Sunday, January 6, 2013

Supersize The Sorrow

Marley can tell you a lot about addictive behavior; spending nearly half your life in a heroin induced haze will give you that kind of insight. But there are some things to realize when it comes to the circumstances surrounding her dependency. She was drawn to drugs as a result of personal tragedy. But many of us have our own addictions; they may not be as extreme has hard drugs, but by telling ourselves there’s no serious damage, it gives us license to dive deep in our vices without escaping, and usually they come from a place not nearly as damaging as what Marley went through. When I think about the guilt she faced every time she put that needle in her arm, I feel so petty thinking about my inability to give up candy or whatever.

But Marley has always said, everyone has a right to their own pain, and just like your values differ, so do the things we cling to when we can’t have what we treasure. Before I became an angel, I had trouble seeing that. Things change. They had to.

After my engagement broke up, I was in a McDonald’s when I saw an overweight man sitting at one of the tables. Well, he was more than overweight, he was morbidly obese. I’m not saying that to be mean, he was huge, like to the point where I wondered how he managed to move, and how close to a heard attack was he. And he wasn’t just having a snack, or even what you’d call a normal meal; had about four or five boxes of Chicken Selects lined up in a row on the table. Now, my first though was to look down on him. I thought about what a fool he was, how irrespoinsible he was to have such disregard for his own health, all for the sake indulging in a manufactured, artificially flavored fast food product. 

Then I took another look at him, and I realized he didn’t have any kind of look of indulgent satisfaction on his face, like the first time I saw Pete Roberts. He looked sad. He looked really, really sad. Almost as if he knew he was hurting himself and was powerless to stop it, and instead of wondering how he could be so careless, I was wondering what happened in his life that drove him to such a sad state. And it wasn’t even a sense of pity, I felt kind of comradery in sorrow, and I thought about a time not much before then, when I bought a bunch of boxes of my beloved Tagalong peanut butter and chocolate patty cookies. I opened the box and had one. I was resolved to save the rest for later, but before I knew it, I’d gone through almost the entire box in the space of about five minutes. I was all the way down to the last one, and then I stopped. I left one in the box, and I convinced myself that if I let one be, it would me I hadn’t gone through the entire box and I wouldn’t be as pathetic as I now believed I was. But it was a sham, a loophole that wouldn’t hold up in the court of basic psychology. I knew that by doing that, I wasn’t any different than the man at the Mickey D’s, the fact that I was thin didn’t change the truth that I’d just downed an ungodly about of sugar and saturated fat because there was something missing from my life

Being an angel, you see varying degrees of sorrow like this all the time, and you have to realize Marley was right; no body is more or less deserving of intervention because of  the severity of their troubles or emotional symptoms. It’s not our place to even measure them and make a judgment call; a human in need can’t be pushed aside because we’re setting priorities. They’re all a priority. Call it first come, first serve if you want, I call it a constant process. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be an angel

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Forget About That Rain On Your Wedding Day Crap

"A funny thing happened on the way to the 7-11. Not 'haha' funny, interesting funny. I saw a blind man trying to cross the street, and this woman came over and asked if he needed help, and she walked him over to the other side."

"Why were you going to a 7-11?" asked Suzanne. "If you wanna giant soda you can just snap your fingers."

"I can do that," I admitted, "but I miss the real places, you know? Especially the ones that brought me comfort. You wouldn't believe the healing power of sixty-four ounces of coke and deluxe size beef jerky."

"Fair enough. So, what was so weird about the woman helping the blind guy? It was probably just another angel."

"That's what the funny part was. I was wondering just that; was it just another angel? Then I realized, I didn't want to find out. I didn't want to know. When I found out that a lot of the good samaritans in New York City were angels, it kind of made me angry. I hated people so much, and the idea that the few times I saw them actually show a shred of humanity, that they only were because they weren't even human, it felt like I'd been lied to. I thought all the things I hated about people had be reinforced. But now that I'm not as angry, I find myself wanting to believe in them."

