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A dispatch from the other side

It took me awhile to motivate myself to write this column.

After all, why bother?

I’m dead.

Officially dead.

But, here I am, to tell you about life on the other side.

It’s a surprising situation over here, contrary to what a lot of you might imagine.

Let me give you a bit of background to explain my situation.

I passed away sometime during the last six months; I’m not sure exactly when.

I discovered my demise when Kathy checked our credit score. A couple of weeks ago, she set out to get a handle on the score, worried, I suppose, that we wouldn’t be able to secure a loan for a new jet (I like Gulfstream, she prefers Lear) or for a vacation home (me Amsterdam, her the South of France).

When Kathy receives the report, she calls me at the office.

“Honey, I just got our credit report … and there’s a bit of a problem. They say you’re dead.”

“Hmmm. I know being at work makes me wonder if I’m dead — brain dead, anyway. But, you say someone thinks I’m gone?”

“Yep. It says here that, according to the Social Security Administration, you appear to be deceased. There are times I’ve wondered about this, and the credit report confirms it.”

“Stepped off the big cliff, took the ultimate nap, flunked the final exam?”

“Yep. Dead.”

“Well. That’s big government for you: They say I’m dead, but they keep collecting my social security tax. You know the old saw about death and taxes being the only certain things in life? Now we know taxation continues even after you’re gone; you pay, you die, then you pay some more.”

“You better get this straightened out. There might a guy in Iceland, sitting in his mother’s basement dressed in fur underwear, wearing a funny hat, working on his computer, stealing your identity and filching your social security money. Or, should I say, my social security money, now that I’m a surviving spouse.”

“You mean there might be a new Karl Isberg?”

“Exactly. Lars has killed you off in cyberspace, copped your papers, your key numbers, and is living the life of luxury.”

“In Iceland! What a life that would be: full-service cable, complete with the latest Norwegian soap operas and top-tier Swedish hockey games. The Abba box set. All the salt cod, lefse and sheep’s blood pudding a guy could want. And all of it compliments of me … the dead guy.”

“That’s it. You better do something, quick.”


I’m dead.

And, really, things are not all that bad here.

Certainly not as bad as some people told me it would be. Actually, as a lot of people assured me it would be.

For one thing, it’s not particularly hot. Oh, sure, it gets a bit warm on sunny days, but there’s plenty of gin and tonic to take the edge off the heat.

There is no evidence of legions of snarky, gremlin-like creatures, armed with razor-sharp tridents and spitting acid, out to make the residents’ lives miserable. Forever.

True, there are folks here who are intent on tormenting others; most of the antagonists are sixty years old, or older, and most of them Republicans. There is a raft of goofs who are propelled by greed and hypocrisy, who unload hefty doses of deceit in their daily discourse, who maneuver constantly, ever on the make when it comes to self-glorification and advantage of all kinds. But there doesn’t seem to be more of them here than in my previous life.

There is no constant, nerve-rattling racket in the air, screams of torment, high-decibel, eardrum-shattering noise, etc. — unless you count the hip hop music pounding out of a ‘93 Oldsmobile parked next to you at a stoplight.

Believe it or not, there is weather here on the other side — clear one day, rainy the next. Volcanic eruptions are few and far between, and rarely does one have to pass through a cloud of sulfurous gas ... unless they’re with their cousin who has trouble digesting tofu.

And the sun sets. (Yep, there’s a sun. No fathomless darkness interrupted by fiery flashes that illuminate the writhing bodies of the damned.). There is night and day. If the evening gets chilly, the furnace kicks on. Who woulda guessed — forced air in the afterlife?

There are also credit cards here, though I am sure there is no need to worry any longer about credit scores. Or payment of bills, for that matter. What’s gonna happen if you don’t pay? You’re dead, already!

Some things about the place are true to form, though.

For example, there are plenty of Jews here, as predicted. I have also run into a lot of Buddhists. A Sikh just drove by in a Prius. And there’s a ton of Muslims around.

But, it’s the surprises that make this place special, and the best surprise is that you need to eat in the afterlife.

There is a supermarket nearby and it provides more than mucous and bile. I am stunned by the fact that I can find meat at the market, but I suppose it says something about a cow’s afterlife, doesn’t it?

There is plenty of wine, (for everyone but the Muslims and a host of Baptists who, apparently, are here by mistake). There is a France and a California, and folks there, as do their earthly life counterparts, make pretty good vino.

So, since I am dead, yet still have access to all the amenities I used to cherish, I think my biggest problem is going to be the menu here in the Great Beyond.

I need something substantial. After all, from what I’m told, I am going to be here awhile.

I need something to remind me of where I came from, literally and figuratively.

So, cabbage rolls it is.

I’ll get a massive head of cabbage.

I’ll take off the leaves and trim the thick ribs. I’ll blanch the leaves in boiling, lightly salted water to soften them, then drain them on a towel.

I’ll cook a pot of rice.

I’ll sweat finely diced white onion, carrot and celery, then add two cans of high-grade tomato sauce. Into the sauce will go kosher salt, ground black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, crushed caraway seed, and some brown sugar. I’ll simmer the sauce for a half hour, adjusting the seasoning as I go. The sauce needs a sweet/sour character. Much like the life I led before my demise.

I’ll finely dice some white onion, crush a couple cloves of garlic, mix 85/15 ground beef with the onion and garlic and toss in some crushed caraway seeds, chopped parsley, kosher salt and ground black pepper. I‘ll combine the beef with some of the rice and add two beaten eggs.

A wad of the mix will go on a large cabbage leaf and I’ll wrap the leaf around the filling, tucking in the ends, repeating until the filling is used up. I’ll get 10 to 12 rolls, or so.

I’ll preheat the oven to 350, oil a large baking dish and line the bottom with small cabbage leaves. On top of the leaves go the cabbage rolls. On top of the rolls goes the sauce. I‘ll cover the dish with foil and pop it into the oven for an hour or so.

It seems Kathy is an inter-dimensional gal of sorts, (I’ve been seeing her regularly since I died), so I’ll invite her to join me at dinner.

No doubt, she will say something like, “I forgot to remind you that you need to go to the hardware store and pick up another gallon of stain for the deck.”

“There’s a hardware store here? Hardware? In the afterlife?”

“Get another gallon of stain. You need to finish the deck this weekend. And we need to start to clean the garage. Oh, and did you vacuum like I asked?”

Aha, so there is a measure of agony here.

I’d love to help her.

Unfortunately, until the Social Security folks change their tune, I’m afraid I can’t.

After all, I’m dead.