MAD DOG: Death Has Come to the Internet

Death has come to the Internet. Oh, there have been sites around for ages which show the gravestones of famous people, let you get in on ghoul pools (where you predict which celebrities will die this year in the hopes of winning big bucks and fun prizes), and give you all the gory details about dead and dying dot-coms. But these are spectator sites. Once Internet users welcomed porn, paying taxes, and K-Mart online -- obscene practices, all -- it was just a short step to the emergence of another one: active death sites.

For starters, you can buy a casket online, and amazingly it's not at Amazon.com. If it's death you want there I'd suggest ordering a copy of "The Tibetan Book of the Dead." Or maybe some of the company's stock. But if it's a casket you're after you're going to have to make a decision since you have over 100 sites to choose from, all the way from the original, PeachtreeCasketsDirect.com, where they'll overnight one with a golf course painted on it called "Fairway to Heaven", to trappistcaskets.com where monks at an abbey in Iowa will hand build a classic Dracula-style coffin to fit your budget, lifestyle, and loved one.

Don't just bookmark the sites. Check them out now and make sure your lawyer puts the URL in your will. And while you're at it cruise over to funeralstodiefor.com where you can plan all the details of your funeral online. After all, there won't be a modem in your casket -- yet -- so you'd better take care of those pesky little details before you don't have any say in the matter and they bury you in that outfit you always said you wouldn't be caught dead in. Of course if someone in your family is a true do-it-yourself-er, funerals.org sells a video which will train them in the fine art of embalming. Remember: Nothin' says lovin' like pickling your first cousin.

Not everyone needs these services. About 25 percent of the 2.3 million Americans who died last year were cremated, a number that's expected to reach 40 percent ten years from now. The reasons for this are many. For one, it's cheaper. For another, it's environmentally sound. After all, according to the Cremation Association of North America ("When You Absolutely Positively Want to Make an Ash of Yourself") the average cremated ashes weigh about 6 pounds and take up about the same amount of space as a Kenneth Cole size 7 shoe box. And cost a lot less than the shoes which came in it.

People do interesting things with cremated remains. Some put them in the classic urn on the mantle ("Does this vase need to be dusted or is that your Aunt Mildred?"). Others bury them, which seems to defeat the purpose. Still others scatter the ashes in a loved one's favorite place. Like the La-Z-Boy. Sometimes, though, even these plans go awry. A few years ago in California authorities discovered a warehouse full of ash-filled cardboard boxes which a pilot was supposed to have scattered from his plane ("Your seat cushion will double as a flotation device, but that doesn't matter to you now").

Personally, I've always thought it would be nice to have my friends smoke my remains. Of course I haven't checked with the D.E.A. so I'm not sure whether I might be encouraging them to commit a Schedule A felony or whether it would just be Contributing To The Delinquency Of Friends Who Are So Goofy They Go Along With One Of My Dumb Ideas.

There are other options besides burial and cremation. You could do what Roy Rogers did when Trigger died and have him stuffed, or mounted as they prefer to say at the Roy Rogers Museum, though personally that sounds a little too necrophilic for my taste. Roy was so happy having Trigger reared up on his hind legs forever that he also had Bullet the Wonder Dog, Dale's horse Buttermilk, and Trigger, Jr. stuffed. I remember a few years back when Roy was at the opening of one of his eponymous restaurants introducing the Trigger Burger and he said, "When I die I hope they skin me out and put me up on Trigger." Just kidding. Actually there was no Trigger Burger. So imagine my disappointment when I went to the Roy Rogers Museum and Trigger's saddle was empty.

All I can figure is that Roy is in Dale's guestroom waiting for someone to wash their hands with him. This isn't as farfetched as it seems. The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has a woman's body on display that turned to soap after being buried. They don't say how or why this happened, but if the idea of having your friends and family wash their hands with you after you go is appealing, you might contact the museum and see if they can help. Come to think of it, though, you might forget the museum and just go online. If it's not there already I have a feeling SpouseOnARope.com will be open for business any day now. And why not? If you can't come clean after you die when can you?

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