Suzanne's face lit up with her trademark unfiltered enthusiasm, "You realize what you're saying, right? It's, like, there different types of faith. You and me, 'cause we're angels, we're what these people are praying for. But now, you're praying for them. You're holding on to the belief that people are better than you thought they were. Now that you in Heaven, you're divine. But you still have your own version of what faith is."

She was onto something, which would have shocked me not to long ago. I used to pray for her to shut up, now I genuinely wanted to see where she was going. "Which is what?"

"Your faith is to see the best in the living. 'Cause that's what you work for, letting them be their best. It's kind of ironic. The better we do, the less they need us. We're dreaming of a day where we become obsolete."

I shook my head. "That's never gonna happen."

She gave me a half-defeated, half-agreement nod. "Of course not. But deep down, you still wish it. If you didn't, you wouldn't have the heart to be angel."

I had to ask, "So, being an angel, you want it, and at the same time, you don't want it?"

"Not exactly. I still feel I have my life to make up for. But deep down inside, kinda. Don't you?"

I thought for a second, then I smiled. "Let's go to Steak 'N Shake. It's on me."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

That's $6.50, Come Pick Up Your Joy When The Buzzer Vibrates

Sashial took another spoonful of her Concrete Jungle. "This makes you feel better?" I nodded my head. "Are you fucking kidding me?" She turned to Marley, "This really makes him feel better?"

Marley gave me a quick look and said to Sashial, "It really does."

"Why?" asked Sashial. "And honestly, what the fuck does that thing up there have to do with it?"

Sashial and I set our Shake Shack Concrete Jungles down on the table as we gazed up at the Flatiron Building. "Human pleasure often comes from stimulation of the senses," I said. "These are flavors I really love. Anything with peanut butter and chocolate. You throw in vanilla and banana and it's just a flavor overload. It's practically intoxicating. And the building is very nice to look at. Humans enjoy looking at things, whether it's to appreciate the visual aesthetics or to connect to its history on a personal level."

Judging by the look on Sashial's face, the response I felt coming wasn't going to reflect the sense of calm I was hoping to achieve in her. "Well don't take this the wrong way," she began, "but I honestly don't give a fuck about the history of that building or what it fucking looks like." She grabbed her cup. "And this concrete whatever the fuck you call it, I don't know 'cause I forget things I don't give a shit about, it's, well it's actually very nice, I'll give you that. But I'm not human. The flavor of food doesn't alleviate my frustration in any way. How could the Yankees get bounced in the first round like that? I just can't fucking believe it."

I felt a little disappointed, especially since it'd been a few weeks already. "Well, I didn't know if it was going to work, I was just hoping, since you've developed an attachment for certain human passions, you know, like sports and what not, I was hoping I could bring you a new one. You know, one that could always be counted on picking you up, since sports can disappoint as much as enthrall."

She smiled. "And I appreciate that. You know, I've existed for thousands of years and not that many things captured me the way baseball did. I think it's that it feeds into my visceral reactions. That's the thing I was created for, Lira and I, we were both given a harsh intensity. The game gives me an outlet for my explosive dynamic. That's where the connection is. You know, I really wasn't created to experience pleasure. That's not what my purpose was intended to be. That's part of why I love saving people, it brings me joy. So does baseball. When it takes that joy away, it's really fucking hard for me to accept."

"You're not mad I introduced you do this, are you?" I had to ask.

Sashial smiled. "Of course not, sweetie. And that's not exactly how it happened anyway."

"There there anything I can do?"

"Actually, yes," she said. "Just finish that concrete thing. I enjoy seeing you happy."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

God Damn, That's A Pretty Fuckin' Good Milk Shake. I Don't Know If It's Worth Dying But It's Pretty Fuckin' Good.

"So I woke up in a strange bed still drunk, and when I looked at the person next to me . . ."

"Suzanne," I said, cutting her off as quickly as I could, "why are you telling me this?" I really loved Suzanne, but I can honestly say without fear of guilt that she can be a bit much at times. Usually, Marley was there to be the buffer when she started to push the limits of my patience, but this time, it was just the two of us.

