Alan Webber: R-e-s-p-e-c-t?
Drowsily sitting in my easy chair while channel-surfing this past weekend, I landed upon Aretha Franklin’s funeral service. Another great performer taken from us who will be missed. Who can forget the song, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T?”
But, what particularly caught my attention was a shot of the Nation of Islam’s head, Louis Farrakhan, sitting next to the “Revs.” Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson, as well as former President Bill Clinton, in the special front seats.
Awestruck by this group, my mind began to wander … just before I began nodding.
It is said I resemble the writer Ernest Hemingway. Ironic since I consider myself an author. For whatever reason, my mind drifted to imagining I was the long-lost grandson of Hemingway. I became the toast of the town for a time. Then, I passed away … shot by a jealous husband.
I imagined an elaborate funeral held in my honor. Starting at a Bourbonnais funeral home, mourners formed a lengthy procession. The parade included countless shiny, big and noisy semi-trucks backed up as far as the eye could see. Police blocked traffic as the spectacle wound its way through Kennedy Avenue, Court Street and Schuyler Avenue to head to Interstate 57.
The state police then seamlessly took over the escort, shutting down the interstate going south while the entire procession of trucks made its way, noisily, onto the interstate.
Our retinue traveled to Ashkum, where it exited from the interstate to snake through the sleepy little town before heading north on the old highway to Clifton, where I lived for years. We loop through town, then north over to my high school, Clifton Central, to make a few laps around the driveway while school is in session. Classes stop as high schoolers and teachers peer out windows.
Finally, having inconvenienced as many people as possible, the procession makes its way to the small white church in the center of Chebanse, a block from my childhood home. Trucks are parked throughout town, engines left on for the drivers’ comfort and so as to make as large a carbon footprint as possible.
Folks file into the church and onto the red-carpeted nave. Although small, it’s a beautiful house of worship; one can easily view the pulpit from anywhere in the room. The stained-glass windows are a marvel to behold. My casket rests in front of the podium near the few steps leading up into the presbytery.
As I look out from the ceiling of the pulpit, adjusting to my new wings, I am struck by the mix of the folks who have made it to my funeral. Among people I grew up with, there also are favorite authors such as Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Greg Isles and James Lee Burke, as well as not-so-famous-yet local authors Denny Marek and Jim Riordan, all in attendance. These writers must have come to read something prominent they wrote or to sing my praises as the lost grandson of the great Hemingway.
I turn my attention to family sitting in the front pew, minus my wife because, well, she’s still mad at me for getting shot. All are in a somber mood, but seem curious with the collection of people and dignitaries who have come to honor me in this nave.
I then notice, there in the presbytery are four large ornate wooden, high-backed chairs. These are evidently for notables attending the funeral, a few of which are assumedly going to speak on my behalf. The luminaries’ faces come into my view … and I am horrified.
There sits former Grand Duke of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke. On his left, grinning like a Cheshire Cat who just smoked a doobie sits famous tax cheat Willie Nelson. Continuing left is former mobster and shakedown artist Nicholas Calabrese. (Who knew he was out of prison?) And finally, on the far right is the alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, lasciviously eyeballing my granddaughters in the front row.
I am appalled by the presence of the four men perched behind my casket who have been given the best seat in the house. Nobody seems concerned about them. Who authorized and arranged for a noted racist, a tax cheat, a hustler and a sexual monster to attend my funeral, sitting as the guest of honor? They don’t represent me, so who thought I’d want them there? Why is nobody questioning this?
And then, I suddenly lurch from my slumber, drool running down my chin. I had fallen asleep. On the television, Franklin’s funeral still is going on.