"You can't start enjoying your lot in life until you've figured out what it is." - Mary Phelps Jacob
“Well, that was certainly a hell of a lot of fun.”
“I must, of course, agree with you.”
The room was filled with swirling blue flashes of occult lightning and the lingering, empty smell of stale church incense - an empty smell compared to the piles of fine cheeses that lined the walls, carved into ornate cheese cathedrals and packed behind black leather couches that framed a thick, see-through coffee table. Stacks of catalogues for the next crop of unlived lives loaded the table, slightly bowing it, and angelic, choral voices would have spiralled down from the ceiling had there been one. There were no doors, and the two bald gentlemen sat side by side, naked, their legs wrapped around one another, black leather sticking in sweaty middle-aged patches to their hairy, shivering nether regions. Naturally, these men were merely the low vibrations of beautifully intricate and complex metaphysical beings.
“Who would have thought Buddhist monks would have had such rich and exciting sex lives?”
“Quite a shock. The lotus position – great for those posterior muscles. And all that mental control and discipline. Delightful. Such innocence coupled with such dark desire. Unspeakably erotic.”
“Nothing says seduction like total and complete mind-breaking enlightenment.”
“So what next?”
This was the kind of clearing house where no question was left unanswered for very long. The swirling blue lights began to congeal directly overhead, forming a palpable portal that shimmered like the film that forms on canned soup. A billion kazoos began to play “Joy to the World.” The portal burst, and a three foot tall, conventionally unattractive, lemon green, winged rat poked through, descending. The rat’s fur was the shade of green one pretended one didn’t see – second-half-of-moulding-bread green. One quietly disposed of the bread, and turned on the television, perhaps reaching casually for a bottle of mouthwash to unconsciously purify festering intestinal cognitive dissonance. The billion kazoos didn’t help: their bass would tear your soul apart without divine intervention.
The rat descended slowly, very self-aware, swollen and matted, its suave black eyes distant and dancing, thick with every mystical secret the universe had managed to vomit up from its churning underbelly. It had a huge, suggestive nose, and a huge, suggestive phallus. But that didn’t necessarily mean the rat was male. One got the feeling it was intended for shock value.
“Let me do the talking this time,” whispered one man to the next. They hugged each other a bit more tightly.
The rat looked at One Man, and then the Next, hovering puckishly, dimpled and debonair. It squeaked, probably plaintively.
“Me,” said the Next Man.
“Him, said the other, One Man.
The rat nodded. The claws that rested together on its belly were like matchsticks in a box of mange. It fluttered over in fat little flaps to the Next Man, its limeny fur radiating absolute divinity. It landed with a fart on the bald pate of the Next Man, digging its forepaws into the Next Man’s forehead...closing its little rat eyes...swishing its little rat tail...
A shudder went through the Next Man’s sack of naked meat, and he climbed to a standing position on top of the central coffee table, extricating himself completely from One Man’s warm embrace. Next Man spasmed twice, and then began to speak, possessed with the godly intonation and telepathic control of the seated, shut-eyed rat.
“So what would you have me do?” boomed the possessed.
One Man shrugged, not anticipating this. “Judgement?” he ventured.
Both rat and Next Man sighed.
“Well, you are the Almighty Supreme Being, Rat-lord. We forever bow in humble deference to your every whim and fancy. Holy, holy, holy...”
The rat opened its eyes and glowered. It sighed once more, deeper and more desperately, and then began to commune once more with its chosen host.
“Look, you two lived your lives plainly and well, with only minor sexual indiscretions held against you in the Game’s great tally sheet. You know how icky I find your human act of lovemaking – how it displeases and frankly disgust my tender rat sensibilites. But look...come on...you were practically saints. I’m God, and I’m impressed. And, as such, your judgement is to judge yourselves.”
“I’m still a bit confused.”
“You make the call, post-mortal. Trap your own damn self in a subtle body...leave me out of it.”
“You mean that we must come up with our own future incarnations?”
