How to Live Forever

Sharp - - COLUMN -

A study of Santa Claus, taxi­dermy, and Were­wolves

WE ARE DIS­CUSSING THE IN­TRI­CA­CIES OF SANTA CLAUS, as one tends to do with a six-year-old when the air turns cold. Even­tu­ally we get around to the idea that Old Saint Nick is very, very old and, by most ac­counts, prob­a­bly im­mor­tal. “Like a vam­pire,” says Zev. “Sure. But one who gives you presents in­stead of suck­ing your blood.” “But vam­pires also give you the best thing ever.” “What’s that?” “Be­ing im­mor­tal.” “In­ter­est­ing. But you’d have to live forever by sleep­ing in a cof­fin and drink­ing blood...” “That’d be okay,” says Zev. “It’s a good ex­change.”

This kind of quick de­par­ture — from the con­ven­tions of child­hood hol­i­day lore to spec­u­la­tions about the un­dead — has be­come a com­mon part of our con­ver­sa­tions these days. My boy is a ray of sun­shine, but he’s got a dark, dis­tinctly mor­bid side, too.

A while ago, when the days were still long, Zev and I were in a cabin on a lake. I’d given him my old iphone to fool around with, and sug­gested we go into the woods to try out the cam­era with a bit of wildlife photography. He asked what that was and, though he loves an­i­mals, and forests, and search­ing for things and be­ing stealthy, he seemed some­how unim­pressed by my an­swers. But then his eyes lit up, and he said, “I know! Let’s do wild-death photography in­stead!”

That’s when we started turn­ing over leaves in hopes of find­ing de­com­pos­ing bird bod­ies and search­ing the sides of high­ways for road kill. So it wasn’t a sur­prise when my adorable lit­tle psy­cho started bring­ing home spec­i­mens. Call it the nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of things.

“Here,” said Zev, upon his re­turn from a sea­side get­away with his mom.

“What’s this?” I said, look­ing down at the thing in my hand.

“It’s for my dead an­i­mal col­lec­tion. I’m start­ing one, okay?” “But what is this? Or what was it?” “I think it’s called a craw­fish, or a cray­fish. Some kind of cruh-fish.”

“Okay. What are we go­ing to do with it?”

“Start my col­lec­tion,” said Zev, with a hint of ex­as­per­a­tion.

So what used to be my liquor cab­i­net started fill­ing up with claws and beaks and bones and shells. Some of them dried out nicely in an ev­er­last­ing rigor mor­tis, while oth­ers crum­bled to dust or started to rot and stink. There was a good rea­son he’d cho­sen my place for his col­lec­tion, rather than his mother’s; al-

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