I stood in a line of infinite length, but at least it was moving. Or that's what I told myself to keep from going nuts with the wait. It wasn't like I could jump out, get into another one that would go any faster, like at the movies waiting to get popcorn. They all had surges of action and dead time, and each section was flanked by ushers holding iron pikes to stop queue jumping. They were bored and burned out like they’d been doing this forever, but with the same look on their faces as security guards at big art museums, ready to put you in a chokehold should you breathe on a Picasso.
And by and by I came closer to the front, clueless as to what was going on, and concentrated on the voice booming from the golden dais. I'd heard it for awhile, like far off thunder but it had become so loud as to be almost unintelligible.
There was an unkempt artist in a threadbare smock and the voice said "brilliance-- but if you get that, you get insanity too, or of course there’s the ever popular uneventful mediocrity. We have a special on that this week. It comes with a case of Bud Light, a Dodge pickup truck, HBO
and Cinemax. What’ll it be?"
The guy turned around and faced us-- cocky-like, no worries mate-- licked his fingers, and twirling the end of his abundant mustache belted out, "brilliance!" The rest of us could see through his plucky facade like the cheap glass it was, as red crept up his face and sweat beaded in his sideburns. He got down on his knees and thanked Him, whose personage I could see now for the first time as He fell off his chair, laughing like to bust a gut.
"Done," He sputtered between eye-watering chuckles, turning with a slow, laborious torque, clawing His way back onto the throne. "Next."
The artist wandered away, chewing his knuckles and shifting his eyes as it dawned upon him that he had made a terrible, terrible mistake.
I tried to sneak out of line, either go back to the end or jump into another. It was clear from the way He fell off the chair that He was drunk. But as I tried to get over the rope a surly, musclebound usher shoved me back, which may have been just as well. None of the other gods looked particularly safe either.
There was a sensuous deity with a thousand arms and tits like Madonna in-concert but people walked away from her maimed and for the most part, horribly poor. Another in robes and a turban blew fierce winds that scoured everyone, was possessed of a stern, unbreachable visage. He had seventy-two sticks of dynamite strapped round his waist and seventy-two virgins in tow. There was a black deity with a heck of a fadaway jumper and a five carat diamond in his ear, trying to sell people designer athletic clothes. The Mormon god was on break, getting his goodie-two-shoes shined, and had left a big sign in crayon. It said, “be back in a gosh darn minute.”
So I decided to stay where I was.
"Dignity or fame?" He belted in the face of the next person, a beautiful woman dressed up like a tart. I was only two people away now; the glow emanating from Him was blinding but His breath was worse. He had obviously been at the proverbial teat for days.
"What?" She said, stalling for time. If I had heard Him three people back, she sure as hell had but like me, she’d been watching and was trying to make damn sure she walked away with what she wanted.
"Not what," He said, squinting and trying to focus on a golden clipboard handed to Him by an obsequious underling. "It says here I gave you perfect hearing."
She looked embarrassed, twining her toes together, her mini-skirt so tight she could barely move. "And for that I thank you, My Lord."
He squinted again and looked at her, put some kind of pencil mark by her name. "You're welcome. Now, which is it?"
"Now, now. Decisiveness is a key element for success. There, I gave you one for free. Now choose."
"I want both." She looked sheepish but defiant at the same time.
I whispered "attagirl" under my breath, then looked aloft as He eyeballed the line fiercely, searching out the source of the commentary.
"Both? You can't have both." Sputtered like a Tory politician. "You haven't got the talent for both."
"So give me more talent."
"I can't give you more talent. I've given you too much already."
"But I thought you were omnipotent!"
"Who told you that?"
"He did." She pointed to the man behind her, a PR type with a bad rug and an artificial dimple in his chin.
He shrugged His great shoulders.
"So let me see if I've got this right. I can have fame, that I CAN have."
He looked impatient, grumbled yes yes.
"Or I can have no fame, but my dignity remains intact."