“Yes, yes...you can make yourselves great lovers or great enemies or whatever – pick whatever tickles your Benjamin from the catalogue there, and I’ll make it so...like wind blowing in a void. This particular Judgement, you will find, is both a gift and a curse. Standard stuff, really. I wish you creatures would keep your hands off of one another’s private parts, though. It makes me seriously ill. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be over in the corner, having myself a munch, and trying not to end the entire manifest universe out of boredom and hubris. Please, discuss your options, and don’t mind me.”
“Here I am - born to be king,” sang God, detaching, and fluttering to a cheese church.
“Well, this certainly is unique and intimidating,” said Next Man, rubbing his shoulders and raising an eyebrow, slowly recuperating from his prophetic possession.
“Surely we can do this,” said One Man, “What with our vast and variagated understanding of the human response to fated conditions. From here on out, it’s all dice rolling and little bits of bliss.”
“I don’t know. Picking out our next incarnation doesn’t sound very good to me. I am no master of fate and consequence - you know me - I get nervous watching the Weather Channel. Trying to predict chaos seems like an impossible cardigan to knit.”
“Tattered argyle gargle cargo.”
“I said, that semipostiphrenically, our mionderidian will ignite, inflicting multiple proscenia on our less fortunate despectralized catiaphones. You know, once the sponges run dry.”
“Somehow that makes even less sense than before.”
God was now vigourously excercising its pudgy stomach, gyrating aerobically on a padded piece of cross-shaped plastic gadgetry. In the 80’s, and then again in the 1780’s, and then again in the 1980’s, God had tried to sell these cheap and painful pieces of B-grade excercise gear as the “Ab-solution,” but, as with most of God’s get-rich-quick ideas, this one had been a massive failure, crippling Heaven’s market share and causing God to become a sullen athiest, knowing deep down that if God couldn’t sell pointless crappy bits of materialism to mystified rubes, no one could.
“You’re right,” said One Man, “It doesn’t make much sense – but I think it would be a great bet, and I feel like we would learn loads and loads about ourselves, each other, and maybe even that itchy little thing we call humanity.”
Next Man decided his brain was still fuzzy and husked out from God’s intimate brain massage. He would just have to focus...try harder not to hear things that weren’t being said.
“What do you mean...bet?” asked Next Man, frowning.
“To see who can amass the most capital, given equal starting conditions. To see who has the potential to be the most ruthless, corporate, and conniving...buying and selling the small and weak in order to put together a vast business empire and rule the world with total impunity. The bet will be to see who can make the most money – net – in a given lifespan, and the winner gets...hmmm...I don’t know...to have the loser be his personal sex slave in the next incarnation.”
“Kinky,” said Next Man, giving One Man a peck on the cheek.
“I think we have earned a splurge of regressive reincarnated hedonism, my man. We sang many a hymn to the eternal presence of the one, did we not?”
“Fuckin’ A, then. Let’s make it happen.”
Loopy grins tugging their wrinkles fully into their temples, they began to leaf through the Unlived Lives catalogues scattered on the table. God didn’t say much, but you could tell he was into it. You could just tell.
Sally Manhattan paced back and forth, spewing and frothing, coating her chin with quick-drying spittle. There were bags under her eyes, and coffee stains on the knees of her pants-suit. Tendons under her jaw, blue and tight, popped and twisted her fierce countenance into grotesque reflections of her ropy, passionate intensity. This was a down day for Manhattan & Manhattan, and she bucked and jived, caught sideways in the steel jaws of absolute responsibility, chewing at her leg like a cornered, naked animal. Salvation was in action, and eternal vigilance dictated that profits must be forced to comply with her will-to-expand: her ex nihilo ability to maximize gain from the losses that rained in torrents upon her ledgers like South Pacific hurricanes. She screamed. She thrashed. For Sally, there really wasn’t much of a choice; she simply had never taken the time to learn how to drown.
“Fire all of them, then! Downsize the shit out of Mexico, and give the rest of International Acquisitions some sort of totally demoralizing pay cut. Encourage them to quit, so we don’t have to worry about severance packages.”
