I was discussing with a fellow fan of theater and concerts how we will be experiencing live events and movies in the Age of Covid. I was extolling the virtues of the drive-in, preparing to perform in the Colony Beer Garden, and being optimistic about incorporating protocols like distancing, hygiene, etc.
“It’s just not going to be the same,” she said.
I said: “To quote Barack Obama, ‘Don’t let good be the enemy of perfect.’ To which I would add, don’t even let mediocre be the enemy of perfect at this point.”
Of course we were talking simultaneously about both audience protocols and the upcoming election. But upon sharing, and altering, the above maxim, I was transported back to the Eighties, as often happens these days, to a guy who first got me thinking about the concept of perfection.
In my teens, I crossed paths with a self-professed “recovering Jesus freak.” This guy ran with some young actors who were part of my crew. He directed us in high school plays. Other cliques referred to us as “actor fags” or “new wave fags.” As a kind of joke, we freely employed their intended put-downs, effectively defusing the hate speech. A lesson learned.
“How was your weekend?”
“Pretty good. Me and some other actor fags went to Rocky Horror, watched the sun come up over the Waffle House.”
The recovering Jesus Freak had pretty much turned his back on organized religion, such as it was. He’d abandoned some hippie types who’d been gathering in the musty basement of a nearby Methodist church. They were under the sway of a charismatic, graying bassist who’d played in a regionally successful cover band before being born again. The Methodist minister, director of the church, was what we now call “woke,” and did not fear the bass player and his ragtag bunch, who sang “One Tin Soldier” and “Lay Down Candles” at the top of their lungs near the boiler room on Wednesday evenings. As fun as that sounds, Jesus Freak nevertheless fell out with the bass player ringleader. Jesus Freak was, as he put it, now talking to his savior on his own personal hotline, with no interference.
One day, while rehearsing with my fellow actor fags the play Cyrano de Bergerac – in which I played the villain, Comte de Guiche – Jesus Freak asked, “Hey Bob, you believe in God?”
He was the only one who called me Bob. I didn’t like it, and asked him to call me Robert, but he did not comply.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Hard to prove, right?”
“Then where do we get the idea of perfection?”
He sort of had me there. Jesus Freak was smart, older than the rest of us, mid-twenties college grad. Fancied himself a maverick. His bearded face often lit up when he schooled us teens in philosophy. When his ideas sparked our impressionable minds, his eyelids would droop with pleasure as he nodded sagely. A fatherless boy, I was drawn to his authority, his confidence in a world that seemed to me as dangerous and mysterious as it was beautiful and enticing.
“That’s God, man,” he said with satisfaction. “That is God: Perfection. Unattainable by us, but we can work towards it.”
Reeling from this information, for a few days I was almost a Jesus Freak, too. I can’t say what propelled me exactly, but I retreated from the edge, and went back to being just a muddle-headed agnostic teen again.
Eventually, Jesus Freak would engage in illicit behavior with some female students which I cannot go into here. Suffice to say, it was sadly typical, and he got away with it.
As a middle-aged father and longtime teacher, I now look back through time at that sixteen-year-old version of myself and ache desperately to father him, to turn him away from certain influences, and, frankly, to kick the ass of the Jesus Freak, both physically and legally. But all I can do now is cling to, and create, and recognize the good, and not obsess over, or claim to know, the perfect.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.