Hey, sinner: While you've been fornicating, aborting, shooting up, and popping organic grapes in your mouth at Whole Foods without paying, hell has been there, tolling its bells for you. Pope Benedict XVI was kind enough to bring us this community service bulletin last week. He reminded both the faithful and the fallen that the fires of torment are indeed still eternal, “even if nobody talks much about it anymore.” He went on to say that the work of Shields and Yarnell might also have slipped from our collective radar, but that their wacky mime craft is nonetheless just as vital as it ever was. In hell.
“I dunno about hell,” said my companion for the evening, who asked to be referred to as “Erasmus,” despite my objections that it might sound a bit, er, pretentious. We were at the Dubliner in West Portal, drinking Guinness. “Human beings are adaptable,” he continued.
This made sense. After the 875th time of being swiftly kicked in the balls whilst hot oil is poured into your anus and your eyeballs are peeled with a bowie knife, don't you think you would start to get used to it?
Erasmus broke into a sly grin. “You might even start to like it,” he chuckled.
We ordered two shots of Jamesons to further lubricate our philosophizing. The Dubliner has a loyal following of regulars, I suppose not unlike most bars, but this is a place where you can join in on a conversation with guys in retirement, which is always a plus.
Unlike most other “Irish” bars in the city, it doesn't hit you over the head with a blarney stone. In fact, there isn't much in the place that really smacks of Ireland at all. It's simply a long bar and some tables, with an upstairs pool table that looks out over everything. The jukebox has some real old stuff, like '50s standards, and the bartender noted that someone plays Brubeck's “Take Five” at least once a day.
A wonderful feeling came over me, sitting there listening to Brubeck and hearing all the older guys yap about this and that, insulting each other's manhood in the first warm night we've had since spring arrived.
Erasmus and I concluded that there really couldn't be a hell full of everlasting torment that really existed. The only way to really make hell suck forever would be if every day you woke up and had forgotten everything from the day before, so that you wouldn't develop a thick skin. I decided that my hell would involve waking up every day in love, with my amazing husband and sweet little child in the bed with me, and then I'd have to see them hit by a truck later that day. And every day I would wake up to this scenario, unbeknownst to me.
Erasmus said that his idea of hell would be life as it is with no sex or drugs, but again, you must wake up each day and forget that you are in hell so that you cannot get used to it.
Finally we both decided that being in a concentration camp was the closest thing to hell we could think of. Every day those people awoke to an uncertain fate, or the idea that someone they loved would be taken from them, all with the faint hope of escape or rescue to add to the angst. Oh yeah, and there was no sex or drugs. I suppose it is the same for people who are in Guantanamo Bay, especially if they are innocent. So, it's been said before, but hell exists, and it is on Earth.
And speaking of concentration camps, Pope Benedict is a German, born in Bavaria. He was in the Hitler Youth, which really isn't saying much because he was forced to by law. (He hated the Nazis, especially after they “euthanized” his cousin who had Down syndrome.) He is as conservative a Catholic as one can get, with a “holier than thou” attitude about birth control, homosexuality, and moral relativism. In short, if guys like him are the sorts of folks who get into heaven, we are all hella doomed. But do you really want to hang out with a guy like that in the afterlife, anyway?
“Heaven has gotta be packed with nerds,” said Erasmus. I pictured Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds, with the word “nerd” slowly escaping his lips, then getting louder and louder, fists clenched, into a crescendo of “Nerds! Nerds! Nerds!” and then body-slamming Mother Theresa.
Yes, if I were in heaven I'm afraid I would drift toward the Alpha Betas.
All this heaven-and-hell talk left us a bit drained. The barkeep gave us a basket of traditional Irish chips and salsa while the gaggle of guys at the end of the bar raised their voices with each drink. Erasmus and I began to feel the way that any talk of hell can make you feel, and that is “grateful.” When we tried to think of what heaven would be, we could only come up with stuff like sitting at the Dubliner and having a nice conversation with a cool person. Forty virgins thrown in might be nice, too. But the little things in life are indeed heavenly.
We were reminded of that Irish proverb, “If there's no beer in heaven, I don't want to go.”