LIFE AFTER DEATH ISN'T all it's cracked up to be. You'd think after a life like mine that the Old Man would give me a break, or at the very least some time off for the stretch I did in prison back in life. But no, God doesn't let anything slide. He sticks to the rules. He's here either rewarding the hell outta you or he's makin' ya see the error of your ways. But what're ya gonna do? God's stubborn, and who among the Living or Dead is gonna get Him to change?
For guys like me there aren't any cute little baby angels with cute little baby wings hovering around our heads dropping rose petals in our hair and smiling like they just found the long-lost daddy they never had in life. Fact of the matter is we Dead have no wings, and no one wastes time strumming harps or gazing down upon the living from their lofty perches in the clouds. And if you wanna know the truth, the afterlife isn't divided into heaven and hell at all. You heard me right, there're no devils antagonizing the shit out of evildoers with pitchforks while the sorry pukes languish in lakes of fire and brimstone. Hell was thought up by some big-church-big-wig in a long pointy hat who believed this idea would keep you living folks under control with the threat of eternal damnation. And for the most part, he was right--the sorry prick.
Now if I'm guessing right, you're probably wondering what goes on over here in the afterlife, what we do for fun and whether we still need to use toilets, cut our hair and all that lovely shit that keeps you Living on the edges of your seats. And foremost among the questions you're sure to ask about the afterlife is this one: What does God look like? Admit it. You may be sitting there all smug in your tidy little belief system thinking God must look like some wizened old coot with a white beard with a sling-full of lightning bolts strapped across His muscular back, but chances are you'd be wrong as hell and probably wouldn't recognize Him if you met Him. And that's because the Old Man assumes so many different shapes, sizes and even species. This is no shit, Sherlock. Whenever he shows up here, God looks just like Mahatma Gandhi, to me. But this new guy here, Kenny Lay, swears on a stack of Federal subpoenas that God looks and sounds just like Shirley Temple, chirpy little giggle, little golden curls and all. It's unnerving as shit to some of the people in the afterlife, this weird masquerade of looking different to everyone. But one thing everyone agrees on is what God doesn't look or act like. And that is the image that seems to have been circulating for centuries, in just about every religion on Earth. You know what I'm talkin' about, the image of some jealous bad-ass with red eyes and veins bulging out on His forehead as He's incinerating a nation of non-believers or inflicting some insidious case of jock itch on a bunch of Philistines. That bullshit scenario is the image we humans came up with as way of explaining why all the terrible shit that happens to us humans, happens. Gotta blame it on somebody, so you might as well blame it on God, and then hope to shit this bad stuff happens to your enemies and not you.
So, the fact is that God doesn't look like anybody, and then again, He looks like everybody and every living thing. So the next time you're about to skewer some earthworm on your fishhook or line a moose up in the crosshairs of your rifle, remember, that just might be God. Living humans don't understand this, but believe me, it's true.
Now let me move on to what's sure to be the next question burning a hole in your skull: What the hell goes on in the afterlife? But I'm not sure you're gonna like my answer, because after I give it, you're not going to be assured an eternity of bliss. So here it is, without any sugar-coating or bullshit.
What we Dead do is pretty much what you do in life--we laugh, cry, regret, love, and we even throw a pretty good poker game on Friday nights. Here no one gets sick, every one breaks even at poker, and almost everyone has a really nice time. But like I said before, for guys like me it's not all golf courses, finger-sandwiches and grilled lobster. The truth of the matter is that for every ten thousand souls whooping it up doing all the fun things they never got to do in life like ride a rocket ship to the moon, there's a poor bastard like me doing hard time in what we call the Restitution Zone. It's not hell, but it sure as hell ain't a week at Disneyland. Here in the RZ we spend our days righting the wrongs we did to others in life. Take me for instance. In life I devoted myself to amassing loads of money and became filthy rich as a board member for the largest energy trading company in the United States. But I couldn't leave well enough alone. I got greedy. I manipulated the price of electricity so little old grannies in California would pretty much sign over their Social Security checks to a few multi-millionaires. And then I'd take it a step further by swindling our stockholders out of billions of dollars of their retirement nest eggs by artificially exaggerating the value of our securities.
I suppose you could say I was one piece of shit of a human being in life. Back then I would rationalize these crimes. I'd tell myself I was merely playing by the rules of American economics--you know, dog-eat-dog and how the strongest survive, and how the weak must work for the strong and eat the crumbs left over after us fat guys had our fill. And why wouldn't I? It was considered acceptable behaviour in my time. It was the American Way, and I was loved for doing and being It.
