Long Reads for a Gray Monday
* Max Rivlin-Nader stops by the 130th National Funeral Directors Conference at McCormick Place and finds an industry struggling to adapt to a less religious, more "spiritual" marketplace:
The funeral industry is in the midst of a transition of titanic proportions. America is secularizing at a rapid pace, with almost 25% of the country describing itself as un-church. Americans, embracing a less religious view of the afterlife, are now asking for a "spiritual" funeral instead of a religious one. And cremation numbers are up. Way up. In liberal, secular states, specifically in the Pacific Northwest, cremation rates have steadily increased to more than half of disposals, up from the low single digits in 1990. The rest of the nation had also experienced steady gains in cremation since 2000 (except in the Bible Belt, where cremation rates remained relatively low).
Talking with funeral directors at the conference, I began to realize the scope of the crisis spurred by the rise of cremation and its new importance. As one former funeral director said, “If the family wanted a cremation, we’d say ‘That’ll be $595,’ hand them the urn and show them the door. Not anymore though.” The industry is scrambling to find a way to add value-added cremation services to remain solvent.
* Thomas Lake tracks down Michael Jordan's high school coach to find out if Pop Herring really did cut the greatest basketball player ever:
The next game, a season-ending loss to Goldsboro in the regional semifinals, would be Pop's last as a high school coach. At open gym that summer the players heard him talking to himself, muttering about people conspiring against him and going through his mail. He suspected a close friend of some secret betrayal. Pop had just turned 31. The family disease was awakening.
And so, over the next four years, as Michael Jordan became an Olympic gold medalist, a rookie NBA All-Star and the scorer of 37 points per game, Pop Herring went from suspended to unemployed to unemployable. As Jordan's fame spread around the world, his old coach became a stranger in their hometown. Pop took to running, as if trying to shake out the sickness. His slender frame was seen on highways and bridges, north toward the tobacco fields and east to the ocean. Sometimes he'd come upon old friends and hug them, and other times they would call his name and he would keep running, looking straight ahead, as if they didn't exist.
One of the things you learn is that “polymath” doesn’t even begin to describe Silverstein. His creativity extended in so many directions that his archivists must be versed not just in turn-of-the-century world children’s literature, but Waylon Jennings’s deep cuts; not just in reel-to-reel tape preservation, but how to keep an old restaurant napkin scribbled with lyrics from falling apart.
Photograph: leduardo (CC by 2.0)