The tapping at the front door was soft but incessant.
Was it Poe's raven with nevermore promises? An early visit from the Spirit of Christmas Past stopping by to Marley up my morning? Or maybe Emily Dickinson"s coachman inquiring if I needed a lift?
I have a general rule at the house. I do not open the front door unless I am expecting someone. I tend to follow a "by appointment only" philosophy.
Whenever I violate it, I am always confronted by a stranger requesting payment for work around the house that I do not need, or by a line of mothers with babies each carrying a laminated prescription list almost a decade old, or a bevy of Jehovah's Witnesses intent on converting my obviously-languishing soul.
The wiser course is for me to ignore the knocking and lend my attention to the tasks at hand. Because, as a homeowner, there are always plenty of "tasks at hand."
I broke my rule this morning. But only because I was heading out the door on what Felipe calls my Bataan Death March. I told myself, if I purposely exited, conversation could be avoided.
When I strode out the doorway, I was a bit taken aback by four young middle class Mexicans. Probably in their 20s. Three men. One woman. Dressed in some sort of matching outfits. White polo shirts. Ocher pants. They could have been missionaries repurposed by John Waters into a 1990s version of The Book of Mormon.
The young woman commented that I must be on my way to exercise. My workout look may not be as stylish as Omar's, but it is practical. The smell of my shirt could have been a clue.
I know better than to do what I did next. I had effectively escaped their clutches, but I turned around and asked what they were doing. I may as well have asked: "May I give you a lot of money to buy whatever it is you are selling?
Each of them whipped open the booklets they were carrying. I anticipated I would be staring into the ever-engrossing pages of a Watchtower. But I was wrong.
Instead, I was gazing into a portrait of my future as worm fodder.
All sorts of goods roll past my house each day touted by some enterprising soul. Fruits. Vegetables. Cleaning products. Magic elixirs. Furniture. But, this is the first time I had encountered a coffin sales team.
My experience is that Mexicans have a far more realistic approach to death than do most northerners. Up north, death gets shunted into the dark corners of cancer wards or relegated to the conversation ghetto of barely-whispered words. I have a friend who will not allow the word to be said in his presence.
For Mexico, death is part of the circle of everyone's life. We are born. We die. It echoes through day/night of the dead and at the multiple funeral parlors here with their casket window-shopping.
So, why not sell them door-to-door?
I have two Mexican friends in their 60s who have picked out their own coffins and store them in their bedrooms. Being practical folk, they use them to store towels and linens. An un-hope chest.
The first time I saw a waiting-to-be-used casket, I was startled. Until I heard the explanation.
The practice is not restricted to Mexico. A few weeks ago, I read an article in The Economist that local officials in Chinese villages send out thugs to remove purchased coffins from the homes of their elderly comrades. The coffins are then smashed and burned.
The purpose of this pre-grave robbery is to convince the elderly to give up the notion of being buried in the earth. The Communist Party wants them to accept the efficiency of cremation. Such are the ways of traditions in a totalitarian state.
And that is in a country where almost 50% of corpses are already cremated. I find it hard to believe that Mexico's citizens would ever countenance an increase in its relatively low rate of cremation. Especially by government diktat. Those coffins provide the best first step in Mexico's reverence of the passion of death.
You will undoubtedly be shocked that I did not buy my coffin right there on the street this morning. I do tend toward impulse purchases. And what to do with my body upon my death has been running through my thoughts this past week.
Maybe I could just be stuffed in my prospective clothes dryer and buried underneath the soon-to-be-repaired terrace floor.
Or I could just wait for Emily Dickinson's coach driver to make a home delivery.