Here is the first chapter for my as-yet unreleased follow-up to my best-
selling intentioned book Hardup. Please note that it contains spoilers for Hardup, so if you haven’t read that yet I’d recommend reading that first. You can get it here from Amazon
chapter 1. putting the “fun” in funeral
Tucker’s funeral would have been a suitably somber and tasteful affair, if it hadn’t been for all those damn clowns.
Dirk and Raj had just joined Jason inside the visitation room in the funeral parlor, and were standing by the entrance talking with Tucker’s parents when they saw the first batch of clowns waltz into the room. There were three of them, all of them wearing ratty tweed jackets that had been patched several times and loose-fitting pants over comically oversized shoes. Their faces were all painted in typical sad clown fashion, with exaggerated frowns under their bulbous red noses. Each of them had painted tears under their eyes, most likely out of respect for the departed.
“Can I help you gentlemen?!” Mr. Harris, demanded of the lead clown when they walked in.
Looking startled, the lead clown removed his stovepipe hat (his shock of red hair came with it, revealing a bald head painted white) and said, “Beg your pardon, but we’re here for Ol’ Tuck’s funeral.”
“This is the viewing for my son, Tucker Harris,” his father said sternly.
“Sorry about that, sir. Must be some mistake,” said another of the clowns. The three of them turned around and headed back out the door. Out of curiosity, Jason walked over to the door and peered down the hallway, where he saw several more clowns milling about outside the door of another viewing room. Outside the room was a blown-up picture of a clown looking dignified in a tuxedo, save for the face paint and red afro sticking out of a stovepipe hat. There was a stand next to it covered in candles, several cream pies, and a rubber chicken that had been laid out in what looked like a reverential display.
“It means so much to both of us that you could be here today,” Mrs. Tucker was saying when Jason rejoined the group. “Tucker didn’t stay close with many of his friends growing up, so I’m glad to see he made such good friends in the city.”
“And we know how devastated you must be,” Tucker’s father said, turning to Jason. “We, um, saw the video with you in it. Well, everyone saw it. And while I’m sorry that such a private moment for you became public like that, I was happy to see that our boy had meant so much to you.”
“Yes,” Jason said, before pausing. “He and I were …” the bitterest of enemies he thought before saying “such good friends. It was hard losing him like that.”
“We have some time during the service, if you would like to say a few words on his behalf,” Tucker’s mother said. “No pressure, of course, but it would be wonderful if you would speak a little about our Tucker.”
“I …” Jason said, before trailing off. Actually, he and Tucker had enjoyed a mutual hatred for one another while Tucker was still alive. So in reality, nothing appealed to Jason less than the thought of speaking at his funeral. He was trying to think of a polite way to decline when Raj stepped in for him.
“He would love to,” Raj said, looking at Tucker’s parents with the utmost sincerity as he blithely tossed Jason under the bus. “Jason’s a bit shy, which is probably why he seems hesitant. But I know that he’d never forgive himself if he misses this opportunity to say a few words for his dear, departed friend.”
“Wonderful! Oh I’m so glad,” Mrs. Harris said. “I’ll speak to the pastor and have him work you in the service. We should really speak with some of the other guests, but before we go we’d like to ask you three to be pallbearers, if that’s alright.”
“You’ll just have to help carry the casket down the hall a little ways to the hearse out back, behind the building,” Mr. Harris added.
“Of course,” Dirk said. “We’d be honored.”
“Thank you all so much,” Tucker’s father said, putting a hand each on Jason’s and Dirk’s shoulders. Then he walked away to join Mrs. Harris as she welcomed a middle-aged couple as they walked in.
Jason just nodded and gave them a polite smile, which turned into a death rictus grin as soon as their backs were turned. Still smiling, he grabbed Raj by the sleeve of his jacket.
“Could I have a word with you out in the hallway?” Jason asked. Raj nodded and followed him out into the hallway, as did Dirk.
“Why would you put me in this position? You know I didn’t like Tucker. And I hate like public speaking!”
“I know, but like I said before, everyone who has seen that video knows that you two were best of friends, and that is the role you are playing today. So you’re going to give a short eulogy for your dear friend here, OK?”
Jason sighed and looked down. He really couldn’t argue with that, even if he didn’t relish the idea of eulogizing his dear, departed friend dickface back there.
