I went to the cemetery today and talked to the lady at the funeral home about the headstone we want to order.

“What does your husband do?” she asked.

“He is a statistician.”

“Oh,” she said with a disgusted look I wouldn’t expect from somebody who works at a funeral home. “That is so boring. He must really like statistics.”

“Well, he got a PhD in it, so he must like it,” I explained to make N.’s choice of profession sound less repellent.

“A PhD!” the woman exclaimed. “It must be intimidating to live with somebody so smart!”

It took everything I got not to yell, “I have a PhD, too! From Yale! And 4 other degrees, too! And I studied Latin! And I have a book accepted for publication!” But it felt ridiculous to try to impress somebody while choosing a headstone.

“So where do you work?” the woman asked at the end of the meeting, and I finally didn’t have to hold it in any longer.

“I’m a professor! Of Spanish literature!” I shouted.

“Oh, so you are smart, too,” the woman concluded.

12 thoughts on “Vanity”

    1. I hate to be cynical but I have a feeling she was trying to gauge our financial status. Funerary services are hugely expensive in this country. I have no idea what poor people do when somebody dies.


      1. I think what poor people do is they either do cremation or the cardboard box kind of burial. But even these services are very expensive. It’s shameful how exploitative it is.


      2. ” trying to gauge our financial status”

        I’m sure that’s what it was. It’s like in the Balkans or Turkey when merchants ask where you’re from (so they have an idea of what kind of price to offer and what bargaining strategy to pursue).

        Part of that is asking questions, the awkwardness was probably from not hearing ‘statistician’ as an occupation before and probably assuming he was some kind of accountant.


        1. Yes, nobody knows what a statistician is in this area. And I had to practice my pronunciation before going to the funeral home because people simply don’t understand even a trace of an accent.


  1. Yeah, I think that this must have been a way to check out your money situation more than anything. It’s sick, but true. Especially when children die, a lot of times people don’t have life insurance on them, so there’s frequently a large bill to pay without much money to pay it.

    I really hate how exploitative funeral homes are. When you’re grieving, you’ll agree to almost anything, and then you’re paying for it for a very long time. I’ve seen it happen in my family many, many times.


  2. “Oh,” she said with a disgusted look I wouldn’t expect from somebody who works at a funeral home. “That is so boring. He must really like statistics.”

    I’m sure she considers herself a people person. Because she’s in sales. Something tells me she would have never been featured on Six Feet Under. (I’m sorry, she was so absolutely rude, Clarissa. It sounded like she was negging you.)


  3. If it were “intimidating to live with someone so smart,” would you even be living with them? Did she realize that people don’t usually make a point to hang around others who intimidate them like that?

    Also, statistics is fascinating. It may be unappealing to some people, but it’s far from boring. And both you and N are brilliant. The funeral home lady was rude. I’m sorry you had to put up with that.


  4. I think there’s a reality TV show about funeral directors, you know, like Ice Road Truckers and other interesting occupations. Your interloqutor should be on it.

    My wife says there’s one on skunk whisperers. Perhaps she should be on that too. As for me, I’m waiting for the one on toll-booth operators to make its debut.


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