I enjoy many things: eating, sleeping, joshing with friends, talking on the phone, contemplating truths. But someday, like all of us, these activities will be taken from me, on the day I die. What will happen then?
My spirit may pass down a black corridor toward a brilliant white light. I may ascend to heaven and commune with dead loved ones, passed-on buddies, late baseball greats. My soul may be reincarnated in an ongoing cycle, reborn on Earth as a trapeze artist, degenerate madman, city council member or cuddly pup.
All well and good, of course, but let's say I don't subscribe to any religious beliefs. Let's say I am declared legally dead, but want to return to life at some point in the future as a newly enlightened version of myself, yet still the same old lovable me.
One thing I could do is have my head cut off and plopped into a vat of liquid nitrogen where it will sit in a storage unit in the back room of a large pink stucco building in Scottsdale until scientists figure out how to thaw it out and bring it back to life.
Then, using advanced DNA technology, I will grow a new body and begin guzzling champagne as I dance pirouettes into sunsets of the future. Alive, I tell you, ALIVE!!
Sure, I could avoid the whole body regrowing business and place my entire person in the deep freeze, but that would run me $120,000. At $50,000 for head only, that's clearly a much better deal. You supply the bread, and the forward-thinking minds at a company called the Alcor Life Extension Foundation will do the rest.
You've probably heard of Alcor.
The cryonics people.
Incorporated in 1972, the nonprofit company is dedicated to freezing folks for future revitalization. A relatively new notion, cryonics was born in a 1964 text by Robert C.W. Ettinger, a Michigan junior college physics instructor, humbly titled The Prospect of Immortality. There are only three or four companies in the world now offering this type of limbo-care (70 total frozen globally) and with 394 members on deck for a taste of the Alcor liquid nitro, this organization is the largest.
Alcor and its staff of six full-time and two part-time cryonicists moved from Riverside, California, in March of 1994 to Acoma Street--that's Acoma Street--in Scottsdale. And, back in the block of mundane offices, businesses and luncheonettes now reside 32 humans in cryonic suspension (that's 13 bodies and 19 heads; no, Walt Disney is not here), awaiting the magical day when they will presumably be overjoyed that they did not foolishly leave that $50,000 to the grandkids.
Whether you feel that cryonics is a profound, entirely plausible way to continue the beautiful pageant that is human life or a load of sci-fi horseshit, you've got to admit there's something pretty intriguing about a bunch of people who have paid good money to be frozen in metal tubes in Scottsdale.
So you would think an actual visit to the place would be some kind of Asimovian field trip filled with bubbling test tubes, eerie chambers and lab-coated science types scurrying through coded entry doors that open with those Star Trek sounds.
And even better than that, heads.
Well, it's not that kind of place, and I'll tell you right now, they don't show you that stuff. Sure, there are the obvious legal reasons, invasion of privacy and so forth, but you still somehow expect to be ushered into a secret chamber and see the on-hold dead there in overgrown test tubes, backlighted by pulsating strobes of green and red that emanate from the diabolical master control panel beneath the imposing portrait of the father of it all, this man Ettinger, glowering Ozlike into the future.
You want to be dazzled, you want to be astonished, you want to utter, What in the name of God . . . in a stage whisper.
Instead, you are met by Alcor president Stephen W. Bridge, a jolly, red-haired fellow whose Opie-esque appearance belies his 47 years. Bridge, who will join the frozen in the back room someday, has been involved with Alcor for 20 years, mostly as a volunteer. For 18 of those years, he was also a children's librarian in Indiana.
The office looks like just that. A couch. A coffee maker. A table with magazines and newspapers. Plenty of light. There is, however, a big white metal tube right by the front door, empty at present, but once the extremely cold home of the still-late-at-press-time Dr. James H. Bedford, the first person put into cryonic suspension. That was back in 1967; while others were enjoying the Summer of Love, Dr. Bedford was slipping into a Winter of Frigid Waiting, ending his "first life cycle."