“Coming through!” yelled a clown on a unicycle as he haltingly rode forward, nearly lost his balance, then lurched forward again past them.
Jason started to say something, but was cut off again almost immediately by a tall man walking briskly down the hall and speaking to another man in a heavy French accent. The first one, who Jason assumed was the funeral parlor director, was delivering a harangue to his underling, who was struggling just to keep pace with him.
“Zis is a disazter! Ze builders disappear for two days and decide that today, on one of our busiest Saturdays of the year, zey are going to finish painting the rear of the building! Plus ze landscapers seem to ‘ave just abandoned zeir equipment back zere, because I ‘ave not been able to find zem anywhere. Not to mention ze complaints I’m getting about zese damned clowns! Did you know it was going to be a clown funeral when you booked it, ‘Enry? You know we ‘ave strict procedures for clown funerals, ‘Enry! And ze Johnstons are le furious! His wife is particularly angry, saying zis is no way for such a notable industrial magnate to be remembered …”
Here they trailed off as they walked out of earshot. Jason noticed that across the hall from the clown-fest was a picture of an elderly man in a suit with a caption that read “Samuel Johnston: Ball-Bearing King.” Next to it was a large, transparent container that was filled to the brim with gleaming ball bearings, almost directly across the hall from the table with the cream pies and other clown paraphernalia. Jason glanced upward and saw an antique pistol hanging above the ball bearings with an inscription identifying the gun as formerly belonging to one Anton Chekhov. Jason thought that sounded vaguely familiar for some reason, but couldn’t remember why.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Raj said, bringing Jason’s attention back to him. “Try to whip up some fake tears if you can. I know you know how.” As he said this, he patted him on the cheek and walked back inside.
“I’m not good with speeches myself,” Dirk said. “But it seems like you want to make it as solemn and dignified as you can.” As he was speaking two more clowns walked by with their heads held down and hats in hand. One gave them a mournful honk of her giant red novelty nose.
You said it, Jason thought bitterly as he nodded.
The Solo team had rented a car to drive up to Tiburon for the funeral. Jason realized his mistake of leaving this to Raj when Raj pulled up to the curb in front of Jason driving a cherry-red convertible. He was wearing a dark suit that looked very solemn in a mod sort of way, with Dirk riding shotgun in a boxy suit that probably wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Soviet funeral (because for all he knew about Dirk, that very well may have been where he got his suit).
“Nice car,” Jason said as he got into the back seat. “And I like your suit. The skinny tie really sets a solemn tone.”
“I know, right!?” Raj said excitedly. “I mean, I know you’re being sarcastic, but I feel so good about it I’m just going to treat that as a legitimate comment.”
Raj pulled out back into the street and negotiated the car up and over the impossibly-steep streets of the Tenderloin, then down towards Cow Hollow and the Marina. Their drive through this part of town was a blur for Jason, as every storefront blended together to give the impression they were driving past an organic-dog-treat-acroyoga-cupcake-brasserie-curio shop.
From there they drove down Marina Boulevard, with the grassy fields of Marina Green on one side and a row of criminally-ugly houses on the other side, as they headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
“You know, I always forget this is here,” Dirk said from the front seat, as they drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, an enormous blue bridge that had long served as a symbol of San Francisco.
“Yeah, we should try to get out of the city more,” Raj said.
They drove on, through tourist-choked Sausalito before hugging the coast all the way to Tiburon, where the service was to be held.
“Alright, let’s get this over with,” Jason said, exiting the car in the funeral parlor’s parking lot. Without waiting for the others, he began trudging towards the entrance.
“I just don’t know about that boy sometimes,” Raj said to Dirk as he watched Jason march into the funeral home. “He just hasn’t been himself lately.”
“Oh, he’ll be fine,” Dirk said. “He’s been through a rough patch.”
“I know, but still I worry sometimes.”
“Now don’t try to coddle the boy,” Dirk said. “Just give him some time and space and he’ll get better, you’ll see.”
“I don’t coddle him,” Raj said defensively. “He’s sensitive—you know that—and sometimes I just want to … protect him, you know?”
“See, there you go, coddling him again.”
“I just want what’s best for the little guy,” Raj said.
“Look, I wasn’t any happier with how he used Tucker’s death than you were. But sometimes people do crazy shit when their back is against the wall. Why, this one guy that I used to—”
“… fight with in the Congo—”
“OK,” Dirk said, before quickly adding “Used babies as human shields.”
“Alright then,” Raj said nodding, as they began walking in.
“What can I say about Tucker?” Jason inquired of the assembled crowd. While this appeared rhetorical to the onlookers, he was actually wondering what he could say about this asshole before they planted him in the ground. Seriously, he was hoping anyone at all would throw him a bone.
He had been thinking about this question while the priest was speaking, but hadn’t gotten very far in his mental speech preparations. Plus the priest hogged a lot of the really good things to say about dead people, which didn’t leave him with much original material. No wonder people didn’t like priests.
“Tucker was … a kind, and caring soul, and so very generous …” Jason said, as he thought about the time Tucker punched him in a club because he didn’t want Jason to get an equal equity stake in their startup.
“He was always quick with a joke …” he said, recalling the numerous demeaning jokes Tucker had made at his expense.
“And the ladies loved him …” he said, thinking about the time where Tucker had nearly gotten slapped for being a misogynistic douche.
“He was whip-smart, and always knew just what he was doing …” he almost smiled here, recalling how hopelessly incompetent Tucker was at handling their marketing. He was able to catch himself just in time by thinking about Tucker, though.
As he was speaking, Jason looked up to see that a few late-arriving clowns had filtered into the room by the door. Jason made eye contact with Raj in the front row and tried to get him to notice them. Raj didn’t seem to get his meaning, but Dirk picked up on it and walked over to the clowns to shoo them out. Just in time too, as one had taken out a beaten-up bugle that he apparently intended to play “Taps” on, or whatever the equivalent for fallen clowns was. “Entry of the Gladiators,” maybe?
“What can you say about such a great guy? He was the kind of guy that made you want to be a better person. He was a light that shone almost too brightly for this world …”
At this point Jason was legitimately lied-out. And so here he decided to take Raj’s advice and tear up. Only he found that the tears didn’t come as quickly this time as the last time he had to pull this stunt (before remembering that the last time he only got himself to cry by pounding his fist into the ground). Instead, Jason had to settle for covering his mouth with his closed fist and wincing to give the impression of fighting off tears. He was pretty sure that the front row was far enough away that they couldn’t call him on it.
After a moment of this he looked over off to the side to get the priest’s attention in the hopes that he would bail Jason out. When the priest finally did look up Jason nodded his head ever-so slightly to indicate he should take over. The priest, in turn, unfolded the arms that he had been holding across his chest and put both of his hands outwards in a gesture that seemed to be urging Jason to go on. When Jason motioned again with his head the priest responded with an almost imperceptible tap on his wrist where a wristwatch would be.
Jason cleared his throat and looked back to the crowd.
“Excuse me,” he said. “It was so recent, sometimes I still get overwhelmed when I think that he’s really gone.”
Jason was really reaching for a way to wrap this up, and starting to get desperate. Then he struck upon a quote he had heard recently that seemed fitting.
“I would like to close with a quote from the Bible. I’m not sure what chapter exactly, but it goes: The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye, the story of love is hello, goodbye. Until we meet again. Rest in peace Tucker.” And with that he walked away from the podium and back to his seat by Raj and Dirk. The priest took over again to bring the ceremony to a close.
“Hendrix,” Dirk whispered to him when he sat down again. “Those were lyrics from Jimi Hendrix, not a Bible quote.”
“Oops, too late now,” Jason whispered back.
“Would the pallbearers please step forward?” the priest said, as he wrapped up his sermon.
Jason, Raj, and Dirk joined Tucker’s father and some of his other relatives and old friends at the front of the room and took up their positions around the coffin. As the organist started playing a melancholy dirge they hoisted the coffin up and began walking it out of the room.
When they passed through the door and into the hallway Jason saw that the clown funeral further down the hallway was letting out at the same time. The hallway was lined on either side with clowns, and a small band consisting of a few brass pieces and a giant glass jug were playing a song. It sounded oddly familiar to Jason, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it at first. It took him a moment before he realized that they were playing “Yakety Sax” at half tempo. Presumably out of respect.
As they marched Tucker’s coffin down the hallway they were obstructed as they passed by the door to the clown funeral by the clowns emerging with their own coffin. The two parties converged, with Tucker’s group trying to negotiate their way around the other coffin that was coming out into the hallway on the shoulders of several sad clowns.
