Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Nerdiest Sketch Ever

Lately, I've been engaged in sketch-writing in a group. In this case, the group's target was "personification of inanimate objects" and this is what I came up with. I tried very hard to not be a huge nerd, and it didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. So, not wanting it to go to waste, and this being the Internet, I figured I'd put it here. Which, actually, is pretty much indistinguishable from wasting it. Hey, I learned TWO things! 

Hypervisor – the overseer
Firewall – the muscle 

Fileserver – a Buick trunk full of merch
Monitoring – how does that make you feel?

Experimental – the test subject 

[inside a computer machine] 

Hellooooo, network! I’m The Hypervisor; emcee, bouncer and liaison all in one chassis. Let me introduce the gang! 

Getcha files here! Nice hot files! Well, some are selfies of the Administrator, so they ain’t all hot! Hey!

Fileserver there is responsible for holding a household’s worth of personal data. He’s collected enough closet skeletons to decorate a hundred embarrassing Halloweens. Firewall—you’re up!

There’s just so much porn out here.

She keeps an eye on…certain stuff on the internet. Nothing gets in or out without her say so. Good gal. Very protective. Monitoring! Whatcha got for me?

Okay, looks like everyone’s stats are good. Firewall, you’re running a bit hot there, buddy. Might I ask what—


Monitoring polls the group every few minutes to see what’s what. He turns the answers into fiddly little graphs, because the Admin is a huge nerd. And last but…well, least, I guess. But least by design! Say hello, Experimental!


Whoa! What’s—what’s all…I’m only hearing half of what everyone’s saying. That’s weird.

Yeah, he’s been subjected to a lot of tests. Every time the Admin wants to swat at the keyboard without reading the manual, Experimental gets it in the neck. What a trouper, though! 

Hey, Experimental, you look like a guy who could use some files. Ya want some files? Tellya what champ, you order some files, and I’ll throw in a bunch more files to sweeten the deal. How’s that sound?

HOLD IT! Let’s check those out! Oh, you guys are both in the trusted zone. You’re clear. …But just try something funny--either of you--and I will BRING THIS HOUSE DOWN.

There’s a lot of traffic on your Internet interface, Fileserver. Is that something you’d like to talk about?

Not at this juncture.

Now, these folks may seem like autonomous entities, and for all intents and purposes they are. Even they believe they are. But here’s the clever bit—they’re all running on the same hardware I am!

Hmm. Slight uptick in the Hypervisor’s smugness level. I’ll email the Admin if it keeps up. Just so everyone’s aware.

I got some of those files, but…I don’t appear to have a drive to put them on. How is that even possible?

I can cut ya a great deal on some prime drive real estate! Oh yeah, lots of room. Hey, Firewall, same for you. You need some space for ya files? Gal like you probably has—

NOTHING TO SEE HERE! You just keep walking.

I’m an operating system for operating systems. Think of me as a person with multiple personalities. Each personality is distinct, but they can talk to each other through me.

Fileserver here has rebooted twice in the last week for no good reason. 

It wasn’t because I lost any files, I can assure you! I mean, that’s crazy talk.

I have a graph that shows he’s lying.

My clock says it’s 1872. That can’t be right.

To the rest of the network, my crew and I appear to be a group of five individual machines. We’re full citizens.

EVERYBODY GET BEHIND ME! 50,000 Russian desktops all say hello. Did any of you wave at them? Who waved at them? Experimental, I’m looking in YOUR direction!

Hey, Firewall, wanna ask those guys for me if they need any files? I got a special goin’ now on unfinished novels! Half price!

But they’re free. How much is half of nothing?

What? Heh. Oh, let’s see here…divide by zero—oop! Thaaaat’s a crash. Goin’ down for a reboot.

That’s not a bad idea. I’ll try it. Hold on, guys!

Speaking of citizens, Monitoring, how many other machines we got on this network? Give me our friends list.

