SAN ANDREAS FAULT

My wife often notes that I select only bad news or unhappy events to write about, and never the light or comedic. As a corollary, she says what little sense of humor I have is macabre, black, and perverse. In the main, I suppose she's right. However, as if to dispute her contention, today I found something that made me laugh, something that compelled me to put it on paper.

Three weeks ago when I visited friends In Silicon Valley, I read an article in the San Jose Mercury that said authorities were searching for a missing pilot and his girl friend from the San Andreas area. They had disappeared, and no-one seemed to know their whereabouts. Several days later, a subsequent column mentioned that the girl friend had turned up, but the pilot was still missing. The latest article said 500 small boxes had been discovered in a storage shed near a hangar, and their contents had not been identified. The paper made a cryptic reference to a flying burial service the pilot, Al Vieira, had agreed to perform for relatives of deceased persons, and said it suspected the contents of the boxes were the remains of loved ones. Beginning in the 80s, Mr. Vieira had contracted with numerous mortuaries as a benevolent burying agent. For a fee of $50 or $100, he said he would fly his airplane and scatter the cremated remains of deceased nature lovers over selected sea sites along the Monterey Bay area.

Up til now, the only thing the two preceding paragraphs have done is to verify my wife's perceptivity. But just yesterday, our local Florida paper printed an Associated Press item whose headline ran, "Missing pilot may have killed himself." It revealed that further searches of storage areas rented by Mr. Vieira had found more than 5,000 boxes of remains.

Just why my puckish sense of humor would be tickled in finding a charlatan had hoodwinked scores of bereaved relatives of a modest sum of money each, is hard to figure out. It isn't logical, nor even kind. Every loved one had expressed a sentimental desire to have his or her ashes scattered over an incredibly beautiful stretch of coastline, to be ultimately one with a part of the world each cherished. It was an attempt to comply with a solemn final desire, and involved trust in a man, a pilot capable of effecting that wish. But the summary I read back in Florida mentioned Mr. Vieira had not been qualified after 1985 to even fly solo. Couple that with a staggering total of 5,000 boxes of cremated remains, placed in sundry rented storage sites, and a simple computation that he had been paid at least $250,000 and as much as $500,000 over a decade and a half for a job he couldn't legally do, and the situation becomes funny.

You have to have a sense of humor for this kind of thing, but it is actually hilarious. I'm not one for elaborate edifices for the dead, and feel the pyramids were rather puffy, as are all the monuments to people who once lived. I prefer, instead, to honor the person while living, or the soul after death. But the husk, which the Bible states is "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," doesn't strike me as much of a temple at which to worship. If a person had to work a meaningless con that didn't really hurt anyone, a scam that gave the living relatives a sense of peace they'd carried out a last wish and didn't harm the dead, Mr. Vieira scored a perfect ten. Remember, this is not the preserved, embalmed body of Lenin on display in a masoleum, these are the gathered ashes of someone taken from a crematorium furnace. Not much identity is left except the name on the box. The only possible thing that could make it even funnier in a tragic way was the fact that a man's body found in the foothills of the Sierras with a bullet in the temple left a suicide note signed by a Mr. Vieira. Dental records are being checked to verify the body was really his, but the unfortunate truth is at being discovered, he must have been so overcome by remorse and shame that he killed himself. To my way of thinking, there was no serious harm until that point.

The irony of human existence is best illustrated by comments from a lawyer who has filed a class-action suit on behalf of the surviving relatives. "That a man that was so insensitive to fail to distribute these ashes would feel that it's of such significance when it was discovered to take his own life--there must have been two sides to this man."

God indeed knows there are two sides to each of us, but the side of my humor seems to be malformed or seriously lacking. I can only sum it up by saying, "San Andreas, to a fault."


Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)