My Kind


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.


The Web of Death

dark-street-and-cobweb-1476345404bFrI have been putting this off for a while. Not because of repressed trauma or any sort like that. I am a notorious procrastinator. A lucid saunterer in the reeded marshes of the mind. A stagnatician so to speak.

Well, I am, or I was, a body-snatcher.

Body snatching is sort of the secret service of mortuaries. Creepy-crawlers, insomniacs, portal-walkers, those of the in-between. An usher, a Chauffeur. We don‘t sleep. We are mercenaries. On-call, waiting to pounce. Ready for anything at the drop of a hat. At least, if you want to make any money, you have to be this way.

A body-snatcher, or mortuary driver is some poor soul who is willing to stay within a certain radius of a certain mortuary and retrieve bodies for said mortuary upon the time of their passing. This radius means they are trapped in the web. There are a number of metaphors to be derived from the web scenario but really only one makes sense. I am the spider.

So, in nature, when a spider makes a web it‘s intent is to eat. A basic function which dictates the survival of the spider in question. When a funeral driver or removal technician as they call it officially, I may call it an extraction artist. You will understand later. I digress, the removal driver in question is thrust into this aerial web. There is a response time of approximately 30 minutes to make contact with this family of the deceased upon first-call of notification, usually from a hospice nurse if it is a residence or your standard run-of-the-mill hospital nurse in the Intensive care unit, where most people in hospitals will die if they are unlucky enough to die in the hospital and not make it home. Home being most likely the best way for a person to pass if they are with family, and loved. They will make sure everyone is accounted for and be at peace. Most, dying on their own terms. That is to say the death was inevitable but based on the controlled chaos of their situation they can decide roughly a 3 day window of time (like a fullmoon) in which they feel okay to die, then they do so.

So in a way, from an aerial grid, there is a web-like radius in which the removal driver must be to be in range of their area. Now, mortuary drivers used to sleep on-site at the mortuary before cell-phones. In a way this is more true to the traditional spider who waits in the center of the web patiently for some flying or jumping insect to hit the web. Then she follows the reverberation, wraps it, and sucks it dry. I think first they, after wrapping it, inject a venom of dissolution which liquefies the inside of their prey before sucking it up like a nutrient-rich smoothie.

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Since the advent of cellular phones, if the driver in question is using a cell-phone and not a land-line from his or her own home, he or she will be on-call through their cellular phone to receive death-calls. If the removal driver is taking calls obviously they have to be within this certain range to shower, change, get a cup of coffee, do what you need to do to look presentable (enough) to be at the mortuary to pick up the fax and be on the phone with the family in question with an ETA (estimated time of arrival).

So to make a short story long. The removal driver is a spider in a web. And when someone passes away it acts like the stray insect. If the family chooses this local mortuary then they are called and the spider in question is dispatched. The only difference is the stray insect is usually still alive when it is ensnared in the web. This is a more obscure web, metaphysical. Sort of a plane of existence in the 4th dimension of the spider. It‘s physical world being our metaphysical analogy.

The spider waits. The driver waits. When some one dies the insect is then ensnared upon the metaphysical web of death. The removal driver, through the indications of the physical world moves blindly as spider upon web using GPS (Global Positioning System)or memory and finds the location of the ensnared insect or human, in this case. Just as the spider feeds upon the ensnared prey the human deceased is as the prey and is pounced upon, not literally, by the driver who may rely on the work to survive or buy food to eat and live.

The driver is nocturnal but they are also diurnal (which means you sleep at night. We, as humans, primates. We sleep at night, naturally for the most part. Some people are morning people and some people are night people but both implies a tendency for the day in relation to dusk or dawn. Still it is strange I think that nocturnal is a word more easily recognized by most than nocturnal. Perhaps we are more in tune with the nature of our surroundings than the nature of ourselves. Being that we are aware of the nocturnal night as it is a mystery and evokes our imagination. The night is strange and many of our worst fears are derived from it. If our fear is not darkness then the addition of darkness to our worst fear only adds to the Nightmare. Nightmares occur only at night, as implied by the name, so maybe word nocturnal creates the world of the nightmare in the mind, or maybe ‚nocturnal‘ is merely a word more well-known than diurnal. It sounds cooler anyway.

Another way in which mortuary drivers are like spiders is the spinning element. When a spider first arrives at it‘s prey, upon first contact it begins to spin the prey in order to wrap it up so as to devour it or preserve it for later. I am not sure what this term is called in the spider world but in the mortuary business we call it ‚rolling‘. When you are preparing the body for removal you must roll a sheet under it. We used white sheets and it also acts as a shroud. This is a very important part of the ritual.


Often when we roll the body inner fluids will gurgle up or, depending on whether they are stiff or not or how much they way, rolling is a very tedious process of many varying factors. Great care must be taken when rolling a corpse. The last thing a family wants to see is unpleasant liquid spilling out of their loved ones mouth. Once when I was at a mobile home park in the rural depths of the web I came upon a family that was extremely inebriated in the daytime. This was not uncommon. Often people are drinking at the scene of a deceased loved one, understandably, whether it is 6am or midnight there is often some adults imbibing in an adult beverage. Sometimes they partake in a bit too much alcohol and then, depending on the personality may be prone to violence. This comes with the territory. You are consistently meeting people on the worst day of their life so, a strange outburst of emotions is to be expected, and in fact, anticipated. Often when we make first contact with the family we are reading their mood that way we know what we are walking into at 3am in the middle of nowhere.

We roll the body one way with a rolled up white sheet and slide the sheet under the body from just below the rump and right above the shoulders. As a co-worker of mine said once. ‘Hip-bones are magical bones. With the hip-bone you can move someone like nobody‘s business’. The hop-bone and the shoulder bone act as a handle to lift the body slightly from one side, tuck the white sheet, and carefully roll the body to the other side pulling the sheet out from underneath so as to make a hammock that we then form into a cocoon around them. There is a great deal of permanence in this as oftentimes this may be the last time a person will see the face of their loved one.

So in effect, although we do not begin to devour the corpse at that point, this is very similar to the spider at the scene of its prey. Once I was watching a video of a wolverine pulling a stiff caribou corpse across the snow and I said to my friend ‚that‘s how I drag the bodies at work‘ somewhat jokingly and they said, ‚with your teeth?!‘ I thought this was funny and of course, no, not with my teeth. 


Sometimes the family will request that the face remains exposed, and in this case the family wanted this so that the dead could feel the air and be facing the sky one last time as we had to remove the deceased from a cramped trailer home. Because of the angles there was no way that we could remove the body on a surf-board. This is what they call the board or cot that we can use to place the body upon to remove from tight spaces when we move them so as to get them out onto the gurney safely. In this case we left the face exposed at the request of the inebriated family which was a big mistake. This man was a lifetime smoker and when we tilted the body slightly to go down the steps of the mobile home black liquid began to flood out of his mouth and pool into the elderly man‘s sunken in eyes. So quickly I covered the face with the shroud so as to prevent the family from seeing such a horrendous sight as their last memory. They were sitting there and were upset at first until their friend, who had seen what happened, reassured them that it was for the best.