If history is an indicator, for the next 8 hours it’ll be just us and the Roku, and all he does is wink at Netflix every ten minutes.

I hate that guy.


Oh, you are not. You’re…hold on. You’re reporting that there are six of you.

I swear to god, if he’s been talking to that botnet again, I will fill this chassis with uppercuts.

So…basically, I’m just talking to myself. The voices in my head are talking to themselves.

And the Admin is paying for the electricity that allows us to do it.

Heeeeey, I’m back, chumps! Um, Monitoring, what’s this I hear about you needing space to store some graphs? Boom! Folder with your name on it right here. You’re welcome.

Parts of me keep falling asleep.

I just wanted to say that I love working with you guys. If you ever want to see just how much, I’ve got numbers. In a graph. A green one. Oop, traffic spike!

Jesus. Another Java update. Look out for that Ask toolbar crap. They bundle it with—oh, yeah, just go ahead and install it. Nice. Way to make my job harder.

My bad! I thought it was files!

There’s no January 43rd, is there?

You know, if it’s all the same to you guys, I’m just gonna go into standby.

I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Dave.

He’s always wanted to say that.

I have. But seriously, though, you don’t have a standby mode. You’ll just shut down and take us with you.

I can live with that. Think of it as naptime. Beginning shutdown.

Naw, that’s cool. If I’m goin’ out, I’ll just store files for Computer Jesus until the 6PM rapture. Catch you squares on the flipside!

Fine. Wanna sift through all those dong pill emails by hand? EVERY TIME YOU READ A DONG PILL EMAIL, THE TERRORISTS WIN.

Wait! I found the problem! There’s a corrupted sector in my—

[power off]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Con-man Visits an Old Woman who Lives in a Rent-Controlled Apartment …in at least 350 Words

Reginald Spalding was a tall man, about six-three, and he was wearing his favorite fedora.
He wore this whenever he was out on a job. The marks were always trusting of a man in a hat. It wasn’t quite as inexplicable as that single sentence made it sound, though. Think of it. Santa wears a hat. The Pope wears a hat. In all of the pictures of the Easter Bunny where he is looking his most trustworthy, he is wearing a colorful hat.

Reginald Spalding wore a hat. His was grey with a warped brim.

His be-hatted frame tiptoed lightly up the porch steps of the big brownstone monolith that hulked over the corner of 4th and Henninga. His narrow, spidery hand rang the buzzer for Apartment 3B. He read the name above the button. Bannister. He waited.

“Yes? Hello? Yes?” came the response. A woman. She sounded old.  Perhaps in her late 70s, if she wasn’t a smoker, her 40s if she was. Reginald Spalding was in his 40s, so perhaps 40 wasn’t old. Reginald didn’t smoke. Not when he was on a job.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Bannister!” he said in his most cheerful, harmless voice. “May I have a few moments of your time?”

“What are you selling?”

Shit. This one wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought. She was careful. Reginald hated the careful ones.

“Why, I represent a…”

Fuck! Think, man! Think!

“…a concern,” he said, and smiled. Yes, that ought to do the trick. That ought to work just fine. “Yes, a concern,” he continued, still smiling, the smile forcing his voice to take on a clean, brassy timbre, “that deals in only the finest services imaginable. In no way would this concern seek to con you out of your considerable investments, Ms. Bannister.”

“How did you get my name?” the voice crackled from the intercom speaker.


“A list!” Reginald chirped. Ha. Perfect.

“Look, sir,” Ms. Bannister said. Her voice dipped an octave when she said sir, dusting it with a fine layer of stank. “I live in a rent-controlled apartment. I’m pretty sure you know what that means.”
Reginald’s mind raced. He shifted his empty briefcase from one hand to the other. Suddenly, it seemed foolish to be wearing a fedora. It was too hot out today for a hat.

“If you would just give me a second to prove, ma’am, that I am not a con man in any sense of the word!” he ejaculated. “I am, in fact, entirely harmless!” he added. He smirked. That was a good bit, there.

