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."