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Have you ever imagined yourself in heaven? What’s it like? Are there green hills and waterfalls and sunshine? Are you hanging with Abraham Lincoln and Einstein and St. Francis of Assisi? Is your dog there, leaping and bounding and full of joy?

Well, there may be blue skies and superstar saints, but I’m afraid Fido won’t be in attendance. That’s the common wisdom, anyway, among people who really believe there is a Heaven. Animals don’t have a heaven; they’re just, well, animals, not demigods like us. So there’s no Fido, no Lassie, no Mr. Snugglesworth, no pets of any kind. Sorry if that makes your afterlife a bit less attractive.

Truth be told, there are no TV sports in Heaven, either, nor drinking of alcoholic beverages, nor ingesting even the smallest amounts of low-level Schedule IV drugs. Oh, and no sex. My guess is that Management would either frown on such activities or see no need for them in the hereafter — not when you’ve got access to all those singalongs with the rest of the heavenly host.

It should be mentioned, furthermore, that some of your most beloved party animal buddies will not be joining you in the by-and-by. My guess is that there will be no lives of the party in Heaven. In that role, God Himself has been cast — by God Himself. And, though I would never say that God is a wet blanket, I can’t imagine Him donning a lampshade or leading an impromptu 3 a.m. road trip to Limbo.

Some tellings of the story of Heaven suggest that we won’t even have bodies there. By this reckoning, only our souls make it to the promised land, along with our personalities and our memories. We’d be wide awake (sleep no longer being necessary) for all time, with full recall of all the types of fun we can no longer have.

Let’s be blunt: Heaven does not sound like a very good deal. It certainly isn’t much of an incentive for being nice, if that’s the rationale for its existence. But what about the alternative? Hell? Let me end the suspense right now and inform you that there is no such place or state of mind. Do you really think that an infinite, all-loving being would torture people forever just because they cheated on their husband or slept through church one Sunday? If He would, then I invite Him to bite me.

No, Hell was made up by a bunch of robed, pomaded control freaks a long time ago to scare people into following their orders. It doesn’t exist, and we don’t have to worry about going there. So it’s Heaven or nothing.

Look, I like green hills and waterfalls. I could even put up with the billions of ecstatic fellow residents as long as they didn’t shove their ecstasy in my face. But once you eliminate Hell as one of the possibilities, the choice becomes easy. I don’t need to talk to Abraham Lincoln, and shouting hosannas throughout eternity might get old after a few thousand years. If Heaven’s the only option, just let me make the most of life, then die.

I’ll take my chances with reincarnation, perhaps as the next Mr. Snugglesworth. Then, at least, I wouldn’t have to worry about this cockamamie afterlife stuff.
On Lips
If you pay attention to the glamour of the Golden Globes and the Oscars, it is hard not to notice the lips. On the women, at least, they are painted and glossed and glittered to show them off in the most attractive way possible. If you were an alien life form (a giant gastropod from the vast seabeds of Cygnus 5, let’s say) viewing lips only in this context, it would be tempting to dismiss them (like the starlets whose faces they grace) as beautiful and nothing more — shallow, unaccomplished, dumb.

Such an impression would be false. Lips are not only the most talented of all organs, but among the most worldly as well.

Lips are not a complicated organ, I’ll give you that — just two wet strips of flesh framing a major bodily orifice. But as my real estate agent says, it’s all about location, location, location. Lips are in a position to witness every substance that enters our body: food, air, dust, flying flotsam, and all manner of prescription and non-prescription medications. No other orifice can boast this depth of experience, at least not in public.

Nor do they just lie there like slugs (no offense if you are indeed a giant gastropod). They manipulate everything we ingest — moistening, reorienting, testing for proper temperature and chewability. They monitor the speed at which these things enter the body, screen them for taste and consistency, and repel unwanted intruders. They can even serve as a buffer against impact, pursing into defensive mode to shield the teeth. Hot lips, maybe, but brave and strong. Think Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.

Similarly, the lips act to modify and direct all that flows out of the mouth. Whistling, kissing, spitting, belching, the expulsion of bad air, and communication are all performed with the direct participation of the lips. Even when you’re texting, you hear the spoken words in your head, and I see your lips moving at the same time (yes, I was watching you). And it’s not just about audio; the lips’ ability to smile, sneer, snarl, smirk, or go wide with surprise is a key element in successful messaging to our fellow humans.

