The new Crusades

Today a family of street preachers set up their mission from God across the street from my fish stand, at Telegraph Ave & Haste Street. Some vendors were complaining, because these particular Christians are well-known for their electronically cranked-up volume.

It's very difficult to conduct business when the gospel is being broadcast at fifty decibels. Amplified street preachers cut into sales by maybe 25%.

Free speech, though, is especially for the most obnoxious among us, so I tried to be patient, and even said that to one of the vendors complaining near me.

As if on cue, a homeless green-haired street kid suddenly started shouting at the Christians and passers-by, things like, "Fuck your Christianity" and "Satan is a better choice," and I knew a bad day was about to get worse.

Some of the vendors were cheering the heckler on, hoping he'd drive the super-loud Christians away, but weirdly, just this once, I was rooting for the Christians. They didn't deserve to be heckled, at least not yet.

Later, yeah, but not yet. At first they seemed to be Christians in the good sense of the word, and yeah, there is a good sense. They weren't threatening the crowd with hellfire and damnation, or yelling insults like the Christians a few weeks ago (7/29). They weren't even preaching, mostly just singing Christian folk songs. It was nauseating, sure, but so am I. So are you.

When the street kid ripped down a banner the Christians had tied to a fence, and cussed 'em out, and called the Christians cocksucking buttlicking motherfucking assholes, there was no doubt who the asshole was, and this time it wasn't the Christians.

I briefly heckled the kid, even tried to get some of my neighbor vendors and others to join in the heckling. It was just me, though, so after hollering a few insults, I shut up and worked my stand, just watching and waiting to see what would happen next.

Jesus, some of the things that stupid skinhead said and did. He screamed at the Christians, pounded on a garbage can to drown out their music, flipped 'em off a thousand times, raspberried them, did a swivel-hips 'fuck you' dance, echoed them, and did everything short of dropping his shorts to give them a bare-ass salute.

And you know what? The Christians never screamed back at him. They talked to people, off-microphone, quietly sharing their dingbat gospel, and they politely talked to the obnoxious teenager, which only made him shriek even louder. After a few minutes, the punk got bored and walked away.

After that, though, the Christians turned their microphones over to their children. One-by-one, each well-scrubbed rosy-cheeked preacher's kid sang a solo, and — Holy Mary, mother of God. Hearing "Jesus Loves Me" sung by a 5-year-old who can't carry a tune, at top volume through jumbo-size speakers, is not an experience that brings anyone closer to God. It brought me close to insanity.

Then the 5-year-old handed the mike to a 4-year-old, who made it through about three bars of "Jesus Loves the Little Children" before forgetting the lyrics, which gave Telegraph Avenue ten seconds of blessed silence — until she started the song over again, for Christ's sake.

The third and last kid was the kicker, and I wanted to kick her. She might've been all of three years old, and by the diaper bulge over her butt you could tell she wasn't even potty-trained. She could barely stand, and she couldn't sing, and yet her parents had ordered her to belt out, "I've Got the Joy Joy Joy Joy Down in My Heart."

God, it was depressing, and more than I could tolerate. I asked my neighbor-vendor to watch my stand, ran across the street, and cornered one of the grown-up Christians I thought might be the father of one or more of these abused children. "What have we done to deserve this torture?" I yelled in his face.

"I think it's beautiful," he answered, all calm and Christ-like. Is it live, I wondered, or is it Thorazine?

"She's making my ears bleed," I said, pointing at the kid, "and how can you be so damned cruel to these children?"

"She wants to sing," he said, still pleasantly, "and isn't she cute?"

"Cute?" I asked, unbelieving. "It ought to be illegal what you're doing to these kids, it's hell on earth hearing it, and don't you lie to me—" and at that the man opened his eyes a little wider, showing some human reaction at last "—that 'she wants to sing'."

"She does!" he said earnestly. "She's my daughter, and I should know." He still wasn't angry, so I had to try harder.

"Yeah, damned right you should know," I said. "You should know that's a load of horseshit. She didn't want to play in the park? She didn't want to stay home and watch Mr Magoo? No, she frickin' wanted to stand on the corner and sing a song she doesn't know the tune for, let alone the meaning? My ass."

Then came the finest moment of my day. Just when I thought I'd made a fool of myself, and was ready to give up and go back to selling fish, a voice interrupted from behind. "While I wouldn't put it quite so emphatically as Doug, I must say, I do agree."

I turned to see who was taking my side, and it was Midget, another vendor. Midget is a giant man, hence the nickname, and he sells intricate metal-works on the Ave. A few days ago he'd said something kind about the fish, and we'd briefly chatted, so I knew he was all right, but until then I hadn't known he was All Right.

For a few minutes we argued together against that Christian, Midget without my increasing vulgarities, and me without his even, measured tone of voice. It was pointless, though. What, we're going to talk a Christian out of Christianity?

When the kid had finished screeching her song, a cop approached, so it seemed like a good idea for me to go back to hawking fish. After I'd walked away, Midget talked to the cop, and asked him to enforce some little-known and seldom-used city law that regulates the max volume of amplified sound on the street. To my pleasant surprise, the cop spoke to the Christians, and they pumped down the volume.

As Midget passed my table on his way to his, I shook his hand and gave him his choice of any fish on my table. He took LSD (the fish, not the drug).

♦ ♦ ♦

As I wheeled my cart away at the end of the day, a woman selling jewelry at the corner smiled at me and said hi. Wasn't sure who she was, but I'm never sure. She looked sorta-kinda-maybe familiar, but I'm lousy with names and faces. Lousy with humans, really. Knew I'd seen her before, so I smiled and waved as I walked by. 

It was a hundred footsteps until the realization — she was one of the censorship queens who'd tried to have Jay's poetry banned in Berkeley. Why would that woman say hello to me?

People are such peculiar things. After what she'd tried, now she wants to be on decent terms with me? In what world, bitch? I wanted to backtrack to her table, withdraw my wave and smile and trade 'em for a well-earned hand gesture.

She was half a block behind me, though. I was walking away, and 'away' felt like the place to be.

From Pathetic Life #15
Saturday, August 12, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

No comments:

Post a Comment

🚨🚨 Click here if you have problems posting a comment. 🚨🚨