My neighborhood has been going to hell for fourteen years, according to the man in my complex who drives a Trans Am and knows my name and always makes a point of calling me by it but whose name I’ve forgotten and now it’s nearly two years and much too late to ask him for it again. He has been watching it happen for that long. The people selling religion see this as a rich market and come by an awful lot. Today the flavor was Mormon Jesus, Church of Latter Day Saints.
Three young–when did I get to be old? When exactly did people in their late teens and early twenties start to look so innocently young to me? As if they’d never known real hurt or heartbreak, and haven’t stopped doing home surgery, with a utility knife and some vodka to sterilize the wound? Do I still look this young to people? How can I use this to my advantage? Shit–three young men, with name tags, ties, and short-sleeved, buttoned-down shirts rang my bell today. That’s who is keeping that look alive, besides caricatures of accountants and milquetoast bosses in movies and television. My buttons say I got the memo, but my short sleeves say I’ll never read it. I hate those shirts as much as I hate rug accessories for toilet tanks. Both seem unsanitary.
Oh, Christ, was the first thing I thought when I opened the door and saw them, so mission accomplished!
“I’m not interested,” I said, as soon as I finished opening the door. I caught them before the Good News even left their lips.
“We just want–” the scruffy, tiny one started.
“Really, God bless you, but I couldn’t be less interested.” I find if you say some blessings to them, they’ll leave you alone with less of a fight. They figure you’re less damned or something. First circle of hell only.
“May I ask you your religious affiliation?” This was the ambitious, tall one, who thought if he could just keep me talking he could get a sale. He was crafty. I hadn’t slammed the door on them yet, so they still had a glimmer of hope.
“Raised Episcopalian. No interest in religion now. Good luck on your mission.”
“Could I just give you a website to look at?” He starts to reach for something in his pocket. I can tell you that under no circumstances do I want any strange guy to ask me this question and hand me anything. That’s always creepy. Try that in a bar or a library, guy, and watch how fast you get a knee to the groin. I don’t know where your hands have been, and I don’t want to look at your porn, religious or otherwise. Personally, I think a lot of pictures of Jesus are really porny. With this hot young guy all moaning in ecstasy and beat up and restrained. If you put any normal person in his place with that expression it’s sadomasochistic bondage porn. It upsets my mother to no end when I say things like that.
“Uh, no.” I start some hot door-closing action. I’m serious. Keep your filth to yourselves, Mormons.
“Do you know any of your neighbors that we could talk to about Jesus?” Like I’m going to turn you loose on them. You don’t know this neighborhood. I don’t want someone to wax my ass because I sent some fools to their door.
“Nope. Sorry. God bless you this holiday season.” More door closing. But I feel sorry for them at this point. I’ve seen them in East Palo Alto, too. Do they just find the most ghetto-ass neighborhoods they can and work them? Because from the Mormons I’ve known and the demographics of this area, I think you’ll have better luck elsewhere, friends. A lot of us know that the few menfolk around here couldn’t be ordained in your church until 1978. (Think the ghetto doesn’t know about this? People who aren’t educated are surprisingly well-educated when it comes to matters of injustice against them.) That makes for a really hard sell.
“Look, do you know of any place we can be of service around here? We just want to help.” Now he sounds desperate, as if he needs to make some kind of sale or else the boss is going to take the gas money he spent driving around out of his paycheck again, and he won’t make rent or something. The cheeriness is out of his voice, and he’s just pleading now.
I tell them about the Salvation Army near here. He asks very specifically where it is, and if I know of any programs going on over there. I just tell them I see a lot of people lined up for food.
“Maybe we can help serve food or something,” he says, half-heartedly.
“Well, good luck to you.” I finally am free of them, but I feel bad for the kids. Kids. They’re only twelve or fourteen years or sixteen younger than me. And now they are children. But yeah, if I was dropping acid and driving Seabiscuit the station wagon when you were born, you are a mere child when you come to my door.
How hardened will they be after their mission, these Mormons? Will they be out of love with the world? Will they stop believing that they can make a difference? Will they have hawked Jesus to even one person? Will they get hurt? Seriously, I fear for them a little around here. Maybe they’ll be really committed to the world, and they’ll know they can make a difference, and they’ll have converted dozens, and beat up a gang leader. I don’t know.
How many kids on mission stop believing? That has to be one of the loneliest feelings ever. Two years selling a product you know in your heart is garbage. Trying to convince the people that it’s gold. Trying not to let on to the other salesmen what you know, trying to belong. Every night, staring up at the ceiling, no more prayers to keep you warm, just emptiness. The churning feeling that you could do something bad and it wouldn’t even matter if no one knew. You’re responsible for yourself now. When you die you won’t see Scott again. He really is gone forever and you can’t say you’re sorry.
For some, the atheism may be a comfort, though, after years of confusion. Finally, some rest. Knowing, instead of the nebulous doubt. Understanding why your pleas to a god never were answered, why things seemed random. They were. Why the texts are so strange: because they really aren’t divine. Relaxing now, and really living life. No more esoteric, arbitrary rules determining your destiny. You have control now.
How many of them fall in love with the other boys they’re on mission with? It must happen. Does the little scruffy one think about taller charismatic talker? Does he hate that the chatty one always takes over every encounter at the neighborhood doors? And that he has such big hands? Does he try to think about soft, squishy girls, but gets distracted by the idea of a sharp collarbone, straight hips, a hard pectoral? Unclean. Must not.
Does he know the tall boy thinks of him, too? Wonders if he was impressed with his performance today? Oh, if only! The fur of him. And his voice, it hits a banjo twang just under his breastbone. It makes him smile, a dreamy, far-off, half-smile, and when people ask him what he’s thinking about, he just says, “Our Savior.”