Meanwhile, in the big waiting room in the sky...
"Next in line, please."
I didn’t realize at that moment she was talking to me. So I just sat there in a lingering daze, wondering where I was and why the coffee there smelled so much better than the crap I make at home.
"Next in line?"
I still didn't know. I still didn’t answer.
"Criminey. Can everyone please check their tickets for number 62?"
Tickets? What the hell is this lady talking about? Tickets...
Some nosy old man leaned over and looked at my hand. "I think that's you, chickadee. You’re number 62. See?" he pointed down.
He was right. I had a ticket in my hand. I was number 62.
"I guess I should go then, huh?"
"That’s what I would do, doll."
So, I went, toward the only desk in the room, and the woman who owned the voice that had called my number.
"Have a seat, dear." She motioned to the only chair in the vicinity, as if my compliance hinged on a game of Charades. I just stood there, sniffing the air, wondering if caffeine could be as effective a stimulant when inhaled as vapor. "You’re a little disoriented, aren’t you?"
"More than a little," I told her. My forehead made worry wrinkles.
I’m sure she thought her closed-eyed nodding was helpful. It really wasn’t. "It happens a lot,” she said.
Her eyes opened. “The newcomers.”
My knees buckled a little. Suddenly, I was sitting. “Newcomers to where, ma’am?” Some nondescript individual who either had a gender or didn’t drifted past and handed me a cup of that beautiful scent. I reveled in the smell of it.
“This happens a lot, too,” she said, “the sniffing. I’ll give you a second.” There was nothing on her desk but a screen, a sleek monitor that rang out in tinkling harp chords when she tapped its surface. I’m pretty sure it was playing “Close to You.” It couldn’t have been more irritating. “A little better now?” she asked.
I gave a little cult member nod.
“Okay, then…on we go. My records state that you’re Christine Fields, of 148 Dovenshire Road…is this correct?”
The coffee was bringing me back to center. “Mmmmm…hmmmmm?” Slowly, though.
She slid her face closer to the monitor. “Springmore Elementary, Fulton High…university abroad. Nothing graduate-level. And you’ve been employed as an administrative assistant with a company called GenuTech for…seven years. This is still correct as well? No recent career shifts?”
I took another sip, a deep one this time. Coffee, coffee, coffee…oh how I love you. “Yes. Still with GenuTech.” Oh my God.
Was I at a job interview?
I hadn’t brought a resume, and I didn’t remember setting up anything. Still, I felt the urge to smooth out my hair and freshen up my lips a little bit. But I was still holding the coffee…the lovely, lovely coffee.
“And your Twitter handle is @faboobulous6942.” I laughed a little. She eyed me then, right in the area of my frontal lobes. “Indeed,” she mumbled. My free hand crept up to draw the curtains on my cleavage…and there was an abundance of it today. Damn.
How had I failed to adequately cover up the Ladies? And moreover, how had I forgotten about a freaking job interview? Obviously I hadn’t forgotten entirely, or I wouldn’t have been there at all. And yet, there I was, I dressed with all the goods on display. I knew better than that. It wasn’t like I was going to a party…although I did vaguely remember something like that being in my recent plans.
Finally, I had to ask, even if it made me look like a faboobulous coffee whore to the screen watcher pelting me with questions. “I’m sorry…it seems to be a rough moment for the ol’ memory-maker up here.” I knocked on my forehead, hoping it would charm her. It did not. “If you could clue me in just a tiny little bit about where I am again, I’d be so, so grateful.” I almost lost the -ful part chugging the last of the coffee. “Mother Love…is that cinnamon, orange, and chocolate I taste?”
She ignored that last question. “You’re in Life Review, dear.”
A spark! “Ah…I think I’ve heard of you guys. Insurance, right? Your commercials have that talking frog. Cute!” Sounded familiar. I didn’t remember wanting to work there, though.
“No…we’re not an insurance company.” Suddenly, she was coming into clearer focus, with her half-moon glasses tethered to her neck by a large-link chain and her white sweater with fuzz everywhere…like feathers. Her eyes were beady and judgmental. Her beakish nose hooked a little at the end.
She looked like a human bird.
