My Friend The Body Snatcher
I met Andrew while we were on tour a few summers ago. He had a suspiciously Puerto Rican tan and beach blond hair. I was in denial when he told me he was about to become a baby daddy, and bore resentment towards the fetus that had obliterated my chances for a summer romance. He ended up leaving mid-tour to welcome his son, Justice, into the world. He then moved to Nashville where he was hard up for cash and knee deep in baby shit. So he did what any desperate 20-something does when they’re in need of a job, he perused Craigslist, and successfully managed to bag the world’s least-desired occupation: picking up dead bodies.
When he’s not wearing a baby bjorn, he’s scrubbing human bodily secretions off his nü metal trench coat and accidentally looking at your grandfather’s purple balls. Next time you complain about your job, quit whining and be thankful you’re not the neighborhood Grim Reaper.
Vice: What's your job title?
Andrew: I’ve never known, so I’ve made up my own job title, "Body Snatcher." I’m probably just a "body remover," or "transporter" though.
How did you end up in the business of death?
Well, I was looking for a job for a year in Nashville and wasn’t getting anything--Craigslist was depressing and awful. So my roommate Dave came across this ad that said, "Company seeking individuals to help with body removals and transportation by land for funeral homes in the area." He showed it to me and I said, “Well, I gotta do it, I have to respond, I need the money so badly.” So I emailed the guy and he called me and gave me an interview at Starbucks.
And you started immediately?
Oh yeah, that Sunday rolled around and I had to meet him at the funeral home at 10am, but I got there at 9:55 because I’m awesome. He told me, “I have three home removals, so you’re just gonna jump right in and learn by doing it right away.” I was kind of nervous, because you know, I’d only been around dead bodies at funerals obviously, just like any normal person. So we went and there were three home removals in a row, which is pretty rare. The second house we got to, the guy was lying on the floor and there was only a police officer and a relative there. The officer said the body had been there for a while, probably like three days or so. He was all different colors and smelled really bad. He was about 63, and he lived by himself and there were pornos everywhere. Luckily, all his clothes were on. I think.
I’m assuming "dying alone in a pile of porn" was omitted from the obituary. What does your work schedule look like?
I work 12 hour shifts, from 5am to 5pm and vice versa. I’m just on call, so I can do whatever I want--hang at home, play online monopoly, go to shows--anything.
Online Monopoly huh? Have you ever been interrupted while doing less gay things?
Yes! I was actually just at a Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes show at Grimey’s Record Store. I almost made it all the way through, and then my phone started buzzing during "Home" and I was so pissed. I had to run through the crowd and write the info down, then I went back to the record store to watch one more song. After that it was panic time because I had to get ready as fast as I could to get there within the hour. I went to the funeral home to pick my vehicle of choice--hearse, cargo van, or mini van. If you go to a home you take the hearse, but if you go anywhere else you take the mini van. For long distance drives you take the cargo van. Long distances are the best, you just plug in the iPod, talk on the phone, I even took Justice to Knoxville.
You took your two-year-old son to pick up a dead body? That’s pretty messed up.
My boss called me on a Tuesday (and I have Justice on Tuesdays) and he said, “I’ve got a long distance to Knoxville, you can take Justice along,” and I said, “No way, that’s a seven-hour drive!” But I was thinking, man I really need money and I do have a portable DVD player, and Justice is so great in cars and long drives. So I thought, maybe I could do this! I packed a day bag full of diapers, baby wipes and DVDs. He watched Elf. It was hilarious, he was riding shotgun and when we got to the funeral home I put the body in the back so he couldn’t see it behind him, so he had no idea. I can’t wait to tell him this story when he’s older. I took pictures and video. Can I lie at this point? Ugh.
No. So what are you pumping on your iPod death mix?
For long drives Arcade Fire is pretty appropriate. Oh, and I made a pretty sweet funeral mix. So what ends up playing first is that Culture Reject song that goes, “Who fuckin’ loves New York?” That’s the first song I play, and then it goes to Dawes, Midlake, The Dodos, Fleet Foxes--you know how that could just croon and reverberate throughout the different embalming tables. If I set up my own business doing this the family would be able to pick the kind of music their deceased would want to hear on the way to the funeral home. Because if I were back there I would want some good jams going, I wouldn’t want Nickelback playing.
