Weariness would be a major theme for the day. It quickly became clear that the apocalyptic proselytizers lacked the mad ebullience so essential to their trade. As they approached Columbus Circle a stately couple emerged from 60 West 59th, and the heirs to the end paused to marvel at the heirs to the past. As they stood in aimless wonder, a group of Burberried theatergoers began taking iPhone pictures of their Judgment Day T-shirts and their backpack billboards, marveling as if this could only be a troupe of accomplished ironists discovered by Bloomberg in Berlin.
“You can pee in the Starbucks,” said Matt Lewis, delivering his tribe to Columbus Circle, then watched the Promise of Urination thin the flock by half.
People who dream of the world ending have usually been treated poorly by it. Here, in the Valley of Those for Whom Things Have Basically Worked Out, they died in a desert of Ivy League mating pairs and families united by fashion, people who had profitably traded Yahweh for Pfizer.
They were mocked and ignored and soon clung together in uncertain groups, weakly sloganeering, and so fiery preaching became cheerless loitering. Soon even imminent destruction couldn’t hold them to their purpose: the toddlers began singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” with the three sullen teens who presently gave them piggy-back rides. “I’ve had a rough marriage,” the hard-nosed, self-made telecom millionaire told a Rodrigues sister, sadly, as if she might heal him.
“Isn’t there another event in the Bronx?” asked the Times‘ Ms. Linderman.
Soon only Charles Manson was really in the game, drawing inspiration from whatever was being piped into his mind through a pair of earphones connected to an RCA Discman, bravely probing the ever-fuzzy boundary between soul-saving and assault, accosting Chinese retail tourists and Greenwich housewives with equal abandon. He chased a frightened businessman through traffic as Matt Lewis declared God’s work in Columbus Circle complete.
The hipster prophet had originally planned on leading the group up to the Met steps, then into Harlem, but now he received somewhat more hipsterly instructions from his hipster God: Matt Lewis would lead all unto the Ninth Avenue Food Festival, where they were serving artisanal soda and $5 roast pig sandwiches.
Thus did they leave Gethsemane for Golgotha.
The festival stretched from 57th street to 42nd, 16 city blocks filled with heirs to every immigrant wave moving through clouds of barbecue smoke. It must have seemed a wonderful opportunity, so many possible converts. But here Matt Lewis overlooked a basic rule of cult-maintenance, that cult members are natural lovers of communal belonging, easily swayed, happily lost in a crowd.
They began disappearing almost upon arrival.
Some traded latter-day evangelism for the cult of the $5 gyro. Others simply disappeared amid the throng of humanity, bright signs lost among so many larger and louder ones proclaiming excellent crepes, quesadillas and falafel.
Soon you could not see any of them, and it seemed as though the May 21 movement, like so many other bad ideas, had been corrected by history’s great steadying rudders, the shortness of the human attention span and the ineffable pleasure of just hanging around.
It seemed things could not get worse, but they did.
First they came for Charles Manson.
He had entered the Food Festival late, triumphant, unbreakable, earphones firmly in place. He tried to save a woman selling calzones, then, rejected, turned to a group of acne-plagued, braces-suffering high school seniors who, he could never have known, had yesterday checked into a nearby Days Inn on a class trip from Raleigh. They were Born Agains from North Carolina’s Wake Christian Academy, and they didn’t just want to talk apocalypse–they wanted to own it.
They agreed with him that God would destroy humanity after floating the faithful to heaven. However, they believed that only faith in Jesus Christ could ensure one’s place among the elect. Here they differed from Manson, who felt that faith-based salvation was vanity. But the Born Agains were far better read and soon set about questioning his scholarship, casting doubts confirmed when he opened his RCA Discman to show the source from which he had been drawing his awesome power all day long: James Earl Jones Reads the Bible, disc 6, John 2:15.
“Yeah, mang!” said Manson as Montana, “That’s the Whirl Ga!”
And if there is a soul, one felt it there as he said this, because he meant the Word of God.
Who, if he does exist, had gifted the long-suffering Carlos Sanchez with sufficient barriers of language, culture and class to protect him from the ensuing teenage laughter, which he took as cheers, beamingly escaping with his faith intact.
Others were not so lucky.
The group possessed a lone fashionista. He wore Ray Bannish sunglasses and John Varvatosesque booties and, down on 42nd Street, was surrounded and outnumbered by the main force of Wake Christian’s Christians. They combined the awesome derisive powers of adolescence with blind faith to achieve the wild ferocity of child soldiers everywhere: “Romans 3:33,” said the corn-silk blonde MacKenzie Hathaway, mercilessly correcting the man’s scriptural quotations; “You wanna go? Let’s go.”
Nicole Smith was lately experimenting with silver eye-glitter, and grinned as in a single voice they mocked the ridiculous logical shortcomings of his apocalypse in comparison to theirs. The Rapture could never be random, they couldn’t make him understand. God hated randomness, and it was very obvious that everyone who had accepted Jesus would naturally fly up through the sky.
The fashionista-apocalyptic huffed-off to find refuge by a sausage stand. There he flipped madly through his Bible, searching for something with which to avenge himself against the Born Agains.
Logan Porter, 17, looked on. “Childish,” he said.