Carl Hiaasen – Basket Case
Carl Hiaasen – Basket Case
Regarding the death of James Bradley Stomarti: what first catches my attention is his age.
Thirty-nine. That’s seven years younger than I am.
I’m drawn to the young and old, but who isn’t? The most avidly read obituaries are of those who died too soon and those who lasted beyond expectations.
What everybody wants to know is: Why them? What was their secret? Or their fatal mistake? Could the same happen to me?
I like to know, myself.
Something else about James Bradley Stomarti: that name. I’m sure I’ve heard it before.
But there’s no clue in the fax from the funeral home. Private service is Tuesday. Ashes to be scattered in the Atlantic. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to the Cousteau Society. That’s classy.
I scan the list of “survived-bys” and note a wife, sister, uncle, mother; no kids, which is somewhat unusual for a 39-year-old straight guy, which I assume (from his marital status) James Bradley Stomarti to be.
Tapping a key on my desktop, I am instantly wired into our morgue, although I’m the only one in the newsroom who still calls it that. “Resource Retrieval Center” is what the memos say, but morgue is more fitting. It’s here they keep all dead stories dating hack to 1975, which in a newspaper’s memory is about as fresh as dinosaur dung.
I type in the name of the deceased. Bingo!
I am careful not to chuckle or even smile, as I don’t wish to alert my ever-watchful editor. Our newspaper publishes only one feature obituary each day; other deaths are capsulized in brief paragraphs or ignored altogether. For years the paper ran two daily full-length obits, but recently the Death page lost space to the Weather page, which had lost space to the Celebrity Eye page, which had lost space to Horoscopes. The shrunken news hole leaves room for only a single story, so I am now cagey about committing to a subject. My editor is not the flexible sort. Once I tell her whom I’m writing about, there’s no turning back, even if someone far more interesting expires later in the news cycle.
Another good reason for not appearing too excited is that I don’t want anyone to suspect that the death of James Bradley Stomarti might be an actual news story; otherwise my editor will snatch it away and give it to one of our star feature writers, the way a cat presents a freshly killed rat on the doorstep. This piracy of newsworthy assignments is the paper’s way of reminding me that I’m still at the top of the shit list, that I will be there until pigs can fly, and that my byline will never again sully the front page.
So I say nothing. I sit at my desk and scroll through the computer files that inform me in colorful bits and pieces about the life of James Bradley Stomarti, better known to the world as Jimmy Stoma.
That’s right. The Jimmy Stoma.
As in Jimmy and the Slut Puppies.
Stashed somewhere in my apartment is one of their early albums, Reptiles and Amphibians of North America. Jimmy sang lead and sometimes played rhythm guitar. He also fooled around with the harmonica. I remember really liking one of the band’s singles, “Basket Case,” off an album called Floating Hospice. That one I lost to a departing girlfriend. Jimmy was no Don Henley, but the ladies found him very easy on the eyes. The guy could carry a tune, too.
Stoma also got arrested on a regular basis, and was unfailingly booked under his given name. That’s how I got the computer to hit on “James Bradley Stomarti.”
From the morgue:
December 13, 1984: With Steven Tyler, John Entwistle and Joan Jett in attendance, Jimmy Stoma marries a chorine turned professional wrestler in Las Vegas. He is arrested later that evening for urinating on Engelbert Humperdinck’s stretch limousine.
February 14, 1986: Mrs. Stoma files for divorce, alleging her husband is addicted to alcohol, cocaine and aberrant sex. The Slut Puppies open a three-night stint at Madison Square Garden, and from the stage Jimmy introduces his new girlfriend, a performance artist who goes by the name of Mademoiselle Squirt.
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