As the Bachmanns continue to “correct” gay sexuality, I keep teaching erotic writing classes.  These multi-week courses are always a joy.  Writers with a rich range of sexual identities come into a safe classroom where they are actively encouraged to express desire and discuss its importance.  As artists, we ask questions about sexual expression:  Why do so many people think “cunt” is an objectifying word to use in a sex scene when “arm” and “hair” are perfectly fine?  Why is the vulnerability and power of desire, along with all its peacemaking qualities, seen as more denigrating than gunfire?  Why is erotica that is written to bring sexual pleasure, viewed, by many, as immoral or cheap?

There are countless answers.  Here’s an important one:  Many people are ashamed (beyond measure) of their own sexuality, so they project that shame onto those who aren’t.  The sexually attuned human beings of this world are attacked as if we are dirty.  Why?  Because if you make everyone ashamed of their erotic freedom, expression and pleasure, you control a heck of a lot.  And you get to feel superior while you’re doing so.

One of the biggest hurdles for the beginning sex writer is the rejection they often feel in their writing communities.  Suddenly, those who have always been supportive are asking, “But why is this piece of writing just about sex?  Can’t you write about something pure?  This is shallow, this is meaningless, this is frivolous, this isn’t your business.  This is sinful.  This needs correcting.”

Does that string of statements remind you of Michele Bachmann?

We’re in a dangerous time, right now.  We’re fighting anti-queer violence, both physical and psychological.  Religious rhetoric is often frightening to those who are already afraid.  And the message is that all of us, regardless of our sexuality, should be ashamed of human desire, intimacy and sensual connection.  The Bachmanns put sex in a box and say “This is separate to everything else,” which of course makes it easier to control.  But sexual identity and expression are about so much more than the body.  They’re about acceptance, openness and truth.

When debating the power sexual attunement, consider this:  In a multi-week erotica class that I taught in the UK, one of my students came up to me at the end of the course.  She told me how life-affirming it had been for her to write about sex in a supportive community, and how self-embraced and aglow she now felt.  “When I started this class,” she said, “I hadn’t had a period for ten months.  Two weeks ago, I had one.”  She put this down to the fact that she was feeling alive in her body.  Proud and unashamed.

Here’s my take:  When we feel good in our bodies, we’re also likely to feel good in the rest of our selves.  And if we all felt good, there’d be less war.

And where would the politicians be then?

I’ve been watching a lot of Sopranos lately. Every morning I tune in to the 8:00 A&E showing. I’ve not been awake ten minutes and I’m watching Paulie smash a guy in the back of the head with a shovel, Chris put five across his bitch’s eye, Tony fuck some broad in a roadside motel. Before I’ve finished a cup of coffee I’ve seen sex, violence, chauvinism, prostitution, embezzlement, collusion, theft and murder. It’s great.

Part of what makes David Chase’s show brilliant television is that the characters are dead on. There are thousands of Jersey knuckleheads out there just like the guys in The Sopranos who are willing to kill, maim and take what they want. And that’s just in Jersey. There are goons the world over willing to step on you to get what they’re after. And I’m not just talking gangsters and tough guys. Look across the George Washington Bridge, to Manhattan, to find even bigger hoodlums. No, not Johnny Sack and the New York crew—I’m talking about the financial district crew—the guys who conned the nation out of tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money. These thugs in their high rise offices at JP Morgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, just to name a few, are hard fucking core gangsters. These guys shat all over us and took what they wanted.

The point is, the world belongs to people with balls. Whether it’s through twisting arms or twisting laws, it doesn’t really matter. Some people have balls and take whatever they want. Then there’s the rest of us who play by the rules.

But there are rules, and then there are “rules.” Tony Soprano is at heart a pragmatist. What allows him to be one, however, is that people know he’s a big, bad motherfucker who will, in the end, take care of business by any means necessary. The unspoken threat that Tony will carve you up and dump your body in the harbor gives his negotiations that extra “oomph.”

