UNITED STATES—You wake up and you’re in this place where the clouds are all cottony as they glide across an achingly blue sky. Kinda like the over-the-top monumentality of the Paramount logo or the more subdued Warner Bros. Then you come to some Corinthian columns like they had at the Old Spaghetti Factory, before it was turned into a hi-rise condo; but they’re real classy, finished in gold leaf bright as sun.

And a voice comes out of the sky, a thundering, well-enunciated voice, “Are you sure you want to leave the Earth? Please speak your response or press the star button on your phone for yes and the hashtag if you would like to cancel.”

It takes a while to sort all this out, because there’s a danger of choosing a response contrary to your desires. After a moment, you decide to voice an unequivocal yes.

Then the unequivocal yes is answered by the thundering voice, “So that we can be sure you are you, please answer the following security question, ‘What was you father’s middle name?’”

Your soul dips like an elevator going to a Weight Watchers meeting.
You hem and haw, and then the tentative: “Was it palindrome?”
“That is not it.”

You know that you didn’t answer the security question straight because you were always paranoid that somebody wanting to commit fraud was looking over your shoulder. So you did something tricky; now you blank out on what it what it was that you did, but suddenly this bubbles up:

“My father’s middle name was Otto, but try A-U-T-O.”

“Congratulations. You have successfully answered the security question.”

You are quite pleased with yourself now. You are beaming like you just won a turbo-charged Kia on the “Price is Right.”

Now the voice from the achingly blue sky whispers, “Are you sure you’re sure you want to leave Earth?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“Are you sure you’re sure? You still have twenty seconds to change your mind.”

“YES!”

“Alrightee, we’re almost there,” says the voice. “One more thing: your password.”

“Oh, piece of cake,” you say, now smug. “Schlepping stones. All together. Lowercase.”

“Schlepping stones?” the voice oozes mocking contempt.

“Dad left me two things: a bunch of wide ties and a gift for terrible wordplay. Schlepping stones is easy to remember. You know, Sisyphus and all that stuff . . . So we’re good to go.”

“One more thing . . . your passcode.”

“Passcode . . . ?”

“That is a four digit code that you chose.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never used it.”

“Make a guess.”

“2222.”

“No . . . “

“1984—a favorite year with an exclamation for the one.”

“It’s four digits only.”

“2006. That was the year I got married. It was a meaningful year, not my favorite. Anyway she’s gonna be happy about the life insurance. Never got around to taking her off as beneficiary.”

“Not it.”

“0000”

“Not it either.”

“It’s gotta be something easy, even easier than schlepping stones, because I hate these codes. Oh my god, I’m sorry, this is so awful. No disrespect, I didn’t mean you.”

“Technically it’s not me,” answers the sky. “I’m a programmed synthetic voice. I and the angels are required so many other places now, it’s not really feasible to have somebody here at the gates.”

“I’m stumped . . . “

“If I give you a clue, and it’s not you, we’re in trouble. I’ll just say you definitely have a passcode, and it’s something you chose years ago.”

“Look, it there a way to get a new passcode?”

“We can do it via email. That would mean going back of course.”

“Going back would mean facing a lot. Toll booths, ethical challenges, athlete’s foot, restraining orders, herpes . . . This is awful, this is a living hell. Oh wait wait wait wait. I GOT IT,” you say brightly, giddy as a kid whose gotta pee and whose teeth are starting to float. 4355.”

“That is correct,” intones to the thundering synthetic voice.

“That was something I could always remember. There was always a lot of it . . . 4355.”

“You got it.”

In a flash the only thing left of you near the golden columns is your last sigh. “4355,” the voice ruminates, “the numerical equivalent for h-e-l-l.”

Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet,” available on Amazon. Grady can be reached at grady.miller@canyon-news.com.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)