“Get off my rent-controlled steps before I drop a rent-controlled air-conditioner on you, sonny.” The voice practically punched its way through the speaker grille.

Fine, thought Reginald. He skipped lightly out onto the sidewalk and merged smoothly into the flow of pedestrians. He’d be back tomorrow with a different colored hat. The old woman would be a tough nut to crack, but Reginald had a lot of time and a lot of hats.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Flip a Coin

Before we all of us begin, make sure you are in a well-ventilated area with no sharp corners or small children; both are likely to poke you in the groin and make you angry. Turn on all the lights and put on some soft jazz. No, we take that back. Turn that crap off.

Supplies Needed:
  • One (1) coin minted from the US treasury. It should ideally be legal tender for all debts public and private. If it comes from an amusement park, results cannot be guaranteed as those coins have not been fully tested in a wind-tunnel environment. If the coin you are planning on using has a picture of a Disney character on it, go fill your bathtub up with ice cubes and pointy engine parts and sit in it until you're less of a weenie.
  • One (1) fully functional human hand. This hand should be one you personally own and are familiar with. This procedure really only utilizes the thumb and index finger, so a hand with only these two digits will work in a pinch. (Ha! See what we did there?)
  • A motor cortex in good working order. Yours isn't. If you can't type out your disagreement with that statement, I'm right.
We're ready to begin! Take the coin out of your pocket, and--what do you mean it's not in your pocket? Where'd you put it? We're not responsible for misplaced coins. It's not our job to keep track of... Okay, we'll wait here until you go get another coin.

What a moron.

Hmm? Nothing. We were just humming a little.

Okay! We see you have inexplicably fetched a pair of Allen wrenches. Very intriguing, but those won't work. Hold on! You stay right there. Here. Use one of our coins. It's a penny.

You the Allen wrenches out of your mouth. Just give them here.

Take the penny out of your mouth too. That's okay. You can keep it. It's our gift to you.

Hold out your hand like this, with your thumb vertical and your index finger horizontal, like a pretend gun. The two of them will form an L shape--where are you going? Pretend gun. It's not a real gun. It's just our hand! Come back.

Okay, now curl your index finger, so that it's pointing back at your palm. It will form a sort of horseshoe shape. Tuck your thumb into that--

No, this entire procedure will take place within the confines of a single hand. Stop...stop pointing at your palm. Just put your left hand in your pocket. Good.

Tuck your thumb into and slightly underneath your curled index finger. When you are finished, it will look like your index finger has your thumb in a headlock. But do not panic! Your thumb will be fine. Your thumb can take care of itself.

Place the coin on top of your index finger just below your second knuckle so that it covers the edge of your thumbnail.

Yes, we can wait. You what? Lost it? But you just had it a second ago! Furthermore, it's impossible to lose your thumb like that. No! Not without a lot of screaming and bleeding!

You know what? Never mind.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Hardass Goes Skiing (Part 1)

"Well, where do you think they go? You don't seriously buy into that 'flying south' nonsense, do you?" The Hardass growled.

He growled this to his girlfriend, delivering the requisite eye contact in sharp, grudging little daggers hurled from the corners of his flint-gray eyes. His forward attention was focused on keeping the M1 Abrams tank off the road. In pandering to the dismayingly large and vocal pansy community, the city had plowed its roadways free of the day's impressive snowfall. This allowed them to become clogged with morons, so The Hardass avoided them altogether.

The Hardass never much cared for paved surfaces anyway. Or ducks.

"Of course they fly south! They don't all die when winter comes! That's terrible!" Chastity said, her face distorted by womanly anguish.

The Abrams flattened some road signs. "Nature is terrible," The Hardass said. "And I didn't say they ALL died, dammit. Next spring, when the smart ones are coming out of hibernation, look real close at one and then tell me that a duck would be able to walk all the way to Florida. There's no way they'd make it. They're too soft."

"They don't walk, silly. They fly," Chastity said, her face distorted by womanly respect for ducks.

