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From Here to Eternity

By "Guido Veloce"
Illustration by Michael Morgenstern

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress. The script so far:

There is a serious crisis at ForeverLand Inc., so serious that it has precipitated an extraordinary face-to-face meeting of its two divisions' CEOs (chief eternity officers). Representing UpperLand is G; representing LowerLand is D. They must meet on neutral territory and at a place where their unusual appearances will not attract attention. Somewhere in California:

D, very agitated: "I just don't know what I can do...."

G, interrupting: "You're always complaining. Things are never bad enough to make you happy. You complained all the way through World War II. You complained all the way through the disco years. You've got problems? At least you don't have to listen to chirpy little songs about yourself hour after hour. How many times a day can you hear "My Sweet Lord" without wanting to send down a plague or two? You get the Rolling Stones; I get Pat Boone. You've got better music."

D: "Not anymore. Sometimes I say to myself, 'One more rap star and I'm going to retire and move to Nevada.'"

G, changing the subject: "So, what's the big deal?"

D: "Overcrowding. I'm getting new customers so fast I don't have anywhere to put them."

G: "Business has been off at my place."

D: "At least you can expand. I'm stuck with what I've got."

G: "Try compact storage. You were so pleased when libraries picked up on that little idea of yours."

D: "I've gone compact. No more low-density pools of molten sulfur. No more individualized treatment. But that hasn't sat well with former CEOs and heads of state. You should hear the movie stars: 'No personal torturers? Call my agent!' With them it's all about me, me, me. Anyway, I've completely redone the place with lots of new attractions that really pack 'em in. There's the crowded, never-ending Wayne Newton concert. There's the mass viewing of vacation videos. There is the endless Richard Simmons aerobics class. There's the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles. The Jerry Lewis film festival. There's the being trapped in a broken elevator with a talk show host. There's stranded in an airport with only reruns of ..."

G, interrupting again: "I get the point. You're doing the best you can. Maybe we could consider opening a third branch."

D: "The old PurgaLand idea?"

G: "Worth a thought."

D: "We'd have staffing issues. I can't spare anybody, and who would want to work in a place where people don't know what they're doing or where they're going?"

G: "Too much like real life."

D: "Even without cubicles we're not going to get anybody to run the place. They'd go to LowerLand first. Besides, it would only postpone the problem. If this trend keeps up, I'm going to need more space. Fast."

G: Outsourcing?"

D: "Some of my future clients already patented that one."

G: "So what's with this population explosion? Maybe it's a glitch and things will go back to normal. Crisis over, at least for a while. What are the demographics at your end?"

D: "They're coming from all over the world and from all of your major franchises. About the only common denominator is that they're really, really angry at ending up in LowerLand."

G: "What's new about that? I always get pleasantly surprised ones; you always get angry ones. No one wants to go to LowerLand. That's the point."

D: "It's the media's fault. When have I ever, over millennia, gotten any press about satisfied customers like that old Italian guy, Dante, who wanders around looking for his enemies? But these new people are a lot angrier than what I usually get, and pretty much for the same reason no matter where they come from."

G: "What is it?"

D: "They spent most of their lives telling everybody else they had the ticket to your place."

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.

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