No one came to the funeral. Instead of a fancy coffin there was a cardboard box. Before the body had been placed in the box, it was checked for jewelry. Rings and a wristwatch were removed and set aside. Then the lid was slipped over the top edges of the box. It wasn’t fastened in any manner.
The corrugated cardboard box was placed in a retort of refractory brick, whose color is a ghastly portmanteau of yellow, orange and brown. A switch was flipped and natural gas burners ignited. Inside the retort the temperature quickly rose to 2100 degrees centigrade. Confronted with such furious heat, the cardboard box withered instantly. Skin, fat, muscles, ligaments and tendons turned black and curled up like dry leaves. Then crumbled and fell. The large organs – lungs, liver, heart, kidneys, and stomach – boiled and turned to vapor in minutes. As the heat continued, the organic remnants fused with oxygen, forming a kind of post-human gas, which was sucked out through an exhaust system by the spinning blades of powerful fans.
Superheated, gaseous particles of the famous man in the cardboard box spewed willy-nilly out of metal pipes into the atmosphere.
After 100 minutes of the hellish heat, a switch was turned off. When the retort cooled, the operator used a whisk-broom to sweep out what’s left: seven pounds of dry bone fragments. The bones were unceremoniously dumped into a grinding machine called a cremulator. The machine was switched on and heavy metal bearings rolled over the bones, pulverizing them until they resembled dry sand.
These granulated leftovers are called the ashes or the cremains.
Inevitably, not all of the leftovers were swept out. A little bit remained and mixed with the left overs of previous and subsequent cremations. Sort of a human hodgepodge.
The ashes were poured into an urn and handed over later to the next of kin.
The process was impersonal, industrial. A system of waste disposal called cremation.
The ashes, driven by car to Big Sur, California, were sprinkled out of the urn by hand, where the coastal breezes caught them and twirled them in a bright pavane for a moment. Then the powdered bones settled onto the surface of the cerulean blue Pacific waves, where they floated for a while, because of surface tension, and ever so slowly sank.