By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Press next page or previous page to move through the pages of the scrapbook. Touch any image to view it full size, the woman says again. Her voice is beginning to seem a little less soothing. I look at another picture, a photo of a college the man taught at, and the woman's voice comes on again. And again. And again. I wonder what it would be like to be the receptionist sitting 15 feet from the kiosk, listening to Press next page or previous page. . . all day long. I press on the "Video interview" icon and come up blank. "No tribute available," says a message on the screen. Of course. This is a "Bronze" biography, put together after the man's death, too late for a video interview. I touch another icon, a copy of a magazine article the man wrote, and start to read it, which isn't easy. Late-afternoon sunlight coats the glass in reflections. I have to squint to make out the text. Then, abruptly, the text vanishes. In its place are the nine photo-icons I originally chose it from. Press next page or previous page to move through the pages of the scrapbook. Press any image to . . . my hand shoots out for the "Pause" button.
Who comes up with this stuff? I can't help wondering. This isn't a "scrapbook," these aren't "pages," and I don't need to be reminded every 20 seconds to "turn" them. The problem with this sort of technology, it seems to me, is that although an enormous amount of intelligence has gone into it, very little seems to have made it back out. Kindly is no longer the word I would use to describe the woman's voice. Annoying is more like it. Listening to her is like waiting for a cab at LAX, prisoner of the Eternal Tape Loop: "FOR YOUR SAFETY AND SECURITY, PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE UNATTENDED. UNATTENDED VEHICLES ARE SUBJECT TO IMMEDIATETOW-AWAY! FOR YOUR SAFETY AND SECURITY . . ."
For relief, I go for a walk in the cemetery. It's evident that the renovation work is going full steam. Huge rolls of earth, like prehistoric truck tires, are lined up along the edge of the road where new water pipes are being installed. Sprinklers are going everywhere, soaking the grass and turning pale headstones a dark slate gray. Workmen in Forever uniforms talk busily into walkie-talkies.
I walk farther into the cemetery. A Latina has parked her beat-up brown Chevy in front of a 2-month-old grave. There's no headstone yet, and the freshly turned earth, on which she has placed a couple of potted plants, is beautifully black. The woman, who's wearing a floral-print dress and smoking a cigarette, stares at the grave, rearranges the flowers, gets something from her car, goes back to staring at the grave. It's silent here; there's no one around. The woman hasn't heard about the video biographies. She comes to the cemetery because, she says, "I like to be with my father."
She's not the first person I've seen tending a grave at the cemetery, and I always find the sight moving and comforting - not least because the people doing the tending are so obviously moved and comforted themselves. Boileau called this "focusing on death," which it probably is. No doubt images of her father in life are going through the woman's mind as she fiddles with the flowers, but no doubt images of her father dead and disintegrating beneath her feet are going through her mind also. But the tending of the grave, a sad pantomime of the attentions a woman might give her father in the days leading up to his death, seems to soothe her. No longer able to care for the body, she cares for the ground. One sees such things often at the cemetery: women (mostly) brushing dirt from a headstone as tenderly as they might wipe crumbs from a child's mouth. Even after she gets back in her car and drives off, the woman's gestures linger in the air. They may have done nothing for her father, but they certainly did something for her. They did something for me as well. In my mind, the woman in the graveyard communing with her dead father is an image from a universal language, but for Boileau, it's dead as Latin. It's all about "the death, the death."
But surely it's all about mourning?
The major contradiction at the heart of Forever Enterprises Inc.'s Hollywood division is, of course, land. On the one hand Cassity is promoting a technology that would seem to make the labor and expense of elaborate ground burial or cremation anachronistic; on the other, he's showcasing his new technology in a historic 62-acre swatch of deluxe real estate that will cost him several million dollars to renovate.
Though Cassity says, "It's not all about land anymore," he no longer feels (as he once did) that it's all about technology, either. Perhaps he's hedging his bets. My own sense is that he genuinely loves his surroundings. The beauty of the cemetery, the sheer relief one feels at being in a place so quiet, is, I suspect, something like a private joke for Cassity and Boileau as they expound on the wonders of fiber optics, beta test sites, video streaming, digital memorialization and the rest. After all, whenever they get tired of working on the cutting edge, they can spend their lunch breaks under the trees.