My cell phone rang and it said HELL. I tried to muster up some semblance of sympathy: "I take it that wasn't just a case of indigestion last night Mr. Vice President?" I said as politely as I could stomach.
"No, Dick Cheney is still alive and kicking up there. It's me, Satan." The devil responded.
"Hey," I began, "I thought the next time we were going to meet in person."
"That's what I am calling about. Let's meet for a drink!"
"At the same old bar, again?" I asked.
"Hey, they let me run a tab." He laughed. "Besides, we won't be staying long. I want to show you a few things."
"Oh yeah?" I asked, my interest piqued, "Something good?"
"Yeah, pictures of what you were doing last Saturday afternoon." He said.
"I don't need pictures, " I said, "I got a video."
"I know. I've been selling copies on the internet all week. Or should I say I have been TRYING to sell copies. There is about as much interest in your exploits as in your blog." He laughed.
"You mean you didn't even sell one copy! I was counting on royalties!" I ranted.
"Royalties! It's Hell. We Pirate everything!"
"Yeah, I remember," I said, "With Real Pirates!"
He laughed and then asked: "Now, are you going to meet me or not?"
"I'll be there in an hour." I said.
When I arrived, as I expected, Satan was enjoying a fine glass of scotch, neat, with a nice fat cigar. As I sat down the waiter put down a glass of single malt scotch for me, with one lone ice cube, just the way I like it. And Satan handed me one of the same cigars with the end already clipped.
"I thought I'd mentioned I gave these up." I said, "In fact, the entire city gave them up. We can't smoke in here anymore." I said.
"The Devil you say!" Satan cried with mock indignation. "The owner doesn't mind, and I'll 'make sure' there are no surprise city investigations."
"The owner doesn't mind?" I said. "And what about the other patrons?" I asked as he offered me a light, which I accepted.
"The owner and patrons are all neo-conservatives," The Devil began, "They all voted for W. Bush---twice! They all own gas guzzling SUV's. After their taxes were lowered, they all still cheat on them. Any one old enough avoided service in Vietnam while their middle and lower class brothers were dying 'for their country'. They support the Iraq war, though none of them, nor their kids, will be fighting there either. In short, they are all afraid of 'hanging with me for all eternity' to object now. Watch!" Satan stood up and yelled out: "Anyone mind our cigars?" There was not a peep from the crowd. "I didn't think so." He said aloud as he sat back down.
"Okay." I said. "I am not the Devil. I might run into these people when I am not WITH the Devil. Please---PLEASE---do not do that again."
"Oh, I promise, we won't be drawing any more attention. Drink up, and then we will be taking our cigars outside anyway."
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"I wanted to have a discussion about Healthcare reform, with my favorite Healthcare Reformer."
"Cool, who's that?" I asked.
Satan looked at me. "That would be you." He said. "But, in order to give you my spin on what I think is coming, I wanted to take you on a little tour first."
"I see," I said, "I guess this means when I write about it, it will be another two parter, eh?"
"Well, sure, on your blog, because you say too much and your hands get tired of typing very quickly."
"Not my hands, just the two fingers I actually type with." I said. "And what do you mean I say too much? You know, we spent a couple of days together on election day, was I supposed to cover that in a paragraph?"
"Whatever." Satan said as he downed his scotch, and I did likewise. Then he got up and we walked outside.
"You think highly of American citizens, don't you?" He asked.
"Yes. I do." I replied.
"You think the last election proved something, don't you."
"Yes, again." I said.
"At the end of our little tour, I want you to tell me some of your ideas on HealthCare Reform, and I will start to whisper them in some of the right ears...that is...if you still feel like doing it after our time together."
"Okay." I said. "But I have been working on this stuff a couple of years. You think you are going to change my mind in a few hours?"
"No. I think you will still believe in your ideas. I just don't think you will believe in the society that would need to enact them. I think you will lose faith and no longer believe that the American people want to solve their problems, much less do so with any appreciable cost to themselves."
"Really?" I said. "Well, as you have pointed out, you are not omniscient, you were wrong about this past election day, and I believe you will be wrong about this," He was just about to interrupt when I beat him to it, "I BELIEVE you will be wrong, but since I don't know what we will be doing, I guess it is possible that I will be mistaken...but I find it hard to imagine."
"Okay." Said the Devil, "Our first stop is Darfur."
"Darfur. What does that have to do with American Healhcare Reform?" I asked.
"Well, I would venture to say, at least as much as invading Iraq had to do with American security. But that's not the point. I will make my points when we are done." And he swept his cape around us like in a Batman movie (when did he put on a cape?) and in an instant, the air grew hot and arid. Flies could be heard buzzing. There was a smell, a vaguely bad smell, of garbage, and something else, in the air. We stood on a dirt road, and there were small cabins, or huts, all around us. "We are going to stick out more than your horns, you know." I said.
