“You don’t have enough points, sir.” The raspy voice called out to me from behind a tall lectern. A huge gate stood directly behind him.
“I’m sorry?” I asked the small bearded man. “I didn’t know there was a rewards program. Do I need a certain amount for the Gold or Elite Circle? A bit more if I’d like to do a meet and greet?”
“The points,” he continued patiently, “are assigned based on predetermined criteria. They are cumulative and represent the value of your life.”
“Predetermined criteria, huh? Sounds convenient. How many do I have?”
The old man consulted a list. Ah, yes, Santa Claus’s proverbial naughty or nice list. Or was I mixing up my saints? As he thumbed through my file, I tried to think of anything that could be construed as nice, but I was coming up blank. So I wasn’t surprised when he announced in a supercilious voice punctuated by raucous coughing, “You only have 438 points, sir, which is not nearly enough for our program. Don’t worry; I’ll arrange for transportation to take you to the correct destination.”
“Excuse me? I demand to see a list of rules as well as how the points are distributed before I can accept this! It’s just not fair!” Forget the Gold Circle; I was definitely in the Eighth.
Ignoring my rant about rules, he gestured for me to step closer. Without saying a word, he began taking measurements of my head and torso. He then left, quickly returned with a box and said, “While we wait for your transfer to complete, you can get dressed. Take out the contents and put them on.”
I looked into the box and was instantly mystified. I asked with concern, “What is this stuff?”
“It’s your new uniform, sir,” he said slowly, as if talking to a child.
I reached into the box with a resigned sigh and gingerly pulled out a cheap-looking white robe, a flimsy tiara, and a small harp. “Is this some kind of a joke?” I asked suspiciously. It looked like a Halloween costume my mother would have put together for me back in the 80s.
“Oh no, no joke. Your score qualifies you for the Sycophancy Sector. Your job will be to sit on a cloud, praise the higher beings in your presence, and play music on your harp for entertainment. There should be a Harp for Beginners manual in the box as well.”
“I thought you said I didn’t have enough points, but if I’m sitting on a cloud and playing a harp, doesn’t that mean I’ve made it to Heaven?”
“Yes, I’m sorry, you made it to Heaven,” said the man, shaking his head sadly. “I don’t know how the rumors turned out to be so wrong. Does dressing up like that and playing a harp for other people all day sound like paradise? I personally don’t think so, but that’s just my opinion.”
“Beats burning to death in a lake of fire or getting stabbed with pitchforks,” I pointed out.
“You mean the Jacuzzi? It’s pretty big, sure, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a lake.”
“And the pitchfork?” I asked with growing dread.
“Foreplay, I assume. I was never invited to join, though.”
I rolled my eyes. “Listen, St. Peter or St. Nick or whoever you are—“
“Gus? Gus?? Heaven’s gatekeeper has emphysema and calls himself Gus?”
“That’s just one of those assumptions you’ve always made that contributed to your low score, right? I would never associate with Heaven. Now come along, sir. I’m passing you off to someone who has just the right cloud for you.”
“Hold on just a second,” I said. “Speaking of assumptions, you keep calling me ‘sir’”. That’s a pretty big assumption on your part, don’t you think?”
He peered closely at me and consulted his list again. Then he picked up a rotary phone and had a brief, whispered conversation. When he hung up, he faced me again, this time with an arched eyebrow and a new look of admiration on his face.
And that’s how I managed to get thrown into the inferno (quite cozy in winter), points be damned.