Lucifer at the Polls, South Florida:
A Lesson in Democracy from the Prince of Darkness
By David Hartley Mark
I never keep books out overdue, and, with the Library App on my phone, it’s easier than ever to renew. But I lose interest in many of my borrowed books easily, and recently returned the various Horror, Steampunk, and Elmore Leonard novels I had borrowed to my local SoFla library branch. Despite having a Neanderthal governor who enriched himself by robbing poor, sick people, our state does brag a first-class public library system. And I visit, often.
Usually, I never have a problem parking at the NorthWest Regional Branch on University Boulevard; its parking lot, like most in the Sunshine State, is huge. Over the last few weeks, as our voters strive to beat the Election Day Voting Crush, it’s become harder to find a spot. Today, Sunday, was more crowded than usual: the line wrapped back-and-forth in front of the library building, and I was glad to see both Hillary and the Carrot well-represented.
I am a strong believer in Democracy.
As I returned to my car with my new books and CDs, I impulsively approached a thirtyish-looking young white man with a goatee who was waving a TRUMP-PENCE MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN banner: the all-too-familiar logo on a black background, permanently mounted on a flagpole. It was about five by four feet wide, and very prominent.
“Excuse me—how much did that flag cost you?” I asked, in a friendly tone. I was merely curious.
He seemed happy and proud to discuss it:
“Seven-eight dollars on Amazon,” he said, “See my T-shirt?” he held it, stretched out below his waist, for me to see and admire, which I did. It was black, featuring Trump brandishing a Light Sabre, against a Star Wars background, in full regalia as Luke Skywalker. “And my kids got this shirt, too. Very cheap.”
“Very nice,” I smiled.
“And, can you imagine?” he went on, “A Hillary banner cost seventy-eighty dollars.”
I commiserated over this political highway robbery, and went over to the Hillary group (I had already voted Democratic by mail). I asked if they could spare any stickers, which I noted had been selling on my email for a dollar apiece. They were happy to give me a handful, and a nice middle-aged lady warned me to display them “before Tuesday.”
I thanked her. On my way to the car, a pleasant-looking young man greeted me, and wished me a good day.
“How’re you feeling?” I returned to his greeting.
“Fantastic,” he said, going on fiddling with his phone, “only, I’ll be glad when this whole election mess is over.”
“You and me both,” I said.
I proceeded to my car, seeing that another person wanted my spot. It was a very good one, in direct line with the library, albeit a bit far.
Just then, I heard a, “Psst! Rabbi! Over here!”
I turned, and saw my old friend, Lucifer, leaning against a late-model, 1969 Corvette—all shiny, simonized, midnight-black—was that a vinyl roof? It figured. He wasn’t wearing his customary red-and-black jumpsuit; to better blend in, he was attired in a white polo shirt with a tiny, red-tongued dragon and soft black Bermudas, with grey Italian canvas driving loafers, no socks.
He was wearing his shiny, raven-black hair slicked back, showing a Dracula-like, prominent widow’s peak and a very slight ponytail—the official attire of seventy-somethings in South Florida. Around his neck was a medium-width chain, with an ankh—he could have been Italian, Sephardic Jewish, Hispanic, or African-American—his swarthy skin tone, burnished by the fires of Hell, could have been any of those ethnic groups, which somehow seemed appropriate.
“I have to move my car, ‘Sipher,” I said, “That nice lady over there is waiting for my spot.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he smiled, using his best New York City accent, and showing his canines, which gleamed in the late afternoon sun, sharp and pointed, “My attendant demon, Screwtape, will move it to the lot by the Chinese place across the street.”
“Does he need my keys?” I asked.
“Please,” he said, giving me a look, “Don’t waste my, and his, time. Just get in.”
The upholstery was baby’s-butt-soft. The Devil slid in, caressed the steering wheel, and smiled over his new toy.
“Do you like it? It used to belong to a Texas Full-Gospel Preacher Man. The police confiscated it, when he—well, never mind. Shall I buy you a donut and coffee?” he asked, “I do like a Bismarck, from time to time. Can’t get any decent pastry where I work. What I do get is hot, but—well—“
“Sure, I know a place,” I said.
“Let’s go,” he said, and fired up the ‘Vette, which purred like Cerberus asleep.
