THE PARENTS WE (STILL) DESERVE (2)
Heaven wasn't all it was cracked up to be. For one thing, it turned out the denizens kept their old bodies, with all the aches and pains. Plus, the celestopedic beds felt funny, too hard or soft or something, and when Myron mounted Myrna, all he got was a different view of the sky-blue vault up there above their heads. What she got, don't ask.
"The music sucks, too," he complained over an endless game of gin rummy. "What a fraud! Who ever heard of harps without violins?"
"Knock. Two points," declared a dead tailor in a bored tone, slobbering his dead cigar.
"One, sucker!" Myron crowed, slapping his cards down and screwing his face into the Cool-Hand Luke look. But it was déjà vaincu all over again.
Myrna was more stoic about afterlife's disappointments. "And why are you surprised?" she would ask. "Was life so wonderful? What did you expect? New management?"
She was stoic, but intermittently senile. More than once, her deceased Haitian minder had to coax, even tear, her away from trying to stare down the rows of canned tomatoes and other vegetables at the supermarket (slightly inferior to top-of-the-line suburban-mega), as if the cans had made a fresh remark. Then something would snap, her synapses would fire, and her feet would move forward.
"How beautiful!" she would think, turning her head for a last glance at the perfect array of bright labels which glowed beneath the store's supernatural lighting.
* * *
"Wonder how the kids are doing," Myron mused one evening, looking up over his half-glasses from the Eternal Times (tabloid, 100% recycled paper). Then he remembered to be angry. "Grrr, the kids! Darned whippersnappers killed us. It's their fault we're here."
"French fries are what killed you," Myrna corrected him in a flash of lucidity. "And me? I don't know what killed me."
Myron changed the subject. "What a boring rag!" He read the masthead aloud: "Nothing but the Good News. I'll say! The Celestial Non-Enquirer." His back already ached from the half-hour he had spent since dinner in his un-ergonomic cloud lounger.
"Dinner!" It was manna, of course, extra-terrestrial baby food and a laxative to boot. And how was this "dinner" served? Don't ask! Like all meals, it was hung in paper bags from the lower limbs of fake trees so the denizens could pretend to pick their own. Cute! Almost biblical! Deceased teens had been known to do paint-gun drive-bys on these meal bags, blasting away from the banana seats of their three-wheeled mini-chariots. Fortunately, there weren't too many of these dead teens around to torment their elders, the huge majority having gone south right after they went west.
"Kids, schmids, they never call," Myrna whined. "We might as well be alive."
That's what she thought. Down at the penthouse, things were not only not much better, but much, much worse. After months in the summer doldrums, when West Texas Crude cracked triple digits the markets spasmed into cardiac arrest. Acquisitions were anemic; mergers, moribund; profits, puny. This year's Xmas bonus was shaping up to be a handshake.
"They're going to repossess the Hummer, babe," Paul announced, playing with his iPod in the living room after dinner. Paula, who had taken to reading dental magazines (purloined) to distract herself from their plummeting income and rocketing debt, was trying to tongue a piece of gristle from between teeth fourteen and fifteen in the upper left quadrant as she flipped through the pages of gleaming enamel and porcelain.
"Thash goo," she said, "furring gash for uh gahdenn thengs heeing aw rrr furring ashits."
Paul had no idea that what she had tried to say was, "That's good, fucking gas for the goddamn thing is eating all our fucking assets." He did not ask for a translation. Who cared? The manners of his insignificant other were turn-off city -- although, in this case, a vestigial sense of fair play made him aware that the gristle problem could have been laid at his own doorstep, if he had had one. A sense of false economy had driven him to fling a frozen slab of Choice (London broil), rather than the erstwhile Prime (filet), into the shopping cart. Ever since their outside maid, the shopper, had been terminated (ditto the rest, including M & M's replacements -- sub-par), he cruised the aisles himself in a fisherman's cap and shades, hoping to avoid being spotted by the maids of those neighbors whose assets still nestled snugly in conservative instruments.
"I miss M&M," said Paula, having dislodged the gristle and spat it into a used Kleenex tm, which she flipped into the now unused (no wood) fireplace. "I hope they're happy," she sighed, "wherever they are. But we'll never know." How wrong she was!
"That was by far the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" snapped Paul, setting off a train of events that culminated in his wife's braining him with a sturdy Ming reproduction, then swallowing an economy-sized bottle of Duane Reade sleeping pills. Which is how they did come to know.
