“The master of ceremonies asked people to say what they thought the function of the novel might be in modern society, and one critic said, ‘To provide touches of color in rooms with all-white walls.’ Another one said, ‘To describe blow-jobs artistically.'” -Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.
Few individuals share the experience of enlightenment exactly as Oscar’s. Drunk, in the back seat of a 20-something Honda Civic, being blown ever so graciously by God-knows-what-her-dad-named-her, Oscar peered into the left tilted rear-view mirror only to see Tiny Jesus smiling and waving from the driver’s seat headrest. Thinking this was some strange, unknown hallucinatory side-effect of drinking tequila with raspberry vodka, Oscar tried to refocus on the petite, curly haired red-head slobbering all over his phallus of fluctuating firmness.
Yet he found himself closing his eyes. He found himself thinking about doing history homework in-between laundry cycles, his childhood go-to for erection stifling. God-knows-what-her-dad-named-her looked up and asked if everything was okay: the mast was drooping. Oscar reassured her that everything was wonderful. Everything was dandy. Tiny Jesus definitely wasn’t playing a harmonica on the dashboard.
In just a moment Oscar will have his mind divided from his body. He will be gone long enough such that when he returns the only thing he will see are the curly maroon pubic regions of a faceless, nameless, inhabitant of the planet who he will love and understand deeper than the man who named her. She will be completely unaware that the mind, formally attached to the body, attached to the member in her mouth, has been shown the shadow of the nature of existence. As Oscar’s mind leaves for an indescribably present yet distant sense of time, the beast within this soulless man will occupy her with pulsating gyration of up, down and up, and she will sync up with him, her fishy lipstick going down, up and down.
Tiny Jesus moves from the dashboard towards Oscar in a four-dimensional trajectory. How best to describe this? At rest he is one, making a singular decision. In motion, he is many and all possibilities on a sliding scale of probability. Oscar can only perceive a kaleidoscopic view of a thousand Tiny Jesuses teleporting towards him, until one appears atop the ginger girl’s head going down, up and down, her hot, gin scented fumes of nose breath moistening Oscar’s thigh. Tiny Jesus’s little feet deform her hair,but she doesn’t seem to notice. Tiny Jesus takes out his harmonica again and blows a harsh sweep from low to high, and as the top note stabilizes, everything glows whiter, and whiter, and up, down and up again.
And this is what Heaven is like: Tiny Jesus is normal Jesus again, and you enter mid-stride with your eyes on Jesus’s open palm. He is offering you a handful of sunflower seeds. You walk along a river, on a soft dirt path, barefoot and surrounded by miles of plush, twig-less grass. As you know from Tiny Jesus in the car, there is no talking here; just a knowing gleam of eye contact. There is never any confusion, so there is no need to say anything. No decisions have to be made because everything will be just fine. If you don’t like sunflower seeds, you don’t have to take them, but Jesus being Jesus, he will always offer. When Jesus eats sunflower seeds, he doesn’t eat them one at a time. He doesn’t even bother to de-shell them. He throws them into his mouth a handful at a time and chews the wad like gum. From time to time, between wads, he wades into the water and takes a long drink. He doesn’t mind getting wet from the belly down. Sometimes there is a warm breeze and sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes it is a cooling wind and sometimes not. No one really notices because either is just fine. People are the same as they were on Earth, and everyone is here.
You walk on with Jesus, in the ever pleasant day. He spits wads of sunflower shells into the grass, and always offers you a handful. All the while, you pass by pairs of true lovers, silently engaged with an art or craft in the warmth of each other’s company. Once dead, everyone becomes a master of their art, and no one remembers why there were art critics to begin with, until they really think about it. They understand, smile, or laugh to themselves and forget all over again. A book is no better than a painting, nor worse, and a painting is no better or worse than any other painting. They are simply different. When pairs pass by other pairs, they look over each other’s work and smile with warmth and knowing. There is no need to praise, because the artist knows the work is a masterpiece, so the subject just enjoys the art for what it is, and everything is just fine.
You walk by Hell every now and again, and everyone in there is the same as they were on Earth. Looking from the outside in, Hell is a massive, light gray, concrete pyramid full of windows and balconies for people to smoke on, because you aren’t allowed to smoke indoors, even in Hell.
There was never any torture, or fire. They just prefer to be indoors, despite the ceilings being a little low, and the lighting poor. That was the only difference. Low lighting and low ceilings. People in Hell, which isn’t that bad of a place at all, would simply rather stay indoors on a perpetually sunny day, or a surprisingly warm evening. The inhabitants of Hell have the Internet, television, and bars. They will sometimes come out to an overhang, or a patio to smoke cigarettes, because even in Hell, you can’t smoke indoors. You work the same job you had on Earth in Hell, and everyone makes as much as they need to. The people of Hell pay taxes, although the tax money doesn’t really go anywhere. There is no governing body, because no one is worried about theft or murder, because everyone has all the material items they could want, but are silently uncomfortable with admitting that empty feeling associated with having too many luxuries.