But the thing that truly had me in disbelief is that this whole thing was my idea. I'd always regretted being so dismissive to her when we were in Angel training, plus since she and Marley had become such close friends, getting to know Suzanne better just seemed like the right thing to do. And that's how we ended up in Shake Shack, since she wanted to know about my interests too, plus they don't have them in Chicago yet.

"I'm just trying to explain," she continued, "that there are thing in my past that I'm not too proud of. I look back at my high school and college years, and I feel ashamed of some of the things I did. And the way I treated people."

My supportive angel instinct kicked in. "Everyone does things like that when they're young. Hell, you're practically supposed to things you regret later. It's part of becoming an adult."

"That's the thing. I never really grew up. My Lupus symptoms started just a couple years after college. It was like my life was taken away. First I was sad. Then it was hard to function, then it was just a lot of pain and hospital stays. I never really had the chance to be me as a grown up."

"And that's why being an angel is so important to you," I said.

"Yep. But it's not just about, like, making up for stuff I've done. It's like, I never had the chance to turn my life around. But I can help other people do it, I can, like, exist through them."

I smiled. "When'd you become so deep?"

She giggled. "When I died."

A minute earlier, I was horrified. Now I felt like she deserved something. I handed her my cup. "Here, you've got to try this. It's the Concrete Jungle. It's vanilla custard with hot fudge, peanut butter and bits of banana. You'll think you've died and gone to Heaven again."

She tried it and her jaw dropped. "Oh my God. Now I really wish they had these in Chicago."

"You're in Heaven," I reminded her. "If you want to pimp out your version of Chicago to have a Shake Shack, just do it."

She laughed. "You just want everywhere to be like New York City."

I threw my hands up. "And . . . ?"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What's In Satan's MP3 Player

"'You know how I know you're gay? You like the movie Maid In Manhattan.'"

I chuckled. "Yeah, that was a good line. What do you want to know about it?"

Sashial shook her head. "What the fuck is Maid In Manhattan?"

"It's a movie with Jennifer Lopez," I said, "I thought you Archangels knew everything."

"Only stuff we care about. You think I give a fuck about a Jennifer Lopez movie?" she answered.

That had me scratching my head. "I thought you have love for all of mankind."

"I do," said Sashial, "I still love her as I love all humans. But that doesn't mean her movies aren't all crap. What was that fuckin' thing you were bitching about the other day when we were watching the Yankee game? Some song they were playing over the sound system?"

I cringed at the memory. "Oh yeah. Your Love by The Outfield. I hate that fuckin' song."

"Right. So, do you think the guys who made that song belong in Hell?"

"Pretty much."

That earned me a smack in the head. "Will you fucking get serious for a minute?" said Sashial. "I'm talking about the true nature of good verses evil, I'm serious about this shit!"

Something about the subject of morality always set her off, so I figured it was best to just strip away any wisecracks and speak in unadulterated truth. "No, they're not evil. I'm sure they're good people."

"Good boy," she said. "You have to separate the creation from the creator. Humans engage in many things you might find objectionable. Maybe even offensive. But a human's behavior and ethic principles aren't always the same. One might have an influence on the other, but you need to look closely at how they work. A person could have goodness in his heart and never bear deliberate malice toward another person, yet still be a complete asshole."

I thought of Pete Roberts and immediately got the point. "Or a serial killer might still be good to his mother," I added.

She smiled. "Now you're starting to learn. Good fucking thing. I wouldn't want you denying someone their divine intervention because you don't like the shit in their iPod, or whatever the fuck goes on down there."

I shook my head. "Oh, I'd never do that."

"I know you wouldn't, sweetie. Now, you want to explain why that line is supposed to be funny?"

I'd nearly forgotten how we got on the subject. "Oh. 'Cause, like, that movie's a chick flick."

"And how does that relate to a man placing his penis in another man's rectum?" she asked, with her usual mix of humorous foolery and serious indigance.

"Look, it's just a line from a movie. You're the one who asked about it. You want to learn about comedy or not?"

"Not anymore. We've got lives to save."

Time to go to work.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Unexpected Challenge Of The Unchallenging

"I did feel bad about killing my mother, but . . ."

I cut her off right there. "Marley, we've been through this, you know it wasn't your fault."