That’s pretty considerate. Any recent weird stuff to share?
Yesterday I picked somebody up that jumped off the top of this hospital building and there wasn’t much left of the body. Oh man, there was also a two-year-old boy in the morgue and it hit so close to me because Justice is turning two next week. The boy was in the pool with his grandma and she had a heart attack or a stroke or a seizure, and the little boy drowned in the pool. I found out that she was in the ICU and had passed away. Also, today, this 40-year-old guy got trapped in his house during a fire and 70 percent of his body was charred. His arms were just nasty, it was like he had hot dogs for arms that you put in the microwave for too long and they just burst open.
I’m going to go vomit now. Are you ever concerned you’ll catch something?
Yes, always. There have been stories of people contracting HIV and hepatitis from touching dead bodies, because if you’re not really careful, or if you don’t wash your hands as often as you should, or if you get any kinds of bodily fluids in any kind of open wound that could be really dangerous. The thing I learned pretty recently is that HIV is active for three hours after you die. There was this one mortician that used to work at the care center, she got sick, she stopped working there and I didn’t see her for a couple of weeks and then I found out that she got Hepatitis. Anytime you get a body bag with spores, you gotta be careful. But I always have to check the bag no matter what, say if someone stabbed themselves in the stomach or hung themselves, I have to look because I have to document everything.
Besides infected coworkers, do you work with any creeps?
There was this one guy, I met him while in line at Buffalo Wild Wings. They had a promotion where the first 100 people in line got free Buffalo Wings for a year. I was in my trench coat and this dude asked me if I worked at a funeral home or something. We got to talking and he told me all about working in the funeral business in Arizona. I gave him my boss’s number, and we ended up hiring him. That didn’t work so well--one night he was caught in the funeral home doing a jig, which really confused the funeral director.
He said he was in a joyful mood so he did a little jig as he walked by a casket. The funeral director opened the door and saw him doing his creepy little dance and was irate. It must’ve looked like he was doing something creepy. Anyway, the funeral director called our boss and the guy had to explain himself.
So what do your friends think of your job?
They think it’s odd. When we’re hiring, most of my friends don’t want the jobs because they make you shave your beard. But I actually got my friend Jason a job, he used to work at Dell, but things were slow. Now we tag-team and pick up bodies together. Jason will call me and say, "Hey, we got a decomp," which is a body that’s been decomposing. There’s not much left of those, they're usually just pure green or have the worst smell you could ever imagine.
Care to elaborate?
Once Jason came by the house and opened his van, unzipped the bag, and the body was like a real life Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. It smelled like rotten eggs and clam chowder.
Does that smell come off on you? Do you smell like death?
I never really know, I might be one of those kids in gym class who doesn’t realize they smell pretty terrible. I try to dry clean my suits every two months or so. My suit right now rules! I got this black suit from Goodwill that fit me perfectly and these pants from Target. I got them altered so they’re tight. Everything’s real tight, form fitting, and I feel like a million dollars.
You do look pretty sharp. You must hate it when stinky corpses rub up against your Target pants.
It happens. I may graze a hand or two.
Are they ever naked?
Yeah. Sometimes at the hospital or the morgue they’ll be naked and I’ll just kind of cringe. Every time I open the bag I squint my eyes and hold my breath. I try not to look anywhere in the mid section. I’ve timed it out: I just blink strategically.
Are you ever surprised by what you find?
You mean like a hermaphrodite or something?
Do you ever take a peek?
What do you think, I’m a perv? I don’t look at it! I don’t have to do anything with it so I’m not going to look at it. I’ve seen it by accident a couple of times though, it looks kind of normal but it’s still pretty small in comparison if you know what I’m saying.
Aren’t you ever afraid that they’re just going open their eyes and whisper, Andrewww?
