Around the time Suzanne began to worry that her father might be consigned to Hell simply for being a Methodist, I developed an interest in exploring those Sins available to me on the streets of New York. Having come from a long line of lapsed Presbyterians, we'd had little instruction in the avoidance of sin, so when I came upon a slide show in Sunday School devoted to the subject, it was instantly apparent that all seven sins were an integral part of life as I knew it, or wished to know it. Indeed, far from being shunned, some of these transgressions, like Gluttony, appeared to be celebrated in the rush from church to the groaning board, where a Sunday dinner of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and Dusty Millers might be washed down with magnums of Merlot and buckets of Bloody Marys before even a soupcon of the Sermon had been digested.
It was Lust, of course, that captured our imaginations. Wrath seemed to be a familiar component of my father's character and he'd have been the first to point out that it didn't appear that I had too much to be particularly proud of at the time. I'd already noticed Sloth lounging indolently around my periphery but had yet to fully embrace it as a lifestyle - and most of us knew a little something of Avarice and Envy - but it was Lust that appeared like a distant peak that needed scaling simply because it was there. To that end a few of my schoolmates and I might ride the bus down to the Village on Saturday morning to gawk at dissolute Beats and Folkies before wending our way on foot back uptown along Sixth and Seventh Avenues, speculating on whether this or that passing pedestrian could be a hooker, might the red light at the entrance to any random alley indicate a whore-house or whether there was any truth to the theory that a pair of sneakers slung over the power lines might secretly signify a loose woman's apartment. Always more comfortable imagining Sin than engaging in it, when one of these working girls actually approached me a few years later to offer me a date, it took a full measure of stumbling confusion and chagrin before it dawned on me that she wasn't talking about a piece of fruit.
The epicenter of Sin in the City, Times Square, was our ultimate destination. There we could buy a bag of Borkham Riff and a corncob pipe, maybe even a warm quart of Ballentine to share in the shadows beneath the tawdry marquees advertising such things as Topless-A-Go-Go and Girls, Girls, Girls! Lacking the courage to try to get in to any of these places, we'd content ourselves with peering through the plate glass of the porno shops, studying the posters of Candy Barr and the legendary Carol Doda and discussing the convoluted carnal hi-jinx that might be on display in such films as Mondo Keyhole and Sin in the Suburbs. After a slice or two at the Papaya King we'd turn our attention to the penny arcades and spend an hour or so playing pin-ball before buying a racy flip-book or nudie neck-tie and heading back uptown.
On one such meandering trek we passed an ancient black man pressed up against a chain-link fence in the style of the Crucifixion, legs crossed, arms outstretched, his hands clutching at the links. A roaring fire danced from a trash barrel before him and as we passed his head lolled to the side, his eyes rolled to the whites and he cried out, “ You will burn! You boys will burn in the hellfire of the Lord's damnation!” We looked away and quickened our pace, as we had learned to do at all such urban encounters with the ravers and madmen. And as this brimstone faded into the cacophony of Gotham and the chill receded from my spine I wondered ...
How could he have known?