"I know, I know," she assured me, "I'm just saying, when I thought I was responsible for what my dad did, it was something that shaped who I was. People talk about how they carry a burden and it affects who they are, but it's more than that. How can you react positively to anything when you're enveloped in negativity? It's not always something that's ingrained.

"I think this is worse. I think if a traumatic experience shapes who you are, and it's something you might not remember, but you're sad by nature, it's different than knowing you might be able to respond in a good way to something, but you don't, because something you remember makes you feel unworthy."

"Which is worse?" I asked. Before she answered, I clarified the question. "Which is easier for an Angel to treat, do you think?"

"I don't know. If it's a memory, they need to accept the past. If it's ingrained, they need to accept themselves. It's a challenge either way."

Which brought us back to our prime example. "The first time you talked to your mother after she died, how did you approach it? Did you say you were sorry?"

"No," Marley said. "I knew it wasn't my fault at that point, you showed me that. It was just like a big reunion. Really big, like, a few decades and across dimensions is a lot to reunite from. But that's the thing, that's the challenge. It's not like everyone has a problem that can be fixed by dying and seeing a dead relative. We're supposed to help people when they're still alive."

"Why are you asking? Are you in the middle of a tough case right now?"

She shook her head. "No, but they've all been easy so far. I always worry about the really hard case that might come along and what I'd do if I couldn't help somebody?"

"Marley, did it ever occur to you that the reason all your cases seem easy is because you're really really good at this?"

She though for a second. "I guess I never thought of that. Maybe I shouldn't worry so much."

I nodded. "True that."

She smiled. "Did you just say, 'True that?'"

"I did. I must have picked it up from Tony. You pick anything up from Suzanne?"

She thought for a second and said, "Well, she says 'sammich' a lot, I think that's a Chicago thing. I don't like that though."

"What does that even mean?"

"It's how they say 'sandwich.'"

Thank god for Marley's better judgment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Happiness, I Will Look For You. I Will Find You. And I Will Keep You.

God once told me that Earth is paradise and not Heaven, because the challenge of creating happiness for yourself is what brings you the most gratification. I didn't learn this until I died, in fact, the lack of gratification I found when I was alive would have made this an entirely abstract concept. I don't even know how often people realize how special the joy they create for themselves is. What we normally realize as humans is when things go wrong. The average living person is, in all likelihood, bound to exclaim that they're in a living hell at some point than that they're in Heaven. So, as an angel, part of the reason I'm so busy is because people in paradise think they're in Hell. We call that a paradox.

This is leading up to something that Sashial said to me the other day. "You've never been in the actual Hell, but I know when you were alive, you felt like you were."

"Let's say, I was in hell with a lower case 'h,'" I said.

She gave me a typical condescending yet concessionary shrug. "Whatever the f--- you want to call it, you were there. And now you're here. Have you ever thought about how it would feel if suddenly you were taken from Heaven?"

I was taken aback by that. "No! Why, should I? Is that possible?"

"No, of course not. Not for you. But in terms of human suffering, as an angel, you have to realize that people go through that. Happiness doesn't always put an end to insecurity. Some humans can live in the moment. Some can't. This may be hard to realize because you never felt you had something that might be taken, but sometimes recognizing human suffering is more complicated than looking for a frown or a tear."

"So, I have to recognize that people who are happy are going to become unhappy?"

"No," she said, "you have to prepare yourself for the idea that losing your paradise can be just as bad as being in your "hell with a lower-case h," or whatever."

"Why are you telling me this?" I asked.

"Because this is the part where it gets tricky. Your experience as an angel is growing. When you first started, you weren't ready to accept the idea that having happiness or complacency and losing it can be just as bad as existing in misery, but I think you're improving. You might not be so f---ing useless after all."

I said, "Everyone has a right to their own pain."

"Pretty smart."

"Well, Marley's the one who actually said that."

"I know she did," said Sashial. "Do you f---ing think I would use the word 'smart' in reference to you?"

I thought about it for a second, and said, "No. In fact not only would I be surprised, in way, I think I'd be oddly hurt."

She smiled. "Good boy."