As the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti continues unfolding and the horrific, gut-wrenching reality of Death grimly stares everybody down, collectively, body after ruined body, from the detached safety of my/our computer monitors and TV sets, how can I not imagine (especially considering I live too close to The San Andreas Fault that's long overdue to destroy us Southern Californians in "The Big One"), that those poor Haitians, buried and crushed by the rubble of not just an earthquake, but by chronic poverty and an archaically constructed infrastructure both physical and political, could just as easily have been me? Or my loved ones? Someday that may be us bloodied or obliterated on the TV screen should an 8.0 strike anywhere on The San Andreas Fault between Wrightwood and Palm Springs, California, thus making the movie 2012 a veritable reality.
I'd just finished reading most of Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die, when the Haiti earthquake struck. I'd planned on writing what I'd hoped would amount to a really funny review, good for some good lowbrow giggles, poking fun at and mocking those chronicled in the morbid book who've died in some of the most unbelievably ridiculous and absurd scenarios ever. Like Death by Vending Machine. Or Death by Video Game. Death by Vegetarians and Vigilantes too. I'm flipping through the "V" section of the book, right now, obviously, as this encyclopedia is arranged alphabetically after all, as most encyclopedias are, beginning with, Death-by-Words-that-Start-with-"A," and ending, you guessed it, with, Death-by-Words-that-Start-with-"Z". Death by A-B-C-D-E-F-G.... The lone "Z" entry is "Zoofatalism". Zoofatalism is "a psychological disorder in which the afflicted get dangerously close to zoo animals or keep wild animals as pets against better judgment." Normally, at this point in the "review," I would mercilessly mock such Zoofatalists, but out of respect for my brothers and sisters in humanity mercilessly suffering and dying by the day in Haiti, I will refrain.
Final Exits also comes illustrated with drawings and photos of either outright-death, or of seemingly non-fatal activities that can nevertheless lead to death. Like Cheerleading. It's "Rah-rah," one second apparently; and the next second...ooops...you're dead, and no pom-pom can save you now! Damn, I indeed was trying really hard not to mock or poke fun at anybody, even cheerleaders. But I was a geek in high school, and cheerleaders ignored, if not outright rejected me. Stuck up pom-pom wenches. So, I guess they deserve to be mocked, cheerleaders, now that I consider it, no matter what natural disasters and untold deaths have just occurred in the world.
Most of the drawings and photographs in Final Exits are benign and tastefully crafted, like the doesn't-really-show-anything drawing (darn!) of the man being "Autocastrated" with a sword in the "A" section of the book. Equally as tasteful is the cute photograph of the huge-toothed hippopotamus Yawning in the "Y" section of the book. Death by hippopotamus Yawning? Read it to believe it:
"According to a story reported in the Melbourne Herald Sun in July 1999, one man died when a hippo yawned. A circus clown, a dwarf named Od...jumped off a trampoline just as a hippo, waiting to perform in the next act, yawned. The man landed square in the animal's mouth, which opened to a span of four feet. The hippo's involuntary gag reflex caused Od to be instantaneously swallowed whole. The one thousand-plus spectators who witnessed it continued to applaud wildly until common sense dictated that there had been a tragic mistake. Attempts to force the hippo to regurgitate the body were not successful."
Funny, right? Wrong!
Any other week it might've been funny and I'd of had a blast writing this "review," sharing such wacky, weird, and even erotic ways in which people die. Sometimes people die in wacky, weird, and erotic ways simultaneously, come to find out. But I just can't, right now, in good conscience, crack jokes about women who've died during cunnilingus, or died from "drowning in molasses;" I just can't, because, even though I know I stated at the outset I wouldn't try to be funny in this "review," and I've obviously failed in a very limited (arguably) perhaps unfunny-funny extent in that non-humor endeavor, because now is not an appropriate time for humor, right?, with so much inconceivable quantities of death - literally truckloads of death bound for mass graves - confronting us day after tragic day! I feel awkward "reviewing" a book like this at a time like this when so many are suffering beyond what the word "suffering" can even come close to adequately describe. How does one adequately describe complete decimation and despair without sounding glib or trivializing it in the process?
Know that whatever humor has been present here in this "review" isn't meant to make light of real pain and real grief and sorrow and all the other adjectives I could summon to my rescue (in case I have in fact, stepped in it); but that the humor is just a mask, a ruse, a psychological coping device, a weakness, a defense against the indiscriminate pain and horror hurled at this World from God-knows-where, that I can't understand or control or make go away; a distraction, if you will, the humor, to prevent me from really pondering how godawfully unhumorous it is, the Hell that is happening in Haiti, and the Hells abundant elsewhere on this sorrowful globe, that are conveniently, in rectilinear, sanitized and safe fashion, digitally transmitted to us everyday on a screen for our ocular consumption.