Friday, July 6, 2007


Death was not what I expected.

It was just so impersonal. It's like the first time you fly on an airplane. You've made all these plans, bought your tickets, packed your luggage, picked out snacks for the flight. Then you get to the airport and realize "Oh, I guess all these people . . . they want to go somewhere too." Somehow you forgot that, yes, THOUSANDS of people fly out of every major airport on a given day. You'd focused on the flight itself and how excited you'd be: "I'm off to my vacation!" you'd said, your ticket clutched in your hand.

Then you got out of the cab and realized that it's not that simple, you can't go anywhere in an airport until you solve an elaborate logic puzzle with gates and kiosks and lines on the floor like some kind of "Wizard of Oz" theme park. And you can't ever stop to think because there are about a thousand people behind you who need to go in every direction you're considering.

And that's what death is like. One minute you're freaked out about "oh no the reserve chute didn't open" and "what's going to happen to my car" and "guess I'm not going to eat the other half of that sandwich", then the next minute you're standing in line trying to figure out where gate 352B is. It was quite a shock to me. Yet, at the same time it all made sense. When humanity was young I guess all you needed was one guy on a horse with a scythe. It was Death built for a small, agrarian society. But with six billion people in the world, eventually we required something that could handle huge numbers on a daily basis. So Death became an airport.

But not exactly. It's different. There are all these signs in really big capital letters, and you have to read them before you can go anywhere. The first one just says "YOU ARE DEAD" a hundred feet high. I laughed at that one. I mean, come on, I KNOW. Reserve chute didn't open, ground rushing up, hey there's a deer "hi buddy!", dark, I'm dead, I gotcha. But as I passed by that sign I saw all these people arguing with it. Yes, arguing with the sign. "I am not!" "You'd better send me back right now!" "I pay my taxes and those pay your salary!" And it was like that at all the other signs too:


And then there was all this paperwork. There are huge rooms of people, like God's blood drive, reading laminated booklets of their lives. Some of the booklet really makes sense: people you helped, people you hurt, people you neglected, all things that I think a person should review before moving on to the afterlife. But then some of it is really weird. "Bugs that crawled on you when you were asleep." "How close you came to finding stuff that you lost." "Things you didn't know you ate." I'm not sure if that's information you really need, or if someone there just thinks it's funny to tell you.

There are statistics too, statistics on everything:

"Games of Scrabble won:"
"Pounds of spit produced:"
"Number of monkeys seen:"

And there's a whole section of numerical ratings on things like "Accuracy", "Number of Secret Items Found" , and "Overall Score", none of which are given any kind of explanation or scale. And you know it's rude to look at someone else's form, I mean this is as personal as it gets, but you still have that wandering eye you developed when teachers handed your essays back.

The last page of the booklet is called "How else it could have gone." It's a list of all these bad things that happened to you, like when you got sick or pulled out into traffic at the wrong time or just tripped over your own feet. And next to each one there's a red stamp.

And no matter who you are, when you finish that page you flip the book closed, look at your name on the cover, let out a deep breath, and walk up to the counter with your coat.

But you know, no matter how much of a hassle the airport was, you make it to that plane eventually. You relax, open one of your candy bars, and wonder what the beach will be like.*

*Hell is arguing with a sign.

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