Pass the Salt
by Yves Jaques
My PR firm, Benhurst and Sampson, said it was the best way to reach the masses. I believed them. They had an impressive roster of clients, a soft drink giant, athletic shoe manufacturers, a major political party. These guys were cutting edge. Unstoppable. Remember those condom ads on prime-time? Sure, they didnt run for long, but what a coup. That was Benhurst and Sampson. If they couldnt improve my image, no one could.
It seemed like my best shot, the linchpin in a carefully orchestrated campaign to present me in a new, more favorable light. My ghost written auto-biography had just come out, feature editors at several national magazines had done in-depth re-examinations of my life and times; Id even got two key politicians to make allusions to my misunderstood record.
Yes, tonight was going to be it. The keystone. Me, the opening guest on a major television talk show. The chance to lay my case out before the people. Benhurst and Sampsons media specialists had been working with me for months. I was sleek. I was toned. I was primed with a winning smile and a mess of carefully crafted answers. No detail had been overlooked. The specialists had given me a conservative haircut, and dressed me in a muted gray, delicately accented with the latest splashy tie. Theyd had my teeth filed and capped, and even had a physical therapist in twice a week for the last three months to work on the limp Id had ever since my fall.
Now of course, my temper is legendary. Second only to my great nemesis, the man who more than anyone is responsible for my name having been dragged through the mud. The talk show host was counting on being able to provoke me, make me fly into a rage. The specialists had anticipated this. Theyd flown in an anger-management team out of Chicago to work me over. How I hated them. That was their deal, you see. Make you so mad that it pushed the envelope, gave you a new level for extreme anger. So that anyone else could only get you half that mad.
So now here I am, standing in the wings. My physical therapist is giving me some last minute Shiatsu while a consultant whispers in my ear, "Remember, stay cool. Its all in the presentation. Its all in the style. If you look relaxed, everyone will believe that your conscience is clear."
"But I dont have one."
"I know. All the better. Just stay cool."
I can hear the announcer saying, "And now ladies and gentlemen, we have a guest whose fame is such that he needs no introduction. A man whose name is for many, synonymous with evil. He comes to us tonight in an attempt to defend his record, and to clear his name. Lets give a hearty round of applause for Mr. Satan!"
The crowd begins to clap wildly. A prompter taps me on the back, and I stride confidently onto the brightly lit sound-stage. The gray-haired, bespectacled host, selected by Benhurst and Sampson for his well-known liberal pretenses, and warm fatherly image, walks over and meets me at center-stage. He extends his hand, and I pump it effusively. Thanks to my PR firm, I know everything about this man, his favorite cookies, what cologne he wears, even who he sleeps with when hes cheating on his wife.
Motioning me to a seat next to his carefully aged oak desk, the host sits behind it. There is absolute silence. With one hand on his glasses, he faces the audience, locking eyes with the camera at the rear of the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been informed by my staff that we are at this moment enjoying the highest audience share in television history." Then he turns to me. "Mr. Satan, Im sorry... is that what you go by?"
I smile warmly. "Well Paul, actually I prefer Former Most Beloved of God."
Mugging for the camera again, the host drawls, "Accent on the former, I guess. Well Mr. Former, all America is watching."
"Thank you Paul. Im really pleased to have such a large-"
"Since were on the subject of your former status, I have a question which Im sure looms large in our audiences mind tonight. Yes, this former business brings us right to the edge - no pun intended - of a very interesting question. How did you and, ah...how did you and, well, lets call him The Man Upstairs, how did you two actually part ways?"
Now, I knew this guy was going to be intolerable. Normally Id turn a son-of-a-bitch like this - who by the way sold his soul to me a long time ago anyway - normally at about this point Id turn the guy into at least a eunuch, stick him in a boys choir or something. Make him sing castrato. But the anger-management team at Benhurst and Sampson has really helped me out. I am cool. I am calm and collected.
"Well Paul," I reply, "Im really glad you asked me that. Of course the only extant copy-"
"Woah big guy, extant? Speak English. Please."
"Sorry. The only surviving record of my fall from grace is an ancient historical text of dubious authenticity. Im really glad Paul, to be here tonight to set the record straight."
I can see the host grinning at the audience with a can-you-believe-this-guy look on his face. But Im not pissed yet. Nope.
"It was a sad day indeed," I continue, "You know how little misunderstandings, personality quirks, and so on can start from nothing. And then somehow these trivial matters grow into large differences. Before you know it, harsh words are flying. Say maybe a husband doesnt like the way his wife starches his shirts. A small matter. Then somehow, one day, after twenty years of starched shirts, he flies off the handle, they argue, lawyers get involved, and before you know it theyre divorced. And then the crucial point is, theyre too proud to make up."
The host beams at the crowd. "Hey, I can relate to that," he says as he rubs the back of his head in a characteristic gesture, "Just ask my ex-wife."
The off-camera prompter holds up a placard emblazoned with the word LAUGH, and the audience responds as directed.
