Tour of the Morgue and Free Food: Brings back childhood mems.

Remember back in elementary and high school you would take field trips that were out of town or state? Even going to a local museum was a treat.

One of my most memorable field trips in my primary schooling years is when I went fishing in Tahoe for a day in second grade. I accidentally smacked my fishing pole on my teacher’s cheek; I wanted to ask her something, and I happen to bring the fishing pole with me as I turned around. She blew up a fume about it. After that, I silently sat in a little corner, crying as I was fishing by myself…

Okay, that wasn’t really memorable in a good way.

I also remember going to the San Francisco Aquarium in fourth grade (that was one whole day, from Fallon to there and back!). During that trip, we also went to this beach that we could touch all the sea sponges and shells. That day was the first day I used my under water camera, and during that time, I felt like I was the best photographer in the world.

And for my sixth grade graduation, we went to Six Flag in Vallejo (back when it was Marine World). And since then, I’ve been going back to Vallejo and Six Flags (now Discovery Kingdom) and San Francisco for high school choir trips and sports, summer vacations, and now college football games. As much as I hated getting up at sunrise (like any other kid or young adult would) it usually turned out to be worth it.

Going out of town or even just around town to tour local museums for class trips is a blast, too. But you don’t really expect that to happen during college, unless it’s an individual assignment or for studying abroad. I guess I could say that I got lucky (and oddly, excited) when my Death, Dying and Bereavement professor announced that the class would take a field trip to Mountain View Mortuary.

As you already might (somewhat) know, I worked in a mortuary right after I graduated from high school. So I sort of already know how the process goes when working in a mortuary (you pick up the body, put it on the gurney, take it to the mortuary, put it in the freezer, dress it up, conduct the funeral, and either a burial or cremation is done. It’s that easy!).

I was incredibly excited to participate in this activity anyways because one, I love death science, two, I haven’t been on a field trip for years and three, I’ve always wanted to nose around in one of Reno’s mortuaries.

Now when we, as the class, all met up and sat in the pews of the big room, everybody was prepared with their questions. How long does it take for a body to decompose? Do you have to go to beauty school, too? When do mortuaries usually close?

In a way, I was thinking that this might be no fun after all since I know the basics. Can we get on with the tour?

One of the three morticians had been working in mortuary science for over 30 years AND he’s an embalmer (I wish I could remember his name!). One was a female, named Emily (?), whose been in the business for two years and then Richard, who just began his career there.  All three of them gave us a tour and were very kind and professional people. I think they’re definitely the perfect example for people who think they want to be involved with the business of death because they tell it like it is.

Emily said that she tends to cry with the families who are planning a funeral for a loved one. It’s comforting that way as well since you’re connecting with the family. She said that the worst death in her opinion are suicides because families are left to a mystery that will never be unsolved of why they killed themselves.

Richard said he thinks the worst death is cancer, since he watched his mother die from it. And the embalmer thinks all deaths are tough.

They gave us a tour of the casket and urn shopping rooms. Everybody was in awe when they touched the comforters and pillows inside the caskets. “Look how comfy they are!”

I was a little tempted to hop into one and test it out, as if I were shopping for a new mattress.

One of my classmates is a veteran, and she jumped when she saw the display room of a casket for a solider.

“Don’t be scared,” Richard reassured her. “It’s very peaceful here.”

“Not that room,” she replied. She immediately walked to the other side of the shop after that. It was too disturbing.

After taking a look at the viewing rooms (which wasn’t anything too special), the embalmer then said to us, “We usually don’t do this for classroom tours but we’re going to show you the prep room since it’s a good day to do it,”

(Good day as in, there are no booking or conducting funerals and no one has died yet).

I was quite impressed when he showed us the prep room. The mortuary I worked in was much smaller and cramped in. It was chilly enough for goosebumps to form onto your skin, like how a mortuary prep room should be.

It was plain looking lab, no bodies present. The freezer was in the room as well and one classmate asked if we could see a body but obviously, for legality and family respect’s sake, we couldn’t (I found this to be an oblivious question…I can just imagine her poking the body and scream after she realizes what it really is).

