Letters From People Who Don’t Usually Write Letters

By:

Dear Sirs:

Just thought I’d drop you a little note to let you know that we really do exist. Not only do we really exist, but we really do have the power to control everything, to run the entire world from what you what-we-call-“pawns” call “behind the scenes.” Only thing is, we’re all so pathologically lazy none of us ever gets around to doing much of anything. In fact, me writing you this letter is the first thing any of us have done for the past 140 years. You think we’d let the world go to hell like this if we were really making an effort?

Here’s how it all works: you see…oh, I’m so tired now I think I’ll go take a nap.

I’ll explain it to you someday.

Maybe.

Signed,

The only member of the Illuminati who has the energy to lift a finger

PS: Three-hundred-seventy-two. Get it?! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

*****

Dear Sirs,

OK, so maybe it took a while, but now we understand everything. Don’t bother to tell us anything else because, believe me, we got it all figured out now.

Here’s the deal:

— The music, movies and TV shows we like this month are the ultimate culmination of popular culture. Nothing that comes before or after can ever equal, much less exceed, the sheer and utter fineness of these works.

— The retail prices currently in effect are to be considered “normal” from now until the end of time. We will cling to them forever as the standard against which all future price hikes will be perceived as rampant inflation.

— Everyone younger than us is really, like, totally young (you know?) and everyone older than us is, like, really really totally old (you know?) and they will all stay that way till we die.

— Speaking of which, which is probably never going to happen. Or maybe just a little. Dying I mean.

— The way we each think of ourselves individually right now is the last possible definitive self-vision we will ever have, even after we grow up, the years and decades pass, and every single aspect of our lives changes.

— And about sex: sex is for us. Not for our parents, not for our teachers, not for anyone more than about maybe four or five years older than us. So like, cut it out, all right!?

Signed,

Everyone who turned 15 within the past year

PS: I mean really.

*****

Dear Sirs,

I know you don’t hear from Me very often, but what with the world going to hell and those worthless Illuminati sitting around on their fat butts doing nothing, I’ve really got My hands full. But I just had to write to apologize for something that’s been on My mind for centuries.

Look, I admit it: I goofed when I approved the final design for the human brain. I meant to make sexual response pretty much the same in both men and women, but two sets of prototypes got mixed up in the lab and I ended up going into production with one design for women and another one for men. So men got the visual-stimulus-only arousal mechanism and women didn’t. That’s why now you have all those “Miss Whatsis” beauty contests, cheesecake in advertising, pornography in general and the “male gaze.” That’s why Islamic fundamentalists require women to cover up so much they can’t recognize each other in the street and then they have to stay home anyway. That’s part of the reason why if a man exposes himself to a woman she is considered to be the victim of a reprehensible crime, whereas if a woman exposes herself to a man* he is considered to be one lucky bastard. That’s why “Playboy” magazine is the foundation of a multi-skatchillion-dollar empire while “Playgirl” sells about as many copies as “Fish Tank Decorator,” mostly to gay men (interestingly, the same people who buy “Fish Tank Decorator”). And as if this isn’t a big enough mess, most men don’t even realize that women don’t think that way, and of course vice-versa.

I know the whole thing has been just one huge hindrance to understanding between the sexes, and I’m really sorry, OK? I’ll try to make it up to you. I’m thinking maybe I can get one of the Illuminati to write and explain how it all works. How’s that sound?

Signed,

God

(you know, Allah, Yahweh, Krishna, whatever)

PS: I also botched up on the esophagus/trachea proximity thing, and I apologize if you’ve lost any loved ones to choking. I’ve come up with a little something for you to evolve to correct that, but it’ll take another two billion years. In the meantime, take small bites.

*By the way, this has only happened a total of three times throughout the entire history of mankind. I ought to know.

*****

Dear Sirs,

You ever hear the expression “peer pressure”? You ever wonder who those “peers” actually are? Well, it’s us. And we’re writing to try to convince those 15-year-olds in that second letter up there to help us steal a case of beer from behind the supermarket and go out to drink it under the railroad bridge.

Here goes:

C’mon, let’s do it. There’s no way we can get caught. I’m telling you: no way. I’ve looked back there where they stack the cases of beer and Coke and stuff and nobody ever goes out there during the day. Ever. So there’s no way anybody’s going to see us. You have my personal guarantee. It’s just plain impossible.

