Archive for February, 2010

Escape from Heaven — Chapter VI


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter V

Escape from Heaven cover


Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 6


“Hi, I’m God,” said God, extending his hand to me.

I didn’t faint, though I think I had every right to. I was also completely tongue-tied for the first time I could remember.

I could see Sophia and Estella enjoying my predicament, but they managed to contain themselves.

“Uh, pleased to meet you,” I managed to croak, my radio voice gone for the moment. I managed to stay on my feet, took his hand, and shook it.

“Make yourself comfortable,” God said. “Mi casa es su casa. I had my angels bring you here a little early so we could chat a bit privately before my wife and son join us for breakfast.”

“You’re … married?” I asked.

God nodded. “I had the Hebrews start their calendar on my wedding day so I’d never forget an anniversary.”

God noticed the expression on my face. “What?” he said.

“Uh, aside from the idea that God has a human body and a wife, I’m just a bit thrown off by the idea that you need a calendar to remember anything,” I said. “I didn’t know you could forget.”

God opened a bottle of juice and poured it over two glasses of ice, handing me one. “It’s the same nectar Jesus gave you that you liked so much,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, taking the glass.

“You’re welcome,” God said. He motioned me to a recliner facing an outside view of the city, and sat down in one right next to it, leaning back and putting his feet up. “You’re right. I can’t really forget anything,” he said. “But I can get so focused on a project that I might need a reminder to widen my perspective again. You were married. You remember how that annoyed your wife.” God took a sip of his drink and put the glass down on the armrest of his chair. “Ask your burning question,” he said.

“Since you’re God, who am I?”

“Who, indeed?” said God. “Yesterday, while sitting in a restaurant on earth, you remembered that you are God and experienced godlike powers of cognition. Just now you learned that you look and sound exactly like God, too. You’ve dreamt of living here. Two of my best angels have been treating you like you’re God. Yet, you haven’t felt much like God since you drowned—in fact you’re quite frightened. The only continuity of identity you have is Duj Pepperman. You’re self-conscious about all your ungodly imperfections. You feel powerless. You take notice that I live here in this magnificent palace at the center of Heaven and you don’t. Does that about sum up the paradox of your question?”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Can I add the observation that, like me, you also have a fondness for long monologues?”

God grinned. “And, you have my chutzpah,” he said, sipping his nectar again. “What I’m about to tell you is unrecorded in any earthly scripture. You can find clues in the Christian gospels, many more in Gnostic texts, but any religious scholar on earth, clerical or lay, would regard a clear statement of the purpose for your very existence as the foulest heresy, the sort of blasphemy they still execute people over, in some quarters. This had to be kept secret from everybody on earth, including you.”

I didn’t say anything. God was right. I was now too frightened to talk.

“You’re my back-up copy, Duj,” God said. “Heaven is about to fall into civil war and I cloned you in case I’m captured by the enemy.”
I hope nectar doesn’t stain. I dropped my glass on the carpet.

+?~

The human drama starts with the words, “In the beginning,” but the first thing you have to understand about God is that he always was, he is now, and he always will be. When Moses asked God for his name, God identified himself as, “I Am that Will Be”—which is about as close as God could come to describing the unconditional fact of his existence to a brilliant but pre-scientific revolutionary.

From the cradle of philosophy in ancient Athens to modern rationalist thinkers such as Ayn Rand, the axiom that “existence exists” is the starting point for all philosophical examination. Yet, many secular philosophers thought the existence of God impossible because their logic told them that God couldn’t come into existence out of nothingness and any consciousness that arose out of existing nature would be subject to natural laws like we are and therefore neither unconditional nor godlike.

What they failed to consider is that existence itself is conscious: self-aware, contemplative, volitional. The words “existence” and “God” are two words identifying the same axiomatic fact. Existence itself is the body and mind of God.

For unfathomable eons, God’s experience of himself was whole and contented. He enjoyed thickening and thinning his body into distinct universes, blowing bubbles that exploded into universes bound by time and space, creating galaxies, stars and planets, watching them do their cosmic dances, then either dissipate back into his body or crunch back together for another explosion and a new dance.

Then God had a philosophical thought, a “what if” speculation, a fantasy, if you prefer. It was a thought that was to change everything, including God’s own experience of himself.

“What if,” God thought, “I could want something I couldn’t have?”

It was an intriguing idea. Since everything that existed was part of God’s body and obeyed his every command, how could anything fail to yield to his will? It was like the classic child’s question, could God make a mountain so big that he couldn’t move it?

Many times had God composed universes the way we would think of a musical composer writing a symphony. God found pleasure in the dialectic of tension and release, dissonance resolving into consonance. There was always a small thrill as God felt a universe crunching to maximum tension, then exploding. God wondered what the thrill of release would be like if there could be an even more intense build up of tension, one he couldn’t launch at will.

The new thought was exquisite in the variety of possibilities it raised.

God contemplated the new thought for what even he considered a long time. After contemplating a lot of different possibilities, and even creating and destroying a number of different universes as experiments to verify his thinking, God decided that the only thing that could possibly create the sort of dynamic he was looking for, the only thing that could build up a tension great enough for the sort of thrill he was seeking, would be to split off part of himself into a separate consciousness, independent of himself, a separate consciousness that could say to him, “No.”

With the possibility of the first “no” would also be created the possibility of the first “yes.”

Thus did the Lord trade his omnipotence, his omniscience, and his omnipresence for the possibility of finding love.

All that followed—the creation of other conscious spirits, the creation of life, the creation of angels and of men, and the even more fabulous opportunity that God offered himself, that he could merge his consciousness into one of his own lesser bodies and live for a time among his own creatures—was an adventure for God. He had given himself the gift of love, but with it came the gift of grief.
Never did God regret his decision. Not for an instant, he told me.

+?~

Start with Helen of Troy’s beauty but add in Goldie Hawn’s smile. Go next with the body of Rita Hayworth. Mix well with Kathleen Turner’s voice, Ayn Rand’s intellect, and Audrey Hepburn’s charm. Season lightly with the sass of Sandra Bullock or Jenna Elfman and this might come close to adequately describing my first impression of God’s wife, Maryse.

Breakfast was at a round table in the family room. The table floated without any pedestals to bump knees into and the chairs floated automatically to the right height and distance. Around the table were the holy Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son, Maryse the Holy Spirit … and me.

Food service seemed to be via teleportation or some technology unfamiliar to me; either that or God was just creating a smorgasbord off the cuff. Being distracted by the company and the conversation, I don’t remember everything I was eating, but I do remember portions of a gingerbread frittata, smoked salmon blintzes with Cointreau sauce, and some fresh fruit that looked like a mango but had the texture and taste of crème brulet.

It wasn’t my plan to become the center of conversation, but Maryse had other plans. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard the name ‘Duj’ before,” she said. “How did you end up being called that?”

I smiled wryly. “It’s my own fault,” I explained. “My first job out of college was on a small AM station in Riverside during evening drive time. I ran the board, spun records, read news, did a little commentary now and then, and took calls. I was fielding an obnoxious caller who disagreed with one of my commentaries, and he said I was nothing but a stupid disk jockey. I shot back—clever me—that I wasn’t a stupid disk jockey, I was a stupid dusk jockey, and before too long, ‘DJ’ became ‘Duj’ and I was stuck with it.”

