HOW I WOULD LIKE TO DIE
Pointing to the bleachers like Babe Ruth before a home run, a writer prepares to shuffle off this mortal coil
BY ROSS MARTIN
Shortly after finding a photo of a grave with my exact name on it, I found out I had to have some surgery. No big deal, but they’d be moving my brain a little, so death and paralysis were possibilities for which we had to account. No prob.
But staring at a grave with your name on it gets unnerving after a while. In this case, the grave belongs to famed Jewish actor Ross Martin, who played Artemus Gordon on the hit show The Wild Wild West. Homeboy dropped dead of a massive heart attack while playing tennis in 1981. I was eight years old. I didn’t play tennis then, but I do now.
Before the surgery, I did my best to get my affairs in order, the responsible thing to do before anything catastrophic could even possibly happen. For me, that meant printing out a list of all my Internet passwords, turning on my “out-of-office” e-mail, reading my son three books a night instead of just two, and attending every possible family function.
I went to a family Hanukkah party and brought absurdly expensive gifts for everyone. I showed distant cousins, who don’t know me well, highly inappropriate websites in a final attempt to break the ice and get to know them better. I told my Aunt Florence she’d always been my favorite, and that it would be OK for her to brag about that to my other aunts if she happened to be sitting shivah for me in, say, a few weeks. I found my Uncle Harry downing latkes like there was no tomorrow and told him to help himself to my Frank Sinatra box set if I didn’t make it out of surgery.
Unconscionably enjoying the panic on their faces, I made my way from cousin to cousin, assigning each a different color. “If, God forbid, I die,” I told them, “come to my apartment in Brooklyn and take all the items with your color sticker.” None of them warmed to the invitation. “Don’t worry,” I assured them, “I want you to have this stuff!”
A few days before the surgery, I asked my friend Jon if he’d be a pallbearer. “I have a bad shoulder,” he said. “How many other guys are doing it?” I suggested he grab the lighter end, then phoned my parents’ orthopedist and asked if he’d do me one last favor and treat Jon pro bono: “He’s a writer on strike with no insurance and a bad shoulder,” I explained. “And there’s a chance we might need his shoulder.”
Death’s a bit easier to swallow if you know it’s not going to hurt. There are several websites that, when you answer a battery of questions, tell you exactly how you’re going to die. Guess what? Turns out, no matter how many times you try changing your answers, you’re not going to die on soft pillows, holding hands with loved ones as they blow bubbles, your favorite songs playing on your iPod, and some nice Korean women massaging your feet as you drift off to never-never land.
You’re more likely to burn to death while drowning. You’re more likely to suffocate while watching your lover suffocate. You’re more likely to have something land on you.
Finally, as I lay on the operating table, it hit me. I know how I want to go. I love my wife, I love my son, I love Korean massage ladies, but when it’s time to meet my maker, there’s only one person I really need. It’s Heather, my anesthesiologist, nonchalantly grabbing my arm and making me feel oh so lovely as I count backwards ... from ... 100 .... &