A new Goldman State Podcast drops every Friday!

May 22, 2024

Your E-Z Guide to Hell: Where to Find It, How to Tell When You Get There

Forget Dante and “Damn Yankees!” This is the real deal

By Ed Goldman

For some reason, Hell’s a poppin’ this election year. People are calling the coverage of the primaries, speeches and even the issues themselves a version of being in Hell.

Really? Let’s discuss the hell out of this.

Edgy Cartoon

What killed vaudeville

To fundamentalists and cartoonists—who are easy to tell apart ( fundamentalists dress better)—Hell is Satan’s domain: a dark labyrinth of flames and caves and naked sinners doomed to writhe painfully in eternity as they futilely repent for the lives they once led. 

For others, it’s standing in line at a Starbucks counter while a customer and a “barista”—that’s a “waiter” who hired a publicist—debate the relative merits of a decaf affogato versus a fully-leaded ristretto. It’s Hell because you know all you’ll be ordering if you ever get to Canaan, oops, I mean the counter, is a small black coffee.

Hell has always been a great concept to keep puny earthlings like us in line. The trouble is, in the Age of Hyperbole, Hell is now the grandiose label we give to relatively innocuous situations—such as misplacing the match to a sock, running out of replacement toner for the printer or forgetting the dial-in code for a Zoom call we were reluctant to participate in anyway.

None of those scenarios involves nefarious imps, sharpened pitchforks or living forever in a state of constant combustion. 

Nor do these other happenings which people frequently characterize as Hell:

a. Being in a bad marriage;

b. Sitting through a screamingly inane superhero movie (but I repeat myself);

c. Looking at photos from someone else’s cross-country vacation (“You have no idea how sobering the Navajo gift shop is in Albuquerque!”); and

d. Spending too much time with someone who begins sentences with the words “basically” or “as a scholar.” Yes, I’ve denounced the latter reference a number of times in this column and, if you must know, in several speeches—and whenever someone says it aloud, whether to me or to someone across the room. I find it that odious. I mean, no matter how many times you ask someone who’s mowing your lawn about whether you should add mulch to the flower beds, I can guarantee the answer won’t begin, “As a gardener… .”)

From Wikipedia, the occasionally correct online reference book, comes this: “The idea of such a place [as Hell] has its origins in early Christianity, where those who rejected Christ were threatened with eternal torture in a lake of fire, called Tartarus or Gehenna (from Greek mythology and a nearby trash pit, respectively). Over subsequent centuries, the concept of Hell has evolved.”

A “nearby trash pit?” This makes the evil grandeur of Hades sound like it’s just a fixer-upper in a rundown neighborhood due for a shot of gentrification.

Jean-Paul Sartre famously declared in his existential play “No Exit” that “Hell is other people.” This may be why he wasn’t asked to join Rotary.

In his play “The Mourning Bride” William Congreve took a shot at defining Hell when he wrote the infamous “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” That play was a tragedy—not, as its title may suggest, the kind of rollicking farce even Seth Rogen could handle as an actor since it mostly involves opening and shutting doors. It was first staged in London in 1697, though for all we know it also had several workshops, table-reads and out-of-town tryouts.

Looking for a Great Gift?

I’ve sat through a table-read of one of my own plays. I remember thinking the table could have read it better. But actually, the actors were quite good as was the director. I was simply a nervous wreck. I mean, it was sheer Hell.

— Gotta go. They just called my name. Apparently, my affogato is ready.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).