You have no idea how afraid I was of that. Oh my God, driving in the car at the beginning I would just cringe at the thought of seeing their head pop up in the rear view mirror, or what if they started rustling because they weren’t actually dead yet and started freaking out because they’re strapped to this cot with a sheet over them thinking, "What’s going on, man?"
I’ve read that the embalming process can be pretty horrific. Is slicing and draining part of the job?
No, that’s for morticians, but I’ll see it afterward. I don’t like seeing any of that happen because there are these metal tools that they jam into your stomach, and they push on all the organs to get the fluid out. It's disgusting. The worst is when you get a body that they’ve done an autopsy on, because when they do an autopsy they cut your ribcage open and pull out each individual organ and take a sample of each one, then they get a big plastic bag and put all of the organs inside and throw it back into your ribcage where you’ve been hollowed out, then they sew you back up. And right above your eyebrows they cut the top of your head so it looks like a bowl, and they take samples of your brain and then they just put the top of your head in the bag that's inside your stomach. So now you’ve got this flap of skin hanging. They flip your face back over so it looks normal but they don’t sew it back up. Then the mortician peels the top of your head back and throws it into the sink to glue it back on later. The first time I saw a floppy-faced man on the table it looked demonic. Like something no one should ever see. Sometimes, if they’re done with the embalming and it’s the end of the day, they’ll just leave the skull in the sink for people like me to see.
Alright, but what about cremation? Do you at least get to shove them in the oven?
Oh man, the cremation room is the worst. I’ve seen bodies on fire. They open it four or five times for a minute or two for them to move the bones around and adjust the temperature so they don’t char. What’s really crazy is on the other side of the room there’s a bucket with all sorts of metal object like staples, screws, titanium pins, and fake hips that don’t burn in the fire. One time there was a pair of scissors in there! This person had a pair of scissors in their body. Their doctor must have really fucked up.
You’re a skinny guy, how do you carry the stiffs?
Well, there was one guy who was face first in the shower, bleeding, who weighed 400 pounds. For that guy I had to call the fire department because I couldn't carry him. But I did do it by myself once! It was a 400 pound lady and seven nurses from the hospital helped me get her from the hospital bed onto the cot. From then on I was all by myself in the van. I had to climb in and drag the first half of her up onto the lip of the van, then I got out and had to lift her up--it was the most energy I've ever had to put into anything.
Speaking of larger ladies, one time I pulled up to the hospital loading dock and pushed the cot up the ramp to pick up some lady who must’ve been like 270 or so. I pushed her down the ramp, and at that point all I had to do was walk to the van and unlock the door. I rested her cot on a groove in the sidewalk, but it was on a hill. I thought I could keep an eye on her and it would be fine. All of a sudden I heard this sound building and building and it clicked--holy shit, the cot is rolling down the hill. So the cot was running away, just free-falling down this hill, I ran as fast as I’ve ever run. Maybe three feet away from the cot was a guardrail and a cement curb, so I had probably two seconds to stop that thing before it just flipped over the guardrail. So there I was, Forest Gump, sprinting my heart out. I grabbed onto the cot and stopped it in front of all these people just inches before the curb. A real jackass moment. I had to turn it around and push it back up. I didn’t make eye contact with any of the onlookers, I just kept my head down. It could’ve been bad.
Jesus. What about picking up young people? That must be tough.
I’ve picked up a four-year-old girl, a couple of stillborns, a 22 year old that hung himself and a 13 year old. It’s few and far between with those. It’s a completely different experience. I can’t imagine what they were thinking or feeling. The first time I picked up a child I cried at least three times. This four year old was admitted to the hospital a week before and she passed away because of an unknown neuro-degenerative disorder or something. I’m not lying to you or exaggerating at all here--I had to unzip the bag to see if there was any jewelry, and when I opened the bag this girl’s skin was just golden and flawless. She had long dark hair and her face was so beautiful, it was the most beautiful person I’d seen in my life, ever. And it just floored me that this kid only had four years. My eyes were filled with tears while I did the paperwork. It was so intense.
That sounds depressing as hell. What’ll be your final exit song of choice?
That's a very good question. I got it--the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song.
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