Now, to diverge for a moment, I’d like to talk politics—specifically, the tea party movement. Guys, I like your anger. The problem is that you’re mad at the wrong people. The real enemy is not Obama, liberals or socialists—it’s not universal health care, illegal immigrants, homos or dope smokers. It’s the Wall Street plutocrats who rig the system and take all of our money—who wreck the economy and get people kicked out of their homes—who nearly plunged our entire nation—the world, possibly—into economic ruin. These rich pricks are the enemy.

The tea partiers always like to talk about what patriots they are. I’m all for being patriotic. But, I’d like to remind those historically myopic rabble-rousers of exactly what a Patriot is. The tea partiers chose to name themselves after those people who, in 1773, boarded ships docked in Boston harbor and dumped their cargo of taxed tea into the water in protest. But the Boston Tea Party was just a small part of the Patriots hard-line stance against their oppressors. They regularly tarred and feathered Loyalists. Think about that: dumping hot tar all over somebody’s body and then, to add insult to injury, a few feathers. That’s some hardcore gangster shit. Not only that, Patriots burned down Loyalist homes to get their point across. Not surprisingly, it worked. They chased those British bums out of town.

Tea partiers: if you want to talk about patriotism, at least get your terminology right. Let’s step off of this flag-waving, dumb hillbilly, Fox News, anti-intellectual, Mexican/darkie-hating, drill baby drill, get-your-hands-off-my-guns, the founding fathers were infallible man gods, bullshit. Patriotism has somehow been subverted by a political vein that clings to a nostalgic, romantic fantasy of America as a good ol’ boy club for whom Ronald Regan is the eternal hero. It’s John Wayne in a western who dispatches of the bad guys, gives a laconic, feel-good, one-liner with a tip of his cap then saunters off into the sunset. Patriotism has been turned into a myth and hijacked by the far right.

How did our nation react after the bank bailouts? Aside from some cries of protest—some professorial finger wagging from the Administration—nothing. Despite pointed work by journalists such as Matt Taibbi, who laid out the entire hustle for us, who described, in detail, the horse-race financial schemes that led to this crisis, we as a nation have sat back on our heels and let it keep happening. Sure, some of the banks are beginning to pay back their debts, but no real work has been done to close the loopholes that led us into this malaise. The people who work for Goldman Sachs et. al are still getting millions of dollars in bonuses precisely for coming up with new financial schemes. This is what investment banking has become. These guys don’t fund emerging markets and industries. They create bubbles that burst in their favor, flood the system with toxic junk and then profit by betting against the fact that their own unsustainable policies are going to fail. Even if we change the laws, I’m confident they will come up with new ways to hoodwink the public at large. These guys are good.

But while they may be really smart, I’m willing to bet they’re not that tough. That is, if a shovel was to connect with the back of their head, or a 9mm to somehow find its way into their mouth…

Tea partiers, if you really want to be Patriots, here’s your chance. Stop burning Obama effigies, bemoaning how we’re becoming commies and praying to God for faggots to die. Pick up your pitchforks, your torches and those guns you oft demand to keep but rarely have cause to use and go after these investment bankers. Consider this the new Glorious Cause.  Push these guys around, slap them, kidnap their wives…whatever it takes. These firms like to talk about how they’re too big to fail. Well, so was Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum.

Perhaps a strong populist movement will send a message to the top. Since many are already looking ahead to the mid-term elections, even the presidential election, it’s got me thinking who I’ll be casting my ballot for. I’d vote for Tony Soprano in a heartbeat before I put another politically correct liberal or politically retarded conservative in office. Give me some good ol’ guido pragmatism. Would Tony lecture the banks about how they should be ashamed of themselves, and that maybe they shouldn’t be paying out such big bonuses? Of course not. Would he let Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao snub him at the Copenhagen Climate Conference? Fahgettaboudit. I’m not sure exactly what he’d do, but the one thing Tony Soprano does not do is not get results. He doesn’t do “shame on you.” He does “If that’s how it’s gonna be I’ll cut your balls off, you fucking cockroach.”