Benhurst and Sampson have trained me well. I wait for my cue. I wait to speak until the laughter lulls, but hasnt completely waned.
"Now I know this is going to sound curious," I say at last, "given the inflated grandeur that time has lent this story, but it all started over a lousy salt shaker."
"A salt shaker?"
"Yes, thats right. A salt shaker."
The laughter builds again. I think maybe they like me. Maybe Im not such a bad guy after all. The host is wiping his glasses with a handkerchief as he pretends to blink back tears of laughter from his eyes.
"Please continue Mr. Former. This is fascinating stuff!"
"Thank you Paul. Now, as you probably are aware, when the Hosts of Heaven sit down to the dinner table, its a mighty long table. Were not talking twelve disciples and a couple of stray hookers, this is the Army of Heaven here. Well, the Almighty always had this thing he had to do at the table, I guess nowadays youd call it a power trip, a way of showing the Arch-angels who was the boss. Chain-of-command and all-"
"Like theres the President, and then theres his Cabinet," interjects the host.
The host is actually listening. The audience is quiet too. Thank you Benhurst and Sampson.
I go on. "I think youve got something there Paul. Imagine this." I turn to the audience, hit them with a genteel smile full of straight, capped teeth, very Pepsodent. "Every night, the President sits down to dinner with his Cabinet. The White House chef has prepared and seasoned everything to his specifications."
"Hold on a minute. What do you, I mean what did you and the Heavenly Host used to eat up there in Heaven? With the Greeks we know, it was ambrosia and nectar, but the Good Book is pretty silent on this subject."
"Does it matter?"
"I think our studio audience would like to know. This is the kind of stuff that makes a story like yours believable, brings it all home so to speak. Do you do take-out Thai? Cloud top barbecue? What?" He mugs for the camera yet again.
I look out at the crowd. Im beginning to feel a little annoyed. Look at those cows out there. Is that who Im trying to convince? Benhurst and Sampson warned me not to mind the crowd. "Think about it," said my media specialists, "who has time to actually go see this stuff live? Fly to LA and lose a couple of days, and for what? The audience will be full of losers. Count on it. Just dont sweat it. Youre playing for Jack and Jill, home from their nine-to-five. Screw the audience. Play to the camera." So I go on.
"Jehovah likes his meat. Think of all that sacrificing. He likes it. Hes essentially a meat and potato man, steak tartare, cheeseburgers, chops, not really a complicated guy. You just have to stay out of his way."
The host is making faces at the audience again. "Im sorry for throwing you off your story. Please go on." Guffaws roll out from the audience.
"Thank you. So as I was saying, the White House chef has prepared and seasoned everything to the Presidential palate, but what does he do? What does he do every night!" I stomp the floor with my bum leg. Searing pain. Damned if something didnt pop in my knee. My media specialists are gesticulating wildly off-stage, mouthing, "Cool it! Cool it!" I look back at the host just as he rubs the back of his head again.
"I can see this is difficult for you," he says, putting a conciliatory hand on my arm.
Im about to continue my story when I notice these dumbshits in the back row making Toro signs at me - you know, the pinkie and first finger extended from a closed fist. The Italians call it Il Cornuta, the sign of the cuckold. Theyve all got stringy, greasy hair, and theyre wearing these rock concert T-shirts emblazoned with The Number of the Beast. What a bunch of dorks. My worshippers. Is it any wonder Im trying to doctor my image?
Anyway, Im about to go on with my story when the host says half to me, half to the audience, "Im sorry, but we have to go to a commercial break. Thank you very much Mr. Satan. Its been a pleasure having you on the show. Im sorry but were completely out of time. Ladies and gentlemen, please give the Former First Angel of Heaven a hearty round of applause!"
The off-camera prompter holds up another placard that says, CLAP, and the audience obeys, with what Im certain is more than merely polite applause. Another signal from backstage and we are off camera. My story gutted by a commercial break. The host leans over, and in a conspiratorial whisper says, "I think you really got somewhere tonight. Sorry we had to trim down your slot, but hey, the ratings at the five-minute mark were doing a nose-dive. I guess we all expected something a little racier. Something with some zoom. Some pizzazz. " He rubs the back of his head again. "Not to mention the staff managed to land at the last minute, the man whose wife was just murdered and had her unborn fetus ripped from her belly. I hear the baby was taken alive by the crazed kidnappers! My god! The ratings are gonna go through the roof!" He pauses to take a breath. "Just couldnt pass it up old man. Better luck next time. You were great!"
He flashes me the same smile Ive been practicing for the last few months as a couple of prompters hustle me off stage. I think again about turning him into a eunuch, but hey, Ive got to think about my image. I cant believe it though. This is one tough town. I never even got to finish my story. I didnt even have a chance to tell everyone about how I got booted from the celestial because I wouldnt pass the goddamn salt.
Yves Jaques can be reached at email@example.com