PREVIOUSLY ON BOOKSHELF Q. BATTLER AND THE MEANING OF LIFE…
PART ONE – “Oh no! I ate a pop tart full of concentrated lightning then died whilst on the commode!”
PART TWO – “What? Why am I in a 1930’s speakeasy?”
“Say! Who’s this gal who keeps plying me with booze?”
“And who the heck is this bald bearded guy in the cod piece that won’t shut up?”
AND NOW BOOKSHELF Q. BATTLER AND THE MEANING OF LIFE CONTINUES…
“William Shakespeare, at your service,” the man said as he outstretched his hand toward me. I just stared at it.
“Mr. Bookshelf, ’tis an old custom for two parties who have just met to grasp one another’s hands and shake them up and down in a vigorous manner for the purpose of demonstrating that neither party is holding a weapon that could be used to disfigure or maim the other party, thus establishing a sense of trust.”
“Oh right!” I said as I shook his hand. “It’s honor to meet you, Mr. Shakespeare!”
“Please. Just call me Bill.”
“OK Bill,” I said. “Wait. How do you know my name?”
“I read your tenth grade term paper about me for Mrs. Houlihan’s English 101 Class.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Don’t be flattered,” Bill said. “One of the many magical powers you receive in the afterlife is the ability to instantly know what anyone anywhere in the world is saying about you at any time. For the average person, it is manageable. Maybe your Cousin Irene or Uncle Bob occasionally say something nice about you…or something bad about you as the case may be.”
I sucked on my beer helmet straw, riveted to every word my new acquaintance was saying.
“For a deceased celebrity, the skill is extremely irritating,” Bill said. “And for yours truly, the most celebrated author of the English language, it is downright insufferable. Every time a pimply faced teenager writes down, ‘Umm…I mean, like, Shakespeare was OK I guess…’ the sentiment is instantly zapped into my brain.”
Bill grabbed the sides of his head and massaged his temples.
“Blast! There’s another one!”
“Sorry,” I said. “Geez, I always thought it would be cool to be a celebrity. That’s why I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I never knew you were all so tortured.”
“You don’t know the half of it, honey,” the waitress said as she handed another martini to Bill. “F. Scott Fitzgerald and Truman Capote are always in here debating about which of one of them had it worse. Writers are lousy with ennui.”
“Tell me about it,” I replied.
The waitress checked the levels on my beer helmet, poured some more into each container, then walked away.
As soon as I was sure the waitress was out of earshot, I turned to Bill.
“Who, her?” Bill asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Who is she? I’ve seen her all over TV but I can’t think of her name.”
“She’s an amalgamation,” Bill responded.
“A hallucination. A magical, metaphysical trick,” Bill explained. “To every individual in this establishment, our waitress looks like the most beloved deceased female celebrity of the aforementioned individual’s generation. There have been so many female entertainers loved by many who departed the physical realm much too soon.”
“Wow,” I said.
“To Mr. Einstein, she looks like the late actress Marilyn Monroe,” Bill said. “To me, she appears in the grim visage of Sir Lionel Scarsbrook of Glastonbury-upon-Stratshire.”
“Sir Lionel who?” I asked.
“Women were not allowed upon the stage in my day, Mr. Bookshelf,” Bill said. “Acting – very physically demanding work, you know. All the running around, shouting, crying, laughing, sword play and so on. Women were not believed to have the constitutions necessary for the theater so men donned dresses, wigs, and make-up in order to play the female parts.”
“That’s stupid,” I said.
“Call it stupid if you like, good sir, but even in full beard Sir Lionel could act circles around Katherine Heigl.”
“Agreed,” I said. “But whoever she is, why is she here?”
“People tend to be very uncomfortable when they first arrive in this place,” Bill said. “Seeing a beloved female celebrity from their generation who died too soon tends to have a calming effect on newcomers. People are so happy to see her up and walking around again they don’t worry about anything else.”
