I am trying like hell to put off painting–I am not so much poised on the delicate, ashen edge of burnout, watching the cinders of motivation float by, as plummetting screaming into the dying flamesof the abyss at this point.

So I’m going to talk about something else. Like the Freemasons.

The other day, the Shriners called to ask for money. I always send them twenty bucks, and return the tickets to the Shrine circus.

On the face of it, this is a weird charity for me to support. I am an animal person, not a kid person, and generally my charity dollars go to saving slimy/fuzzy/scaly/fleshy animals and/or their habitats. Medical things, things with kids, general poverty–not so much. Part of this is basic inclination, but a lot of it is just plain what’s on my radar. I’ll kick in a few bucks if there’s a jar in front of me for MS research, or if they’re having a drive at the supermarket, of course, but I don’t actively seek them out, and they don’t seek me out.

Whereas if there’s ever a drive to clothe the naked mole rats or whatever, I’m almost sure to hear about it.

But the Shriners get money. And I must confess, it’s not because they’re taking sick kids to the circus. I am deathly afraid of clowns, and I would not willingly inflict that on anybody, let alone a small child too weak to run away. I am suspicious of circuses and their treatment of animals at the best of times. And it’s not because they call and ask–I can turn down charities over the phone with the best of ’em.

Nope, it’s because of my late grandfather-in-law, the Freemason. All Shriners are reasonably advanced Freemasons–that’s not Illuminati conspiracy theories, that’s actual fact–and he was apparently fairly high up, so far as such things are measured. After he died, we found the fez, in a square box, cradled in tissue paper. And to my great fascination and mild astonishment, he had a Masonic funeral.

That was…odd.

The Freemasons aren’t particularly real to me–they’re a sort of old world, old school thing that my brain files with the Illuminati and cotton gins. If I thought of them at all, which I generally didn’t, it was with the sort of genial contempt of the young and female for the old, male, and harmless. So the funeral was strange. Funerals are a deeply surreal experience at the best of times, mind you–I’ve been to several, and my memories of them have the kind of murky blur of dreams–a few moments stand out with clarity, but it’s like being under anesthetic–you know that something happened, but you don’t have any sensation of the time having passed. Originally I thought it was because of the grief, but I barely knew the deceased in this case–we’d met maybe three, four times–and still it’s a sort of dim, fractured memory of rooms with marble floors and people in suits standing around talking in hushed voices.

There were a lot of people. I can’t adequately judge how many were there, but a great many, a sea of old, old men in absurd hats, with transparent, nicotine stained skin, wearing lambskin aprons and carrying odd equipment and invoking a Divine Architect. Like many somewhat ridiculous things, it was largely transformed by the sheer dignity of the people wearing said hats, (and at the risk of being unbearably callous, having a corpse in the room tends to suck the humor out of even the silliest outfit.) It was sad and cryptic and moving.

It was also apparently pretty dull if you’re not into that sort of thing, but there’s enough of my anthropological leanings left over that I was fascinated. Like all most funerals, the family was split more or less down the middle between weeping, boredom, and silently longing for a cigarette. (I begin to suspect that this is a universal function of funerals, and I don’t think it actually reflects on those involved.)

For James, who now has the dubious distinction of being the oldest male of his immediate family, it was apparently a little alarming, as after the ceremony, a horde of elderly Masons descended on him, introducing themselves and telling him that there’s a place held for him if he ever wishes to join. With the smiling and nodding skills finely honed by furry conventions, he told them he’d keep it in mind.

And that was pretty much that. Except that the Shriners started calling afterwards, and despite my lack of interest in circuses, I always send ’em money, just because the Masonic funeral was so peculiar. As legacies go, it’s so small as to be nearly non-existant, but I always think of it as I’m writing out the check.

And that’s enough musing out of someone who really oughta be painting.

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