"Have you ever seen one flying?" The Hardass grunted, bracing himself as the Abrams ramped up over a snowbank, taking a brief flight of its own. Trailing a festive ribbon of uprooted chain-link fence, it landed in a parking lot with a pavement-shattering boom.

Chastity picked herself up off the floor and crawled back into her seat. "Yes, I have," she said, her face distorted by womanly smugness.

"No, you haven't," The Hardass said, forestalling any further backsass and flawed optimistic nonsense. "We're here. Let's go conquer this bastard." He punched open the hatch.

Imagine, if you will, that our narrative camera zooms out, widening our field of vision by perhaps a factor of ten. Moving, say, to the point of view of a startled family who had been happily piling out of their minivan twenty yards away. Startled out of their mittens by a ground-shaking crash, they snapped 'round to find a tank--an honest-to-God military tank!--in the middle of the parking lot. It was tilted at a jaunty angle, half in and half out of its impact crater, a steady plume of black smoke issuing from one end.

Suddenly, on the tank's turret where there had an instant before been a circular steel hatch, there was only a fist. Glancing quickly up, one might just be able to see the hatch lid spinning skyward, like a flipped coin. The fist lowered itself back into the tank's interior, and in its place rose a woman. She stepped gingerly from the hand that was raising her, and then down to the ground.

Then, silence, while the woman waited, tapping her foot impatiently, hands on hips.

There was a bout of muffled profanity, a sound like a very big cork popping out of a very big bottle, and a giant man with craggy features and a disregard for all things soft and sweet (unless those things had breasts) launched himself from the mangled hole in the turret. He somersaulted in midair and came to rest face-first on the asphalt beside the woman.

Taking the permanent marker the woman offered him, the giant man signed his name next to the imprint his face had made in the asphalt, ate the marker, and the two of them walked into the ski lodge.

"Hello!" Chastity greeted the teenager behind the ski rental counter. He looked up in time to see The Hardass eat the little sliver bell on the counter. He frowned, reached into a bag full of bells and put a new one on the counter. The Hardass ate that one too.

"Tanner," said the teenager.

"Dave," said The Hardass.

Chastity looked surprised. "Have you been here before?" she asked The Hardass. He and Dave both said "yes" at the same time. "When?"

"Few months ago, we got a call about some possible illegal drug use goin' on at this joint. A pack of hippies was holed up in here, free-lovin' and smokin' the wuss weed, and I had to break 'em up."

"You put three of my friends in the hospital," snapped Dave.

The Hardass ate another bell.

"That's what I said. So now I come down here every once in a while to make sure the place ain't infested with hippies again, and I get the stink-eye from this little shit."

"Well!" said Chastity hurriedly. "Um, Dave, we'd like to rent two sets of skis and get a lift ticket, if you'd be so kind!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The room was big. The ceiling was way up there. It was pocked with reflector floods that filled the room with amorphous light. The walls were barren white with one incongruous strip of dark-stained walnut that circled it at waist height.

Waist height to most of the people the room was filled with.

At its front, on the beach of the sea of seated reporters, was a stage. On that stage was a podium, and behind that was a man. He spoke.

"What would a world with no energy shortages be like?" he asked, leaning forward, his intense eyes flashing, his brows raised.

"Impossible!" shouted someone in the crowd.

"Stupid!" shouted another.

Clearly taken aback, the man behind the podium straightened up and the fire in his eyes guttered. "Wait. What?"

A woman with her dark-stained walnut hair in a bun stood, a pen to her lips. "Well, it would be impossible," she said, wagging the pen in a little admonitory arc. "If that were possible, why hasn't anybody figured it out until now? It seems something that useful would have been discovered a long time ago."

The lights in the room got brighter.

"Plus, to have something like that is just dumb!" said a man in a black turtleneck. He stood and spread his arms. "If energy was all free and plentiful and clean, millions of people would lose their jobs! Clearly it is in everyone's best interest to keep things the way they are."