As we pulled out of the library lot, I couldn’t resist giving the Old Boy ah shtoch, a sarcastic poke in the metaphorical ribs, as they say in Yiddish.
“Think your guy is gonna win, Scratch?” I asked the Prince of Darkness.
At a red light, Satan turned to me and gave me another one of his slow smiles, before replying: “They’re both my boys—I mean, my boy and my girl, Rabbi. Don’t fool yourself.”
“Excuse me,” I said, “Are you saying that Hillary—sweet, Methodist-born, Baptist-turned Hillary—has sold her soul to the Devil?”
“Not exactly,” he said, “Don’t push me, Rabbi; that’s privileged information, after all. No silly, leaked emails where I work; no WikiLeaks in Hell. I’ve been in business for a long, long time. And Daniel Webster, bless his stubborn Massachusetts Yankee soul, is long dead, Thank Badness.
“But can you truly believe that anyone working in that Hellhole they call Washington doesn’t sooner or later come under my—um—purview? I mean, really, Rabbi? Except, maybe, Barack. He’s getting out pretty early. He was lucky. And smart. Not that I didn’t make him an offer. And there are some others, but not many. I mean, they’re politicians, most of whom started out as lawyers, are you kidding me?
“And Hillary? I mean, maybe she’ll get in. I can’t say. That’s for you folks to decide. But now, the way you Americans have this whole shooting match screwed up—well, maybe ‘shooting match’ is a bad choice of words, given the strength of the Gun Lobby—but still, well, all of this muck and mire you American folk have cooked up and foisted on one another leaves me speechless. And, for me, as the Devil, that’s a rough place to be in. I am supposed to be the Master of Lies and Deceit, but this Election has left me cross-eyed, confused, and confounded.”
“Can’t you tell me who’s going to win?” I pressed, “At least, a hint.”
“Maybe I can, but maybe I won’t,” he said, “because that would take all the fun—I mean, suspense out of it. When the Big Guy consulted me about running the Universe, the main factor was allowing you people—that is, humans—more than a modicum of free will. That is the main theological, God-granted ingredient in your lives, and in democracy. That’s for you to decide, not me, and, even if the Big Guy knows, He’s not telling.”
We stopped at the donut place, but I had lost my appetite.
“Not feeling like a java-and-sinker anymore, Rabbi?” asked my Evil Friend, taking a deep, thoughtful breath and tapping his long, Florida-clear-polished, index fingernail on the momo-style racing wheel. “Well, I understand. It’s been a hell of a season, and I know whereof I speak. I remember Nixon, and I never thought there would come a time when you Baby Boomers would wish for Nixon to come back. I can’t tell you what he’s doing down in my neck of the sulphur, but I can’t let him out—you understand why, hm?”
“I understand,” I whispered, thinking about Old Tricky Dick, and wondering what “neck of the sulphur” meant.
“Don’t worry so much,” laughed Lucifer, patting my shoulder, and not minding when I shrank away from his touch—his palm felt unbelievably hot. “Whatever happens, it will pass. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“Bad things,” I said, softly, “lots of bad things.”
“Time for me to leave you, Rabbi,” whispered the Devil, “So now, just you close your eyes, and when you open them, you’ll find yourself in your car, just a half-block from your house. Oh, and don’t tell anyone about our little meeting, OK? It will be just our little secret. No one would believe you. No one sane, anyway.”
“You’re right,” I said, and closed my eyes, tightly.
Around me, I felt a slight wind start to blow, like my own, private hurricane, and a small, persistent humming sound. I started praying—but what prayer would help, at this perilous time? The Sh’ma, “Hear, O’ Israel”? The Mourner’s Kaddish? Wait—there must be a psalm, or two, I could think of….
Psalm 122—May there be peace within your walls, serenity within your palaces. …For the sake of my Brothers and Sisters, I shall speak of peace in your midst. …For the sake of the House of God, I shall request good for you….
Eventually, the mini-cane died down. Slowly, I opened my eyes. I was sitting in my car, alone, just before the turn onto my street. A small breeze ruffled the branches on the palms, and a little cloud brushed past a crescent moon….
Was it a little cloud, or Someone Else?
Never mind: it would all be over, soon, and we could all set to, and rebuild what will be left of our Country—all of us, together….