Last Responder

The business was booming during the first leg of COVID.

Can’t say I was doing my best work, though. Rush, rush, the next round is a comin’. I did wish for the times before when I could sit down with the bereaved and sell them my best.

Two years ago, I didn’t really need the side gig teaching SAT prep at the local community college. Those dull brained, bored anemic teens had about enough of seeing their teachers on Zoom, let alone this skinny mortician who moonlights as a teacher. Creepy? Nah. These kids did not know what I did in my real job, save for the advertisement I posted in between breaks:

10 % off your next funeral when you order from Bella Lucia’s Restaurant!

Mama delivers!

If they lifted their heads they’d see. Hey, it’s all about the marketing! I gotta do it!

Times of COVID have slowed down, so I am back to the salesmanship I am great at! Shined my Florsheims again and I’m on fire. You know, it’s all about showmanship.

You have to be an actor to be a mortician. When sitting with the so-called loved ones, you have to think of their grieving as well as their pockets, all at the same time.

The choices they make usually suck.

Oh, we do not need a casket, do we?

Really, and where do you expect the uncremated body to be placed?”

But they want the bells and whistles, the flowers, the plastic cards, and the whole shebang but will not pay for a casket.

Like take this one family; they took me aside and begged for a cheap one. I almost said something about the Jews but did not. No time to lose this family’s business to my competitors. However, I did offer them a pine box. But even a pine would still set you back $800 bucks! Etsy’s got wicker coffins for $600!

Don’t get me started.

Anyway, most get the solid wood, pick out a poem from some wanna-be poet on Facebook, and it gets slapped onto the memorial cards. When I notice the high-profile family from the neighborhood with their Gucci bags (or cheapies from Canal Street) strolling in, I straighten my tie and pull out all the stops.

I try to push for the mourning cards, better than a wedding invite sometimes. You got proof that you were invited to some highfalutin’ s funeral where others were not invited. I charge them a bit more, especially because they have to be ordered, printed, and sent to the invitees before the last of the embalming fluid flows down the drain.

Speaking of bad choices, the family brings in the outfits. Hey, this is the last impression they will make on the world, so please get it right. These outfits, are, well most dead people would not get caught dead in. Unless of course there is a will. Granny wanted to be dressed in her wedding dress. Well Granny was married three times. Who is choosing what.

Before I close the folder of to dos and expenses, I offer a 10% discount to Mama’s place, at Bella Lucia’s Restaurant where my family has been making the Sunday Gravy for 40 years. Seats up to seventy-five in the party room in back so why not bring your crying mourners to soak up the rumors about the spouse with our crusty bread.

No complaints here. It is good money for me, double-duo ala franchise, I say, for real. It doesn’t hurt to have the family businesses combine; you know?

And Mama is still cooking. Match made in heaven.

With this business, you either inherit it like I did or go to Mortuary Science School. (Why, I ask, if it’s not in the family, would you deliberately go to school for this, right?) Anyway, these days you gotta get the licenses, but years ago, all you needed was a good stomach but not a fast hand. Stealing the jewelry from the dead is a big no-no. Let it go down six feet or in flames. When you have a mother who is superstitious, you listen to her. Period the end.

So why am I such a skinny Italian my friends say?

If you work on dead people all day to make them look all “pretty & alive”, you will become bulimic too.

Gluing it all up after embalmment, geez, I’ll have some eggplant rollatini Mama…no thank you. You know, I ain’t crazy, it takes fortitude to do the bathing and disinfecting, and then face the family with the utmost of composure. Don’t think I hate it, as each body is you know, sacred, and they all have their secrets.

I’ll get to that.

And, speaking of eating, I always feel like when I am pushing the body into the frigerated section, after she’s all done up nice, like the way you last saw her, ready for her last act, in a horrific dress it reminds me of when I used to work the night shift at the Italian bakery- sliding those big-ass trays of cannoli’s back in the fridge. Metal to rolling metal the same damn sounds as the metal carts in the morgue…I am a skinny Italian for sure.

Bodies do have secrets.

Some bodies do not want their loved ones to know they pierced parts of their bodies where the sun don’t shine.

Then, there’s the Gumba with a few extra family members, who don’t know about each other. This is a tough one, especially because his tattoo was in an unsearchable spot with her name tucked away all nice, and it was not Wife’s name.

Oh, the drama!

Now that event; what I would give to offer Wife an extra 5% off the tab for the party room in back of the Bella Lucia Restaurant! You know what I mean?!

The dead were liars when they were alive, and now in death it is still an argument.

It’s all up to me to calm the crew, ensure that the dead are not beaten up by Wife, and you know, make sure whoever has the purse strings, pays me.

Which brings me back to my side gig.

It’s the same, from where I sit, I see dead bodies pretending to listen on Zoom drooling in front of the camera. No, I am not that good looking; skinny Italian with my tie and collar barely closing in on my neck, small mustache. I look like an organ grinder and his monkey, (or am I the organ grinder’s monkey?)

These kids are bored, deathly bored. What do I do for them these days?

TikTok? Nada. I teach, I get paid, and sometimes I see results, where one of my students actually picks his sticky head up and answers something correctly, and that is if he has his camera on.

I do like one part of this gig. I get to pawn off 10% gift certificates to make sure Mama’s place is still running. Even now, her takeout food is better than Lidia could ever make.

Mama’s restaurant has pictures of every dead patron I took care of on the walls before the embalming. When they became regulars, I’d ask my crime scene photographer buddy to stop in and take the photo of them. I’d have them sign it of course, 8 x10’s, framed and bada-boom- right above their favorite table.

Like Sardi’s on 44th.

No one realizes it, but me, and well, Mama would know. It keeps the deceased loved ones watching over those meatballs with those pignolia nuts buried in them. No pun, know what I mean?!

The predeceased enjoy seeing the pictures of their loved ones while they eat their linguini and clam sauce, and their free glass of pinot grigio.

When I am not teaching or embalming, I help Mama and the restaurant. I sit at the bar, welcoming the patrons. I try to catch the regulars, the old ones, the Gumbas (double the reservations: one Friday night and the next Saturday night- for real!) and the kind that, you know, may look terminal, and offer my free glass of red wine.

You never know, it could be a double whammy.

They know what I do.

They will need me someday.

And I do reciprocate, you know, they get 10 % too.

As the Last Responder, they trust me, and my meatballs.




I write about the mishaps of the heart and body, silent messages from Jesus and the Universe most of the time with humor. I love true crime, the ocean and DMB.

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Jacque Monty

I write about the mishaps of the heart and body, silent messages from Jesus and the Universe most of the time with humor. I love true crime, the ocean and DMB.