“Oh. Not insurance…huh. My mistake. You’re technology, then? Some sort of start-up or something?” Now I was noticing how empty the office was. There was really nobody but her in the whole cavernous space.
Because there obviously wasn’t enough aggravation seething from her without it, she sighed again, so loudly it almost became an actual word. “Technology, yes; a start-up…no. We’re quite the opposite of that. More like an end point.”
Nice. Too little caffeine in my bloodstream, and Ladybird Lipschitz speaking in riddles. I looked around for the nondescript barista to make a return and save my bacon. “Any chance I can get a little top-up here…” I shook my cup in the air and checked the little gold desk plate for Ladybird’s name. “…Alice?”
She slid her glasses off of her beak and let them clack against her sweater buttons. “Some of you are so oblivious upon arrival. You’d think at least a few of you geniuses would realize what’s happening before the second cup.”
Okay. That was uncalled for. “If you’re like this with all your applicants, I may not be interested in the job after all.” Not that I was interested in it anyway. Not that I remembered…
Where the hell was my second cup?
“There is no job, dear,” she said. Oh, the condescension that came with every syllable. “You’re in Life Review, which means that you’ve died and are now reviewing your life events to justify what is referred to in the business as the Next Phase of your existence in the universe. A little clearer now, is it?”
Oh wow. Birdish and batshit crazy.
Not a good combination.
“Is this like a hidden camera thing? Am I on film right now?”
“No…but wouldn’t that be funny?” Judging by her expression, the answer was not in the least.
So, no hidden camera, then. Just out-in-the-open insanity.
“I don’t really think I could work here, now that I see how you treat people.” I opened my cleavage-covering hand, and let the Ladies shine in all their glory. “Not even sure why I applied, to be honest.”
“Oh…so now you’re being honest?” The beady eyes closed to slits. “Take a big gulp of your devil juice there to clear your head, and I’ll say it one last time: you’re not at a job interview, dear. You’re in Life Review.”
“You’re a real piece of work, Alice. It’s been a lot of fun having you patronize me and all, but I think I’m going to take a pass.” Mister-Miss Nondescript drifted in again, snagging my empty cup and replacing it with a full one. “And I’ll be taking this to go, thank you very much.”
“Trust me: you’re going to want to drink it here.” She folded her hands and waited for me to comply.
My God, the superiority.
“And buh-bye.” I bowed to her in my signature smart-ass style, swiveled on my Manolos like a runway model and sauntered back in the direction I came from with a slightly clearer head. Then I chugged my second cup in about four gulps.
It all came back in tidy segments before I hit the lobby.
Drinking way too many mango margaritas; dancing shirt-off with the Ladies in even fuller display through my lace bra; driving home from Brenda’s party and throwing up on the seemingly random dude I’d paired up with and was taking home for the night; a wild pig waddling its fat ass into the middle of the road; swerving to avoid it and my car ending up inverted in a ditch on the side of the road. “Oh crap.”
“That’s right, dear: oh crap.” Alice was calling out behind me. “You and your boobs should probably come and sit back down now. We have a lot to get through.”
My legs carried me back to the chair without my total approval, and I sank back into it. “But I didn’t think…I didn’t know…”
“Few in your situation really do. That’s just how it happens sometimes.” She forced a smile that said she had seen way too many cases like mine pass across her desk to have any real sympathy for us anymore. “Now, we’ve already confirmed your identity…we should be able to move along to the actual review portion.”
The numbness from before came back in spite of my chugga-chugga coffee bong action. “I’m really…dead?”
“You really are.”
I really was.
“So this is like in the movies then, isn’t it, where my life passes before my eyes and I get to see all the good and bad moments again one last time before I move on?” I was misting up talking like this. It was my own life I would be seeing. And my own death.
I thought I might puke.
“Something like that.” She tickled the monitor. The chimes sounded like laughter now. “We’ve updated the process a little bit to keep up with the times.”
“Of course you have.”
“Now we use all the latest gadgets and gizmos to catalog what we need. What a time saver it is…especially when the reviewees are cooperative.” Another dig. Nice.
“Of course it does.”
This was staggering.
Alice kept her eyes trained on the screen, squinting and straining. I think she was having trouble reading the print. “Yes…instead of relying on the staff to follow all of you around and write down your doings, we now review your online history and judge your Next Phase based on that.”
