Ski slopes reap hell’s winter harvest

And there they were, two men dazed and confused, suffering from splitting headaches and wondering why the temperature had suddenly risen. A majestic figure — the Roman poet Virgil, though they did not know this — met them at the gates.
“Oh yes — our two newest celebrities,” Virgil said. “Prepare the fire and brimstone!” he shouted over the parapet. Hordes of the damned danced with glee.
The two men glanced at one another, then at their ski clothes, then at a sign that read, “ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.” And then they knew.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the poet said. “You can take off the skis. The weather’s not right for it here. Follow me.”
The two men followed their guide past the three-headed dog and through the gates. The first man — handsome and rugged, with a toothy grin — was gasping at the wailing and gnashing of teeth around him. The second — older and sporting a cheesy mustache — was freaked out.
“Like, dude, what am I doing here? I’m Sonny Bono!” Screams of recognition echoed through the cavernous depths they were entering.
“Ah, they recognize you,” Virgil said. “We’ve made them listen to your albums for years. You’ve developed quite a following.”
“But man, I thought I’d end up in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven with John Denver and Hendrix and stuff.”
“They were making a place ready for you, but you committed a mortal sin.”
“Whoa,” Sonny said. “What?”
“You ran for Congress. It’s been the home of many fallen angels.”
The trio continued walking, past a man rolling a giant stone up a hill and a huge gathering of people watching “Family Matters” reruns.
“I was never in Congress,” said hell’s other newest resident. “I only managed campaigns. I also was heavily involved in philanthropic organizations. I was considered a bright spot in a crumbling family dynasty.”
“Crumbling?” Virgil said. “That depends on your perspective.” A horned figure appeared, carrying blueprints. “Yes, Moloch,” said Virgil, “proceed with the Kennedy wing expansion.” Moloch nodded and flew away.
“The Kennedy wing?”
“Oh yes,” Virgil said. “It gives new meaning to the term ‘eternal flame.’ All the Kennedy’s are excited to have you join them. Now they have full teams for touch football.”
“But my family led the free world. We created programs for the poor. We saved the planet from nuclear holocaust!”
“And you assisted Joseph McCarthy. And you lived your personal lives above the law. And you bought elections with the help of the mob. Don’t worry, your good works were taken into account — the Kennedy wing is only in the second circle, and it even has air conditioning. But you all must live there.”
“Even — John?”
“Even John.” Virgil shook his head, muttering about how Seymour Hersh had obtained Satan’s case against JFK. He motioned toward a set of winged guards, who grabbed the newest dead Kennedy to whisk him away to his new quarters. “Good luck, Michael,” he said. “I only hope you wont be bored in your new residence.”
Michael, showing his family’s resilient optimism and still not fully understanding why he had been condemned, asked, “Why would I be bored?”
“Because,” Virgil replied, “no matter what the circumstances, there are no 14-year-old girls in hell.”
Now only Sonny remained. “So if I’m not in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, where in hell do I go?”
“You will be placed between our capitol center and our special section for has-been celebrities who did commercials for Miller Lite. Seventh circle. You will be alone for several years — but then we have something special planned.”
Sonny heard a familiar voice in the background. “If I could turn back time. If I could find a way,” it sang.
“No. No way, man,” he said. “Nothing can be that terrible.”
“You will be united for eternity with your first wife,” Virgil said. “It’s only appropriate — she’s part of the reason you’re here. Marrying solely to advance your own career, disowning your daughter because she was a lesbian, using your name to gain political office and then turning on the industry that made you famous.
“When will you celebrities learn that public prominence does not atone for private wickedness? You seem to think you can buy your way into heaven, when all you create for yourselves is a living hell.”
Sonny stared at the hot coals beneath his feet. “But do I really have to spend eternity with Cher?”
“Be happy, my friend. She will be your one consolation. Consider it the reunion show from hell. You’ll have her to hold your hand, and she’ll have you to understand.”
“And what happens until she arrives?”
“On earth, life will continue as always. Cars keep going faster all the time. People will say ‘brother, can you spare a dime?’ The Kennedys will serve the public while they destroy themselves. And your names will fade from the headlines to take their places as cultural footnotes. La-da-da-da-di, la-da-da-da-die. Time for your first lashes.”
Sonny bared his back and awaited his fate. For eternity. He had accomplished so much, acquired so much. Thwack! For eternity. So many celebrities, and all so successful. Thwack. Eternity. But frailties can even affect the famous. Thwack! And no one will ever learn. Eternity.
And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on …

Michael Kennedy, 1958-1997
Sonny Bono, 1935-1998

Alan Bjerga’s column appears every Wednesday. He can be contacted at [email protected]