Ashes to Ashes

On the road and on the go
Modine
Illustration by Lori Osiecki

My friend Awlette says every public restroom is  a death trap.

She tells me this on the I-10, with 18 hours to go until we get to New Jersey.

I got to explain. Our Aunt Chlorine in New Jersey, who gave us a place to stay after Katrina, needs our help.

It’s time to take Uncle Larry off her mantel. He’s been there since he passed 25 years ago, but he always wanted his final resting place to be the family tomb in New Orleans. And after all these years, Aunt Chlorine has found love again. As soon as this pandemic is over, she and Harvey Meltzburger are moving into a rich old people’s community together, and they ain’t got no mantels in their unit.

My mother-in-law Ms. Larda is too old to take chances traveling during a pandemic. My brothers-in-law are busy with their Masked Men delivery service (motto: Six Feet Away and Sterile”). I am an unbusy French Quarter tour guide, because we only got about nine tourists in the entire city right now, so I am the obvious choice.

Awlette ain’t busy either, so she volunteers to drive with me.

But she don’t explain about restrooms until after we leave. Covid is an aerosol, which means it travels in teensy invisible particles through the air, and she, being a beautician by trade, understands aerosols. They work like hair spray.

So, if I go into a little gas station bathroom and spray my hair, and you go in after me, you smell hair spray, she says. That’s not all I smell, I say, but she says don’t get off the subject.

She saw just what we needed on late-night TV and ordered us each one. It lets us relieve ourselves like men do, standing up behind a tree or something. It is called the LadyTinkle, and it’s shaped like a slanted funnel, and I don’t need to explain further, because you can figure it out from there.

But there’s more. If it’s nighttime and we can’t get out and go behind a tree, we got a special container, the TinkleTank, to use with the LadyTinkle, right in the car.

I didn’t know if I could do any of this, but it turns out if you’re desperate, you can, and that’s all I am going to say about that.

We do stay at motels along the way, and they have actual bathrooms, thank God, but Awlette makes sure we open all the windows and run the ventilator fan all the time.

Finally, we get to Aunt Chlorine’s, and she hustles out wearing a mask and carrying a long-necked urn, which looks like a oversized beer bottle to me, and we respectfully situate it on the floor of the back seat and cushion it with tissue paper.

We are almost  home when the traffic grinds to a halt on the interstate. I don’t know what happened, but we sit and sit and there is no place to pull off and go modestly behind a tree. Awlette is in the passenger seat, and she uses the Tinkle Tank, and then we run around the car and switch places and I use it. Just then, traffic starts up again.

I fling the tank in the back seat, get scared that it might overflow, and ask Awlette to swing into the right lane so I can empty it out the window. I grab it, yank off the top, and dump it quick. Then I realize. That was Uncle Larry.

You’d think there’d be a better seal on that urn. We pull off at the next exit. But Uncle Larry is gone with the wind. Most of him anyway. The urn is pretty light. I decide to stick it in the trunk, like I should have done in the first place, and there are two sacks of Mardi Gras beads in there.

All right!

We choose the very best beads, Rex and Zulu and Muses. There are enough ashes left to pad them so the urn don’t rattle too much. People will assume it’s his gold fillings.

God bless Uncle Larry. May he rest in style.