John Boston | The Cremation of My Dear Pal, Phil McLanier…

John Boston

In previous lifetimes, I must have saved Harriet Tubman, the Buddha and an entire passel of nice grandmamas for I am blessed with good karma and the best pal in world history. There’s been Pancho & Cisco. Butch & Sundance. Laurel & Hardy. Me & Phil. We’ve been best buds for eons.  

Phillip Allan Lanier and I walk in the same cadence, sing the same songs (off-key) and if one tosses a baseball in the air, the other spins six times before catching it — behind their back. 

Phil’s lived in Chicago since it was a Potawatomi Indian village and we’re way overdue for new adventures. Both of us are approaching middle age. There’s still crops to burn, villages to raze, stewardesses to flirt with and nursing homes left to pillage. Heavens. I hope I got the order correct on the previous. 

It’s winter. You wouldn’t know it here in Santa Clarita, where with the pre-dawn wind chill it can dip to 64 degrees. But. In Chicago?  

I love calling Philsy-poo on one of SoCal’s unfair tropical winter days, where seagulls soar and gentle winds from Catalina meander miles inland.  

“Hey pal,” I say. 

“Buddy! How are you!?” Lanier asks with his patented enthusiasm. “What’s cooking?” 

“Well. Me.”  

I always call on that just-right sunshiny day, when it’s 82 here, clear as Tinker Bell’s blue eyes, and 15,028-below Freeze-Off-A-Bigfoot’s-BB-Sized-Unmentionables zero in Chicago.  

“Phillip. I think I need some help.” 

From my tone, Lanier can tell mischief is afoot. 

“Phil. I’m going out to dinner later tonight…” 

“…get the lobster if someone else is paying and knowing you someone else is paying and if somehow you’re paying, might I suggest the dinner salad, no dressing, no melted butter as someone we know is in that demographic of way overdue for an 8.7 stroke and heart attack…” 

I ignore Phil’s stand-up. “It’s nice now, but when the sun sets, local weather warns it might dip into the low 60s. Phil. I’m wearing a polo shirt. And, despite it being California, pants. But later? Should I bring a light sweater?” 

Pause. “Hey. Phil. How’s the weather in Chicago?” 

I know how the weather is back in Chicago. I checked. That’s why I’m calling. It’s 1,242 Below Zero.  

That’s colder than Nancy Pelosi’s naughty parts on the night of her wedding. 

To Satan. 

Phil and I haven’t seen each other in a decade. But, we talk twice weekly. Ol’ Lanier moved out of the SCV 50 years ago. “Braindead yuppie hellhole,” I believe is Phil’s fond descriptions of our riparian boyhood home. I mean, he’s right. It’s filled with concrete, unimagination and right angles to the horizon. Anything that breaks here can be replaced at Lowe’s. Plus, we’re years behind Chicago in corruption, drive-by murders and a mayor the spitting image of a marakeet interrupted during a proctology exam. 

But, you know something? 

I’ve never had to shovel snow. Never. I’ve survived a few SCV apologetic mini-blizzards that would send a T-shirted Nebraskan into a coughing and fatal giggle fit. Wasn’t born when our great blizzards of 1949 and 1950 struck when A YARD stayed on the ground in Newhall’s business district for a week and drifts piled up 10 feet higher in the upper canyons. Have to do a past-life regression to recall The Snowfall of 1931. A foot of snow closed Downtown Newhall’s main drag — for nearly two weeks. Somehow, I survived the Blizzard of 1962 when it snowed for a couple days. Without dog sled or mittens, made it through the epic Christmas Eve snow of 1970. Ditto with the White Out of 1974. Thousands of kids were given the gift unknown to native tongue —  A Snow Day. 

Our historic Grapevine closed due to snow once — in July. I’ve 10,000-plus snow stories involving Santa Clarita. I’ve tobogganed, made AND thrown snowballs, crafted epic totem snowmen, rode horses in damp powder and once had to wrap, of all things, chains around my truck tires in 1983 and trailer out horses pastured above Castaic. 

But. You know what? 

In all my life, I have NEVER picked up a snow shovel (or, “horse poopie shovels” as we cowboys call them in Santa Clarita). Not once. I’ve never. Shoveled. An ounce. Of snow. In my. Entire life. Not from atop driveway, sidewalk, pathway to swimming pool or off the small of the back of a swimsuit model, wickedly writhing or not. 

Phil? My co-conspirator in so many lunkhead schemes? BFF? 

Phil’s a shoveler. In Chicago, Phil’s shoveled as early as October, as late as June. Accompanied by the ghostly Clipper Winds eerily howling off the Great Lakes, Phil has shoveled snow. Millions and billions and ka-zillions of tons of snow. Lanier’s got a lower back stronger than a Kardashian in estrus. 

I think Phil and I might have that new adventure ahead. 

I’m reminded of the classic Robert Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” It’s about how Sam made his best pal vow to cremate him if Sam died during Alaska’s glaciated winter. Well. Sam died. Froze to death. The friend in the poem kept his promise. He dragged Sam’s frozen corpse to a shipwreck in Lake LaBarge and, there, turned the fallen boat into a blazing giant pyre for dear cold Sam. Starting to leave, “…for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so…” the friend took one final look at his prospecting pal. From the flames, Sam’s melting remains came alive, grinned with wicked satisfaction and offered thanks. The Cremated Sam McGee noted he hadn’t been warm once since leaving dear Tennessee.   

You know. Phil’s not getting any younger. He’s almost exactly 1.5 days older than me. They have a program in The Windy City where you can volunteer to shovel snow for the gunshot and the elderly. I think I’ll sign up to be Phil’s Senior Driveway Santa.  

Hope Lanier doesn’t mind.  

In blizzard conditions, it can take sometimes a couple months to drive from Newhall here to Chicago… 

John Boston is the most prolific satirist/humorist in Earth’s history. Visit his bookstore at

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