A noteworthy byproduct of writing these columns is that I’m often approached for other related kinds of work. Happily, I’ve been asked to do my cockeyed shtick at weddings, sharpen my rapier wit at ribbon cuttings, pen pithy endorsements for print ads and to occasionally weigh the pleas of poachers. So, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary when I received a very flattering note from a reader who sought my consultation — until I realized who had sent it. The devil. More specifically, it was his “communications manager,” a bookish woman with whom I had worked when she was a still publicist at a boutique firm that specialized in A-list damage control.
When I was slow to return her correspondence, she phoned and pressed me again, this time saying that her client had her “by the balls.” Admittedly, I liked it when she spoke like this, seeing as the lack of requisite anatomy underscored the value of the metaphor and I knew I could likely score a free lunch if I continued playing hard to get. She agreed and a luncheon with Lucifer was penciled for yesterday afternoon.
The Prince of Darkness and I met at a local brasserie, which he chose on account of the comely waitstaff and their tolerance of his ordering an army of appetizers in lieu of an entrée (these he insisted we share). The most compelling aspect of Lucifer, I would learn, is his utter banality. He’s both thinner and paunchier that I expected — not at all the robust red devil that graces the fire and brimstone mis-en-scenes of fireworks and tequila bottles, but rather more like a pregnant scarecrow. His cheeks were sallow, like a crumpled paper bag; his body a contingency of sinew and leather, except for the great orb of his belly, from which a symphony of gurgling howls emitted no matter how much tapas he crammed into his gullet. I expected someone of his mythic station to have penetrating X-ray eyes and I half considered wearing sunglasses to ward off the possibility of hypnosis. They were, however, watery and pale and eerily frank, like those of an elderly person. And his teeth, the trophies of British orthodonture, were uneven tombstones shaded mustard brown from the navy cut tobacco his tawny fingers fished from a fanny pack cinched at his gut. Be assured, the devil does not wear Prada. He dresses like a carnie.
“I like your work,” he grinned as he contemplated the smoldering eye pinched between his blackened nails and took another drag. “Most writers turn a phrase to serve a story, but your prose preens like a prima donna. I can’t tell who’s more the whore, you or your work.”
“That a compliment?”
“An assessment. I’m the devil. I don’t give gold stars,” he spat back. “You ever hear of the ‘End Times?’”
“Doesn’t News Corp own it?”
“No, I mean the ‘the end of time.’ Judgment Day, Armageddon,” he said with a frustrated furrow in his gnarled brow. “When the sheep get separated from the goats?”
“Sure. The eighth grade dance, Petaluma Junior High, ’86.”
“No, the other one — the one that’s nigh. Us goats need a scribbler, see, someone to get the word out, a little PR campaign to win the heart of man before we go upstairs and finish the job we started before the Fall,” he said, then winked. “You would be the only journalist embedded in the war on heaven and earth, you dig?”
The devil leaned through the plume of smoke rings. One hovered briefly like a halo over his head as he asked: “How would you like to write the last chapter of the Bible?”
What a great line, I thought — I couldn’t have whored it better myself. The devil knew he had a hook in me, but I played it cool. The way I rationalized it — and mind you rationalization is a game the devil always wins — he wanted my services not my soul, which some of my profession think is tantamount to the same thing. I knew better. Like hell, I’d put my soul in the recycle bin every week, right?
“Write the last chapter of the Bible, eh?” I asked, mulling my Miltonic tumble into the Bottomless Pit. “How does it end now?”
“Cliffhanger,” he said and smacked his lips as if he had tasted something bitter. “What, you never read it?”
“I was waiting for the movie.”
He smiled and cooed: “You’re my first choice, you know.” He knew I saw through his flattery. “Well, that’s exactly not true. I went to Goebbels first, but he’s booked through November ’08. But you’re free and – ” he waited a moment before reeling me closer – “and you’re an artist.”
The A-word. I was putty, instantly. It was if he had taken a handful of the mud that had been slung at him for millennia and began molding it in his image, except it looked like me, which is to say it had an undeniably rakish quality and dressed better.
He said to call Tuesday and left his cell phone number. The prefix I assumed would be 666, but it was actually 555, like the dead end numbers used in the movies. Go figure. Dear readers, please advise.
Courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Sun.