* * *
Human justice (is there any other kind?) had wafted up to the afterlife. Instead of the famous saint with his huge book or, in latter years, small laptop, it was trial by jury now, twelve dead peers dishing it (justice) out to the recently deceased.
"Look, it's them!" Myrna exclaimed. To take a break from the numbing routine, she and Myron had volunteered for celestial jury duty.
"Whoa!" said Myron, ever the quick study. "Let's vote for acquittal. If we can get them sent up -- up here -- we'll show them from bad music! Two hundred years in Harpville, they'll be moaning for Mantovani, bawling for Bachrach, wailing for Welk."
"Always the tiresome alliteration, Señor Smarty," snapped his sarcastic spouse, whose switch was in the 'on' position. "Yes, there they are. But we'd better inform the Judge that we know them. We're not supposed to ..."
"Recuse me?" he interrupted. (He had to remember to tell Paula that one) "Not on your afterlife, Mrs. M.! This is going to be fun."
And he made eyebrow contact with Paul, who was just floating into the courtroom. Ms. P., right behind, did a jaw drop at the sight of M&M, whose perennial tans, eternal now, had reverted to baby smooth skin under the influence of the celestial mists.
"Oyez, oyez," cried the bailiff. "Judge Smith presiding."
"Oh no, oh no," whispered Paula. "It's really them! What are they doing here?"
"Shh, quiet, babe," Paul whispered back. "Maybe they can save us from the eternal microwave."
"Well, I guess," doubtfully. "I mean, we were good to them," hopefully. "At first, at least. Maybe, they can, will ... help," lamely.
But they did help.
"Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty ..." Two hundred times Foreman Myron pronounced this verdict, flashing a brazen grin after each pronouncement.
"What kind of jack shit is this?" Judge Smith was heard by those closest to the bench to mutter into his snowy white beard after the first twenty or so N.G.'s. Ten minutes later the bailiff repeated the oyezes, nudged the Judge awake, and everyone watched him toddle off. Paul had to restrain himself from rushing over to give Myron a big bear hug. The foursome settled for judicious winks (men), discreet smiles and nods (women), and restrained patter (all). Then, the bailiff approached, brandishing a glossy prospectus for the one-bedrooms routinely assigned to newcomer couples. Myron's wheels turned.
"Just take it," he whispered. "Don't worry, you'll move in with us. Wait till you see the place, it's bigger than your penthouse. Not to mention, heh, heh, on a higher floor. No, no!" He held up a courtly hand, as Paul seemed about to protest. "We owe you."
Was that equivocal? Paula thought so.
"Never mind, wait and see," said her other.
They were resting after their trial(s) in M&M's guest room (airy, and yes, spacious), reclining on a sort of huge vegetarian polar bear rug. M&M had gone out to "pick something down for dinner."
"Obviously a cryptic joke," Paul figured.
"Undoubtedly a bad one," Paula opined.
They looked at each other in wild surmise.
"Hey, babe," he said, "it's fun again!"
Two western rolls across the rug, and his hands were scrabbling around like rodents inside her flimsy tunic.
The next day Myron popped over to the housing cloud, where he resorted to a white lie so that P&P could stay put and begin to be tortured.
"He's my son," he began but, spotting the angelic stink-eye, amended that to "my foster son. And she's his missus. They're joined in awful bedlock. Get it?"
"No puns!" the angel snapped. "We're all God's children," added the sententious factotum. Myron swallowed the obvious question: then who needs housing regulations? But the two couples were permitted to, so to speak, cohabit.
(Note: Puns were outlawed in Heaven in 1977 when someone throttled the newly-ascended Groucho Marx, who turned very red, but did not, of course, die.)
* * *
Although revenge is a dish best eaten cold, this was ridiculous.
"The way things are going," Myron complained weeks later, scooping a bit of lunch mush from his bag and flicking it toward the cat (yes, in life a bird-killer -- don't ask), "I'm going to regret this forever. Darned kids will never move out!"
"Everything is forever here," Myrna commented, once again displaying her special gift for stating the obvious.
What, you ask, was the problem? The problem was that P&P loved Heaven; the place was giving them a new lease on (after)life. And to be honest, despite Myron's complaint about how slowly the wheels of revenge turned, he and Myrna were also starting to enjoy having the kids around.
What happened? Simple. Heaven had stirred everyone's juices. Money-making (stealing) schemes abounded, small at first, then medium, then ... Of course, since everyone here was dead, some people might think the greed that erupted like a cosmic zit was all the more disappointing, all the more disgusting. Not really. Was it even surprising? If there can be sex after death, why not greed?
