Light, wet snow dropped in Times Square on a cold drab winter night. Broadway sliced through 7th Avenue like a giant scar, bright red and swollen on dull, frozen skin. Streams of cars, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians moved along the main arteries like rivers of grey ashen blood flowing through bulging veins.
The din of taxi horns and truck engines bounced along the glass facade and rose into the night air like clouds of noise collecting between the buildings, elevating and dissipating in the airspace above the glowing city.
Greyson Holliday, struggling talent coach, agent and scout, staggered down 54th Street, with the radiant warmth of Times Square at his back. He sloshed through the mixture of snow, water and mud-soaked trash along the side of the city streets.
A chestnut vendor huddled close to his oven in front of a Venezuelan steak restaurant. Souvenir shops craved attention with their narrow display windows lit with gaudy flashing lights. Billboards advertising quick loans loomed overhead like they could tear free from the side of the buildings and crash down on him at any moment. They swayed as if blowing in the wind, blurring double as he peered up at them against the falling snow.
The evening had taken its toll on Greyson as they often did. After dancing and grinding for several hours at a nearby nightclub, he and his friend Cidalia Gaudin, a hair and make-up artist from SoHo and her roommate, Hakim El-Amer, a novelty T-shirt vendor in Greenwich Village, settled in for quiet drinks at the Millennium Hotel in Times Square. In the moody hotel lobby bar, they babbled on about celebrities and the New York entertainment scene. They dished rumors about producers, directors and their common acquaintances. They laughed about their own career missteps and flaws.
But as the evening ebbed, their conversation grew more introspective. It started with an innocent comment about the illegitimacy of Scientology as a religion and moved into more serious territory from there. In their drunken state, they engaged in an impromptu philosophical discussion - the kind that can only occur with the right confluence of close friends, late night, and reduced inhibition through alcohol.
Hakim explained how the Koran provided Muslims with indisputable truth of the word of God. He talked about respecting others who held different beliefs. But, in his heart, he feared that they do not know the real word of God and thus could not live in God’s grace after death.
Cidalia espoused her belief and reliance on the bible for guidance in her life. Having been born in New Orleans and attended high school in a Westchester private school, she had a sort of cosmopolitan take on the southern "Bible Belt". She took a position that her religion was right for her but recognized the possibility that other religious groups could also be correct in their interpretation of God’s word.
Greyson, the more inebriated of the group, took in the discussion, but contributed less than his friends. He had come from a highly religious family. His father served as the associate minister of the Congregational church in his home town until retiring last year to develop ministries in foreign countries.
Growing up, his father had served as the head minister in their church, a role he later relinquished to focus more on his own family. His mother organized church events, taught religious education and managed outreach programs throughout the county. They imposed the Bible and the rule of the church on Greyson and his siblings, which he resented. Though he believed in the teachings of the church, he rejected the execution of the theology. He took offense to the constant pressure to conform to a modern-day moral code contingent on words written by old men from thousands of years ago well before the advent of scientific knowledge and explanation and the eternal damnation that served as the penalty for insubordination. As most religions follow similar patterns, Greyson rejected not just his own religion, but all organized religious groups. While he admired the essential teachings of love and peace, professed by most conventional religious organizations, he hated the way in which they pushed their dogma like crack at the edge of the schoolyard.
If only someone could figure out how to preach the essence of religion without the confines of religious organization, he thought.
“You know the Koran was supposed to have been written by Mohamed over the course of like 25 years, but it was hundreds of years after Jesus.” Greyson said, showing off the religious knowledge acquired in college. “Supposedly the angel Gabriel came to him in visions and gave him God’s divine and supreme words. But there are all sorts of stories in there that are identical to the bible even though it was written a thousand years after the death of Christ. The creation of the earth in six days, the story of Noah and the flood, Abraham and Isaac, Sodom and Gomorrah - even Jesus – they’re all in there.”
For Cidalia, the thought of the bible sharing common stories with the Koran came as a shocking surprise. She found the concept unnerving and yet fascinating. She pressed Hakim for more details.
“Is Jesus really in the Koran?”
But Hakim scowled at Greyson’s attack.
“The Bible got it wrong. It is full of lies,” he railed. “The Bible has God resting after creating the world. Why would God need rest? God never tires. God never rests. God is great and all-powerful.”
“It doesn’t matter what the words say,” replied Greyson, the discussion quickly edging from a reflective dialog to a heated debate. “They’re just words written by dudes trying to make sense of the world. It’s the ideas that are important. And the ideals are universal. They help us formulate our own values about how we should treat each other and how we should behave. What’s important is that we see the good in the people around us. Not whether they believe in the same set of religious doctrine as us.
“Who cares whether God rested or not. Who cares if Jesus was the Son of God or just a charismatic and influential thought-leader. And who cares how people choose to worship. No religion is right or wrong. In fact, they’re all off in some way or another. They’re all just collections of guesses packaged as absolutes to give people the confidence to have something they believe in.”
Hakim ignored Greyson.
“Yes, Cid,” he said. “Jesus is in the Koran as a great prophet. But he’s not the son of God.”