“Of course y– say what now?”
She laughed. Cackled, really. “That always gets ‘em.”
“Why…why would you do something like that?” I spoke slowly, and calmly, like I wasn’t going to be doomed to hell when this was all over.
“Because it makes the job so much easier and so much more complete. You youngsters with your Twittering and your Facebook compulsions…and those duck-lip pictures you take in front of the bathroom mirror, from two feet above your head. You make it so easy to capture everything.” She eyed the Ladies again. “And I do mean everything.”
Oh crap. Oh crap oh crap oh crap.
“But that’s only one of your sources, right? Surely you have staff members running around Earth with iPhones and Androids trained on people to catch all the good things they do in real life, too…don’t you?”
She finally broke from her screen-staring so she could glare at me. “And who do you think would pay for all that, dear?”
“Yeah, but…doesn’t this seem a little one-sided? Who uses the internet for good things?” I did my own little pre-review review, and I could hardly think of an occasion when I didn’t jump online to report an adversary’s humiliation, or slam an asshole for being an asshole. Or post a picture of my hot rack.
Alice scrunched her nose at me. “You might be surprised.” She looked at the screen again for several long, disapproving seconds. “You in particular.”
There was a whole Facebook album devoted to the Ladies: different angles, different lighting. Slathered in glitter and peeking out from beneath a super-short cut-off t-shirt.
Oh yeah. This wasn’t going to go well.
“How about we get started,” Alice offered, “and we’ll just let your modeling skills work their way into the conversation?”
I needed an out…something readily available that didn’t take a lot of thought. So I pulled one out of my ass. “Can I speak to…God, please? Is that possible?”
Her eyelids hooded. “God?”
“Yes, God…your boss, I’m guessing.” That shut her up a little. “I have a few questions before we go any further.” Like I was in jail requesting a lawyer. I wasn’t really sure what I thought it would get me.
Alice harrumphed. “And which God would you like to speak with? We have a whole directory’s worth.”
Good question. And I’d only loosely worshipped one of them. The others were mystery. “Um…which one is available? And merciful?”
“Let me check the calendar.” She stabbed at her screen. “Actually…all the merciful ones in a meeting at the moment. And someone brought Krispy Kremes, so they’re going to be in there a while. Darn.”
I think she knew that all along.
“Anything else, dear?” I thought it best to stay quiet at that point. “Right, then. Let’s see now…you opened your Facebook account in 2007 and amassed over eight hundred ‘friends’ in the course of three weeks. Well, good for you! So popular.”
I knew that was sarcasm, but I was actually kind of proud of that fact. “Right?” She just shook her head.
This was probably the sort of superficial stuff that wouldn’t be working in my favor.
“Then you linked your friends list to Twitter and cross-pollinated over at eHarmony…and several other online dating sites. Seems your fabulous bosoms weren’t fabulous enough to attract a man in the real world.” Low blow, Alice. I sat up straighter and pushed them out as far as they would go. “How many ‘dates’ would you say you’ve had based on online connections with people who didn’t actually know in real life?”
Great. A math problem. “I don’t know – thirty…thirty-five, maybe.”
She tapped that into the screen. “And how many of these ended in a sexual encounter on the first date, would you say?”
Shit. “Ummmm, thirty…thirty-five maybe?”
“Mmhmm…and would you say you were slightly less than sober during any of those encounters? Like, say, thirty…thirty-five of them, maybe?”
I saw this headed in an even worse direction now. “Listen, if you’re implying something about the drinking and driving thing that you presume got me here in the first place, you should know that I cut myself off from the mango margaritas three hours before I got in my car with…whatever his name was.” Holy shit…I threw up on the guy, and I couldn’t even remember his name. “I puked because someone force-fed me guacamole, and my constitution doesn’t tolerate avocados worth a damn.”
“This isn’t about your constitution, Ms. Fields. It’s about your interactions with others and how you’ve treated people…and yourself. I’ll just put you down as ‘reasonably promiscuous’.” It took her forever to type that. I think she was having trouble spelling it. “Darn. Let’s just put ‘kind of a slut’ and leave it at that.”
