Friday, January 14, 2011

A Conversation with Death

I saw Death today. I know it's Him before He speaks my name. He's not wearing his usual black garb, nor is He carrying a sickle. No, Death has come dressed for comfort. His denim jeans are ripped at the knees. He wears His baseball cap backwards over His shaggy blond hair. Hi weather -worn flannel shirt coveres a faded Greatful Dead t-shirt. Apparently, Death has not gotten the memo that the 90's are calling and they want their grunge look back.

But, I see Him on the corner of Wilshire and Brooklyn. He is casually leaning against the pole that holds the walk/don't walk sign. As cars pass by, Death peers into the driver's side windows. He shakes His head at the occupants of the cars. He can hear their conversations and seems a bit disgusted.

I approach Death with caution. After all, He is Death. A sneeze in my direction and my poor mother will be picking out gravestones.

"What are you doing?" I ask curiously. Meaning: Why in the world are you standing on a street corner when there is someone somewhere waiting to punch out?

He knows what I mean. "I'm bored. Life has no meaning."

"Of course it doesn't." I reply. "Life shouldn't have any meaning to you."

Death shakes his shaggy head. "No, I mean, life has no meaning for these mortals. You mortals, rather. Used to be I was invited to a game of chess for someone's life. Then I was downgraded to poker. Hell, now I'm lucky if I can get anyone to play Go Fish with me. It's sad."

I don't follow Him. And I tell Him as much.

"Well, people aren't interested in living anymore. But, they don't want to die. You mortals have turned into the walking undead. You go through the motions of life. You don't taste the wonder of it. You're too scared to fall in love. Too scared to be alone. Diseases run rampant around here, and yet no one takes care of themselves. When I arrive to claim you, you're not even interested in living enough to challenge me. You just give in."

I tell Him I understand what He's saying. After all, I'm guilty of the very thing He is referring to. My days consist of work, home, kids, and then I do it all over again. I can't remember the last time I stopped to just marvel at anything. I was about to agree with Him, but I got the feeling Death didn't really care if I agreed or not. He just wanted to talk and needed someone to listen.

"I met a fellow one time," He says. "This was the strangest fellow. He didn't have any friends. No family to speak of. He just was a person. He'd go to work in a shoe factory. Come home in the evening and eat these most gawd-awful tv dinners. That's what his life was. Work. Home. Tv dinner. Saddest bastard you ever did meet. At least that's what I thought of him."

Death pauses in His narrative to pull out a cigar and light it. I catch myself before I begin my lecture on the evils of tobacco use.

"Anyhow, this poor average joe goes to the doctor one day. Something about insurance premiums through his work and him having to proove he was still healthy to keep insurance." Death sighs. "What I mean is, there's no real reason for him to go to the doctor. But, he goes and they find that he had pancreatic cancer. Can you fucking believe it? And he has, like, six months to live. So he goes home and pops in a tv dinner and turns on the tv. Ya know, continues his normal routine."

I nod to show that I follow what he's saying. The light turns at the corner we're standing at and people file by us to cross the street. Death is so wrapped in his story that He notices none of the activity. He is staring intently at the sky and speaking between puffs on his cigar.

"So, one night, about 3 months after he gets the news I come and visit. I mean, it's time for him to go. I'm just doing my job. Right?" Death looks at me expectantly.

"Oh, yeah of course." I say. "You can't just not visit. This place would be over run with average joes, and janes, and sams....."

"Yeah. So anyways," Death continues. "I appear at the foot of this poor slob's bed. All dressed up in the ridiculas uniform I have to wear. I tell him it's his time... Yada yada yada. And you know what this genuis says to me?"

I shake my head no.

"He tells me he doesn't want to die. He tells me that life is to wonderful to leave. He says he's still waiting on the love of his life. That God (and can you believe this?), that God hasn't sent her to him. I mean, the guy's had his heart trampled on, but he's still waiting. He still ~believes~ that love is just around the corner. This schmuck is refusing to die until he finds this mysterious woman. Can you believe that shit?"

"So, what did you do?" I ask Death.

Death looks down at  His cigar and flicks the ashes. "What was I supposed to do? I hit him over the head with my sickle and went on to the next one. He's roaming around the heavens right now."

I clear my throat nervously. He puts out His cigar and offers me His hand.

"Now, what about you? Are you going to give me the same speech or are you ready to go?"

I look at Him in His grundged out, faded look. He looks more like 20-something college kid than the sinister being that I have seen in books. I realize that He's really nothing to be scared of.

"I'm not going to give you the same speech," I inform him. "But, I tell ya what. Let's go into that coffee shop across the street. I'll play you a game of chess and we'll discuss you letting me live."

A sly grin plays across Death's face. "You're on!"

Three hours and two chess games later, I walk out of the coffee shop and head home. Life is just too beautiful not to live it.

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