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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

The Fourteenth-Best Song About A Mortuary

I used to buy old Skinner auction pamphlets to look for furniture to copy. They had really nicely printed stuff back in the 70s and 80s. Back then, something resembling antique furniture was still being sold at auctions. The definition of what an antique is has morphed over time. It used to mean furniture that wasn’t made in a formal factory setting. Pre-Civil War, basically.

The problem was, it didn’t really exist out in the wild anymore. All of it was in collections or museums or being extinguished inexpertly by a fireman, and auction houses had nothing much to sell. So they changed the definition, informally, mind you, to anything 100 years old or so. The flea markets just soldiered on with “anything that looks vaguely old.” It’s still common for antique stores to leave all their furniture wares outside to get ruined so it looks older than it is. The patina on your antiques is probably as forced as any I make in a bucket in my workshop. And since I actually make furniture by hand, my brand-new stuff is closer to a real antique than most of what’s in an antiques store, which is mostly just humdrum homegoods from some dead, unmourned aunt’s ranch house.

But time does winnow. It’s slapdash, of course. Hard to say if Shakespeare was all that. Maybe he was the third best playwright in the greater Avon area, but the rest of the guys forgot to go to the Stratford Kinko’s and left the originals near an outhouse the day after the all-you-can-eat blood pudding special at the Pig&Pox Inn. But the sloped sides on the funnel of time do make some things more interesting, don’t they?

“St. Dennistoun Mortuary” is a coin-operated automaton, attributed to John Dennison, c. 1900. The mahogany cabinet and glazed viewing area displays a Greek Revival mortuary building with double doors and grieving mourners out front. When a coin is inserted, doors open and the room is lighted revealing four morticians and four poor souls on embalming tables. The morticians move as if busily at work on their grisly task and mourners standing outside bob their heads as if sobbing in grief. This automaton will be offered as Lot 207 at auction on June 2, 2012 at Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Estimate $4,000-6,000

And for all I know, that’s the fourteenth-best song about a mortuary. But I doubt it.

8 Responses

  1. And the Thirteenth-Best song about a mortuary is "T.B. Sheets." Numbers one through twelve haven't been written yet.

  2. A hundred-thousand years ago I used to go into the Hot Club in Providence. I'd drink Sauza and coffee and put money in the juke box like it was life support.

    A really good jukebox is like a cathedral. Transubstantiates life.

    Jukeboxes used to have actual 45s in them. They were re-issues, of course. They'd put different songs on them than the originals.

    There was a Van Morrison single of something inoffensive like Brown-Eyed Girls or sumptin. And the flip-side was TB Sheets. I used to play it mercilessly in there, until the whole place was down where I needed them to be. Down there with me. Down there with me and James Joyce and Yeats and Hemingway's cat.

  3. A CNC with a dull bit is like a juke box with records and a worn out needle.

    Now I am off to the infirmary, thank you very much.

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