finding ever after

Parchments. Pardon me. They’re very wound up about this. I’m not pulling Your leg here…

 

by john richen
(with apologies to Bob Newhart)

 

— Ummm Hello?

— Hello?

— Oh good morning Sir. San Jose insurance adjuster Charlie O’Dell here…

— No no, your policy is in fine order. Listen, I know You’re a very busy guy and all and I hope this call isn’t an inconvenience. But frankly Sir, I’m a little unclear on this afterlife arrangement You’ve got Your “followers” all worked up about. I mean, I follow the concept alright — eternal life or eternal punishment based on the type of life we choose to pursue whilst grounded on this marvelous though largely insignificant planet we call earth. But I gotta tell You straight up, a lot these “followers” of Yours have gotten awfully bossy, judgmental, and are messing up the mix down here with a lot of convoluted semantic bullshit. And quite frankly, they engage in a lot of rash behaviors that I just can’t believe You’d be down with…

— What’s that? Oh…the swearing.  Sorry,. Right. Working on that one.  Anyway, I was hoping perhaps You could clear up a couple things for me. We could start with something simple. Like the dress code for heaven situation. This may sound silly, but it’s been nagging at me for awhile. Fashion is a big deal down here, vain creatures that we are after all. So I was wondering if this upper level was like a formal affair? You know, with everyone dressed up in black and white. Ties, evening gowns, jewels.  Kind of like a country club social, except with sermons, harps, cherubim and the like. But then I got to thinking maybe afterlife attire is a simpler deal, casual.  Perhaps even primitive. A theology course on the green. Like maybe everyone in heaven wears, say, togas. Or loincloths. So I guess if that’s the case we’d all pretty much look the same because there’s not much one can do with a toga or loincloth after all. I mean I suppose Nike or Donna Karan could try to jump in the mix, but I can’t conceive of a Supreme Being that has anything complimentary to say about label awareness, advertising executives and marketing strategies…

— Get out of here! Naked You say? A nudist colony? Like Shot In The Dark? Whoa. Talk about a ‘casual’ dress code. Sensible though. I can see where that really simplifies things. It’s probably nice for You not to worry about residents getting mugged for their shoes, or insulted for their choice of poorly forged chain mail tunics. Ummm. Well. To be frank — I don’t mean to alarm You — but I really don’t think some of Your “followers” are clear on this arrangement…

— No, I’m quite certain of this. They seem to have all kinds of severe hang-ups in the nudity department these days. Naked is largely construed to be obscene. I mean, you don’t even have to show a package to get things cooking. Remember that flap a couple years ago during the Superbowl half-time show?…

— Yup, the ‘wardrobe malfunction’. That was folks claiming to be Your operatives driving the whole after-the-fact controversy…

— I know, I know. I didn’t really see it either, but if you slow it down on tape and freeze it at the right moment you can tell it popped…

— Well sure, I like the sisters too, but really, it wasn’t all that….

— Right. Okay. Got You. It’s no big deal. Maybe You should pass that sentiment along when You get the time…

— No sir, I certainly am not telling You what to do. It was just a thought…

— Understood. So if we’re going to be enjoying the afterlife au natural, I’m curious, ummm, You know, because I could afford to lose a couple stones…

— Okay, okay, more than a couple of stones. Geez. But what I’m driving at here is, like, is it reasonable to expect that we’ll all have chiseled bods in heaven? Or do I need to start pumping the iron now? I mean it seems like a waste of time and I’d really rather not if it’s all going to be sorted out in the end. Cool by You? And hey, while we’re on the subject of the perfect bod: is it Your Eminence who decides what that is? Because if so I’d like to get it out there that we move away from the anorexic, starved-waif look foisted as attractive these days. Let’s put a little meat on folks. Get back to the va-va-voom. Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Betty Page. Not sure when the emaciated look came to be thought of as heavenly, but it’s totally bogus…

— ‘Delicious Curves’, absolutely…

— Renoir who? Oh, the painter guy? Oh I dunno, maybe not that fleshy, but You get the idea anyway. I suppose if you’re gonna lean on an artist for inspiration that Michaelangelo fella seemed to represent the human form just about perfectly…

— Well actually, no, I’ve never thought of David as “hung like an gerbil”. It’s probably more a matter of scale. He is fourteen feet tall after all. Scale would suggest propriety here.  At any rate, I thought Mr. Angelo did a marvelous job with the Chapel…

— Not at all! You look splendid. I really think You might be overreacting a bit. Your eyebrows were fine. I certainly don’t see it as a unibrow. And I don’t think You look vengeful. Maybe a little stern. But stern works for You….

