It’s a popular notion that, after we die, we get what we deserve. So let’s assume that’s precisely what’s happening to Jesse Helms, the longtime U.S. senator from North Carolina who expired on July 4.
As I picture things, after Helms died he immediately passed into a spiritual realm. He found himself in front of gates, where a man in a flowing robe was in charge.
Helms smiled broadly. “St. Peter, I’m glad to see you!”
The man responded, “I’m not St. Peter. I’m Ralph. And this isn’t heaven. The Big Guy hasn’t decided what to do with you yet, Helms. He’s well aware that conservatives believe you should be in heaven and liberals think you belong in hell. He’ll make up his own mind, eventually. Go through the gates and sit on the bench. We’ve arranged for a few visitors.”
Helms proceeded to the bench. After a minute Richard Nixon joined him. “Jesse, I knew you’d get here eventually. Remember how, when I went to Beijing, you accused me of ‘appeasing Red China?’ I just want to say, up yours with a pair of splintery chopsticks.”
Before Helms could gather himself to reply, Nixon vanished, replaced by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Helms smirked. “I’m not surprised you’re here in limbo,” he said to the civil rights leader.
“Actually, I’m here just to see you. Lord knows I wasn’t perfect, but He’s seen fit to give me a place upstairs. Deal with it.”
King continued, “Now Jesse, in life you relied on race-baiting to get elected. You found low-down ways to scare all those white people into voting for you. Remember 1990?”
“Ah,” cackled Helms, “we pulled that one out of the fire.”
“You were losing to the black candidate, until the famous ad showing a white man’s hands crumpling a job application, with the voiceover, ‘You needed that job…But they had to give it to a minority.’”
Helms looked King square in the face. “You’re just mad because I was the only senator to vote against your holiday, you communist.”
“I’m glad you brought that up. The 16-day filibuster you staged against me caught the attention of The Big Kahuna, who said that if you can delay that long, you’ll have no trouble being patient while He decides what to do with you. I think we’re looking at more than 40 days and 40 nights here.”
Helms groaned. He groaned again as Robert Mapplethorpe replaced King.
“You may not be pleased to see me, Jesse, but it could be worse. It was a toss-up between me and some victims of the El Salvadoran death squads you supported.”
Mapplethorpe threw his arm around the former senator. “Jesse, sweetie, let’s remember the good old days. When you fought to keep gays and lesbians out of appointed positions in government. When you stood firm against federal aid for AIDS research and treatment. Was that when you called gays ‘weak, morally sick wretches?’”
“Can’t remember,” grumbled Helms.
Mapplethorpe continued, “And who could forget your battle with the NEA for subsidizing my photos? You made me a household name, honey. By the by, I won’t tell you where I landed afterlife-wise, but for tonight, we’re roommates.”
As Helms gagged, Ralph the gatekeeper replaced Mapplethorpe. “Oh Helms,” mused Ralph, “where should a demagogue go? You get credit for loving your country. Trouble was, that country was the Confederacy. You were dedicated to public service — but you cared only for a portion of the public.”
Ralph shrugged. “I think you’re going to be with us a long while. If you want company, I can put in a request that Mapplethorpe remain for the duration.”
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