And if somebody does come out and see us, they’re not going to do anything. They work for a big chain store, what do they care? They could see us hauling away a whole truckload of beer and they won’t even lift a finger. Trust me, I know. No way in the world they’re going to give us any trouble.

And if they do, they aren’t going to call the cops. Why get involved in a big legal hassle? They’ll just tell us to drop it and we’ll run out of there and that’s it. There’s no way we’ll end up having the police involved. It just simply can’t happen.

And if it does, they won’t actually arrest us. The cops don’t want to have to do a bunch of paperwork just for a couple of kids stealing a case of beer. No way, man, they’ll just let us go. They won’t take us in. They can’t. I’m 100 percent sure of it.

And if they do, there’s no way you’ll actually get convicted on a robbery charge. You’d be a first-time offender — they’ll just let you go with, like, a slap on the wrist. You can’t possibly end up doing any time for a thing like this. You just can’t.

And if you do, it’ll be in some juvenile facility where it’s exactly like going to school and you’ll be able to come home on weekends and stuff. No way they’re actually going to send you off to some like hard-core adult prison or something. It’s like against the law or something. They can’t do that.

And if they do, it won’t be for more than about three or four months tops. There’s no way you can get the maximum sentence for petty larceny like this. You can just forget about that.

And if you do, you’ll be let out on probation in a couple of years anyway. I’m sure of it.

And if you aren’t, well hey, when you get out you’ll be legal drinking age and we’ll all throw you a big beer party.

That is if you don’t get gang-raped and murdered in prison. Which you won’t — no way. Put it out of your head.

And if you do, it’s a cinch you’re going to heaven. You can take my word for it.

So you see? There’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

So hey, are you coming or not?

Signed,

The Sandhogs Gang

PS: C’MON!

*****

Dear Sirs,

I couldn’t help but notice in that third letter up there, God mentioned that He had “something for you [meaning us] to evolve,” apparently referring to an alteration in the human mouth-throat structure. Are we to understand that this means that belief in the Almighty and belief in evolution have in fact never been mutually exclusive? Is it in fact thinkable that there is an omnipotent being who created the universe and that the evolution of various species is merely one of the mechanisms He chose to accomplish this?

And then His signature: “God… Allah… whatever?” Does this mean that all of the different holy teachings that we perceive as separate, inimical religions are in fact just manifestations of the same spiritual impulse? In other words, that all those centuries of hatred, prejudice, persecution, bloodshed and atrocities in the name of this or that deity collectively represent the most heinous, pointless waste of human life in the history of mankind?

It’s not really important or anything. We were just wondering.

Signed,

All the religious leaders in the world

PS: Hey, did you hear the one about the priest, the rabbi, the seven Baptist preachers, the Hopi medicine man, the Taliban chieftain and the Dalai Lama on the Space Shuttle? You did? Well, that was us. Good one, huh?

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Now Showing:
Local Directors Take Shakespeare In Startling New Directions

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When the curtain falls on director Julian Toole’s production of “Othello,” some theatergoers may wonder what all the fuss is about. The costumes are Elizabethan; the sets are spare; none of the actors are mannequins. Wasn’t this supposed to be new and risqué? they’ll ask. Or at least they’ll ask this until they reach the lobby, where the director himself will meet them and stab them in the thigh with a steak knife. New York Newsday calls it “A piercing indictment of violence in entertainment. I saw it twice and I’m still bleeding!” (“Othello” has been cancelled due to minimal public interest.)

*****


Just when you thought the last breath had been squeezed out of the bard, along came August Bailar’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The Nicaraguan director has come under fire for casting seventy-eight-year-old actor Sydney Poitier in the role of Juliet. But the public flocks to the production, proving that even ground as well worn as Shakespeare can be given new life. Bailar’s critics call his crucifixion imagery indulgent and his addition of kung-fu action sequences nonsensical. His own son, originally cast in the roles of both Romeo and Mercutio, quit the production after only two weeks, claiming that the love scenes were “too demanding.” However Bailar’s fans are unfazed by such criticism. New Yorker theater critic David Denby writes, “Bailar’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is so original, so fresh that it is unrecognizable as Shakespeare or even as theater.” (“Romeo and Juliet” will be at the Grand Sequin through November.)

