by Tim Chorney
The bellow rumbles through the cavernous office shaking the florescent lights and enveloping the shabby space in a cloud of falling dust.
“Paul! What the fuck is the matter with you?”
“Holy crap!” shouts Paul. “It’s the big guy. Just be quiet and let me handle everything.”
The disembodied voice takes the form of a well-groomed, diminutive man sporting an elegant Italian suit and gray suede shoes. He stares silently at Paul like a boxer trying to intimidate his opponent during the pre-fight instructions. His silence does not last long.
“For fuck sakes! You have me appearing on a tortilla in Mexico City tonight at 7:50? I was on a waffle in Guatemala two days ago and a bun in Honduras the night before. Are you planning to burn my image into every piece of dough in Latin America? It’s also Grammy night. You know how fucking busy I am on Grammy night. There’s nothing more important than the Grammys. How long have you been doing this goddamned job?”
“I’m sorry,” stammers Paul. “We’re always told that you have to do this sort of tortilla stuff to reconnect with ordinary believers.”
“I’m aware of that. But not on Grammy night! Despite what everybody thinks, I can’t be everywhere at once. Fuck the tortilla! I have to get my ass to the Grammys. Kanye West and Carrie Underwood are both up for awards in the same category this year and we have to pick a winner. I’m going to intervene like always, but it’s a brutal choice. They’re both such hardcore believers. Paul, I’m leaning towards Kanye. I understand he’s a prick, but I’m not partial to Carrie Underwood and you know how much I hate country music — especially the new shit.”
“I find Kanye’s new one derivative,” responds Paul.
“It’s a banal piece of crap, but he is a true believer and I have to acknowledge that in some way.”
The dapper man’s gaze turns towards me. His bellicose mood dissolves and a wide smile stretches across his face.
“Hello sir. I’m Jason,” I say awkwardly. “I don’t have a clue what’s going on. It’s my first day.”
“I know,” says the man as he steps closer to me, his hand tidying his impeccably quaffed hair. “I know everything.”
He directs a corny wink my way before theatrically slinging an arm around me.
“Don’t worry. You’re going to do fine in this job. Remember, it’s all about setting priorities. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’m not as vengeful as a lot of people say. Paul can be a bit of a fuck-up, but he’ll guide you through.”
I do like Paul. With a bright red face and a wildly contrasting bob of white hair, his appearance is startling, but demeanor unpretentious and affable. His deadpan sense of humor has kept me happily off-balance all morning. One could certainly be burdened with a less pleasant boss on a new job.
“So, have you chosen?” asks Paul. “I’m not making this call.”
“Yes,” replies the man decisively. “It’s going to be Kanye. Paul, make it happen. I don’t want any mistakes this year. This is very important as you know.”
With that, the outrageous visitor is gone.
“Holy shit!” I blurt. “That was amazing. God is much shorter than I thought he would be.”
“You know he can hear you,” warns Paul.
“He doesn’t look at all like he does on those pieces of burned toast.”
“That Jesus image with the beard and long hair tests the highest with focus groups,” explains Paul. “So it’s the look we most often use. Maybe it’s because he resembles John Lennon. I don’t know. But it continually scores through the roof with all the believers we sample. That pleases the shit out of our team of marketing gurus. And believe me, God doesn’t make a move on anything image-related without consulting a bevy of advertising heavyweights.”
“I had no idea,” I say. “He’s a bit vain isn’t he?”
“Well, he is God.”
“Still, I thought he would be a bit more understated. And he hates country music? I wouldn’t have guessed that.”
“Yup,” nods Paul. “Garth Brooks, Toby Keith — he hates em all.”
“He sure swears a lot.”
“You try to run a universe without swearing.”
“He also stands too close to you when he talks.”
“Yes he does.”
Heaven is a strange place. Not only did I learn that God can’t actually be in two places at once, but he also has no concept of personal space. Who would have thought? Then again, I didn’t think that I would have to work after I was dead either — but such is death.
