Bye Bye Bertha

It’s a glorious summer vacation filled with already profuse blooms. We have three nests on the house, have been visited by our bear, and a rock wall is slowly but surely materializing around the entire length of our driveway thanks to my two very rough and beaten hands.

Still, with this wonderful flurry of spring activity, the brain doesn’t have an off switch. Listening to Car Talk on Sunday’s leisurely drive had me thinking about theory as Ray posed this week’s puzzler:

In 1951, when I was 10, our folks told me that Aunt Bertha would not be coming for Christmas …. Before the week was out she was dead. The county medical examiner of course had to list a cause of death on her death certificate. Now I can’t be 100% sure, but I think that Aunt Bertha could very well have been the last person in the U.S. to die of, and have this listed as his or her official cause of death. There were many Americans who died of the same thing in 1951, and before, but none after. The question is, what did Aunt Bertha die of?

The answer?

RAY: Aunt Bertha died of a rare disease called  old age. Starting in 1952, the Bureau of Health Statistics which is part of the CDC, decided that you couldn’t just die of old age, you had to have a reason, like you fell on your knitting needles, got hit by a bread truck, or something like that. I think they listed 130 official reasons for death … They wanted everyone to be pigeon-holed. So Aunt Bertha, because she died a week after Christmas (She could have died like at 11:59 on New Year’s Eve) could have been the last person in 1951 to die of old age.

TOM: What do you do, pick something out of a hat?

RAY: Yeah. In fact when you’re about 75 they send you a flier: Please pick a cause of death from the list below.

So, what would the theorists say? Foucault is rolling in his grave, pigeonholed as an AIDS victim, the last declarative statement of his identity within a legal and medical system of labels. Baudrillard’s cause of death? The murder of his reality. Any other determination is a hyperreality for those of us left behind while he escapes into the ether. And Derrida? He’s haunting Albany’s student ghetto as giant brain stripped of the assumptions of doom drawn from words like pancreatic cancer. I think I bumped into his ghost outside Valentine’s some years ago. Then again, maybe I just had one too many Jack and Cokes and was feeling a wee bit too brilliant.

That’s as deep as I intend to get today. The sun is calling and there are giant rocks to be rolled into position. (Gravity is my greatest tool.) I’ll be back when I’m not diligently concentrating on keeping my fingers… or soaking in the hot tub. Is having my life back really as decadent as it feels?  have become human once more.