“Now…in your private message list—”
“You check that, too? Is there no such thing as privacy in this place?”
Her glare shushed me. “You’ve referred to other Facebook friends as – and I quote - asshat, douche canoe, diptwat, dumbfuck, dumberfuck, dumb and dumberfuck…”
“Ha!” It just slipped out.
This was probably the time to just shut up and listen, though.
Alice’s stern gaze agreed. She craned her bird-neck forward until her nose was almost touching the screen. “Where did I leave off? There are so many here…let’s see…oh, yes – gorilla cock, giggly bitch, gynecomastia…whatever that means.”
“It means ‘man boobs.’” She looked so disappointed to know that. “What? You asked.”
“I don’t recall that I did. Anyway… there were also needledick, nippleless, teabag taster, shit-for-brains, shit-for-breath, shit-for-everything, snaggletooth, and stupidhead.” She peered at me over her glasses. “That last one’s a real killer, dear.”
“Yeah, well. It was probably a slow day. I don’t remember.”
“Luckily, our server remembers for you.” She tick-tick-ticked against the monitor, and then pulled back as if it had shocked her finger, though more likely it was her eyes. “Well, great googly moogly, Ms. Fields! You weren’t kidding about the photography thing, were you? Just look at this – nineteen-hundred thirty-two photos of you, and you…and YOU! We love ourselves a lot, don’t we? And our breasts…and our tattoos. And our G-string underwear. I’m not sure how you got the camera in there for this one, but you certainly did, didn’t you? You got it right in there.”
Another round of coffee was definitely in order, but nobody was offering anymore. I just rubbed my temples and hoped for a speed-up to this judgment thing so I could get on with my eternal damnation. “Look, is this going to take much longer?”
“Oh, yes…yes it is. We still have your e-mails – personal and business – your cell phone records, your work-based messaging history and your online videos to go through.” Online videos? Holy hell.
I suddenly regretted letting the Ladies go wild six spring breaks in a row.
“You might want to take off those fancy shoes and make yourself comfortable, dear. We have quite a little journey ahead of us.” She was enjoying this far too much.
And then – and I might be wrong about this, but it seemed entirely too coincidental – I think I caused a miracle.
I’d never really prayed before, so I didn’t know the wording, but I thought-whispered something like: Dearly beloved, yea as I walk through the holy valley of heaven and earth, in the shadow of…something…or whatever, please listen to me here. I know I haven’t done the greatest job of being a decent human being. I call people horrible yet undeniably hilarious names; I do inappropriate things with guys I’ve only “met” over the internet. I take pictures of my boobs on a more regular basis than I probably should…and sometimes my ass. It’s pretty hot, too. But I promise that if there’s any way you can keep me from going straight to hell for any or all of it, I will be so much better from here on out. No more boob pictures, no more name-calling. And I’ll work on the indiscriminate sex thing. I really will. This I solemnly swear from this day forward. Hear ye hear ye, o holy night…my sweet Lord. With liberty and justice for all. Amen.
Then Alice tick-tick-ticked against the screen again, and the lights in the whole place flickered. The back of her monitor shot out a fireworks display of purple sparks. “What the blue blazes?” She gave it a few smacks, obviously understanding how unlikely that was to restore the delicate electrical circuitry of modern technology. “I guess I’ll need someone from I.T. to sort this out.” She leaned into the monitor and announced, “Tech support to Alice in Admissions, please…tech support to Alice in Admissions.” It echoed in the vacuous space. She looked at me like she thought I might sneak off. “You, stay put.”
“And where exactly am I going to go?” She kept her eye on me, just in case I made a run for it.
And we waited.
Painful, awkward minutes passed, with Alice saying nothing to me, and me saying nothing to Alice, and me sitting under Alice’s judgmental glare while some computer dude slowly made his way to her desk. “What’s up this time, Alice?” he asked.
She waved at the monitor. “It did that thing again, Josh.”
“’That thing?’ Do you have a more technical term for it?” Josh didn’t seem to like Alice more than I did. Suddenly, he seemed kind of cute for a geek. Then I realized it was this type of thinking that had gotten me a chair in the front row of Your Life as An Internet Tramp, so I tried not to notice him so much.
