By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Dr. Bedford was a serious man of pleasant disposition who made many friends. 'Don't be afraid to wear overalls,' the practical-minded psychology professor would tell his students."
On the walls of the Alcor lobby, there are framed photographs of those in suspension, all apparently picturing them at moments when their lives were good. Black-and-white studio shots of stern men in World War II-era uniforms, color prints of smiling people, intense people, all types of regular-looking Caucasian men and women.
Bridge met most of them prior to their big freeze-downs, and he takes me on a tour, ticking them off.
"There's a writer . . . a computer programmer . . . I forget what she did . . . he was an insurance salesman . . . that's Dick Clair, he was a television writer [his 1978 Emmy for work on The Carol Burnett Show sits in the lobby, too] . . . that's Dr. Eugene Donovan, he was a psychiatrist in Detroit, he got lung cancer . . . she was a retired librarian from Los Angeles . . . Dora Kent, who was a dressmaker in New York . . . he was a TV repairman . . . he was a rock 'n' roll musician who had hemophilia and got AIDS in a blood transfusion."
While you can love and miss and cherish the memory of people who are dead, it is simply the memory that you attach these feelings to. Rarely do you find anyone who feels much kinship with a lifeless body. But in the Alcor mentality, might a future suspendee--such as Bridge--have a different bond with these folks who, to him, might be only sleeping?
"I consider them kind of in between [life and death]," he says. "It depends on how I'm thinking of them. If we're talking paperwork, they're dead. If I'm thinking of them as individuals, I think of them as possibly alive. It's as if they're in intensive care and they're in a coma."
There is a bond here, a belief in a religion that has nothing to do with any kind of god. Indeed, Bridge says he is an atheist, and that most of the Alcor clients, though born as "Jews, Catholics, Methodists and Seventh-Day Adventists," are "not religious."
There was something he said to me back at Bedford's tube:
"He was apparently a real interesting guy . . . who wanted to see the future."
The next future I see is only seconds old, and it takes place in Bridge's office. The Alcor president describes himself as "an explainer and a manager," and he is very good at the former. He should be; he has presented the Alcor spiel to everything from Wall Street Journal to Men's Health to German Playboy to Japanese TV. Freezing bodies is sexy stuff.
I ask him exactly what it is Alcor believes it is doing.
"We don't think we're freezing dead people," Bridge clarifies. "What we think we're doing is being part of a continual redefinition of what 'dead' means. What I think cryonics is is taking people who have been labeled dead according to the criteria we have today, and getting them to a point in the future where the medical criteria for death are different. Medical people in the future may have techniques to revive them from that state, and to fix whatever they were dying from.
"Years ago, they didn't have CPR or heart transplants or 911. Today, we routinely rescue people from several minutes into what we used to call dead. We don't think anything about that now because we have redefined when we label people dead. That's going to continue to occur, and we don't know what the limits on that are."
But, if not the million-dollar question, at least the $50,000 question is: Will it work?
"We don't know yet," Bridge readily admits. "We have 32 'don't-know-yets.' That's the whole point."
Life, death, it doesn't matter. You've got to play to win, and the Frozen 32 have little to lose.
"If it doesn't work, the worst that's going to happen is they'll be dead, but that's what they were going to be anyway; they can't be double dead," reasons Bridge. "And the best that can happen is that they'll be alive again in a really interesting future."
What if it does work?
What if you were to awaken at some unknown point in the future, opening your frosty eyes to a strange new place that is perhaps unfamiliar, even frightening?
Alcor presents a "speculative exploration" of just such a situation in its info-bible handout Cryonics--Reaching for Tomorrow:
"Duane" has succumbed from an "infection" and passes away in a 1997 hospital bed. His wife "Jeannie" is there, as is "Ken." And Ken works at Alcor.
Fast forward 70 years, when "ultrasophisticated microscopic repair devices routinely patrol human tissue" and "indefinite youth and good health are the birthright of everyone."
Which must include, along with the John Lennons, the Martin Luther Kings, the Abraham Lincolns and your mom and dad, the Adolf Hitlers, Saddam Husseins and Richard Allen Davises. But this is about Duane, Alcor member.
Ken awakens to "a gentle touch" on his arm, and that touch is supplied by Ken.
Ken of Alcor.
The Alcor Resuscitation Division, that is!
All Duane knows is that he went to bed because he was sick, just a few days ago. Duane slowly puts two and two together, and Ken tests his memory by asking what year it is.