That sounds like a real Patriot to me. The plutocrats of today are the new aristocracy. They are the same kind of people that we strong-armed back to Britain over 225 years ago and began a nation in defiance of. America, it’s time to run the bums out of town again. But to do so we need to have balls.   We need to remember what the tough sons of bitches who helped win our freedom knew; what every Jersey wiseguy with a gun in his track pant’s elastic waistline and a bat in his hand knows: there are rules and then there are “rules”. Capiche?

I’m also thinking, if it can work for the good ol’ Stars & Stripes, then it’s good enough for me. Writers, after all, aren’t exactly known for being the ballsiest lot—not in real life, anyway. If pressed to a fight I’d probably run away and use the confrontation as the basis of a misanthropic vignette.

Part of what’s frustrating about being a writer is that you submit your work for review to total strangers far away. I’ve often thought, “If only I could meet these people…put a personal face to my work…not have it just be the manuscript of some abstract person…maybe it would make a difference…”

But now I’m thinking I show up at their office with a different strategy—like the hardbound edge of my rejected manuscript to the back of the head. Maybe then they’ll reconsider. If not, it will make for a really deep, dark story full of irony, pain and regret. Either way: bada bing.

In 1947, author and certified intellectual Simone de Beauvoir left Paris to travel America for four months.She chronicled the experience in her long-unpublished book L’Amerique au jour de jour (America Day by Day, University of California Press) making both critical and gushing observations on American culture that are remarkable in the way they still apply, as though she either had uncanny foresight or else the country has, in fact, shifted very little since the first years after the Second World War.

She points out:“Tourism has a privileged character in America:it doesn’t cut you off from the country it’s revealing to you; on the contrary, it’s a way of entering it.”This she says leaving Las Vegas , the city that has become a truer portal into the American psyche every year since de Beauvoir first visited.Sadly, she never laid eyes on Paris Las Vegas, where she could have experienced the acute ironic thrill of sitting down at a caféin the shadow of the Eiffel Tower beside eight lanes of traffic and a row of swaying palm trees.

 

Dear Suzanne,

 

I never really liked you that much. The reason I randomly called you and asked you out was that my best friend at the time Philip said that I should try to get out there. I would have actually preferred to go on a date with Kim because she had big tits.

 

 

Dear Michelle,

 

Sorry I screamed that you were a slut when you told me to calm down after I threw a book across the room in reading class. You were right, I did need to calm down, but I was freaking out because Mrs. M didn’t understand that I didn’t want my father “helping” me either, but that he was an overbearing prick obsessed with my education because he had been ignored by his parents and turned to school as an escape.

 

 

Dear Nancy,

 

Sorry I hit on you in a crude and I’m sure offensive manner that night at your party. Don’t know if you heard, but I wound up in the hospital that night.

 

 

Dear Dr. Abadi,

 

It’s really fucked up that you used to get mad and complain that I drooled too much when you worked on my teeth. As an adult I realize that HAVING YOUR HAND IN MY MOUTH might have had something to do with that. By making such a big deal of my cavities you were inadvertently the cause of me getting hit by my father for the first time in public. Oh, and my new dentist said that you’re a shit dentist. He had to re-do a lot of the work you did so maybe instead of concentrating on how much I drooled you should have read a dental journal or something. Hope you’ve gotten sued since then, you fucking prick.

 

 

Dear Mrs. Greenstein,

 

I know everybody in school hated you but I loved you. You brought me Twinkies and other snacks when you tutored me after school. I had just moved from NYC and no-one was nice to me then, so your kindness meant a lot to me. Also, I heard many kids say they hated you because you ate pretzels during class and they felt like that was taunting them because they couldn’t eat during class, but I knew about your health condition, I knew why you did that. Sorry I didn’t explain this to the other students. I just wasn’t there yet, you know?

 

 

Dear Kelly,

 

I’d only known you a short time when you were diagnosed with MS. You couldn’t understand why I didn’t run for the hills, but I explained that I wasn’t that shallow. I spent 14 hours on a Greyhound bus to come see you. I bought groceries, I cooked and cleaned for you, gave you massages and soothed you during your panic attacks. I treated you better than I’ve ever treated any other human being. You paid me back by going totally cold and rejecting me after about a week. Did you love me so much you hurt me so I’d run away and not have to take care of you anymore? If so, thanks I guess, but really, shouldn’t that have been my choice?

