Okay, I’m just going to say it.
Jay “Sweet Tea” Grelen, the columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, might have a problem. I’m not saying it’s a big problem, or even an uncommon problem. But still, it’s a problem.
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No, I’m not talking about the photo that accompanies his column. (Up until last month, Grelen’s musings were accompanied by a headshot of him kicked back in his chair and grinning just enough to say: “Y’all hurry up and take my picture, Pictureboy, and then get the hell out. I’ve got pithy, down-home stories to write, about biscuits and coon dogs and such.” In his new photo, which replaced the old one in early August, Grelen looks like he might be running a low-grade fever, possibly due to something bowel-related. Just out of the frame, I’m almost sure, is a slightly sticky bottle of Pepto-Bismol, a heating pad and a plastic bucket half full of partially digested chicken noodle soup.)
No, what I’m talking about, of course, is Grelen’s death fetish.
For those of you studying for the GRE: As Courtney Love is to smeared lipstick and heroin, Grelen is to death. Every time I open the paper, he seems to have his preacher’s robe on, and is walking another parishioner to the grave — usually after a lingering illness, senseless car crash, or 70-year marriage that ended when the dementia-addled love of somebody’s life threw herself under the lawn mower. Somewhere, a dog barks, and a bell tolls. There is, it seems, no disinterment Grelen won’t climb a tree to watch, no grieving widow he won’t hand hankies to as she recounts her husband’s death-by-sausage-grinder. When you’re sitting in traffic on the freeway, cussing the asshole up ahead who won’t stop gawking at the blood on the upholstery and get out of the way, that’s Grelen, steering with his elbow while he takes notes.
OK, OK … to be fair, maybe it’s all my imagination. A look back through the D-G archives shows that Grelen has written on a whole bunch of topics in the last couple months, from hubcaps on a fence to General MacArthur’s claim to the title of Arkie. Then again, three of the five columns he has published so far this month were at least marginally about the Big Adios. The first two: Nonagenarian stroke victim watermelon seller recounts his wife’s death from Alzheimer’s (Aug. 4). West Little Rock teen-age car crash ends with a year-and-half coma and death (Aug. 9).
I know, Jay. I know. August makes me want to die too. Residents of Arkansas might be the only people in the world who are actually rooting for global warming, hoping the climate will shift and we’ll get some of them glaciers we’ve heard so much about down here. Until then, take off your shirt, kick the dog from time to time, and take it like a man.
But to get back to the Sweet Tea Carnival of Death, it wasn’t until I read his Aug. 14 column that I realized ol’ Jay had hit rock bottom. And I quote: “In the fall, several months after she noticed the insects, the staff at the cemetery opened the crypt … Then she knew that the same flies that had crawled on her as she sat beside the crypt has been, to use her words, ‘eating my son.’ ”
Now I know why Grelen is looking so green about the gills. Three words: corpse-eating beetles.
“If she looks at the pictures [taken post-interment in a legal dispute], maybe she’ll know what to do,” Grelen wrote. “Maybe then she’ll decide to cremate him. But a glance at the pictures of her son dead in his coffin these five years may destroy her own chance of rest in this life.”
Check please! Cleanup on aisle nine! Jay Grelen sees a red door and he wants to paint it black. No colors anymore — he wants them to turn black. Know what I mean?
Folks, I’m thinking it might be time for an intervention. It’s either that, or you know where it’s all going to end: Grelen lurking around outside funeral homes and emergency rooms, hitting up strangers for smokes and stories about their maimed loved ones all day before finally skulking home in the dusk to write his column — back to some cheap motel room that smells like rubbing alcohol and ass; one of those places with a tiny bottle of malt liquor in the bathroom instead of shampoo. Then he’ll drink a quart of out-of-date buttermilk, watch a little “Six Feet Under,” and cry himself to sleep. You don’t want that. I don’t want that. Grelen doesn’t want that either, even if he doesn’t know it yet.
Won’t you help?
Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.