“That’s interesting,” she said, smiling warmly, “because my name came about almost the same way. “Before I was incarnate my name was Yse.” She pronounced it to rhyme with Leesa. “I was named Mary when I was on earth. I couldn’t decide which name I wanted to use when I crossed back to the celestial realm so I put them together as Maryse.”

God saw that I was still holding my tongue and gave me a look.

I leaned back slightly and shrugged. “It’s not that I don’t want to ask all three of you questions,” I said. “It’s that I want to ask everything and I don’t know where to start.”

“Ask anything, Duj,” God said. “That’s why you’re sitting at this table now. Even though this is new to you, you’re family.”

“Here goes,” I said, turning back to Maryse. “Do you just call your husband ‘God’ all the time or do you have a nickname for him?”

She grinned at me. “It depends on what sort of mood I’m in. If I feel he’s really being pig-headed about something, I call him ‘Joe,’ because I know it annoys him so much.”

I cocked my head to the side. “Joe?”

“Diminutive of ‘Joseph,’” she said. “That was God’s name when he incarnated on earth.”

“Okay, now I’m really getting confused,” I said. “I thought you,” I said indicating God, “incarnated on earth as you,” I said, gesturing toward Jesus.

“Mmm-hmm,” Jesus said, taking half a bagel and shmeering cream cheese on it. “You can blame the Nicene Council in the early fourth century for that one,” he said. “You ready for the real story?”

I leaned back and listened to The Gospel According to Jesus.

#

Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter VII.

Escape from Heaven is
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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The Campaign to Retard Free Speech


Let’s speak the English language, for a moment.

The word “retard” — as a verb — means to slow down, or obstruct.

As a noun, “retard” means that which is slowed down or obstructed.

In music, a retard is a slowing of tempo.

In an automobile engine, a retard is a setting in the distributor to slow down the ignition spark in a cylinder.

For many years, the word “retarded” was used by both the medical and teaching professions to describe persons whose cognitive functions were slow, who were slow to learn, who were slow to catch on.

Now the Special Olympics — and Sarah Palin — want to eliminate the word “retarded” from common usage because it offends their egalitarian premise that we shouldn’t take notice that some people are less cognitively functional than others.

Well, let’s look at this premise, a few weeks before the real Winter Olympics.

Athletes will be competing for speed. Are the fastest athletes — the ones who win the gold — not “special” because they’re in any way superior to other people? Or is the word “special” only allowable to those who are in any way inferior?

When I was in seventh grade at Coolidge Junior High School in Natick, Massachusetts, a reading comprehension test was given to the entire Natick school system, through grade 12.

In grade seven, I outscored everyone in the entire Natick school system. My test was scored as a “22nd Grade” reader.

Yet, it was so common, I can’t tell you how many times I was called a “retard” by other students because in athletic competition — the measure important to them — I was slow.

I am mentally quick. I am physically retarded.

And here’s a concept for Sarah Palin and the mentally-gifted organizers of the Special Olympics:

Speech consists of words. Free speech requires the free use of words. There can be no free speech if you continue to punish the free use of words.

If you can’t understand this simple a prerequisite for freedom of speech, you are learning impaired.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Escape from Heaven — Chapter V


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter IV

Escape from Heaven cover


Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 5


A lot of people think angels don’t have a sense of humor. I don’t believe it for a minute.

It must be obvious from this narrative that Sophia and Estella had been assigned to watch over me. Just exactly what that responsibility entails is a matter open to interpretation, but allowing me, while asleep, to float out of my open bedroom window buck-naked to do an aerial tour of the Heavenly City, does not in my opinion qualify as attention to duty.

At the time I departed earth, a lot more about dreaming was mysterious than understood. People tossed around terms like wish fulfillment, R.E.M. cycles, alpha and theta brainwaves, collective unconscious, directed dreaming, and bicameral minds. But the simple fact is that the ancients, who saw dreams as omens or prophecy, at least took what happened during dreaming as something as real as waking states of being. With the exception of the few remaining Australian aboriginals, practically nobody on earth had a clue why human beings were made to dream.

Almost immediately upon my arrival in Heaven, I found out what dreams are for. It was not only an inescapably obvious experience, but it was at the heart of a political struggle that made earthbound conflicts over abortion, Jerusalem, or skin color look like a bingo game by comparison.

The capacity to dream, to really dream, is what makes the human race “made in God’s image.”

I’m not talking about merely replaying waking experiences while asleep. That’s one of the lowest levels of dreaming that even a sleeping dog experiences. I’m not talking about the visiting between those living on earth and loved ones who’d crossed beyond, or even the antics of otherworldly trespassers who got off on using human dreamers as their personal entertainment consoles.

The sorts of dreams I mean are the ones that seem more real and important to you than what happens when you’re awake, dreams that are either a horror you awaken from with pounding heart and covered in sweat, or a transcendent bliss that breaks your heart when you awaken to mundane existence. Some people have taken dreams this intense to be visits to other realms, including Heaven and Hell, and in rare cases they were.

But what God designed dreams to be in his original specs for the human race is our ability, like God himself, to imagine new worlds into existence.

Not that I learned all this on my first night in Heaven. What I did learn that night is that the dreams I’d had as long as I could remember, in which I could fly, came true once Jesus had given me my new body. My old body being constructed of matter with the properties of mass, and consequently gravitationally attracted to all other masses, was simply not designed to rise out of a gravity well at will.

Back on earth, some living souls used their dream states as an opportunity to leave their leaden bodies behind a short while, for some astral soaring around the planet, while others flew by ignoring gravity in dream worlds of their own creation. Speaking for myself, I had a rare night of the first kind, in which I left my body behind in bed and soared above mountains and through cities, and quite a few more of the second, where my ability to fly was an ordinary feature of my created dream lands.

What I didn’t know, when I climbed into bed that first night, is that the new body Jesus gave me wasn’t made out of ordinary matter like my old body, and that its mass was a variable designed to be consciously controlled. Once I fell asleep and habitually went into one of my usual flying dreams, my new body automatically responded, and like a sleepwalker, I was propelling myself right out my bedroom window and floating above the treetops.

I was cruising along about a mile high and a couple of hundred miles an hour when Sophia and Estella caught up with me, gently caught me and started guiding me back home, still fast asleep. I awakened at about 3,500 feet up and about fifteen minutes away from my bedroom window to find myself naked but not cold, flying prone with the city lights of Heaven below me, two gorgeous angels as my honor guard, and my pecker pointing down like landing gear.

I didn’t have a chance to be embarrassed for very long. As soon as she became aware that I was awake, Sophia laughed merrily then pulled herself close to me, kissing me sensually. Estella joined in kissing me from the other side. I was way distracted after that but I can state with some authority that I wasn’t doing any more dreaming that night. I didn’t need to.

The science-fiction novelist and folksinger, L. Neil Smith, once asked in a lyric, “Can you get laid, up in Heaven?”

Believe it or not, even though the opportunity presented itself to me, my first choice wasn’t to spend the rest of my first night in Heaven doing a ménage à trois with a couple of angelic Playmates. I could fly. I hurriedly dressed and I spent the next few hours in flying lessons, soaring above and through the streets of Heaven with the two most beautiful flight instructors I’d ever seen.

+?~

While we’re on the subject, let’s get a few things straight about angels.

Angels don’t have wings. They’re not burritos like humans; they just use the one astral body, not pulled by gravity. The whole “on wings of angels” thing was a nice poetic metaphor but if you ask me it’s gotten a little old.

