“You’re asking me how it’s going?” I said incredulously. “How can you ask me that? I’m paralyzed and I’m dying, for god’s sake!”
“Well you don’t have to be sarcastic!” came the response. “And besides, you’re not dead…..yet. By the way, my name is Waldo. Nice to meet you.”
Waldo flew over my head singing ‘Getting to know you…..getting to know all about you…..’ I learned later that he often did things like that; he had been a song and dance man in his mortal life.
Waldo came closer and put his ear next to my chest.
“I hear a heartbeat!” Waldo broke out into a chorus of ‘I’ve Got Rhythm!’
“Waldo. Please, who are you? What are you? What is happening to me?”
I was on my back, virtually paralyzed after my fall. I had been lying there for at least ten minutes, staring up at that famous beckoning white light but unable to move to get there.
“Boy, it wasn’t too bright to climb that roof and try to fix that satellite dish all alone,” Waldo said. “You must have rocks in your head!”
“It was a championship game,” I said. “And please don’t make fun of me.”
“What fun?” Waldo asked. “You landed in the rock garden. You have rocks…..embedded in your head! At least three in your occipital lobe! I was being quite literal.” Waldo broke into the song ‘Ain’t that a Kick in the Head,’ twirling above me as he did.
Waldo was obviously not of the earthly plane. He was a cherubic creature that looked like a bumblebee with a humanoid face and Mickey Mouse hands and feet. His small wings buzzed like a hummingbird’s. And for whatever reason, he was wearing one of those beanies with a propeller on his head. He was about two feet tall.
“Why don’t you call me Buzz,” Waldo said. “That’s my nickname.”
“You’re Buzz the bumblebee?” I asked. “You’ve got to be kidding me! And why do you look like a bumblebee anyway?”
“Funny you should ask!” Buzz said. “We used to look more like chubby versions of Eros. We always complained about how overworked we were, how we deserved more recognition because we were His busiest little bees. He got pissed one day and said, ‘You want more recognition my busiest little bees? You’ve got it!’ So now we all look like this.”
“Why the propeller beanie?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you when I know you better,” Buzz replied.
“Boy. It sounds like He is a vengeful god!” I said. I was starting to get scared.
“Naw,” Buzz said. “He just has an off-beat sense of humor and acts out once in a while. Especially when his back hurts. But anyway, what’s important now is you.”
Buzz hovered over my chest and looked down at me.
“Please, Buzz!” I begged. “What’s going on?”
Buzz landed on my chest and began his explanation. He straddled me and sat down. Then he leaned over a bit so I could easily see his face.
“I’m here to help you. I am a top-level spiritual plane tech support guy!” Buzz said.
“Tech support guy?” I asked.
“Yep,” Buzz said. “See, there was a screw-up. When you get here, you’re supposed to proceed quickly! Die or leave. In or out! Up or down if you get my drift. You shouldn’t just be lying around here killing time. Oooops…..sorry, no offense.”
“None taken,” I said. “But did you say up or down? You mean heaven or hell? Could I really go down? Like to hell?” Now I was getting really scared.
Buzz stared at me for a while, apparently sizing me up. Then he put his face very close to mine, and stared into my eyes.
“Can I shoot from the stripes?” he asked.
“Please do.” I replied. Buzz sat up straighter.
“Here’s the deal,” Buzz said. “You are what we call in the business a borderline schmuck.”
“A borderline schmuck?” I repeated. “That doesn’t sound good. It sounds like my way might be the down way!”
“Not necessarily,” Buzz responded. “Because you are also what we call an innocuous nothing.”
“I’m a nothing?” I asked.
“Here’s the thing,” Buzz said. “You’ve done some bad stuff in your life. That’s the schmuck part. You’ve done some good stuff because you try to be decent at times. But then you always slip back to being a schmuck. You oscillate between kinda good and kinda bad.”
“Let me guess,” I interjected. “The two cancel each other out! That’s what makes me a nothing!”
“You’ve got it, Larry!” Buzz replied. “You really don’t have much of an impact upon anyone or anything. I mean, think about it! You spend most days stuffing your face and watching TV in your messy house and playing with yourself! You’re an innocuous, irrelevant, self-indulgent but basically harmless sloppy little piggy nothing.”
