Get out in front of that epitaph
ONCE WHILE DRIVING with the heater on, top down, lights on and wearing sunglasses all at the same time, I realized that humans don’t live forever. To this day, I haven’t done anything about it. Other people have.
Suddenly, inanimate objects everywhere have plaques stuck to them: This state-of-the-art electrified fence was donated to the children of Brentwood by Adolfo Frumington IV. Sidewalks, hydrants, flagpoles -- even trees -- are turned into memorials, not to the deceased but to people currently enrolled in the human race.
This phenomenon is generational. Baby boomers, the increasingly ignored demographic, are getting the jump on death by self-memorialization. Not that the concept is new. Ramses II, who reigned over ancient Egypt for longer than the life expectancy of a modern Egyptian, was Donald Trump BC. We’re the first, however, to memorialize the eternally anonymous.
A bench in Westwood branded a “gift of Svetlana Platt Ruiz” may outlive its benefactor by centuries. What’s Svetlana saying through her faux-cedar largesse? “My life has meaning” is what she’s saying. Not only will that bench recall Svetlana as a patron of plump Americans in perpetuity, she can savor her legacy now, while her biological clock still ticks.
Really, you have to feel for people who died before we discovered our pre-death necrophiliac passion for ourselves. They may have had a stairwell posthumously named after them, but in life, they never got to say, “I have a stairwell named after me.” Funny, it used to be enough of a legacy to have children. Not anymore.
As the kids grow up, we bi-focus on them outside Jamba Juice, lost in their dreary teenage thoughts, and we fear that they’re not fit to oversee our claim to having been significant two-legged mammals. But an engraved lifeguard stand won’t quit school and marry our worst nightmare.
(Actually, I’m OK with this devaluation of children. People now grafting their names on sycamores once sang the praises of parenthood. As a childless man, I’d feel so left out. But now that the discussion has turned to self-edification / aggrandizement / adulation, I can jump right in.)
A big question is why it took so long for boomers to think of this. The probable answer: Some of us are dying. I read the obits today, oh boy. Or we get a phone call: 42 years old. Tennis. Dropped dead.
We whisper: Was there a family history of massive coronaries? If the answer is yes, we’re relieved. Thank God, death ran in his family.
If it’s no, we take our panic to our doctors. They could have coin-operated MRIs and a tip jar and we wouldn’t care as long as they send us home strong. Honey, I have a head cold, but I’m gonna beat this thing. And when I do, I’m donating a pitching cage to the Little League with a 14-karat -- no, 18-karat -- gold-plated plaque above home plate.
OK. Let’s gauge where this trend stands in terms of overall pitifulness. On a scale of 1 to 10 -- 1 being Betty Ford, 10 being Michael Milken -- this is about a 7: behind using your name to promote addiction treatment but solidly ahead of pushing junk bonds before naming half of Santa Monica after yourself.
Then again, you don’t want to leave it to someone else to interpret your legacy. Take Rosa Parks. Los Angeles named a strip of the Santa Monica Freeway the Rosa Parks Freeway. It’s just a couple of miles from a sign dedicated to Christopher Columbus, who enslaved the kind of downtrodden people Rosa Parks had the guts to help liberate. But self-memorializing isn’t about gaining perspective anyway. After all, people now name stars after themselves: That dot between Hydra and Canis Minor? That’s me. Fred Annunziata.