrieve it. As he was returning it, the dog became confused at the rather frantic animations of the two lazy fishermen who were beseeching him to go somewhere else.
The yellow lab finally did, depositing the dynamite close by his master's brand new Land Rover.
Watch these two guys. They could make a very funny exit.