After observing a year of the Trump administration Ernie concluded that it was time to stick a little bug into the boss’ ear. While the chattering class of the overworld daily proclaimed the death knell with each successive blunder (no matter how trivial or consequential), Ernie noted with some smug satisfaction that the horse’s ass was actually getting some things done in spite of himself. The man was no mental giant, but he possessed a set of solid brass balls, a quality long absent from the office. A quality that Ernie admired, indeed expected from anyone who called himself a man.
Despite the theater of it all the revolving door of White House and executive office staff had done nothing to slow the implementation of their broader agenda. For good or ill, he certainly did not have a dog in this hunt, but things are what they are. As a man who also measured results, and not just idle chatter, Ernie was left to consider that some shake up in some of the executive level staff of Hell, Inc. was perhaps long overdue.
For a man whose mind had been formed in the twentieth century he found that the new age platitudes of modern HR philosophies rang hollow. Culture change. What bull shit! Like the rest of the world they had been trapped in this pathetic group think for too long. They needed a new man to head up HR to begin with, someone to come in and turn all the thinking on it’s ear. What he needed was someone like Trump. He was pretty certain he had a solid candidate in mind. He reached for the intercom switch on his desk to summon his new secretary.
“Yeah? Wotcher want, guv?”
Amy Winehouse. Not the sort of girl you took home to meet your ma, but she was proving to make one hell of a secretary. More ink than a sailor and she drank like a fish. It was a good fit.
“Amy! Get me Sam Kinison up here.”
“Get right on it, guv!” Amy was always eager to get a microphone back in her hands, though she’d lost that artfulness in the afterlife. Her voice crackled to life over the public address system. “ Oi! Sam Kinison! Bring yer arse to central admin! Boss wants t’ see yer. Right? Sam Kinison to central admin.”
Ernie could just as easily have done this himself, but he liked to hear her voice on the speakers. He’d been told by some that she’d been a singer in the overworld, though he still couldn’t quite imagine it. Funny. There was that Lennon fella over there in the Hare Krishna section, who apparently was one of the most famous singers of all time, yet he was unable to make that out either. Old Blue Eyes had come to join their party a few years back and he still sounded great, better than ever in fact. If he happened to remember the next time he saw the boss he would ask about this. Maybe there was some kind of rule. Hell is a place with all sorts of arcane rules (only the Devil himself knows them all), few of which apply universally. He had been a resident for nearly a quarter century before he learned that in some sections of Hell shit actually rolls uphill.
While to the casual observer these irregularities in physics might appear to be random anomalies, they were in fact due to a complex set of situational algorithms. In areas with large concentrations of people who spent their mortal lives trying to deny reality and reshape it into their own version (bankers, lawyers, politicians), shit will roll uphill. There is nothing they can do to change this: they either accept the reality and act accordingly or they spend their eternity shoveling shit. Consequently there are legions of shit shovelers in Hell.
Ernie refilled a tumbler on his desk with some fresh rum and contemplated his second cigar of the morning. There were a few files to review (Tuesdays were typically slow) and he spent a few disinterested minutes mechanically turning the pages, not really absorbing the material. No, this day Ernie’s mind was on the big picture, a broader vision. He had just lit that cigar when Amy’s voice returned on the intercom.
“Oi Guv! Yer man Kinison’s ‘ere!”
“Excellent! Send him in!”
Ernie rose from his seat in preparation, switching the freshly lit Cuban to his left hand. He had never encountered Kinison in person, though his reputation preceded him. He and that bug-eyed pal of his, Dangerfield, had formed Hell’s first and only comedy club. No Respect: the place where comics come to die. Of course Hell is not concerned with the amusement of the residents, the club was for staff only, yet on many nights it was SRO. He’d heard that Sam was also fond of cigars, booze and pussy. Ernie was genuinely looking forward to getting acquainted.
Kinison entered his office, nearly filling the door frame with his girth. He was wearing his trademark coat, rakishly perched beret and his ever-present sneer. With a mirthful twinkle in his eye he let escape that high-pitched, snarky chuckle. “Heh-heh-heh! I knew it was only a matter of time before you’d be calling me. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hemingway. Truly an honor.”
“Please, call me Ernie. May I call you Sam? Care for some rum?”
“Rum?! Heh-heh-heh, Ernie if you’re serving rum you can call me any fucking thing you like! So uh…waits the, uh, tail situation like around here, huh?”
