“Michael didn’t tell you about the dress code?” Saint Peter asked.
“No,” Joe said.
The saint pulled out a pad and started writing.
“What are you doing?” Joe asked.
“This needs to go into Michael’s file. For his next evaluation.”
Saint Peter finished. He put the pad away and went back to Joe.
“Well, plead your case anyway,” Saint Peter commanded. “Since you’re here.”
Joe shrugged and said, “I was an okay guy, I suppose.”
“Just okay?” Saint Peter asked.
“Well, I ate a lot. I crapped a lot. I slept a lot. I worked a lot. I wasted a lot of time. I got married and had me some kids that turned out okay. Then they had some kids. Still wasted a lot of time. Then I died.”
“That’s your story?” Saint Peter asked.
“I suppose so.”
Joe paused to think of some more.
“Oh, yeah, I owned some good cars but some bad ones too. I tried to learn from the bad ones, of course. I never bought another Chrysler.”
“Wow. This is stunningly bad,” Saint Peter said. “You’ve got to learn how to sell yourself.”
“Why?” Joe asked.
“Because we don’t let much riff-raff in. And knowing how to sell says a lot about what you are. Selling’s sort of a sign of privilege. It’s sort of an artform. And, as you hopefully know, the lowly don’t generally understand that much about art, culture or manners.”
“Is this a country club?” Joe asked. “I was always more of a neighborhood bar kind of guy, so maybe it’s not for me.”
“No. It’s not a country club,” Saint Peter scoffed. “But next time I’d suggest a suit. That’s the least you can do.”
“I never wore suits down there,” Joe said.
“A suit will show us you’re serious. Or a dress shirt and tie and khakis, at least. I mean, you come up here looking for admission to paradise dressed worse than an Motel 6 manager. And you don’t get in wearing Sketchers. What did you expect?”
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Joe said
“You never went to church? You never heard any rumors?”
“I heard rumors that up here there’s nothing but Christian rock and Christian movies. I heard up here Kirk Cameron is bigger than Dwayne Johnson. I heard Skillet’s bigger than The Rolling Stones.”
Saint Peter smiled.
“Those rumors are true.”
Joe tried to hide his dismay.
“What about The Who?”
“Petra is the house band,” Saint Peter said. “Besides, you think we’d let Keith Moon in here to blow everything up?”
“Might make things fun.”
“No,” Saint Peter said. “No riff-raff. No rabble-rousers.”
“There’s another rumor,” Joe said.
“Spit it out.”
“There’s no sex,” Joe said.
“There’s no need up here. And if there’s no need, then it’s mere gluttony.”
Joe examined himself.
“I still got my cock and balls.”
“That’s because you’re not in yet.”
Joe had a hard time imagining how losing his cock and balls would somehow be a privilege.
“So going Ken doll is a cost of admission?” Joe asked.
“It’s not a cost. It’s not a loss. It’s a gain.”
“So what about weed?” Joe asked.
“Why would you need weed in nirvana? What could give you a better feeling than nirvana itself?”
“Sorta like my cock and balls? Useless and needless up here?”
“I should have guessed,” Joe said. “With Skillet instead of The Rolling Stones, what’s the point in having balls?”
“What’s your beef with Christian rock?” Saint Peter asked.
“Christian rock’s the difference between plowing a thick, gorgeous woman and rubbing one out,” Joe said. “Do you understand the difference?”
“I think so,” the saint said.
“There’s no thinking about it,” Joe said. “But if you have to, here’s a hint: it’s not the woman.”
The saint was shocked at Joe’s curtness.
“How dare are you speak with such vileness? You are truly a heathen. No wonder you’ve shown up at Heaven’s Gate in Sketchers.”
“Please, let’s keep things in plain view,” Joe said. “We’re not talking about me or my vileness or my shoes. We’re talking about the different between Skillet and Keith and Mick.’
The saint had nothing to say.
“And I always figured the beer up here would be free and there’d be no hangovers. I always figured that would be paradise,” Joe said.
“There’s no beer. There’s no need. Remember what I said about gluttony?”
“Well, maybe it’s too late for me,” Joe said.
“It might be too late,” Saint Peter said.
“So we’re probably sending you back down.”
