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September 28, 1998|ROY RIVENBURG | Times Staff Writer

And the Rockets' Red Glare, the Dead Bursting in Air: As you know, we are always on the lookout for creative breakthroughs in the art of dying, which is why we nearly lost control of our bladder when reader David Brager of Richland, Wash., told us about a company that turns cremated ashes into fireworks and then detonates them at sea.

The founders of the company, which is based in a suburb of San Diego, originally wanted to call their service "Out With a Bang" but decided instead on the more insipid "Celebrate Life!"

Their goal is to create "final memories filled with joy and happiness . . . fire in the sky instead of an expensive box lowered into a hole in the ground."

Here's how it works: For $3,250, you and six loved ones board a chartered yacht at one of three convenient marinas and sail toward the sunset. Catering is available for an additional fee. When the boat is three miles offshore (California law bans the scattering of ashes any closer), the show begins.

The cremated remains are loaded into special mortar shells and blasted into the night sky while a stereo blares your choice of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," "End of the Road," "Imagine," "Stairway to Heaven" or several other tunes (brochure note: "Longer songs require an increased use of fireworks with resulting increase in price").

Or you can opt for a special "ethnic celebration." For example, "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" can be played against a backdrop of green fireworks, or "America the Beautiful" can accompany red, white and blue explosions.

Afterward, survivors are presented with a commemorative plaque featuring a color photo of the deceased in his or her final pyrotechnic glory.

So far, nine people have been transformed into human firecrackers. To be No. 10, call (888) 883-7060.

Bottled Napoleon Department: If you've ever wanted to sniff a dead French dictator--and who hasn't?--pick up a copy of National Geographic's October issue and turn to page 111. There you'll find scratch-and-sniff samples of Napoleon's cologne and a perfume worn by Cleopatra.

Using ancient formulas, chemists reconstructed the fragrances and encapsulated them on the pages of the magazine.

Also included are strange historical footnotes about the scents. For example, Napoleon kept a flask of cologne in his boot to mask the stench of war and went through a bottle or two a day. When he later was exiled to the island of St. Helena, his valet blended a copy of the scent from lemons, rosemary and other native ingredients--a recipe that was passed down and now is locked in a vault in Paris.

Cleopatra also was entranced by fragrances. "The Queen of the Nile received the Roman statesman Marc Antony on a barge with sails soaked in perfume," says National Geographic. "Incense burners surrounded her throne with an intoxicating cloud."

The exact ingredients of her perfume are uncertain but probably included balsam, myrrh, cinnamon, iris root, lotus and saffron.

Best Supermarket Tabloid Headline: "Hungry Bears Think Cars Are Just Giant Cookie Jars, Says Yosemite Expert . . . and Their Favorite Models Are Hondas, Dodge Caravans and Older Toyotas!" (Weekly World News)

* Roy Rivenburg can be reached by e-mail at

Unpaid Informants: Paul D. Blumstein, Associated Press

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