Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Of God and Liquor

"I have seen the sleeping knights of Jesus
Gazing out across the open sea
I have seen the sleeping knights of Jesus
And they look extremely tired to me.

Dying of starvation in the gutter (in the gutter)
That is all the future holds for me (holds for me)
Or alcoholic poisoning in the toilet of my choice
That's all there is as far as I can see..."

-Robyn Hitchcock

On my many walks and bicycle rides around the East Bay, I am time and again drawn to the many old-timey signs on the Churches and liquor stores. I have to admit I am both drawn to and repulsed by both of these institutions. Churches for their architectural splendor and their ability to turn people into monsters; liquor stores and their ample alcohol with its pleasant intoxicating effects and its ability to turn people into monsters.

Last week I happened across a man splayed out upon a bench at a BART station. He had imbibed a bit too much, vomited, passed out, and pissed himself. The paramedics were called. At least he only did it to himself. Many others just like this man might find themselves behind the wheel of a car where they injure or kill themselves, or someone else's son or daughter. Or maybe they'll simply return home and hurt a loved one. Similarly, earlier in the month our good friends at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints encouraged the people of California to pass a ballot measure that writes discrimination into the state's Constitution. This institution of good will and morality encouraged mistrust and discrimination of a minority group.

They don't make them like they used to. The sign on the Pentecostal Church at 38th and Telegraph almost looks older than the church itself. Does Jesus save only Pentecostals? Or Pentecostal Churches? Or maybe only this particular church?

I'm an Oregon native. In Oregon, the sale of liquor is controlled by the state and liquor is only sold in special liquor stores. Conversely, liquor stores in California do not sell only liquor. It's just the common name for convenience stores. Many of the liquor stores in this area are owned by immigrant families carving out their own piece of the American dream. There are a lot of stories in these places.

The All Nations Church of Christ is a small attractive church on the South Berkeley/North Oakland border. I like their cross.

Williams Liquor, only a few blocks from my humble abode, has a sign that lights up in the evenings. It's really quite a sight to behold. Many a thirsty traveller has felt relief upon spotting the flickering lights.

Lily of the Valley Baptist is a small and unassuming church on San Pablo Blvd. in Berkeley. Their sign which may or may not light up at night is more visible than the small cross.

While liquor and organized religion often provide us with comfort and solace through tough times, they can at times reveal our most appalling selves. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, let's forget about all that and be thankful for their aesthetically pleasing qualities here in the East Bay. I don't know why so many of these old signs still exist, but I'm certainly grateful for them.


nicklally said...

i like these photos. the williams sign is amazing.

a said...

if you come by some evening, we can make the pilgrimage to the sign when it's lit up. I'll buy you a tall can.

nicklally said...

i will take you up on that offer next time i'm in town.

julie said...

These are very American, I feel. Here alcohol is sold in supermarkets, and the Catholic church has a monopoly.

Robyn said...

Great post! I think we purchased a six-pack at William's while we were in town.
So you're a Robyn Hitchcock (and the Soft Boys) listener too, huh?

a said...

Why yes, I am a huge robyn hitchcock fan. I saw the softboys when the reformed some years ago. I was also supposed to see hitchcock's performance of the album "I Often Dream Of Trains" in San Francisco the other week, but I totally spaced it!

Robyn said...

I took 2 tapes to China when I taught English there in mid-eighties. One was the Soft Boys. Compiled by Dave (huge, huge fan). He puts on a great show!