I attended the service for Antonio Ruiz today. I was pleased to see he drew a crowd (of about 80 people), but I was not pleased to see that he was displayed in an open casket. I am not a fan of those. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of funerals in the first place, but those with the added morbidity of putting the corpse on view — and usually a corpse so heavily made-up as to look inhuman — are even more uncomfortable making.

Arriving after the reading of the rosary began I signed the guestbook and then took up a place in the rear of the small auditorium, electing to remain standing near the aisle door. The attending priest spoke only in Spanish so I had no idea what was being said. Finally he turned from the attendees and addressed the coffin in song before exiting. After that various people got up and went to the coffin. One woman was near inconsolable in her grief and I guessed that might be Antonio’s sister.

I recited the 23rd Psalm (or what I could remember of it) to myself and fought the urge to stand up in front of all those people and tell them something along the lines of my not coming here to grieve for El Circo Loco but rather to celebrate his remarkable spirit… but I didn’t have to fight that urge too hard. It wouldn’t have been proper at all.
After about 30 minutes a mortuary worker came in and spoke only in Spanish but I got the sense through his arm movements that he was trying to wrap things up by directing people first from the back rows up to the front to come forward for one last moment with Antonio before exiting. I debated getting in this line for the same reason I always debate viewing a dead body: I don’t want some mortician’s handiwork (or lack thereof) to replace the living breathing person for whom I came here to respectfully say farewell.

But I lost that debate and got in line and I made my way up to the side of the coffin and I looked inside, and immediately regretted doing so. The lifeless face with its thick layer of phony make-up was just a poorly decorated mask over the shell of the character who enriched me with his energy and his spirit. I bowed my head and bid him goodbye and moved on — straight out of the building to my truck and down Cesar Y Chavez Avenue all the way back from East LA back through downtown and onto my next joyous stop: the Lacy Street animal shelter near Lincoln Heights, where I promised I’d go on the off chance the stray we called LBC (for Little Black Cat) had been caught up and was being held.

I didn’t linger. I beelined it in, headed straight for the cat room, didn’t see the LBC and headed straight out. Looking at the poor cats (thankfully few), their cramped cages reminded me of open caskets.