Matters of Laugh & Death

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          Death may be a rather outré topic to shore up this lapsed blog, but I promise not to dampen your spirits. Some would wax solemnly philosophical to bravely confront the frightening specter of death. Not so my late father. Guided by pragmatism and wit, Dad was wont to allaying the fear of death by regularly asserting deadpan that death is a perfect opportunity for a big blowout. No joke, my father was divinely bestowed with just the right mix of dark humor and foresight to request and then correctly predict that his own funeral actually be a party since “it’s hard enough in life to get everyone together.” And so, I present you with a light-hearted anecdote about my recent comical encounter with the Málach Hamávis (the endearing Yiddish term for Angel of Death).

Last week, while indolently milling about the house pre-coffee, I received a call from an unknown number in Israel. I pressed mute to allow myself time to industriously procrastinate further. But the caller was obstinate, and I intrigued, so I yielded. It was Avraham from the Israeli Ministry of Justice, Administrator General and Official Receiver, Department for the Location of Property Owners and Transfer of Unclaimed Assets to the State, whose soporific voice made it sound like I should not have been at all surprised to be receiving a wake-up call from the Israeli Ministry of Justice, Administrator General and Official Receiver, Department for the Location of Property Owners and Transfer of Unclaimed Assets to the State on my cell phone in Brazil. His monotone recitation of quite possibly the longest job title in existence seemed proof enough that this was no prank call. As fortune would have it, Avraham explained, property in Israel was long ago bequeathed to one Yankel Machonbaum, who may or may not have been my paternal great grandfather, b. 1884, d. 1960, and to which all living heirs, yours included, may now have claim.

Suddenly perfectly alert, I walked Avraham painstakingly through the knotty family tree, which I had meticulously drawn up but a year earlier because – oh the irony! – a childless great uncle Abe had died with a will scrawled on a paper napkin that had never been probated. The lawyer I retained to dig through the red tape on I’ve-Never-Met-You-Uncle Abe, unfortunately for me, did find legal standing to probate a paper-napkin will (translation: no lucky lottery win for me), but, by some twist of fate, I now found myself once again entertaining the possibility that I stood to draw the lucky inheritance card from a real-life version of Monopoly. How’s that for a good party, Dad?

While Avraham droned on (and stressed more than once how unlikely it is that I am heir to Yankel’s gelt), I found myself thinking how completely ironic it would be to make money (dare I say, make a killing?) off two people I had never met and who certainly had no intention of granting me, my father or any living relative so much as a penny. And from there, I asked myself what moral could possibly be drawn from this spiel. Is this a wake-up call to get my affairs in order before Death comes knocking? Maybe this is all happening to ensure I don’t inadvertently become someone else’s Great Grandpa Yankel and let random people benefit from lethal loopholes. Could it be a ghostly message from my father to make my funeral party wishes known in life so surviving family members can make the most of a typically dour situation? Maybe this is just some guilt-inducing sign to finally sit down and fill in all the missing information on

And then it dawned on me. The prospects of becoming filthy rich were offering me a whole morning of heady amusement. Jauntily though I may have walked off after hanging up with Avraham, I was keenly aware that the thrill of an unexpected financial windfall drew on elaborately imagining my newfound life as a multi-millionaire and not on any likelihood of such a vision materializing. I thanked the deceased for giving me a laugh and prompting me to let my creativity have a good run. And then, none the richer and all the richer, proceeded to go about my day.

Happy words,

* For more happy halloweening in the dead of January and for the five (small booth) words I will use in the next post, read How death got cool from the Guardian:

* Bonus: repeat appearances:

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