"No. I don't think so." Just then a young girl left a hut, leading an older man by the hand. They almost walked into me, but I moved aside. "They didn't see us." I said.
"No, nor would they feel us." He commented. "We do not exist, to them."
"What are you now? The Ghost of Christmas Past?!" I asked.
"Perhaps by the end of this, you may actually begin to understand my true nature. I would like to point out, that had you not been so wrapped up in worrying about being seen, you would have noticed that the man with that girl, her father, by the way, would not have seen you or anything else anyway."
"He's blind?" I asked as I looked towards them. How did I miss this? I could see there were two raw, moist, wounds where his eyes should be.
"That's not a disease." Satan began, "His eyes were gouged out by Arab militias known as the Janjaweed. They did it right after they forced him to watch as they gangraped his 15 year old daughter; the girl who is leading him around now."
I didn't say anything. I looked at this sweet young child helping her father; a scene like you might see anywhere, except it wasn't, it was a nightmare that we could never see back home. Then I spoke: "I'd read about these things, of course, in the New York Times. Nicholas Kristof writes about it often, but..." I trailed off.
"But it's different to stare a nightmare in the face, isn't it?"
"Yes, one that these people cannot wake from." I said.
"But they are still alive, and that is different from the tens of thousands that are not. Tortured and murdered merely because they lived, and lived here. But they blind, torture and rape without killing, to spread this message----leave your homes, because you might not be the lucky ones who are put out of your misery." Satan said.
"Is all of this your doing?" I asked, weakly.
"You're like my first wife! You don't understand me at all." Satan said with mock indignation.
"Why are we here? I asked, the bitter taste of tears held back, dripping down the back of my throat. I knew I would never forget the haunted expression in the eyes of that young girl, or the eyeless face of her father.
"All in due time." He said. "Shall we walk around. There are many men in this village who have had their eyes ripped out. even more that have had their ears cut off. Many of the women have been raped, usually gang raped, and there are many pregnant girls or babies born because of these acts, many under the age of 16."
"Must we?" I asked. "I believe you."
"Sure. You've read about it, though many of your fellow Americans have not even bothered. But for many that have, like you, they have done only that. Read about it. Nothing more. No letters to their Senators or President, or to the UN. No outcry of anger. Not like how your people reacted to 9/11." We walked. I wanted to believe this was all a movie or a bad dream. I wanted to think this was all done with makeup, and no one really suffered like this. I wondered how any human being could do these things. How do you rip another man's eyes out of his head? How do you rape a little girl? Don't you have children of your own where you come from? Aren't you afraid...but as my thought trailed off...Satan spoke...."Aren't they afraid of going to Hell?" He laughed. "It's not like that in every religion, although there is punishment for sin, but as you can see, sin can be rationalized to mean anything, or nothing.... "He said, after reading my mind. Then I considered what I had asked, the Devil doesn't really make people do bad things, though, yeah, sometimes he encourages them to do the wrong thing, but they know clearly it's the wrong thing before they do it. Most of the time he isn't even involved...I think. Rather than an evil influence, he was more like a second conscience to ease the burden if you chose not to listen to your fist one. Maybe it was to his benefit if you did not heed your conscience, but there was no subterfuge. I needed to think about this.
"Yes you do." He murmured as he waved his cape again. Suddenly it was very, very, VERY cold. Even though we had left New York in February and I was dressed pretty warm, it felt like I was naked. The wind was howling and all I could see was dim white in every direction. "Where are we?" I yelled above the din.
"Antarctica." He said smoothly, as all the extraneous sounds died down, and the cold receded, and we began to float above the ground. "I have decided that you do not have to freeze to death for me to make my point." He said.
"What do I need to do? Fall to my death?" I said as I looked down and saw we were soaring a few hundred feet above the ground.
"No. Just pick a spot for a snowball fight." He said. He seemed very serious.
"You are kidding, right?" I asked.
"I thought we should get one in while there is still snow." He said.
"What, is this a global warming thing? Is Al Gore gonna come narrate? I wrote all about it already on my blog, if you remember, it was our last conversation, and then what happenes, barely a week later, the Northeast dives into a big chill! And I look like you were just joking with me!"
"Gee, it got cold in the winter. Pardon me! You think that means global warming isn't really a threat?" He asked.
"No." I just don't think enough people would believe in it right now to make it compelling reading on my blog." Just then a great roar, like nothing I had heard before, interrupted us. I looked down to see a great mass of white, there was no scale to utilize, but a vast expanse broke off from the main ice sheet, and a large part of the edge just dropped into the sea.