“So at best I’m an innocuous piggy nothing and at worst I’m a schmuck?” I asked.
“Beautifully and succinctly said!” Buzz replied. “You should be a writer!”
“So where do we go from here?” I asked.
“Look,” Buzz said, “I know you were a computer geek. Can I get a little technical?”
“Sure,” I said. Buzz broke out into a quick chorus of ‘Teach Me Tonight.’
“O.K.,” Buzz said. “Here’s the deal. Feel free to ask questions at any time.”
“I’m ready!” I said.
“We have this placement formula that we use,” Buzz continued. “Lots of delta functions, line integrals, partial derivative matrices, multi-dimensional vectors, non-linear transformations, all kinds of good stuff like that. We enter all of your life variables into it. If a positive number comes out, up to heaven you go! If it’s negative, down you go to you-know-where!”
“Do you ever get zero?” I asked
“You are a little smarty!” Buzz said. “You, my little schmucky-poo, are one of those incredibly rare cases where we actually crank the numbers and get a zero. And we calculate to twelve trillion decimal places!”
“Twelve trillion?” I gasped “What software do you use to do that?”
“Our enterprise version of Microsoft Excel. Version three-trillion forty-five billion seven-hundred-sixty-one-million and thirteen.” Buzz replied. “Service pack two. Service pack one really sucked, by the way. Lots of bugs. We may have fried a few folks because of it.”
Some things were indeed constant in the universe.
“You say I’m a zero? My ex-wife would agree,” I said. “She always called me a big fat zero. I guess she was right.” All feeling in my arms and legs was now gone.
“Well aren’t we just full of self-pity my little dying paralyzed guy facing eternal damnation!” Buzz observed. “Give it a rest!” Buzz broke out into a chorus of the song, ‘Don’t Worry, be Happy.’
“Well what happens now?” I asked. “Please, I don’t want to go down. I don’t want to go to hell! I don’t want to be a schmuck! Please let me just be an innocuous pig?”
“Do you know how pathetic that sounds?” Buzz said. “Calm down! Firstly, you don’t even know for sure if you’re going to hell. Secondly, hell isn’t what you think it is anyway.”
“It’s not?” I interjected. I was starting to feel more hopeful. “It’s not all fire and brimstone and heat and eternal pain?”
“Well, not completely,” Buzz said. “It depends upon the person. Hell has levels, tailored to the individual and with punishment directly proportional to the magnitude of his sins. With someone like you, hell might mean flipping burgers behind a grill at a tented outdoor food stand forever on a hot summer day.”
“That would suck,” I said.
“On a hot summer day with high humidity and no air conditioning or fan.”
“That would certainly be unpleasant,” I said.
“And the tent is poorly ventilated, with almost no air circulation,” Buzz continued.
“That would be awful,” I said.
“And you always have to go pee but there are too many customers. And you burn your finger every once in a while.”
“Yccccch!” I exclaimed.
“And your co-worker is constantly farting,” Buzz concluded.
“Oh god!” I said. “Please no! Please send me to heaven!”
The levels concept did intrigue me.
“May I ask? Does heaven have levels too?”
“Smart fellow!” Buzz said. “Yes, it does. In your case, heaven would probably be something like lying in an air-conditioned room with a beer and pizza watching TV forever.”
“That would be so much nicer!” I said.
“Well, not if you got stuck watching Oprah re-runs,” Buzz said. “But anyway, this is all irrelevant. Right now we have to classify you and get an up or down determination! I have to get a little more information about you.”
“How do you get more information about me?” I asked.
“Well, Larry,” Buzz said, “I’m allowed to take into account whatever I find here, right now, good or bad, and use it to adjust the placement formula. We have to see if we can tip it to either the positive or negative side. Positive means up you go! Negative means get that little burger flipping wrist in shape!”
“I don’t think I can move anything anymore,” I said.
“No problem,” Buzz said. “You just lay there, chill out, and relax. I’ll do all the work.”
Buzz broke out into a chorus of ‘Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It’s off to work we go!’