“Back down? Down? You don’t mean to Hell?”
“No. The other down. You got enough right you don’t need Hell. Not yet, anyway. We’ll send you back down, that way you can get yourself straight on the next go around. We know plenty of people who can help.”
“So I’ve got to start all over?”
“Probably. I’ve got to talk to the boss.”
“Can I at least be taller this time?” Joe asked. “Or get a bigger phallus? Or both? Or be reborn with some musical aptitude?”
“That’s not up to me,” the saint said. “But if I had to bet, I’d bet you’ll go back shorter or smaller. Maybe both.”
“Why?” Joe asked. “My sins were never that grave.”
“You’ve got to start all over. And I suppose last time you weren’t given enough hardship. See, you’ve got to hate things enough down there that when you get up here, you give us the hard sell. Not come up here with this slacker attitude of ‘this is who i am, like it or leave it‘.”
“I’ll hate it enough if I go back and there’s no Rolling Stones, just Skillet,” Joe said.
“Will you stop with the music?” the saint asked. “Let’s stay on point with the sell. You’ve got to sell yourself as something special if you want in. We can’t have you slumming up here as if life was nothing but a joke or a yawn.”
“Doesn’t seem to me I was anything too special,” Joe pleaded. “That’s just the truth.”
Saint Peter crossed his arms and looked at Joe sternly.
So Joe added, “And, just for your information, Kirk Cameron movies and Skillet aren’t such great sells either.”
“Have you ever even seen a Kirk Cameron movie?”
“Thankfully, no,” Joe said.
“Good. Then you’ll have something to look forward to down there.”
“Please, spare me,” Joe said.
“Well, this attitude isn’t good enough,” Saint Peter said. “It’ll never be good enough. And stop trying to be smart and cute and witty. It’ll never get you anywhere up here.”
“So what am I supposed to do this next go around?” Joe asked. “What am I supposed to do different?”
“You do the same things. That’s what got you this far. It’s not what you did or didn’t do that’s the problem. It’s your attitude.”
“But what’s going to keep me from getting inside the next time? What’s going to keep me from getting sent back down again?”
“The sell,” Saint Peter said. “You’ve got to learn to sell yourself. You’ve got to show us you want paradise enough to be forceful about it. You’ve got to come up here and show us you’ve prepared for the spot. You can’t show up like you just rolled out of bed and expect it to be handed over. You’ve got to show up with some vigor and enthusiasm for this blessing.”
“I’m not too enthused about pretending to be something I’m not,” Joe said. “Or about losing The Rolling Stones for Skillet.”
“That’s the heart of your problem,” the saint said.
“I think I need a guidance counselor,” Joe said.
“There’s plenty down there,” Saint Peter said. “There’s plenty to choose from. We’ll hook you up with a good one.”
“So I’ll have to go through everything again to learn how to sell myself to you?” Joe asked.
“Learn how to sell it to yourself first,” Saint Peter said. “In your time down there. That’s the key. So when you come back up here, it’s not so much a sell as something you believe in.”
“How do I sell it to myself?” Joe asked.
“You struggled. You endured. You sacrificed. You compromised. You suffered. Your counselor will fill you in.”
“And what about all the sleeping and eating and crapping and wasting time?”
“Forget about that. Don’t focus on that. Your councilor’s got plenty of material to help you forget about that.”
“I don’t get it,” Joe said. “I thought there was some rule about being humble.”
“Let me ask you this, what were you down there? What was your job?”
“I was a garbage man,” Joe lied.
“What if I told you you were a sanitation technician?”
“And technician?” Joe asked. “I didn’t have the education to be a technician. I didn’t really have any technical skills but I could sling a garbage can.”
“But it sounds better. And it feels better to be a sanitation technician than a garbage man, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Joe said.
“Well, that’s the sell. Now excuse me.”
Saint Peter turned his back to Joe. He kneeled. He put his hands together. Joe could hear him speaking in whispers. Then Saint Peter stood, turned around and faced Joe again.
“Bad news,” Saint Peter said. “I can’t help you. You’re going back.”
“Okay,” Joe sighed. “But any word on my height or the size of my phallus?”
“Let it be a surprise,” Saint Peter said.
And with that, Joe slipped through the clouds to start all over again.