Roger Lhambpschaede, Manhattan & Manhattan’s ubiqutous and attornal presence of the diabolical, lawyer, counselor, and resident wit, simultaneously completed the day’s crossword puzzle and with sharp, rodentary teeth pared bits of fingernail from his digits. Above all else, he believed in the law, and his ability to interpret and manipulate its internal flow. And, then, above that, he believed in money. Above that – there was the Rat, but that was a half-glimpsed gnostic understanding that went unspoken. Lhambpschaede kept his ontologies to himself in civilized conversation.
“Sally, Sally, Sally...” smarmed Lhambpschaede, “Angelbutt. You know we have certain procedural obligations that cannot be circumvented.”
“I wonder about you, Roger. This is a failure for the whole structure. We are doomed, and I have a future to think about.”
“Blah. It’s all the same. Abandon ship or lash yourself to the side...either way we make the papers. I told you crass corporate materialism was an unacceptable threat to the ethical mythology of today’s business climate. Meaning and spirituality are dominating the market, right now. I told you you oughtta start wearing a cross. Jesus is hot, and your greed is killing you, out there.”
“My professionalism is what matters. I can’t believe this isn’t affecting you.”
“I’m liquid. I’ve been liquid all quarter. I see for miles, Manhattan. Peel the viscous from your bulging globes, Captain Kaboom.”
Sally steamed. Sally paced. She answered phones, and threw wads of paper at her desktop idols. Roger sat smugly in his corner and tapped his pencil to his lips, purposefully trying to be as aggravating as possible.
“That’s it, then. It’s over. We lose,” sank Sally.
“I quit, then,” said Roger, picking up his briefcase. “Two points for the bigger picture!”
Sally cooly watched him walk to the elevator, convinced that this all had some sort of hidden cosmic significance. Dazzling visions of independent financial wizardry beckoned Roger onward. He had learned enough.
Out on the golf course, Sally Manhattan selected a five iron from her bag, tightening her glove. She was kicking the crap out of her CEO, and since she had moved fields and done a miraculous, single-handed judo-reversal on her crushing financial failure, Manhattan & Manhattan had now become one of the six most massive information technologies corporations underneath the moon. Her CEO was no golfer, but whenever she felt the need to modify his standing orders, she brought him out to the links to humiliate and scarify his game, letting him know that there would never be a time when her will would be second-guessed.
She surveyed the lie of the land, took a practice swing, and then grunted in passing frustration as her cell phone rang. She tossed her club at her bag, and flipped her phone up to her face.
“Talk dirty, baby...what are you wearing?”
“Roger, you bastard...”
“I just bought an island, Sally-Wally....thought I’d give you a call. I needed a place to put my new mansion and private yacht club. I had Hong Kong’s finest cajun restaurant airlifted in this morning, and I thought you might be in the mood for some jambalya and crawfish. Today, I am a magical money animal! You making sure to watch your follow-through?”
“You are truly an ass.”
“And you are never going to catch up with all this posturing. I can’t believe how ridiculously successful this year has been for me. Just thought I’d let you know, for old times sake.”
“You call me at least once a week, ass.”
“You’re breaking up Sally...you really must consider buying your own wireless company. I have to go now...Fortune Magazine is making me their centerfold this issue. What should I tell them if they ask about my connections with Manhattan & Manhattan and my bitterness regarding its hilarious mismanagement?”
“Stop calling me, Roger. I have a low threshold for the lonely and pathetic.”
“I’ll be thinking about you, Angelbutt.”
Sally tossed her phone into a water hazard, and picked back up her club. She ran up to her ball, and whacked the screaming bejesus out of it. The ball flew impotently off to the right and out of the course, sucked from view by gravity’s turgid maw. Her club snapped in half, taking out a massive divot, dangling limply like the worst kind of flaccid penis.
She glared at her CEO, daring him to protest.
“Mulligan,” said Sally.
