Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My last joke

I know how lame it is to tell people about “this dream I had last night,” but bear with me.

I was in a hospital or clinic, and was sent to one room and another and so on, and finally back to a bed where I’d been before, and I was in my hospital gown and everything, and there was a nurse moving around the bed as she fussed with various necessaries. And a few feet beyond the foot of the bed and to the left there was a man in a lab coat holding a clipboard.

He indicated that there was some paperwork on the table by the bed that I needed to fill out. And I don’t remember if they told me, or if it was in the paperwork the man had pointed to, but that’s when I realized that I was being put to death.

At first it was more like a medical thing, like when you have a pet put down for its own good, but then it morphed and it was more like an execution.

I was … taken aback. I looked around the room. In the wall behind me, above my head, there was a glassed-in window looking into the next room, or more accurately, looking from the next room into where I was. Because the nurse informed me that that was where the witnesses would be. I propped myself up on my left elbow and turned to look through the window.

It was a big room, nothing on the cream walls, mostly empty of furniture except for three matching pieces in an extremely heavy, boxy style: a large armchair, a coffee table, and a small couch—a love seat, really.

And I remembered the nurse bringing me to that room when I first arrived and being left there to fill out some paperwork, before I knew how this was going to end. And I almost said something to her about how annoyed I was that they hadn’t told me at the time what that space was, but then I realized I wasn’t annoyed, because if they had told me I’d just have been weirded out.

I turned back to the final paperwork—and I do mean “final”—and started to fill it out. There wasn’t much. It included a sort of tear-off slip, with a space for me to sign (What, my consent to the procedure?) and another line where I guess I was supposed to sign next to the amount indicating the copay, which was $512. I don’t know if there’s any meaning in the fact that the copay for an execution is 2 raised to the 9th power—probably not, but that’s how much it was.

I realize now that the idea of a copay for your own execution is on beyond Kafka, but that’s not what struck me at the time. Instead, as I was filling it out, I turned to the man and dead-panned, “Do I pay now or later?”

I didn’t kill with that line, I bombed. The man in the lab coat had absolutely zero reaction. The nurse didn’t say anything as she continued going about her prep work—I noted there wasn’t yet an IV in my arm—but I did get a vibe of exasperation off of her, like, “What the fuck is wrong with you, don’t you know you’re about to be put to death?”

Their lack of reaction only made it funnier, and I couldn’t wait to tell friends about it, over dinner or something. And that’s when it hit home, that I wouldn’t be telling anyone about this moment, enjoying their reaction, seeing what story or comment or memory they came back with and following the conversation wherever it wanted to go. And that in turn is when I feared death.

Coming up from this dream involved those sorts of rationalizations your half-awake brain does as it figures out that what is just now passing from your mind is not reality. In this case, one of the things that helped me get my bearings was when I told myself that if I were actually being put down, they probably wouldn’t have me doing paperwork—they don’t ask your consent for the death penalty, right? They’d just strap me down and stick a needle in my arm. And since that wasn’t happening, I was probably going to be OK. At least for now.

But remember, if I do ever find myself being put to death, or euthanized, and there is some sort of paperwork, and a co-pay to boot, you know what my last joke will be.

There, I’ve done it: immortality.


  1. I thought it was funny, especially since I'd imagine it's hard to do your best work in those circumstances.

    1. It is kind of "do or die" -- well, I guess it's more "do and die".