Angels are neither androgynous nor are they non-sexual beings. It’s just that they can choose what sex they want to be. God never neutered them. That tubby bitch Silent Bob got this last part wrong when he made Dogma.

Angels are not silent but beautiful sex dolls for humans, either, although I might have given that impression. Sophia and Estella just dug me and it was mutual.

Successful marriages between angels and humans are very rare. If you think the whole Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus thing is hard-going communication, try going on a third date when you really are from different worlds.

Human writers took the word “angel,” which translates as “helper,” then went off on long literary tangents portraying angels as nothing more than God’s messengers, choir singers, and clerical staff. Wrong. The race of humanoid spirits we call angels were God’s first children, our older brothers and sisters. Sure, they do chores around the house; they’re good people and enjoy helping out when they’re not too busy with their own stuff. There’s a corps of elite angels who serve in the Regiment of the Lord, when God needs soldiers, bailiffs, or police officers. But “angel” isn’t a job description. Even in Heaven, the phrase, “You’re an angel!” is mostly a term of endearment.

The important difference between humans and angels is that angels are those spirits who have never incarnated into flesh. Angels who have incarnated into flesh are pretty much the same as spirits grown on earth. They wouldn’t be angels any more; they’d be human. The angels that have never been human don’t sleep; it’s not part of their nature. They’re alert all the time.

Angels don’t dream.

There are angels who are jocks and angels who are nerds. You don’t want to go up against an angel in a karate match or on Jeopardy; they’ll cream you. But psychologically, angels are simply not human.

Angels don’t write novels or plays; they write elegant verse, encyclopedias, and history. They are fabulous mathematicians with tons of theorems attributed to them but none of them could have come up with the visualization that led Albert Einstein to E=mc2. They’re the best engineers around. Angels make wonderful portrait painters, photographers, and cinematographers; but there isn’t a René Magritte or Walt Disney among them. They’re terrific dancers but lousy actors; the universe’s best Renaissance musicians, circus performers, and Elvis impersonators — this last is the opinion of Elvis, himself — but an angel couldn’t write a joke if someone’s life depended on it.

That doesn’t mean that angels don’t laugh or aren’t witty; lots of things amuse them—usually human foibles, like my late-night nude excursion. I’ve been at cocktail parties where I saw angels, in duels of sarcastic banter, one-upping Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde.

I learned the hard way that you don’t want to take angels to a comedy club. Once I took Sophia and Estella to a club in the Soho district of Heaven called The Divine Comedy to see the 16th century playwright Christopher Marlowe doing a stand-up routine, and twenty minutes into his act, Marlowe came down to our table and started ragging on me because I kept on having to lean over and explain to the angels why all the humans were laughing. I found out later that the girls had done this sort of thing before and, though they really don’t get human jokes, seeing me squirm was how the two of them were getting their jollies.

I’m getting ahead of my own story.

Morning came but I wasn’t tired. At about 6:30 AM by my living room clock, I took a quick shower, put on my meeting-with-the-affiliates suit, and flew out with Sophia and Estella for my breakfast meeting.

Have you ever noticed that the gospels refer to Heaven as the Kingdom of God? You wouldn’t know it from movies like Heaven Can Wait, Made in Heaven, or What Dreams May Come. You don’t see God playing any part in Hollywood’s version of Heaven. It’s a curious omission.

Heaven is a kingdom. God is the king. The Lord’s palace is at the very center of the city and is Heaven’s main tourist attraction.

What everything that had happened to me added up to, since line seven had lit up in the K-TALK studio, was that Duj Pepperman had been given a royal summons to appear at court that morning at 0800 hours Celestial Standard Time.

A number of traditions—Gnostic, Hermetic, Masonic — refer to God as the Great Architect of the Universe. Nowhere is this observation truer than in the design of God’s own home.

The Heavenly Palace is an enormous diamond whose lowest point hovers about fifteen feet — exactly ten cubits — off the ground. Think of the structure as two Great Pyramids joined together at their base, floating in the air, with the apex of one pointing up and the apex of the other pointing down.

Each facet of the diamond lights up in an ever-changing pattern of colors, so that the overall impression from any approach is that you’re looking at a display that combines the drama of never-ending fireworks with the intricacy of a Bach cantata.

On official occasions when God is holding open court, each of the facets becomes a view screen, and you can watch the proceedings from just about anywhere in the city.

Like the entrance to Jesus’ resurrection clinic, there are no doorways. You fly up to any outside surface and simply pass through to the inside.

The space inside the palace seems to operate on its own physical laws. You simply can’t get anywhere inside where you’re not invited; if you tried, you’d simply find yourself outside the diamond again, with the possibility that the outside surface wouldn’t open to you any more.

From whatever point public visitors enter the palace from the outside, they end up at the same reception hall inside, reminiscent of the lobby to a great museum.

The palace is a city within a city. Of course there’s the Great Hall where God holds court in the grand style, as well as God’s own personal residence and the private offices, apartments, and conference facilities used by the palace staff. Several museum-worthy collections housed within the palace are open to the public—art, historical displays, and a pavilion dedicated to the Lives of the Saints, as well as research facilities available to scholars who have been cleared for high-level-access in the Tree of Knowledge. There’s a library with every book or film that’s ever been burned on earth, including the missing works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others that were destroyed in Alexandria.

The palace also has 46 public restaurants ranging from fine dining to snack bars, and there are angels who act as docents for tours of the palace’s museums and ceremonial facilities, when not in official use. There’s even a souvenir kiosk where you can pick up miniatures of the palace, art reproductions, toys, and the inevitable shirts that read, “My parents went to Heaven and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

Sophia and Estella had security clearance to bypass the reception area and shepherd me directly from outside the diamond into God’s living room.

I don’t know what I was expecting from God’s personal digs, but this wasn’t it. There weren’t any fancy Louis XVI chairs or long halls with huge oil paintings; no displays of fine bone china or carved ivory miniatures; no desks with inlaid mahogany. The only obvious ostentation was shelf after shelf displaying books, musical albums, and movies. It’s a habit of mine to check out what people keep on their home shelves; it’s often a glimpse into their personality. God’s living room has the best collection of science-fiction and fantasy I’ve ever seen outside of the Ackermansion, but his listening tends toward music salad, from Camille Saint-Saëns to Stevie Wonder, from Dmitri Shostakovich to Astor Piazzolla, from Vince Guaraldi to Alanis Morrisette. Chris Isaak’s song “Wicked Game” was playing when I came in. Uh oh, I thought.

The place wasn’t designed for show but for creature comfort. There were plush couches and even plusher recliners, an extensive wet bar, a long table heavy with bowls of fresh fruit, candy bars, cheeses, crackers, potato chips, dips, and bottled soft drinks on ice.

There was a huge roman bathtub with massage jets, enormous stereo speakers in each corner, and the biggest flat-screen I’d seen anywhere.

You know how there are places in dreams that you keep on going back to, that you can describe in detail as easily as places you’ve lived, but that you know you’ve never been to before? Suddenly I had the strongest flash of déjà vu I’d ever experienced.

I’d lived in this room, in my dreams.

But that momentary precognition made it only slightly less shocking to me when God walked into the room, obviously the Lord of the palace because he was barefoot and wearing a silk kimono. God waved to Sophia and Estella, then grinned widely when he saw what had to be the queerest expression on my face when I first saw him.

Aside from my being overweight, I was an identical twin of God.

#

Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter VI.