Not too many people know how the monetary system in Hell works, but there are lots of television shows that talk about it, and everyone understands that it is meant to be confusing. There are lots of hand sanitizer stations and pay-phones that no one uses. They all have their own private space, and there is plenty of it, although the ceilings are a little low, and the lighting poor.
In Hell, they provide you with just enough room to be lonely in, and a cavalcade of luxuries that don’t really matter. You have the best hot tub so nice it gets just a little too hot, and the most powerful air conditioner so it’s almost always a little too cold, and most people spend their days getting in and out of really nice hot tubs and re-watching their same favorite television programs. You have an endless supply of TV channels, but you probably only watch programs on about four or five of them. You have a computer with Internet to watch the shows you watch on TV, or read the ideas of other people watching TV on a computer.
People in Hell still spend a lot of time on cell phones, because they aren’t comfortable with accepting the silent knowing that the folks in Heaven have. They know the same things that the Heaven folk know. They just still need someone to validate them. People in Hell aren’t unhappy at all. They just aren’t sure if they’re happy. They aren’t sure of a lot of things, like if they know the same things that the folks in Heaven know. They do. It’s just not enough.
There are still bar fights. There is still work drama. They still defecate in Hell because they still eat, and they eat well. But toilets still get clogged, and people still gripe as they either call a plumber or search for a plunger. They know they’ve died, and there is no real need to eat beyond pleasing the sensation of hunger. Besides, Jesus eats too. Jesus poops also. He likes to visit Hell sometimes with a smattering of Heaven folk who could be bothered, and they will go find a place to eat a slice of pizza, or a roll of sushi. No one is quite sure how it all started, but for whatever reason Jesus loves tuna salad mixed with macaroni and cheese, topped with capers, jalapeños and chunks of thickly sliced turkey bacon. No one is quite sure where he gets it either, but everyone is comfortable not knowing certain things.
Asking how often Jesus gets tuna salad mixed with mac and cheese with capers, peppers and bacon is a silly question for the dead because there is no time. There is day, which is always pleasant, and night, which is always surprisingly warm, but no one in Heaven pays any attention to the change for being too deep in the enjoyment of the moment, and everyone in Hell is in a perpetual state of coming out of a movie theater and being shocked by the state of the day, so they are no help at all. What can be said about Jesus’s visits to Hell is that when he walks around, everyone knows him, but they often call him by different names – again, it is mostly out of this strange need for Hellian validation despite knowing exactly who he is. They call him Buddha, Mohammad, Moses, Vishnu, Holiness, Steve and all sorts of names, and he responds to them all with a wide smile and a handful of sunflower seeds. People in Hell rarely eat sunflower seeds. They have no proper place to spit.
People in Heaven are allowed to stay in Hell, and people in Hell are allowed to go to Heaven, but you rarely stay in both places equally. Part of that unspoken understanding is knowing where you prefer to be, and everyone is just fine with it. No one tells people they don’t belong anywhere, they just give knowing smiles signifying an acknowledgment of a stranger or a neighbor, and there is very little difference between the two. Sometimes you see a pale pudgy Hell girl going for a run along the river, and everyone from Heaven chuckles because they forgot what being in a rush was like. Sometimes you see a person from Heaven walking dazed around a mall in Hell, sipping a Slurpee and staring at mannequins and pondering what possible good a fine Italian suit would do on a beautiful day like this. It would only get ruined in the river, so they never go inside.
The most overlap you see between inhabitants of Heaven and Hell is the library. Everyone likes the library. People from Heaven love fiction from Hell. They love the adventure, the noir, the mystery and excitement of murder stories, but they love it in the library, knowing that it will all go back on the shelf shortly. People from Hell love the poetry from Heaven. It helps them appreciate natural beauty in that slightly removed medium they are so used to. It is a nice break from watching nature shows on HD TV; they still don’t have leave the comforts of their home; they can still drink premium coffee that is just a bit too strong, and smoke cigarettes that are a smidgen too heavy, knowing peacefully enough, that it will all go back on a shelf.
You wonder the same thing everyone wonders when they take their walk with Jesus eating sunflower seeds. Did Jesus ever get blown? And knowing the “did-Jesus-ever-get-blown” look like his own reflection in the river, he smiles at you, and you realize that knowing either way would have been disappointing. For those of you who have died, everything becomes clear at this point, but for folks like Oscar, he chuckles – the only real verbalization in Heaven – and you continue on, leaving a trail of sunflower shell wads behind.
An excerpt from “The Book of Dave,” a thing by me.