"That's about the size of it, sweety. Hurry it up. There are plenty of people behind you and I haven't got all day." He picked up a marine-blue Roman urn, slurped, then pounded his chest with His fist and belched mightily.
"It's a tough decision. Could you answer one question for me?"
"Do I look like the bloody Encyclopedia Britannica?"
She got down on her lovely knees and beseeched Him. "Oh Lord, forgive my ignorance, for I am but a sheep and thine art my shepherd..."
"Alright, alright." The drink had pacified Him a little and He nodded, giving His chest another light thump.
"What exactly can you do with dignity? What good is it?"
This question sent him into an apoplectic coughing fit and the rest of us in the line hung back anticipating the very real possibility He'd spew His stomach contents upon us. "What do you mean what good is dignity?"
"Well," she said pulling at the non-existent sag in her impeccably sheer nylon stocking as she rose gracefully "What do you do with it?"
"What do you do with it?" He wiped frothy spittle from His whiskers with His great grissled hand and took another swig off the ol' urn. "Well, hrumph hrumph, you have it, possess it, roll around
in it, die with it, sometimes for it."
"Can you talk about it?"
"Talk about it?"
"Yeah, with words."
"Ah, hrumph hrumph. I think there's something about it being quiet. Yes, I'm fairly sure of that, dignity's supposed to be quiet."
"So you can't for example, tell anyone you've got it?"
"Ah, no, not strictly speaking."
"Alright. Well let me ask you this. Can it make money?"
"Look, look!" The plucky woman had engaged Him-- there was no denying that, but was also irritating Him like crazy-- a dangerous business if you asked me. He possessed a vengeful look in His eyes that I cared not for. "I don't know if you can earn money with it! To be honest, it's not really the sort of thing I go in for."
"Then is there someone I can ask?" She picked up His drinking urn, and placed it gently in His hands, brushing ever so delicately His pinky finger as she pulled away.
"Well," He said between slurps, crooking His finger towards an anemic looking hanger on. "Sab!"
"This is St. Sabastian. You know anything about dignity?"
He rubbed his chin and thought about it, took a pack of smokes from one of his many holes, removed one and lit it. When he inhaled, smoke leaked out; he looked like a walking incense burner. "A little."
"Can it earn money?"
"Money? Let's see, I don't think so. It can however, earn you respect."
"Is that something you can eat?" Said the woman.
"Ah." She looked disappointed.
"My Child," He was mellow with drink now. "You are going to have to choose."
But it was clear to the rest of us she already had as she parted His robe, got down on her knees once again, grabbed His rod firmly in her hand and proceeded to blow Him like a monsoon.
He was feeling like a new man by the time the next guy came up. "Wealth or wealth," He said.
The guy in front of me with the bad rug looked around guardedly-- like someone who's accidentally received a million dollar income tax refund check, but I realized well enough he'd known exactly what he was doing, spreading that omnipotence thing earlier. "I'll take wealth," said the man, bugging out before anybody noticed.
As luck would have it by the time I was up, He'd returned to His old self, only crabbier. His urn was empty and His bladder was full. He looked at me appraisingly, had a quick look at his clipboard and, making some unfathomable mental calculation, exhaled like a walrus with clams stuck in its mouth bristles. "Well, how about a taco stand in Sinaloa, a raging heroin addiction, or a big butt?"
I looked around for that woman for some help... What the fuck? Was it me in particular or had He suddenly lapsed into some alcohol induced psychosis? I needed advice, but no matter where I looked in the crowd I couldn’t see her anywhere. The crafty bitch had already taken a powder.
“That’s not much of a choice,” I said humbly.
“Choice? It’s plenty of choice; and I’ve just about had it with you people. I haven’t got all day.”
I was nervous, and his look bored a hole right through me.
I knew for sure however, that I didn’t want to go through life with a big butt.
It has occurred to me many times since then, that like the artist who went before, I just may have made the wrong choice.