*****


Emelio Felance has ruffled the feathers of more than a few Shakespeare purists by removing the dialogue from “King Lear” and replacing it with the original cast recording of “A Chorus Line.” The Portuguese director has also drawn criticism from the Actors’ Equity Association for casting barnyard animals in major roles. Old Soldier, who recently made a showing in the Kentucky Derby, takes the part of Lear, and Miss Margaret, a New Jersey mutton sheep, plays Cordelia. Some have embraced Felance’s vision. “Stunning,” writes Harper’s Melissa Wong. “Old Soldier is the finest Lear yet.” Others are up in arms. “This is a travesty,” laments William Temor in his New York Times review. “Everyone knows that the 1992 recording of ‘A Chorus Line’ is far superior to the original.” (“King Lear” plays through November at Cat Scratch Theater, after which you can catch Miss Margaret at Stuart Anderson’s where she will appear as a chop.)

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Korner Variety Monthly Newsletter

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Volume III, Issue VII


Finely compiled, edited, printed, and distributed by Paul Shemp, Korner Variety Manager


Greetings Korner Variety part-time and full-time employees and welcome to the 31st issue of the Korner Variety Monthly Newsletter. As always, this edition comes to you hot off our self-serve photocopier by the freezer and folded into your pay check envelope with a Scratch ‘N’ Score ticket. And now, the news!

Magazine Sign Upgrade


Our current magazine rack sign is in desperate need of repair. The current “Buy don’t read the magazines. Not the library!” sign has grown sun-soaked to the point where the black lettering has faded into an embarrassing dull brown. Also, the corners are dog-eared, the Scotch tape holding the sign to the TV Guide rack is slipping, and someone has written “you’re magazines suck!!!” on the sign in red pen. For our new sign I was thinking that we could go with “Do you see shelves of books and librarians here? No? That’s because this isn’t a library so please purchase your magazine before reading it!” I thought this new “added-detail” message might hit home with more people. Andrew, please make this sign on your new computer before you head off to college. I’ve left a CD of clipart labeled “Paul’s Personal Pics” for you under the counter and I recommend using the one of that duck in a business suit swinging the ball peen hammer at his computer. Please have the proofs ready for my approval by close of business Sunday.

Freezie Policy


As of August 1, we will no longer be letting customers cut the tops off their own Freezies. This new measure seeks to prevent getting little pieces of plastic as well as drops of sticky Freezie juice all over our counter. However, we will continue our offer to cut Freezies for customers. All other Freezie procedures remain the same, and I’ve included the relevant section from the Korner Variety constitution again below for anyone who forgets:

By-Law 4: Customer Protocol

Part III: Freezie Procedures

i) When cutting Freezie tops make sure to cut across the entire Freezie (no corner-cuts or half-cuts).

ii) Rotate the Freezie stock every Monday and Thursday. Keep the white and yellow Freezies near the top because they rotate slower.

iii) If people ask you what flavor a certain color of Freezie is, remember that red is cherry, purple is grape, orange is orange, yellow is banana, and blue and white are mysteriously unknown.

iv) If a customer asks if they can cut their own Freezie, say no. (NEW!)

Candy Section


In accordance with our seasonal candy lineup changes, we are discontinuing:

* Jumping Gummies (brown)

* Frog Juice Liquid

* Too Sour Tummy Powder

We are introducing:

* Jumping Gummies (mauve)

* L’il Squishy Porcupines

* Elastic Balls: The Gum That Bounces

Jamie, can you return the remainder of our discontinued product to Sugary Distributing using a C-8 returns form? (The forms are located beside the Lite cigarettes.) Please write “Really STALE!” in the Reason section. I will modify our Point of Sale database to reflect these changes. For your information, the latest Sugary Distributing reports show that L’il Squishy Porcupines and Elastic Balls are now up to a 4.0% and 5.2% share of the candy market respectively. Looks like our candy section sales may increase this quarter.

New DustBuster


Because of the growing amount of silvery Scratch ‘N’ Score ticket coating scraps left on our counter, I have installed a new 4.8 volt Black & Decker Wet/Dry DustBuster below the video rental tags. I have added the following new section to the Korner Variety constitution regarding DustBuster protocol:

By-Law 7: Cleaning

Part VII: DustBuster Procedure

i) Leave the DustBuster below the counter unless it is in use.

ii) Do not bust dust when customers are in the store.

Letters


Thank you to this week’s letter writer. As always, please remember to send letters to letters@kornervarietyopen24hours.com.