Escape from Heaven is
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

Bookmark and Share

Escape from Heaven — Chapter IV


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter III

Escape from Heaven cover


Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 4


Have you ever noticed how many different cultures burn candles as memorials or in prayers for the dead? Being an atheist, I’d always looked for rational explanations about stuff like that. Let’s say that you’re in a society before the invention of cameras, with few people who can even write or paint. What can just about anyone do in remembrance of the dearly departed? About all you could do was to light a candle, that was my way of thinking about it.

If you get nothing else out of this narrative, get this: just about everything is more complicated than I’d thought.

As Felony was leading me by the hand to the appointed place of my rebirth, my inability to see things around me subsided, and I gradually became aware of my surroundings. We were walking along a path in a well-manicured city park, with high-rise architecture surrounding me at a distance.

It was hard for me to assign a style to the buildings. You know how, in the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life, Judgment City looks like the outskirts of Las Vegas? This was nothing like that. There was little in common with earth styles of architecture at all.

It wasn’t the glass-and-steel towers of America, not the classical styles of a European capital, neither the elaborate temples of Asia nor the Moorish edifices of the ancient Near East. It was more self-consciously artistic, with the architect being liberated from the load-bearing requirements of earth construction to explore pure esthetics, and with an astonishing variety of building materials.

Some buildings looked as if they had been grown as a single crystal, the ultimate in organic integrity. There were some structures that looked as if they were constructed of clouds, and a few that had the Blade Runner look of a Syd Mead illustration. Some of the more-metallic-looking buildings hovered high above the others, like a cover from a 1940’s Astounding. The overall effect was like the 1964 New York World’s Fair or Disneyland, but done for real.

The building that Felony brought me to near the outskirts of the park looked as if Dr. Seuss or M.C. Escher had a hand in its design. From the outside it looked like a series of glowing mazes that turned in on themselves. But when you passed inside (not through a door; right through what appeared to be a solid wall) it looked a cross between an ancient Roman home and the medical practice of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. I had a real sense that whoever had done the interior decorating had seen way too many movies.

To my right I saw a modernistic waiting room with plush chairs, couches, and coffee tables piled with old magazines that would have looked at home in a dentist’s waiting room. The room was full but I didn’t have to put my name on a list. Sophia and Estella, the angels who crossed me over, were waiting for me as we entered, both dressed in a translucent white dress that reminded me of a nurse’s uniform by way of Hugh Hefner. Either Sophia or Estella would qualify as your average Playmate of the Year. “He’s waiting for you,” Sophia said.

“Who’s waiting?” I asked, but directed the question to my daughter, and suddenly she was no longer 12-years-old but a woman who looked my own age.

“Jesus, of course,” Felony said. She kissed me on the cheek. “Call me when you’re settled in, Daddy. I’m in the Tree.”

Felony disappeared, the way the two angels had when I’d died. It was a bit disconcerting.

“This way, sir,” Sophia said. The angels linked arms with me from both sides. I didn’t know whether to feel escorted or under arrest.

There’s no way to say this that isn’t going to tick somebody off, so I’m just going to say it. The Savior looked like a Middle Eastern terrorist or a Colombian drug lord. Or at least that’s what he looked like to a Hollywood-imprinted American arriving from the early-21st century.

Jesus looked short, muscular, olive-skinned, with piercing eyes, jet-black hair, and a thick black beard; when I was brought in to him he was wearing a white Sydney Greenstreet suit. The only thing that broke the stereotypical first impression was Jesus’ brilliant smile and the bear hug with which he greeted me.

The angels left, closing a door behind them, and Jesus motioned me over to a couple of upholstered chairs, catercorner to each other.

“Mind if I smoke?” Jesus asked.

If I still had one I raised an eyebrow but said, “No problem.”

No, I can’t tell you what brand of cigarette Jesus smokes; he took an elaborately carved pipe and a cloth pouch out of his jacket pocket, packed something pink and fleshy from the pouch into the pipe, and blew into the mouthpiece as if it was a child’s bubble pipe.

It wasn’t bubbles that came out of the pipe’s bowl, though, but a jet of flame followed by a thick cloud of white smoke.

It didn’t smell like tobacco to me, and not like marijuana, either, if that’s where you thought I was going. It smelled a little like incense or burning spices but overall, it smelled to me like barbecue smoke.

I don’t know what I’d expected when I sat down in the arm chair opposite Jesus—maybe a chance to get a few of my questions answered—but what happened next was nothing I could have anticipated.

Jesus took a deep draught of smoke from his pipe and blew it towards me, not a short breath but a deep, continuing wind that traveled along with a deep low humming. The smoke began swirling around me, faster and faster and faster, and a jet of flame formed above me.

Suddenly it was as if I was a candle, but instead of rising, the flame started moving downwards, and I felt intense heat starting at my temple and spreading out from there to my entire body. But instead of consuming me, the flame was making me solid.

I don’t know if I passed out, went into a trance, or whether it was over in only an instant, but the next thing I knew the flame was gone, the smoke was floating easily up to a cathedral ceiling … and I had a solid body of flesh again. But rebirth doesn’t come with clothes. I was sitting in the arm chair, now naked.

Not for long. Sophia and Estella were right behind me with a terrycloth bathrobe. When I stood up I felt a bit wobbly but managed not to fall. Estella helped me on with the robe … and just in time, otherwise the Savior would have been staring at a growing erection triggered by my proximity to Estella’s cleavage as she bent over to cinch the robe’s tie for me.

Sophia placed a golden chalice into my hands, and Jesus picked up one like it. Estella picked up a pitcher and poured a clear liquid into both cups.

“To life,” Jesus said to me.

Jesus put the cup to his lips and so did I. We drank. It was a wow. I didn’t know what it was but knew that if somebody bottled it on earth, Coca Cola would be out of business.

Jesus stood up, and with some effort I made it back onto my feet.

“I apologize,” said Jesus, “but I have a full waiting room. I’ll see you in the morning at breakfast, all right?”

“Sure,” I said, weakly.

Jesus and I shook hands then Sophia and Estella helped me walk out of Jesus’ office … and directly into what looked to be the master bedroom of my town home back in Culver City.

“Get a good night’s sleep and we’ll be back for you in the morning,” said Estella.

“Sweet dreams,” said Sophia, and then, much to my regret, they were both gone.

I went into my bathroom and looked at myself. I didn’t look any different than the way I had looked before I died.

I walked to my bedroom window, opened it wide, and looked out, but instead of looking at the garage doors of the next row of houses, I had a spectacular view of the heavenly skyline at night. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Heaven doesn’t smell like any other city I’ve ever visited. There are no industrial fumes; instead, the air is permeated with a spicy, deep-forest fragrance. There was a lovely warm breeze carrying this wonderful air into the house so I decided to keep the window open.

I was more tired than I’d thought. I threw the robe on a chair, climbed into bed, and was asleep before I knew it.

#

Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter V.

Escape from Heaven is
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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The Nobeus News Report — February 4, 2010

Wrap-up of news and opinion from your not-so-humble correspondent.

The Politically Correct Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin is turning into quite the liberal.

On June 8th and 9th, 2009, David Letterman told a few jokes on his late-night CBS show that his writers didn’t set up properly. Letterman was trying to joke about Sarah Palin’s pregnant-out-of-wedlock daughter, Bristol.