 

 

Dear Babysitter,

 

Sorry I didn’t hug you that time you asked for one. I don’t know if you just wanted a hug or if that was the start of a long, elaborate plan to molest me, but either would have been okay because you were really hot.

 

 

Dear Liz Chang,

 

Sorry we walked all the way to Closter to see a movie and then couldn’t see it because I only had enough money to pay for me. You might not believe this, but I thought if I paid for you I’d look like some old-fashioned loser so I purposely didn’t bring any more money.

 

 

Dear Yling (the other babysitter),

 

I hope you rot in hell, you ungrateful slut. My parents paid for you to fly to America, paid for your schooling, everything. And you slept with my dad and fucked up our family as thanks. I hope you know my dad has women issues and would sleep with anyone. You weren’t even cute.

 

 

Dear Lisa,

 

I have two memories of you. One is of you giving me crabs. The other is of us playing basketball at my house. I was standing at half-court and asked what you’d do if I got the ball in from there. You said your body would be mine for the night and goddamn if I didn’t sink that shot. I felt like such a winner and loved when you asked me suck or fuck as I started to claim my prize. I guess these two memories balance each other out.

 

 

Dear Csaba,

 

Sorry I let Terrence Bates convince me I should fight you. He was also responsible for my only other high school fight, with John Larson. If it’s any consolation, you were much tougher than me and would have kicked my ass if Mr. Timmy the woodshop teacher hadn’t jumped in. That’s why I blindsided you like that, I knew I had no chance.

 

 

Dear Cousin Thomas,

 

I promise to never tell anyone we showed each other our penises as kids. I know you’re a big deal in the Coast Guard and that they probably frown on such behavior.

 

 

Dear Amanda,

 

Sorry for smacking you across the face that time at my birthday party. I had been drinking long before anyone got there and drunkenly remembered how you blackmailed me into letting you come even though we were broken up. And well, you know the rest. If I could do it all over again, I would marry you this time. I’ve never met a woman who I’ve been even half as attracted to as I was to you.

 

 

Dear Jennifer,

Why’d you sleep with me and then tell Amanda? I slept with Christine too and yeah she was kind of fat and ugly, but at least she knew how to keep her mouth shut!

 

 

Dear Uncle Arthur,

I know you’re dead now and it’s bad to speak ill of the dead and all, but man, I can’t believe you stole my boombox after my mother, your own sister, let you stay at our house. Even your crime buddy thought that was scummy and mailed us some of the stuff back (which I guess he stole from you), but I never did get that boombox back.

 

 

Dear Mets,

As a boy I went to one of your games and not one of you would give me an autograph. As the day wore on I asked photographers, batboys, concession stand workers, etc. for their signatures too but got nothing. What’s wrong with you assholes? Don’t you realize that crap can be really important to impressionable young boys? I wasn’t mocking you, I really wanted you to sign my stupid program.

 

 

Dear Eddie Malone,

God, I miss you. You’re the funniest person I’ve ever met. You had no inhibitions whatsoever when I knew you and I’ve aspired to that ever since. I didn’t and still don’t care that you did cocaine and Heather broke up with you. Truthfully, she was kind of weird anyway.

 

 

Dear Elissa,

Thanks for visiting me in the mental institution and bringing me a Bart Simpson doll. Susan told me that you cheated on me many times and it’s a little fucked up that you told me not to make art because that was “your thing,” but that was nice of you to visit. Besides, not to be a prick, but I’m actually a real artist now, and well, you’re probably not.

 

 

Dear Kazoo,

You were the best miniature schnauzer in the world. When they told me that you got hit by a car and that my dad and a police officer suffocated you in a trashbag, part of me died too. I used to love putting on your little red and black sweater and taking you for walks after a big snowstorm. You and I were the whole world during those moments.

