Northeast Times

Dead all over

Frankford native pens memoir about his job removing corpses from homes and hospitals.

  • Truth be told: Andrew Meredith, 38, holds a copy of his memoir, The Removers. The book discusses his job picking up corpses for a neighborhood company that contracted with funeral homes. The story is all true, he said, although he changed the names of his employers. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • A discussion of death: Andrew Meredith reads a passage from his memoir, The Removers, at Head House Books on July 15. The book was published by Scribner and hit stores in mid-July.

  • Andrew Meredith’s memoir, The Removers, was published by Scribner and hit stores in mid-July.

How did An­drew Meredith ever start mak­ing a liv­ing haul­ing dead bod­ies?

Well, it’s quite a story, and one well-told in his mem­oir, The Re­movers.

Meredith, 38, lives in Los Angeles now, but he was a Frank­ford guy from Oak­land and Or­tho­dox who went to St. Joachim and North Cath­ol­ic. He screwed up in col­lege and was liv­ing at home with his par­ents. Meredith was hard up for cash when his fath­er got him a part-time job pick­ing up corpses for a neigh­bor­hood com­pany that con­trac­ted with fu­ner­al homes.

He be­came one of the re­movers, the guys that nobody re­mem­bers who take the dead from homes or hos­pit­als on the be­gin­nings of their fi­nal jour­neys. He stayed in the busi­ness for years as he struggled to fig­ure out him­self and everything else.

“People ask how I got in the fu­ner­al busi­ness, the un­der­ly­ing im­plic­a­tion seem­ing to be, Why would you pos­sibly choose it? The an­swer is that I had not yet de­veloped any choos­ing skills. I was a broke dummy just as startled as any­one else to find my­self pick­ing up bod­ies. That was it. And without any sort of vis­ion for my­self, I took the job that came my way from someone I knew. That’s how every­body I knew got their jobs. They knew some­body who got them in. I could have just as eas­ily be­come a guy who fixed ice cream freez­ers in corner stores …”

Meredith weaves his im­pres­sions of the work, his co-work­ers, his par­ents’ dead mar­riage, his rarely lively love life and his very gloomy as­sess­ment of Frank­ford in­to a story that is as real­ist­ic as it is po­et­ic.

His life with death began in his early 20s.

“I’m twenty-two. I’ve bounced from fail­ure at school to crappy job and back for two years. I spend my time out­side the house either drag­ging the loc­al dead around or get­ting drunk listen­ing to rock and roll be­fore chastely com­ing home to sleep ten feet down the hall from my par­ents. I’ve now handled far more dead wo­men than live ones.”

Meredith kept at the re­mov­ing busi­ness and even­tu­ally worked at a crem­at­ory, op­er­at­ing a ma­chine that turns bod­ies to ashes but is nev­er called an oven.

His part of Frank­ford changed around him.

“Frank­ford’s an angry drug­gie gun boy. Frank­ford’s bleed­ing out. Gazz goes to every neigh­bor­hood in the city to fix freez­ers in pizza shops and bo­degas, and one day he says, ‘To tell you the truth, Frank­ford’s the scar­i­est. I don’t know what it is, but I go there with fear.’”

Meredith tried LA. He worked temp jobs, but even the oc­ca­sion­al en­coun­ters with celebrit­ies didn’t keep him there. He came back to Philly and back to the fu­ner­al busi­ness. But only for a while.

He’s out now, a col­lege gradu­ate, and writ­ing. The Re­movers, his first book, was pub­lished by Scrib­n­er and hit stores in mid-Ju­ly.

“I got to the point where I felt it was a nice job and I sort of knew I didn’t want to go fur­ther,” Meredith said of the fu­ner­al busi­ness dur­ing a late Ju­ly phone in­ter­view. “I knew I wanted to go to grad school … and study writ­ing.”

He left Philly in 2008.

DEAD TO WRITE

Al­though Meredith’s work in the fu­ner­al busi­ness had a lo­gic of its own, that he be­came a writer seems al­most in­ev­it­able. Both par­ents were Eng­lish teach­ers. His fath­er also was a poet.

Meredith began writ­ing full-time in 2010 and fin­ished his book in fall 2013. Scrib­n­er had bought the book sev­er­al months be­fore it was com­pleted, “but the end was in sight.”

His agent, he said, had taken care of shop­ping the book to pub­lish­ers and had sold it in a few months. 

The Re­movers is a re­l­at­ively short book at about 170 pages, but it was a lar­ger work be­fore Meredith did some self-edit­ing.

“I prob­ably wrote 400 or 500 pages,” he said. “So I cut it be­fore I sold it.”

Book ed­it­ors are known for de­mand­ing cuts, but Meredith’s ed­it­or wanted him to beef up his mem­oir. He said the edit­ing pro­cess was smooth and he fol­lowed his ed­it­or’s in­struc­tions. “I went in­to work­ing on his changes with the sense it is all for the bet­ter,” he said.

The story is all true, he said, al­though he changed the names of his em­ploy­ers. “I might use nov­el­ist­ic storytelling tech­niques,” he said, “but it is a mem­oir.”

The Re­movers hit stores and on­line sales on Ju­ly 15, Meredith said. “I’ve been really lucky … It’s start­ing to get pos­it­ive re­sponse … and I’m get­ting good feed­back.”

Does the writer ever come home again? Yes, to vis­it his fam­ily. There are lots of aunts and uncles, and “my cous­in Jimmy is prin­cip­al at Ry­an.” ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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