“Ha-ha! All in good time Sam!” Ernie really didn’t need to carry this interview any further. He knew they had found their man. Instead, after imbibing several rounds of the latest shipment of Caney (direct from Santiago, no less), he launched into forming a vision for the new HR department under Sam’s guidance.
“So you see Sam I just can’t get past that suspicion about the HR department. The same team for so many years, any new blood arriving coming out of the same poisoned pool as those namby-pamby dip shits up there! It just can’t be good. They must be infected with that same emasculated whimper. You understand me, don’t you Sam?”
“Sure, sure. Yeah, I know the type you’re talking about Ernie. They’re all part of the pussyfication of America. Yep. Know exactly. I, uh, may have a few suggestions, if you’d be interested in hearing them.”
“Splendid! Yes, by all means Sam! Please share.”
Sam’s face broke into a crazed, beaming grin. “Really?! Heh-heh-heh….oh, that’s great. Okay, listen. Let’s drink up here and take a walk up to the front gates. I wanna show ya something! Heh-heh-heh…this is gonna be good.”
Ernie’s heart swelled with pride. Already the man was taking full ownership of the enterprise, a captain and his ship, bold and confident. It occurred to him that this could be recorded as a landmark date in Hell history. As they strode through the shadowed and labyrinthine paths upwards to the main gate Kinison began to expound upon some of his thoughts.
“You see Ernie, the real problem that we have around this place is that there are a lot of these people who don’t even belong here…”
“Now wait just a minute, Sam! You’re treading very close to heresy there! We’re not the court, we’re just the prison.”
“You calling me a heretic? Really? Heh-heh-heh! You can turn down the charm offensive now, I’ll take the job. All I’m saying is it’s the 800 pound deity sitting in the room. There is no denying it: half of these people haven’t earned eternal damnation. A lot of them are just milling around here because no one else would take them!”
It was true, there was no denying it. Hell had, sadly, become the County Hospital of the afterlife. There were some basic criteria that needed to be met, but essentially there were few instances where they truly had the luxury of turning anyone away. In the past year there had been something of an order of 125,000 admitted through the gates who had previously earned their ticket to Heaven, but had bailed due to their strict no smoking policy.
“True enough Sam. I take your meaning now. So what do you propose we should do with this surplus?”
“Fuck ‘em! They’re here because no one else would have them! Who the fuck’s gonna miss ‘em? Huh? Heh-heh-heh! Just fuel for the furnace, my friend. Fuel for the furnace.”
“Interesting. You know my predecessor had some similar theories.”
“Oh, Adolf? Yeah, he was a regular down at the club there for a while, right after you guys canned him.
“Why not? A few million more jew jokes, it never goes out of style. They’re kinda like the comic book heroes of the joke world, you know? It’s a franchise with real staying power.”
“I suppose you’re right, Sam. Can’t think of a single time or place I’ve been where they haven’t been comic fodder. Of course I’ve never been a humorist. That’s more your department.”
“I suppose it is, Ernie. Heh-heh-heh!”
“Well, we have considerably greater furnace capacity, that’s true, but we’re going to encounter many of the same problems he did. We’re talking about one huge crush of humanity, Sam. Millions every year and that doesn’t even begin to touch all of the existing dead weight.”
“Ernie, heh-heh-heh! Relax! We’ll pare ‘em down over time. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon, are we? And the newbies? They’ll be easy to weed out as they’re coming in. We’re almost to the line up lane. I’ll show what I’m talking about when we get there.”
They were indeed nearing a hall carved out of the black stone which ran beside the section of the front gate marked with the infamous Velvet Rope from Hell: the queue to get admitted to intake. These were not happy souls. For many of them simply standing there in that line for eternity would be their damnation. Like spending eternity at the BMV. Oh it had been proposed many times; always discounted due to the space required. The path they were on had been on a slight rise for some time and as they entered a long curve to the left the grade increased. Hovering in the shadowed semi-void, somewhere beyond and above them, there rose the low murmur of many voices as if gathered in a school auditorium.
After rounding the rising curve into the hall they found themselves upon a level plane, just beyond the reach of those inside of the velvet rope maze. For just a moment the two of them paused in awe of the spectacle. The line wove about more times than a man might count with the naked eye. Endless shuffling of dull and wretched misery as far as the eye can see.
