I. The Wise Old Man at the Sunset of the World
The horizon was mauve and rose-tinted. On the far side stood a marvelous white temple in the style of Ancient Maya. Halfway up the steps of the pyramid an old man with an incredibly long beard leaned wearily upon a crozier. A recently sobered band of [quoteright]merry-makers in fantastic, but stained, costumes approached the temple. They were coming to attend the "End of the World" mysteries. When they removed their masks before going inside, they showed faces streaked with tears; and as these sad and spent revelers edged past the wise old man on the marble steps they could see that he was very angry.
"You are not weeping for the end of the world, my friends," declaimed the prophet, "You are weeping for yourselves!" And so they were. They passed on now, with shame heaped onto their grief. But what they didn't know is that the wise old man was really angry because he had never hankered to be present at the end of the world either — particularly at such an operatic ending.
II. The Checkered Taxi
"Driver, why are you stopping here, of all places?" The beautiful, young, white woman drew her silver fox fur haughtily around her throat. They appeared to be in the heart of the ghetto!
Suddenly the door opened and an old black man, thinking the cab was empty, pulled himself onto the seat next to her. Fate had not been mild to him. He had lived much of his life in the Old South. A grimy toe poked out of hole in his shoe. He smelled.
Then a miracle happened. Before any words could be spoken, the rich, urbane, young, white woman and the poor, old, countrified, black man changed places. Their bodies were just the same, only their souls had traded locations. It was a magic taxicab. Now they were looking at each other, at what they had been a moment before.
"Shee...," exclaimed the black man who was now the white woman, "What I gone do now?" He did not like being deprived of his manhood.
"I'm losing my mind!," cried the white woman in the black man's body. She felt dangerously close to hysteria. The ragged clothes were especially unfair.
Then the driver said to them, "You will go on as before, but wearing these different bodies. Only this time, try to remember who you really are!" And with that he let them out in the street.
At first they wandered around together aimlessly, under the mistaken impression that something might change them back again. But it was no use. They were stuck with what they had become. They thought even of sex, but feared they had already too much in common for that. So they drifted apart. I think that I would like to say that by the end of the day both of them had adjusted to their new bodies and, ignoring the driver's warning, learned to make the best of things. I'm not sure, though. Sometimes the truth can be tricky.
III. Mickey Mouse Talks to Jesus
"Hello...er...Your Majesty!" Mickey was uncertain whether to bow, to salute, or to fold his hands in prayer. Jesus seemed weary. "Blessed be the fictions that become real," Jesus sighed, "Although I'm not sure why." In the distance He could see Minnie Mouse, Clarabelle the Cow and Pluto having a picnic.
"Gee, Your Majesty," Mickey grinned, "This is a real honor! Not that I'm surprised to be here. You gotta admit I've been pretty good all my life!"
"Hey, Pluto! C'mere! Guess who I'm talking to!" Pluto bounded over until he recognized Jesus, then screeched to a halt, the fur on his back standing up straight. He started to growl.
"Stop it, Pluto!" cried Mickey in embarrassment. Pluto put his tail between his legs and went over to lick Jesus's hand. Minnie and Clarabelle went on eating hot dogs — or rather, just the wienies, which they popped whole into their mouths in time to swing music.
"What do you wish, Mickey?" asked Jesus closing his eyes briefly.
"Well, I dunno," he dug his toe into the sand, blushing.
"Come on, Mickey," Jesus persisted, "I haven't got all day."
"Well, OK," Mickey smiled again, "Could I have your autograph, sir?"
"On the contrary," said Jesus. And he plucked a nearby oak tree and de-transmogrified it into a pencil — with an eraser on both ends.
IV. Return to the Moon! Nothing is Weird!
After John Glenn had come back from the Moon, he confessed privately to a few of his friends that he was uneasy about having left that plastic flag up there and the plaque with President Nixon's name on it. Of course everyone knows now that rather than a football player or a technician, the first to be sent to the Moon should have been a poet so that a better line than "One small step..." could go down in history. Tang aside, the trip had been an artistic failure. But while catching a nap moonside, Glenn managed to have an edifying dream, which went something like this:
At a Soul Beauty Contest to elect Miss Universe it was learned that Miss Mars had cheated. So Miss Venus won first prize (a trip to the City of the Angels, travel-fare not included) when actually she should have come in second, since beauty without accomplishments is usually as boring as a Mother's Day horoscope. Miss Saturn, as you might expect, moving at less than the speed of light, came in last and anyway, had too many stretch marks. The contestants from Arcturus and Betelgeuse were all homosexuals in drag, although what difference could it make when you consider that they had at least six heads apiece, stalked eyes, opposable noses and in general resembled Alucard's vomitus. Miss Earth, having dismally failed in the preliminaries, was not present amongst these stars.