 

 

Dear Grandpa Schwartz,

I doubt I ever told you I loved you unless my parents told me to say it to you which probably would have sounded forced and robotic, but I want you to know I keep a picture of you taped to the inside of my bathroom cabinet. It seems like nobody in the family (especially your wife) gave you much respect because you worked most of your life in a men’s clothing shop. But you know what? Fuck them. Fuck anyone who says a single bad word about you. You were kind. Maybe they don’t respect that, but I do.

 

 

Dear Other Dog (I forget your name),

They told me you jumped out of the window of our Chevy Citation one day. If that’s true, way to go. If I was an animal who could survive anywhere, believe me, I would have been right behind you.

 

 

Dear Grandpa Gaffney,

Thanks for reading to me in a rocking chair for all those hours. I don’t remember them, but mom swears that’s what we used to do. I like to think you’d be proud of me even though I can’t support myself.

 

 

Dear Aunt Barbara,

I was flattered at the time but it’s kind of fucked up that you taunted your husband by saying what a good kisser I was when all we ever did was peck. I think you might have boundary issues.

 

 

Dear Allen Ginsberg,

You’re by far the most overrated poet of all time and when I saw you at Manhattanville College you really sucked ass. That smoke-dope, eat-rope, smoke-dope stuff was embarrassing. I’ll never understand why the world doesn’t care that you were a pedophile. If you were alive and tried that shit now I would kill you in your sleep.

 

 

Dear Birthday Clown,

I know you were just doing your job but it mortified me when you pulled out that scarf and “my” underwear was on it. I wanted to scream that that was NOT my underwear but the silence had already overtaken me by then.

 

 

Dear Kibbutznik,

That was fucked up when you asked if I was a mute, if I understood English. Why did you ask that? Because I wasn’t jumping fast enough as you barked orders? You may live on a kibbutz but you sure don’t understand the ideology behind one, you sad prick. I have a degree in Literature with a minor in Creative Writing, thank you very much.

 

 

Dear Coach Clancy,

I can’t believe you told me to beat up anyone that got too close to me. Not very responsible adult behavior there, pal. And I think being a goalie actually ruined me. The pressure to defend and then the burning self-recrimination after I let a ball go by me, especially one I knew I should have saved, that feeling still haunts me over 20 years later.

 

 

Dear Kevin,

You always acted like this big tough guy but then you had your friend fight me instead of doing the dirty work yourself. Pretty pussy, you know? And why did you do it? Because Ed’s sister told you I read your diary. How do you think she knew I read it, you idiot? She read it too! I guess she was suspect anyway though, she said I raped her. I’ve never raped anybody.

 

 

Dear Moira,

I was totally humiliated when after the night my mom tried to commit suicide you asked if I was okay in school the next day. You knew about it because your mom was a volunteer EMT. Isn’t that some kind of breech of confidentiality? I know you asked because you cared, but I wish you didn’t.

 

 

Dear Social Worker,

I don’t know how I wound up with you trying to diagnose my autism and not a psychologist or psychiatrist but you know, you were a real bitch. You were almost immediately hostile, questioning why I even felt the need for a diagnosis and you totally judged me for not being employed which is obviously very unprofessional. I may be nothing in your world, but you’re even less in mine. Where are you published? What galleries have you shown your artwork in?

 

 

Dear Jeff,

I’ve demonized you badly enough not to miss you but, well, who am I kidding, I miss you. Sorry I told mom that you were the one to put the batteries in her gas tank. I have no idea what I did to deserve your silence but understand, I’ve cut off many people who probably didn’t deserve to be cut off in my life too. Peace.

 

 

Dear Lucian,

Holy shit. I had no idea I had to clean the tank. This sounds so stupid but I thought that’s what the filter was for. Sorry, you deserved better. RIP.

 

 

Dear Barry,

Thanks for being the father I never had even though you’re younger than me and it’s probably creepy to say that.

 

 

Dear Dad,

Are you dead yet?

