-- Lady Speranza Wilde, revolutionary Irish poet and mother
The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.
-- Oscar Wilde, playwright, raconteur, and his mother's son
Three young women dressed in somber shades of latex and lace lean against an old car, sharing gossip and cooling off within a pungent fog of clove cigarettes and fading bergamot. A couple emerges from the shadows of a nearby building and steps into the warm yellow light of the doorway. He wears a black tuxedo jacket, black pants, and a leather cummerbund cinched tightly around his waist, but his chest is bare; she wears a white lace gown accented by white gloves and a filmy veil of pink flowers that trails down her back.
"First Communion," observes one of the three women leaning against the car door. "I should have fucking thought of that. Why didn't I think of that? I have all the stuff."
"Not all the stuff," corrects her friend, watching the gentleman disappear down the entrance hall while absent-mindedly wetting her lips.
"Yeah. Right," agrees the first. "I guess I better go prepent."
"Too late for that," says the third woman.
The trio burst into laughter, crush out their cigarettes, and follow the couple through the door of the appropriately named Club NV.
"Welcome to 'Sin,'" says Jenny Hinchcliff, a 29-year-old woman in pigtails and a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform. "It's not too late, you can still be saved." Hinchcliff shoves a religious pamphlet into my hand, which resembles all other Chick Tracts, the snappy little comic booklets that are handed out on street corners to illustrate Christian precepts such as the Great Tribulation. This tract, titled Nice Shoes?, offers the tale of a woman, riddled with envy and covetousness, who tries, to no avail, to gain relief from her peccadillo through ordinary channels of confession, prayer, and self-flagellation. At last, exhausted and beleaguered, the woman turns to the First Church of the Second Thursday for help; she is instructed to attend a monthly gathering called "Sin," where she might "prepent" for her transgressions and lead a guilt-free life for the next 30 days.
While this tract resembles those used in traditional Christian pursuits (from the tiny "J.T.C." adorning the bottom right corner of the cover page to the sample prayer, four recriminations, and four instructions on the back page), quotes from the "Dripping Bush" make it clear that Slick Productions is not just a new branch of Chick Publications, and "Sin" is not just a new nightclub.
Under a sign that says, "Prepent Now!" two pale, lithe men in bondage gear hunch down in the blue glow of a computer terminal known as F.A.T.H.E.R., the Fully Automated THEocratic Response system. One of the men types out his confession on the electronic form that begins, "Forgive me F.A.T.H.E.R., for I am going to sin." He clicks on "too many months," designating the time since his last pre-confession, and skips over the write-in boxes for the sins of Envy, Wrath, Avarice, and Pride, focusing all of his attention on Sloth, Lust, and Gluttony.
"I am a lazy, lustful pig," says 28-year-old Christopher Ducat, "forever and always." Ducat skips onto the dance floor as his confession flickers across a half-dozen computer screens hanging throughout the room. F.A.T.H.E.R. benevolently accepts the confession with an electronic wink and flashes a reminder to attend Midnight Mass across all the screens. By the bar, a gaggle of priests discusses matters of technology and liturgy while the cardinal, draped in wine-colored robes, looks anxiously over their heads toward the door.
"Our Jewish brethren are not yet properly represented," says Father Dan Wellknows with a sigh. "Rabbi Lingual took sick and said he might not be able to attend tonight. Such a shame." Wellknows blesses me, making the sign of the cross with devilish fingers, and hurries off with a swish of his robes.
"In Jewish tradition, you do not sin against God, you sin only against yourself," explains 31-year-old Melissa Gottesman, while leading a man on a tether upstairs into one of three lushly furnished "play" rooms. She pushes her friend to his knees and leaves him there as we speak: "As long as everything is consensual, there is no problem for me, or for anyone else." This is perfectly in keeping with the primary dictum of the First Church of the Second Thursday.
Along the balcony two women string up a hooded man by his feet and strike his bottom with a paddle until it turns a rosy red. Nearby, Norman Smith unties a curvy blonde in a G-string and a leather harness comprised of thin straps that accentuate her bare breasts; Smith fits her head with a bit and bridle and strokes her buttocks, from between which projects a thick red horse tail. "This is Evil Pony Girl," says Smith, caressing the curve of one of her breasts. At her master's touch, Evil Pony Girl's eyes roll back, and she rears her head, extending her long, pale neck.
"She bites, she kicks. She's a very evil pony," Smith warns to a few men who linger nearby, trying to look casual as they gape.
"Lust is my favorite sin," says Smith, who attended Catholic school in Kansas City until the 10th grade, "but I am sort of a carrier of envy. It's pretty easy to make people envy me." Smith smacks Evil Pony Girl's rump, and she trots off to the bathroom on horse hoof-shaped shoes. The other men watch her go.
"St. Augustine considered the 'eagerness to watch' a sin," whispers Morgause, a redhead in an emerald-green satin corset. "I believe the only sin is confusing one person for another. You must really see the person you're looking at."
"I'd like to look at you," offers a clumsy suburban divorcé who is exploring his "wild" side. "Sin's fun." Morgause curls her lip delicately, points him toward the dance floor, and gives him a little shove.
"It's the guilt that makes forbidden fruit taste so sweet," agree Sofie and the Gin-Soaked Girl, two wayward Catholic girls from North Carolina in matching pigtails and white pinafores.
"I am an ambidextrous, bisexual switch," says the Gin-Soaked Girl with an angelic smile, "which means I'll do anyone, anywhere, anyhow."
"That's just fine, but lust and gluttony are not tonight's theme sins," gripes Verdigris, a hyper-femme boy poet. "Though gluttony is, arguably, at the base of every sin, the sin of the hour is envy, and I reek of it."
"I want your shoes and your jacket and your little horns!" shouts Ryan Maleclipse from the pulpit, where Cardinal Seven Dudley Sinne has just crowned him Mr. Envy 2002.
Miss Envy 2002, Octavia, descends the stairs with tears on her cheeks and horns in her hair. Her winning confession regarding Barbie ("That bitch") and Martha Stewart had induced a fit of rapture from the congregation and the spontaneous chanting, "Fuck Barbie! Fuck Barbie! Fuck Martha Stewart! Fuck Martha Stewart!"
"I've never felt so welcome," sniffs Octavia. "Or so proud. Oooh, that's a sin, too, isn't it? Maybe I'll use that for the next Midnight Mass."
"I love the pomp and circumstance of it," says Jenny Hinchcliff. Despite her nonreligious upbringing, Hinchcliff has been collecting Catholic artifacts and liturgical objects since she was a teenager. "It's sort of like high camp for Mormons."
"Sin" is held on the second Thursday of every month. August's theme is Lust. Go to www.firstchurchsecondthursday.com for details.