JAIMIE VERNON – CEMETERY COP: CHAPTER FIVE

Jaimie Vernon_Viletones During the hiatus I published more chapters of my upcoming ‘True Tales of a Cemetery Cop’ book on my website. It will be released as a paperback and eBook on October 3. You can read the first four chapters here for free:
http://gwntertainment.wixsite.com/cemeterycop

Chapter Five….
coverThe cemetery was most alive after the gates were opened in the morning. A beehive of activity while the dead slept, oblivious to those treading on the soil above. Fifteen hours of activity. Nearly all the staff was gone by 5PM. Some of the administrative staff remained – finishing up paperwork on plot deals, arranging for complete funeral services that would need to be implemented within the next two days and even cold calling. One of the most successful sales reps was also a part-time real estate agent that had no compunction in marrying the two jobs. She’d be in the office until 9PM some nights just cold-calling potential future clients and leads she’d discovered through her open house events trying to sell a house. On the surface this sounds unsavoury. Like lawyers who are ambulance chasers. But I’ve come to appreciate such an approach because so many people never think about what they’re going to do when they or a loved one dies unexpectedly. Without the sales staff shilling for business in advance it’s unlikely there’d be much walk-up traffic. Hearses don’t just arrive looking for a place to put a body. It takes serious planning.

It’s traditionally been the domain of funeral homes. To survive, the cemeteries themselves have moved into the funeral planning business – even partnering with funeral homes to ensure uninterrupted planning and execution of ceremonies, burials and cremations. It’s not a job I’d want, but it’s damn necessary and I can only recommend shopping around and comparing prices if your circumstances allow it. If you leave it to the last minute, you will pay a hefty price and not just in the loss of a loved one. Funerals are expensive.

A major part of that cost now involves the service. Many opt for a full ceremony at the cemetery using the Visitation Centre or mausoleum chapels as surrogates for a traditional church service. In a major city it can be cumbersome to have a funeral service caravan from funeral home, to church, to graveyard. Beacon Hill provided access to all three. Families could congregate once and stay for all aspects of the ceremony.

book-cover_raw3_silhouetteThe Visitation Centre staff was the last to leave every night. Rarely was there an evening where it wasn’t open to one, two or even three services at once. That included two days of visitations, then the religious or ecumenical last rites and, finally, the interment on the grounds. These people were incredible because they were also responsible for getting death certificates, ordering coffins or urns, and embalming and dressing bodies not to mention catering, music (live or canned) and dealing with florists. A true steely constitution was necessary and a real love for the job. They were the last line of interaction with hundreds of mourners every day. And getting mourners to leave at the end of the night was often problematic. We’ll get to that in a bit.

My duties were elsewhere on nights when there were services because the VC had plenty of staff to handle most encounters. I spent my time doing the closing procedures – which was the opening procedures in reverse – but had far more time to do it. With the maintenance staff mostly done by 4.30, I was able to go to each building and secure them as needed. The staff was usually great in locking their vehicles and putting the keys away. But occasionally I’d find a truck window open or keys still in the ignition. I was responsible for securing those trucks and tractors and making sure that the keys were put inside where the workers could access them immediately upon arrival each morning.
fence
Most of the lawn equipment and shuttle buses (trojan-like golf carts were often used to transport summer students or large funeral parties all over the cemetery en masse) were already parked inside the maintenance garages. In an entire year I never found one left outside by accident. These guys were thorough. With that my only job was to make sure the garage doors were closed and locked which was not always an easy task especially if the garage doors were 20 feet tall and the rope to pull them down was tangled…or missing altogether.

I had to then check the upstairs kitchen, change rooms and bathrooms for any irregularities like windows left open or food not properly disposed of. Cleaning staff was ultimately responsible, but by doing my security sweep I could then verify that if anything went hinky later then it could have only been cleaning staff. And good thing too, because they often dropped the ball mostly because they took on too many contracts and never spent enough time in one building long enough to satisfy the conditions of their contract. The floors would still be dirty, or they didn’t finish the bathrooms or whatever. Turn over was high and that was problematic in itself as I was often the guy responsible for confiscating their keys to the cemetery once they’d been fired or relieved of duty.

winter-sceneWith the maintenance buildings secured and all the internal lights off the alarms needed to be set. That’s pretty easy in the summer when it’s still daylight out, but wandering around and crawling over machinery to get to an exit in the dark on a winter’s night was cause for more than one injured shin on my part. I think I wrecked two pair of pants in a year just smashing into the tow hooks on large ATV’s known as Gators. “Hi, I’m the security guard here and I’d like to introduce you to my bleeding leg…”

With the buildings locked down next came the access gates into the maintenance areas from the cemetery proper. I was told that there’d been some theft of equipment in the past so it was imperative that the facilities be chained and padlocked. The exception was the maintenance building closest to the Gothic mausoleum. That building was in a restricted area where the public wasn’t allowed at all so there was no gate. However, the public never paid much attention to the “Do Not Enter” signs and the occasional homeless person would find their way back there looking for food and shelter in the garbage bins. I’d usually find racoons first, but there was the rare occasion where I’d find a person. And we would both be scared shitless.

tomb_finalThe mausoleums were next. Unlike the cemetery itself that needed to remain open until at least sundown, the mausoleums could be cleared, secured and locked down anytime after staff had left the grounds. Some families would arrive late and bitch about not getting access but I was a reasonable guy. It wasn’t like the mausoleums had hundreds of people in them all day long. It was usually small families or individuals just wanting to drop off flowers (or those damnable candles) and pay their respects. I gave them time and space to do both and usually did other duties and circled back to lock up behind them. Most were grateful.