 

 

 

 

 

I confronted eschatology too young. Although benign compared to some beliefs, my Catholic upbringing placed me at the sidelines of Armageddon—strange references to a kingdom come, the Second Coming, Judgment Day. I got queasy at the mention of the Book of Revelations. Sermons and syntactically-strained Bible readings led me to infer a tremendous destructive end to all life, human, animal, insect, plant. There were drawings in books, filled with fire, angels and demons, a sea of the damned. For a child, it’s impossible to reconcile a loving Father with one who will kill every one of his children with wanton violence. Children also don’t grasp metaphor.

I am a huge fan of fermentation. There are few things I enjoy more than a glass of red wine in the evening. Especially merlot. Yeah, that’s right I said it. Despite the best efforts of the writers of the movie Sideways, I am still in love with the “M” word. Give me a glass with a nice bowl to roll it around in and I am one happy chick. And while I am not an addict, I have come to look forward to this experience with at least some measure of regularity. For me, the hardest part of pregnancy is not the back pain, difficulty of sleep – or even the labor. No, it is the necessity to cut back from that sublime burgundy in the glass.

Unlike most of my peers within the conservative Evangelical church in which I grew up, I was not taught by my parents that the drinking of alcohol is a sin. Rather, my training was of a more subtle nature. It wasn’t that drinking alcohol itself was a sin – unless of course it crossed over to drunkenness, at which point it ranked fairly high in the seven deadliest. It was more that drinking in front of somebody else who might be inclined to have a problem with it was.

This is a nuance that I would not expect the average person who did not grow up under these circumstances to readily understand, so suffice it to say that my comfort factor with drinking was almost nil.

It probably goes without saying that alcohol was a scarcity at my house growing up. My parents reserved the drinking of alcohol for situations in which a cultural discomfort needed to be avoided.Specifically, this meant that while drinking socially at parties was a no-no on account of the possibility that it might encourage some weak soul to tip the scales toward the inclination to don a lampshade, drinking with foreigners in the privacy of one’s home or overseas was an acceptable – and even necessary – activity. Because, presumably, foreigners would be irreparably offended should one explain that one doesn’t drink. And how could a person be an example for Christ if one begins the conversation off by offending one’s conversationalists?

Armed with that inscrutable logic, I was 15 when I first tasted alcohol. I had only recently celebrated my birthday when my family went on a grand family vacation to the United Kingdom. It was Chevy Chase in a rented car with suitcases strapped to the top and the whole works. We had just spent a harrowing couple of days with Dad negotiating the left side of the street when we stopped by the grace of God in one piece at Stratford-Upon-Avon, home of Shakespeare and a boy named Shandy.

Now, Shandy and his friends were cute, and my two sisters and I found an excuse to pal around with them for the better part of one of the days we were there. I owe them for a wealth of cultural knowledge, including the facts that one should never speak to a Brit about their “pants” unless one intends to get in them, that the “fanny packs” we all wore were the funniest damn things they had ever heard of, and that the word “spunk” spoken loudly in public could get you arrested.

When my sisters and I arrived back late to the hostel to find Mom and Dad leaning meaningfully on their elbows out the window, we attempted to cast our minor infraction in light of having spent a valuable day gaining a cultural education. In the process, I let it drop that we had met – it was the funniest thing – a boy, some guy really, named Shandy who showed us all around the bless’d land o’ Shakespeare with his companions – and how lucky were we?

Unbelievably, it worked. Encouraged by the insight into a different culture that his girls had received, my father – the holder of a doctorate and thus the keys to higher education – completely ignored the fact that our church looked down on drinking and took it upon himself to add his own lesson: the meaning of Shandy’s name.

Unbeknownst to us Yanks, and surprisingly known to my father, a shandy just so happens to be a drink. With his nose hot on the trail of an “educational moment,” Dad marched us all, women-and-children, the very next day to the nearest pub where he promptly bought us one. To share. With the five of us huddled around a table in the heart of Merry Old England, we passed around a single pint: half beer, half lemonade. Thus, was my education initiated.