“Look at ‘em all, huh Ernie? Heh-heh-heh! Bunch of fucking losers! Here! Watch this!” Sam turned toward the stone wall behind them where in the shadows there lurked a hatch of some sort. Watching Ernie to assure he had his attention Sam roughly brushed off the cover of the hatch door with the sleeve of his coat. With soot, age and grime cleared from its surface the caution labels were momentarily restored to a legible state, to read:
Central Furnace Auxiliary Exhaust Shaft
Authorized Personnel Only
Teamsters Local 666
Sam read the sign and sneered. “Teamsters!? Ahh, fuck ‘em! Heh-heh-heh! Just gotta turn this crank…”
“What are you doing?”
Sam gave a final tug at the handle and the hatch swung open heavily to clang against the solid mountain behind. It echoed like a giant gong over the entire cavern, reverberating back and again, again until masses in unison clutched their ears tightly with both hands, cringing against the heavy vibration. Even Ernie was momentarily fazed by it.
“Okay Ernie, just watch this.” Sam walked away toward the velvet rope, leaving the hatch gaping open to release shimmering waves of heat exhaust and the pungent perfume of sulfur. As the crowds slowly recovered from the assault upon their eardrums those nearest the hatch now found their attentions diverted to the intense heat and stench belching from the open exhaust. Sam wandered through the wisps of smoke to the nearest post where the segments of rope were anchored with their brass clips. Standing right there was a slight man of some advanced years, very dark-skinned. Perhaps Indian. Statistically likely given that more brown men die in India every day than on any other place on the planet. The man looked frightened.
“Hi! How are you doing today? Are you liking Hell so far?” Sam turned back toward Ernie for just an instant to reveal a farcically obsequious grin as he reached to unclip the rope. He then returned his attentions to the dark, frightened man. “ You wanna step on out here? Right through here, that’s it..”, the man teetered forward warily at Sam’s coaxing. He had just set foot outside the rope when Sam launched into his trademark manic howl just inches from the mans face.
The little man recoiled in terror, his eyes bursting wide open and then Sam instantly stopped.
“Okay, you were scared. You can get back in line. It’s okay, back inside the rope now….there you go. Okay, who do we have next?”
The next person in line was a round, squat little woman who appeared she might be Vietnamese. They went through the similar dance of coaxing forward, the same hesitance of step was present, though the fear did not register so plainly upon her flat and implacable face. Again, once outside of the rope Sam launched into the full onslaught, eliciting the very same response as the man before. Once the reaction was achieved he halted the assault and escorted the woman back into line. Ernie continued to observe from a distance, puzzling over the method and purpose of this exercise.
Next in the parade was a large black woman. In life she had been known as LaKwonda Jones of East 151st Street in Cleveland, Ohio. LaKwonda bore all of the affectations associated with the urban American phenomenon known as a “hood rat”. She had never been a very pleasant person, though she was possessed of one redeeming trait, best expressed in her own words: “Don’t take no shit offa no motherfuckah!” As Sam approached her there was no fear in her eyes. In fact she was already winding up the bob-and-weave feature in her neck and her scold finger adorned with the multi-colored fake nail.
“Oh hell no, ya’ll ain’t finna get up in my grill wit dat shit, fat cracker!”
Like the Grinch calmly reassuring Cindy Lou Who when caught absconding with the family Christmas tree, Kinison lit up his most charming smile and reverted to his former ministerial persona. He raised his hands before him, palms out, in a posture suggesting truce and began. “Hey, hey, it ain’t about nothin’, sister. No no no! None of that for you. You’re one of the oppressed people!”
LaKwonda had pulled in her nails and crossed her arms just beneath her ample bosom. She was listening, but with a thinly disguised sneer of doubt. “Say what now?”
“Come on now! You know what we’re talking about. You been held down by the white man all your life and you still get sent to Hell? And then you still have to wait in line? What kinda shit is that, right?”
She was still looking incredulous, but he had her. She wanted to hear more. “Yeah? What yo white ass gonna do ‘bout it?”
Now it was time to reel her in, making it a more personal conversation. “Hey! Come on! You’re in Hell now. It’s not about black/white any more. We’re all in the shitter, sis! What’s your name, sweetheart? Where ya from?”
Her expression remained guarded, but her arms unfolded at least to bring her hands to rest upon the ample shelf of her hips. “ LaKwonda Jones. I’m from Cleveland.”