It was wrong.
The money I feathered my nest with in my first world became a yoke of shame here in the afterlife. You see, my way of getting filthy rich had a few rules that Masters of the Universe like me considered quaint and laughable. And everyone knows filthy billionaires, like yours truly, tended to ignore quaint, laughable rules when on the fast track to success. Ethics, scruples? Those were the shackles of limitation for those satisfied with the status quo. Fuck 'em. Me, I was a mover and I never apologized for leaving a few wasted lives by the wayside. Collateral damage was to be expected if real money was to be made.
But one day my empire crumbled. I was caught and convicted of fraud and just about every law against insider trading. Then I was sentenced to eighteen years in federal prison by some do-gooder liberal judge as some homicidal, weightlifting felon's personal love-slave. I managed to hang on to my sanity for a grand total of three weeks in the Big House playing Ozzie and Harriet with that demented, hairy beast of a cellmate. Then one day I called it quits by hanging myself with a rope I had weaved from mop strings. What the hell, I thought back then. What could be worse than that life? And who'll miss me when I'm gone? My old company's investors and this three hundred pound grizzly bear that dresses me up like Madonna every night?
Killing myself was the stupidest thing I ever did in my life. You see, I found out after I died that I could have made things easier on myself here in the afterlife if I had only made some changes as a human being, right there in prison. Sure, it would've been hard restoring the lives I destroyed and making financial restitution to those I cheated, but it would have been a lot easier than what I'm doing now, which is acting as a hand-servant to all these folks who were downtrodden and poor in life.
Yep, that's my new gig, man--making restitution to the poor and downtrodden. And you wouldn't believe how many of those kinds of people are among the dead. You gotta remember, there are folks here from way back, all the way back to when our species climbed down from the trees in Africa. Imagine this scene: poor, filthy, smelly wretches from the dawn of man who smell like putrefied pig guts being waited on hand and foot by a man who once brought in seven figures a year. Night and day I'm fetching things for those missing links, as well as feeding famine victims and trying to teach those damned Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon hairballs the difference between a salad fork and a steak knife. What can I say? God's got one weird-assed sense of humour and fairness.
But I really have no room to complain. Lots of other folks in the RZ have it worse than me. Take those poor bastards in the U.S. President's Section. Some of those guys have a really bad time of it. Some of the things these guys got away with in the White House make what I did look like a jaywalking charge. And it just so happens this story I'm about to tell you is about one of those presidents. He, like me, could've avoided doing hard time in the afterlife if he had just listened to the advice he received--but more on him and that advice later. What I'll do now is try explaining to you living, breathing folks about some of the perks of being amongst the dearly departed. Like I said, it's not all bad, and the last thing any dead guy like me should do is to go scaring the hell out you. God knows you guys fear death enough without some creep like me filling your head with misconceptions.
The best part of being dead is all the people you get to meet. Some of them were once famous. Now you'd think these famous folks might still have a big ego and wouldn't be caught dead talking to some poor bastard like me who instructs cavemen on the benefits of daily oral hygiene. But you'd be wrong as hell. Some of the nicest dead people I've met over here were once considered celebrities. Take that weird, old dude, Albert Einstein, for instance. He was a genius, a guy who thought he had everything figured out and was the darling of those eggheads of the scientific community. But he was humble enough to sit down and explain to me how this whole ball of time, space and life are intertwined and how we will live our lives again. I know that sounds crazy as hell, but it's true. You see, Einstein got this information straight from God Almighty, who happens to appear to Einstein in the form of a blue bumblebee, and that bee is damned good at explaining cosmic concepts. And while God does have a sense of humour and enjoys pulling one over on us now and then, we Dead know when He's serious and when He's goofing on us. So believe me, this stuff is truth.
Like I was saying, Einstein told me he had it all wrong in life. He says there's this thing called a time-loop and that it can't be explained in the language of mathematics or physics--which is good, because I don't know jack-shit about either of those things. Einstein says the universe you live in is expanding, and this expansion is speeding up. When the universe finally expands enough it will cause space to tear itself apart at the point where the Big Bang happened. It's sort of like what happens when a really fat guy bends over and tears the hell out his trousers from the strain put on the seam running up his ass-crack. Then, at the speed of light, this gash in the fabric of space will gobble up time, matter, and space itself and then redeposit it in another place and time, through an identical Big Bang. It's as if the fat guy disappears up his own you-know-what and comes out the other side, starting this whole drama of life all over again. There will, however, be one difference, and that is what you Living call your level of consciousness.