Incidentally, the revelation that God can’t be in two places at the exact same time has serious implications for me on my new job as a logistical coordinator. Matters of life and death, happiness and sadness, Grammy or no Grammy, are all determined by God getting to the right place at the right time. It’s my job, along with countless others, to make sure that he does.
“When bad things happen to good people there’s no malice involved,” explains Paul. “It just means we didn’t do our job. There is no such thing as evil — just bad logistics. By the way, there are no such things as miracles either — only hard-working stiffs like us doing our jobs right. Here’s your desk. Get to work, and don’t worry, I’m right here to help you.”
I squeeze behind my weather-beaten, faux wood desk ready for action. The workspace is okay, but a little cramped. I have less room than I had at Hewlett-Packard when I was alive. I somehow imagined heaven would be a little roomier. One of the wheels on my chair also squeaks. I wonder who I could talk to about that.
Within minutes of manning my computer, I’m making life and death decisions. Reading someone’s prayers and sending God to intercede is obviously more responsibility than I had as a technical support manager at HP, but I grasp the basics quickly. By noon, I’ve intervened in a boxing match, diverted an elevator accident, and helped Stevie Wonder write a new song.
Maybe God can’t be everywhere at once, but he comes pretty damn close.
“How’s it going?” asks Paul, leaning over to view my computer screen.
“I just saved four people in this bus crash,” I assert proudly, only reluctantly adding a caveat. “Unfortunately, three people did die.”
“Why didn’t you have God step in before the bus actually crashed?” asks Paul. “If you prevent the accident in the first place you won’t have to scramble around trying to save people after the fact.”
“Yeah, I guess I could have just stopped the bus. It’s so simple, but didn’t occur to me. Not to make excuses, but I had a kid down a well at almost the same time.”
“It makes us look ridiculous to have an omnipotent God who can’t stop a stupid bus from going off the road during a blizzard,” explains Paul. “You made God appear less useful than a good set of snow tires. Shit like this gives every loud-mouthed atheist around the ammunition to challenge God’s very existence. When we make mistakes like these I’m amazed we have any believers at all.”
“Am I in trouble?”
“Nah,” says Paul glibly. “Just kidding! I’ve been here since the fifth century and that’s a fuck-up we can’t seem to solve. It happens every minute. Don’t you read the papers? Why do you think there are plane crashes or subway accidents? Bad logistics. Some jerk behind a computer with his head up his ass falls asleep and all hell breaks loose. No offense.”
“Or sends God to appear in a tortilla on Grammy night.”
“It can happen to anyone is all I’m saying,” responds a slightly annoyed Paul.
“Do you see Marty over there?” he whispers. “The Titanic hit the iceberg while he was busy lighting up a cigarette. We’ve never let him live it down. If James Cameron only knew.”
“What do I do about the agnostics or non-believers?” I ask, apparently only now realizing that I’m intervening exclusively on behalf of believers.
“Nothing. They’re on their own. I hate to sound cold, but those are the rules. Their lives are governed by free will and random chance. We don’t get involved.”
“What if two believers are praying to win the exact same contest?” I ask. “Obviously they can’t both win.”
“Those are tough calls,” says Paul. “I once had eight Olympic sprinters in the blocks all praying to win the same goddamned race. Try to sort that one out!”
“What did you do?”
“I just picked the guy who was wearing the biggest gold cross on his neck. It seemed like the logical way to go. I never got any flak from the big guy so I assume I made the right choice. You have to use your common sense in those cases.”
“When prayers go unanswered, don’t people question their own faith?” I ask. “I’m surprised you didn’t have seven atheists on your hands by the end of the race.”
“You would damn well think that,” laughs Paul. “But it rarely, if ever happens. People are funny that way. No matter how many times their prayers get ignored, they always come back to God with their faith intact. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but I’m not a psychologist.”
Now I’m really getting curious.
“Why is God so interested in the petty ambitions of singers and athletes?”
“I don’t know. He just is.”
“Have you ever sent God to intervene in a sporting event and a plane crash happened at the exact same time?”
“What were your computers like a thousand years ago?”
“Very slow,” says an increasing frustrated Paul. “Could you please get back to your screen.”
