Tuesday 06 Dec 2016

A Bit of a Smell
David Simmonds

We normally honour a person’s last wishes without much thought. We will happily play a Frere Brothers song at Muriel’s funeral or scatter Donny’s ashes on the Loyalist Parkway. If the wishes seem a touch irrational, no big deal, as long as they are harmless. Yet, the innocuous sounding last wishes of a recently deceased New Jersey woman raise some difficult questions.


Last wishes are seldom political.

Elaine Fydrych’s obituary stated, “Elaine requests, ‘In lieu of flowers, please do not vote for Hillary Clinton’.’’ Ms Fydrych was not a particularly political person, according to her husband, but grew to dislike Ms Clinton over her handling of the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

As a former lawyer, I feel it my obligation to point out right away that Ms Fydrych has little chance of enforcing those wishes from her current position. Nor do I consider that either attending her funeral or pausing to express a pang of sympathy to those who survived her creates a legal duty to her estate to honour her wishes. You’re welcome. The bill is in the mail.

This request does put you right on the spot, if you’re one of those Americans who knew Ms Fydrych and wants to honour her memory, but who is also a fervent Clinton supporter. “All right, all right, Hillary: you can go and make history and be president. Just leave me alone.” Even if you weren’t going to support Ms Clinton, the attempt to link honouring a deceased person by forfeiting your civic duty to make your own mind up and vote it accordingly, has a bit of a smell to it.

It’s one thing to appeal to the mind, to lay out your own reasons for denying Ms Clinton your support. It’s another thing to trade on an appeal to the conscience to give the impression that a person won’t have cared about you if he or she decides to support Ms. Clinton. It’s a little bit like saying, “If you want to my permission for you to marry my daughter, sonny boy, you’d better first buy ten tickets from me for this 50/50 draw.”


How many will abide political last wishes?

You might also wonder about just how productive Ms. Fydrych’s appeal will be. For every person who says to himself, “Ah, well if that’s what Elaine wanted; as her dying wish, it must be the right thing to do.” There is another person muttering, “That darned Elaine Fydrych and her last wishes, always trying to have the last word; I’ll make my own mind up thank you very much. In fact, now I think about it, I might just vote for Hillary to show her I’m in charge of my own mind.”

What happens if circumstances change? What if an orange wave swamps the US and Donald Trump’s hair, with, unfortunately, mouth and body attached, becomes the other name on the presidential ballot? What if Ms. Clinton plunges into a raging Hudson River and rescues a puppy from certain death? Can you say with any certainty that your friend Ms. Fydrych would not have changed her mind even in these circumstances, particularly because she was always one for giving people a second chance?

If this practice, of using last wishes as an advantage, begins to catch on, you can imagine the scenarios. Would you be surprised to see a death notice stating “Muriel requests that everyone forget about the Frere Brothers and go home and listen to the Monkees’ first album for three hours straight, because they really were a better band than people give them credit for”? That would be pricing loyalty at three hours of wasted time.

Then there’s this last wish? “Donny’s last wishes were that you not bother about that Loyalist Parkway stuff, but you go and cash in your retirement savings to bet on the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the 2016 Stanley Cup. Go Leafs Go?” That would be a loyalty test putting boosterism ahead of common sense, at significant and likely disastrous personal cost.

Perhaps, if a trend develops, last wishes can acquire a market value. Will Betty’s obituary read that she wishes people to go out and “try new cherry mint flavour Juicy Fruit Gum: the taste is going to move ya”? Don’t bet that it won’t happen: consider what advertising did to the ‘people’s’ Internet.


Perhaps, last wishes will acquire market value.

All of which gets me thinking about my own last wishes. How about “As well as flowers, David requests that you not seek to ascertain what his last wishes were.” At least with flowers, I’d have a better chance of passing the smell test.

 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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