April 01, 2009

From National Disgrace Online

From: wfb@hotmail.com
Subject: What Happened!?! 
Date: April 1, 2009 12:00:01 AM
To: The World
sent via Blackberry

In my ongoing role as National Review‘s Metaphysical Editor at Large, and despite my sporadic access to email, I shall strive to report from time to time on the doings this side of the Trump of Doom. They are surprisingly relevant to what I imagine may be the reader’s own concerns”€”those of you who are still working out what you hope will be your salvation.

And on that score, let me offer a dollop of hope; most of my fellow recent decedents whom I”€™d confidently expected would plummet howling to the Nether Place, and one or two I”€™d imagined would be escorted Upwards by Botticellian figures with rainbow wings, I have in fact encountered in line at the Buttery”€”a charming little Neo-Gothic café some of us prefer to the Rooseveltian, institutional Cafeteria. The latter is constructed, it should not surprise you to learn, in WPA style, complete with grimly uplifting murals of Suffering Souls raising themselves to the lower reaches of Paradise through Stakhonovite exertions of penitence. It is almost enough to send a soul returning, dog-like, to his vomit.

So I frequent the Buttery, which reminds me of the tonier residential college dining halls of my youth. And there I meet people whom I”€™d confidently damned, in my mind and sometimes in print, mopping floors to earn an extra Lira or two (the legal tender here) they can use in the Canteen, or waiting in line with me for the plates of Welsh Rarebit that are served every day at lunch.

As a wag might well have expected, here in Purgatory the policemen are German, the politicians are French, the food is solidly British, and the currency is Italian. I would add, to complete the witticism, that all the lovers are Swiss”€”except that there are no lovers here. The celibacy is universal and freely chosen, much as it was once upon a time in elementary school, in the salad days before John Dewey and Justice Earl Warren. The fact is that most of the Souls here look pretty drab, which is only reinforced by the various penitential instruments most of them carry.

The sinners here are invariably penitent, which was the first condition of their admittance of course. But had their deathbed contritions been even more imperfect, I have no doubt it was perfected by the conditions in which we live. I do not wish to cavil with the Mercy, and indeed there are very stern sanctions forbidding it, so I”€™ll confine myself to the observation that for the first time in or after my life, I sleep now in a bunk. (During my military service, suffice to say, some strings were pulled.)

Directly beneath Norman Mailer, which means I barely sleep. The grunting, the long harrumphs and guttural snores that cascade from that loquacious Hebrew suggest that he spends his nights writing yet one more novel. As if Norman needed still more to atone for. If the authorities find the MS, they”€™ll doubtless force me to edit it. That’s the way things work down here: Saddam Hussein, saved from the flames by a last minute exclamation, “€œJesus Christ!”€ which one might have thought merely an expletive, sits day after day playing checkers with Bobby Fischer. I”€™ve made a tidy pile betting on the Arab. Which I”€™ve spent on marijuana. That drug is legal down here, but munchies aren”€™t”€”which renders it rather more penitential than pleasurable. Decent whiskey can”€™t be had for pay or prayer.

Since my departure from the state of existence which sacred scripture describes, euphoniously if not alliteratively, as a “€œVail of Tears”€ (Why not Gstaad of Tears?), I have had occasion to mix with a number of historic figures in whom the readers of this magazine might take some interest.

Charlton Heston and I mix less than one might expect. Always a tight-lipped soul, he manfully fulfills his appointed duties”€”which amount, as one might have guessed of our oh-so-Dantesque Deity, to greeting the souls of the Violent and prying the weapons out of their cold, dead fingers. From time to time, he’s expected to revive his Moses shtick for the entertainment of the wardens, who include the very Angels that early Zionist leader hurled at the firstborn children of Egypt. My, how they laugh! And Seraphic mirth, permit me to point out, is no laughing matter. No wonder Charlton keeps to himself.