In other words, we all get a little smarter on the next go-around. With every new time-loop you become more like God--benevolent, loving, and not so quick to blow a guy away on the freeway for not using his turn signal. But once in a while, due to the unpredictability of free will, some people deviate from this plan. When this happens, God is forced to step in and intervene. And these methods of intervention fall into three categories: catastrophe, miracle and spiritual enlightenment.
Lately God has begun to shy away from using the miracle method of intervention. That's because miracles sometimes give rise to even bigger problems, such as bizarre religions that stifle spiritual enlightenment with dogma and out-and-out lies like the heaven and hell bullshit I was explaining about, and then we're back to square one. And if you don't want to take my word for it, just look what happened to Jesus when God bestowed miracle powers on him. The Living went ape-shit. They demanded so many miracles that the poor guy felt like an on-demand magician at a carnival. Jesus eventually tired of that act. He quit doing stuff that fascinated humans, like raising the dead, casting demons into swine, turning water into wine, Samarians into Samaritans, Coke into Pepsi and what not.
Big mistake on Jesus' part.
After Jesus was executed the Living didn't think they could get by without miracles, so they started seeing them when they weren't even there. They saw weeping statues, visions of the apocalypse, levitating nuns, levitating-weeping-nuns with visions of the apocalypse. Well, you know what I mean. This sort of mumbo-jumbo was a very big part of Christian religion after Jesus left the scene. And in case you were wondering, Jesus is here in the afterlife too. And I can't begin to tell you what a kick he gets out of you living folks declaring a miracle every time you see his face in a grilled cheese sandwich.
And as for catastrophe option God uses now and then? Well, the least said about that the better. But believe me, you poor slobs in the birth-death cycle don't have a lot of time to waste mopping up lava flows and huddling around pitiful campfires in some cave waiting out the next Ice Age. It's not like God enjoys smashing the Earth with comets or wiping you guys out with bubonic plague. Believe or not, He really likes you. But sometimes you piss Him off by screwing with His plan. You need to see it from His point of view. When He punishes you it's like a father giving his kid a dose of what-for for giving the family cat a ride in the clothes dryer, or a doctor who uses surgery when all other conventional treatment fails, or like a farmer who must plough under damaged crops and then hope for better luck the following year. God doesn't enjoy kicking ass and that's why His favourite method of setting you living folks back on the right path is spiritual enlightenment. No one gets hurt and the spiritually enlightened tend to act in a more sane manner and not waste a lot of time and energy killing each other off and crowding up the afterlife with a load of folks unhappy about the way they were blown off the face of the Earth for nothing more than having the misfortune of living over some very lucrative oil fields.
An excellent example of one man's free will mucking up God's plan occurred during the early part of the twenty-first century. Remember the guy I told you about, the one in the U.S. President's section of the Restitution Zone? Well he's the one who forced God's hand and made it necessary for Him and us Dead to step in and take control of a very sticky situation by enlightening this guy. If we hadn't, human history would've been thrown into such an irreversible backspin that a millennium of progress would have been undone and God would have had no choice but to exercise the catastrophe option. This man jacked the world six ways to Sunday with his stupid wars. You need to understand, war was to have been eliminated by your twenty-first century. But this man, United States President Michael Burrows, just didn't see the light. And believe me, trying to get this dumb-ass to see the light wasn't easy. This guy was thick.
I know most of you Living have heard at least some of this story, but I am going to give to you in its entirety. These are events you won't find in any history books and these aren't the words of one person, many tell it. One of us, Charles Dickens, was a brilliant writer who worked to eliminate suffering amongst the downtrodden--sorta my opposite in life--and this whole idea of saving the Living from certain destruction was pretty much his. What can I say? Dickens? Even in death, the guy's a hopeless optimist. And if this story doesn't sound like I told it, it's because that damned old coot, Dickens, made me clean up my speech. Those damned English, especially the Victorian types, they're so goddamned proper, and consider us Americans--even me, a man of fuckin' class--such coarse story tellers. Anyway, Dickens asked me to use my "church and country club voice," and to keep the vulgarities to a minimum. I tried telling him I'm from a different era where whalebone corsets had given way to T-backed bikinis, but he wouldn't listen. So yeah, I guess I can speak that way, even though I am out of practice. Hey, you should have heard the eloquent speech I gave at the 2004 Inaugural Ball hosted by the Energy Industry Supporters for the president. But I won't tell you about that night. After all, I wouldn't want to give away any of the story.