Today I am a coffee shop philanthropist, donating my dollars to the continuation of bad local art and strong coffee that comes in white dime store mugs. For my money I get motorcycle exhaust, skateboards and panhandlers. On my feet, one of two new pairs of shoes from the flea market, a brand new, pre-used, me.
The East Village streets are empty, but the parks have become campgrounds for dredlocked lovers and the air has a hint of ash and mj. The summer belongs to the real New Yorkers. The ones that can't or don't want to leave the city. The ones that are satisfied to sweat. The summer sufferers get New York's real Gambian Gold; dollar gelato in the Italian neighborhoods in Brooklyn, trapeze lessons on the west side pier, out door movies and naked homeless, odd pets, methadone freaks, junk fairs and fresh fish at 4am and music and Puerto Ricans and lusty humid nights where you can try every bar cause its warm enough to walk and the strawberry smoke from hidden hookah gardens tints the glossy eyes of thin, beautiful women. The subways under the ice-cold movie theatres make the seats vibrate. Standing on first avenue you can see up and down the entire city. There is love and sex and sweat and food everywhere, except in my apartment where there is only sweat.
A white pigeon waddled into a café. It took a stroll around, studied the dessert case, checked out the scene and finding it lacking, strolled out with the haughty indifference of any East Villager.
The pigeon came back later; it couldn't find any place better I guess. It spent a little time at each table, picking up crumbs and gossip, clearly a busy body and a moocher. Since it was a nonpaying customer, the management eventually picked it up and escorted it out.
Lots of Christians visit New York in the summer. It's on the missionary route, like Sodom. Next stop Manhattan. They come with their gray, Champion tee-shirts, their Umbros and high-waisted khakis, blonde hair in soccer mom bobs, huge smiles. I watched a group set up a play area at the park for the local kids. I just knew they weren't from New York. They were too…happy. And it occurred to me, they must be Christian and Christians from out of town no less, because I'm not sure even New York Christians are as happy as Midwestern Christians. Maybe New Yorkers are just unhappy, but more likely they are unhappy because they are heathens. I have never considered New Yorkers to be a depressed people, but compared to these radiating, middle state Christians, we all look like we should be on wilbrutran.
All the Christians I meet are happy. I met some in line for a Broadway show, the woman's son had just been in a devastating car accident and was terribly maimed, her mother was an out of work, alcoholic, diabetic with no legs, but God saved her, and they're all totally thrilled. My cousins in Iowa, the kindest people you could meet, Born Again Christians and they're happy, and so nice even to Jews and gay people who they think are going to hell.
This group in the park, it turns out, were from Atlanta. They had pizza and were handing out tracts and had organized games. The local kids, mostly Blacks and Hispanics, really participated and enjoyed themselves. So here they were proselytizing, but also feeding kids and showing them a good time. I did wonder if the soccer moms, behind their sincerity and smiles, looked down at the ethnic city mothers with thongs peeping half moon-like from their low riders. Christians might be happy, but they don't wear thongs. Ah! Maybe that's why they're so happy.
So I see all these happy Christians, most of the Christians I meet, all of them radiantly happy, that I've started to wonder if maybe Jesus really is behind it all. Does accepting Jesus as your personal savior make you a happier person? Is that what this is all about? Do they know something I don't? It's not impossible. A friend who was once a bible thumper told me that Jesus, or rather the way he played out in her youth groups and bible study, gave her low self esteem and a nagging sense that she was supposed to be happy but wasn't. She's an atheist now so maybe she hadn't really accepted Jesus whole-heartedly after all. She wasn't a true believer, and that's why she wasn't happy. I have considered converting. I would have to get my teeth whitened if I'm going to start smiling like they do. With this new Christian pop, even the music is not so horribly bad.
But I think these Christians are happy not because of Jesus, but because they are blonde. Something in that blonde beingess, that celestial Midwestern blondness makes them happier. They made Jesus blonde, all the angles are blonde (ever seen a red head angel, even brunette angels are very rare). Who came up with the phrase "blondes have more fun"? Jesus did. It's in the New Testament. Maybe I don't have to convert to Christianity to be impossibly happy, I just have to convert to Clairol.
Also, I think this idea of Jesus as your "personal savior" sounds very 1990's. Has that always been the company line? It's so me-oriented. Personal Savior, Personal Trainer, Personal Dietician. Who is Jesus in the 2000s? Does he mind that I'm paying too much for rent? Who is he kidding with that 'I died for your sins?' There are men and women dying in Iraq all the time for our sins. Do you think Jesus would get his long golden locks Japanese straightened like I have? Would Jesus spare a dime, or a cigarette for those homeless by choice kids in Thompkins Park? Wouldn't he know better?