Jesus Raves

Sects on the beach

The Sloppy Tuna, Montauk, 2013. Photo by the author.

Five PM at the Sloppy Tuna and the Christians are party ready. The house music started bumping around 11 AM—because it is Saturday in Montauk, and summertime—but five o’clock is the golden hour, when everyone is sundrunk and loose and beautiful. Girls in cutoff shorts and bikini tops throw their arms around boys in Wayfarers, and sway. The dance floor is jammed and everything is spilling, the effect being that it seems to be raining PBR, and the mixture of sweat and sand and other people’s beer feels gritty and intoxicating on the skin. The light comes through the crowd slantwise because the sun is setting just past the railing that separates the dance floor from the beach, and while the heat and the stick and the pressing in of bodies is uncomfortable, the visual is stunning: a jungle of skin and light and air thick with energy that is not quite joie de vivre and not quite a collective, ecstatic denial of mortality but something ineffable and in-between.

Pastor Parker Richard Green is standing near the entrance, by the railing where there’s a view of the water, drinking a beer. He’s 26 and almost aggressively healthy looking. Tawny of skin, blue of eye, blond of crew cut, he looks like he’s straight from the manufacturer, a human prototype intended to indicate the correct proportion of biceps to shoulders. His brow is square and his jaw is square, and maybe even his whole head is kind of square, but he’s pulling it off.

Next to him is Jessi Marquez, also blond, also tawny. Her face is familiar from stock photographs of sunkissed girls with highlights—wispy hair, round blue eyes, a smile to please—but mysteriously hard to place, as though the lens tilted. Her chin is soft, not angular; her teeth are slightly crooked. On her wrist she has tattooed Grace, and her right shoulder reads And then some, because she wants to remember that God will provide everything you need . . . and then some.

Parker and Jessi have managed to locate the girl in the dancing mass who seems most out of control. She’s coke thin, maybe heroin thin, and dazey and wild, jumping up and down and waving her stick arms. They’re discreet about it—they stand near her group of friends on the dance floor and catch her as she bounces back and forth—and because they don’t invite her to church directly, and Parker, in his board shorts and sleeveless T-shirt, is no one’s vision of a pastor, she doesn’t realize. If she knew she were speaking to a pastor and his bride-to-be, she might not be screaming into his ear, “I love you so fucking much I’m going to jizz all over your fucking face no really I am Imma come and rub it all over your fucking face.”

“You’re like my new favorite person,” Jessi tells her. “You’re like a composite of all our friends. We’re gonna be best friends. Give me your number.” Cokethin stops running in circles for a minute and does this, and then shouts, “Text me you have to text me right now so I have your number too.”

“I am,” Jessi says. “I am texting you. You’re gonna come out with us tonight and then you’re going to spend all day with us tomorrow.” Tomorrow, Sunday.

“I’m gonna text you did you text me you have to text me.”

“I already texted you. I texted you two minutes ago.”

Cokethin accepts the challenge. “I texted you an hour ago.”

“I texted you yesterday.”

“I texted you years ago.”

“I texted you before you were even born! I texted you when you were in your mother’s womb!” With this Jessi wins. Cokethin screams for good measure and then announces, “I’m going now but I’ll see you guys later because you’re my new best friends kbye,” and whirls away off the dance floor and into the road.

They stare after her and then laugh. Satisfied, Jessi leans over and says to Parker, “Now that’s how you make a Christian.”

Parker laughs and shrugs. “Yeah,” he says. “In Montauk, that’s pretty much how it works.”

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