Sentimental Journey

Unreal cares enough to send the very best; plus, we get our five minutes of TV fame and continue the hard-hitting sandwich reportage

After the catharsis of having our dream interpreted by a Webster Groves metaphysician last week, Unreal figured our night-side visions would subside for a while. Wrong. Last Wednesday night, after apparently taking too much cough syrup, we dreamed we saw Riverfront Times staff writer Ben Westhoff on KSDK-TV (Channel 5) last Thursday at, like, 6 a.m., talking to Art Holliday about the impending final episode of Friends. We woke up in a big drool puddle on our white Hungarian goose-down pillow, muttering, over and over, "What does Ben Westhoff know about Friends?"

We seem to remember it going something like this:

Holliday: Even though Friends will be with us forever because of reruns, we say an official goodbye in tonight's final episode. And here to put some perspective on Friends is Ben Westhoff, an entertainment writer for the Riverfront Times. Talk about the appeal of Friends. Why has it lasted for ten years?

The practical corpse: Kevin Lee isn't very interested in a $20K coffin.
The practical corpse: Kevin Lee isn't very interested in a $20K coffin.

Westhoff: (disheveled, wearing a mint-green V-neck sweater with no shirt underneath) Well, basically, uh, Friends is kind of a fantasy. It's really got kind of dysfunctional, incestuous relationships between these characters. They all live in this fancy New York condo and work in coffee shops. People just said, "Wow, that's a great life. I'd like to live it."

Holliday: On the short list of the greatest sitcoms of all time -- I Love Lucy, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, The Andy Griffith Show, even The Cosby Show -- if you were choosing the best sitcom of all time, what would it be, and then, where does Friends rank? Is it in the sitcom hall of fame?

Westhoff: (gesticulating oddly) Well, I think the best sitcoms have really paved the way for new styles and new characters. You know, Seinfeld, All in the Family. Even shows like Felicity and Charles in Charge did new things. I don't think I'd put Friends in that list. I don't think it ranks up there, but maybe time will tell more than anything.

Holliday: Why do you think we get so attached to Mary Richards, Hawkeye Pierce, Sam Malone, the Seinfeld crew?

Westhoff: (high?) Well, I think for one thing, it's really hard for a sitcom to stay on the air year after year after year, and I think we really identify with the actors. You know, they want to stay relevant and keep their earning power, and we want them to succeed. And, when there are certain characters who we think are quirky enough that they should succeed, then we wish success upon them.

Holliday: Ben Westhoff, from the Riverfront Times, thanks very much for sharing your thoughts about the Friends finale tonight.

Westhoff: Okay. (awkward pause) Well, thank you.

Burn Me Up and Put Me in a Can

Death is a lot of fun at the new Ronald L. Jones funeral chapel at East Fair and West Florissant avenues in north St. Louis. At least it was at the mortuary's May 2 grand opening, which featured a live gospel concert, a free raffle for a TV set/DVD player, screenings of the locally filmed documentary Laid Out on a giant flat-screen television set and enough fried chicken to allow all comers to die happy. Black Bentleys, Jags and stretch Town Cars line the blooming residential streets outside, as event coordinator Kevin Lee leads Unreal on a tour of the marvelously restored marble-floored palace (the place used to be a funeral home but had sat vacant for fifteen years), from the plush lounges in the basement to the well-buffed Italian bronze statues on the main floor to the electric organ on the balcony upstairs.

The funeral home's flagship location -- on Delmar Boulevard just east of Skinker -- is nice, but at his new place Jones offers strictly one-stop shopping for all your corpse's needs. "You can have everything done here," says Lee, ticking off the amenities: urns, headstones -- there's even a florist! And the caskets! Starting at about $4,400 for your basic box, moving up to the bright purples and maxing out at $20K or so for genuine mahogany.

Just how fancy you want to get is "all about your pocket," Lee says. Then he waxes practical. "Personally," he confides, "just burn me up and put me in can."

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