Roger Lhambpschaede sat naked inside a pentagram, burning tallow candles at every point, humming and rolling his head around on his shoulders. Otherwise, the room was dark...so dark you could see neither edges nor corners. Shapes rippled along the silky infinity that darkness represented, and faces formed and dissolved in the emptiness. Crazy temperature fluctuations made it so that one minute he could see his breath, and the next minute he was sweating like a Georgia senator watching his granddaughter ride horses.
“Alright, I’m ready now! Bring in the virgins!”
His manservant - a dour, suited chap Roger had dubiously re-named Agamemnon – was formerly the king of the island Roger had bought to be his palatial hideaway, and was now kept in bound service by the threat of total annihilation by Roger’s custom array of trained army robots. For the most part, Roger was too busy to be the exacting tyrannical lord of his owned island paradise, but when he did show up, he expected complete deference and servitude from the local locals.
“The virgins, Agamemnon! Bring me the virgins!”
“They are nervous...er...Emperor. They are afraid you are going to impugn upon their honor. Among my people, honour is a valuable commodity.”
“Of course I’m not going to impugn upon their honor! I’m going to GUT them and use the entrails from their still-warm bodies to read the future. Your dark skinned women do nothing for my pale, pasty pecker. What with those dangly boobs, and all. Hurry, Agamemnon! The arcane mirror to the source code of my Rat-god’s divine plan is closing! Time is starting back up again!”
“Emperor, I have serious ethical issues about killing, you know. I used to be a Marxist, and I think right now I have settled on humanistic psychology, but either way, if you look at the ethics of the situation...”
“Alright, alright...I am bringing the virgins...”
“And the ceremonial bejeweled jigsaw!”
“And the ceremonial bejeweled jigsaw...”
There was much screaming, pleading, and spurting. Agamemon had to leave at one point during the ceremony to puke, wondering if those bags of money he had received to build all of those new high tech hospitals were worth it, in the end. What would Kant say? What would Mill say?
“Stop daydreaming, Agamemnon! Now, tell me, does this look like the lower intestine, or a pancreas? In the book these things are all color-coded, and now I can’t tell what in the hell’s going on...”
Roger was crouched on all fours, digging irreverently through steaming virgin flesh.
“Emperor...in good conscience...I must ask why. Why Emperor? It seems so wrong...”
“Why? Why, money, of course! Money! Life is much easier than you are making it. Now help me cut through this...chest bone? Ah, hell. I wish I was a doctor. You’re not a doctor are you? Aw, come on stop crying, Agamemnon. Here.”
Roger frowned, handing his trusty manservant a fresh, clean pair of virgin panties with which to dry his eyes. In the dark, Agamemnon couldn’t tell that he was merely smearing blood all over his face, but Roger got a chuckle out of it.
The board of trustees all took off their shoes and loosened their ties.
“And you are sure this will crush Lhambpschaede and his evil plans for the rest of this fiscal year?” said Sally Manhattan, leaning forward, shoes very much still on.
“100% sure, Sally. Stop obsessing,” said her CEO.
“It doesn’t seem legal, what we are doing.”
“There are higher principles than the law, Sally. Might I remind you of Jesus?”
Sally looked down at the cross hanging around her neck.
“We have it on good information that not only does Lambpschaede not go to church, he also drives a Japanese car. Pure, concentrated evil. Putting an end to his Mammonistic madness is nothing but sheer zealous necessity.”
The board of trustees began to clap, some of them even whistling through their elderly Anglo teeth.
“Hear, hear,” sang the board of trustees.
“But lots of people don’t go to church. And we all drive Japanese cars. They are just better built.”
“I drive a Volvo, Sally. Remember? You said it matched my eyes?” Her CEO looked hurt.
Sally sighed, picturing the sweetness of ultimate victory.
“Alright, I’m convinced. There’s no turning back now though, is there?”
“Nope. Take your shoes off, Sally. We’ve done the right thing.”
Sally began to loosen her boots.
“So, Agamemnon. What do you want to do tonight? Movies and ice cream? Perhaps a little Excitebike?”
Agamemnon puffed studiously on a foot long cigar. As far as judging cigars was concerned, he went by length. Their ridiculousness made him smile.