You don’t need to convince me that David Letterman’s jokes are caustic and just nasty. They are, and the meaner Dave gets the harder Letterman’s audience laughs, with bandleader Paul Shaffer as the Voice of the Angels scolding his boss when Letterman skirts the edge of what passes for good taste these days.

But if you’re going to run for high office on conservative family values — as Sarah Palin did — having your unmarried daughter knocked up by a boyfriend who manages to escape the shotgun wedding is an obvious politically liability. It’s not traditional. It’s not sanctified. It’s not done.

Publicly embracing your pregnant-out-of-wedlock daughter on the campaign trail squashes the guideline that children of politicians are off-limits, opening the subject up to journalists and comedians alike.

Letterman jumped into the loophole when the Alaskan governor and one of her daughters showed up in Dave’s own stomping grounds — New York City.

Letterman’s first opening monologue joke on June 8, 2009, was that when Sarah Palin and her daughter attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, “One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” Rodriquez was the Yankee’s third baseman notorious for liaisons with strippers and call girls.

Letterman told a variation the next night when he quipped, “The toughest part of her visit was keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter.”

Eliot Spitzer was the married New York governor who’d resigned three months earlier when it was exposed that he’d been visiting high-priced call girls.

Okay. As nasty jokes go, this one was pretty fair and balanced, since it linked scandals of the Republican Sarah Palin with the Democrat Eliot Spitzer.

But, as I said, Letterman’s writers didn’t do their due diligence, because Sarah was at the baseball game not with 18-year-old Bristol but with her 14-year-old daughter, Willow.

So Letterman’s writers opened up a loophole for Sarah Palin to fire back, and fire back she did: “Any ‘jokes’ about raping my 14-year-old are despicable. Alaskans know it and I believe the rest of the world knows it, too.”

Now. Sarah Palin’s staff also failed in their due diligence, because neither Alex Rodriguez nor Eliot Spitzer were rapists, but clients of call-girls. So, if anything, David Letterman wasn’t calling Sarah Palin’s 14-year-old a potential rape victim. He was calling her a whore.

Here’s what “the rest of the world knows.”

Letterman’s jokes were intended to make fun of 18-year-old pregnant-out-of-wedlock Bristol, not 14-year-old Willow.

If Sarah Palin really didn’t know that, and wasn’t just deliberately acting clueless about the obvious intent of Letterman’s joke, she’s just — well — retarded.

Which brings us to the latest example of Sarah Palin’s use of political correctness to silence those she regards as political adversaries.

Back in August, 2009, in a private weekly strategy session, White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, needed a colorful phrase to describe what he regarded as the realpolitik cluelessness of left-wing Democrats who planned to run TV ads against fellow Congressional Democrats who wouldn’t support the President’s proposal for a “public option” in health care, even if splitting the party meant that no bill at all would make it to the President’s desk.

Rahm chose the term of art to describe the clueless: “fucking retarded.”

No one reported this until the Wall Street Journal did in a story run January 26th.

Sarah Palin’s two-year-old son, Trig, is a Down Syndrome child — what Devo’s first single in 1977 called “Mongoloid.”

Down Syndrome children are supposed to be learning impaired, though that’s not always true. But the term “retarded” is no longer used by the medical or teaching professions, and the common schoolyard epithet when I was growing up — “retard” — is now politically incorrect.

So is “mongoloid.” So is “moron.” So is “idiot.” So is “stupid.”

In fact, the only allowable term for persons of reduced intelligence these days is “Republican.”

But Sarah Palin — somehow missing that Rahm Emmanuel’s comment was directed at Democrats — decided that his use of the term “retarded” was an insult to her baby, and has now called for Rahm Emmanuel to be fired for using the word.

Sarah Palin takes

Sarah Palin takes Umbridge — er, umbrage — at use of the word “retarded.”

For using a word she doesn’t like. Palin wants the word “retarded” to be regarded as equivalent to the “N” word — and use of the “N” word can aggravate the circumstances of an act to make it into a “hate crime.” If Sarah Palin gets her way, calling someone “retarded” could be a felony.

Well, what term of art should I now use for a so-called conservative who repeatedly engages in fits of political-correctness designed to shut up people she doesn’t like?

#

While We’re At It, Let’s Talk About Free Speech, Egalitarianism, and Common Sense

Let’s cut the crap.

There is diversity in human beings.

I’m fat and deconditioned. I’m not going to win any Olympic medals for the United States.

Down Syndrome children are often enough as mentally limited as I am physically limited. Sarah Palin’s son, Trig — and honestly it’s too early to know — just might not be smart enough to run for President of the United States.

But then again, Trig’s mother is no mental giant, and she might, so who knows?

#

The President Gets Some Right

During his State of the Union address, President Obama offered several proposals that made my ears perk up. He proposed freezing government spending. He promised that all American troops would be out of Iraq by August 2010. He called for eliminating capital-gains taxes on small business investment. He called for building new nuclear power plants. He even said nice things about “clean coal” technologies.

Then, on February 1st, the Obama administration did something I’ve been waiting for a president to do since 1969: announce that the future of the United States exploration of space did not lie with NASA, but with private industry. Obama is sending NASA back to its original mission of research, and saying future space flights need to be accomplished by private firms.

If President Obama accomplishes nothing else during his administration, his “deprogramming space flight” may well be as important to the future of the human race as President Kennedy’s launching a program to land an American on the moon by the end of the 1960’s.

#

Initial Disclosures

The Director of National Intelligence: DNI. Deny. But is it plausible deniability?

California. CA. See-ya!

Nevada. NV. Envy? You know it!

Hawaii. HI. That’s got to be good for tourism!

#


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Escape from Heaven — Chapter III


Go to book’s beginning.
Read the previous chapter Chapter II

Escape from Heaven cover


Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 3


If you’d seen anybody on TV telling you what it’s like to die, the one thing you could pretty well be sure of is that they didn’t die all the way. So you might have heard the beginning part about what happens when you die before … but the part you’d heard was the part before it got really interesting.

Yes, I was outside of my drowning body almost immediately, floating about a dozen feet above the water. I could see things that I couldn’t have seen if I’d had to rely on my old eyes. It was after dark, and the Mercedes had already sunk under the water far enough that all I should have been able to see of it was the roof and a few air bubbles rising to the surface of the water. But I could apparently see right through the solid roof of the car down to my tied-up waterlogged body.

My drowned corpse should have been a gruesome sight but the part of me that was capable of being disturbed was left behind with my old nervous system. I can be dispassionate now in trying to describe what the experience was like but being outside my body was an emotional rush at the time, and the second peak experience I’d had within an hour.

You’ve heard before, from people who’ve described their death experiences, about the bright light. That’s part right and part wrong. We experience it as light, but it’s not what a scientist of our time would have defined as light. It’s not made up of photons (which you’d no longer have an optic nerve to perceive anyway), it’s not an electromagnetic phenomenon at all, but we call it light because that’s what we’re perceiving.

I could stop this narrative right now and switch to writing a textbook about what we are when we are no longer living in flesh. The skeptical talk-show host I was a few hours earlier would have been interested in questions about how we could think without a brain or central nervous system to process information, how we can see without a retina to catch the photons, why we still feel without neural receptors to be compressed, and so forth. If you’re really interested, you can do a search on astral physiology in the Tree of Knowledge, or just take a class. If you’ve read books on out-of-body and death experiences, keep in mind that about three-quarters of what you read was the guesswork of an author who, if he’d even reincarnated, was suffering from dinatal amnesia.