“Well I think he is,” Cidalia replied, innocently looking to change the subject and deflect the seriousness of the subject matter. “Let’s talk about something less controversial, like politics or abortion.”
Greyson peered at his short, cute, peppy friend and smirked.
“When Jesus came to the Roman-occupied Middle East, it was the height of human evolution at the time,” he smiled in the smug, pompous manner that always caused Hakim to look away and seek different company. “They had aqueducts bringing running water from place to place. They had roads and ornate sculptures. Their war instruments were the most cutting-edge tools ever invented. They were the most liberated, intellectually sophisticated society the world had ever known.”
“Ok,” Cidalia leaned in as if waiting for a meaningful point. “What does that have to do with Jesus being in the Koran?”
“Put it this way,” Greyson continued. “We are not too different from the Romans. Look at our technology, our architecture, our weapons of war. We are now the most advanced society to ever walk the earth.”
“Um, Ok,” Cidalia looked off, tiring of the entire line of thought.
“And yet, if some guy, some poor, stinky, homeless wretch started wandering the streets claiming to be the son of God, would you believe him?”
“It happens all the time,” Hakim poked into the discussion. “But they are all deluded imposters. Usually they are crazy, deranged individuals. There is no son of God. There is only Mohammed, his mouthpiece and us, his followers.”
“I’d like to think that if Jesus came back, that I would believe in him,” Cidalia pondered. “But how would I know if it was really him or just some crazy guy claiming to be him.”
“That’s just it,” Greyson smirked. “If you want to believe in God, then you have to just believe blindly on faith and hope that your Jesus is the true manifestation of God and not just some whack who did too much acid in the 70s. But it is an interesting question: ’If Jesus came back, would you believe?’.”
“If you did, you’d be a fool,” Hakim’s angry drunk emerged. “And God does not suffer fools. Those who worship false idols will face God’s wrath. We believe that only the teachings of Islam and study of the Koran provides the true path to God’s kingdom.”
“Look what organized religion has done for the world,” Greyson continued to opine, his speech beginning to slur. “Wars, murders, crushades, priests moleshting kids, minishters spending people’s life savings on hookers, Jihad …”
Hakim looked at Greyson with disdain and a “don’t say it …” look on his face. But Greyson couldn’t hold back in his drunken tirade, like a dam with a crack, it all flowed through.
“… September 11th …”
It was around this point that Cidalia jumped in and offered to walk Greyson back to his apartment. Hakim stayed behind to order coffee, cool off and follow a few blocks behind them.
Greyson crossed where a double-parked police car sat next to a broken-down delivery truck jamming traffic and eliciting more loud horn blasts. In front of a gaudy camera store with gadgets of all sizes, shapes, makes and models crowded into a sliver of a display window, he turned and focused his eyes upward into the falling snow to gain his bearings.
Between the camera shop and a 24-hour parking garage, sat the small metal door to his apartment building atop a short set of cement stairs. He paused to read the blurred number above the door and make sure he had stumbled to the right street and building. Behind him, the green and yellow sign above a trendy Asian Fusion restaurant back lit the plain black door. The eerie glow reminded him that he had, in fact, successfully navigated from the hotel to his place - a harrowing two and a half block walk.
“That’s your apartment,” Greyson could hear Cidalia’s soft, sweet voice. He could feel her hand under his right shoulder guiding him toward the step. He tried to formulate words but felt nauseous and instead let out some sort of groan.
“Doesn’t matter what my hair looks like now?” Greyson smirked, not sure if he had successfully made a joke or snarkily insulted his hairdresser friend. “My head is pounding, but I can get up the stairs into bed.”
In his foggy state of mind, he considered the implications of asking her if she wanted to crash in his apartment. Standing there awkwardly, two steps above her and leaning over the railing, he tried to formulate the words required to ask her up to his apartment, but abruptly vomited loudly onto the curb.
Greyson stared at his putrid display of human frailty, winced at the unbearable smell that he had created and declined her offer. Helping himself up, he fumbled for his iPhone.
“You and Hakim don’t need a cab,” he slurred. “I can go get the car out of the garage and drive you downtown. Which way is 54th street?”
“We’re on 54th. Remember? Your apartment is on 54th and your car is also parked in the garage on 54th.”
Greyson looked blankly at her cheerful smile. He fixated on her cute round face, her soft blond hair and the cheerful way her lip curled up in a smile, even as she ranked on him.
"I'm a little off tonight," he lowered his voice to a near whisper as if evading invisible eavesdroppers. "I'd be no fun tonight."
“I’m not looking for fun. I’m just trying to help you out, you ass,” she snapped, before softening slightly. “As much of a dream you would be to any girl after launching your guts out onto the sidewalk like that, I was just concerned about you. That’s all.”
Greyson looked at her surprised, wounded and relieved. He felt his stomach turn again and fought to hold back from throwing up for a second time.
“Hakim is right there,” she gave a dull smile as she pointed at the shadowy figure crossing the street. “I'm all set. Go to bed Greyson.”
“You know,” Greyson muttered as Cidalia moved just out of earshot from him. “Jesus was a drunk too.”