“Hmmmm. I see a set of car keys in your side pocket. Is that a wallet in your back pocket?” he asked.
“I guess so,” I said.
“Don’t get scared,” Buzz replied. “Just bear with me.” Somehow his hand reached into my body, went thru my abdomen, grabbed my wallet and plucked it back out through my stomach!
“Is that intestinal fortitude or what?” Buzz quipped.
He really was annoying me.
“O.K., what do we have here?” Buzz said. “Looks like nothing relevant. Drivers license, insurance card, library card…..a picture of Miley Cyrus? What the hell is that doing there? Ooooops….sorry. Isn’t that a little inappropriate for someone your age?”
“It’s for my daughter,” I said. “She’s a big fan!”
“Whatever,” Buzz said. “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. O.K., here’s one of those wet towelette wipee things……” He pulled something else out of the side compartment of my wallet.
“Wait, what’s this in the compartment with the wipee towel?” Buzz was holding a condom that I always carried. “A condom? A condom, Larry?”
“Please, please don’t send me to hell because I have a condom in my wallet. Please!”
“Relax,” Buzz replied. “There’s nothing wrong with a condom, or sex for that matter. Both are actually neutral as far as placement is concerned.”
“Thank heavens!” I sighed, “if I can use that expression. My ex would have agreed with you. She always said that sex was neutral…..with me.”
“There’s that self-pity again!” Buzz noted. “You just wallow in it. You know, you really are a downer! Get it? Sometimes I slay me!”
“Uh-oh!” Buzz suddenly said. “Larry, this is bad! This is not good at all. This is really bad!”
My heart plummeted.
Buzz held up the condom. “Look at the date, Larry. This is not any condom! This is an expired condom, Larry. Expired! That shows irresponsibility, lack of compassion, sloppiness on your part. Chalk up one for the dark side!” Buzz did a Darth Vader imitation.
I began to cry. I was going to hell because I wanted to practice safe sex! It wasn’t fair.
“Quit whining!” Buzz said. “Stop making everything into a matter of life and death! You can really be irritating!”
I would have strangled him if I were able to move.
“What’s that around your neck?” Buzz asked.
“You mean the locket?”
“Yes,” Buzz replied. “May I?”
“It’s an old family heirloom,” I explained as he removed it.
Buzz removed the locket from my neck, opened it up, and saw the picture inside. “Who is it?” he asked.
“My daughter,” I said. “Since the divorce, I don’t get to spend much time with her. It’s nice having her close to me.”
“Terrific!” Buzz said. “That heirloom may have just saved your little whining, self-pitying schmucky ass, Larry! It’s evidence of love, caring, tenderness. Hang on!”
Buzz pulled what looked like an I-pad cell phone combo from the future out of a pocket and started touching the screen. The thing was as thin as a razorblade.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Coding the new information into the placement app,” he said.
“You can run your super-powerful version of Excel on a phone app?” I asked.
“As long as I’m not flying!” he answered. “That was outlawed last millennium. Boy, was there a pissing match over that one!”
It took only a few seconds for Buzz to make his announcement.
“Well,” Buzz said, “I have good news and bad news!”
I was crying. And praying.
“Tell me the good news first?” I asked.
“The good news, Larry,” Buzz said, “is that I re-ran the formula and we have a non-zero number! Wanna guess what the bad news is?”
I was now crying uncontrollably. There was only one thing the bad news could be.
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to guess.”
“I guess not!” Buzz said. “How’s that for a clever play on words? ‘I guess not!’ Am I not sharp as a tack? Can I kill ‘em or what?”
Being a captive audience can be very difficult.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I understand how you feel. As you clearly deduced with your little geeky mind, the bad news is that the number is negative!”
I was hoping that when I was burger flipping the humidity wouldn’t be too high and I wouldn’t have to pee too badly and that my co-worker would take Beano or something.
“But,” Buzz said, “there’s more!”
“What. That I also get a slippery spatula?” I asked.
“Ya know, you have spunk! I like your style! ” Buzz said. “Give me a high five!”
“I can’t. I’m paralyzed,” I said. Buzz picked up my left hand with his right hand, held it up, and slapped it with his left hand. Then he left my hand drop, onto my face!