Dear Paul Shemp,

You’re the manager of a variety store. You’re not the CEO of a big company. Do you understand? Stop saying that Korner Variety is a “horizontally-integrated firm” with “global expansion opportunities and a mission-critical path to success.” All your employees think you’re a loser. Do you do anything besides think about Korner Variety? Why do you even write a whole newsletter about everything? Get a life, Paul. Oh yeah, and watch out because I switched the Oh Henrys with the Junior Mints! Uh-oh! It’s CHAOS!

Anonymous

You joker! Everyone knows that we discontinued Junior Mints in May due to the growing consumer trend away from the entire mint-chocolate segment. Thank you for your feedback! Keep on writing!

Paul

Employee of the Month


Korner Variety mainstay and store veteran Andrew “Iron Horse” Windigan is the employee of the month! Congratulations, Andrew! Korner Variety thanks you for your 3.8 months of service and wishes you the best as you leave our little “communist dump,” as you jokingly call it! For his services, Andrew wins two popsicles, a bag of chips, and yesterday’s newspaper. Andrew, please have your locker cleaned out by Sunday. I’ll have your deposit back when I perform the inspection on Monday morning.

Making Change


With the installation of the new pay phone outside of Pizza-Savvy next door we have started getting an increased request to provide quarters to people. To capitalize on this increased traffic I have outfitted our counter with a selection of 25 cent candy. Neilson chocolate chunks, large-sized sour keys, and Grapefruit Explosions have all been placed next to the spiced meat stick section. Please try and upsell something using the techniques outlined in By-Law 9 of the constitution before giving out change.

Straws


We are continuing with our fourth test month with a new type of straws. The research results thus far (with the reason for discontinuation in brackets) are summarized below:

March – Straws wrapped in paper. (Too much littering outside store.)

April – Flexible straws. (Too short for tall drinks.)

May – Thin straws. (Bad for Slushees.)

This month we are going with spoon straws. I have provided Straw Feedback Forms under the cash tray and ask only that you have customers fill them out with pencil or dark pen. As always, I will tabulate the data and perform our regular set of analyses before making a final decision. Our quest for the perfect straw soldiers on, friends. Let us move forward together.

Submissions


We close this month by reminding all employees that they may submit content for the Korner Variety Monthly Newsletter at any time. I know all Korner Variety employees have been busy so I’ve set a Korner Variety FTP site to make submissions easier and anonymous. The address is:

ftp://kornervarietyopen24hours.com and the password is: “takeapennyleaveapenny”

Don’t forget that we have our monthly security review session later tonight at my house, and Richard Watson from the Dairy Board will be coming in an hour before we open on Saturday to tell us all about their new packaging changes and how this will affect our fridge shelving.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

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Songs Of The Renaissance

By:

The recently revealed Da Vinci notebooks have yielded a wealth of information about life in Renaissance Italy. The Da Vinci in question, of course, is not Leonardo but Ricco, the “Amorous Plumber of Rome,” who discovered the cold shower and other milestones in personal hygiene. While most of Ricco’s notebooks contain nothing more than girl’s addresses and sketches saying “Kilroy Was Here,” there are some surprises. He was an avid collector of folk songs and ballads, and filled many pages with lyrics from the popular tunes of his day. Usually they were brief (but not brief enough) and told some sort of story (stop me if you’ve already heard it). Even now, they sound like hits.

 

The Cheese-Seller’s Lament

An old cheese-seller limps down a street in Naples crying, “My cheese is good (gouda), will no one buy it? Unhappy am I, for my boots are full of provolone, and there is no room for my tired feet. My cheese is soft to the touch, like a baby’s brow, and many fine molds grow quietly upon it. Oh, who will purchase the cow’s treasure?” He continues this way for several hours, until he slips on something and cracks his skull on a lamppost.

 

Even My Wig Grows Bald When You Are Near

Pepito, a young gallant, enters the courtyard beneath his loved one’s window. It is early morning, about two a.m. The young man begins to sing, accompanying himself on a lute badly out of tune. He catches his fingers in the strings and yelps with pain the following words: “Even my wig grows bald when you are near, my love. Oh, my fingers! Oh, my poor fingers!” A girl appears at the window and shouts something indistinguishable. The young man smiles and says: “So great is my love, I tip my wig to you,” at which point he pulls out two huge handfuls of his own hair, nearly knocking himself unconscious with the lute. The girl throws down her hand mirror as a symbol of her ardor, but it shatters on the fellow’s head. “Oh, my wig!” he says, alternating this with “Oh, my fingers!” The girl is so touched that she drops a small chair squarely onto the boy’s back where, like his heart, it breaks. He is almost prostrate with passion. “My name is Pepito, my name is Pepito,” he moans. “I think I am dying.” “Shut that damn noise!” chimes a voice from across the way, and a shower of beautiful tableware follows. Several forks and knives apparently find their mark, and for once Pepito is speechless. Only the sound of still-resonating lute strings fills the air. After a brief pause, the girl shoves a maplewood dresser over the balcony, and a moment later Pepito is blotted from view. The clock strikes three. Finally, all is quiet.

