Eulogy for an Asshole
Larry’s death had little or no repercussion on the street. That is, if ‘repercussion’ means anyone gave a shit.
They weren’t sad to see him go, though there was a handful that was pissed. Larry had left owing, as they say.
The funeral details spread by word of mouth. The church sure as hell was not gonna put out any formal communiqué about dropping this SOB into the ground. If people wanted to pay their respects, they were gonna have to work for it. The priest expected a turnout that might fill a single pew.
With an open casket, the priest was simply hoping nobody pissed in it, so disliked was this denizen of the streets of Brooklyn. Father O’Shea new vaguely of this character. Just enough to know this would be one of his ‘hold your nose and pretend God would give this shit-heel the time of day” eulogies.
No one knew the cause of death. Wasting an autopsy on this clown was out of the question. ‘Natural causes’ would suffice. All who knew him labeled his passing as a triumph of good over evil.
His family had long ago disassociated themselves from him. He had no support system, not even the flimsy one that might develop when living on the streets or in the occasional flea bag motel. He sold drugs, he used drugs, he drank, and he could be vaguely threatening when necessary, especially with women. He’d burned many bridges, often before crossing them, and never attempted to rebuild. He assessed the usefulness of people in life based on their degree of victim hood. Who could be conned, who could be intimidated, and who would smack him before he got two words out of his mouth.
As the priest peeked from behind the thick velour curtain, his right hand grasping the fabric, his left holding a chalice filled with wine behind his back, he was stunned to see the first five or six rows fill up. There were the requisite bar rats in the faux cowboy hats, and one black gentleman in a feathered fedora and lime suit that thankfully had chosen not to bring along the women who were obviously in his employ. It was a crowd that resembled dinner time at the homeless shelter down the block, and from his perch behind the altar, the waft of sweat and boiled onions was overpowering.
He turned to face the altar boy who had quietly come up behind him.
“Where are the pall bearers?” he whispered.
The boy snorted. “For this douche bag?”
The father raised his eyebrows. “My good lad, we don’t speak like that in here.”
The boy cleared his throat, stifling a laugh. He eyed the glass behind the priest’s back.
“Sorry. For this guy? We had to go the paid pall bearer route, Father. $10 per man. All they have to do is show up in a suit. Got four of ‘em. They should be here any minute.”
Father O’Shea shook his head. There went $40 down the drain, he thought. Why couldn’t this miscreant have been cremated? He often thought people who knew they were heading south to a warmer clime for eternity often didn’t want to begin that journey with fire.
The service was not scheduled for another 15 minutes. He sipped his wine as returned to the rectory, crossing the parking lot and brazenly swallowing the last of the wine as he approached the three steps that lead to his room.
Back in the church, another two rows had filled. The alter boys were stunned. They knew much more closely the deceased, and were wondering out loud why this bastard was getting any kind of ceremony at all. They continued their card game while waiting for O’Shea to return. They were hoping he’d swill another chalice or two, as his eulogies often ventured into hilarious realms when he was soused.
At exactly the time scheduled, Father O’Shea came through the back door, tossing an annoyed look at the boys as they quickly put the cards and cash away. His bulbous nose and spidery web of broken capillaries that spread from that nose were giveaways to the astute observer. The father liked his drink.
With all four altar boys aligned behind him; he strode confidently to the podium, one sheet of paper in his left hand.
Most of the mumbling and throat clearing stopped.
He adjusted the microphone unnecessarily and began.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to say goodbye to our friend Larry, uh, Larry Stefanski.”
From the assembled came a raspy male voice, “You mean Larry the Scumbag”.
Father O’Shea ignored this intrusion. Gotta love Brooklyn, he thought.
From the rear, what appeared to be the four pall bearers came through the huge door. Not a suit to be found, however. Four Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts lined up against the back wall, hands respectfully behind their backs.
Father suppressed a grin and soldiered on. “Taken from us much too soon, Larry overcame many of life’s pitfalls with an energy and a commitment to productivity that was admirable.”
Again, this time from the front row, a woman bellowed, “Fucker owes me $100. Let’s have his ass produce THAT!”
Father made eye contact with the woman, but did not say anything.
“We are here, all of us, to pay our RESPECTS,” and he removed his glasses and glared at the assembled, “and to honor the life and death of a man we all knew.
“My old man knew Al Capone, Didn’t mean he was gonna kneel at his casket without puking on his Orchid.” This from a younger man in the third row, who grinned and looked around, seeing nods of approval in return.
Before he could regain control, another voice boomed out.
“Sonuvabitch gave me crabs. I say we toss his ass in the East River, give him BACK to the crabs.” This time it was a woman from the back row. A black woman. And she stood when she spoke.
“Young lady,” O’Shea intoned. He could hear the giggling of the altar boys behind him. “This is hardly the venue to air petty grievances. Have you no shame?”
“Petty my ASS. Been itchin’ like a muthafucka for two weeks. Only reason I’s here is to make sure that bastard is dead.”
Father O’Shea replaced his glasses. “He is. Now would you please sit down?”
She did, but her mumbled words were evident throughout the church. “Itches like hell just to sit, too.”
Chuckles ripped through the crowd.
O’Shea continued. “As we say our goodbyes, it is my responsibility to remind all of us that our time here on earth is limited, and that God doles out that time based on how well we use it.”
“No wonder the dip shit didn’t live to be forty. Shoulda suffocated his ass at birth, like a three legged puppy.”
The source of this taunt was not evident, so O’Shea ground on to his final thoughts.
“In conclusion, we can all learn something from Larry’s death.”
“We learned how to be an insufferable prick from his life. What the hell am I gonna learn from this cat kickin’ the bucket?”
It was becoming a torrent. Almost everyone was leaning forward in their chair, chomping at the bit. Waiting to get their two cents in.
O’Shea decided enough was enough.
“OK then. What do you want me to say?”
The chorus came at him waves to where he couldn’t decipher a single thought.
He held up both hands. Finally there was silence again.
“Larry was not well known in this church. I only saw him once; when he tried to steal a statue from this very alter. It was me who called the police and turned him in. I know what kind of man he was. But do we want to send him to wherever he is going with such vitriol and anger?”
In unison, as if coached and guided by a conductor, “HELL YES!” came the response. The altar boys were doubled over. O’Shea walked to the marble table at the center of the alter, decanted wine into a huge goblet, and drank it in three swallows.
He looked out at the forty or so people in his church, poured himself another splash, lifted the cup, winked and said, “He really WAS a prick, wasn’t he?”