— Alright, well maybe Michaelangelo isn’t the one. I had no idea You two were at odds. Maybe Bellini? Goya? Rodin? There’s a bunch who could work out the aesthetics. Modigliani nailed it but has that neck thing happening which is an acquired taste.  And no retinas could be unsettling for some.  But to keep features in some semblance of order You better stay away from Picasso as the reference point though. Even if he is pretty much thought of as the bomb down here…

— Whoa, whoa, easy. Calm down. Whoa. I didn’t mean it that way. Holy cow, no. I understand Your hind being chapped about the unfortunate human-as-bomb trend these days. It’s just a figure of…

— Right. It’s a bad analogy agreed. I stand corrected. I’d be pissed about the reference if I was You too…

— Yes Sir, of course it is a nasty albatross to have hung around Your neck, these bogus operatives turning themselves into holy hand grenades and then pinning the resulting death, misery and carnage on You. You have my deepest apologies. I really don’t know why You put up with…

— ‘Big Nasty Imbeciles’. My thoughts exactly. And unfortunately, yes, a lot of people do seem to believe that You are requiring these sorts of destructive stunts as a sort of initiation ritual for entry into the clothing optional colony You’ve got going up there. So You can see where the confusion comes into play. You’d be pretty horrified at the sorts of bullsh — (sorry) — crap that dudes unleash under the guise of Your banner. Bombing for Jesus. Incinerating for Allah. Man, what a debacle. You would have thought humans had figured a few things out after the fiasco of the Crusades, but no way man. Not us. History just keeps on replicating itself and the perpetrators keep on laying the blame for such despicable behavior squarely at Your sandals…

— Get outta here! They have Doc Martens in heaven? But I thought You said…

— I see. Yes, I understand. It wouldn’t be proper for You to be seen garmentless. Funny, I would have had You tagged as a Birkenstock guy…

— Oh, You’re not kidding there. Ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen. Wouldn’t be caught dead in them myself. I’d be careful about calling them “gay” though…

— Well, because that’s not exactly PC appropriate in this day and age…

— “Politically Correct…”

— Yes. And really I wish You wouldn’t get me going on this whole gay business. That’s another area You may want to interject some levity, if, of course, You see fit. A startling number of Your operatives have been having a field day at the expense of a lot of decent folks around this matter of “gayness.” Apparently they didn’t learn a darn thing from their stint as lower tier beings whose sole function in society was being impaled, stoned, flayed, burned at the stake or served as menu items to hungry lions back in the day….

— Well I’m not sure exactly, but they seem awfully certain about Your perspective on the matter…

— Dude, chill. I understand that “love” is the law as You’ve defined it. As simple as that might seem to You, it’s gotten very complicated and messy down here as to what counts as proper “love. Apparently the trouble starts with the inappropriate utilization of specific bodily organs and orifices by unauthorized personnel. They claim it’s all carefully mapped out in the guidelines, yet their restrictions are far more detailed in actual application than I’ve ever been able to glean as dictated by the holy papers…

— Parchments. Pardon me. They’re very wound up about this. I’m not pulling Your leg here…

— Sir, are You familiar with the phrase “don’t kill the messenger?” I thought You were omniscient? This is news? I’m just explaining the situation. I didn’t say I was down with it…

— Well if that’s the way You feel …

— YES I KNOW IT’S JUST SEX! And no I don’t think it was a bad idea in the first place. It was a great idea. Brilliant actually. One of Your better concepts if You ask me. Shows You’ve got a sense of humor, which is more than I can say for most of Your operatives when it comes to this matter. So…

— Whatever man. You’ve got to believe me when I tell You it wasn’t my aim to upset You today. I hate to see You like this. I mean, if You want to toss a few thunderbolts around, maybe cut loose with a volcanic explosion or a quick plague or something and get back to me later I’d completely understand. I was just looking for a few clarifications as to the situation in the upper level. I don’t like to gossip, but if truth be told Your operatives have made the club seem a bit, shall we say, Ivy League. Snooty. Exclusive. And that just doesn’t sit right with me because I don’t buy it and I don’t think You do either. I was just kind of hoping to grab Your ear for a few and get things straight in my head. You know, just a chat between two buds with the goal of building communication and understanding. Maybe share a couple red vinos and have a laugh or two. Sorry if that sounds all gooey and new agey…

— New agey. You know, Tom’s from Maine, lavender smocks, Tofutti, Vangelis music and aromatherapy. Dreamcatchers. Magic crystals. Those people…

— Birkenstocks, exactly…

— What’s so funny?…

— NO! HE DID NOT! Where…

— Crowley wore Birkenstocks? Now You’re yanking my chain…

— Well I could see where they’d help with his gout problem, sure. But I know You’re fibbing because they didn’t make Birkies back then. But what brings up Crowley anyhow? Is he there? He couldn’t have made it through the screening process with his unique appetites and propensity…

