The poet says that he will guide Dante to heaven, where awaits the beloved Beatrice. Unfortunately, just as with people who take I-10 from Needles to Tucson, the road to heaven runs right through hell. Along the way, on his trip through hell, he sees adulterers, Sodomites, Usurers, the suicidal, pagans, blasphemers and gluttons. It's kinda like if the Republicans and Democrats both held their national conventions in conjunction with the Fourth Avenue Street Fair.
His imagination is wondrous and his hell sounds like a really creepy place, but he was way off on some of the details. For example, we now know that hell isn't a bunch of two-dimensional circles, each with a variety of rings. Thanks to technology developed by the tabloids Globe and World Weekly News, we are now not only able to see the face of the devil in the smoke from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, we also know that hell looks just like the set on which they filmed the Lenny Kravitz video, "Are You Gonna Go My Way?"
It's a bunch of concentric circles, all right, but each one is below and smaller in diameter than the one before it. The floors of each ring are tilted slightly downward, allowing for the various bodily excretions to flow onto those who are most in need of added humiliation and causing the (sometimes temporary) inhabitants of each to stay on their toes lest they be tossed yet deeper into the bowels of eternal damnation.
Somebody once said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, which makes it slightly different than the road to radio station KTKT-AM, which isn't really paved at all. Besides the obvious choices, there are a lot of other people who are also going to hell, plus still others whose current conduct on this mortal coil has them on the brink of Crispy Critter-dom.
On the outskirts of the First Level of hell is LIMBO, which is sort of like hell's Waiting Room. This place will someday be occupied by the woman who was standing in front of Safeway, ringing the Salvation Army bell, on November 7!, as well as NFL referees who can't make up their damn minds, and that gutless judge in San Francisco who said that the poor guy who originally caught Barry Bonds' 73rd home-run ball has to sell it and split the money with the jackass who claimed ownership of the ball after a greedy mob had beaten the original owner senseless in a bloodthirsty frenzy.
FIRST LEVEL: People whose cell phones ring in movie theaters and restaurants (Abandon Hope, All Ye Who answer them); Sports agents; Whoever wasted all that plastic on the construction of Carmen Electra; People who seek to defend college football's Bowl Championship Series format as being in the "best interest of the fans"; Women who degrade themselves by appearing on The Bachelor; Eighty-two percent of all adults who are involved in youth "club" sports.
SECOND LEVEL: People who talk on cell phones in grocery stores, like they can't pick out a bottle of catsup without consulting whoever it is on the other end of the line that's controlling their every move; People who drive into the mall and come to a sudden stop right in front of the sign that reads, "Incoming Traffic Does Not Stop"; Whoever invented those ultra-loud single mufflers that all the Eminem wannabes put on their Honda Civics and then drive around trying desperately to look and sound cool; The anti-intellectual wuss(es) who dumbed down Scientific American; Corporate radio programmers who force people in Philadelphia and Oakland and every place in between to listen to the exact same Pink Floyd oldie at the exact same time, followed in order by the exact same songs by BTO, Fleetwood Mac and Boston.
THIRD LEVEL: Whoever invented those tabs on new CDs. (By the time you finally get the damn thing open, you're giving serious consideration to going over to the Dark Side and stealing music off the Internet just so you won't have to wage war on the jewel box packaging.); Christina Aguilera; People who talk on cell phones while driving; Public school teachers who send their kids to private schools; People who steal music off the Internet; Whoever convinced Christina Aguilera to set aside whatever marginal talent she had and head down the Extreme Slut path instead; The idiot who suggested to Christina Aguilera that she change her name to (and I'm not kidding here) "Xtina"; Athletes who celebrate every pissy little easy basket, routine catch and unremarkable play they make.
FOURTH LEVEL: Cardinal Law; People who talk on cell phones while driving a car with one or more passengers! (Dangerous is bad enough, but rude, insensitive and dangerous?); Trent Lott (not because he's a racist or because he calls the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression" or because of that muskrat he wears on his head, but rather because when he went to Ole Miss, he was a CHEERLEADER! Have you no shame, man?).
As for me, I realize that my making a list of the hell-bound flirts with piety, which is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But I don't think I'm going to go to hell, because I have a loophole. I'm living there already, among all the cell-phone users.