The short answer is: you’re a burrito. You’re an astral body stuffed into a flesh body. You have a consciousness that uses your brain like a computer mouse; you have a second body that is made out of a more durable substance than matter but can be hooked into flesh for a time. Your personality is not trapped in your brain but can be uplifted out of it; your fleshly body is designed for use in the plane of earth and once you’re out of it for good, it’s time to stick out your thumb, so to speak, and hitch a ride in the tunnels.

The light is, among other things, a boarding announcement.

I could see a tunnel mouth forming above me, and felt myself rising slowly at first. I hesitated, feeling an unbroken connection to my teenage daughter, but “remembered” being God again momentarily, and knew that I’d be seeing her again soon enough.

I allowed myself to be sucked up into the mouth and felt myself accelerating.

The tunnel was more like a glowing energy field than something made out of brick and mortar. If this was a movie, the special-effects shot of going into a tunnel would be like the Millennium Falcon going into hyperspace, or like the Starship Enterprise going into warp. And why not? The closest science came to describing a tunnel was a wormhole, and that’s wildly inaccurate. It’s a system of passageways that can be used for travel between worlds, universes, dimensions, time periods, and other sorts of places that twenty-first-century cosmology doesn’t even encompass yet. The tunnel between earth and Heaven is like a local on the New York City subway, if you consider all the possible destinations. Heaven is about two million years in the future and five thousand degrees to the left. Practically walking distance.

When my daughter was little, we’d start singing “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” whenever we drove through a tunnel. I’m not sure why but I started singing “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” and decided to see how long I could keep it up. I soon noticed that there was another voice singing along with me. I, and whoever was joining me, didn’t have to sing very long; I don’t think I was in the tunnel for more than a minute before I popped out the other end.

I felt myself landing on my feet. There wasn’t a mirror but I could look down and see that I seemed to have an ordinary body again, torso, arms and hands, legs and feet. Gravity—I could feel weight on my feet. Clothes, the same ones I’d been wearing when I left.

I looked around. My first impression of the arrival platform was aural rather than visual. I stopped singing “Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” the moment I was out of the tunnel; but the other voice that had been singing along with me continued and was now close by. But I couldn’t see anything yet. For my new eyes, the place was supersaturated with light and objects were hard to distinguish. I could see only light and shadows.

One of the shadows moved toward me. I made an effort to focus and the shadow resolved into a silhouette, and the figure resolved into a human form, and the human form resolved into a very pretty girl who looked to be about 12 years old. It took another beat before I recognized her. She had been 18 years old the last time I had seen her, two weeks earlier.

“Hi, Daddy,” she said.

It was my daughter, Felony.

“Sweetie?” I said, shocked. “I don’t understand. You were in college when I left earth. Was there an accident? Are you dead, too?”

She came up close and hugged me; she had to reach up the way she used to when she was little. “I’m fine, Daddy,” she said. “I’m alive now and I’m alive back at college, when you left.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Everybody who’s going to end up here is already here,” she said. “This is the end of time. This is Heaven.”

I looked around but the only thing that I could see clearly was still my daughter. Everything else was still cloudy, the way Heaven was always portrayed in old movies.

“You have a million questions,” she said. “There’s a million answers waiting for you. But you’re not going to get them standing here. Come on.”

She took me by the hand and we started walking. I let her guide me.

“Why are you a little girl again?” I asked.

“Because that’s the way you’ve always seen me,” Felony said. “Everything you see when you first get here is subjective, dreamlike.”

“I’m not seeing what you really look like?”

“Well, you’re not seeing me the way everyone else does yet.”

“If you’re still alive back on earth, how did you get here before I did?”

“Do you really want a lecture on resolving the paradox equations in temporal mechanics five minutes after you get to Heaven? Or is it enough if I tell you that I gave you grandchildren and great-grandchildren before I died?”

I laughed. “Did you make any movies?”

She smiled. “I dedicated my first directing Oscar to you.”

“I’m sorry I missed it, sweetheart.”

“Who said you’re going to miss it?”

“I’ll take that lecture now,” I said, grinning.

Felony looked at me seriously. “Do you have any idea why you were brought here?”

“You mean you don’t know?”

She shook her head. “All I know is that I got a message telling me that you were arriving today and asking me to guide you until you’re reborn.”

I frowned. “You mean I have to go through puberty again?”

She laughed. “No, Daddy. Unless you want to stay a ghost, just using your second body, you need to get new flesh. Which, considering your love for all-you-can-eat restaurants, I don’t think you’d like very much. Come on.”

“Is it going to hurt?”

“Just because you’re being reborn is no excuse to act like a baby,” my teenage daughter the grandmother said.

#

Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter IV.

Escape from Heaven is
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

Bookmark and Share

Escape from Heaven — Chapter II


Go to book’s beginning.

Escape from Heaven cover


Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 2


Did you ever find a million dollars that you forgot you had?

That’s about as close as I can come in describing how I felt at that moment.

It’s not that anything around me changed physically at the moment of revelation. I was still sitting at a table in Jerry’s Famous Deli. My sandwich was still in front of me. So was my glass of Dr. Brown’s celery tonic and a dish of pickles.

What was different is that I wasn’t Duj Pepperman anymore.

I looked around the restaurant, at the other people. I saw them for a moment on the surface; then it was as if my vision went around a corner and I was seeing them from another angle, not just on the outside, but from the inside out, and with perspective both on their past and future.

I looked at a waiter and I knew that his fondest wish at the moment was to get the part he was up for on General Hospital.

A young woman sitting at the next table had just been told by her doctor that she was pregnant … but not by her husband, who was sitting at the table next to her, and had no idea. She wanted to keep the baby. So would he … but only if he thought it was his.

I looked over to a trim middle-aged man with a shaved head, sitting a few tables away, an ex-army colonel who had served with distinction in the Gulf War. He had been forcibly retired due to a sexual harassment scandal involving men under his command, but that he, personally, had nothing to do with. Now he was middle management of a small computer software company and was about to be laid off, although he didn’t know it yet. His greatest wish was just one more mission where he could make a difference.

Across from me, at another table, was a short curly-haired man who had been a successful writer of science-fiction paperbacks—mostly media tie-ins. The book contracts had dried up and he was now working as a technical writer. He had completed an original, science-fiction novel with an epic theme that he hoped would be his break into hardcover publication and serious reviews, but so far no one would touch it and it was breaking his heart.

The TV over the bar had CNN on. A prominent U.S. senator was being interviewed about a bill she had introduced for a comprehensive national health plan. She should have been focusing instead on her own health; she was addicted to both amphetamines and barbiturates that she used to mask the pain of her husband’s serial adultery. She had shut down sexually, converted her libido into power lust, and covered it all with a smile that was permanently glued onto her face.

I looked in the bar mirror, at myself.

I saw that my life until that moment had been preparation for this one, that “Duj Pepperman” was a fictitious identity, that his life until that moment had been a series of training exercises waiting for my arrival. I felt that I’d just arrived after a long journey but registered surprise at how overweight this body was.

I laughed silently. Until that moment, Duj Pepperman had been an atheist.

There were two staggeringly beautiful women with elfin ears, both of them blond, almost albino, sitting a few tables away from me, looking at me intently. I recognized them as angels named Estella and Sophia. They recognized me as well. I nodded to them; they nodded back.

I paid my check and walked out to the parking lot. They were waiting for me in front of Sebrings hair stylists, where I had parked.

“I can’t commit suicide,” I told them. “I’m bound by the rules.”