 

March of the Maggots

A warm summer evening in Florence. The nightingales sing over the soft a cappella of the crickets as the breeze caresses the olive branches. Soon a horde of maggots crawls into town, drunk and behaving very badly. Their coarse, brutal laughter awakens several residents. A bottle breaks, and another. Who will pick up the glass? The maggots howl their drunken abuse, as if to say, “Not us!” They recite several off-color limericks and fall down a lot, which is hard for a maggot to do because he is not really standing up to begin with. Then, just as day breaks and the east turns pale crimson and blue, they are crushed beneath the heels of a sad old cheese-seller who is not looking where he is going.

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Eternal Damnation, One Day At A Time

By:

Lance made his uncertain way down a long, dark, corridor. Bright light leaking from a crack underneath a closed door up ahead guided him forward and urged him on. Not that he needed urging. This corridor wasn’t a pleasant place. For one thing, it was pitch-dark. For another, it was hot, and oh, so humid! The floor was was soft, squishy, and a little sticky in places. Each of Lance’s footsteps sounded like an amplified pair of lips sucking on a peach pit. And, that was the least disgusting sound to be heard. Lance was unnerved by a certain persistent, loud, slow, thick bubbling, as if a gigantic pot of gumbo were simmering nearby. He also heard sporadic, weary utterances that could have been the moans of some suffering animals or the enervated ramblings of drunken hockey announcers. Whatever these wretched creatures were, they had every right to kvetch in this inhospitable place.

The light from yonder door seemed to brighten with encouragement as Lance drew closer. He quickened his suction-cup steps, and when he finally came within a few feet of the door, he tripped over something, or perhaps someone, judging from the distressed squeal it emitted. Propelled forward, Lance ran smack into the door, which stopped him abruptly with a loud thud. On the other side of the door, Lance could hear a man weeping copiously. And then, he heard another man with a Slavic accent announce, “It’s open!”

Timidly, Lance entered the room. Ten or so men were sitting in a circle. Many of them looked disturbingly familiar. Several strange paintings of long-necked donkeys hung from the walls of this otherwise nondescript chamber.

“Welcome to meeting,” said the man with the Slavic accent. He had bushy hair and a very thick mustache. “You are here for meeting, yes?”

“Meeting?” thought Lance. He replied, “I don’t know. I was just in the corridor, and it was so dark.”

“Da, we hear you.” said the Slav. “So, so dark. And scary!”

“And, oy, so humid!” growled a stocky man who looked exactly like Attila the Hun, right down to the furry boots.

“Please tell us your name and have a seat,” said the Slav.

Lance grew a little nervous. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to be here,” he said as he looked around the room. All the men there nodded thoughtfully in response, except one man, who was still sobbing, albeit quietly. It was unmistakably Adolph Hitler. His flowing tears stained the lapels of his Nazi uniform.

“We all felt like that in the beginning,” said the Slav.

“No, I mean, I don’t even know why I’m here,” protested Lance.

General, sympathetic rumblings rose up from the men in the room. Suddenly, a man with a Cambodian accent spoke up: “Denial is not a river in Egypt, my friend.”

Everybody laughed, but afterward the Slav gently admonished the Cambodian.

“The group appreciates your levity, Pol P., but I think we should let newcomer finish what he was saying.”

“Newcomer?” said Lance feebly.

“We were just about to get started,” said the Slav pleasantly. “Why don’t you have a seat. There is coffee and literature on back table. You can ask questions after meeting. Now, everybody, welcome to our weekly meeting of Damned-For-All-Eternity Anonymous. My name is Josef S., and I’m damned for all eternity.”

“Hi, Josef!,” responded the others in unison.

Lance felt queasy. “Where am I?” he demanded.

“Well,” explained the Slav, “this used to be the cafeteria, but of course, we had that population explosion, and when they finally finished that annex for the Eighth Circle, they moved the cafeteria down there.”

“Eighth circle?” said Lance quietly. “Are you saying that this is Hell?”

