Love Canal

In the end, our bones say a lot about who we were.

Ways of identifying sex lie in the shape of the pelvis, the jaw. If you place a thumb in the socket of a pelvic bone and it’s a tight fit, it belongs to the body of a male; female pelvic sockets are roomier. You can tell if someone was right-handed or left by the extra musculature attached to the dominant side. Lines along the femur record just how much of your life you spent running.

Your mouth and hands show how you spent your time. If you played a woodwind instrument, like the clarinet, the bones around the jaw show it. You can often tell a carpenter by the mouth, too — clipped front teeth from holding nails between clenched lips. Politically incorrect forensic archaeology textbooks claim that Caucasian nose holes are triangular, Negroid's square, and Mongoloid's diamond-shaped. I once ate a handful of psychedelic mushrooms with a boy I wanted to kiss and stared at my drowned body in a bathroom mirror. I was surprised to discover my nostrils were trapezoids with filaments of seaweed streaming from them.

Bones speak volumes about how you breathe. Your sternum is an archive of all you let go. Exhalation marks the body. Opera singers have extra muscular attachment to the ribcage, as do yogis. The residue of falsettos and fire breath. Shallow breathers have almost no perceptible traces of diaphragm or lung attachment at all. A lifetime of taking in the world but never forcing anything back out. If your baggage is what you hold in, just know there’s no use taking it with you.

In the end, no one can tell all that you carried.

Your mortal remains will stick around longer in Death Valley than Love Canal. The rate of decomposition depends on where you’re buried. In a posthumous land grab, if you want to max out your welcome on terra firma, secure a plot with Grade A alkaline soil. Think desert. Acidic soil accelerates decomposition, alkaline slows it.

In the 1950s the Hooker Chemical Company pumped the Love Canal section of Niagra Falls with 22,000 tons of dioxins from perfumes and shoe rubber. Thanks to physical abnormalities caused by poisoning, the graveyards in Love Canal are filled with twenty percent more appendages and teeth than the average burial site.

I immediately run and tell the most optimistic person I know. We have a lifelong bet going — one of those human nature deals where I’m the wet blanket.

“They poisoned thousands, turned them into mutants,” I say. “Can you believe there are people that terrible? Imagine I’ve grown up in Love Canal. Imagine I have eleven fingers and I’m about to die of some horrible cancer.”

She sucks the head off her beer and shrugs.

“When you’re gone,” she says, foam mustache lining her upper lip, “there will be more of you to miss.”