"The part that broke off is as big as Manhattan, and the part that fell into the sea was bigger than some Hawaiian islands. The 'permafrost' isn't so permanent anymore. And while it is true, that there have always been temperature fluctuations in history, there is still human made patterns occurring here, and the big problem is, when humankind wakes up, it will take many years to turn the tide, and the ill effects will be seen for many years after that. So you can see that every year that a solution is put off is a dangerous thing for the Earth's future."
I just stared at the ice, shimmering pools of water all over its melting surface, as Satan whisked his cape around us again....
Suddenly it smelled damp and not very good, but was not hot like in Darfur. There were houses, and a lot of overtunred things and garbage in the streets. It seemed like a ghost town. No one was around.
"Where are we now? Another far and desolate spot that you want to tell me the rich and powerful country of America and all its citizens have ignored?"
"You guessed it." Satan said. "We are in--- New Orleans, Louisianna, right in the good old US of A."
I looked around at the desolation.
"You know how many people died here?" Satan asked.
I thought for a moment, frowned, thought some more, and finally said: "You know, I don't. I once tried to find out on the internet but could not find a reliable number." I said.
"Interesting, no? In America, in the 21st Century, you don't know how many you lost. More than in 9/11, I'll wager. Much more. And so many more... displaced and ruined. And while not from the same cause---terrorism,--- the result was allowed by the same government ignoring the same advance dire warnings that they ignored about Al-Qaeda before 9/11. The same mistakes again...except this time, they continued their terrible failure after the fact, with none of the resiliency and effort you saw in New York after 9/11. It was failure heaped upon failure, which is why the disaster ended up as devastating as it did. And where is the government support for the survivors. All ruined, and fighting for scraps of claims in court against insurance companies that never expected to have to pay for your government's indifference. No millionaire widows and widowers inLouisianna, not like after 9/11. Yet, though both were from outside sources, both were allowed by an arrogant government that ignored every warning." Satan smiled eerily, "Truly, this W. Bush Administration has worked hard to earn a special place in my domain." He laughed. I looked around. There was nothing to laugh at, I thought.
"It's my way." Satan responded again to my thoughts. "I laugh. Your government ignores all the signs and warnings. It's the way of things." He said.
"Recently, but the tide is already turning." I said.
"You still think so, after our little journey?" He asked as he whisked his cape around us. We were back in front of the bar, a barely smoked cigar back in my hand. I hadn't even realized it was not in my possession while we made our 'trip'.
"Yes, I do." I said, but not quite as sure as I normally would be.
"You're kind of stupid, aren't you? I never noticed." He laughed. "I show you the genocide and torture going on in the world; something the 'enlightened West' said would never happen again after the Holocaust of World War II. I show you the folly of humankind, blissfully fiddling, while your future burns---and floods. I show you the disaster and tragedy, not in some far off locale, but right in America; with little outcry and fury, unlike in 9/11 even though so many more thousands are affected and those responsible are right at hand. Your people ignore suffering, the risk of a disastrous future and disaster as it goes on around them. You still believe that America is going to tackle the complicated, expensive, and personally challenging task of HealthCare Reform?" He asked incredulous.
"Not only that, but, while it sometimes takes a while for our collective conscience to awake, I believe we will tackle everything you put on my plate today. We will demand the world deal with Darfur. We will stem the tide of global warming. And it is not too late to indemnify the losses of New Orleans, even though we did not avert the disaster."
Satan grabbed my cigar out of my hand, and sniffed the burning end. "What the Hell are you smoking?" He laughed heartily now and handed me back my cigar. "Or did that one glass of Scotch go to your head?" He asked.
"I'm serious." I said.
"No, I think you're crazy." Satan said. "John McCain is serious. Here's a man who has given up his convictions, and has hired all the people who were used in the past elections to beat him! He wants to win at the cost of his beliefs. He is a man I can understand. He is a man who works like me. You?! What am I to make of your unswerving belief in human nature? If everyone were like you, I'd be out of business."
"Well, sadly, I haven't always walked the straight and narrow." I sighed.
"You still don't understand what gets someone into Hell? Did you not learn anything today?"
"I think there is more to you than I understand. I think you took me on this expedition so I would write about it, because you do believe that humankind is better than this, and that eventually, the tide will turn."
"Really." He said. "If that were true, it might explain why the New York Times writes about these things...but your blog?! You think you have enough loyal readers to change the world? You don't even have enough people viewing your blog to change the toner cartridge in my HP Laser Printer!"
"You have an HP Printer?" I asked.
"Yeah, HP--Hell Products." He said. "It's a patent infringing knock-off we have made in China." He laughed.
"I do think I am starting to understand you. Let me think about it some more while we discuss HealthCare Reform."
"If we must. I was hoping to convince you that it was pointless, thus saving myself from the interminable boredom of the entire topic. But a deal is a deal. Let us go have seats at the bar...and whatever part of my mind is not numbed by the alcohol, I know you will take care of with your talk of HealthCare...."
TO BE CONTINUED....