I Used to Be The Angel of Death

Yeah, that's a fact --I used to be the Angel of Death (but the Company's overhead kept going up and profits were down so my job got outsourced.)

It wasn’t all that bad -- got to work out of my home, give the hairy eyeball to anyone who thought he was a badass. That part was fun. But the numbers wouldn’t add up.

Moloch Hamovis himself called us in and told us the budget was shot, and layoffs were coming up. (OK, we each called ourselves The Angel of Death, but we were really just his Associates – kind of the way ADA’s get call themselves DA’s but are really not the main guy who runs for office – he’s the exec, the CEO, we’re Operations, each of us COO’s of our own bailiwicks, but that’s not an option because you know, homonymically speaking, they’ll turn it against us, call us “Death Cooze.”

You’d be surprised how nasty and hurtful some people get when they know it’s the End. Well, maybe not. The OSS had that problem in England during the war – the Brits didn’t spell it out but pronounced it and sounded just like their version of our term for one’s posterior.  You lose all your authority when something like that happens, and you know, the authority is what makes the job work.) Anyway, when the boss told us, many of the other guys screeched and howled and complained about unfair, but really, the numbers told the tale: each death was costing about a dollar.

Compare that to the foreign vendor's demo: 9-11 was about as impressive as a Client Presentation Product Pitch gets. I’ll tell you, in the annals of killer Client Pitches, there was Hanley Norins giving the Schick people the peach for the "Shave-a-Peach Commercial back in the 50’s and that one.

World Wide coverage, thousands dead, and the total cost? 18 one-way plane tickets (I never found out if they paid full fare or bought in advance for the discount) and 7 boxcutters. (Plus developmental money to train them to fly one way, but developmental is a separate budget.)

No one in the civilized world can compete with that. At those rates, you’d have to start a full-scale war in the Middle East just to be able to pay the rent on a decent flat.

So they got the account.

The Tsunami was pretty impressive. Can’t deny it – just knocked everyone’s socks off with that undersea quake. I have to give them credit for creativity and execution, but we’ll see how well the campaign continues. Everyone starts off with a wave of enthusiasm, no pun intended (just pointed to after the fact with a bit of pride).

There’s more to the game than just the Hiroshimas and Pearl Harbors, the Stalingrads and Dresdens, the Shock and Awe campaigns – there’s also the Point-of Sale day-to-day business of death. You can’t always count on running across wholesale jobbers like Stalin and Pol Pot to make the price points come out. (But hey -- American Ingenuity -- drones may get us back in the Price-Point game.)

So I’m retired now. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of loot to be made from the “Oh please – I’ll give you anything” crowd with their water bottles and jogging suits, that surprised look on their faces that says “But I eat right and drink Evian and my cholesterol is down and I exercise, so how could this happen to me?” 

I could always see it on their faces when I presented my business card, who to blame -- “Who did this to me?”
Well, yes, the guy in Marketing was gunning for your job, but we don’t work for him.

As to the money, I should have invested it, but like everyone else, I figured it was secure and I could keep doing it forever, or, actually, at least until My Number came up to one of the Interns. 

That’s why I follow the adage that a whole lot of politicians could do well to remember –

“Be careful the asses you kick on the way up –
they’re the same ones you have to kiss on the way down.”

I was offered a few Account Exec jobs – Advertising, TV – since I still have that blood-chiller hairy eyeball stare, but PLEASE – I’m not a monster, just a killer. People always seem to confuse the two.

Which is, I guess, why some friends suggested I write horror stories, but I can’t. I can’t even read them. Like Clive Barker’s stuff – he’s actually a great guy, not a sadist, and actually, to meet him and talk to him, you’d just figure him for a nice guy, pleasant, community-spirited Little League Coach (not the nutsy kind) church-going sincere something-or-other -- Christian. Jewish. Buddhist. Someone more or less a very nice vanilla. But his stories – yikes. I can’t handle them, books or movies – way too scary.

