JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

The Pusher

If I had to spend one day in any spot in the world, I’d probably pick Union Square Park in Manhattan. I loooooove Union Square Park, and if you haven’t been there—go. Seriously.

Was just walking around for the past hour, and there’s nowhere else quite like it. Hemp salesmen next to breakdancers next to panhandlers next to cookie salesmen. There are seemingly always teenagers hanging around, smoking cigarettes, kissing, comparing tattoos. Tourists come, too, but not all that many. The place has a true air of New York City authenticity.

Come to think of it, in the aftermath of 9/11, when the wife (then-girlfriend) and I lived on 15th and Third, I spent a ton of time at the park, observing vigils, signing memorials, listening to arguments and preaching and cries for reason. At the time, the park was littered with pamphlets of the missing. A haunting place—truly haunting.

Anyhow, tonight I stood for about 45 minutes and listened to a kid preaching the Bible. He was 20-years old, white, with scraggly brown hair and a small goatee. He wore dark blue jeans, a green collared shirt and black sandals, and held a copy of The Word beneath his armpit. As he spoke of redemption and salvation; of avoiding temptation and of the 10 Commandments, a singular thought reverberated through my head: What the hell does this kid know?

He told the story of his car accident, when his vehicle spun three times and he felt angels watching over him. I thought, once again, about 9.11, and how there were no angels watching over the 3,000 plus. He told the story of God having a plan for everyone. I thought of my great aunt, Ann Goldstein, dying at age 10. He told us all that there’s only one way to eternal salvation, and it comes with accepting Jesus into your heart. I thought of my wife, a Jewish social worker who has dedicated her life to helping people. Not for money, not for fame, not for salvation—merely because it’s the right thing to do.

Twenty … years … old.