I USED TO IMAGINE hell as a bleak inferno populated by Elvis impersonators and car salesmen and Department of Motor Vehicle employees, all of them condemned to a life of piped-in accordion music and "Jerry Springer" re-runs.
But now I've changed my mind.
Now I see hell as a place where everyone has a cell phone.
And everyone yaks in public on their cell phone.
And you can't get away from the constant chatter no matter where you go. Hitler, Joe Stalin, Pol Pot, the devil himself -- everyone's got a phone glued to his ear 24 hours a day.
In other words, I see hell as pretty much the way things are right now among the living.
What brings this to mind is something that occurred the other day when I pulled into a gas station.
This was one of those typical metal-and-cement gulags, 12 self-serve pumps surrounding a wretched little mini-mart where you can buy dusty two-liter bottles of Dr Pepper and bread that's been on the shelves since the gulf war.
Overseeing the whole operation from behind his greasy, Plexiglas-encased throne was the obligatory sullen 21-year-old, chain-smoking Marlboros and fingering his eyebrow rings.
Anyway, while I was filling my car, I noticed that the guy at the next pump was doing the same, except he was also talking on his cell phone.
He looked to be in his mid-40s and was wearing possibly the single worst toupee in history. If he had placed a dead woodchuck on his head he would have looked better.
So right away, the guy was doing two things so annoying you wanted to take a poke at him right there.
No. 1, you shouldn't be out in public with a horrible rug like that. And No. 2, anyone who talks on a cell phone while pumping gas is a de facto jerk.
To make matters worse, this guy was talking in a voice loud enough to be heard in Wyoming. And he wasn't talking about anything important, either.
Believe me, this wasn't a guy checking in with his donor program to see if that new kidney had arrived. This wasn't some hotshot attorney checking to see if the governor had come through with that last-minute stay of execution for his client on Death Row.
This was just some nitwit trying to act cool.
In any event, the whole time I was pumping gas, I had to listen to this guy yakking away about a party he'd been to the night before.
Finally, I finished pumping. Unfortunately, Mr. Bell Atlantic Mobile Phone finished pumping at the same time.
Which meant the two of us went inside simultaneously to pay up.
At this point, I figured the guy would end his stupid conversation and put the phone away. But, as with so many things in life, I figured wrong.
Because the guy walked inside and kept right on yakking like he was in his own office. There were three other people waiting in line to pay for their gas, but Mr. Bell Atlantic never even lowered his voice.
Anyway, we ended up hearing all about the party and a lot of other things about Mr. Bell Atlantic's private life, due to the fact that we are waiting in line for several minutes, due to the fact that the Marilyn Manson disciple behind the cash register wasn't too swift.
First he didn't know the price of a box of frosted doughnuts. Then he got thrown for a loop when a customer wanted just one Hostess fruit pie and the sign above the rack said "2 for 89 cents."
Finally, though, it was Mr. Bell Atlantic's turn to pay up. What followed was a beautiful moment in the history of human interaction.
Still yakking away on the phone, Mr. Bell Atlantic handed the kid behind the register a twenty. Then he pointed to the pump where his car was parked. Then he held up five fingers, helpfully indicating Pump 5.
When the kid gave him back his change, Mr. Bell Atlantic was equally inspiring. Still yakking into the phone, he snapped off a salute to the kid. A salute! Like he was Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf or something!
Then, phone still glued to his ear, he got back in his car and drove off.
Oh, it was all pretty touching, that's for sure. And the rest of us in line agreed that if this was where technology was leading us, well, it wouldn't be so bad.
We also agreed it wouldn't be so bad to see Mr. Bell Atlantic off to the side of the road with a blown transmission.
Not that you would ever wish such a thing on anyone.
Pub Date: 5/28/98