Compare, if you will, a day in the life of your lips with that of any of your other organs. Not only is there something going on 24/7, but there is an astounding variety of functionality — all of it using just those two strips of wet flesh. The day-in, day-out existence of your buttocks or your alimentary canal, though they may be interesting and worthy of admiration, just do not stack up when it comes to the non-stop excitement experienced in the lives of your lips.

I can’t say that I have ever felt genuinely sorry for movie starlets. Yes, they may have been crippled in their lives by the subtle discrimination of low expectations, but on the other hand, they’re actually in the Academy Awards, not just watching them at home on TV. In much the same way, I do not lament the lack of respect endured by lips. They may be discounted because they like to dress up and look pretty, but their world is filled with the kind of exhilaration and high adventure that other organs can only dream of.

And to those giant gastropods who might be taking in their first Oscars, I urge you to be gentle in your judgments of our organs and of our starlets. I hope that we will be equally judicious when we have the chance to view, at last, your dorsal feeding appendages. I am sure they are highly skilled and quite lovely.
Just So You Know
Just so you know, a dedicated cyber thief could easily hack into your computer. He could steal your identity, drain your assets, and ruin your life. He could destroy everything you’ve worked for and care about. He could get away with it, and you’d be helpless to stop him.

Still, you gotta love computers.

Anyway, just so you know.
Face of the Franchise
Let’s say you’re the founder and CEO of a company that advertises on TV, and you’re thinking of casting yourself in the role of pitchman for your product. For starters, you think, I wouldn’t have to pay somebody else to do it. And besides (you might say to your team), who could resist my charm, my good looks, and my knack of always being right? Right?

Before you commit to this plan, however, perhaps it would be worth your time to look at the track records of others who have similarly stepped into the spotlight. Their experiences, if you ask people outside of their inner circles, are spotty at best.

John Schnatter, the founder and now spokesman for Papa John’s Pizza, is one of the most prominent examples. He’s all over the tube during football season, and he is the lead actor in all of his ads. Some of his ads feature him laughing during outtakes with his fellow actors. This is a bad sign; some one on his ad staff, seeing that Schnatter was not particularly likable on camera, probably stitched those scenes into his ads in an effort to show that the boss is a regular guy. It doesn’t work; I don’t like John Schnatter, and I’m not going to be buying any of his pizza.

Yes, I understand that these are matters of personal taste. You may think he’s a good fellow and that I am some kind of cranky misanthrope. I won’t argue that point. I am simply reporting the news from my own viscera, and in the case of Papa John Schnatter, the news is not good.

On the other hand, I do like like Jim Koch. He’s the guy you see in Sam Adams beer ads. Maybe it’s because the ads feature him as a genial doofus being dunked in tubs of beer for charity’s sake and such, or maybe it’s because I like his product. It doesn’t matter. My viscera reports to me that he is a much more likable person than Papa John. He might be an S.O.B. in real life, but all I’ve got to go on is his TV persona.

Some other visceral reports: Dave Thomas, founder and one-time spokesguy for Wendy’s: passable. Same goes for his replacement and daughter, Wendy Thomas. Domino’s J. Patrick Doyle: almost, but not quite. Richard Branson, the Virgin guy: okay, I guess; you gotta love the space tourism thing. Ralph Lauren: bogosity incarnate, even without speaking.

There is also a class of ads that appear mostly on local TV. These feature owners pushing their products with wacky costumes and silly hijinks. I have never bought anything from these people, and I never will. That’s right: my decision is based solely on their ads. I don’t want their roofing services, their furniture, or their large home appliances, irrespective of their price or quality.

Finally, let me mention one C.E.O. whose main product seems to be himself. Or rather, let me not mention him, because I don’t want to give him any more notoriety than he already has. He reflects something ugly and repugnant in our culture, and I’m not buying into any of it. So there. I’ll leave you to guess who he is. Keyword: loathsome.

It may be that you and your team are right, and you are indeed charming and likable. It may be that your style and appearance will play well on television. However, if you are not certain that you are getting honest opinions from your inner circle, if you suspect that you might be even be repellent to potential customers, then please take a deep breath before you dive in. Or better yet, send me a demo tape; I’d be happy to offer my assessment — as a member of the cranky misanthrope demographic.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee