Good morning, let’s talk about dead bodies. COVID-19, as you might know, sometimes kills people. In places like New York City, where there are a lot of people, the pandemic has killed swaths -- at the time of writing, around 24,000. You guys ready to laugh?
This number, among a relentless news cycle of fucked up numbers, tends to lose tangible meaning. But in NYC this number is not only a tragedy, it has kicked up some very tangible infrastructure issues and other general fucked shit. And as you all know, I, like a Saudi prince, am always interested in fucked shit.
For most non-murderers, when someone dies, the first thing on their mind isn’t “what do I do with this body?” But it does come up. Generally, the responsibility of storing recently vacated real estate falls to the bereaved. But in cases where the latter can’t be located, or can’t afford a private burial, this responsibility passes to municipal authorities.
In the early stages, Covid-19 pretty much doubled the daily death rate in the Big Apple. On top of that, the virus, as with most things that suck, disproportionally affects low income and homeless people -- a population that’s growing with all of the nothing the federal U.S. government has done to support its citizens.
So what happens when indigent New Yorkers die during the pandemic? Well, it turns out, the same thing that happens any time New Yorkers die of a pandemic. They send the bodies to Hart Island in pine boxes to be stacked three high in muddy trenches. Hart Island is a small piece of land off the coast of the Bronx, purchased by the city in 1868 after it had been stolen from indigenous people about a century earlier. That last part isn’t important to the main story but it’s always good to remember your ancestors sucked proverbial dick.
Anyway, from that point forward, the island has been closed off to the public and used to bury victims of influenza and the AIDS epidemics, stillborn babies, dead soldiers, poor people and more. It’s basically FDR’s biographer’s moodboard. Oh and by the way, right up until the pandemic, bodies were buried by prisoners making less than $10 a day. Although, since Riker’s Island had one of the worst outbreaks of Covid-19 in the country, they hired contractors to do that instead, so that’s nice I guess.
Corey Kilganon of the New York Times summed up the whole situation pretty much perfectly so instead of doing my own work I’m just gonna quote him: “Bodies interred on the island can be retrieved for later reburial, but it is certain to heighten the horror if relatives of Covid-19 victims find out that their loved one has been put in a wooden box and piled in a trench on a forbidden island overseen by the city’s jail system.” This guy’s coming for my job, I swear. He works for the Times though so I feel like he probably doesn’t need it.
He’s right anyway, the handsome fuck. It’s not what you picture when you think of a peaceful passing to the great beyond. But funerals are expensive -- Insure.com, an insurance-focused consumer guide (somehow the most depressing sentence in this whole story) offers tips on how to put on a funeral for just $1000. What a steal!
In the olden days, like thousands of years ago, humans developed rituals around the dead. A lot of those rituals were reserved for important people -- Pharaohs and prophets and heroes and whatnot. But the modern American dream is supposed to be about how the average loser is his own hero, deserving of all the social perks of the pharaohs and prophets and heroes of old.
Instead, the biggest city in America buries its dead in trenches dug by, until this year, effectively slaves on a deserted island nobody can visit. Capitalism will have you saving 20% of your WalMart greeter paycheck for your own comfy forever-bed up until the day you need it, just so that your grandson can go to school and your daughter will be able to visit you without a drone. Like I said: fucked shit.