Monday, July 12, 2010

Kabbalah, Air Conditioning: Same Thing, Right?

Kabbalah, on the side of an AC van
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

I spotted this Hebrew genome on the side of a van advertising air conditioning services outside a tapas restaurant in Chelsea, New York City. I won't lie; it warmed my heart. There's a certain magic in witnessing that hybrid of business and personal belief painted on the side of an otherwise nondescript white van. A different approach from the Christians who lined Bourbon Street in New Orleans, passing out literature on how to save your soul printed on what looked deceptively like drink tickets. But both actions sum up an essentially American experience: the freedom of expression, hidden in the guise of a business enterprise.

Williamsburg is evenly split between Hasidic Jews, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, and bonafide, tight-pants-wearing, fixie-riding hipsters. I couldn't help remembering the cheer of "There are NO CATS in AMERICA" from Fieval Goes West, wondering if each one of these disparate groups came to New York with a different city in mind.

On the way home, we crossed Nevada from Zion National Park en route to Yosemite. Bathrooms are few and far between on Nevada freeways, and so we were grateful to find a rest stop in a tiny, seemingly nameless town. The building was oddly familiar, and a memory came to me as we drove past the saloon doors to its other entrance, one advertising cherries and women. I'd been here before as an eight year old girl on a family trip, desperate for the bathroom. The door to the restaurant was locked, and so I walked around to the other little building, where fancy looking people waved from the windows. I had just reached for the door handle when my father pulled me back to the car.

"Julia, you can't go in there," he said.

"I've got to pee!" I wailed.

"Squat by the car," he said. "Nobody'll look."

Confused, but with no other option, I acquiesced, and it wasn't until we'd driven another sixty or seventy miles til my parents agreed to tell me why I couldn't just use the bathroom with the pretty ladies in it.

This time, the saloon was open, and we went in. While in the bathroom, I found a small comic book entitled "The Assignment." Intrigued, I pocketed it, and as we drove away, I was reminded again of the American desire to infiltrate personal beliefs into the greater world. The little flip book told the story of a man who didn't believe in Jesus, and his gnarly end. It ended with a short prayer to help newcomers enter Jesus into their lives, an act which, its authors promised, would be a matter of heaven or hell. The little notebook was strategically placed in the bathroom of a saloon-come-brothel, and I, a traveling agnostic Jew-at-best, took it home with me as a souvenir of the insistence of American expression.

Now all I need to do is find a van that advertises comics for Jesus, but in reality sells insurance.

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