— Yes I understand You’re not at liberty to discuss that. Classified information. Yes. Well Listen, I wasn’t expecting You to be so chatty this morning to be completely honest. I really did have a bunch of questions I hoped to get answers to, and frankly we’ve sort of beaten around the bush without getting to the meat of the matter…

— Well for instance I was wondering if You had the upper level broken into separate pods, you know, maybe a grassy one with a bubbling brook for the Buddhists, something more cosmopolitan for the Jews, a convention center for the Evangelicals. You get the idea. There are so many faiths to contend with here and most of them don’t see eye to eye on anything. Muslims, Sikhs, Catholics, Shiites, Hassidim. Lutherans. Russian Orthodox. Zulus…

— Melting pot, huh? That works out okay? Even with the more bloodthirsty faiths with histories of outright hostility?

— You don’t say. Even the Aztecs? What do You put in the water up there?…

— I’ll have to take Your word for it I guess. And as for the Scientologists? They have been making quite a scene down here, with their yellow tents and free personality tests…

— Excellent solution. It is perfectly sensible that they should have their own planet in another dimension. I’m sure they’ll make themselves right at home. So…gosh…I’m dying to know, do you arrive in the upper level old? Or young? Is everything free? Do the Irish Catholics or the English Protestants get the remote first? Are you hooked up with your first or second spouse? Or maybe you just start clean? It’s not one of those free love arrangements, right? Are there still fights in hockey? Can you eat meat? Is there snoring? How about grooming? Dentists? Please tell me there’s no dentists. Are there bad hair days in heaven? And the music situation, is it all harps, Gregorian chants, Enya and….

— No way. Side two of Let It Bleed? As in the Stones? On the turntable right now? Dude, I love that album, I think it’s probably their best…

Beggar’s Banquet? Better than Let it Bleed? I would have thought that one might have put You off, especially with that Sympathy for you-know-who song and all…

— “Structurally spectacular: an excellent as well as timely narrative portrait of the nature of evil, executed nearly flawlessly both rhythmically and lyrically. Though highly controversial it is largely considered their finest recorded moment.” Wow. Did You just make that up or did You read…

— Well no, of course I wouldn’t insinuate that You were anything but musically sophisticated, Sir. Obviously someone of Your stature doesn’t get caught up in such petty interpretative fusses when it comes to obvious greatness in art. And it’s very cool that You stuck with vinyl. There is a sonic quality that wax gives you that cannot be replicated digita….

— But of course You do…

— Yes, I’m certain You do have a marvelous house band assembled…

— What’s that? Someone’s ringing? Andy Partridge is on hold? He’s still calling? I thought he hung up on you a long time ago. Well good. Andy’s heart’s in the right place, but I imagine You two have a lot to work out. I’ll let You go then. Pity, because I have so much to ask. There’s still so much I don’t know. It’s all so confusing…

Take it easy! Don’t worry about it? Easy for You to say. You’re all-knowing and immortal. That’s a pretty comfortable vantage point in my book…

— Okay look, I admit it, I’m a detail guy. I like structure and order. I don’t like surprises. While I have to take Your word for it that the afterrealm is better than one could ever imagine, in the meantime You’re not the one who’s going to be waking up nights in a sickly cold sweat. Dreaming of being stuck for eternity sharing the bathroom sink in an upper-level dormitory with Pope Benedict VIII, Al Sharpton, Martin Luther, Liberace, and Tony Robbins. Those are some right hairy dudes. And playing Trivial Pursuit (Heaven Edition) with Vince Lombardi or Scruples with Joan of Arc and Vlad The Impaler for days on end. Watching quietly as Ogier The Dane paints D & D figurines while Freud and Mother Teresa dance the Jitterbug and sing show tunes. Dr. Phil and those little green-haired guys from the Lollipop Guild, assisting you in times of need. Always so damn helpful…

— Right, and no one wearing a stitch of clothing. You seem amused by this…

— Point well taken. You have been blessed with them all along. I shouldn’t grouse. If you can deal with it so can I…

— True enough, if we can’t get a chuckle out of Freud or Tony Robbins, then we’re taking all this far too seriously…

— Okay Sir, I can’t speak for anyone else but I promise that I’ll leave all judging of upper level applicants to You. And try to do the right things….

— Yes, of course, cut back on the sauce and eat my six servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Right…

— The pleasure has been mine. Thank You for Your time this morning…

— Yes, goodbye…

— What do You mean, “soon?” How soon? Sir, soon like how? When?

— Hello?

— Hey! HELLO!

— Dude?

 

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Nine
October 2005

(illustration: troy dockins)


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