The clincher was, symmetrically, music. Amazingly, the faux father and son bonded over a sweetheart of a scheme cooked up by the latter: pirated CD's of earthly hits, beamed via satellite by Paul's man down in the city, whom he called "my guy." (Wasn't that a hit?) Soon Heaven rocked. Profits? Off the charts.
"Baby, shake that thing!" exulted Myron, and Myrna did -- or tried to. They were in the living room doing Myron's version of The Birdland, which to the P's looked like a not-too-bad Funky Chicken. Since most of the residents of the condo were deaf and/or playing their own deafening music (pirated), who was left to complain? The music made everyone feel young, in most cases, again.
"Look at those kids of ours, Myron!" Myrna proudly wheezed. "Wow, can they dance!"
"They sure can. Yo, son," he called above the ear-splitting music, "which one is this, The Pink Who? Grateful Floyd?"
The bags, of course, were history, and the P's and M's were once again feasting on Prime (black market Black Angus). No gristle. Not to beat a dead cow, but it was heavenly.
What about the clouds? There were so many real ones here that, when that hand- (or middle finger-)sized one floated by, no one even noticed. What went wrong? Paul and Myron overreached.
Judge Smith chuckled. This time it was "Guilty," nine counts, both father and son. The offense had been a little private enterprise called "Deli-Dally", a food and sex emporium. The hubris had consisted of posting a picture on a samizdat website showing the scoundrels, arm in arm, each with giant knockwursts in both hands, and a pair of breasts (knockers) belonging to the "heavenly hooters" wrapped around his head like ear muffs. Caption: "Hear no evil, feel no pain."
By now Paula and Myrna had also bonded. Was Paula becoming a better person in Heaven? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Is the bear Catholic? (No) But at least neither she nor Myrna had been hypocritical in their enjoyment of the filthy lucre generated by Deli-Dally. They had even agreed that the website picture was "cute."
P: Boys with toys.
M: Boys will be boys.
"Guess where you two felons are headed?" Judge Smith asked rhetorically.
"Hell?" ventured Myron, genuinely curious.
"No, no, not yet. Purgatory. What you boys did was venial, not mortal. But watch out! A while ago we adopted a 'three strikes after death' rule. So don't get complacent."
"How," Paula wondered but did not say, "can you commit a mortal sin when you're dead?"
"Pur ..?" Myrna, unfamiliar with the term, thought it might have something to do with prune juice. Her strong sense of justice made her leap slowly to her feet and cry out, "But what about us? We didn't do anything." Paula pulled her back down.
"Accessories," said the Judge. Paula (handbags, handkerchiefs) controlled herself. "But you can go or stay. Do you think I give a rat's a ... hem." He coughed into his magnificent chest warmer (beard).
Myron had been trying to hide his contempt, lest he be fined for it. Suddenly his light bulb went on.
"Holy shitakes!" he exclaimed. "The cough drop guy! But which one?"
"Andrew," said the Judge, still proud to be recognized, although by now it had happened thousands of times.
(Note: In Poughkeepsie, NY, c.1847, William "Trade" and Andrew "Mark" Smith had turned a candy business into the cough drop empire.)
"But aren't you the one who drank?" Paul asked. "Then why ... and where's your brother?"
"Billy? Cloud 437. If you had any chance of sticking around, I'd warn you to keep away from him. He's a pinochle sharpie, he'd ream your cadaver. And get real," the Judge hectored. "Do you think you've been drinking virgin nectar up here? 'Heaven'? Duh. Get it?"
"Then why are you hosing us, Judge Hypocrite?" Paul persisted.
With a trademark cough, Smith gaveled him. "Don't get me started, son. You'll have a long time, a very long time, to figure out these subtle ethical distinctions. I'm a judge, not a casuist." He nodded at Myron. "But I bet the old boy here could explain it to you right now."
Myron winked at the Judge, who limited his response to an admonitory scowl.
* * *
So they were Purgatory-bound, after all. But how bad could it be?
"Think of the business opportunities." Paul.
"Think of the cheats -- the other cheats -- we can cheat." Myron.
"Think of Part Three." Author.
"We're coming, too. I'm sick of all the Holier Than Thou's up here." Myrna. "What's it called again?"
Paula. "Purgatory, dear. Wow! I bet the place is punster heaven. Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, W.S. Gilbert, here I come!"
Myron, of course, thought he would have the last word. "Hey, Paulie, maybe you and the little woman will run into your real parents down there."
Paul frowned. "Now that's a scary thought."