The death trade: Six feet
under pushing up plastic tulips
By JONATHAN MILLER
O DIE in Ann Arbor must be a fascinat-
ing experience, one which many stu-
dents may never enjoy, given the transient
nature of studentdom. Consequently, stu-
dents miss the joy of' sitting in g 1o o m y
funeral homes, or, if you prefer, commer-
cial morgues. They miss the yellow plastic
tulips and plush red carpeting, the antici-
pation of climbing into the solid bronze,
hermetically-sealed inner-spring mattress
casket,'and the warm, final glow that comes
when you sign away about $3,000.
I was most fortunate, then, to be turn-
ed onto the death establishment by, of all
people, the Ann Arbor Police.
It was in Lt. Klinge's outer office. Lt.
Klinge is the director of police-community
relations for the Ann Arbor Police Depart-
On a small table by the door lay several
assorted pamphlets: "What- to do in a
nuclear holocaust"; How to stop a tornado";
and "Good people and bad people".
"Good people and bad people?"
This one immediately appealed to me,
and I picked it up, along with a copy of
"What to do if you are arrested." It turn-
ed out to be a most fascinating piece of
contemporary American literature.
Written for children, it is a do it your-
self instant guide to character analysis:
Good people are portrayed as white in the
book, blacks are invariably bad. The friend-
ly police officer to whom one must always
turn in crisis is, yes, white, the bad guy,
black. Parents are always loving, good,
The book is published by Staffens fun-
WHEN I STOPPED laughing hysterically,
I went to Staffen's parlor on Huron St. to
deliver to the management a one-man crit-
ique of their racist pamphlet. Upon arrival,
I was greeted by a young man, a student,
who worked and lived in the funeral home.
(The home has bedrooms for the student
labor as an incentive to work in the place.)
The young man was a little strange, but
very helpful. He took me through the "show-
room" with the caskets on display, and the
"memorial chapel" with the bier and the
plastic tulips. He also gave me a supply
of gold-covered matchbooks for, at the time,
I had no lighter.
It was true, the assistant charged, Staf-
fens was racist. They usually gave prefer-
ences to whites in the memorial chapel
while blacks were "layed in state" in ante-
chambers. This confirmed ! my original
hunch, drawn from the pamphlet in Lt.
Thus, it was with a reinforced ,sense of
righteousness, combined with natural mor-
bid curiosity and some of the keener in-
stincts of journalism, that I returned to
Staffens for a legitimate encounter w i t h
I was greeted by a charming young man,
Larry Collins. Collins is the assistant man-
ager at Staffens, and he welcomed me
with great courtesy despite my :shaggy long
hair and all, and a look of "Oh, I'm so sorry
one of your loved ones has passed away,
do you have good credit?"
But that was uninformed prejudice on
my part. I decided to level with pim right
away, and see what happened.
Collins was surprised to be confronted
by a reporter, but he remained basically un-
preturbed asihe escorted me into an office
- the office where the yellow plastic
tulips lived and never died.
The tulips had that'know-all air about
them. Why not? They had seem 'em come
and seen 'em go, gazing with confidence
in their immortality over the scenes of
tragi-comedy that were performed before
them each day.
But for the yellow plastic tulips, the
room was devoid of any color. Oh, there
were gold covered matchbooks with Staffens
stamped on the cover. I pocketed a bunch,
an entirely illogical theft as by this time,
I had a lighter.
COLLINS BEGGED me to sit down, said
I was mistaken about Staffens racial poli-
cies, and offered me the opportunity to meet
his boss. He rushed out of the room to
fetch "Mr. 'Cox, he's the vice-presideit."
I sat alone and contemplated the sur-
roundings. There was a deathly hush, no
whirring machines or electrical hum. Em-
balming is a very quiet job, it seems, and
so is mourning.
Cox was presumably downstairs embalm-
ing a body or carrying out one of the other
day-to-day necessities of the trade, like
sending bills to people.
The tulips were staring at me. I hated
those goddamn yellow plastic tulips with
a passion. Ten more minutes went by.
Cox finally appeared. I repeated my ques-
tions about racism in the death business.
The response was almost alarming.
"When you come in and tell me that we
don't treat black people the same as white
people you're making an issue which you'll
have to fortify," he said, more than a little
angry at my nerve in daring to ask such a
He went on to emphatically deny the
"Most of these colored folks go to church,"
he explained, "the whites don't go to church
and they have a service right here, so we
put the whites in the memorial chapel and
the blacks out there," He indicated the
If a black "comes in" first, he explained,
then the black gets the memorial chapel,
and if the white comes in, then the white
The logistics then became more complex.