It’s obvious that people die every day and any time, but I was curious to see what these guys’ busiest hours were. In response to my question, the embalmer said between 5 and 6p.m. are usually the busiest.

Oh, here’s the best part; after the tour, the mortuary gave us free pizza and lemonade. We also got to stick around to ask more questions about the business in death, but I was enjoying the pizza a little too much.

Even though Mountain View Mortuary doesn’t offer any internships, job shadowing or volunteer work (huge bummer), it was still the best field trip I had in a while. You don’t go around often during good times in your life saying that you visited a mortuary for curiosity.

The People Who Walk Into the Planetarium

Hi! Welcome! Hello. How are you today? 

These are my four greetings to the people who walk in the planetarium. I do startle some of them when I interject these greetings because I’m trying to come off as friendly and warm. Instead, I’m some loud fruit ball that probably seems nice.

The people who walk into the planetarium are all shapes and sizes; different colors, styles and ages. Duh.

Really, sometimes their appearances are the safer to observe because they all have very different personalities. Some of them will make me feel happy that I have this job and others…make me want to run away.

Themanwiththenonstoptalkingdisability:

“Iwanttobuythisrocketship, hey! didyouknowthisfrabblegabblegabblebop?” 

There’s a man who comes in every once in a while and he talks really fast and changes the subject after speaking two words. I cannot point out the disability that he has. Sometimes, he can be a little too friendly. I think the last conversation he tried to have with me was something about space and porn, and complimented about how pretty I was.

He’s a big astronomy fan, probably a little bit bigger than I. He’s like 70-something with a long, white beard, wearing one of our star shirts that we sell for $15. He forgot to cut off the tags and the “It Glows-in-the-Dark!” sticker when he purchased it a while ago. This time, he wanted to buy a toy rocket ship.

“Whenthisplanetpassesthesunand hey! IwatchedwatcheditonTV.” 

I usually nod my head to his conversations. Majority of my dialogues consist of “Oh, okay” and “Uh-huh”. My boss, JoAnne, will be watching from her office with her hands on her hips, rolling her eyes at the ridiculousness.

Shh

 

 

 

 

The Retired Competitors 

Sometimes, I’ll have old people walk in and challenge me about my knowledge in astronomy. I don’t know everything, but I am capable of explaining some things.

“How far can I zoom in with the different lenses in that telescope?”

“Sir, I wish I could answer that for you but my associate director will be able to—”

(And then you’ll hear a “hah” coming from under his breath) “But you don’t know,”

At this point, I’m trying to stay calm. I look at him straight into the eye. He knows he made a jackass out of himself and he wants to avoid the situation.

“I don’t, but that’s why I would like to introduce you to my associate director so he can provide you with the correct information,”

And then I guess he felt super guilty about his attitude and immediately changed the subject with a different tone of voice. “Oh, okay so what’s your major?”

 

 

The Mean Elderly People (and it’s still your fault) 

Another situation I had to deal with kinda consisted with my faults; I was typing away on my computer at the front desk while people were shopping in the gift shop. An elderly lady tapped the top of my computer and said, “Wake up!” 

Excuse ME? 

“I…am?” was the only thing I responded with. I was offended and confused at the same time.

“No you weren’t, no you weren’t.” 

“I’m sorry, I was typing out my homework,” (MY BAD–SERIOUSLY)

“Mhm, sure.” 

My entire body froze and my eyes just locked on her. Am I seriously putting up with a 67-year-old who acts like a 13-year-old? No, she wasn’t being silly or joking around!

When she noticed my shock, she changed the subject immediately; she took a kids’ astronaut costume off the rack and gushed over it. My eyes were still locked on hers and I didn’t say a word. She approaches me at the desk and asks,

“So what are you majoring in?”

I tell her.

“Oh, journalism! My son used to do journalism. Now he’s just a manager at a hotel,” 

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Since then, I have not brought my computer to the front desk.

 

 

The Walking Storybooks 

These are the people who insist standing at the front desk to tell their life story for 30 minutes straight. They’re usually people in their mid 50s that are in deep love or have kids. Very awkward, I must say. I don’t know how to respond to most of them. I do a lot of fake laughing.

