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Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Smokey Briggs


By Smokey Briggs

Hell is colder than I thought

I always thought hell was cold.

It's not. Hell's average temperature is about 70 degrees.

(That's 70 degrees Fahrenheit for any communist out there who likes to measure temperature with some other method).

I had the opportunity to visit Hell recently.

As She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (SWMBO) parked the Suburban chills of fear ran down my spine. I could see the open maw of the demon pit and it frightened me.

Hell has many entrances. SWMBO has found them in almost every city we have lived in or near. The names change, but not the reality.

Electric doors swish open as we enter. Refrigerated air blasts against my face and I yearn for the 120-degree heat of a West Texas parking lot.

"Welcome to the first plane of Hell Mr. Briggs," a booming voice greets me.

I jerk my head around, looking for this demonic speaker and he cannot be seen. SWMBO is seemingly oblivious to the voice as are the twin tricycle motors whose eyes are growing wider with devilish glee step by step. This is their element.

These gates into Hell are large. They are built to resemble a large department store. From the outside, the camouflage makes them seem nothing more than perhaps a hardware store of sorts.

Hell smells.

It smells of sickly sweet potpourri and cinnamon punctuated with heavy clouds of overpowering perfume that follow minor demons disguised as nice little old ladies.

Hell is devoid of men.

Except for the occasional walking dead like me.

Occasionally I see one of my counter parts. Another lost soul aching for the redeeming heat of that parking lot.

He stands with one or two or three very young kids, usually with a large purse strapped about his shoulders, too busy catching miniature glass unicorns and Santa figurines to be embarrassed by the purse.

It begins.

"I'll be right over there," SWMBO says sweetly.

And then she is gone as though she never existed. Smoke is easier to track.

I am alone _ except for my twin tricycle motors. I think there is a hidden signal between mom and daughters at that point.

Suddenly they both lose all resemblance to the well-behaved children I thought we were raising.

Suddenly, they are demonic imps bent on touching every single delicate glass, clay and paper thing in the store.

Squeals of delight erupt as they charge down the isles with their poor father scrambling to keep them in sight and catch each blown glass replica of the Eiffel Tower from becoming so much crunchy sand on the floor.

Time loses all meaning. There is no time in hell. Only eternity.

Every visit is eternity.

Me and the other lost male souls like me wander the isles, eventually giving up the battle to protect the rows of junk from my demon imps. Later I will brandish my credit card like a holy icon as I force my way past the guards at the gate. It will appease them for the damages done.

If I make it back.

We search and we search.

Surely there is an isle devoted to anything other than pressed flowers in hellish hues and dismembered baby dolls with their heads in little sacks, their eyes starring at you as you shuffle past with the walk of the undead.

Isle by isle we shuffle and hope is crushed a little more with each step.

There is no hope. From end to end the place is filled with endless varieties of useless stuff that somehow can entrance a women to the exclusion of all else _ including husbands and children. Personally I would rather watch grass grow than to examine Hell's selection of picture frames, shadow boxes, buttons and imported carvings.

Hell is a store devoted to crafts.

Exhausted and nearly beaten I drag myself and the demonically transformed imps back toward the swishing doors of salvation.

Every ounce of determination and grit is summoned.

Near the doors there is a dash of hope. Candy in small bags for sale. Energy for a deteriorating dad and distraction for the demon children leaving shards of clay, paper and glass in their wake. I buy a bag and rip it open, stuffing one into my mouth and scattering several on the floor for the imps to devour and fight over.

It is enough. I find the energy to make it to the swishing doors, chocolaty children in tow.


She is on her on. Anyway, she is apparently quite comfortable in Hell.

Somehow that does not surprise me.

Outside 120 degrees of earthly heat melts chocolate and the mind numbing effects of endless rows of crafting supplies, glue sticks, stencils and cross stitch patterns.

The imps slowly transform into my children.

I have survived.

Eventually SWMBO emerges. Only then do the smears of chocolate and caramel appear on my imps' clothing.

The look I receive has the power to cast a mere mortal man past the swishing doors and even deeper into the Pit.

But I am already fearfully dabbing at the stains with a wet wipe, dutifully smearing the goo around.

It works and I am not cast down.

Children strapped in. The motor turns. Relief floods through my veins. I have survived. Pride fills me.

I have faced the demons and walked away whole.

I am a man.

"Were to?" I ask lightly of SWMBO who has taken over the steering wheel.

She smiles.

"Well, they didn't have any plastic pink imitation paper flowers, so I need to drop by "Store X," she says as she slams her foot into the accelerator.

I have been to Store X.

It is a duplicate of the seething pit of torture I have just narrowly escaped.

The Suburban is moving fast.

I consider tossing myself into oncoming traffic. I could end it all right there. Store X, that cleverly disguised maw into the Pit could not torture me again if I turned myself into a hood ornament on an oncoming cement truck.

Or could it?

Cold fear sweeps over me again.

What if I have not been quite good enough?

What if the cement truck ride ended at Store X?

With trembling hands I lock my door and silently I promise to do better even as Store X appears fiendishly on the horizon.

At least right now I am just visiting.

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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
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