Upon return to American soil and the familiarity of our beloved church, it was tersely communicated that there were certain elements of our education that should perhaps be left out when recounting the details of our trip to friends. Kind of like the time the two of them had shlepped us off to a covert showing of the movie Ghandi, complete with alternative routes by motorcar to and from the theater, as well as an enforced black out for two hours after the movie so as not to call attention to ourselves, should there be a raid by local morality police. Not only was it a “movie,” which was one solid strike against us (movies were considered sinful, as were cussing and doing the two-step), but it was a movie about a famous Hindu. Of course, had anyone asked, Dad would have been ready with the argument that he was taking the opportunity to teach his girls a valuable lesson regarding how creative Satan could be when pressed to invent a religion, and its subsequent effects on a society.

Anyway, we kept the bender in England on the down low from our friends. As Mom and Dad had pointed out in the car on the way back from the airport, they might not understand. If they found out that we had partaken of alcohol, it might encourage them, too, to experiment and before we could blink, half of my ninth grade class at the Christian school would be living in the gutter and drinking from paper bags with one foot in the fiery lake. Did we want that kind of responsibility? Did we? Huh?

Over the years, I would watch as Mom and Dad would host various guests from Germany, Russia, and beyond. If they would bring a bottle of wine to our house as a gift, it would be opened and passed around appropriately in our long-stem water glasses, reserved just for the occasion. We did not want to cause an international incident, after all.

We were ambassadors for Christ.


Does anyone worry about the Seven Deadly Sins anymore?

I don’t mean the machinations of the lunatic featured in Se7en, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman…

…or the Seven Deadly Sins computer game (Partial description from the Kongregate website: “Enter the quiet English town of Gorpsdale and use your skill, guile and ingenuity to find suitable ways of breaking each sin” — suitable?)…

…or the rock group Seven Deadly Sins…

…or songs of the same name by the Traveling Wilburys, Flogging Molly, Lotte Lenya or a dozen groups you never heard of.

No.  I don’t mean a trivial expression dripping with convenient irony — intended or otherwise.  The Seven Deadly sins — ha ha.  They’ll send you You Know Where — wink wink.
No no.  I mean the real deal, the Cardinal Sins — those one-way tickets for the express train to that station with the warning over the door.  You know, the sign about all who enter abandoning hope?  That one.  And, while we’re on the subject, that creak you hear in the tunnel ain’t coming from the train.

I’m talking about THE Seven Deadly Sins, defined seven hundred years or so ago as:

  1. Luxuria (Extravagance)
  2. Gula (Gluttony)
  3. Avaritia (Avarice)
  4. Acedia (Discouragement)
  5. Ira (Anger)
  6. Invidia (Envy)
  7. Superbia (Pride)

Do any of these sound familiar?  Ah, so you’ve dabbled in them, have you?  Not to worry, just an oversight.  You’ll clear it up right away.

Perhaps you’re now recalling that time you came home two hours past curfew and were so stoned you left the car running out front all night — and mom gave you a chance to explain before dad came home from work.  No, friend.  That’s Judgment Day you’re thinking of, where righteous pagans and the like get to explain that it’s not their fault they didn’t pray to Jesus, since He hadn’t yet lived, and the angel says, “You’ve suffered enough.  Next!”

The Deadly Sins are not that.  Put yourself in the attitude of Deadly Sin and die before repenting and you already got your Judgment Day, honey.  That E ain’t for Effort, it’s for Eternity.

Is it getting hot in here?

From the Union of Concerned Scientists website:  “Earth’s surface has undergone unprecedented warming over the last century, particularly over the last two decades. Astonishingly, every single year since 1992 is in the current list of the 20 warmest years on record.”

Now that I have your attention, please notice something about these Deadly Sins.  Murder is not among them.  Why?  Because these aren’t an abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments, baby.  They’re not things you do so much as the way you do them.  They’re not mere acts.  They’re what you are — yourbeing.

For example, your very existence in modern America creates oceans of waste.  In an article in Mother Jonesmagazine, Bill McKibben notes that we dispose of 80 million water bottles every day.  Recycled, you say? At any given moment, “More than 46,000 pieces of plastic debris float on each square mile of ocean.”

