The Ol’ Pearly Gates Ain’t What They Used toBe

Stubborn Denial

Bill ignored the early symptoms of the major coronary event that did him in. After all, he was only in his early 50s[1].

Yet, the googleable telltale signs were there, both in his body and on WebMD: cold night sweats, stentorian snoring, tightness in his chest, and then, on the day of his departure, a horrifying feeling of impending doom, like a star collapsing, sucking life’s light into a black hole of sudden despair.

He had hoped for the best, had ignored a week’s worth of symptoms, but as he pressed the button to engage the garage door opener on a clear, crisp late April Monday, two of his heart’s arteries slammed their doors, the pain Psycho-shower-scene stabbing horror show.

Clutching his chest, he thought of his children.[2]

Neither his biological offspring nor stepchild would mourn his death because he had been an aloof inconsiderate cigar-puffing malcontent who thought of his sons and daughters, which was rarely, only as abstract extensions of himself.

Jesus Christ!

The two last words screamed silently in his skull as he fell against the BMW and onto the concrete.

Interlude: A Short, Contrarian Meditation on Birth and Death

After it is all said and done, if atheism is correct, death is cessation from pain, both mental and physical, whereas birth is the commencement of suffering, of fardel bearing, of grunting and sweating, etc.

Unlike Bill, many decedents pass quietly, transitioning gently from a room of loved ones into that good night.[3]

On the other hand, no successfully born baby has ever come into being quietly, whether he or she was born in a hovel or a mahogany paneled birthing room.

Nestled in the uterus, lulled by a maternal heartbeat ­– bump-bump, bump-bump – a fetus enjoys womb-service, as it were, but with its mother’s water, all hell breaks loose.  An excruciating passage through a way too tiny portal transpires. The fetus experiences pain for the first time as it is smushed through a fleshy wringer.  Finally, when the head emerges, it encounters blinding light, sudden cold, unpleasant odors.[4]

Like a turd, the baby plops out, suffers a slap, and wails in abject horror.

The horror, the horror!

Post Death

For Bill, there was no tunnel of light with loved ones reaching down but a sudden transition, as if God had suddenly shut the venetian blinds, then immediately opened them.

Just like that he found himself alone on a cloudy plain dressed in his Tommy Bahama resort casual get-up: loud parrot-printed party shirt, cargo shorts, tasseled loafers without socks, in other words, what he had been wearing when he pressed the garage door opener and met his doom.

He looked down, and, as in a cartoon, he found himself standing on a cloud. He took a step on the soft mushy surface of what appeared to be congealed water vapor, and spritzy mist plumed upwards around his loafer. He took another step and then another.

Looking up, he saw twenty or so meters ahead a woman wearing nothing but a hospital gown, walking in the same direction, her plump exposed buttocks jiggling with each soft step. Back in the beforelife, this sight would have excited him, altered his metabolism, but here and now, here and now, here and now, it didn’t matter, and now, now, very now he could see up ahead a white walled edifice glowing beneath the blank azure of the deepest of skies, and now he could discern others walking ahead and behind, dressed in various guises, many in hospital gowns. He continued moving forward, his footprints disappearing after each step.

The Pearly Gates

It was like the heaven of a New Yorker cartoon, complete with a Northern European St. Peter with a Santa-like beard and white robe. He was running his index finger up and down a prodigious tome propped open on a golden, downright gaudy, rococo easel.

Avoiding direct eye contact, nodding quickly, St. Pete waved him through, and Bill sighed a sigh of profound relief. Despite his sloth, those hungover sabbaths in the hammock, despite his serial adulteries, his envy, greed, anger, and pride, he had somehow made it into heaven, had escaped the fiery furnace of pain everlasting.


A Gospel Jamboree Meets O Henry Meets Jean-Paul Sartre (or Wasting Away in the Opposite of Margaritaville)

A native of Trenton New Jersey who had spent most of his adult life in central Florida, Bill had never acquired a taste for gospel music, especially hillbilly gospel, but now without transition he stood among a sea of hayseeds in white robes wearing crowns listening to a praise band plucking banjos and yodeling hallelujahs.

Good God, how long would he have to listen to this shit? [5]

[1]Although “coronary event” is effete, I thought I’d avoid triggering readers who may have lost a loved one via heartattack.

Oops, never mind.

[2]I.e., to the two sets of children from his first two failed marriages and the one stepchild from his third marriage.

[3] Or, to keep the motif going, “that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.”

[4] My apologies to homeopathic midwives and Third World babies.

[5] A business major, Bill rarely read literature assignments, but instead opted for CliffsNotes summaries. He remembered nothing about No Exit, so had no clue of the concept of an existential hell, that his hell could be the hillbilly’s heaven whereas a never-ending Jimmy Buffett concert would be hell for these teetotaling worshipers who surrounded him.

Jean-Paul Sarte

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