“We went to the planetarium when we first met a few months ago and we bought this moon that you can hang on the wall and it lights up. It’s so amazing, and we use it every night…”

2376555-meme_are_you_kidding_me

 

 

The Ultimate Believer 

It was a week before December 21st, 2012 the known date for the end of the world. On the same day when the nonstop-talking-disability man came in, a scrawny man with very little hair on his head, with a sweater on, comes in and asks two strange questions.

“Hi…….is there a video class in here?” 

“Um, no. You’re at the planetarium.”

“Do you know where the video class would be?”

I simply had no clue about it. I just suggested that he’d check out the library.

“Thank you. Also, I would like to know if I could speak to…a professional about a space related question?”

“I could try to answer!” I happily said.

“Because December 21st is coming up, do you know what time Nibiru would be intersecting our orbit?”

I stare at him blankly.

“Nibiru is an unknown planet in our Solar System and it’s supposed to go through our orbit and collide with Earth. It’s believed that it was the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs billions of years ago,”

“I very much doubt that will happen, sir.”

I wanted to die.

nibiru_decemberxx

 

 

The Oblivious 

We have posters hanging up on the walls. Some of them are of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Periodic Table of the Elements. One man came in with his wife and was so intrigued by the Milky Way Galaxy poster. The art of the galaxy on the poster had billions of stars and nebula circling inside it, all the way to the Galactic Center, just like we imagine it. The Galactic Center is actually a black hole and surrounded by high density of matter and large groups of stars, which makes it very bright, like this:

m31_small

It’s a peaceful picture. I like to look at it sometimes.

It’s peaceful, until, all of a sudden, I’m asked:

“Why is it bright in the middle? Is that our sun or another big sun?” 

It almost brought me to tears.

 

 

The Nice Mom

Our planetarium hosts birthday parties for kids. I was hosting one a few weeks ago for a 5-year-old boy named Walker, who had an extreme obsession with Spiderman (the family requested red and blue table cloths, his presents were wrapped in Spiderman themes and of course, he had a Spiderman cake).

I helped 10 kids put together their own kaleidoscopes as a craft and helped prepared food, gifts and other settings for Walker’s parents and guests.

Walker’s mother was actually a very nice woman; she curled her long brown hair for her son’s big day and she was very patient and social. While we were waiting for the rest of her guests, Walker and his friends were in awe with the toys in the gift shop. A lady who was another visitor at the planetarium that day were watching the kids play and said,

“It’s so sad what happened to those children in Connecticut,”

Awkward…even though this was the day after the shooting at the time. Nobody really likes talking about it, or even thinking about it.

“I mean, I can’t imagine how the parents feel. It’s so sad,” 

Walker’s mother and I just stand there, trying to ignore as she kills the mood. Shut up, lady.

“He shot up all of those babies. So sad.” 

K. Shut up.
After ignoring her for a while, she finally walks away. Somberly.

Anyways, I enjoyed serving Walker’s mother. I felt really bad for her, though, when she tried to order pizza and it was a little too late. The pizza business that she called told her that their oven was broken.

But her and I worked together well and she gave me a $20 tip at the end.

This is just a collection of some of my favorite people who walked in so far. By April, it will be a year since I’ve been working at the planetarium. It’s really the best job in the world. You learn so much academically and socially, even though the pay sucks.

Here are a couple of phone calls that I received from customers in December of 2012. NOTE – I face palmed to these questions because they make your brain hurt!:

“Yeah, hi, I have a question for you. I’ve been watching the sun rise and the sun set throughout all of my life; it’s a really beautiful experience. But the other morning when I was watching the sun rise, the moon appeared at the same time as the sun in the sky. Does this have anything to do with the apocalypse?” 

Answer. 

“Hello, I was wondering if the planets are going to align on December 21st? Where can I look at this?”

Answer (under Planetary Alignment). 

FOR FUN – A freaky question over the phone that my boss, JoAnne had to answer in the late 90s:

“Before the comet, Halle-Bop, impacts the Earth, what do you suggest I do? Should I commit suicide before it happens?” 

