Leave me Alone, I'm Dead

Death is supposed to be a time of permanent rest, a chance to be left alone, to chill out, to never have to see Regis' face on TV again. In other words, heaven. But like the opposite sex, the tax code, and why a one-way plane ticket can cost more than round-trip, it's just not that simple. Even when you're dead no one wants to let you be.

Take poor Checkers, Richard Nixon's dog. It wasn't bad enough they scarred him for life by not giving him a more intellectual name like Chess or a hip one like Backgammon, now Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Nixon's daughter, wants to move his remains from a pet cemetery on Long Island to the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA. Right, like anyone will want to check out a dead dog's bones and take them to the beach for light summer reading while Danielle Steel's still alive and kicking.

Checkers' claim to fame is that he was the centerpiece of a speech Nixon gave in 1952 in which he admitted to having accepted the dog as a present, his defense being that he thought the guy said dough, not dog. This ploy -- the speech, not the gift of a dog -- helped save Nixon's career and paved the way for an escalated war in Vietnam, Watergate, and the national embarrassment of his resignation. This is in turn launched Chevy Chase into the limelight when he imitated the new president, Gerald Ford, on Saturday Night Live, ultimately going on to have the shortest running late night talk show in history. All because Nixon accepted a gift.

Thus it's only right that Chevy Chase's bones be moved to the Nixon presidential library, but since he's still alive, Checkers' will have to do. Unfortunately once they do move him all you'll see is a stone monument, some nicely kept grass, and flowers left daily by Moose, the dog on Frasier. How boring. If only they'd taken a tip from Roy Rogers and had him stuffed.

Roy was into stuffing things, or mounting them, as they insist on saying at the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, CA. The place is filled with stuffed birds, stuffed wild animals and stuffed Trigger. That's right. When his trusty steed died, Roy had him stuffed and put on display. Trigger, whose real name was Golden Cloud -- making him one of the first stars to not only change his name, but to go by one name, is there in all his glory, rearing up on his hind legs just like we fondly remember him. He's not alone either. Dale's horse Buttermilk, Trigger, Jr., and Bullet the Wonder Dog -- who no one's ever heard of -- are also stuffed and on display.

The disappointing thing is that Roy isn't. A number of years ago when he was at the opening of one of his namesake restaurants introducing the new Trigger Burger™ 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™. But that's only because they hadn't thought of it. Roy did say that though, so you can imagine my disappointment when I went to Roy's museum and Trigger's saddle was empty.

The Nixon family should think twice about moving Checkers' remains. Not just because the chances of their putting his articulated skeleton on display are about as good as there being a Michael Stipe, Jr., but because anyone who saw Poltergeist knows what can happen when you mess with a grave. Would you want the ghost of Richard Nixon's dog running around your house at night telling you to get out?

The move would have been a whole lot easier had they cremated Checkers in the first place. After all, it would be a total non-news event if they tossed his ashes in a FedEx envelope and shipped them to California. That's assuming, of course, that they still had the ashes, or cremains as they're called these days.

The word cremains wasn't developed, as you might expect, so funeral directors could feel a little more refined when they talk to the bereaved, but rather because calling them ashes makes people think of cleaning out the fireplace, smoking a cigarette, and falling down while playing Ring-Around-The-Rosie, wondering the whole time what the hell the lyrics to that song mean anyway. Cremains, unfortunately, does sound like a new brand of dinner helper.

"Mom, can we have Tuna Cremains for dinner tonight?"

"Now, now, Sally. You know grandpa doesn't go well with fish."

People do interesting things with cremains. They have them made into granite-like stone tablets which they put on the mantle like dog heirloom Rosetta Stones. They have them stuffed into fireworks shells so they and their loved one can have a final blast together. They have them made into artificial reefs, shot into space like Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry, and if you're a comic book artist like Mark Gruenwald, have them mixed with printing ink for a special edition comic book.

Checkers, on the other hand, will spend his eternity in the ground next to Dick and Pat. This is a sorry fate for a dog which, for a while, was more famous than Lassie, Benji, and Beethoven. The dog, not the composer. He deserves better. He deserves to be left right where he is. Just because we don't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore doesn't mean we should take it out on his dog.

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