After thinking about this dream, John Glenn says, "Some day, somebody is going to have to go back up there and take down that plaque and stuff."
V. The Ticket Window
At the ticket counter to the next world there was an unusually long line. The man behind the counter wore a green eye-shade. He had been, in Life, an injustice-collector. Now those who wanted to get in had to wait in line for him to examine and stamp their papers. Through an odd loophole in the laws of Karma, the injustice-collector had been allowed to take advantage of his access to the records. It seemed that he had known all of these people in his former existence.
First in line was a bus driver who had not stopped for him on a cold and rainy day.
"Wait for the next shift," said the injustice-collector to the bus driver, "I'm not authorized to admit municipal employees!"
To a ragged young couple who had committed suicide together sharing a heroin overdose he gave free tickets without hesitation. They had stepped in front of a saleslady who, the ticket man remembered, had worked at Sears. The saleslady was furious. "Why did you wait on that trash before me? I was here first!"
"Well, you know," he winked, "They have connections." Then as she handed him her money, the injustice-collector informed her, "Oh, I'm sorry, but it is against the law for me to make change."
Next in line was the personnel manager of a large plastics factory. He instructed this man to return to Earth (somehow) and there to fill out a "proper" application form in quintuplicate listing all of the numerals he had ever used in all of his past lives. He was to attach extra pages if necessary.
Finally, as an especially obnoxious post office clerk, who had previously held a job similar to the injustice-collector's present one, approached the window, the injustice-collector noticed that it was precisely five o'clock. Smiling sweetly at the clerk, he slammed down his gate on which were the words: THIS WINDOW CLOSED FOR THE DURATION.
VI. Pardon My Dust
Once there was an angel from a faraway galaxy of heaven who was sent to earth both to learn and to teach. The angel was so zealous that he went native and soon become indistinguishable from the other creatures on that planet. He even went so far as to steep himself in degradation and corruption and got dirt under his fingernails.
One morning as he lay in the gutter dying of a gin and benzedrine hangover, two messengers arrived at his side to take him home. "No," he told them, "I am simply not ready to go yet. The earth is my home now. I am involved with these people and I am up to my ass in commitments. Besides, this is academically a fascinating place. The earth, you must remember, is unique amongst planets for its earthiness!"
"Very well, " the messengers replied, "It's your funeral," or words to that effect, and they vanished as messengers do. Later that day, as his hangover cleared up a little, he decided to go and get something to eat and choked to death on a chicken bone.
At once he found himself in an airless room filled with dust. Even the windows seemed to have been painted the color of pale brown dust. A crumbling skeleton holding a bunch of dry flowers was draped over a broken urn as if it were arranging the flowers there. Madly, he asked the skeleton, "Am I dead?" and the skeleton seemed to nod "Yes."
Then the angel realized, of course, that he was having a nightmare and decided to wake up...or even move...but he had truly become a part of the earth. Forever.
"I never intended to get this dirty," he told himself grimly.
VII. A Stairway to Paradise
The Chief of Police figured he must have died because here he was climbing a golden staircase into the sky! But something suspicious was going on. Gray clouds scudded by. There was not a rainbow in sight. He noticed that his satin robe, although clean and beautiful, had recently been mended. Each of the steps seemed just a little steeper than the one before. Nor did he feel particularly "ecstatic." He glanced down at his brand new sandals. New? They looked a little scuffed to him.
When he looked up again he saw that he had finally reached the end of the stairs. They seemed to break off right in the middle of the sky. There was a somewhat weather-beaten signboard propped up on the topmost step. The lettering was that difficult, old-fashioned kind called "Black Letter" or "Old English" and he had quite a struggle deciphering it. What it said was:
"Thou hast had thy portion."
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