A mausoleum in the dark is as scary as it sounds. It’s a giant house of horrors if you let your mind get away from you. You move from hallway to hallway turning lights off until you get back to the entrance where you set an alarm and then run for your life to get the doors locked before the motion detectors went off. Worse still was leaving the building, driving past it in the patrol car later and noticing a light still on in a hallway. A light you know you turned off. That maintenance building behind the Gothic mausoleum had the same problem. Despite double checking the lights every night during lock down, the kitchen light in the maintenance building would always come back on. Some of the cemetery and cleaning staff believe it’s where the only known ghost on the site is located. I have no opinion one way or the other.

benchThe remainder of the night would be spent cruising the cemetery as the night drew on and the sun began to disappear. At this point the gates needed to be systematically closed, with the goal of corralling visitors and pushing them toward specific exits. Those access ways would be closed last. The farthest point needed to be closed first. It was in the quietest part of the cemetery away from the offices and the bustle from main thoroughfares like Johanson Road or Grangley Boulevard. Craymore was a pedestrian entrance only that led to a subdivision. A previous manager at Beacon Hill used to leave the gate open as there was an outcry from the citizens that they wanted access to get to a nearby plaza containing a beer store. After several attacks and robberies in and around the area, that idea was scuttled. Locking that gate and its opposite counterpart was priority number one.

Technically, if anyone wanted to get into the cemetery bad enough they’d find a way. But the wrought iron fences are well over seven feet tall so unless you’re a pole-vaulter or have someone tag-teaming with you getting over the fence without impaling yourself on the baroque floral spikes across the top was unlikely. The most likely access point is the gate itself but we chained and padlocked those as soon as we were able. Of course, once or twice every night I’d lock a gate and have someone show up behind me wanting out. Those issues were easy while you were standing there. As the night progressed and each of the 51 access points was secured, chained and locked more and more people would be looking for an exit.

gateEvery gate has a sign indicating hours of operation. No one read the signs. Once the sun was down it became a massive game of whack-a-mole. I would race around in the dark in my patrol car with the spotlight on looking for stragglers. People who either got lost, distracted or deliberately avoided me to hang out just a little longer amongst the dead. It was a bizarre ritual especially when I’d catch young women wandering aimlessly alone in there. It defied logic. Attacks in cemeteries do happen. It’s part of the reason why there are now cemetery cops. It’s why I was there. The bad shit in the day was easily manageable because there was so many eyes on the ground in the daylight. But at night? It was just me, a walkie-talkie and a car with a spotlight. It was dangerous for anyone after sundown whether they were familiar with the place or not. I was seconds away from driving off the proper one night when I saw a woman running full steam toward me across Beacon Hill Road – inside Section 2 of the cemetery. She had her high heel shows in her hand. I only saw her because my spotlight was still on. I ran across the street and opened the gate to let her out. Had I left she would have had to walk a quarter mile to section three and use the emergency dispatch phone. A mobile security supervisor on night shift would have had to get her out. She told me she didn’t know the cemetery was closing. I asked her what part of pitch black did she not notice?

I tried not to scold people, but there was always that one person who was cocky and just a little too eager to test my patience especially cyclists that I could spot coming in one entrance while I was locking up another one knowing very well it was closing time. Those people I’d chase with the patrol car. I knew more roadways than they did. And I knew them in the dark. It was often a deer in the headlights end game when I would beat them to the next entrance and blast them with the floodlight. Hard to be a smartass when you’re blinded and disoriented. “Oh, I didn’t know you were closing.” You just wanted to bitch slap some of them. But I was polite and put on my I’m-only-making-$10.50-an-hour-at-this-McJob smile and bid them a good night. Walmart greeters eat your heart out.

The worst gate in the entire place to close was the valley ravine gate. It was an entrance to and from a river that runs across the bottom of the city. Joggers would shortcut through the cemetery to hit the trail below. There was an endless staircase leading down to the water, and a foot bridge that then connected with another set of trails out into the valley. Access to the gate was at the end of a cul-de-sac for the patrol car and then a 50ft. pathway down to the gate itself. It was on a steep incline. You prayed that the weather was good on the nights you were on duty because the path was either knee deep in snow or ankle deep in mud. Good weather meant an easy time up and down the hill. And you wanted to get that gate closed before the sun went down because there was no way of knowing what was going to come up from the valley. Friend, foe or beast. To make sure the closing went smoothly the patrol car needed to be driven onto the first few feet of the pathway so that the headlights and the searchlight illuminated the bottom of the path where the gate was. I never drove too far in. Billy, my security trainer, told me stories of guys having cars slide down the path and into the gate itself. No thanks. I took my chances with my own irrational fear of what might jump out of the valley at me rather than lose a patrol car. The worst that ever came at me was spiders descending from trees blocking my route back to the car.

And so the struggle continued almost to the end of my shift. Chasing people out of gates and locking up behind them. Most nights they allowed me to relax and do my shift reports before I got to secure the main office, closing the main gates and heading off site. That’s if the Visitation Centre staff also got finished on time. It was an endless dance of timing. After 15 hours in a patrol car another minute seemed like a life-time.

Send your CDs for review to:
Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon 

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