I was charmed to make the acquaintance of Miss Bettie Page, the Evangelical Christian pin-up girl whose early bondage photos became the staple of those who on earth rather misunderstood the meaning of physical penance. Down here, she is sternly forbidden the use of whip, crop, or cane”€”which provokes long wistful looks among large segments of the Lustful, who gaze up expectantly at her from their endless macramé projects, when she passes with the snack cart. (Which contains only vitamin water and rice cakes, what did you expect?) She and I have become fast friends, and frequently debate the finer details of predestination.

Plate 1: Bettie Page, inflicting her purgatorial torments

Ron Silver remains, as ever, hard to suffer gladly. He was outraged to discover the presence of one or two terrorists in our midst”€”mostly fools of low IQ who were snookered into suicide bombings by clever fellows who now reside Below. He has volunteered repeatedly to “€œhelp”€ them with their penances, and fairly stuffed the Suggestion Box with elaborate, Guatanamistic ideas. “€œWhat are those people doing down here with me? With me?”€ he keeps saying to anyone who”€™ll listen, a list that grows shorter by the day. Perhaps calling upon the research he did before portraying Allan Dershowitz, he has filed a formal appeal of his middling-length sentence, asserting that his own confinement in a prison of Christian provenance violates his civil and religious rights. In a clever canonical move which I do not think will prevail, he insists that the constitution Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council entitles him to be judged by the standards of his own chosen religion. As a thoroughly Reformed Jew, that would mean he could only be punished for voting Republican”€”which Ron did in 2004. I mostly try to avoid Ron’s company, but the Authorities insist on seating us together. His work here consists of serving halal food to perished Iraqi civilians. I rather think the penance there is mutual.

At this point, the curious reader might well be wondering the nature of my own activities here. Upon arrival, I”€™ll confess that I misunderstood the nature of the place. (I thought I”€™d arrived a little further Up.) I inquired about the opportunities for using the harpsichord in the music room, or attempting the challenging slalom runs that cover the sides of Mount Purgatory. The angelic answer was curt: “€œThe harpsichord and ski slopes are strictly off limits. They”€™re run by American soldiers who died in Iraq”€”and we”€™re sorry to say you”€™ve been blackballed.”€

Touché, Monsieur Archange.

Should you wonder about the nature of my own “€œreparative projects,”€ I will share with you that my task down here consists of reading. When informed that all I had to do to gain admittance into Heaven was to spend my days reading and rereading the archives of National Review, my face lit up with a most un-purgative glee. “€œTwist my other arm,”€ I said in an unguarded moment. This the Archangel promptly did, quite literally, until I had the wit to cry out “€œUncle!”€ When he sat me down at the reading desk, I flipped through the bound editions, eager to dig up old essays by Brent Bozell, Frank Meyer, Wilhelm Röpke, Russell Kirk, Whittaker Chambers, Thomas Molnar, Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn, Joe Sobran or Peter Brimelow. But none to be found. It was then that the sterner face of heavenly Justice appeared to me. I”€™d be forced, it was clear in a moment, to read only the issues of my old magazine that appeared after 1997, when Mr. Lowry took the helm. “€œI have to read … all of them?”€ I fairly pleaded.

“€œAnd every new issue that appears.”€

“€œEven the website? The Corner?”€

The Archangel grinned, almost diabolically. “€œEspecially The Corner.”€

“€œFor how long?”€

And that is when my heart sank. “€œUntil the magazine gets better.”€

And so it is, day by day. Goldberg, Ponnuru, Lowry, Kudlow, Hanson…. Lopez (God forgive me!), Bartlett, Nordlinger, Krauthammer, D’souza, Charen, O”€™Beirne and Sajak. Those forgettable names, their regrettable prose, tick out the silent torment of my afterlife. The fool says in his heart, “€œThere is no God,”€ but I know better. I have learned, a little late, how properly to fear Him.

There is just one consolation here”€”which of itself allows me, as St. Thomas promised, to feel “€œjoyous amid the flames.”€ The angels have edited out David Frum.

As St. Michael kindly explained, “€œIf you had to read David Frum, then you”€™d know you were in Hell.”€ 


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