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Thu, Feb. 20

Williams: Meet the ‘Mysterious Mr. Q’

I had occasion recently to interview the ‘Mysterious Mr. Q.’ We met in a room with black-out shades over the windows. His voice was electronically altered so I couldn’t discern his true identity. He wore a black cloak and a large-brimmed hat was pulled low over his eyes.

Actually, all I could see was his darkened silhouette in the shadows as he levitated two to three feet over his chair. That levitating thing was really irritating.

I didn’t understand all the secrecy since we had only met to discuss his experiences working in a funeral home as a teenager. But, Halloween is not too far away, so maybe he was practicing his big act for Oct. 31.

In his altered voice — which made him sound a little like Donald Duck, he began, “One morning about 4 a.m., we got a call to pick up a body in a San Diego hospital. A nurse led us to room 318A where we grasped the arms and legs to properly position the body on the gurney for transport to the hearse outside. These movements simulated resuscitation and the body expelled a vigorous gasp.

“The nurse, who may have been overly superstitious, flinched in terror, gasped even more vigorously and fled from the room. We never saw her again.”

Even though I couldn’t see Mr. Q’s face clearly, I could sense an evil grin slicing across his features.

Just about this time, I was wondering why I was conducting this interview, when my inscrutable interviewee launched into another account. He cleared his throat (I think that was the bizarre sound I heard), and offered, “There was a boating accident off the Baja, California coast. Five family members had drowned and washed up onto the shore, but hadn’t been discovered for some weeks, so the process of decomposition had advanced significantly by the time the bodies were shipped to us.

“Consequently, even the best embalming practices and sealed caskets couldn’t contain the strong residual odor. To this day, I am reminded of that experience every time I encounter variations of potato salad. It turns out, dill was a component in the deodorizing spray we applied to the body bags and the caskets.”

Until Mr. Q came into my life, I enjoyed potato salad, myself. So much for the end of that little bit of gastronomic pleasure.

I began gathering up my pens and notebook looking for the exit when Mr. Q settled into a more comfortable pose and continued, “I once met another person who had grown up in a mortuary family as I had. He also was often drafted to transport bodies to other mortuaries, crematoriums, and so forth. Once during a long-distance transport of a casket in a hearse, he stopped in a café for lunch. Apparently, someone at the café called the police believing that the teenage driver had stolen the hearse. My friend no sooner bit into his burger when he was braced by police arriving to investigate the ‘theft.’ It took some explanations and a phone call to his employer to neutralize the situation, but he was finally able to finish his lunch and be on his way.”

Neither the other teenage driver nor Mr. Q made a career in the funeral industry. In fact, Mr. Q commented that he specifically didn’t stay in the business because “I didn’t get along with the people. I did fine with the dead ones, the live ones were the problem.”

Based on the information I learned during this interview, I’ve also decided not to accept any big opportunities that might present themselves to work in the mortuary biz.

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