Cox was calmer now as he explained that
as soon as one corpse is removed for burial,
the next is moved into the chapel, black
He emphasized that the establishment, in
which he is a partial shareholder, is non-
discriminatory. "I can say that we never
chose preference over a colored person,"
he said. "We've always had good relations
with all the colored people we've buried."
APPARENTLY the death industry in Ann
Arbor is sharply ethnic. Cox explains that
his clientle is, divided. "We bury Catholics
but not too many Lutherans and Germans,"
he said, "and we handle most of the Greek
funerals." Cox did not mention Jews.
What about costs?
"This is not the sort of business where
one has price lists," retorted Cox when I
asked for a sample.
Cox did, however, give me a tour of the
showroom. Oh Beauty of Beauty! The
caskets lay there, arranged in price, and
The tour begins with a look at the
"This casket is $132," said Cox. The casket
is indeed $132 and is clearly marked as
such. Also clearly marked is the fact that
an additional $54 is required for "admin-
istration", $225 for "professional services",
$219 for "facilities" and $126 for the hearse.
Facilities? What are facilities?
"Uh, that's the use of the funeral home
and our facilities here," Cox blandly an-
nounced. The grand total, for the second
worst box in the showroom is $756. But
discount any notions you may have that
it is that cheap to die. There are more costs
which I discovered upon closer question-
There is a $25 fee for the minister, a $10
fee for the organist, the Ann Arbor News
obituary runs about $20, a death certifi-
cate (certified) is a giveaway at a mere
$2 and the opening and closing of the
grave - $150.
That is not all. Upon still closer ques-
tioning I found that a burial vault is re-
quired, and at a minimum cost of $185 and
a possible $295 that is certainly no cheapie.
Why a burial vault?
"Cemetery regulations," says Cox.
"It's a deal they made with the cemetery,"
says my informant.
In the big leagues you can spend even
more, like $2,095 for the casket alone. That
casket is a beaut. Solid bronze, no air con-
ditioning or color T.V. but it's "guaranteed
airtight and watertight" according to Cox.
And of course, they've never had a dis-
satisfied customer come back to complain
COX EXPLAINS that his pricing is fair and
discards notions that a price breakdown
be provided. "You go into a store to buy a
suit, it's $150, you don't ask why it's exactly
$150 do you?" he replied, answering a ques-
tion with a question.
"It's like buying a car," he said, "you
can start with a iPnto, go up to the Maver-
ick maybe, an LTD and up to a Lincoln
Continental," Cox added, explaining the
monumental price of his solid b r o n z e
monstrosity. (It was big, bronze, but really
Cox's grasp of the car market was fascin-
ating, as was his incursion into the out-
fitting trade. But the man is sincere and
he regards his business as similar to any
"We respect people's wishes, all deceas-
ed are handled with respect and dignity,"
he said. He denied that customers are forc-
ed into spending more than they can af-
ford, but then who can afford around
$1,700 at a bare minimum? Actually Cox
probably can at those prices. His business
is good and he market is pretty stable.
Although there are no blacks on the staff
of the home, Cox says that he "doesn't
know if we've ever had any apply," and
the staff numbers, he says, only five full-
time and three part-time employes.
As a member of the "Order of the Golden
Rule: Service not measured by price but by
honesty" or some such slogan, Staffens
sets high standards for dealing with t h e
dead. "We're an open business," he said,
and refused to allow me to see the embalm-
ing process. He was proud as ne showed me
the corpses in caskets, a little black baby
in the ante-chamber, and an old lady in
another ante-chamber. There was a white
in the memorial chapel.
The caskets were open, (the Americans
have a penchant for the dead) and the
waxen faces of the embalmed cadavers glis-
tened in the light. A smell of antiseptic just
tinted the air and the sun was shining out-
side, throwing beams of light across the
I left Staff ens and as I walked through
the door dear Mr. Cox, hoping to have an
eventual customer no doubt (he is a busi-
nessman), called to me, "take 'care, boy."
ise £iri gan Pat
Eighty years of editorial freedom
Edited and managed by students at the University of Michigan
Thanksgiving: Being humble on schedule
420 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, Mich.
News Phone: 764-05521
Editorials printed in The Michigan Daily express the individual opinions of staff writers
or the editors. This must be noted in all reprints.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 1970
NIGHT EDITOR: LYNN WEINER
Letters to The Daily
To the Daily:
THIS THURSDAY, several Rad-
icalesbians went to The Daily of-
fices to complain about an adver-
tisement which some superstud
placed in the classified requesting
a "freaky chick, good looking, will-
ing to travel X-mas vacation . ..
