Come on and blow, Gabriel, blow.
I've been a sinner, I've been a scamp,
But now I'm willin' to trim my lamp,
So blow, Gabriel, blow. -- Cole Porter
Things have changed a bit around here since the archangel Gabriel was deployed by God to explain the vision of the ram and the he-goat to Daniel and announce the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.
For one thing, there's hip hop.
"The Lord loves hip hop!" beams Gabriel as he scrunches his somewhat diminutive angel wings beneath the shoulder strap of a white 1994 Honda Accord. "Heaven has really picked up since Tupac and Biggie joined us."
The car stereo erupts in a string of acerbic rhymes, and Gabriel's implausibly large blue eyes double in size, as if he has just discovered a large, beautiful present left at his bedside for no reason whatever. His tight blonde curls begin to vibrate with enthusiasm and his rose-red mouth forms a perfect O.
"Oooh, how lucky!" says Gabriel in his fey, singsong way, which hints at tea, crumpets, and teddy bears. "Gabriel just loves Eminem."
Gabriel pulls out of the driveway without looking over either wing, and putters down the middle of the road trying to navigate the stereo volume, the driver's side window, the wrapping on a throat lozenge, and the steering wheel all at once. Gabriel, we're sad to learn, is battling his first earthly virus -- "A fascinating experience!" -- and is new to driving. We make it about half a block from the dark pink building known as the Illbilly Rhodehouse before he swerves across the road while trying to shove his head out the half open window to get the attention of an elderly gentleman crossing the street.
"God?!" calls Gabriel with as much hope and innocence as can be mustered into one syllable. "God?!" Realizing his mistake, Gabriel pulls his head back inside the car, causing his fuzzy white halo to get momentarily snagged in the window.
"A different old man with a long white beard, I guess," says Gabriel, quickly recovering his aplomb. "How wonderful!"
The archangel once chosen by God to deliver the news of the immaculate conception to the Virgin Mary raises his little horn, which is now missing a valve, and blows a feeble, wheezing note that seems to lift his spirits considerably.
"Wonderful!" he says again, peering over the dashboard as if it were the front end of an amusement park ride.
A covey of pigeons causes him to slow the car to a crawl. Gabriel taps the horn lightly and says, "Fly away, birdies, fly away," which gives him just enough time to notice a lone man carrying two cardboard boxes down the street.
"I should help him, should I not?" says Gabriel, starting to get out of the car before he is reminded that he is already engaged in the noble task of driving.
"Gabe isn't the smartest angel in town," admits 25-year-old Andrew Bancroft, who shares living quarters at the Illbilly Rhodehouse with Kenny Taylor and the earthbound immortal. "There are those that say God sent Gabriel to earth because he got annoying."
There are also those that say Bancroft looks suspiciously a lot like Gabriel. Myself, I don't see it. Bancroft has an ash-brown Mohawk, albeit one that looks as soft as feather down, while Gabriel has blonde angel-hair ringlets; Bancroft sports hip T-shirts and a denim jacket covered in Kiss, Elvis, Gwar, and Metallica patches, whereas Gabriel wears nothing but a distended pair of tighty-whiteys that look like a diaper; lastly, while Gabriel is utterly guileless in the arena of breakfast foods, Bancroft is a veritable expert.
"Cookie Crisp was never any good," says Bancroft, referring to a carefully labeled, sugar-coated morsel in a specimen case hanging on the wall. "Myself, I went for Sugar Smacks and, in college, Cocoa Puffs, but Golden Grahams were my all-time favorite ... Just the sight of Fruity Pebbles made my teeth hurt."
The postmodern display of breakfast cereal is complemented by a parking meter and street-cleaning sign rising out of a dividing wall overhead and a gravity-defying turntable and typewriter hanging across the room, but Gabriel's more sentimental influence can also be seen. Especially in the kitchen, which is overrun by disturbing little plaques bearing Hallmark epistles such as, "Grandmas are just antique little girls" and "I asked Jesus, how much do you love me? This much, he answered. And he stretched out his arms and died."
"No, those are Kenny's," clarifies Bancroft. "Every time he goes to Oregon, he brings back a dozen little God plaques and 20 costumes for the costume closet."
The costume closet is a treasure trove of bad wigs, belts, hats, dresses, and walkabout animal heads made available to anyone attending "Lord of the Drinks," the Illbilly Rhodehouse's monthly movie night, during which friends and strangers alike are offered an undisclosed movie, all-you-can-drink mystery punch, and the friendly disclaimer that "this is not your mom's movie theater, unless your mom is a drunk hobo." Instigated two years ago by Bancroft and then roommate Zach Canfield in their small Western Addition flat, "Lord of the Drinks" now serves as creative impetus for the duo to make a new short film every month to screen before the main feature. Past shorts have included the escapades of Canfield and Illbilly regular Tanner Shea exploring the Castro dressed as Mormons looking for a good time (a commemorative bumper sticker still hangs in the kitchen that reads, "I love Mormon pussy"). But now folks look forward to Gabriel.
"It's that smile," says first-time "Lord of the Drinks" attendee but longtime Gabriel fan Lara Martin. "It gets under your skin."
Gabriel first arrived on the scene when Bancroft and Kenny Taylor began producing "Late Night With God" -- a talk-cum-variety show held at El Rio starring the Big Man himself and his sex-crazed sidekick, Moses.
"See, God has been losing touch with his peeps," explains Bancroft, "and he knows it, so he's trying to update his image. He sent Gabe down to be his man on the street."
This month, in an unprecedented power play for ratings, God and Gabriel were to appear on stage together for the first time. However, a high-cholesterol human diet of doughnuts and fast food rendered God incapacitated, and a home movie depicting Gabriel's ill-fated trip to Hunters Point left the angel's health in question. I attend "Lord of the Drinks" hoping to find the angel in better spirits so I can conduct an interview.
The movie is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the drink is a combination of whiskey, Cherry Coke, and fresh fruit called the "Time Warp," and the shorts include a holiday claymation featuring a derelict Santa and an elfin turntablist, along with disturbing footage of Gabriel's ghetto demise. I purchase an Illbilly DVD featuring some of Gabriel's greatest moments on Earth -- including his field trip to Chinatown, his experiences with Internet dating via Craigslist, and the episode in which Gabe enthusiastically attends an Oakland A's game and is derisively ridiculed by grown men and psychologically baited by small children. But the real Gabriel is nowhere in sight. I am beside myself; even throwing monkeys off the "Monkey Lounge" loft cannot raise my spirits.
"Don't worry," says Gabriel the following Sunday. "Angels don't die." Gabriel distracts me by pointing at a rainbow flag on Castro Street so he can hock a big wet loogie in the street. Then he frolics down the street to answer a pay phone.
"Dad, is that you?" he says with the sunlight shining through his wings. "People down here are wonderful!"
A passerby leans into my ear, "He's silly as hell, but he's hot."
Gabriel returns to my side, shouting good morning to all and blowing his broken little trumpet.
"You got junk in your trunk," snarls a man in a tight T-shirt as he pushes past.
"Yes, thank you!" says Gabriel.
We finally take a table at Harvey's. Gabriel starts to eat jelly with a spoon and to tell me all about heaven, which sounds a lot like earth, only with better DJs.