“Sorry, Larry,” Buzz replied. “My bad. Well, anyway, there’s more! The number we get is negative, but the only nonzero digit is way out in the 4 trillionth decimal place. That’s not negative enough for us to act upon. You are still in the indeterminate category. So you are not going to hell! Congrats, fella! You are being recycled!”
I closed my eyes and kept them closed as I asked the question.
“Recycled?” I queried. “What does that mean?
“Well,” Buzz said, “we squish you up into this pudding-like glop, this organic blob, that we use to make something else.”
“Oh my god!” I screamed out
“Oh come on!” Buzz said. “Open your eyes. Look into my eyes. See the twinkle! For heaven’s sake, that’s a joke! Lighten up, Larry! You take stuff far too seriously. Being recycled means you’re going back!” Buzz broke out into a chorus of ‘The Second Time Around.’
“Going back where?” I asked.
“To your former life. You, my friend, are getting a second chance! A chance to be reborn, to turn your life around, to start anew!”
“Oh my god! Thank you! Thank you!” I cried.
“Don’t thank me. Thank Bill Gates,” Buzz responded.
“Please,” I asked. “Please tell me exactly how this is going to work?”
“I’ll tell you, but it’s kind of silly,” Buzz explained. “You won’t remember anything that I tell you.”
“Please tell me anyway?” I begged.
“You’re not going to remember!” Buzz reiterated. “At most, some tiny snippet of an idea or image from this whole incident might be implanted in your brain, but you’re not going to remember any detailed explanation.”
“Please humor me, Buzz?” I pleaded.
“Well,” Buzz explained, “we’ll just insert you back into your old life. You’ll do whatever you’re going to do, and we’ll keep our records. Next time you croak, we run the formula again and the overwhelming odds are that we get a usable result.”
“But what’s the point?” I asked. “Is there any reason to think I’ll change? That I won’t still be a borderline schmuck the next time I’m here?”
“Remember,” Buzz said. “we don’t care if you change fundamentally. We just care that you change enough one way or the other so that you’re no longer a zero! Then we can establish placement the next time you shuffle off the old mortal coil!”
Buzz then broke into a little dance on my chest as he sang to ‘Shuffling off to Buffalo.’ I have to admit; he was actually pretty good!
“I know! I should have been in show buzz!” he said. “Larry, you ready to go? I’m sending you back now.”
“Buzz,” I said, “I am going to be one of those who really, fundamentally changes! This will be my rebirth, it will be a new me.”
“Right,” Buzz said. “You came here as Jack the Ripper, you’ll return as Mahatma Gandhi. I’ve heard it all before.”
“Yes,” I said, “this is my new beginning. I am going to be a new person. As He is my witness……”
Larry was returned to his old life. He died twenty years later in a traffic accident. He was hit by a car whose distracted driver was running some phone app.
Larry hadn’t fundamentally changed in two decades, but he had changed enough so that the second after-death processing went smoothly. The placement formula came out slightly positive, and that was good enough to send him up to his personal heaven.
Buzz had been incredibly accurate regarding Larry’s heaven. Larry had an air-conditioned room, all the beer and pizza he wanted, a fifty inch plasma TV (he had just missed qualifying for a 55 inch LCD), twenty-four hour sports to watch, and an endless supply of hypo-allergenic hand lotion.
Buzz often dropped in to visit Larry. Despite Buzz’s sometimes annoying sense of humor, he and Larry eventually became good friends. They shared many confidences, and would often joke about their first encounter. Buzz would refer to this friendship as his true ‘new beginning’ since he had never really had a close friend to share secrets with before.
But there was one thing that Buzz never told Larry. Actually two things. Firstly, he never explained why he always wore a beanie with a propeller. But more important was the second thing. Buzz never shared with Larry that even the second time passing, Larry was close to being hell bound and forever flipping burgers in that smelly tent! Ironically enough, what had made the critical difference was this. Just before his traffic accident, Larry had a sudden, unexplained, and overwhelming compulsion. And it made him stop at a pharmacy, where he replaced the condom in his wallet that had just expired!