As we presented our complaint,
several women of the business staff
told us that Little Caesar's had
presented The Daily with a full-
page cartoon ad which the busi-
ness staff gallantly agreed to print
in Sunday's magazine section of
The Daily. The drawing shows two
men slinking past a woman, ap-
parently a prostitute: "Pick-ups
ARE cheaper at Little Caesar's," it
Little Caesar's, we realize, is
perfectly willing to exploit vari-
ous sectors of the population (they
arrogantly claimed that they were
aware of any repercussions which
We wonder if they can really
feel the psychological repercus-
sions which occur in the minds
of prostitutes, and their sisters-
all women-when we see ourselves
advertised, packaged and sold as a
piece of beef.
THIS DESTRUCTION of ' wo-
man's humanity doesn't seem to
bother Little Caesars though. And
worse, The Daily has permitted
this ad to be printed in spite of
strenuous objections by women of
the business staff.
We have presented the business
staff with a proposal that it take
positive action against sexism and
racism in all advertising. We brief-
ly defined sexist advertising as
"the selling of products through
the use of woman's sexuality or
other dehumanizing stereotypes
By MARK DILLEN
THANKSGIVING is this week, and I find I'm
not at all sure of its significance now as I
once was. Perhaps nothing has changed about
the holiday, just me. But in a couple of days,
most students will leave for home. Almost au-
tomatically, we'll depart, m o s t not thinking
much about why. We've done it all so many
And then a few days later we'll come back
supposedly fresh to memorize the facts required
for finals. The UGLI will be crowded. Lights will
burn into the early morning. Social life will halt
after the traditional Bacchian revelry on the
last day of classes. People call it learning. Peo-
ple will then be thankful.,
MAybe it's because people are so quick to adopt
a scheduled life. Events are only important in
the context of the schedule. Like lemmings, we
m a k e unknowing treks home simply because
of a season. And it's a shame really, because
"thanksgiving" is a beautiful idea in the same
way there is beauty in the change of seasons.
Take John for instance. John is a good friend
of mine, but life so many students, at heart he
is a very lonely person. There was a time when
he would dutifully go to class and observe his
schedule, hoping to find meaning. Every book
and paper had its place, a n d notes would be
carefully taped on his dorm room walls that
plotted precisely how he would spend his week.
And at the end of the semester, he finally got
his four-point, but never lost his emptiness. It
stayed with him even niore. How could he be
PERHAPS OTHERS LEAD a different sort of
scheduled life. Hating the schedules so much,
they'll lead their own revolt against them, un-
successfully. The social calendar becomes their
Between those two extremes, it's difficult to
chart a middle course. For most of us, "when"
is more important than "why." Thanksgiving is
here, why think about it? We must have our hol-
idays on Mondays, some say, so work weeks will
not be upset. And what did Pavlov need dogs
for? It's,.the same damn bell every morning that
tells us to begin . . . and I'm not sure what.
But we began - three months ago in fact.
President Fleming sounded the bell. He wel-
comed the freshmen, for they were fresh and
were unaccustomed to the schedule and did not
know what they should be thankful for. He told
them. Just like he had the year before.
"This is one of the ten or twelve greatest uni-
versities in the world - yes the world,".he said.
Let us be humble.
And, he said, we pay a miserly amount of the
cost of our education so we should expect the
taxpayer's voice in decisions.
We must cooperate.
SO IT FOLLOWED that we can't go it alone
because that would raise the cost to come to
one of the greatest universities in the world and
prevent the disadvantaged from coming here and
having a schedule. And don't forget the alumni
We must be thankful.
But thankfulness cannot be a "must." It can
only be a "should" - something we realize on
our own. And it's hard to be thankful when
you're being scheduled, processed, stamped and
delivered. You think you are thankful for the
holidays, when you are really just taking a sch-
eduled break in a schedule. You can't be thank-
ful then, only relieved. Maybe, while acknow-
ledging that Thanksgiving is exploited and tak-
en advantage of, "Thanksgiving" is something
we should think about - not being thankful-
guilty but being thankful-humble, knowing that
what you have is much more than what most
have. It's knowing that while we feast others
starve; knowing there is much that we could do,
Brother and sister amid Pakistani ruins
WHO HAS ILU6L)SJ
QF ~elMWG fM .
OF ING FFER-
&t- T AWN6
UKE M!iU1O&) OF OThURS.
Ow z HAVE
To the Daily
ON BEHALF OF the members
of the International Students As-
sociation, and the Pakistani Stu-
dents Organization, I wish to
thank all the people who con-
tributed their time or money to
help the Cyclone victims in East
The amount collected by the
T116 k A- AtG}AttOk6AP
1I £'2Gt M-DCrA L/C A txlt) CI-