There is the apocryphal Mark Twain story about the newspaper editor who knocks at the pearly gates. St. Peter asks what the man did while alive, and when told, beams broadly, swings wide the gates, and says: “Welcome! Come right in. You had your share of hell on Earth.”
In the fourth or fifth grade, some of my attention-challenged classmates and I would now and then speculate on what hell was like. This, as I recall, was an offshoot of the devotionals that were broadcast each morning over the school intercom (in that antediluvian age, such things had not yet been outlawed).
“It's like a big sawdust pile, that just burns and burns and never goes out,” was one imaginary scenario. “Or burning cotton bales,” suggested a friend whose father managed the local compress and would occasionally let us play on the hundreds of bales in his warehouse. “A river of burning gasoline,” opined another.
“No, it's fire and brimstone,” insisted a girl whose father was a minister, thus, we figured, giving her something of an inside track on the subject. Plus, none of us had a clue what brimstone might be.
Over the decades, I've had something of an ongoing collection of Concepts of Hell. Among them:
- Hell would be having nothing to eat but celery for eternity. If there is a yukkier vegetable on the planet, I cannot think of it. Well, zucchini maybe runs a close second.
- Hell would be having to listen to endless recordings by the Beach Boys. Or the Bee Gees.
- Hell would be having to forever eat at McDonald's (with everything super-sized).
- Hell would be spending eternity with a TV continuously playing nothing but daytime soap operas. Or Martha Stewart.
- Hell would be flying unendingly on Northwest Airlines. Or Delta. Or American. Or any airline. Or sitting in airport terminals, listening to everyone shouting into their cellphones.
- Hell would be having to drive forever on I-40 between Memphis and Little Rock. Or Memphis-Nashville. Must be more speeding-like-mad 18-wheelers per mile on I-40 than any other route in the U.S.
- Hell would be drinking nothing but diet drinks. Any diet drinks. How can they all be so uniformly insipid? My two latest additions to the list:
- Hell would be spending eternity with a million horseflies. Or just one horsefly. Can there be a more annoying insect? They fly so fast, there's no way you can hope to swat ‘em, and they'll follow you half a mile for a chance to bite you. When I'm out walking, I swear there's one that lies in wait for me at the same place every day.
- Hell would be forced to work forever on a computer with a dial-up connection. On my laptop, in hotel rooms or elsewhere with non-high speed lines, I can go out to dinner while waiting for an e-mail page to load. The world is awash in unused bandwidth, yet most of us are forced to plod through the Great Electronic Universe at horse and buggy speed.