Grave Line Tours

October 28, 2010

Years ago, my ex-wife Cyndi got me a birthday present I will remember fondly until the end of my days, a 2 ½ hour tour of Hollywood and its environs in a late-60s Cadillac, a very special Cadillac indeed, a silver hearse (my first trip in that sort of vehicle, likely not my last). The tour company was called Grave Line Tours, and they operated an excursion through the dark side of Tinseltown, to the sites of infamous killings and gruesome carnage, to the very places where stars of the silver screen twinkled their last twink. Is this in exceptionally poor taste? Without a doubt…and deliciously so. But for someone obsessed with foul play and the high price of fame and fortune (like most avid mystery readers), the tour was a gourmet delight.

We got aboard (a-slab?) just behind Mann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the movie palace where previous owner Sid Grauman immortalized stars’ footprints in concrete in the front courtyard. The Cadillac was as subdued as one might expect of such a, um, deadicated vehicle. The only noises, in fact, apart from the gentle whoosh of the tires, were the alternating narratives, half on tape (with appropriate sound effects), the other half live.

We visited the Cielo Drive scene of the Sharon Tate murder by the infamous Manson Family; the Brentwood ranch home where Marilyn Monroe allegedly committed suicide (I wonder if the truth of that tale will come out in my lifetime); the Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi ingested a deadly cocktail of heroin and cocaine; and to the visible-from-space Hollywood sign, where English starlet Peg Entwistle climbed fifty feet to the top of the letter “H”, and leapt to her death in 1932, surprisingly the only person to date to have committed suicide by jumping from the sign (and if you can’t be first, why bother?).

The commentary, both live and taped, was hilarious in a morbid sort of way. About George Reeves, the original TV Superman, who died of a gunshot wound, the narrator pointed out thoughtfully that “he was indeed not faster than a speeding bullet.” Or about Jack Haley, the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz: “You know that heart he got? You’re about to see where it stopped beating…”

One of the recurring themes was about how many of the stars died penniless, after a lifetime of excess (and excess in the heady early days of Hollywood very likely trumped any excess before or since): Judy Garland, Bela Lugosi, Sammy Davis, Jr., the list goes on and on. Our tour guide mentioned several times just what a sobering thing it was.

At a bathroom/coffee/cigarette break mid-tour, I cornered him and offered a slightly different perspective: “You know, in my estimation, dying penniless isn’t something to be avoided, but rather something to aspire to! Basically, I want to spend everything I’ve made before I go, if at all possible, and to leave an insurance policy for my heirs to say thanks for putting up with me all these years. If I were to work my whole life only to leave a multimillion dollar estate behind, I would be truly annoyed. To be sure, in my dotage I don’t want to be eating saltines and cat food in an unheated garret in some industrial backwater, but all in all, better then than now.”

He drew in a deep drag on his cigarette, and allowed as to how he had never thought about it that way. For my part, I made my way back to the hearse, and settled in for part two of the tour, during which editorials about the sadness of a pauper’s death were conspicuously absent.

The tour closed with owner Greg Smith’s wry observation: “Certainly it’s the only time you’re going to remember riding in a hearse…”


Can We Own Canadians, or Should We Just Smite Them?

October 28, 2010

I received the following in an email yesterday from my friend John Macdonald, who in turn received it from his friend Marilyn, and I pass it along in its entirety, unedited in any way; incidentally, Dr. James M. Kauffman, if there truly is such a person, is my new hero:

You’ve probably seen this but it is too clever not to pass it on:

In her radio show, Dr. Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.  The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, written by a US man, and  posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination …End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.
1.  Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
2.  I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3.  I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev. 15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
4.  When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev. 1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5.  I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6.  A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?
7.  Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
8.  Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9.  I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
10.  My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them?  Lev. 24:10-16.  Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14) 

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
University of Virginia

P.S. It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian.

A brief addendum: a quick look at turned up a reference to a markedly similar missive as early as May 2000, shortly after the state of Vermont approved “civil unions” for homosexual couples, proving once again that in the world of cyberspace, nothing is really new. Apparently James Kauffman’s signature was appended to the “open letter” without his knowledge or approval, occasioning a spate of emails and phone calls pertaining to his alleged authorship. It seems that the writer in question may be one “J. Kent Ashcraft”, but the truth of the matter is shrouded in the mists of time, forever enmeshed in the sticky strands of the worldwide web. One thing is for sure, however: the letter will be trotted out and emailed with alacrity every time the issue of gay marriage hits the ballots, and obedient servants like yours truly will go forth to nations near and far to spread the word. Amen.