“Yes,” said the Slav. “Welcome!”

The other men echoed their mutters of “Welcome.”

Lance put his hands to his face. “I’m in Hell!”

“One day at a time!” said the Slav, holding up an instructive index finger. “We’re all in Hell one day at a time.”

Lance took his hands off his face. “You’re Josef Stalin, aren’t you.”

“I go by Josef S. in meeting. Or just Josef is fine.” said Stalin.

Lance looked at the Cambodian. “So you must be Pol Pot.”

“Pol P., please,” said Pol Pot.

Lance stared at one of the freakish donkey pictures. “I don’t get it,” he mused. “If Hell has had a population explosion, why are there only 10 people here in this meeting?”

“Excellent question, old boy,” said a diminutive hunchback dressed like a 15th-Century monarch. “Clearly, there are many inhabitants…”

“Ahem,” interrupted Stalin, “Please observe the meeting protocol when speaking.”

“Terribly sorry. My name is Richard Y., and I’m damned for all eternity.

“Hi, Richard!” the others declaimed in unison.

“Anyway, as I was saying, old boy,” Richard Y. continued, “clearly there are many, many inhabitants of dear old H-E-Double-Toothpicks, what! But, believe it or not, we’re the only people in the whole, ghastly place who have come to realize that we have a problem.”

“A problem?” said Lance.

“Quite right, old boy,” said Richard Y. “Our problem. You know…that we’re condemned to an eternity of darkness, despair and torment. Fire and brimstone and all that rot, what! But here we are, coming to terms with it. Good for us, I say!”

“You mean,” struggled Lance, “some of the inhabitants of Hell don’t realize they’re here.”

“Sad, isn’t it,” Richard Y. shook is head causing the crown on top to slide forward a little. “They concoct all sorts of silly illusions to explain why they are stuck in a place of perpetual misery. A whole contingent, for example, fancy themselves to be at a marathon Yanni concert. Still another group is pretending that they’re at a sales training seminar in Akron, Ohio. And then there are those poor deluded wankers in the Lake of Fire who keep telling themselves that they’re in a fast food restaurant…”

“You’re Richard III, aren’t you,” said Lance, who couldn’t help being a little fascinated.

Richard Y. suddenly got snippy:

“Now, see here, old fruit,” he barked. “I suppose the old hunchback is a bit of a giveaway, what. But don’t imagine for a moment that I’m going to entertain you with that whole ‘Winter of our bloody discontent’ nonsense! I’m a condemned soul, but I’m not a circus monkey, you follow me? Honestly, the bloody nerve! I didn’t even say those words. It was that bloody Shakespeare with his silly “kingdom for a horse” twaddle. You want monologues, call on that old tosser. I believe you’ll find him setting up bowling pins on the Third Circle or wherever they’re putting plagiarists these days. ‘Winter of our discontent,’ my a…”

Stalin broke in: “Now, now, Richard Y., take deep breath…”

Richard III suddenly stared at the floor.

“Terribly sorry, old boy,” he muttered.

“Richard Y. has issues with anger.” said Stalin.

Lance felt safe to ask: “But what does the ‘Y’ stand for?”

Richard III exploded again.

“York, you stupid ponce! As in bloody ‘House of.’ Honestly, Americans!”

“Richard Y., please!” said Stalin. “That can’t be good for the newcomer’s self esteem.”

“Quite right,” muttered Richard III, as he limped over to the back table for a cup of coffee and a very hard donut.

“Now then,” said Stalin. “If the newcomer will be good enough to sit down and join us…”

Lance hesitated. “Do I have a choice?”

“Well,” said Stalin, “you could leave the room and return…to the corridor.”

A low, general rumble of laughter in the room followed this suggestion.

Lance sat down on the rickety, empty folding chair between Hitler and Idi Amin.

Stalin smiled, causing his jungle of a mustache to rise on his face.

“So glad you are joining us,” he said.

Everybody else clapped.

“To continue the meeting,” said Stalin, “would somebody please read, ‘the objective of enlightened lost souls,’ which appears on page 5,785 of the Big Black Book?”

A Frenchman impeccably dressed in late 18th century attire cleared his throat. Lance guessed correctly that this gentleman was none other than the Marquis De Sade, but he refrained from saying anything.

“My name is Marquis D., and I am condemned for all eternity.”

“Hi, Marquis D.,” said everybody.

