Monday, October 27, 2014

The Departed

@obitsman is sharply at it. Via a Twitter feed we read that someone named Ralph Ehrenpreis has passed away, despite his vow at 10 years of age--after experiencing the death of his father--that death was something he was going to try and avoid. @obitsman points out he failed.

Well, he did avoid death for 72 years. We've written before that in a book of obituaries Pete Hamill wrote that "life is the leading cause of death." This always reminds me of what I've said: "life is surviving being born."

Enough sayings. @obitsman has a keen eye and obviously scours the obituaries. And not just the newsworthy obits, but the paid obits, which by now must be proving to be a solid chunk of income for the New York Times.

For those who don't know, @obitsman is Steve Miller, lately of the New York Sun, the Wall Street Journal and now Bloomberg News. His beat is writing obituaries, so it is no surprise he reviews the craft.

The paid notices are just that. Notices written by the survivors (edited by the paper) and arrayed over what now sometimes almost covers an entire  page. There can be photos of the deceased as well. They read a bit like a news obituary, but sometimes carry too many stray details. The paper can't mind. The longer the notice, the more words and lines, the more dollars. Eventually, it always comes down to money.

If anyone has a bit of a historical perspective on the obituary page they will realize it is getting more space in the paper. This is due to the realization that people like to read about other people who have passed away and judge their achievements. The news obituaries are written by a rotating staff on the paper.

Occasionally, I give the paid notices a glance. They aren't cheap, and I marvel at what the bill must be like for some of the column inches I see.  I distinctly remember one I think I commented on where we learned that the departed's last meal was seasoned with cinnamon.

@obitsman has spotted one from yesterday's paper that warranted a Tweet. Mr. Ehrenheis was surely playful when he would write  draft of his own obituary and hope no one would have to use it for many years.

True to the Internet age, the notice contains a link to view the service on October 22. The link takes you to home page of Hillside Memorial Park Mortuary, with a Los Angeles address. A user id and password is provided in the paid death notice. Attempts to use it failed, but I think there's a problem with how the password appeared in the paper. It looks like it came out in hexadecimal. No problem, Hillside Memorial has an option to fill out a Web page form and ask for the user id and password. We'll see what happens.

My hope is someone is not going to accuse me of invading their privacy. They've only taken out a notice in a highly circulated national newspaper, and attempted to provide user id and password to unlock the apparent Webcast of the services. I hope we get to unlock the door, and I hope fast forward works.

Mr. Ralph Ehrenpreis did survive being born for 72 years, and by the paid notice it would seem he did well with the time he had before the inevitable happened. He was a big jazz fan.

As the last few lines of the notice tell us, Ralph wanted to have the last laugh, "so in lieu of flowers or donations please send gifts. Cash also accepted."

No flowers or donations, send gifts or cash. Cash. Perhaps Ralph, an immigration attorney wanted to complicate some lives further by having them try to figure out if they need to pay taxes on these items.

Ralph, I never knew you, but you will be missed.

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