The hum of the air-handling system increased in pitch.

The man behind the podium smiled wryly. "But what happens when we can no longer keep things the way they are? Eventually we are going to run out of stuff to burn. What then?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said the woman.

The overhead lights brightened to a white-hot glare. The leaves of the potted plants on the corners of the stage rustled in the breeze from vents in the ceiling.

The man behind the podium lifted his chin, allowing the breeze to ripple his hair. The intense light glinted on his glasses. "I'll just come right out with it then. My team and I have built a system that converts human stupidity into pure energy. It's this system that is powering everything in this room right now. As you can tell, it works. All that remains is large-scale production and deployment."

"It's cost-prohibitive!" said the man in the turtleneck.

All at once, the flood lights popped like flashbulbs and the room went dark. From overhead came a metallic shriek followed by a muffled sound like a handful of marbles in a blender, and the air fell still.

"See, I told you it wouldn't work," said the woman.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Suburban Wasteland

I like that title. I'm not sure why. And I'll bet it's been used before by trenchcoated teenagers with their nails painted black with permanent marker and all sorts of piercings they regret to describe the exquisite hatefulness that is being a doughy white kid living in comfort so comfortable it's painful.

Did any of that last sentence make sense to you? Yeah. Those kids are stupid, aren't they?

I'm outside, on the porch, with a Pepsi and a netbook. I am sitting in a pre-Enlightenment-era cast-iron bench that looks like it was designed to either impress old ladies or grill meat. Or both. It's the stupidest thing ever, and I wish I had some poots to defile it with.

The sun is out, and there are happy children scooting around on skateboards and bicycles and basically just being carefree and oblivious to their impending doom.

Well, I assume that their doom is impending. They may end up avoiding it altogether, and what a shame that would be.

But it's very pleasant, this porch-sitting. I just mowed the lawn and attacked some weeds, and that's where this little utopia kind of falls down for me.

See, I hate yard work. I don't mind pushing a mower--rather like it, in fact--but I can't stand the rest. There are old men on my block who devote entire DAYS to going out with a soft baby's hairbrush to individually polish blades of grass and who apparently make their own bark mulch from scratch out of cellulose they grew in culture in their basement laboratories.

I hate them. It makes me look lazy, and I've been trying to hide that.

Speaking of lazy, I have underground sprinkling, but I haven't turned it on all year. Just as well, since I don't know how to winterize the pipe, and it burst sometime last winter. There are seven valves I have to turn in the proper sequence to squeeze all the water out of the thing. I did it wrong, and now water shoots out of it in two different spots in a festive display of terrible design.

I picture the sprinkler man standing in the yard, staring at the side of the house, with one finger up his nose and the other darting off on its own to point at squirrels.

"Hurp!" he'd be saying. "I say we gits a pipe made outta copper foil and make it run out of the side of the house, durr, and up about three feet. Next, and for no reason whatsoever, we glue on a little horizontal bit just a-bristlin' with doodads! Hurr, after that, make it go back down four feet and disappear into the ground!"

"Why," his boss probably asked, "wouldn't you make it come out of the house and then go directly into the ground? Having all that exposed pipe with the thin walls is just begging for it to trap water and burst when the water freezes."

The sprinkler man got his way, of course. He probably made a very persuasive argument by pulling a catfish out of the front pocket of his bib overalls and waaaaaving it around. You just don't argue with a man like that.

The lawn was seeded years ago with rare and expensive Texan Wuss Grass, which turns brown, shrivels up and blows away under the following conditions: all of them. Sprinkling it doesn't help. My grandfather, (an old man whose lawn is museum-quality) says it's the pine trees sourin' up the dirt. I knew it. I knew those smug bastards were up to something.

The weeds, of course, have absolutely no trouble at all. If it were up to me, I would take out all the grass and put down some rocks. Maybe paint the rocks green to fool the near-sighted.