“The objective of enlightened lost souls,” read the well-prepared Marquis from a very large, black book on his lap, “is to recognize that there is a power lower than ourselves that has absolute control of our eternal destinies. Further, we strive to accept the fact that while we are in Hell one day at a time, we’re not going anywhere any time soon. With this in mind, we can begin to lead useful afterlives, and eventually become damned glad to be here!!”

“Thank you, Marquis D.,” said everybody.

“And, now, we shall each introduce ourselves, stating why we are here, how long we’ve been here. I shall begin. Again, my name is Josef S., and I am damned for all eternity.”

“Hi, Josef S.,” said everybody.

“I arrived here in 1953,” Stalin continued. “because I institutionalized terror and was responsible for the death and deprivation of millions of people. Oh, that, and I plucked a live bird of all its feathers in the presence of my would-be successor. ”

“Thank you, Josef S.” said everybody.

“I am Pol, and I am damned for all eternity,” said Pol Pot, taking his turn.

“Hi, Pol!” said everybody.

“I have been accused of ordering the deaths of thousands of people…”

Pol Pot hesitated and turned red.

“The thing, it was all a misunderstanding! Really!”

“Not this again, Pol P.!” said Jack the Ripper.

“If there was any justice,” protested Pol Pot, “I’d probably be wearing a white gown and wings and playing a harp right now!”

“Excuse me?” asked Lance before he could stop himself.

“Don’t enable him!” warned Jack the Ripper.

Pol Pot continued: “I didn’t want ‘killing fields!’ I wanted ‘licking fields!’ I was trying set up a massive direct mail operation to solicit prospective subscribers for my new propaganda campaign, ‘C’mere Rouge.’ My plans called for a large, open-air facility accommodating thousands of people employed to seal envelopes. Open air! You can’t beat that for adequate ventilation. How does that make me inhumane? I distinctly wrote ‘licking fields’ in the memo that I sent to my my minister of internal operations. Could I help it if he was dyslexic? How is that MY fault?”

“Get off the pity pot!” grumbled the Attila the Hun lookalike.

“First names, Attila H.!” said the Marquis de Sade.

“No!” protested the Hun. “I didn’t mean, ‘Get off the pity comma Pot.’ I was saying ‘Get off the pity pot COMMA Pol!”

“I say,” said Richard III, sitting on the back table with his stumpy legs dangling, “Isn’t ‘Pol’ his last name anyway? He is Cambodian, you know.”

“Let us please continue with the meeting,” said Stalin, trying to restore order. “And besides, we are all citizens of Hell, now!”

“I was merely suggesting,” said Richard III testily, “that it may, in fact, be appropriate within the meeting guidelines to address Pol P. as ‘Pot P.’ if we establish that the Pol P.’s or Pot P.’s last name ‘Pol’ as opposed to ‘Pot’ — if you follow me — because Pol. P. or Pot P. is Cambodian. You see, Josef S., just as you yourself are Russian…”

“Pol P., Pot P….what is the difference!” said Pol Pot magnanimously. “There is a ‘P’ in ‘Pol’ and there is a ‘P’ in ‘Pot’!”

Everybody else at the meeting tittered, except for the inconsolable Fuhrer, who was on his second box of Kleenexes. Even Lance smirked a little.

“Now that we have we cleared this matter up,” said Stalin, “we really ought to get on with the meeting. And besides,” he added, staring directly at Richard III, “I’m Georgian.”

“I stand corrected,” quipped a sardonic Richard III as he reached for yet another copralite-like doughnut.

“Now then, it is Adolph H.’s turn,” said Stalin, nodding to his whimpering neighbor.

Hitler blew his nose, and Attila the Hun gave a start. The noise still reminded him of the trumpets of advancing Roman infantry. For his part, Hitler was still choking back the tears.

“M-m-my name is Adolph, and I am d-d-damned for all eternity.”

“Hi, Adolph!” said the group. Much to his own surprise, Lance joined in.

“I…I…” The room was absolutely silent as Hitler tried to compose himself. One could hear a pin dropping or, somewhere down the hall, a whip cracking.

“I…I…” as the Fuhrer continued his struggle, his upper lip twitched and his little, geometrically perfect mustache seemed to Lance to be doing a disgusting little hula dance.

“I JUST VANTED TO BE A PAINTER!” blubbered Hitler, shedding enough tears to irrigate the very desert that Rommel unsuccessfully crossed.

Stalin tried to help Hitler along. “How long have you been here, Adolph H.?”