(Of course, she answered no. This question relates to the religious suicide pact in 1997, Heaven’s Gate).

First day of Death…….education.

Here is how my last day of 2012 went: 

I woke up this morning from a wonderful, 10-hour sleep on my new Sealy mattress that my best friend Royal bought me for Christmas. I was so well rested that I forgot the reason why I set my alarm to 7:45 a.m.

I made myself two cups of coffee and then packed my bag with loose-leaf paper, writing utensils and my Kindle Fire which had my e-textbook inside.

Today was the first day of death and dying school! 

I’m taking this mini winter class to fulfill my capstone and diversity requirement, and, you know, taking it for the obvious reason: my obsession with the science behind death.

This is technically a course for a Social Work major. When I first signed up, I was a little nervous about it because I thought the entire course would mainly be about how to comfort someone. That’s cool and all but I want something beyond that — and I got it!

The syllabus says that we’ll be learning about how death is handled with various cultures such as Native American, Asian and Hawaiian including religions like Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity.

Along with those topics, we’re going to plan our own funeral and learn about the business of it and so much more! A mortician will even come speak to the class! What a fantastic way to end 2012 and to start 2013.

Surprisingly, there are about 20 or more students in the class. It’s a diverse audience as well; most of them are majoring either in social work, psychology, biology or nursing (guess whose the only journalism major in there?).

The first half of the day mostly consisted of an introduction (this class is four hours btw). We had to pick a partner to get to know each other and then they would have to introduce us to the class (I hate a lot of things about this. I’d rather introduce myself because its way easier and you’ll get to know me personally compared to a person just telling the audience something about you. Also, I hate group activities.).

The interview questions were basic (to the eyes of a journalist, anyway): What’s your major, why did you choose this class, what do you hope to get out of it and list something that people wouldn’t know about you.

A pretty cool chick named Taylor and I partnered up and here’s what I told her:

I’m Molly and I’m a journalism major. I chose this class because I have a fascination with death and I also have background experience with funeral homes (I’ve witnessed an embalming and prepared bodies for funerals). I hope to get enjoyment out of this class especially since we’ll be learning about different cultures (I love this!). Something that people may not know about me is that I have a fascination with astronomy and space, and I hope to be the first journalist to report from space (this is true). 

And so when she introduced me with all of that to the class, I received so much attention that it became awkward. All eyes were on me. I was too shy to look up at anyone and acknowledge them (even the instructor!) and I cringed as if I were a turtle going back into its shell.

I HAVE NEVER GOTTEN SO MANY “OOOOHS!” AND “AHHHS!” BEFORE FOR AN “ABOUT ME”. 

And who was Taylor? A junior who can’t make up her mind with what major she wanted to pursue and is looking forward to learn how to comfort others during times of loss. Maybe I should have been more simple? But, then again, a girl admitted in her “about me” that she owns a baby monkey

…what is she going to do when that thing turns its back on her for the wild side? Hopefully the attack won’t be her cause of death. Ha. Ha. Speaking of…

We also took like, three surveys about our thoughts on death. The longest one was 74 questions asking things like, “Would you want to know how much time you have left to live?”, “How would you want to die?”, “If you were to commit suicide, what technique would you use?”, and “If you had a terminal illness, who would you want to tell you first?” 

What’s even more depressing is that there’s a 10 page paper due on the last day of class (a.k.a. in two weeks).

Anyways, I’m very excited about this class and I’ll share the most interesting things (why not all?). And I know, I need to share some of my experiences! How about I post something like that during this week?

Well, Happy New Year. So far, it’s a great start. I have an internship interview in April for The Sparks Tribune.

Celebrate safe and well and see you later this week! I’ll be shooting fireworks off by a lake.

-Molly

P DOT S: Please check out this amazing, clever and easy eggless cookie dough recipe from Fun Foods On a Budget! I made it like, three times and it makes you yell “LIFE IS GOOD!” in the kitchen because it’s that delicious. And no, pregnancy is not required.