Unfortunately, it was right as they were passing by the parlor hosting the ball-bearing magnate’s funeral that things went pear-shaped. For it was right then that one of the clowns knocked over the giant container full of ball-bearings, sending them clacking and scattering everywhere up and down the hallway. The pallbearers tried to forge ahead, but soon found themselves running in place and falling everywhere. Tucker’s coffin slipped from their grasp and hit the ground, but luckily it was locked and stayed closed, so they were spared the horror of watching Tucker’s remains pour out of it.
Jason flailed around, and was only able to stay upright by grabbing onto the wall to steady himself. In the process he got turned around, just in time to see a clown flail right into the memorial display full of cream pies that had been set up for Ol’ Tuck. Unable to find purchase, the clown came crashing down hard on one side of the long table, sending the cream pies flying into the faces of the lead clown pallbearers, blinding them both and causing them to cast about helplessly.
In the commotion the clowns lost their grip of their coffin, sending it crashing to the ground. It landed hard, with the lid coming open and sending coiled springy snakes flying everywhere out of the coffin. Still leaning against the wall for purchase, Jason caught Dirk’s gaze for a moment as he tried to pull himself up on the other side of the hallway. Dirk just shrugged.
After all the springy snakes were gone there was a beat before Ol’ Tuck’s body fell out stiffly onto the carpeted floor. As it did, one of the clowns from the band had the wherewithal to use his slide whistle to provide some whimsical musical accompaniment to the act of corpse-defilement taking place.
Tucker’s crew was able to right their cargo, and they proceeded shuffling slowly down the hall so as not to trip on the bearings. They finally made it to the end, where they were able to carry the coffin outside and into the back of the waiting hearse. Jason was half expecting a dozen clowns to pop out of the back when they opened the semi-door to slide the coffin in, but no such luck.
In the aftermath, as they were milling about waiting for the rest of the guests to navigate through the ball bearing and clown-strewn hallway, Jason happened to spot Tucker’s parents standing by themselves off to the side looking forlorn. He and Raj made eye contact, and wordlessly walked over in their direction, followed close after by Dirk.
“We are so sorry about this, Mrs. Harris,” Raj said, motioning towards the clowns who were now spilling out into the back area.
“Yeah,” Jason said. “It’s such a shame about all of … this.”
“Oh, that. Can’t be helped I suppose. But, Jason, if I may, how well did you know Tucker?”
“Well, it was only for a few months, but we worked together quite a bit,” Jason said.
“I see,” she said, before hesitating. “I was just a little surprised by your eulogy, is all.”
“How so?” Jason asked.
“Well, I thought you and Tucker were close, but it almost seemed as if you barely knew him. Tucker wasn’t ‘kind, gentle, and caring,’ he was … he could be tough work, I guess I should say.”
Jason was completely at a loss for words. Even Raj, who always had something to say, looked speechless.
“But he had his redeeming qualities. I’m his mother, after all, and I loved him despite his shortcomings. I saw how anguished you looked in that video and thought maybe you were someone who also knew him well enough to love him despite his failings.”
“I knew he could be … a little rough around the edges. But it’s his funeral, not a roast. I was trying to … focus on the positive.”
“I suppose. But there’s something to be said for having the courage to be honest. Tucker wasn’t a saint, he was a flawed person, like all of us. That’s the Tucker I would have liked to have memorialized today. The real Tucker.”
“I’m … I’m sorry,” was all that Jason could muster. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Dirk and Raj drifting back away from this conversation.
“As for the clowns, well, it’s not the way I would have preferred to bury my son—though truth be told I would prefer not to bury him at all—but sometimes the best you can do is just roll with it and find the humor in the situation.”
“I guess you’re right.” Jason said. “Well, I wish you both the best.”
Feeling sheepish, Jason turned around and began walking towards Raj and Dirk, only to step on a rake lying on the ground that shot up and smacked him in the face. This sent him staggering backwards until he knocked into some scaffolding that had been set up by the building. Just as he was regaining his composure a bucket of white paint fell off of the scaffold and plopped down over his head. In shock, he removed the paint can and let it fall to the ground with a clatter. Off in the distance he could hear the funeral parlor shouting, “Sacré bleu!”
“Let’s get out of here,” Jason said, sputtering paint as he did.
Off in the distance, two ships could be heard signaling to each other out in the bay, the first with a low Waaaa sound, which was returned a moment later by an even lower-pitched and longer-lasting WAAAGH.