There I was, tripping merrily along between the Centre Pompidou and the Hôtel de Ville on the rue du Renard (Not really. That’s the Hollywood version. I was struggling through pedestrian traffic doing the usual “sudden stop wait sidestep sigh” on the unbearably crowded sidewalk, just trying to get the hell home), returning from coffee with a friend at the Café Beaubourg…
…when I saw this in a tacky souvenir shop:
First thought: Going for that American tourist dollar. Second thought: Even little souvenir vendors in Paris know America’s full of religious extremists. Third thought: How fucking embarrassing. Fourth thought: Cool shirt, though. Fifth thought: Today’s Jesus wouldn’t love Paris. They show boobs on TV here. Sixth thought: Wonder how many they’ve sold? Seventh thought: Will the godlies go for it or think it’s blasphemy? Eighth thought: Probably a bit of both. Ninth thought: Bold and cynical marketing move.
All this happened in like two strides. My brain’s all fast like that. I walked about 50 feet past it and did a U-turn and went back for the pic. Then I continued on home.
But I kept thinking about the shirt. Like what was up with thought number four? “WTF?” I asked myself. I’m a card-carrying atheist! I hate what all this religious nonsense has done to America! I hate that people there don’t think anymore. I’m appalled and embarrassed that 83% of them think there’s a God who answers their prayers and that only 4 1/2% of them oppose a national prayer day…
“WTF?” I repeatedly repeated to myself. I concluded eventually that it was the graphics. I dig 70s retro to begin with. And that font in the context of the Jesus image reminded me of a time, back when I was a kid, when Jesus Freaks seemed jolly and benign, tossing praise-the-lords around if somebody farted or said his hamburger was good. (Seriously. There were quite a few of them in my family. My childhood Thanksgivings were praise-the-lord hell.)
It was the mid-70s, the flower children were fading, and all they seem to have held on to was Jesus, whom they’d embraced in their make-love-not-war days because he was so laid back and non-judgemental and turned water into wine and hung out with a hooker for chrissakes, so he must be cool.
But as time passed and Jesus got old and crabby, he started getting downright mean. Today’s Jesus (thought number 5) hates hookers and homos and democrats and the meek and the peacemakers and almost everybody, in fact. No way he’d share his five loaves and two fishes with the multitude now! He doesn’t want his tax dollars paying for the multitude’s medical care either! Fuck everybody!
I’d be really surprised if today’s Jesus loved Paris.
Anyway. Two days later, I went back out of curiosity. I wanted to ask the shop owner about the shirt. Who bought it, if anybody. Whose idea it was. What was the thinking behind it. Stuff like that. I went in, found it on the shelf, and said to the young (30-ish), Arab-looking man in the store that I wanted to try it on. He looked over to his two buddies, nodded and smiled, beaming with pride, his body language saying “See?” He then proudly said to me “It’s my design.” I complimented him on it, saying “It’s cool, I really like the graphic design.” He said “I’m not a Christian, but Jesus is cool.” I said, “Yeah, like Gandhi.” He said, “Hey, you’ve given me an idea for my next shirt!” He then said “I just did it for fun.” This latter remark kind of stopped me from asking if he had made it with American tourists in mind. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that, though.
He showed me another design of his, a t-shirt that said “I am Paris,” explaining that it was because of Johnny Cash, who always said “I am Johnny Cash” when he got on stage. I’ll take his word for it. It was a nice-looking shirt too. I said, “So you’re a designer,” which he denied with modesty, but I insisted that he was. I was sincere. The guy has an eye.
I bought the t-shirt. The fabric is quite thin and it’s tight. My blasphemous boobs in my blasphemous red lace push-up bra will look really good under it.
As I walked home, I reflected on this man who has an obvious creative bent, an obviously kind heart, and a bit of business instinct, whose options are limited by his circumstances. Today’s Jesus would probably hate him.