How to Live Forever
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-