McKibben also notes the 426,000 cell phones we toss every day, the 170,000 Energizer batteries born every fifteen minutes, and the 60,000 plastic bags we use every five seconds.  Most of this stuff doesn’t float on the oceans.  We send it out of sight, underground.

Which brings me to Dante Alighieri.

In The Divine Comedy, according to scholars, Dante depicted the eschatological views of Thirteenth Century clerics.  And, with literacy on the rise, he did so in the common tongue, so everyone could understand.  In other words, he was just a really talented reporter about the state-of-the-afterlife art.

But what if it turns out the scholars who claim this are whistling past the graveyard?  What if Dante is less a recorder of our past and more a man with a vision of our future?  Kinda like Nostradamus with a mean streak.  Well, then, we’re on the moving sidewalk to the wrong terminal, folks.

The Union of Concerned Scientists adds:  “In its 2001 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated, ‘There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.’”

Dare we revisit those Seven — you know:

  1. Extravagance: According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average American house grew from 1400 square feet in 1970 to 2330 square feet in 2004.
  2. Gluttony: Look in the mirror.  See that fat man?  To satiate him, there’s a building in Arkansas stuffed with ten thousand living chicken dinners.
  3. Avarice: The one who dies with the most toys wins, right?
  4. Discouragement: We know this drill.  Say it with your arms raised: What difference can little old me make in this vast world?  And, besides, isn’t global warming a myth perpetrated by people who just get off on caring about others?
  5. Anger: I have my rights, man, lay off me!
  6. Envy: I know, you needed to take the Suburban to pick up the flat-screen television that was three inches bigger than your neighbor’s, even though your old TV was new last year.  The world feels your pain.
  7. Pride: Mankind is Numero Uno, no?

So this gets me thinking: What if hell isn’t a place we’re sent to, but rather a condition that comes to find us?

Another infernal observation from the scientists: “Measurements show that global average temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 100 years, with most of that happening in the last three decades.”

Dante envisioned nine Circles of Hell:

  1. Those in Limbo wallow in the misery of their separation from God.  A thought: Mankind today has never been further from Nature.
  2. Those in the Second Circle of Hell are blown about by violent storms without rest.  Global warming means more energy in Earth’s atmosphere, causing more storms.
  3. In the Third Circle of Hell, expect to slosh endlessly through vile black sludge — as when the retention ponds at the pig farms let loose.
  4. Those in the Fourth Circle of Hell push around boulders — as we will have to do increasingly to hold back the tides.
  5. In the Fifth Circle of Hell, the souls gnash at each other endlessly — as in the unproductive partisanship that accompanies our era.
  6. For the Sixth Circle of Hell, the heat arrives in earnest.  From the scientists one more time: “By the end of the century, the average U.S. temperature is projected to increase by approximately 7 to 11ºF under the higher emissions scenarios and by approximately 4 to 6.5ºF under the lower emissions scenario.”
  7. The Seventh Circle of Hell contains flaming sand, boiling blood, men reduced to dried bushes, and ferocious dogs (that I see as Nature’s avengers).  But, hey, there’s no snow to plow.
  8. Eighth Circle: people immersed in excrement, more heat, nefarious disease, boiling pitch, that sort of thing.  Does it get tedious?  Only because it isn’t you suffering — yet.
  9. The final Ninth Circle: very unfriendly ice.  “So you see,” the skeptics will say, “in the long run it cools.”  But, of course, by then we’re all beyond dead.

Speaking of which…

At the height of the Roman Empire, people lived on average just 25 years.  By 1985, worldwide life expectancy was 62 years.  Today, a child born in the United States can expect to walk the planet nearly 78 years.

In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, “The number of centenarians in the U.S. is growing rapidly…  During the 1990s, the ranks of centenarians nearly doubled…”  Analysts at the Census, they say, are projecting the population of American centenarians “possibly reaching 834,000 by the middle of the next century.”

But science works apace, and some believe that in a hundred years we may overcome senescence entirely.  Hmm.  It could be that we’re all going to Hell.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, remember the theory of a particular John Milton character in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.”

Then again, those thoughts belonged to the biggest sinner of all, didn’t they?