“Sorry Paul, just one more question. Is there any way I can look in on my son back on earth? I promised him on my deathbed that I would be there watching when he graduated, got married, or maybe won an Olympic medal. He is an excellent competitive swimmer.”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” cautions Paul. “Don’t assume, like everyone seems to, that your kid will be doing something wonderful when you decide to look in on him. Whenever I checked on my son he was either picking his nose or masturbating.”
Maybe I’ll think it over. The Olympic medal was a long-shot anyway. It’s time to get back to work.
The afternoon comes and goes with remarkable speed. However, after presiding over an unbroken string of prayers involving car accidents, university exams and cancer tests, I’m getting tired. I only barely refrain from making a sweatshop joke — probably a bad move on your first day.
“Paul, do I have to do this job for the rest of eternity? It seems like it might be a long haul.”
“You complain now, but I think you’ll find that it goes by in a heartbeat. Then you’ll bitch that it’s all over much too soon.”
Either he’s putting me on again or Paul’s notion of eternity is different than mine. I try to focus on the less abstract short term.
“When do we get off tonight?”
“Crap!” screams Paul, his bloodshot eyes fixed upon his watch. “It’s 8:00 and I forgot to cancel God’s appearance in that damned tortilla in Mexico. This is horrible!”
“Yeah, but God knew about that himself,” I say reassuringly. “Didn’t he just go to the Grammys on his own?”
“There’s a glitch in our system. I still have to make the change here or he’s on his way to Mexico. I’m in such shit. It’s not fair. You kill three people in a bus crash — no big deal. I lose Kanye a Grammy, and I’m probably going to end up giving Augustine of Hippo sponge-baths for the rest of eternity.”
“Big deal. Didn’t you say that eternity would go by in a heartbeat?”
“What are you so worried about?” I ask. “God said that he wasn’t the vengeful type.”
“Yeah, tell the Sodomites,” mumbles an unconvinced Paul. “He’s a goddamned sociopath.”
“Can’t he hear you?”
“Paul!” screams a familiar voice.
God is now in front of Paul, with no more than the width of a tortilla separating them.
“You twat! You sent me to Mexico after I specifically ordered you otherwise? Kanye lost because of you. I’ve had it with your incompetence! You’ve fucked up the Grammys for the last time.”
A melodramatic click of God’s fingers and Paul drops to the floor convulsed in pain. I watch in disbelief as my new mentor and friend screams like a man being burned to death from the inside.
The divine one observes his handiwork intently as his victim continues to writhe. Paul begs for mercy, but his pleas only elicit a sadistic grin from the pint-sized deity. God is actually enjoying himself! Paul begins to plead for death, perhaps in his agony forgetting he’s already been dead for some 1500 years. I turn my head and press my hands to my ears, but the hideous concerto continues to echo through my brain. Can God be so unmerciful?
Finally the screams cease. Paul has vanished. Only the broken remnants of his Knights Templar Crusaders coffee cup remain to document the appalling event.
“Sociopath, eh,” says the self-satisfied master of the universe. “That should learn the bastard.”
“Did you send him to hell?” I squeak.
“Worse,” grunts God. “Shipping and receiving. Hell is too cushy these days. Look kid. I know I told you that I’m not the vengeful type. I lied. I’m a nasty son-of-a-bitch. Strictly Old Testament. Mean. Arbitrary. Self-centered. I might even be a fucking sociopath. Either way, I don’t forgive and I don’t forget. And don’t ever confuse me with George fucking Burns. I get results by kicking ass, not telling cute jokes.”
“It’s only a stupid Grammy,” I blurt, summoning all of the foolish courage I can. “Nobody respects the Grammys anyway.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. Listen shithead. The aspirations of God-fearing musicians are my top priority. More important than car accidents. More important than tidal waves. And certainly more important than some snot-nosed brat who’s fallen down a well in some shit-hole town in Texas. Get it! I put Saint Peter on the rack for all of eternity because he jammed Michael Jackson out of a Grammy in 1980. Imagine what I’d do to you. So here’s the best advice I can impart — don’t you ever screw up the Grammys. Eternity is a long time and I’m a vengeful motherfucker.”