Estella nodded. “Don’t worry, we understand our orders.” She pulled a Glock 9-millimeter pistol from her jacket pocket and pointed it at me.

Sophia said, “Give me your keys.”

I gave the keys to Sophia, who unlocked the doors with the remote. Estella opened the rear passenger door, motioning me in with the gun. I got into the back seat of my car, Estella following, with the gun still pointed at me. She reached across and pulled down the shoulder strap, buckling me in.

Sophia got behind the wheel of my car, started the ignition, and drove off, while Estella pulled a roll of duct tape out of her handbag.

“Give me your hands,” Estella said.

Holding the gun on me with one hand, she bound my hands to the seat belt, ripping the tape off with her teeth, then bound my feet. I tested the strength of the tape. She’d done a good job.

Sophia turned on the radio and tuned it to KLSX FM. The Beach Boys were singing “Good Vibrations.”

Both angels started singing along, “I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, she’s giving me excitations …”

Still singing, Sophia drove onto Admiralty Way. I started singing along with the angels, “Good, good, good, good vibrations!”

Sophia turned left on Via Marina, then onto a pier leading out to the harbor. Sophia accelerated the car while opening all four windows. The car leapt the pier and splashed. The Mercedes floated a few seconds then began sinking. Water began rushing in through the open windows.

“Na na na na na … na na na!” sang Sophia, Estella, the Beach Boys, and me.

All of a sudden, the angels vanished and their voices cut off. Just as suddenly, I was no longer God.

The radio shorted out and went silent. I stopped singing, mid-vibration.

I was Duj Pepperman again, bound with duct tape into the back seat of a Mercedes that was sinking into cold salt water, water that was quickly rising up my chest.

“God, where did you go?” I shouted, panicked. “Why did you leave me?”

There was no answer.

I took a deep breath as the water rose toward my chin. Used all my strength to try to break the duct tape, but it was no use.

“Oh, shit!” I said, took one more breath, my last, then sunk beneath the water and drowned.

#

Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter III.

Escape from Heaven is
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

Bookmark and Share

Escape from Heaven

Escape from Heaven cover


Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman



To My Father Who Art In Heaven
And To My Family Who Art On Earth


A Revelation

Everything is different than I thought.
What I thought was my cage
was the nest I’d built for myself.
What I thought was my life
was just my basic training.

We really don’t know what’s going on
right next to us.
The universe is so strange,
so surprising,
so dramatic.

Life can be exactly like
the most exciting novel
and for the writer,
how could I not jump in
to play one of the roles?

Shakespeare, after all,
used to play his characters.

But it’s different
when your character suddenly is You,
and you find out
that you’re not what you thought you were.

What had just been glimpses
through a dark glass
before
became an open window
for a few hours.

Do you know how long a few hours is
and what you can see
if you look around?
I wanted a glimpse
my curiosity was boundless
and be careful what you pray for
because the guy who answers
“Thy will be done”
has a real rough sense of humor.

The thing is, he climbed inside with me
and let me share the joke.

Unbefuckinglievable.

The game’s afoot!
Heinlein was right.
Yoda was right.

The universe is not what it seems
and,
the amazing thing is

Neither are You

February 18, 1997

Part One
A Call from God

Chapter 1

There’s an old saying that everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die.

That’s how it was for me, anyway.

I drove a Mercedes because I was told it was the safest car in a crash. And it was a smart choice. I died of something else.

I owned a handgun so I wouldn’t die at the hands of a burglar. I was right about that, too. The burglar who broke into my bedroom ran like hell when he saw the .45 Government Model I was pointing at him … and I died of something else.

I quit smoking, did my best to keep my weight down and eat a low cholesterol diet, and practiced safe sex, because I didn’t want to die of cancer, heart disease, emphysema or AIDS, and it paid off: I died of something else.

You see, that’s the part they forget to mention. No matter what nasty ways of dying you avoid, there’s always another one waiting for you. If one thing doesn’t get you, another thing will. Everybody could have saved a lot of thought that went into bumper stickers and public service messages. All they would have had to say is, “Don’t do that. Die of something else.”

It would have saved me a lot of trouble, too. I was a coward most of my life because I was afraid of dying.

My story begins the day I died and went to Heaven.

+?~

It was a slow news day. Here in Los Angeles, no riots, no brushfires, no mudslides, no earthquakes, no celebrities being accused of child molesting, hit and run, wife-beating, trafficking in drugs, or murder. On the national and international scene, no terrorist attacks, no school yard shootings, no one holed up in a church surrounded by the Feds, no movie idol or politico getting caught with a prostitute, no husband looking for his johnson in the traffic island, no custody battles with a communist dictator acting in loco parentis.

The sort of day that strikes fear into the hearts of talk radio hosts like me.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. A little. Some of the best shows have been on slow days. I once heard Tom Leykis when he was on KFI, do a spellbinding three-hour monologue — no calls, only commercial breaks — just telling how he got into this business. Phil Hendrie is the radio equivalent of fantasy mud wrestling. But if you don’t have that sort of talent for improv — and I don’t — then you succeed or fail by the quality of calls you get.

Talk radio topics get divided between the social issues and the personal issues — the macro and the micro, as my old friend Dennis Prager calls it. As a general rule, people are more willing to talk about the personal issues with women hosts who put the word “doctor” before their first name. There have been exceptions — David Viscott, for example — but that usually requires diplomas I didn’t have.

Other talk show hosts had no problem getting the phones filled with wives calling about their husband’s cheating or gay men talking about their lovers dying of AIDS, but that wasn’t the sort of listenership I tended to attract. My listeners wanted politics, current events, controversy. I wasn’t pushing the outside of the outrageousness envelope, like Imus or Howard Stern. I was a pundit, a loudmouth. In other words, a Rush Limbaugh/Larry King wannabee, like almost everyone else in talk radio.

I could always get the phones lit up by talking about abortion, or gun control, or political correctness, or illegal immigration. But you don’t want to hit on those too often. You just keep hearing the same arguments over and over, usually from the same callers. (And yes, I know it’s you, even if you give my call screener a phony name and pretend you’re on the other side so we put you on for the third time that month.)

There are certain subjects that will light up the board with callers you just don’t want to go near. People who say they’ve been abducted by UFO’s. Callers reincarnated from Marilyn Monroe — and not just women, either. People who say they’ve figured out the doughnut assassination, or claim they know where Bill Gates is. Mysterious deaths of pets owned by powerful politicians. Waco, 9/11 revisionists, the International Space Station explosion, militias, endless conspiracy theories. Any of these calls you take, no matter how good your call screener, is walking through a minefield. And most of them are just unoriginal — bad radio. You really have to have the bizarre talents of an Art Bell to succeed in that sort of market.

I guess I was desperate. I was coming back from my first commercial break after the news, evening drive time and my second of four hours, Monday through Friday — and if you called me right now, you were not going to get a busy signal. A bad situation.

My engineer, Terry, had a cruel sense of humor. For the musical bump leading back into the show, I was hearing on my phones Frank Sinatra singing, “It’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place …except you and me…” I gave Terry the finger and he grinned from the other side of a plate-glass window.

I hit the cough button to clear my throat and came in a half beat too late: “You’re listening to 680 K-TALK, and I’m Duj ‘Rhymes-with-Judge’ Pepperman. The time is exactly 5:19. That little musical interlude is my engineer’s not-so-subtle way of telling me I’m dying. So for the rest of the hour let’s talk about death. The big D. Specifically, do you believe in life after death? Our number again is 1-888-55-K-TALK.”

