B A R R Y L A N D .



heaven's code name is HELLO.








father brown mysteries.
ever heard of England's second favorite detective?

they're made out of meat.
a wonderfully clever — and famous — dialog between aliens

the paparazzi of plato.
an ancient dialog on the pursuit of celebrity

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allan gurganus
a list of everything, including "oldest living confederate widow tells all."


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Why is everyone so interested in angels these days? And we just can't get away from the idea that humans can or do become angels. Of course, the biblical idea is that angels are just another type of being, and neither becomes the other. In that silly film with the near-perfect Nicholas Cage, I found myself wondering if I would ever fall in love with a cat and then choose to become one so I could live with her as a cat forever. Don't they know that when angels fall they fall past earth? And naturally, as in that abysmal Whitney Houston film, the underlying premise is that the earth is fulsome and brimming with life, and the heavens are deprived.

Like a fresh wind, then, comes a piece called "Toward a More Precise Identification of the Newer Angels," by Allan Gurganus. Much of the piece ranges from the doctrinally unsound to the putrid, but he really gets some things right on the button, and his style is smart and winning. He has hit on the tone of heaven in a way that's unusual, yet feels true. The general idea is that a welcoming angel is orienting the newest round of inductees into heaven.

Here's a plateful of my favorite passages.


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 L et's call this Freshman Orientation, shall we? It is my joy to describe certain facts of your sudden, exquisite setup.

We begin with your new shapes. I see a few in back noticing. No criticism implied: you are altered. Actually 'transformed' (to do the miracle full credit).

....But this time, for all time, it's always hello. Hello, forever. Thank you, gracious God. Such pleasure. I've been volunteering for this duty since, well, you've no idea.

That roar you'll hear intermittently forever is called 'euphoria.' You'll learn to tamp it back should it interfere with the Conversation. Nothing must ever obscure one glorious word of that, our communal enterprise. You have just arrived midsentence at the longest dormitory bull session ever.

Heavenly talk is not symphonic — symphonies were nothing more than poignant human overreaching. It is chamber music, chat and revelation, a gossip where history, picnic sensations, philosophy, mathematical verity...are all conjoined to form a single, round-the-clock state, a forward beating, rolling motion we call 'joy.'

'Hell is other people,' wrote one sad man. But, you see, if Hell is other people, so is Heaven. Heaven is just other other people.

Tips on what to try first? You now have access to all languages and patois, all the facts and contradictions of intergalactic history. Your mind can go anywhere, can become anyone's in any language, in any period.

(You know everything, my dear ones. And instead of being phone-book boring, omniscience — one now realizes — is such a turn-on.)

All exchanges here, by the way, produce emotions of operatic intensity. Just as smart mortals perfect their chess, we brighter angels play at an unscience called 'human emotion.'

They about ready? Excellent.

Here it all starts, my dears. Feel the light burning across your new-old body. Recognitions will soon occur.

Our lines will now dissolve. Mill, ogle, scout, waggle, point, chat, giggle, gab, prod, whatever. Indian-wrestle, handhold. Try several brands of hearty handshakes to make sure.

We have only time here. You'll all soon be absolutely crazy about each other.

Fascinated, and I mean forever. Here, no one will ever leave you again.

Heaven's code name is 'Hello.'

Let true pleasure — innocent and richly deep — at last begin. How can you know you've just found Paradise?

You will have found perfect, funny, erotic company eternally.

Turn to face those recent angels nearest you. Nine words are burned deep into the gate of Heaven:

'You have only just begun to know each other.'