Creeps me out just thinking about it. You’d think it wouldn’t bother me, but there’s really nothing very scary about death – it’s all pretty matter-of-fact. Just Game Over.  All that ‘what do you see when you turn out the light’ stuff just isn’t part of what I did for a living. Ooo-ee-oo. No skeletons or worms or like that. Just me, dressed casual, saying, “Hi, excuse me, but this is important – it’s over.”

I still don’t get it why people get so angry, so insane. It’s like they figured it was never going to happen to them – just every other person, animal, or plant that ever lived. Takes a lot of ego for that one.

And in truth, I never did get to strike up much more than the most superficial of acquaintances with any of them. Although back in the 50’s, a few of the more intellectual ones used to insist on playing chess with me. They beat me every time. I’m not much for strategy. And they’d be so happy until I said, “Congratulations. Now let’s go.”

And then they’d REALLY go into shock. “But… BUT .. BUT!!”

And I’d say – “You’re not Swedish. That’s only for Swedes. Didn’t you notice – there were SUBTITLES.” (Actually it was only for a small group of Swedes -- the ones whose ancestors were Plague victims who recovered. And it was the real deal -- today, their descendants can have whatever unprotected sex they want, going either or any way they want, but can’t contract HIV. Something about how the virus has nothing to hook onto, a mutation resulting from the Plague thing. Some guys have all the luck, don’t they? Except they’re not all so tall and blonde and good-looking. 

The Plague – boy – talk about Mass Marketing! Using fleas!

Anyway, horror aside, I could tell some of the stories (one thing I learned was you can never anticipate who’s going to be cool about it and who’s going to emulate that drunk, Dylan Thomas, and fight it out according to “Do not go gentle into that good night.” The man could turn a phrase, sing a song, though, although that poem is – as you might suspect – not my favorite. Leave it to pop culture to raise high as the greatest of art a song about fear of death. One of his few. Love denied. Because anyone who drinks like that is madly in love with Death. And -- Damn! That man could sing a phrase. No one ever understood or loved death so much as the Irish poets – except for the Welsh.

My favorite was his lovely poem, When once the twilight locks no longer with its intricate swirls of resonances and images:

When once the twilight locks no longer
Locked in the long worm of my finger...

A lovely lovely love song to a beautiful death with attention called to all the many incidents of paradox (using that awkward way of referring to multiples because some people -- I mean people in HIGH places -- object to my use of the plural of "paradox" being "paradise.") and all the endless echoing resonances that will follow, all right up there, right up front.

And the fifth stanza, that was the one that caught me as a young teenager…

Sleep navigates the tides of time
The dry Sargasso of the tomb
Gives up its dead to such a working sea;
And sleep rolls mute above the beds
Where fishes’ food is fed the shades
Who periscope through flowers to the sky.

That one turned me – actually began the turn -- from a young smartass who was merely obsessed with Death – to ultimately becoming a man who understood – who understands (which doesn’t mean to always enjoy or appreciate it) that the continuum of life and death was neither good nor bad, but simply an elegant curve of being.

Curiously, though, the one that has been of essential service to me in the long run was not that poem, but the one that kept me – kept all of us – in line. When your presence alone strikes fear into the hearts of most there’s always a danger of becoming completely egocentric, megalomaniacal, too big for the britches, swell-headed, full of oneself, puffed-up, and etcetera, not to put too fine a point on it.  And he said it straight out, a head-shrink for me:

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

He goes on*, as do all poets, don’t they all go on, but as one fellow once said, “The difference is, poets talk purty when they do it.”

Ahh, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore, but they will again, the cycle will complete and young poets will once again discover the beauty that can be made with words. And the thing that will keep them dedicated, is the near-total indifference to poetry in the US of A. Almost no one cares about poetry except the few who are creating it, and most are taught to hate it somewhere around the 8th or 9th grade.  (There was a time -- not so very long ago -- when poetry occupied a distinctive place in literacy, in fact it used to be axiomatic that all good pornography and poetry gets stolen, something the host discovers after the party guests have left. But pornography is more easily available these days than finding somewhere a person can smoke a cigarette. But slim volumes of poetry, they still go in a pocket or a pack with ease.) 


*And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion. 

Dylan Thomas (1914–1953)


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