One of the best parts of being a removal driver for me was that I was able to meet many interesting people during my time there. Each other person who collected bodies was interesting in their own way. I cannot say that others in the industry were as equally interesting. A lot of other positions like funeral arrangers and pre-need counselors and not to mention my manager had a particularly ruthless and repugnant disposition either consumed by greed or power or both.
I remember the first time I met the Kangaroo. He got his nickname from the nebulous underground of the sub-annex dispatchers in the Service. He looked like the Captain Kangaroo of old men‘s childhood memories. Baby-boomers from the nuclear family age. A bygone era deep in the mind-fog recesses of the Microwave and Television generation.
Firstly, I could see him a mile away. White van, no back seats, seemed to be in a rush. When we get a call in the Web and it is a residence there is a requirement to obtain someone from the team to assist. In the case of elder care facilities and hospital when no family is present we may go solo. When there is no one from my team to assist then we call a sub-annex removal service. Yes, there are companies specifically created to assist these mortuaries when their on-call staff is unavailable. Some third-part operation functioning in the Netherdepths of the Pit. They live in a bigger web because the Kangaroo was summoned and he had to drive from a nearby, larger, city. That is the only was a company such as this could exist. When there is quantity over quality.
I was waiting for nearly an hour when I saw the van. White with no rear seats. That‘s one way to spot us. We often use non descript mini-vans such as a soccer mother would drive. Most people have the misconception that we would drive a hearse to the place of a death? Really this is preposterous. Why would we want to show up at a residence in such a way. If you think about it the situation is creepy enough we don‘t need to add to the menacing tension that not only the family feels but the whole neighborhood. Especially where I live when I go to a rural forest area. The hearse would never last in these situations either. It is a very expensive and crucial vehicle. If we drove it off-road imagine the damages which would occur. It would be comical.
So the Kangaroo arrives in his white gurney-mobile. He gets out of the car and I square him up. White hair but we are wearing the same cheap shades. He was rather portly so when he got out of his car his cheap slacks were folded over his belt but coincidentally we were wearing the same cheap faded slacks. The only aspect that wasn‘t similar was the shirt. And this is where this non-fiction is tempted to go fantasy as this would have been perfect. Same pants, same shades, same shirt. Which, had I not made a last second change would have come to fruition. Yet no, it was not fated to be and I wore my dingy grey shirt while he wore the standard remover white. Of course we both had a cheap tie wrapped around our necks. Although, I would often invest in tie‘s as I found them prestigious.
Looking and the Guru was like looking into the mirror. Minus the shirt. Drat it all. So we proceed and I new we would be friends. At the time I had this interest in collecting stories for the mind-bank to recall later for morbid recollection. When you start in this industry you have a morbid interest which is fueled either by fright or delight or both. Then you actually see a dead body. Well, you smell in first. Then you see it. Then you look closer to see if they are still breathing. They aren‘t but the mind may see it. Then everything is out the window. Whatever impression you thought you may have from encountering the dead you will be quickly dissapointed. It‘s grim. It‘s cold. It‘s lifeless. It certainly is never glamorous.
It it definitely far better to get the stories over the experiences. The visuals stick with you. Whatever sick fascination it takes to get you into this mess it quickly recedes. If you are ‚normal‘, it‘s just sad eventually. If you are a bit abnormal then this job may please you. And I say that you are sick and you are where you belong. Like the time I was laughing at on of the Kangaroo‘s stories and it started out funny then it took a turn for the worse and my smile slowly lowered as my mind revolted under the strain of the intensifying disturbing nature of the tale.
At this point I suddenly realized I was just a newb in a big dark world.
To quote a good old school body snatcher and a damn good guy, „I never met a rich removal driver..“ And this would prove to be true. I made good money but was only working part-time. Especially living in a more rural area there is of course less volume of death but quality of life is better. Living in the big city you have a lot more bodies to pick up but of course the pay is less, because they can. Removal drivers are on the bottom of the totem poll so to speak. To quote a long-time co-worker, „Sh*t rolls downhill and we are on the bottom.
Removal drivers are like circus animals or pro-wrestlers. They aren‘t exactly the type of people you would think they are. Although, I did hear a story of a removal driver in a top-hat and coat-tail showing up at a house in the Bay Area. Spooky. Many removal drivers don‘t emit that mortician vibe at all. A lot of them are either very easy going or just seem slightly eccentric in one way or another. Yet, their eccentricities are usually made up by a good personality. I have heard about a few highly disagreable characters. One of which I didn‘t know that they had been in the business until after my reign of on-call prison was over.
This guy, Vinny was his name, I saw him blowing snot rockets outside the gas station where he used to work graveyard shift. He is actually the person who explained where the term ‚graveyard shift‘ came from. According to him it went back to olden times when they would bring drunk people to the cemetery and the attendant would tie a string with a bell to their toes. If the attendant heard a bell go off he would find the source, wake them up, and send them home. If the bell never went off, grimly, in the morning the attendant would gather them up, dig a hole and bury them
Moving and grooving is part of the trade. Old Dennis trained me when I first started at the mortuary (then I had to be re-trained after he left). Den was a good guy, he liked to play poker a lot. You gotta wonder about a guy with a good poker face. Dennis was from Wyoming which was strange to me because he reminded me of someone else I had known who was from Wyoming named Denny. Denny was a true cowboy. This Dennis was not. Unfortunately cowboy Denny took his own life some years ago.
Old removal driver Den had a career in the lumber industry before coming to this job. A lot of retired guys like these part-time on-call positions. But man, he was great with people. The tension in the room in rife with sorrow and anxiety when we arrive. I remember Den was wearing a darker orange shirt like the dusk and he walked into this room of misery and sadness and burst the bubble with one statement. It was quick and cheesy but it set the family at ease that to take away their dearly beloved grandmother was a man who was not a monster but a kind-hearted old man.
I remember working with someone who was a friend of a friend. In fact my first call I intended to visit before I was called only to find that the residence was in the retirement community behind the low-income housing where I would have gone otherwise. I worked in an area surrounded by forest and wilderness so my experience in the industry was outside of a big city. So as I mentioned we get less ‘insects’ in our web than in the highly civilized areas. One time this guy, Frank, the friend of a friend had called my friend to as him to check if he had locked the mortuary door when he had left after assisting on a previous call. I was driving with frank and I said that I averaged about 300 pickups in a year. Then Frank responded, ‘For every 300 you get, I get 1,000‘ in a froggy arrogant tone. This statement made sense to me but didn’t bother me because I knew I made far more than he did. Quantity over quality as I said before.
‚Frank said that?! F*ck that guy! He‘s done thousands, I‘ve done miiiiiiiiillions!!!‘
This made me laugh. Everything Captain Kangaroo said was hilarious because of his frontal lisp. I know it would be actually physically impossible in a lifetime to remove as many corpses as one million unless you flew cargo-planes full of corpses for years on end on a daily basis everyday all day for many years. Well, maybe he wasn’t a comedian but his life circumstances were. He was in this field a veteran as he had been working in the death industry for over 10 years. This is a long time for a removal driver. The hours are crazy and being tied to your phone can grow to feel more like a prison in-time. I actually have called it ‚phone-prison‘ before. The Kangaroo was used to it. Of course he had done Millions.