Six Feet Blunder

Bring out your dead -- and wait

There are, of course, four stages to dealing with death: denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. In Brazoria County, there's one more: swatting flies from your loved one's corpse while you wait for the hearse to come.

Getting rid of the dearly (and recently) departed has become somewhat chaotic in the county, where the theme song should be "Never Can Say Goodbye." Residents tell horror stories of waiting endlessly for a funeral home to come do its job.

The trouble stems from a recent switch in the cadaver-hauling contract. For years the mostly rural county has let the local JP call whatever funeral home he preferred when a resident died outside a hospital. (A nice way to reward friends, at up to $400 a pop.)

Shiver Me Timbers
Shiver Me Timbers
O'Neill: From Swift boat to swift boot?
O'Neill: From Swift boat to swift boot?

Eventually, however, all the dying in the growing county put the total annual tab over $25,000, and that meant commissioners court had to put a contract out to bid. Miffed at the change -- and not sure they could meet the 50-minute pickup time the contract specified -- no local funeral homes put in a bid this summer.

"We did everything but beg for local bidders," says D.A. Jeri Yenne. "I'd call it a boycott. We couldn't believe it."

Eventually officials got a Galveston County funeral home to bid -- $155 per body -- even though the owner, who prefers anonymity, says he warned that meeting the 50-minute guidelines would be tough.

"They were setting this contract up for failure," he says.

Yenne says that so far the new contractor has met the 50-minute "deadline" at least 90 percent of the time ("We've been busting our butt," the director says), but stories of what's happened the other 10 percent of the time have traveled fast. The tale of the fly-festering victim of a farm accident is often repeated.

The county may have to extend the time limit, Yenne says, but that would mean rebidding the contract.

In the meantime, county residents are advised to buy fly swatters.

Let 'Em Eat Cake

The Great Cupcake Revolution is over. And the state of Texas has crumbled pathetically, like…like -- hey, like a really dry cupcake!

The Texas Department of Agriculture issued new nutritional guidelines before the school year in a push to get kids to eat more healthily. Among the new rules was a ban on students bringing in cupcakes -- even big-eyed, innocent, towheaded first-graders proudly doling out to classmates Mom's little bits o' love on a birthday. Even if the cupcakes were decorated with American flags. Or yellow ribbons for the troops.

And all over Texas, moms, dads and kids responded by saying, "You're right, state bureaucrats; birthday cupcakes represent an outdated, obesity-inducing tradition that has no place in this modern scientific world. Thank you for caring."

Actually, they hit the roof. And by the end of August, the ag department revised its rules to allow birthday sweets.

"We didn't realize it would be that big a deal," says Allen Spelce, an assistant commissioner in the department. "We thought people could still have birthday parties, but just not with cupcakes."

With what, then? Carrot sticks?

"Well, something a little more sexy than carrot sticks, probably," he says.

The department will now set its sights on more important nutritional matters, such as monitoring class dorks to ensure they don't violate the recommended daily allowance of boogers eaten.

Shiver Me Timbers

University of Houston history professor Thomas O'Brien teaches a course called Pirates and Smugglers. And no, he doesn't get paid in doubloons. But he does know a lot about the fearsome raiders of the deep:

Q. What sort of things do you cover?

A. It really covers 500 years. We look at what caused piracy to flourish for centuries in the early modern world.

Q. How many times, when you mention this class to people, do they go, "Arrrgh"?

A. Well, I do tell them there's actually an International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I think it's September 27…Pirates have become incredibly popular. You can hardly go anywhere these days that you don't see pirate paraphernalia around, people flying flags. [Hair Balls note: Really?] And partly it's because pirates are representative of rebellion against modern society and dominant centralized states.

Q. There's a scholarly book called Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition. How gay were pirates?

A. The evidence is difficult to establish, because we have so little on pirates in general…In pirate society, it was pretty well accepted. And there are eyewitness accounts of the fact that, you know, people who were taken hostage, etc., on pirate ships and reporting that in fact they were very open about these relationships, and it appears to represent a very high percentage.

Q. Talk about successful pirates -- if someone were writing The Seven Looting and Raiding Habits of Highly Effective Pirates, what sort of advice would it have?

A. I think a lot would have to do with two different styles. People like Drake were aristocrats and they ran highly autocratic pirate activities. But what we would consider the more typical pirates, Blackbeard and others…many of the pirate ships were run on relatively democratic terms.

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