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Inarguably fucked up in the head

In the Mission, there are preachers at the BART station every weekend, sometimes more than one preacher, and sometimes during the week, too. In Berkeley, we only get street preachers once a month or so, mouthing their message for morons. Today was their January visit.

If they stood on a corner, shouting and singing their stupidity into my ears all day, I would simply take three aspirin and ignore them. Free speech is cool. I approve, even when I disagree.

I don't think the founding fathers anticipated public proselytizing through big portable speakers, though. 

Jesus H Christ, as I recall, spoke without electronically-amplified sound, and through the strength of his thoughts and his throat, thousands listened. His modern-day disciples use high-power portable public address systems, and thousands walk by and couldn't care less.

Whatever the message, whether religion or politics or advertising beer, it is fucking rude to blast it via microphones into a public space. So I retaliated, as best I could, taunting them with whatever rudeness I could think of, between customers at the sacrilegious fish stand. 

When they sang their insipid songs, with their hands raised as if their palms were satellite dishes receiving signals from Heaven, I stood and reflected their silliness right back at them. I danced to their awful music about their awful God, with exaggerated arm gestures pointing to my rectum and groin. Now and again I screamed insults at them, or waved my display Darwin (it's as big as my head) at them.

Without a microphone, I couldn't annoy them as much as they annoyed me, and it wouldn't be possible to mock them more than they mocked themselves, so eventually I gave up and simply glared at them.

Listening to the lyrics of their songs, sung off-key of course, would be enough to make any thinking person into an atheist, but there aren't many thinking people.

"Verily, verily, I love you Jesus, you are my Lord," was the recurring chorus of one number. What does that even mean?

Another big hit — they sang it several times during the long afternoon — included this line at the end of every verse, and repeated three times as the chorus: "Jesus has ahold of my life, and he won't let me go." Ain't it the truth, verily.

A young man in a wheelchair rolled up the street, headed toward the Christians. He wheeled right past my table, so I got a good look at him, and especially at the medallion draped over his bare chest: a silver Christ in agony on a wooden cross about the size of your hand. Another crucifix with another dying Christ was affixed to the hub of his wheelchair's wheel, so Jesus was turning somersaults as the wheelchair wheeled along. Dangling by a thin chain, a third cross was suspended over the man's face, with the horizontal wood crossing his forehead and the vertical wood riding his nose. That third cross had no Christ, though.

I've seen horror movies that didn't give me the shivers like that man in a wheelchair, and when he'd rolled past, I could see a fourth cross draped over the backside of the lunatic's chair. This last cross included Jesus again, and it was quite large, three feet tall, with the base of the cross dragging on the sidewalk behind him, perhaps all the way to Golgotha.

He rolled himself to the corner, parked his chair a little too close to the preacher, and that's where the man in the wheelchair sat for the next few hours, listening intently and holding a Bible. I didn't have the cruelty to shout out for a miracle, so we could see him clamor out of his chair and boogie to the righteous rock, but I thought about it. Thought about a lot of divinely rude things I might've said, if I'd had a microphone to match the preachers. 

And here's one last detail so dippy you'll think I made it up, but I swear, verily, it's the gospel truth:

To nurture the body better than the soul, the Christians had prepared sandwiches, dozens, which they handed to anyone who looked hungry. And that's kinda Christlike, yes, but they brought only one kind of sandwich: baloney!

I didn't take one, but Umberto did, and brought it over to show me — baloney on white bread, with mayonnaise, and nothing else. We laughed and laughed, and you could choke on the symbolism.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Being loudly preached at all morning and afternoon, in public, in a situation where I couldn't leave, was thoroughly unpleasant. No amount of baloney could ease the frustration.

By any sane definition, those Christians were not sane. I ain't saying all Christians are crazy, but those Christians were. It's the difference between having a beer after work and drinking two six-packs alone.

Anyone who would talk about Jesus into a microphone for hours and hours, someplace where nobody wants to hear it, is inarguably fucked up in the head.

♦ ♦ ♦

It wasn't on my agenda, but as quitting time came around, so did Josh. He invited me to dinner, and tonight's show at the Pacific Film Archive. He was buying, and I needed to get Jesus out of my head, so away we went.

Dinner was fishburgers from a street vendor, very yummy, with root beer. Grazi, Josh.

Mr Dynamite (1935) stars Edmund Lowe as T N Thompson (TNT = Mr Dynamite, get it?). He's a hot-shot private detective trying to solve a murder that's happened at a casino.

The dialogue is roughly an even split of cliché and corny retorts, but there's an antique appeal when lines like "Go powder your nose" are delivered with flippant sincerity. One scene plainly alludes to cops beating a suspect for information, something rarely acknowledged in mainstream movies even in our time. Other than that, the movie was nothing memorable, but it wasn't boring, and wasn't bad. 

The Squeaker (1937) stars Edmund Lowe again — big movie star, I guess, but I'd never heard of him until tonight — and he's more likable than in the first movie, playing an alcoholic ex-Scotland Yarder tracking a fence who might or might not be a murderer. The mystery, though, is anything but mysterious, and the conclusion is so dumb that Josh and I both said, "Ah, jeez." 

The theater had grown uncomfortably warm. I took my jacket off, along with my sweater and shirt, and watched the last half of the second movie in just my t-shirt and britches. Man, it must've been 80° in the PFA, like the boiler had boiled over.

What with the heat plus it was getting late, Josh and I were both drowsy, and he seemed to be half-hinting that he wouldn't mind cutting out before the third feature. The PFA shows weird and rare movies, though, and if you miss 'em you might never get another chance. So we stayed, with the agreement that if the movie sucked, either of us could tap the other on the shoulder and we'd split.

It did not suck and we did not split.

The Spider and the Fly (1949) tells a wry, understated tale of almost brotherly competition between a safecracker and the cop who's caught him a few times, and lost him a few times. They like each other, quip cleverly, go out for a cup of coffee together, and eventually fall in love with the same dame, all while the thief and the detective — the spider and the fly — try to anticipate each other's next move.

As the film progressed, I was fearing either a tap on the shoulder from Josh or that the story might take a wrong turn, and become another routine cops and robbers flick. Neither tragedy happened.

All the movie's many twists are perfectly executed, and when the story reaches its utterly satisfying conclusion… it's still not quite over. I was ready to lead the applause for an all-dead cast and crew, but instead there's a whole new set of tensions. 

All along it's full of fabulous flourishes and dagger-like dialogue, all stylishly mounted and expertly underacted. I especially liked the underacting — a lot of the lines are almost whispered, which adds more to the drama than a dozen of Al Pacino's raging rants. The Spider and the Fly is a joy, a film I'd happily pay to see again.

Josh wasn't quite as enthusiastic about it, and confessed that he'd nodded off, but he said he'd take my word that it was great.

From Pathetic Life #20
Saturday, January 6, 1996

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.

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