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Alice Kahn

Yes, You Can Take It With You

September 28, 1988|ALICE KAHN

I have seen the best minds of my generation--hysterical, naked, making big bucks after taxes and death. A recent Forbes magazine ranking of the wealthiest celebrities also notes several who have made millions after they died. It gives new meaning to the term "vulture capitalism."

Elvis is worth more dead than alive. James Dean is finally a millionaire. If Rob Lowe had any brains, he'd shoot himself.

News that T. S. Eliot made the Forbes' Dead-but-Still-Raking-It-In list seemed to me reason enough to get out the old Irony Lives! bumper sticker.

In the room the women come and go

Talking about T. S. Eliot's dough.

I hesitate to laugh at dead rich people because a reader recently wrote that she was offended by a joke I told involving the D-word. When a reader writes, I listen. She equated my laughing in the face of Death with the making of "The Last Temptation of Christ."

It's true that I'm kind of a fanatic when it comes to laughing. If they ever make "The Last Temptation of Alice" you can bet that the very last temptation will be the giggles.

I engage in inappropriate laughter generously and often. In fact, the more inappropriate, the funnier things can seem. If I had a dime for every time I had to write "I will not laugh in class" I'd be as rich as Stallone after residuals, licensing and endorsements.

In the room the women come and go

Giving Stallone a dime on every "Yo."

The most painful task I've had to face as an alleged grown-up is keeping a straight face. Sometimes the only way I can do it is to lie. When I first started getting published, people would always ask if I were planning a book. The real answer--"nope"--made me sound uninteresting. So I started to say, "Yes, I'm working on 'The Death Joke Book.' "

Oddly enough, nobody ever asked me what "The Death Joke Book" was about.

In my mind (where things like "The Death Joke Book" thrive), it was a novelized version of a childhood fantasy. My fantasy was that when I died, they would find 3,000 poems in my underwear drawer, and everyone would say, "I had no idea she was so talented."

It would be a kind of Emily Dickinson-Sylvia Plath story. Everyone would feel bad that they weren't nicer to me when I was alive because I was actually a serious artist all along.

I grow old ... I grow old ...

I shall wear my panty hose rolled.

Reading about T. S. Eliot's wealth made me think of revising "The Death Joke Book." Now, admittedly, T. S. is not the richest dead man in town. He's no Elvis. He's no John Lennon. And, had he lived, he would never have been a Whitney Houston or an Arnold Schwarzenegger, let alone a Michael (Megabucks) Jackson. But the idea that you can create art while alive, have full recognition, reasonable financial success and then go on to a higher tax bracket posthumously seems so inspiring. Go for it! Dare to eat a peach! Do not stop for Death, he'll kindly cash your check.

In the room the women come and go

Talking about Michael Jackson's dough.

So I think I'll have "The Death Joke Book" end with my poetry actually getting printed on the underwear and my estate getting 10% of the gross. Haikus on bikinis. Ballads on boxer shorts. Tercets on teddies. Lyrics on Lycra-spandex body suits. Think of the ad campaign:

Let us go then you and I

With panty odes above the thigh.

Gentle readers, please don't think for a moment that I take death casually. I'm just laughing in the face of life.

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