Two decades ago this summer, Ottawa saved me from immortality in a sexless paradise. Obviously, I owe the city my life.
On July 8, 1989, I stood in a skimpy swimsuit in front of 10,000 people at the overly air-conditioned Ottawa Civic Centre, shivering in the name of the Christ. I was 13, and ready to be baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness. “Do you feel the Holy Spirit?” a church lady asked. “Yeah,” I wanted to answer. “It’s a fucking ice dildo.”
Every summer, my family drove to Ottawa for the district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, an annual jamboree of obedient sheep, cranky half-believers, and babies crying garbled Psalms. We needed to get our scriptural booster shots so we could make it through Armageddon, an HBO deathmatch between God and “Babylon the Great.”
More on her later.
Baptism, of course, was my shortcut to salvation. I stepped into the giant, inflatable blue pool, descended into the ice water, and felt my scrotum shrivel to nothing. Bad timing, because I found myself face-to-face with two stubbly hunks in Hanes short shorts, bulges bursting, commissioned by the Holy Spirit to dunk me. They looked exactly like the Sears catalogue underwear models I used to jerk off over, and it pumped some much-needed blood into my frozen dick. What kind of show was I expected to put on? A Kingdom Melody screeched over the sound system, all violins and echo and not giving me any clues.
Though the highlight of these conventions — aside from scouting the urinals for boy cock, popping a boner to lectures about “inappropriate hugging” and homosexual feelings that lead to AIDS and cheering on the villains in the epic Bible dramas — was something quite different.
It was the lit. The colourful, take-me-home propaganda that we would pore over, underline and memorize. The binding smelled terrific — we were all hooked on that warm glue high. That year, we were given “Questions Young People Ask: Answers That Work,” a fear manual that ranted against rap music, clitoral awareness and most other kinds of fun.
The new book didn’t interest me. I was still sweet on the previous year’s hot summer read, “Revelation: Its Grand Climax at Hand!”, an interpretation of the apocalyptic last book of the Bible. I’m still wooed by the four-colour dioramas of death and destruction, the homosexuals being sluiced into gaping cracks in the earth. The best, though, is a hot devochka who rides bareback on a seven-headed wild beast and drinks the blood of the innocent. “And upon her forehead was written a name, a mystery: ‘Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth.'” (Revelation 17:5, New World Translation) The book explains how she’s a slutty trope for false religion, a jezebel who has “fornicated with the kings of the earth” in a wild church-state orgy that spans the ages. And that radioactive pet between her legs? None other than the United Nations!
Clearly the greatest sex worker I’ve ever known.
Here’s where the story gets weird. My boyfriend recently pointed out that the illustration looks exactly like Madonna. Gadzooks. Unprepared to believe such a delight, I wanted a second opinion, so I asked Village Voice celeb hound Michael Musto, after crashing his party at an upscale Montreal eatery with the book in tow. He confirmed that it was indeed the Queen of Pop.
Ask me for a scan of page 239. It will change your life.
Madonna is the Antichrist, and the Bible apparently backs it up. Show me a mirrored crucifix from her Confessions Tour, and I’ll show you the mark of the beast. The Witnesses believe the cross to be a symbol of false religion, citing the apostle John’s warning “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) When John was later exiled to the Island of Patmos, rabid with cabin fever and jonesing for a good pop tune, he wrote this about the Material Girl: “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and was adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls.” (Revelation 17:4) Madonna’s Ray of Light photo shoot in Rolling Stone? Hello?
But, back to 10,000 people waiting for a young Jehomo to get his hair wet.
I was ready. The Kingdom Melody had become a crush of strings and a swell of feedback, and it played havoc with my little heart. One of the pool angels beckoned me over to him, so I went. He held me in his hairy, muscled arms, close against his body. I pinched my nose, the sign that I was ready to become a child of God. Eyes shut, and down I swirled.
Deeper and Deeper, you might say.
For those who are curious, I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit, but I heard it. It was an underwater whisper that if I couldn’t touch other boys, paradise wasn’t going to be worth freezing my nuts. I wouldn’t hear that whisper, though, until a few years later, when I discovered I had more in common with the Whore of Babylon than with her executioners.
The prophecy has come true. We’re riding the beast and tangling sex work with politics, fucking our way to the end of the world.