Upstaging the Emperor


I had intended a springtime excursion to the City of the Dead where my children, dressed in mourning, would lay flowers on the Emperor’s grave while I made impromptu preachments on the risks of investing in Peruvian rice. On or about April Fool’s Day seemed the time to do it. I’d had this in mind for months, but it didn’t happen, and I’m at a loss now whether to wait another year or make an off-season visit sometime this summer. Come to think of it, there’s a mid-September date that might work.

The universe is just like that, always disregarding human intention. It delights, however, in variations on a theme. Rather than spend this past Saturday in Colma at Emperor Norton’s tomb, I spent it instead at a memorial service for my maternal grandfather’s recently deceased older sister. Great Aunt Charlotte was something like an angel but with a sense of humor. She would have laughed too when her middle son announced there would be a slight delay because his brother M (former bit actor, cigarette model, and race car driver) had “forgotten to bring mother” and run home for the urn. She would have laughed again when Great Uncle Phil (her youngest, last-surviving sibling) was told how nice it was to see him and immediately replied, “I agree. Far better to be seen than viewed.”

Great Aunt Charlotte was a prodigious reader of Harlequins and westerns. She was also, it turns out, a prodigious writer of poems. Many of the thousands she left behind were written to order for birthdays, anniversaries, and other off-hand occasions – others (like “Ode to a Golf Ball”) were more esoteric. One that we heard at her memorial, written on the subject of the family goldfish, was remarkable for unexpected observations and word-play that prove, I think, a true talent. I’ll post it here if I can get hold of a copy. That playfulness also comes through in the commentary she added to her old photo albums. I couldn’t resist hastily taking some pictures of her old pictures with my mobile phone camera. A choice example:

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