I was strolling down the street with my sister, tossing mini gummy bears into my laughing throat, when death paid me a brief visit. I was simultaneously strolling, laughing, talking, and swallowing, when a single mini gummy bear slid down my windpipe. No sooner had the little red bear made its confused dash for destiny than I coughed him right back up onto the pavement. I would say death flashed before my eyes that day, but in fact death is always before my eyes, like a retinal ghost at the corner of my vision. But in that instant, there unfolded a very specific picture of my death-by-gummy and all that would follow after.
I’m not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of dying in a way that guarantees I will be a laughingstock to all future descendents, possible literary biographers, and collectors of arcane death-related trivia.
I hope it won’t sound morbid to say I often picture what the world will be like after I am dead. A tasteful service, a few well-spoken eulogists in basic black throwing around words like “insightful” and “lovely,” and I gently depart this good life.
In time, while my bones lie quietly mouldering in a suitably picturesque cemetery (I would prefer London’s Abney Park Cemetery, if anyone is taking notes), some graduate student desperate for an original thesis topic will unearth a thin collection of my essays and stories, long out of print, and so earn himself a PhD from a small but well-respected East Coast liberal arts college. For a decade or two, my name will serve as an extremely obscure reference to be bandied about academic halls by pretentious undergraduates suffering from secret feelings of crippling inadequacy, and then again forgotten. I will have a Wikipedia entry, but only a stub.
Or why not think bigger? Perhaps a few of my more quotable musings, torn from chronology and context, will find their way into a brightly bound gift book, where they will join crafters of epigrams like Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde on the Barnes and Noble impulse purchase rack right by the cash register. Precocious and unattractive teens will aspire to emulate me, like that one month in high school when I dressed like Fran Lebowitz every day. There will be an automatic Summer Block quote generator on the internet but it won’t work that well.
Contrast then the death that appeared before me that day with my sister, my unruly epiglottis, and that fateful confection: I die from choking on a gummy bear. Instantly, the world forgets every single thing I have ever accomplished in my life up to that moment.
When you die by choking on a gummy bear, you are forever enshrined in memory as a clumsy, gluttonous, and luckless oaf. No matter that you graduated at the top of your medical school class, that you donated money to orphans, that you produced a delightful little one-man show to mixed reviews. No matter that you were thin and fit, a dedicated drinker of vivacious green spirulina concoctions and a regular fixture at charitable 10K races about town, where your financial generosity was matched only by your otherworldly lung capacity. No matter that you had never tasted a gummy bear before in your entire life: you are now officially the swollen-bellied slob who was so ravenous and ill-coordinated that they died while shoving gummy bear after gummy bear into their flapping maw, just like they probably did every other day of their life before Fate finally caught up to them and gave them the shameful ending they deserved.
101 Hilarious Ways to Die may well outsell The Wit and Wisdom of Summer Block at Barnes and Noble come some future holiday season, but that’s not how I plan on being remembered.