My producer, Jules, rolled her eyes heavenward. She was the one who was going to have to talk to all the assorted loose nuts who were about to call in. But it didn’t take long for the video screen in front of me to start filling up with descriptions of new callers — and some of them were bound to be airworthy.

Okay, it was a cheap trick. You don’t keep evening drive time in a top-rated market unless you do sheer entertainment once in a while.

My video screen said that line two had a 38-year-old woman who was having an affair with a ghost. I hit the private intercom to Jules, behind the glass. When the intercom button is pressed, my broadcast mike is cut off, allowing private conversations with my engineer or producer. “Line two,” I said to Jules. “Calling from the Twilight Zone?”

Jules shook her head and gave me a hand signal that I interpreted as meaning “sex”; Jules didn’t speak to me because she was screening another call.

I released the intercom and punched up line two. “Marie in Torrance,” I said, “you’re on K-TALK with Duj Pepperman.”

“Duj? I can’t believe I got through! I’ve been trying to call for weeks!”

I hit my intercom again and blew Terry a razzberry.

Releasing the intercom button again, I went back to my caller.

Marie’s “ghost” sounded suspiciously to me like Patrick Swayze in the movie of that title, but I didn’t say it. As long as she didn’t get hotter than PG-13 in her description of her romantic relations with him, I could let her go on about him a bit. Nobody was going to be punching up KRLA.

Listening with one ear, I went back to reading through my fan mail (okay, hate mail, too) and wondered why anyone in my job ever wanted to move over to TV. Sure, the money was better, but with the camera on you all the time you had to work for it. And wear a suit. And get recognized in restaurants, too. I had a monthly audience averaging a few million, yet nobody ever asked me for an autograph while I was standing at a urinal. What celebrity can ask for more than that?

I thanked Marie for her call, went to a traffic report, told Terry to cart the new Purple Web commercial, then read it live while he recorded it for posterity, and returned to the live phones. My call monitor said line seven had “God” calling from “Paradise,” and the subject was “Personal proof that life-after-death exists.” I guessed that “God” was Jules’ abbreviating Godfrey, and while Paradise, California is a few hundred miles north of our usual daytime broadcast area, we get calls from all over from satellite radio and our web cast. “Godfrey from Paradise,” I said, “this is Duj Pepper­man and you’re on 680 K-TALK.”

“Duj,” said a rich baritone voice. A good radio voice. My voice. “This is God, calling from Heaven. I can’t believe I got through. I’m one of your biggest fans!”

I immediately hit the “dump” button, but it didn’t work and the call continued, “Listen, Duj, would you mind dying tonight and meeting tomorrow morning at my palace in Heaven? We need to talk privately.”

I punched the intercom to Terry. “Kill line seven!” I hoped he could wipe the call before the four-second delay finished and the call went on the air.

There are words in life you never want to hear. A doctor pointing at an X-ray of your brain and saying “inoperable tumor.” Calling your business manager’s office and having a voice answer, “Frauds Detail, Detective Smith.” Any call from your child’s school that contains the word “accident.”

The words that I heard next fell into that category. It was my engineer saying, “Kill what? There was no one on seven.”

The primal part of me gasped. I looked at the display again. Now there was nothing on the monitor for line seven. The professional in me, trained never to allow long silences on the air, took over immediately, and before releasing the intercom I said, “Not funny, Terry!”

Terry looked innocent and shrugged.

Jules looked at me blankly, and shrugged, too. It was obvious that neither of them had any idea what I was talking about.

I didn’t have time to worry about it now; the studio ON AIR light was still glowing.

I shrugged back. No reason to let my colleagues think I was losing it. “Modern technology strikes again,” I said lamely, and punched up line eight. “Bob in Long Beach, you’re on 680 K-TALK with Duj Pepperman.”

It was only after the show was over that it crossed my mind that I might have been the first talk show host in human history to get a live call-in from God.

And I had hung up on Him.

+?~

There’s something about having a few hundred thousand people listening to you that makes you feel invulnerable. Or maybe it’s that the studio feels like a fortress — the fences and guard posts you have to pass to get in, the labyrinth-like corridors, the enforced quietude of the studio when the ON AIR light is lit.

Glitches happen all the time in radio. If it was a little strange to be hearing a voice my engineer couldn’t and having a call disappear from the board, each had happened before. The only strange thing about it was both happening at the same time.

When I had a minute to think about it after I was off the air, I decided it might be a high-tech prank of some sort — a computer virus maybe. I decided if it happened again, I’d let the station’s management look into it.

The human mind is wonderful at not seeing the things it doesn’t want to see. By the time I left the studio, I’d convinced myself everything was perfectly mundane. Usually you had to be that way, if you’re going to get through the day. Just for example, you turned on the morning news and spent two seconds seriously wondering whether even a fraction of the terrible things you heard about could happen to you, you’d never have left the house. Not in L.A., anyway.

All things considered — as they say on the competition’s show — it’s amazing any of us got out of bed in the morning. Or could manage to fall asleep at night.

It’s just a ten-minute drive from the K-TALK studios on Motor to my town home in Culver City. I drove into the complex through the main gate, past the empty guard shack. We used to spend a couple of thousand dollars per unit each year to keep a rotation of guards in that shack. It didn’t stop a series of burglaries — and one rape — so there was a discussion at the Home Owners Association meeting.
First, the board voted to demand the security firm to fire one guard, for sleeping on the job. Then a lot of ideas were batted around.

One of the HOA’s directors, an LAPD cop, came up with an idea that everybody laughed at until they realized he was serious. Then a few other people said, “What the hell, it couldn’t hurt.” The board passed a resolution, adopting it.

The next day, posted on the guard shack, was a paper target showing the outline of a man, courtesy of our cop-in-residence. The target is riddled with bullet holes — big ones. Nobody’s been broken into since and we voted to get rid of the guards entirely.

When I got in I checked my phone messages and private email. The only message was a call from my ex-wife, the rock star, reminding me that the semester’s USC tuition was due. Our daughter, Felony, wants to be the next Quentin Tarantino. Before you laugh at my daughter’s given name, I have it on reliable authority that, nearing the end of Felony’s freshman year, my 18-year-old daughter is still a virgin. I dialed my business manager’s voice mail and played my ex’s message into the cordless.

You might think that, being on radio, I never had to spend a night alone. You’d be wrong. The truth is, I just didn’t get all that many opportunities to meet women. I didn’t have a lot of guests on my show, so I was pretty well sitting alone in a glass-enclosed room four hours a day. Then I went home to an empty town home. I don’t like parties or bars, I’m terrible with pick-up lines, and I think I’d have had better luck dating the first dozen single women in the phone book than the women I’d met through classified ads, the Internet, and dating services. I’d have had better luck meeting women if I’d been “recovering,” but you had to be addicted to something, first. Take my word, it’s not as easy for a radio talk-show host to get dates as it looked on Frasier.

I knew my freezer was full but I wasn’t in the mood to defrost. I jumped back in my car and onto the Richard M. Nixon Freeway to Marina del Rey—all two miles of it. Fifteen minutes later I was chowing down on a tongue and Swiss cheese on rye at Jerry’s Famous Deli.

That’s where it happened. That’s where I remembered that I was God.

#

Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter II.

Escape from Heaven is
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon Video. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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