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A Sin by Any Other Name



The French Market coffee was going down easy, and the three of us were painting our shirts with donut powder when the real Camaro pulled up. It had some kind of cow-hide seat covers and a front plate that declared "Melanie $."

Melanie Dollar-Sign got out of the Camaro and with her a huge Doberman we could hear her calling "Luca Brasi." She had huge clinic-bought breasts, sort of like Dolly Parton with a Mount Carmel accent. I wondered at naming a dog after a hit man from The Godfather.

"She's gazing stock. Very easy on the eyeballs," murmured Wes, setting down his beignet.

"She reminds me of this broad I was engaged to," reported Jimmy Chimichanga. "Teri Kerry ... or was it Keri Terry?"

Luca Brasi growled menacingly at us as they passed our table. He seemed exceedingly ready to evaluate and then mutilate anyone showing an unwanted interest in his owner's bustline. It was a strange double flamboyance, these purchases of Melanie Dollar-Sign. Half to encourage attention and the other half to punish it.

Melanie Dollar-Sign sat down at a large and crowded table. I sipped my coffee and watched. She would turn slightly one way and then slightly the other way, like a satellite dish, so that everyone would get a good look at her heightened cleavage.

"I'm looking at this movie over there, and I can't decide if it's porno or a Three Stooges Film Festival," I quipped. "Stuff like this can give lust a bad name."

Wes perked up at this last. "Now why should lust ever have a bad name?" he quipped back. "It's crazy stuff like that made me leave the seminary."

I had had no idea that Wes was ever in the seminary and said so. "Wes wanted to be a priest so he could meet all them young moms around the parish school," Jimmy Chimichanga quipped to himself. "But now the priests got such a rep, the young moms scoop up their kids and run if the priest gets close."

Wes began to stare at a little mound of donut powder on our table and then push it around with his finger. "Naw. It was really about theological questions."

Jimmy pushed back from the table, sighed loudly and lit up his Antonio y Cleopatra cigar. He didn't seem much interested in theological questions.

But Wes pushed on. "Now you take the Seven Deadly Sins. Do any of them seem deadly to you? Or even sins at all?"

Jimmy blew a smoke ring at the sky. "Hombre, I could give you the RPI ratings on every college basketball team in the top 20. I could probably name four, maybe even five of Snow White's Seven Dwarves. But the Seven Deadly Sins I do not know."

"Jimmy never met a sin he didn't like," I said cheerfully. "And he has all the guilt feelings of a Komodo dragon."

"Then he's a wise man," Wes countered. "Why should anyone feel guilty about, say, spending an afternoon in a hammock? Yet that's sloth. One of the so-called Seven."

I signaled the waiter for another order of beignets. "Well, that's our Jimmy," I said. "That boy put the 'I' in laziness. Why, he wouldn't get off the porch to see two men fighting with swords."

"And why should he?" persisted Wes. "Does his sloth hurt you? Remember this: on their dead-bed, nobody ever said 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office.' Then they crave sloth."

My order of beignets arrived. "There!" Wes said triumphantly. "There's another one! Gluttony. This is a danger to your immortal soul? If you sat down and ate a whole flock of ducks in thick cherry sauce and finished with a Bavarian fudge cake, how would that harm your neighbors?"

"I dunno," Jimmy said between puffs. "One of his neighbors wasn't so happy when he started laying around the backyard with no shirt on."

Wes was on a roll now; if the seminary walls could have heard, they'd be weeping. "And pride! What the hell is pride other than another name for self-esteem? And every other guest on the Oprah show sings about self-esteem like it was desert rain. So how bad a sin can it be? And as far as envy ..."

"Envy even sounds like a baby sin," Jimmy said. "Sounds like one of those things you promise not to do in the Boy Scout oath."

"Sure. We even admit it," I agreed. "Your sister tells you she's won two weeks in Bora Bora and you say 'I'm green with envy!' I mean, green is a very friendly color!"

"They say Satan was the best and brightest of the angels," Wes said. "Would such a creative stoop to working like a demon to lure people to such petty vices? Character flaws they may be, but if those are the Seven Deadly Sins -- well, I deserve to be burned with Lucifer's matches. Why, any human worthy of the name and shame of sinner would be embarrassed to stand before the Gates of Hell and say, 'I'm here because I was greedy. Or lazy. Or hungry.'"

"Let's get back to lust," said Jimmy, just as Melanie Dollar-Sign walked by with Luca Brasi. "I like lust."

"Nice dog!" he called after them.

The dog turned and snarled with middling viciousness. "Oh, you sinners! That sounds suspiciously like anger to me," I said lightly, before starting to lick the powder from my fingers.


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