Graham Linehan Column

Autopsies and pastrami sandwiches just don't mix ...
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Indy Lifestyle Online
For some reason, I've been seeing a lot of cop movies and cop TV shows recently (oh, wait, I know what it is! I've been watching a lot of ITV) and I have a question: is there some sort of law in America which states that whenever homicide detectives are interviewing the autopsy surgeon during the post-mortem, the surgeon must always be eating a sandwich?

It's never a dainty, three-cornered, cricket-green sandwich, either. It's always a big, messy, pastrami and bologna, formless, mayonnaised monster. You half expect it to bark and run away. Are autopsy surgeons so hungry all the time that they can't wait until they've at least washed the formaldehyde from their hands? Isn't it unhygienic or something? I mean, they're standing over a dead guy!

My favourite autopsy guys are the ones who offer one of the detectives a bite of the sandwich, and then, when the detective puts his hand over his mouth and his cheeks balloon, are quite honestly surprised! They shrug! "Hey, he doesn't want a pieca my sandwich. Well, that's his loss."

These ones don't even know the detectives might be unnerved by the combination of dead guy and sandwich. If they knew, they might be embarrassed, and desperately try to slam the sandwich in a drawer before the cops came in. But they're in a world of their own!

Others are more persistent. They keep offering the sandwich, even going so far as to hold it under the cop's nose. Some even describe the contents as they do so:

"... ham, pastrami, bologna, mayo, a little mustard, tomatoes, veal, meerkat, bits of this dead guy ..." Maybe there's something about the job, the effect of all those arcane chemicals misting the air, that gives autopsy surgeons the munchies, because the only other people I know with that kind of appetite are stoned pregnant women (and I know a lot of stoned pregnant women).

You certainly never see this in any of the other branches of law enforcement, people so eager to give their lunch away. You never see judges holding a pastrami-on-rye out to the defence and saying "Hey, go on. Have a bit of my sandwich. It's a good sandwich. What's wrong with my sandwich?" Good thing, too. The entire legal system would collapse under this kind of obsessive, neurotic generosity.

Some of them have more sinister motives than mere satisfaction of hunger, however. Some of them are doing it deliberately to gross the cops out. They know that the cops are squeamish about the whole sandwich/dead person "thing" and they are amused by the cops' reactions. These ones hear the cops coming and take the sandwich out of the drawer. But really, if the cops have seen as many cop shows as everyone else (and I think it's safe to assume that cops watch lots of shows about cops), they'd know what the surgeon was up to, and affect an air of lofty disregard.

Then, the surgeon might have to resort to still more extreme acts of attention-seeking. How long before we're greeted by surgeons propping the corpse up and using it as a ventriloquist's dummy? Or dressing the corpse as a doctor, taking off his own clothes, lying down in its place and when the cops come in and start saying "Hey, Doc, what's up? You look ...", jumping up from the table and shouting: AAAAAARRGGGHHHH!!!! I'M STILL ALIVE! I'M STILL ALIVE!"

In real life, doctors wouldn't be allowed to eat sandwiches when they're working. In fact, I would imagine that some sort of fine would be imposed. So why is the practice so widespread in films? It is so widespread because film-makers are thinking: "How do we get across lots of exposition in this scene, without it being boring? I know, we'll have the autopsy guy eating a sandwich! And the cops'll come in and be grossed out! Ha, ha, ha, ha!!!! Classic! And the great thing is ... I don't think ... no, I'm sure it hasn't been done before!" I can only assume that people who make films about cops, unlike cops themselves, don't watch a lot of films about cops.

May I suggest that the required insouciance of the surgeon be represented with a bit more elan in future? Surely there's other ways to get across that he's used to working with dead people? Perhaps he could be dribbling a basketball, or shooting up. One thing I can promise you: the next time I see this scene in a movie, I'm going to switch the TV off. For a few minutes.

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