: The Physics of Speed :

an excerpt by William Giraldi

If I hadn't been so unhinged by my father's death, and if someone had asked me to participate in the laying to rest of his body, I would have insisted that he be buried in his frayed work clothes, in a pine coffin that my grandfather and uncles had constructed with their own hands, using my father's own tools. I would have vetoed the unspeakable business of embalming. Those sick clowns sewed a smile on his face. They no doubt believe they honor death with all that prettification, but really they mock it, turn it into a minstrel show, a spooky carnival. 

What did they do with my father's blood after they drained it from him?  And what did they discuss as they pumped the fuming yellow formaldehyde into his body? The Yankees? Descartes' laughable proofs for the existence of God, or the universe as conceived by Leibnitz, the harmonious result of a divinity's will? Desperate families like my own are to blame for the nasty, bewildering work of the mortician. They would rather have seen my father made up like a life-size doll than confront the inevitability of all flesh. 

Loved ones like to say, “The funeral home was packed, standing room only. I had no idea how many people were touched by so-and-so.” Few, I think, are ushered out the way Jay Gatsby is: in solitude, the world indifferent. At my father's viewing there was a line from the casket, through the room, out the double doors, down the hall, out the front door, around the building, and into the parking lot, which wasn't spacious enough to accommodate all the Buicks, Fords, and Cadillacs. I wasn't aware of this at the time because I was sitting in a stupor with my girlfriend and my family at the casket. 

            Earlier in the day my brother and I had asked my grandfather if it was acceptable to display a large photograph of my father and his motorcycle, a red and white Yamaha YZF R-1, one of the fastest superbikes in production. That was the first thing you saw upon entering the room: this photo of my father smiling behind the machine that killed him. My brother and I wanted it there because that machine was his talent. For years, as we were growing up, my father hadn't been able to afford such a bike. When he was finally able, he kept it under a special blanket in the garage, and shined it lovingly with new socks. When he and his friends went on riding trips he brought the bike inside the motel room with him. He modified it with the best accessories. In his black and red professional racing suit and gleaming black Shoei helmet, he looked like a demon.