Sam winced and drew in a sharp breath. “ Ooo! Cleveland! Then you get sent here? That hurts! Oh, LaKwonda! Now see here, in Hell, we like to recognize the plight of oppressed peoples. We know you’ve been getting the shitty end of the stick all your life and even though this is Hell…, well, we like to try to find at least some small ways we can even the score. If you know what I mean.”
He still had not completely gained her trust, but he had her on the line now. “Yeah, you talkin’ shit! What you gonna do?”
“Okay, so here’s the thing, right? You’re down here, standing in line and you’re waiting for what? Eternal damnation, right? Well, why take an eternity? How bad have you really been, you know? What if you could just get all your damnation out of the way in, say, like twenty years? “
“You a crazy motherfuckin’ cracker!”
“Now LaKwonda! I’m trying to play ya straight here, come on! Why ya gotta bust my balls like that, huh? You see this nice fella right over there?” He motioned over to Ernie, who had remained standing about 50 feet away. He followed LaKwonda’s eyes to see that she had spotted him. He then waved and upon Ernie’s return wave he invited her to accompany him outside the rope. “If you’ll follow me over here you won’t have to wait in line any more, okay? My friend Ernie there can hook you up with an ExpressPass. You might not even have to do twenty, you know? I’ve seen some in as little as seven years.”
“LaKwonda! Whaddya got to lose, honey? At least talk to the man. Or you can always just get back in line.” That finally did it. The second her feet crossed that rope barrier the deed was done. “Atta girl, LaKwonda! You won’t regret this, I promise. Come on over here and meet my friend, Ernest Hemingway. He’s a big cheese down here, you know. Chief of Staff!”
As they approached Ernie was still wondering exactly what mischief his new-found friend had afoot. As the pair came within reach Sam offered a wink to him, signaling for him to play along with his lead.
Sam arranged himself to Ernie’s right with LaKwonda between them, the gaping hatch just feet away.
“Ernie, this is LaKwonda Jones from Cleveland, Ohio. Can you set her up with one our Affirmative Action ExpressPasses?”
Ernie winced and drew in a sharp breath. “Ooo! Cleveland! Then they send you here? That hurts!”
In the time it took for Ernie to say this Sam had built a running start behind Lakwonda and lowered his shoulder into her back like Lawrence Taylor, bowling her over into the waiting maw of the exhaust hatch. As her wails echoed up from the shaft he called after her. “Don’t worry! It’s only a shower! Heh-heh-heh!” Then he promptly slammed the hatch cover shut behind her, creating another sonic boom to render the chamber motionless, frantically cupping their eardrums as they cowered to the floor.
“Judas Priest, man! You want to explain to me what that was all about? Is this a plan or just some random exercise?”
“Heh-heh-heh! That was a demonstration of the plan, or part of it anyway. That’s our initial screening. We get ‘em like that at the entrance. You see those first two? They were scared shitless. Well, the second one anyway, you know? The fat Madame Butterfly? The first guy starved to death, he only had a wet fart. So I figure it like this. You got people standing in line, waiting to get checked in to Hell. They’re nervous anyway, right?”
“Alright. Go on.”
“Okay, so some big guy comes up and starts screaming in their face. I’m kinda scary looking, but not ram’s horns, demon kinda shit. Not the worst thing you’re gonna see down here, right? So why the extreme reaction? It’s because they have a guilty conscience. Those people belong here. But LaKwonda? She wasn’t scared, no. See, the LaKwondas? Maybe they belong here, but they’re troublemakers. We don’t need ‘em.”
A glint of understanding twinkled in Ernie’s eyes and he slowly nodded. “Yes, I see the truth of it.”
“Yeah, I figure we set up our screen at the entrance, put in a vacuum tube direct to the hatch in the wall here and we’re golden. We can cut this space by half, easy. Maybe more.”
“Beautiful, Sam. Just beautiful. I knew I was going to like you.”
“Hey, one more thing. You got that Captain Kirk intercom thing on ya?”
Ernie fumbled absently about his pockets until he retrieved a small radio type device. “Uh, yes…here it is!”
Sam took the unit, took a moment to puzzle it’s keys and buttons and then his voice boomed over the public address system. “Okay, starting right now there’s going to be some changes around here. Niggers and Kikes, Dagos and Dykes to the front of the line. If you match that description move it up. We need to start speeding things up around this place!”
He nonchalantly handed the unit back. “So! What do you say?”
“I say, Mr. Kinison, I leave this in your very capable hands. I have rum to drink.”