[This is the second in a series of Money Making SchemesTM, the first of which was the Conceptual Art Registry that was originally printed in McSweeney’s Issue 11. In that MMSTM I created a long list of conceptual art ideas that I offered to license to aspiring conceptual artists. To date, six have taken me up on the offer. Three were women, two were men, and the sixth was… well, to be honest, I’m not sure. Dress and a top hat, if you know what I’m saying. As a result of those six licensees, the registry has grossed (and netted) more than eight hundred and forty dollars. All the profits have been used to develop this second idea, detailed below.]
I was recently talking to a friend of mine who likes to run in cemeteries, and just as she was explaining why—in fact, just as she said the word "cemeteries"—I saw in the distance, crossing the street, another friend of mine, who likes to practice singing in cemeteries. Or rather, I should say that he liked to practice singing in cemeteries. I haven’t talked to him in years, and I don’t know if he still sings at all. I guess that means he’s not my friend anymore. But we were once close friends, and during that time we were in a bar, getting drunk, and apropos of all this, he confessed to me that he had an uncle with a penchant for having sex in cemeteries, not just a few times, but every time, and the fetish was so stubborn that his wife eventually threw him out. His son, my former friend’s cousin, was raised by a mother who preached so long and so loud against cemeteries that he grew up with a senseless terror of them and became obsessed with his own eventual cremation. This guy, the cousin of the singer whom I saw crossing the street when I was talking to my friend the runner, had (has?) a girlfriend with a deep spiritual belief in inhumation, and now and again she would joke about going behind his back after death and burying the urn. It failed to make him smile even slightly. His name is Earl, this guy, and he lives in North Carolina.
Point is: Lots of people feel lots of things about cemeteries.
Point is: That’s not my point, not exactly.
Point is: This is: The cemetery runner mentioned that one of her favorite pastimes while running was to look hard at tombstones. Not for design or for stonework, but rather because she has a longtime interest in what she calls “comedothanatonomenclature.” Wow! I looked the word up in the dictionary, not at all sure that my dictionary was smart enough, and it was there that I learned that it meant “funny names of dead people.” In other words, it refers to any names on tombstones that throw off a spark of mischief or hilarity or fun: inappropriate names, silly names, or unwieldy names, names that somehow undo what the flat gray of the headstone does. In short, un-grave names.
Because my friend is not an entrepreneur, and because I am one, I seized upon the notion of this comedothanatowhoosisclature and transformed it into a surefire business proposition that also, as luck would have it, is a kind of religion. And aren’t religions really the best business propositions of all?
My religion has only one rule: You must promise to change your name before you die.
Let me repeat this so that you understand it: You must promise to change your name before you die.
In other words, if you take a nasty fall and think that you might not be long for this earth, you have to change your name. If you are diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer, you have to change your name. If you plan to end your life by leaping from a hotel balcony, you have to change your name. If you have no apparent illness, change it as you enter the twilight of your life (you can consult an actuarial table to determine exactly when this is), or go to your lawyer and draw up a stipulation that it be changed as part of a living will.
Changing your name is only half the battle, of course: this is a religion, not a circus. You have to change it to something funny. When I was first sketching out this religion, it occurred to me to force everyone else to change their names to my name, so that there would be a “Ben Greenman 1923—2002” between a “Ben Greenman 1949—2012” and a “Ben Greenman 1976—2028.” And that’s funny, but in a different way. Rather, this religion requires that you must change your name to something that is funny on its own merits. It can be faintly risible (“Rita Booke”) or entirely ridiculous (“Duncan Disorderly”); it can be wholesome (“Penny Wise”) or obscene (“Anita Handjob”). You can make up your own name or pick from a list—I’ll email a hundred starter names to anyone who joins this religion. It just needs to be funny.
Then, after you make up your new funny name, you’ll die.
Then, after you die, you’ll be buried. There’s no cremation in this religion, Earl. You’ll be buried wherever you would have been buried originally, in a straight cemetery, where people have old-fashioned, mostly unfunny names.
Soon, you’ll start to bloom like flowers in graveyards across the world, and people who run through graveyards will smile. It doesn’t benefit only cemetery runners, of course, but also family members, archaeologists, and even the dead themselves. Levity has always been a form of resurrection. And in case you’re worried that your grand-nephew won’t be able to locate your actual gravesite in the welter of funny names, the religion will send all families of all members an easy-to-use transparent overlay that has both real names and renames.
The religion, of course, requires a reasonable onetime fee to cover the costs of operations, marketing, and legal name change. Initially, I am setting this fee at $1100; it may increase later, but if you pay it now, you will be ensured peace of mind even while you are resting in peace. The religion/company is called Karmic Relief and the sole sacrament of this religion, which I have outlined above, is called The Last Laugh. Start to work it into your conversations now. “I’m planning on having The Last Laugh.” Or: “I’ve been thinking about The Last Laugh. Do you prefer ‘Heywood Jablome’ or ‘Chris P. Bacon’?” Oh, also, I am exploring tax-exempt status, but that’s not really your concern. You just start thinking of a name. Except you, Justin Timberlake. You’re already there.