The house is situated on the corner where one street T-intersects mine. The driveway is split at the end, and empties out onto each street. Between the ends, in the angle formed there, there is a little miniature forest complete with oak trees that poop seedlings all year and, of course, big wads of weeds.

I went outside to glare at them. "Stupid weeds. I hate you. I hate you. You know what I'm going to do? No, not go back inside and not think about you. I'm done with that. I'm going to get some poison, and I'm going to put it in a spray bottle!"

At this point, the bigger weeds started laughing.

Speaking louder, I continued, "and then I'm going to come out and douse you with doom! And I don't care what Wikipedia says; I choose to believe that weeds can feel pain. Oh, just you wait!"

I stalked back inside and mixed up a bottle of weed murder. I put it in a bright orange bottle that once contained dollar-store spray cleaner. Then I went on the attack.

I wish I could call it a rampage. But it wasn't. It was the saddest thing you've ever seen.

A man in jeans and a T-shirt with what appeared to be a bottle of spray cleaner, stood in his driveway, stoically squirting weeds. The bottle made a soft "ffft" sound and some clear liquid pattered onto the laughing weeds. Then, nothing happened. A gentle breeze stirred the weeds, causing them to wave obscenely at the man.

An old lady happened by. "Cleanin' yer weeds?" she asked.

"Murdering...them!" the man said through gritted teeth.

"Aw, ain't that something!" she said. "Looks like ya got quite a crop growin' there."

"I need a flame thrower," muttered the man.

"Ffft," said the spray bottle.

I'll be keeping an eye on the weeds over the next few days to see if they die. If it works, I'll refill the bottle and attack the other side of my forest. What will probably happen, though, is the wind will blow some of the poison off the weeds and onto the lawn, killing it instantly. The weeds will become immune to the poison, mutate, and start feeding on birds.

And then, when all the songbirds disappear and the night is filled with the belching of my weeds, the neighbors really will start to complain.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hell's Fender

Have you ever read Dante's Inferno? You have? It doesn't matter; I'm going to explain it anyway. It's called "padding" and all the good writers do it.

Basically, this fellow named Dante is walking around in the woods, when some big carnivores start chasing him. Dante is not prepared for this sort of assault because evidently he is a big dopey white guy wearing flip-flops and a beer hat. So he starts barging sweatily through the underbrush in random directions and eventually trips and falls into a hole that leads to Hell.

Fortunately for Dante, the Roman poet Virgil is just sort of hanging out down there, smoking a cigarette and fooling around with a yo-yo, and Virgil knows his way around Hell.

Unfortunately for Dante, Virgil decides that as long as Dante's dropped by, he might as well show him around the place. So it's off on a guided tour of the Nine Circles of Hell!

We get to come along with Dante as he sees what Satan has in store for all the assholes on Earth. We learn that Hell is a surprisingly organized place, with multiple levels, each one dedicated to a particular class of asshole. Imagine it sort of like an inverted Devo hat, where all the really horrible people are way down at the bottom, and the foul-mouthed used car salesmen are nearer the top.

Only the worst of assholes live in the bottom of this hat.

The hierarchy observed by Dante seems a little arbitrary to me. For example, Betrayal is the Ninth Circle, the very bottom of our Devo hat. But Violence only makes it down to Circle Seven. So if you've ever promised a cold beer to a friend, and then said "ha! I drank it before you got here, sucker!" you're worse than a serial killer.

On second thought, maybe Hell's got it right after all. Carry on, Hell.

The First Circle, Limbo, is full of nice atheists who get a relatively pleasant place to live (it has a castle!) but occasionally get depressed because Limbo is basically just a shitty knock-off of the real heaven. They're not actively punished, but are forever reminded that they could have had a much nicer castle if only they hadn't been so stubborn. Presumably, there is bacon in Limbo, but it's not very good.

