Rational Inquiry -Volume 7 Number 2
An Eclectic Funeral
By Keith Taylor
Some hundred of us gathered in the chapel of a San Diego funeral home to say goodbye to Ernie Ernissee. Twas the damnedest funeral I ever saw, but it was just what one would expect for our friend. As they say nowadays, Ernie was never one to color between the lines.
He had been an electronics engineer, a Vietnam veteran, an outlaw biker, a drug addict, an alcoholic, an outspoken atheist, and one of San Diego's most active skeptics.
His funeral was deliberately informal and secular. Mostly though, it was deliberately informal and secular. His sisters asked that a donation be made to either an outfit Ernie had helped found, The San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry (SDARI), or to the James Randi Educational Fund in lieu of flowers.
Randi, the guru of skeptics, has spent many years encouraging people to think rationally by poking holes in paranormal claims and the claims of paranormal practitioners. Ernie had been Randi's ally on some of his more outlandish stunts.
Many people from SDARI showed up, including six of San Diego's top scientists. Bill and Alicia, two young people who had adopted Ernie as a surrogate uncle, had made most of the arrangements and ran the show. In addition several former co-workers, and at least a dozen of his biker friends attended.
The services led off with a song, "Sound of Silence." His sister wanted to play something by Zappa, but felt it might not be proper for a funeral. I felt it might have been the most proper thing for my old friend. He didn't hold much for propriety.
Alicia remarked, "It's good there are no crosses or other religious symbols on display. They'd have had to cover them just as Ashcroft covered the statue ‘Spirit of Justice.’"
Ernie wasn't there, not even his ashes. They were awaiting interment in a local veteran's cemetery on Point Loma. His friends had set up a display of memorabilia of his old uniforms, favorite books, biker stuff, and a montage of photos Ernie had kept. I was pleased that some pictures of me were among them. I was also honored when his sisters recognized me because "he'd talked about Keith so much."
A business friend spoke, and tried to keep it light but he choked up. Then he composed himself and said "If I am right and Ernie is wrong I'll find him somewhere in heaven, wag my finger at him and go ‘neener, neener, neener.’"
A guy called Hillbilly surely was making his first appearance in a pulpit. Hillbilly wore dungarees, a shirt stretched tight across his beer belly, tattoos, earrings and headband. His long hair looked as if he'd just finished a long ride across the desert without a helmet.
He gave one of the most poignant talks I ever heard. This big, crude bruiser talked and cried through it. He told us that bikers were a brotherhood who loved each other. He said, "Ernie and I shared good booze, good drugs, and bad women." He also said Ernie was so proud of his 'Nam service he even wore his army hat on protest marches.
Hillbilly ended his eulogy by coming to attention and snapping off a salute a Marine would have been proud of. Then he opened one of those miniature bottles of whiskey and said, "This one is for your old buddy," and he downed the booze.
I'm telling you there wasn't a dry eye in the place. The mourners broke with funeral protocol and applauded as Hillbilly made his way back to his seat. One had the feeling that drink wasn't Hillbilly's first of the day.
I followed Hillbilly and commenced with, "Only at a funeral for Ernie Ernissee would could we hear good booze, good drugs, and bad women lauded in a chapel." By this time, there was almost a party-like atmosphere. Ernie, the skeptic, would have been amazed at how his presence was felt in that chapel, but he'd have insisted it was emotional, not paranormal—unless he felt like jiving us.
One guy, a beaded, aging biker came forward. He stood for a long time in front of the pictures, then finally made his way to the lectern. Then, he stood there for several minutes. His "old lady," a biker chick Ernie had introduced him to years earlier and who is now a grandmother, came up and put her arms around him. When the old biker talked he didn't make much sense but he obviously had to be there for his friend.
All in all, about five of us in suits and ties and five bikers wearing what I guess were their colors spoke about our friend.
Eulogies tend to paint the deceased as a saint, but not here. Nobody pulled their punches. Still we all recognized that the world is a better place because he passed through it. That's why Dr. Barbara Hemmingsen, biology professor at San Diego State, announced, "The SDARI board of directors has voted to name first prize in the science fair program the ‘Ernie Ernissee’ award for critical thinking."
He was 53 and, last I saw him, looked 65. I am so grateful that a guy like Ernie Ernissee comes along every now and then. I hope that as even he died fighting the demons that took his life he realized how much we loved and appreciated him.
Keith Taylor was president and Ernie Ernissee vice-president of the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry for five years.