“Mama said my paintings veren’t half-bad. Vas she lying to me?” Hitler whined heedlessly. “Ach, maybe I vas using der wrong size brushes. Or maybe ze easel vas too shakey!”

Stalin smiled at Lance. “Adolph is dealing with his issues as a frustrated artist. We’re giving him support by letting him paint pictures to decorate the walls in this room.”

The Fuhrer managed to beam with pride as Stalin indicated the pictures.

“Oh,” said Lance, trying to be a little more personable. “So he painted these pictures of the long-necked donkeys?”

“Zose are not donkeys! Zose are llamas!” moaned Hitler. His brief respite from inconsolable self-pity abruptly ended in another torrent of tears.”

An exasperated sigh rose from the group. The Marquis De Sade started fanning himself.

“Ven I vas in Argentina, I vent to de Andes for vacation, und saw ze llamas for ze first time,” said the Fuhrer, his voice getting higher with every syllable. “Und now, I try to paint dese funny-looking animals from memory, und you say it look like a donkey! Zere can be only von explanation: I shtink as an artist! I SHTINK! Ach…!”

The weeping became worse than ever. Jack the Ripper, who couldn’t stand the sound, covered his ears.

“Perhaps we should move on and come back to Adolph H. later,” said Stalin. That would bring us to you, the newcomer.”

“Me?” said Lance uneasily.

“Yes. State your name please,” coached Stalin.

“Uh, my name is uh Lance…”

“Hi, Lance!” erupted the room.

“Don’t be shy. Continue,” said Stalin.

“And I’m uh…I’m…” Lance cleared his throat. “Look, I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be here! Seriously!”

“Come come,” coaxed the Hun. “The sooner you can admit your problem, the sooner you can begin to deal with it for all eternity.

“Well, it’s just that…,” stammered Lance, shuffling his feet, “Now, I don’t want to offend anybody here, but I didn’t do the types of things that you all did when you were alive.”

“I beg your pardon?” challenged Richard III.

Lance steeled himself and continued. “Well, for example, you, Richard Y., caused the deaths of everybody who stood between you and the throne of England, to which you weren’t even entitled. You murdered your brother and other relatives without even batting an eye.”

“Well, naughty me,” snorted Richard III, lifting up his rump and spanking himself lightly.

“And you, Attila the Hun,” continued Lance with growing confidence, “caused widespread terror and misery in the civilized world with your barbaric raids. Marquis De Sade, your perversions continue to disgust decent people centuries after your death. Jack the Ripper, you were a savage murderer.”

“And what did you do for a living, Mr. Goody Two Shoes,” said the indignant Hun, standing up with his hands on his hips.

“Well, nothing as horrible and evil as what you all did! That’s my point!” said Lance.

“Out with it! What did you do for an occupation!” demanded Pol Pot.

Even the sniveling Hitler joined in: “You vill talk!”

Lance replied matter-of-factly, “I organized half-time entertainment for the Super Bowls.”

A collective gasp went up in the room, followed by uncomfortable silence. Attila the Hun’s knees gave way, and he sat down quickly. Idi Amin discreetly moved his chair a few inches away from Lance. Hitler followed suit. Pol Pot and Jack the Ripper whispered timidly among themselves, and the Marquis De Sade fanned himself all the more vigorously. Even Stalin seemed at a loss.

“Forgive us,” said Stalin, forcing himself to speak. “We are not judging you. It is only somewhat startling to encounter, for the first time, the man responsible for inflicting such atrocities on the human race. In time, we will accept you. Only allow us to adjust to this shocking revelation.”

“What?” said Lance. “What’s wrong with Super Bowl half-time entertainment? How do you even know about it?”

“Please don’t get angry!” implored the horrified Hun.

“They play all of the…the…Super Bowl half-time shows since about 1983 on a continuous loop on all of the TVs on all Nine Circles…” stammered Jack the Ripper, “…ALL THE TIME!”

“It’s all that’s on TV here!” moaned Idi Amin. “Except for Barney.”

“It is an integral part of our eternal punishment,” said Stalin, shaking his head. “Is it any wonder that we need this support group?”

“Were they THAT bad?” asked Lance, looking up again at Hitler’s long-necked donkeys.

“That Up With People performance was especially egregious,” said a pale Richard III.

“Hey, THAT wasn’t MY fault!” protested Lance. “Those performers did something completely different in rehearsal. They misled me! I was furious.”

“Tell them yourself,” suggested Jack the Ripper. “They’re all down here.”

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