“I do miss her,” I said.
“Everyone from your generation does,” Bill replied.
We sat on the couch in silence for awhile, sipping our respective drinks.
Finally, I had to ask.
“Bill, what is this place?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Bill said.
Out of nowhere, the waitress who bore a striking resemblance to a beloved female celebrity from my generation who passed away too soon, popped up behind me with a pair of vodka bottles, one in each hand.
There was no doubt that I was in some kind of supernatural place, since I was consuming enough booze to drop a thoroughbred race horse and yet I was still moving and grooving.
The waitress removed the beer containers from my helmet, replaced them with the vodka bottles, and inserted the straws.
“I heard you ask him what this place is, honey,” the waitress said. “You’ll need these.”
Like a flash, she was gone again.
“I don’t know your religion so I don’t wish to offend you, Mr. Bookshelf,” Bill said. “And we haven’t much time. To educate you as to the nature of this place requires me to discuss with you a spiritual question that has vexed the people of Earth since time immemorial.”
“Why don’t they just abolish the designated hitter rule?” I asked.
“What is the meaning of life?” Bill said, ignoring my snark. “Whether you refer to him as God, Allah, Buddha, or Lord Gleepglorp from Planet Fuzzlewak or whatever the damned Scientologists call him, there is indeed a being who runs the show. The totality of existence rests within the palm of his hand.”
I slurped away on the vodka.
“Life is a test,” Bill said. “A trial designed to test the mettle of souls.”
Bill looked at me. He must have noticed the dumbfounded expression on my face. It was dumber than usual.
“I am a legendary wordsmith and yet I struggle to find the right words to explain this to you,” Bill said.
I looked at Bill and the words rolled right off my tongue.
“All the world’s a stage and the people merely players?”
I raised my right eyebrow in a comically quizzical manner, totally proud of myself for thinking of that.
“Precisely,” Bill said. “Call this deity by any name you wish, but all he has ever asked is that people live life on Earth to the best of their abilities. Get up everyday, try your best, avoid committing evil acts upon your fellow man and in the end, he finds a place for you in Heaven.”
“Where everything is free?” I asked.
“Where everything is free,” Bill replied.
“And I get to chat with my favorite writer of all time while the most beloved female celebrity of my generation who died too soon fetches me drinks?” I asked.
“Snacks too,” the waitress said as she plopped a family-sized bag of chili cheese nacho chips on my lap.
“Do you want a tip or something?” I asked the waitress. “I’m told money has no meaning here but is there something I can do to thank you? Your service has been excellent and I feel bad for not pointing it out.”
The waitress’ eyes teared up. She leaned in and pecked a tiny kiss on my cheek.
“Oh my,” she said. “All this time I’ve spent here and no one has ever inquired about thanking me before.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Seriously,” she replied.
“So is there anything I can do?” I asked.
“No thank you,” the waitress said. “Your general display of exuberance over my prompt serving abilities is all the thanks I need.”
As she walked away, Bill shot me a “told you so” expression.
“No one’s ever offered to tip her before?” I asked. “The bar to get into Heaven is set pretty low, huh?”
“And thus, good sir,” Bill said. “It is my sad and unfortunate duty to inform you that you are not in Heaven.”
I was shocked. My mind raced. Where was I? Was I in Hell?
“I knew it,” I said. “I’m in Hell. For Christ Sake’s, I forget to hit the ‘like’ button on Cousin Phil’s vacation photos and they send me to the nether regions of human existence for all eternity!”
“Relax,” Bill said. “It’s not as bad as all that either.”
Whew. What a relief. I cracked open the bag of nachos and munched away. I offered some to Bill.
“No thank you,” Bill said. “They give me gas most foul.”
Where is Bookshelf Q. Battler? Find out in the next installment of Bookshelf Q. Battler and the Meaning of Life!
Copyright (C) Bookshelf Q. Battler 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Waitress photo courtesy of a shutterstock.com license.