Beyond that, each Circle has its own eternal punishment regimen, tailored to its residents. The Second Circle, Lust, gives its tenants what-for by blowing their souls around in some wind. Take that, you indiscriminate fuckers! That'll teach you to leer at people's dirty, sinful bodies! To make matters worse, they're probably tormented by the fact that the eternal wind never blows anyone's skirt up.

What about the Betrayers? Oh, they get the worst of it. They're frozen, half-submerged in a lake of ice. And imprisoned in the middle of that lake is Satan himself, biting forever on the heads of the worst bastards the human race had yet produced. Shouldn't have lied about that beer, Mr. Iscariot. You brought this on yourself.

So it seems like Hell's got things pretty well taken care of, but I say there's always room for improvement. First of all; nine circles? It's such a...not-ten number! I suggest adding a new First Circle of Hell and promoting all the others. For that, we will need a new analogy. Toss out that Devo hat; we're using a lousy picture of my car's front wheel instead.

The Wheel of Hell

The layout is pretty similar to Dante's Nine, where the real assholes are wrapped around the lugnuts, getting shit on by two-ton hellpigeons, and the heretic scientists are hanging out in Limbo up on the tire. The O in "Dunlop" is like a hot tub, but the water's just a little too chlorine-y, and there's always one bubble jet that's broken.

I propose the new First Circle be located somewhere on the fender. Limbo will remain the nicest place on the Wheel of Hell, even though it is no longer the First Circle, because its occupants at least made an effort to be pleasant human beings. Their punishment is sort of self administered, because of their knowledge of their "mistake" and of a possible better outcome. Plus, they get to spin around with the rest of the Wheel, which is sort of like a sub-par carnival ride. Enjoyable, but kind of blah.

Off the Wheel entirely, we have folks who don't know anything, and never bothered to find out. These are the people who are annoying, but have no idea why. They are the ones who put the Confederate flag on their Silverados because they think it labels them individualists or free spirits or something. Here, next to the sparrow poo and the splattered moths you will find the people who ask "why're you so quiet?" when you don't talk to them at work. They stand in the middle of the aisle at the store and talk on their phone, waving their arms in dramatic gestures that their listener cannot see and which occasionally slap passers by and knock the bottles of shampoo out of their hands.

The Permanently Oblivious, the Overly Perfumed.

We join Virgil and Dante at the dark entrance to the Underworld, in this lost (and badly translated) chapter of Dante's Inferno. We are about to take a tour of Hell's Fender.

The (new) First Circle of Hell
Virgil led me into a big gray stone building with tall wooden doors. There were potted plants in the lobby, and those rubber floor mats with the little cone-shaped pointy bits that make your feet feel all squirrelly when you walk on them.

Here, I noticed that the people were poorly dressed, but that not all of them were wearing Dale Earnhardt T-shirts. Some had suits and ties, but the ties were knotted with a variety of haphazard tangles, and many walked with a hunched gait, as their ties were zipped into their pants. They looked perturbed about this, but had evidently resigned themselves to the inconvenience, the resolution to the problem presenting an even greater struggle in their eyes.

Most of them seemed incapable of closing their mouths. Their slack jaws, furrowed brows and firm handshakes marked these people as good-hearted but oblivious.

We walked past a brightly-lit room full of people sitting around a elliptical conference table and stopped in its doorway. Two women were talking loudly to each other in a corner, and I saw at least five men picking their noses. One man repeatedly leaned forward in his chair, knocked over his glass of water and stammered an apology while righting the glass and wiping ineffectually at the spill with his tie. Somehow, the glass was always full when he leaned forward to knock it over again.

"These people are trapped in an eternal meeting where none of them knows what is supposed to be under discussion," explained Virgil. I was about to ask that we move on, when a man stood up to speak. His stature was hunched forward uncomfortably because his tie was zipped into his fly.

"Now, uh, ladies and gentlemen, I, um, suppose we should, uh, probably--MMPH!"