“Template Obituary of the Pope”
by Janice Arenofsky
John _______, lovingly called “The Pope” by those who knew him, died at the Vatican in Italy from complications of _____________. Originally baptized _____________ , John _______ never married or had children, but according to the NEW YORK TIMES, he learned to speak several languages and write rap songs during his many global business trips. He also raised great sums of money, forgave the Jews for killing Christ and denied denying the Holocaust.
When he was just a sprout, John ______ got on his family’s nerves due to his habit of smiling and waving at strangers. But years of grassroots activism against __________ helped buoy his confidence and inflate his sense of worth. His relatives relaxed, sipped a little cabernet, and predicted huge career success for their favorite __________.
A workaholic, John _____ spent his days writing encyclicals, giving audiences to celebrities and other Special People and deciding whom to canonize. To do this he had to visit Lourdes and other out-of-the way places, buy some souvenirs and practice finding the Virgin Mary in cake frostings, fog banks and cumulus clouds. He spent ____ years in Rome, supervising more than 150 upper-level managers known collectively as clergy, but reviled individually as bishops, cardinals, priests. Some 5 million devout believers troubled over recent religious abuse allegations that clergy prayed too strongly over the dead and tickled young boys until they promised to drop all law suits swore they would face off against the Pope. But as you now know, His Holiness died before they could save enough money to bribe a Swiss Guard to admit them to his presence.
As president and CEO of a global network of Bible-thumpers of every known vocation, John _____ introduced many innovative liturgies, which he sent to his agent who then forwarded them to New York publishing houses where they appeared on amazon.com in hardcover and kindle.
Private, group and “up close and personal” audiences were an integral part of Pope John’s management philosophy. Regional supervisors attended monthly workshops called “retreats,” at which time seminars were given on ring kissing, reciting catechisms backward, wild and crazy exorcisms, and driving the Pope-mobile. John _____was so skilled at time management, he never seemed impatient. He would smile that cheery little smile, wave his hand like a flag and give a great impression of Tiny Tim with his “Hello and God Bless” greetings and salutations.
On rare vacations, he hiked or returned to the old neighborhood. There, he went to a spa, freshened up his joke collection (which his inner circle said dated from the Borgias) and watched a few movies on the church’s no-no (“banned”) list. His favorite ethnic joke? How many _____ electricians does it take to screw in a light bulb in the Sistine Chapel?
In ______ he toured the United States. In the city of ______, he was so happy to see the sun shine that he performed a few miracles. One was the extreme makeover of a girl with buck teeth, pimples and wedge cut. When John _______left, she was laughing and telling the world, “Someday, they’re going to make that guy a saint!”
Most of John ____’s employees never said a bad word about him. That was partly due to the fact that the nuns ran a tight ship, but also to occupational-related perks like tithes, naughty confessions and lifetime guarantees on all the holy water you can bathe in or tap for laates.
John ____’s eccentricities never allowed him to attend office parties or shmooze with the competition (he was always standoffish at ecumenical councils). Nevertheless he dressed well, if a bit too flashy for some people’s tastes, and knew how to accessorize. The staff and hat combo did wonders for him! A couple of times a year–around Christmastime and Easter–John _____ would cater a Texas-style barbecue in Rimini or Bologna for the employees’ families (aka the “unwashed masses”), and everyone would eat, drink and be merry until John _____ would go to his favorite balcony, grab the mike and orate in pontifical fashion. It might be on something topical like euthanasia, contraception or abortion. Or the subject might be esoteric like how many angels can stand on the head of a pin or how many times real fast can you say “incunabula.”
Sources say John _____ died peacefully surrounded by his Jesus collection of beanie babies, his loyal food tasters (they hate running all over the globe, but they can make a mean lasagna) and a few million hot-off-the-press labels boasting “I touched the pope today.” Memorial services were delayed so the Heads of State of Every Nation in the Western Hemisphere might prepare proper eulogies. Contributions can be made to John ______ ‘s favorite charity, Men in White, P.O. Box POPE, Vatican Square, Rome, Italy. Oh yes, his last words? “Ciao, baby.”