Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Day With The Dead

Ever been to a morgue?

I have. And not just any morgue.

The Bellevue Morgue.

You know… where the random people and the crazy and the homeless end up.

Needless to say it was a tad sobering.

Back in the late 90’s, I think it was in the year of our Prince, 1999, I was working on a photo shoot for Details magazine. Details was going to be having their annual “Movies” issue and had this idea. Let’s get a script by a screenwriter and shoot it as a fashion spread, using sub-lebrities.

How sub-lebrity were they? Well here’s a list off the top of my head who got to star in this:
Billy Zane (as the lead)
Buster Poindexter
Saffron Burrows
Lisa Rinna
Rose McGowen
Isaac Hayes
Paul Sorvino
Tom Arnold
Traci Lords
Denise Richards (who is key to the morgue)
And a host of others that make no sense in 2008.

There are many stories from this shoot from such joy as having to rush to get Paul Sorvino’s pants dry cleaned in 2 hours, Traci Lords snubbing the Editor in Chief of Details by turning and talking to me (a no one on set) while I was lugging cables one day on set instead of talking to him, to having to pick up Tom Arnold at the SoHo Grand… but none have stuck with me like the morgue.

Back to the morgue.

To get to the morgue you have to take an elevator down and then navigate through a series of hallways to it. The room was fairly big with the refrigerated doors with rolling trays for people like you see in the movies around the walls with a bank of them in the center of the room, dividing it in two. There were a couple rooms off the side, one of which had a door open and was filled with plain pine boxes.

We moved in like a small army. It was interesting mix of people, fashionistas and photographers, lighting guys and PA’s, not the types you’d expect to be hanging out in the morgue.

We were to be shooting a scene in the morgue that had Denise Richards lying on a refrigerated tray as one of the “victims” in the story line. They had made sure one had been emptied for us when we got there so she would be fine to lay on it. We weren’t to open other drawers. Not that I wanted to.

As we’re all setting up on one side we began to hear a noise from the other side of the bank of refrigerated drawers.



I look around the bank and see the morgue workers stacking body bags. Full body bags. With people in them.


They were stacking them one on top of each other on gurneys and wheeling them away. It sent shivers through you to see them and think that those were people.

We ended up finally setting up the shot and Denise (who was dumber than one of the corpses loaded on a gurney and fresh off the Starship Troopers set) got situated in the drawer. The photographer then had an issue of some sort and we had to wait around for 20 minutes while they made a decision. It was cold in there, very cold and Denise was wearing only a tank top and jeans laying on a stainless steel tray. Eventually I went over and asked if she’d like a jacket while we were getting everything sorted. Her response, “Oh, yeah! That’d be great.” I then reminded her in the future to ask for such things. I’m sure she does now.

Eventually we got the shot and all the important people got out of there with a quickness. As I stayed behind with some others to pack up equipment we struck up a conversation with one of the morgue attendants. He explained the filing system for bodies and how the colors of the cards on the trays let you know from a quick glance whether that tray holds a child or adult body.

He also told me something that has stayed with me to this day and I obey.

He said told us how bodies are held there for 2 weeks to be ID’d or claimed and then they are put in the pine boxes and sent to a potters field to be buried as John and Jane Doe’s. Once he learned that he said he made sure that he always has his ID on him when stepping out of his house.

Now, I do too.

1 comment:

1000 words said...

Wow! I don't know what else to say about that, so I'll leave it at that.