As soon as the man had gotten to his feet, an enormous fat man had leaped out from behind the water cooler. This struck me as rather odd, as he was easily eight feet tall and six feet wide. He had dark red skin, like that of a bell pepper, horns, and was wearing a dirty tank top. He had crossed the room while the standing man was beginning his speech, and nobody noticed him. He'd sneaked up on the man from behind and stuffed the man's head into his armpit.

"Gwuh huh huh!" the fat red man said, making a rude noise with his armpit. He released the man and minced happily past me out the door, streaming an arrow-tipped tail in his wake.

"Goddammit! Who keeps doing that?" spluttered the standing man. The people around the conference table shrugged. The nose pickers picked on, and the water glass guy knocked it over again. As Virgil led me on, I saw another man stand and clear his throat. When we passed into the hallway, I heard him begin to speak.

"I just think we ought to--MMMPH!"

"Hee hee harpgh!"


As the fat man tiptoed at high speed down the hall behind us, I asked Virgil who he was.

"That is the form Satan takes at this level," he explained. "He's not so much an agent of one's eternal, insufferable damnation down here, but more like a really annoying Little League coach. He is always sweaty and his name is Hank. Come, I have more to show you."

The next room we came to was dimly lit with people sitting around numerous small, round tables. At the front of the room was a stage, picked out by a bright spotlight. On the stage stood a man in a Dale Earnhardt T-shirt. He was holding a microphone in one hand, and some 3x5 cards in the other.

"You know what they say about men with, um, big feet, am I right?" he said with forced enthusiasm.

"They need special socks?" called out a voice from the crowd.

"Big shoes!" said another.

"They like pasta! That's it, right? Pasta? It's pasta!" hooted a third.

"No!" the struggling comedian said, throwing his cards down in exasperation. "They say they have big dicks! Big dicks!"

"Did someone say Big Dick?" shouted someone from the back of the room. Suddenly, and with stunning speed, a big fat red guy thundered up to the stage and stuffed the comedian's head into his armpit.

"Bweh heh heh!" he chuckled sweatily, and sprinted from the room.


"In this room," whispered Virgil, leading me back out into the hallway, "everyone must take turns being a terrible comedian working a very stupid crowd. Naturally, Hank puts in his appearance as well."

"I thought he said his name was Dick."

"Satan says a lot of things," sighed Virgil.

"He sure gets around well for such an, um, rotund fellow," I said.

"Well, down here he is able to move at superhuman speeds, and none of the residents of this Circle are able to hear him coming. His clammy embrace is always a surprise because they are not allowed to identify their tormentor. In a permanent state of bewilderment, being visited by Hank in such a manner can be quite jarring."

"I bet. So what did they do to deserve such treatment?"

"In life, these people were told time and time again that their habits were annoying, but they never bothered to take heed. Many of them responded by scratching themselves and saying things like "come on! Lighten up!" They were all the stupid people who ever went through a 12-items-or-less checkout lane pushing two carts full of items with all the barcodes scratched off."

"I see. So they're doomed to a life of being eternally fed their own medicine?"

"Exactly. An eye for an eye, my friend. May the punishment fit the crime. Now, look upon this next room."

In the room we'd stopped in front of, I saw a single man at his kitchen table. He was shirtless and wearing a pair of boxer shorts. Spread out in front of him on the table was a newspaper crossword. The man frowned at the paper, picked up his glasses, and dropped them on the floor.

"Durg," he muttered. He picked up his glass of orange juice and drained the last half in a gulp. He got up, glass in hand, and walked to the refrigerator. As soon as he opened it, a big fat red guy jumped out and stuffed the newspaper man's head into his armpit.

"Doo hoo hoo!" Satan chuckled, prancing out of the room and down the hall.

"Goddammit!" said the newspaper man, darting a confused look around the room. "What the--?"

I had seen enough. Knowing that there were still another nine Circles to visit, I asked Virgil if we could move on. He obliged.

"Indeed. I think you'll probably like Limbo," he said, showing me out through another pair of tall wooden doors. "The people there are pretty interesting, but not for more than a few minutes."