“It was the same thing that happened last time,” she sniped. “Is that better?” She was even a bitch to people who were trying to help her.
“Not really, no.” He peered into the monitor and tapped it a little bit. “What did you do just before it blew?”
“I hit alt-delete-control, just like I’m supposed to.”
Josh gave her the hairy eyeball. “Did you hit alt-control-delete, or alt-delete-control?”
She shrugged her bony shoulders. “I don’t know. What difference does it make?”
“It makes a ton of difference, Alice…a ton. I thought you’d remember that from last time. And the time before.” I laughed, and Josh the techno-geek smiled at me. More likely he was smiling at the Ladies, but whatever. He looked at her screen a little more, and frowned with his whole face. “Yup. You’ve trashed the server – again.”
Alice huffed. “Well, dingleberries. What do we do now?”
“We reboot the whole system,” Josh told her. “Again.”
“And what do I do with…?” She motioned to me, like I was produce that needed to be put in a bin somewhere.
“Send her back, just like you did with the others the last time this happened.”
“Seriously?” Alice asked.
“We can’t move her to Next Phase without finishing the review, and the server’s going to be down for a while. Again.” The glint in his eye as he turned and left told me our mutual disdain for Alice could be a great start to a little thing.
But I’d be damned – literally – if I were going to stick around a minute longer than I had to.
“So what do I do now?” I asked.
She brushed her hand toward the door. “Oh, just go.”
She gathered up her purse. “It’s our lucky day, dear. Now you can go take some more pictures of your chest, and I can watch the last half hour of Dr. Oz.” She wandered off toward who knows where.
I really didn’t care.
I was just happy to be going back.
I turned and headed toward the lobby. I passed a long line of people, all with tickets in their hands, all with the same confused look on their faces that I’m sure I must have had when I was sitting there. I felt like I should warn them, in case they were as ignorant of me about what was happening to them. One of the faces was familiar…thought not his face so much as his shirt, actually.
And not his shirt so much as the guacamole and mango margarita vomit splattered like a Jackson Pollack all over the front of it.
He seemed to recognize me, too. “Do you know where we are?” he asked.
“I do…and it’s not good.” I wasn’t sure I should have said that. Now that Alice had jacked up the server, I honestly didn’t know if he’d be lucky enough to make it back like me. With the computers having gone down, maybe everyone was just going to be released back to their bodies and home to their lives. We’d call this a near-death experience and move on.
Maybe not, though…
“Oh.” He looked crestfallen.
“For the record,” I told him, “I wasn’t drunk while I was driving us…there was a pig in the road, and I swerved to hit it.”
His face registered more than a hint of recollection. And a fair amount of embarrassment. “Also for the record,” he said, “you weren’t the one driving; I was. Sorry, Faboobulous.”
I knew exactly who he was now.
He wasn’t just some random guy I’d picked up at Brenda’s party; he was someone I’d made contact with online a few weeks back and had purposely invited to Brenda’s party, so we could meet and…whatever…face to face. I’d sent him pictures of the Ladies in all their glory…and he’d sent me pictures of the Gentlemen in return.
He was Gorilla Cock.
I looked back at Alice’s empty desk, wondering if he’d actually end up being called for review. “Listen, they might ask you some embarrassing things about your online activity…and probably our online activity will be wrapped up in that.” His face turned whiter than should be allowable for someone who’s already dead. I hardly knew him, and yet I felt so very bad for what had happened, and for what I knew would be coming. “If you can, try to fluster the lady with the beak in the white sweater. She’s not so great with computers; you can use that to your advantage. If you get her to hit alt-delete-control, you’ll be golden.” He smiled a little. I suddenly remembered why I liked him.
Besides the gorilla cock thing, that is.
“If you make it…um…back…give me a call or something…” I was searching for his name – his real name, not his online sex-code nickname.
He laughed like he didn’t really mind. “Okay.”
I started for the elevator that was now clearly visible at the end of the corridor. Then I ran back for one last thing that I thought might help. “And if, by chance, someone who may be a woman or may be a man floats by and hands you coffee?” I held up my cup.
“Dude…take it. For the love of all things holy, take as much as you can. That shit is fantastic.”