“You’re the boss, Emperor Roger. I’m up for...you know...whatever.”
“Somebody’s at the door, my liege. You want to get that, though? I’m worn out from all that go-kart action we took in today.”
“Certainly, Agamemnon, my loyal compatriot,” said Roger, jauntily skipping toward the door, “I told you to go easy on those French pastries.”
He threw wide the threshold, only minorly suprised to find Sally Manhattan standing sadly before him, a helicopter slowly winding down behind her, its rotors swishing hypnotically through the night air.
“Come to pledge your love and obedience to me at last, Angelbutt?”
“Hardly. I just thought I should be the one to break the news to you. I have guilt, ass.”
“Well, come in. We were just trying to make plans for the night. Sally, this is Agamemnon. Agamemnon, this is Sally Manhattan, President of Manhattan & Manhattan. And no, there is no other Manhattan. Just Sally. How’s that for ego?”
“Pretty far out, Emperor Roger.”
“Agamemnon, why don’t you fetch us some Slurpees from the new corner store I had put in? And get a little something for yourself, while you’re out there. Here’s a wad of Jolly Rogerbucks. And I don’t want to read about massive inflation in The Daily Roger tomorrow...so spend wisely.”
Agamemnon moodily raised himself to a standing position, snatching the Rogerbucks and heading slowly to the door.
“Now what was this about news? I thought we were mortal enemies.”
Sally sighed, dropping her coat on the floor and moving to sit on a velveteen ottoman. She took off her headset, and held it in her lap. It had not been a good day for helicoptering, and now her hair was all a mess.
“Roger, I’m afraid you are bankrupt. At 9:00 AM tomorrow morning, Manhattan & Manhattan, with the aid and encouragement of the Internal Revenue Service, will sieze and consume all of your assets in an effort to drive you out of the business business and into absolute financial ruin.”
“Last year, you contributed nothing to any sort of charity or non-profit organization. And, it seems, you have applied to start your own religion. Very controversial, Roger. Also, it’s enough ammunition to take you down.”
“But the Rat wanted me to! Oh man, I’ve been screwed.”
“Sorry, Roger. Looks like you lose.”
Roger walked slowly over to his rolltop desk, visibly agitated and biting his fingernails.
“9:00 AM tomorrow, you say?”
“For the record, Sally...how much are you worth, exactly?”
She told him, hoping he wouldn’t do anything rash. He seemed to be about to do something rash.
Roger pulled out a shotgun from his desk, loading it quietly.
“9:00 AM, huh?”
Sally and Roger sat on opposite black leather couches, not speaking to one another. They both sat with crossed arms, covering gigantic holes in each of their chests.
The smell of cheese was overpowering.
“The Church of the Golden Lhampbschaede would have been magnificent, Sal. Don’t be such a sore loser.”
Manhattan said nothing.
“Love is war! War is war. Come on, we can call the whole thing off if you want.”
She beat him over the head in her imagination with her blunt, 6 pound silence stick. Visibly, she was a rock.
“You would have done the same thing in my position, Sally. Why’d you come by and tell me, anyway? You were setting yourself up for this, subconsciously.”
Now she turned completely away, becoming intensely interested in the dancing blue lights and how they refracted inside the cheese cathedrals. There was real stained string cheese in there.
“This was your idea,” moaned Roger.
God descended, eating a big bag of Cheetos - powdery cheese sifting through its whiskers. Sally stood up and began to talk to God in the corner, whispering quietly.
“What are you guys talking about over there? This is totally not fair.”
Sally giggled, and God snapped its fingers, healing Sally’s wounds, stripping her of her clothing, and binding her in leather straps. It picked up her leash, and fluttered over to Roger, dropping the end into his hands.
“So an entire lifetime of sexual mastery over you, huh?”
“Won’t we burn in hell for this, eventually?” Roger turned to God.
“You ready?” said Sally.
Roger scratched his chin, frowning.
“How will I know who you are, down there?” asked Roger.