Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Translucent Figure of Jesus Appeared on Prince Street

A translucent figure of Jesus with his arms outstretched and marked by simulated nails through his palms and feet and a wound on his side appeared on Prince Street in lower Manhattan in May of 2006. The figure was held to a flagpole by a thin wire attached to it's back. Few people even looked up and saw it, although it was over three feet tall. But Toni Rosa at Buffa's Deli instantly recognized it and alerted all the customers that something strange was going on. Jimmy Wright, a regular at Buffa's, said he saw the figure the night before and the place where the nails and the wound were was glowing red. Later we found out that the figure was made out of transparent tape with a hollow center by the Washington D.C. artist Mark Jenkins. The lights were tiny and powered by small flat batteries taped to the figure.

Toni Rosa came to the conclusion that it was an anti Catholic image and it began to spook her the more she thought about it. Why was it there in so secular a context? Why was it there at all? Toni was really getting upset. Everyone in the restaurant began to get upset. A group of cops were having breakfast at the time and Toni knew all of them. One of them joked that if she did not like the figure, which everyone could see from the window's at Buffa's, she could blast away at it with his gun from just outside the restaurant. The officer took out his gun and laid it on the table . Toni was really tempted and reached for it and then thought she had better not. She said that she was a lousy shot and would probably kill an innocent passer by if she tried to hit it. Toni then asked me if I could somehow get it down because it was spooking her and everyone else. Almost nobody at Buffa's wanted to look at it but everyone was talking about it.

I asked around later that morning or early in the afternoon and I persuaded some of the workmen who were digging out our basement to get a tall ladder and get the figure for me. They brought one of their ladders out and in a few seconds I held the offending figure in my arms. I then brought it over to Buffa's to show it to Toni , John, Tillie, Zack and a few others. It looked even more uncanny when it was indoors because it began to light up. That really did it. Toni called it unholy and spooky and she began to punch at it with her fists. John, the owner, said that he could not look at such a terrible thing and I should get it out of his restaurant as soon as possible. They all agreed that it should be cut apart and Toni ran into the kitchen to get a knife. I ran out of the restaurant with the figure. Once outside it stopped glowing.

I asked Rhett Butler , the owner of a wholesale hardware store on the first floor of our building, if I could store the figure in his basement for safe keeping . He said yes and the workmen took it. The crew then lowered the figure into the basement through two open steel vault door.To me it looked like the descent from the Cross as the figure was lowered . Then the steel doors clamped shut. I swore at that moment that if the doors somehow swung open by themselves and the figure rose up to Heaven I would become a Catholic.

That was not the end of the story. On June 15th, 2006, Jimmy Wright, an artist who lived on the Bowery , decided that he wanted to figure. I told him that it was presently in the basement across the street but that I would see if I could get it for him. I asked Rhett about it and a little later he found it in a corner of the basement and gave it to me. By that time it had been stripped of it's small red lights which had made it glow in the dark. Rhett said that he was glad to get rid of it because his workers did not like it and were scared of it. They too found it spooky and decidedly uncanny. Of course by that time they had secularized or neutralized the figure by having removed the red lights and the batteries, but we all knew the truth. It was still eerie and it was still giving off a strange aura. I say this because it had an unsettling effect on everyone who saw it.

I stored the figure in our loft on the second floor and the next morning I brought it over to Buffa's to give it to Jimmy. When I walked through the door with it it caused another commotion. John did not want it in his Restaurant and said I should put it in the basement until Jimmy arrived. Then he changed his mind and called the large figure an evil voodoo doll. He wanted it off his property and he would not even look at it. He claimed it had the evil eye, but in reality it had no eyes at all. John was getting very, very upset. Then Toni started to punch the figure again and ran into the kitchen a second time to get a knife. She agreed with John that it was an evil voodoo doll and had to be cut into little pieces. When Zack began to punch at it I ran out of the restaurant with the figure of Jesus in my arms. Almost everyone in the restaurant agreed that it was an evil voodoo doll and that it had a bad hex on it. I brought it back to my loft. By the time Jimmy arrived for lunch he got the whole story and he told me that the place was in an uproar. It was. So I went from Buffa's back to the loft to get the offending figure to give to Jimmy. By that time I was glad to get rid of it. As soon as I had walked back into Buffa's with it and had given it to Jimmy Toni and John said they wanted Jimmy out of the restaurant at once. After he and the large doll were gone almost everyone agreed that the figure would bring him bad luck and he was crazy to even want it. Later Jimmy told me that he thought that some very primitive forces had been unleashed by the doll and he was glad to have gotten it home in one piece. To him it was a work of art. Frankie Corso, another regular who was there and saw everything , said that the whole thing was stupid and shook his head in disbelief.

For me, to actually see the effect that a religious figure had on part of the neighborhood was to experience first hand a regression from reason to an atavism which was startling. In no more than a few moments the outer core of what we call civilization was burst open and everything that had been repressed returned with uncanny power. Only Freud would have known what to make of it all.

It turned out that Mark Jenkins in collaboration with the Graffiti Research Lab had placed another similar figure on a lamp post near Lafayette and Kenmare Streets a few blocks away. Jimmy had been in touch with the artist through the internet and he found the whole thing astonishing. By August of 2006 the figure on Lafayette and Kenmare was also gone.

I like to think that the figure was put up on Prince Street by the artist as a silent rebuke to the row upon row of boutiques which line the street and the huge advertising signs which trumpet our materialistic society to one and all. I like to think that it was a rebuke to all those tourists who now mindlessly swarm though our neighborhood like hungry locusts. I like to think that the figure was saying that there is more to life than the gathering of material possessions. I know, of course, that the artist and many others may have different ideas about why the figure was placed there, but this is what I choose to believe.

None of the old time residents want to see our neighborhood become another outdoor shopping mall like SoHo. And make no mistake, our neighborhood is fast becoming nothing but a shopping mall. I have seen shoppers come to town on chartered buses which park on Lafayette Street just below Spring . They come from places as far away as Connecticut, Pennsylvania and even Delaware and Maryland to shop here. And they come here from Europe as well. One wonders if shopping malls , theme parts, gambling casinos, sports stadiums and hyped media are all that our culture can offer. If so, the utter vacuity of it all is a sad commentary on the promise which was once called The American dream.

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