Once again The Fates have come our way to provide a story, and once again, we have a contender for the “Ironic Story Of The Year”.
It’s got everything you need for serious irony: an irascible comedian who mocked religion at every opportunity, a city that loved him, and the rich coincidence of his having been born at the crossroads of New York City’s communities of religious education.
And that’s why, today, we’ll be talking about the effort to name the street right next to Manhattan’s Seminary Row…Carlin Street.
(And before we go further, a language warning: we’ll be quoting George Carlin liberally, and that means there may be present today certain of the seven words with which he created one of his best known routines. You are now officially warned.)
I’ve begun worshipping the Sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the Sun. It’s there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There’s no mystery, no one asks for money, I don’t have to dress up, and there’s no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the Sun and the prayers I formerly offered to God are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.
–George Carlin, from the book “Brain Droppings“
There is a peculiarity to life in Manhattan that exists nowhere else on Earth: for more than 120 years, two of the world’s most important seminary institutions, the Union Theological Seminary and The Jewish Theological Seminary, have been literally kitty-corner from each other, right there at Broadway and W 122nd St.
It is such a significant part of the culture of the community that W 122nd St is now officially known as Seminary Row, as it has been for over 40 years.
And just one block away is the place where George Carlin grew up, on W 121st. During his childhood the Catholic Carlin was an altar boy, and it has been suggested that all this religious exposure may have impacted his comedy:
Now, speaking of consistency, Catholics, which I was until I reached the age of reason, Catholics and other Christians are against abortions, and they’re against homosexuals. Well who has less abortions than homosexuals?! Leave these fucking people alone, for Christ sakes! Here is an entire class of people guaranteed never to have an abortion! And the Catholics and Christians are just tossing them aside! You’d think they’d make natural allies. Go look for consistency in religion. And speaking of my friends the Catholics, when John Cardinal O’Connor of New York and some of these other Cardinals and Bishops have experienced their first pregnancies and their first labor pains and they’ve raised a couple of children on minimum wage, then I’ll be glad to hear what they have to say about abortion. I’m sure it’ll be interesting. Enlightening, too. But, in the meantime what they ought to be doing is telling these priests who took a vow of chastity to keep their hands off the altar boys! Keep your hands to yourself, Father! You know? When Jesus said ‘Suffer the little children come unto me’, that’s not what he was talking about!
It’s not just the two seminaries, either, that would have influenced Carlin: Columbia University is immediately next door, as are The Manhattan School of Music/Julliard (The Julliard School later moved to Lincoln Center, but when Carlin lived on the block they had 1800 students enrolled), and The Riverside Church, which is presumably the exact place that set Carlin on his future path.
Fun Fact: Italian game design studio Molleindustria, the same folks who partnered with YesLab to produce Phone Story (the App that was yanked after one day at the App Store because it says a bit too much about how phones are made; it’s still available on the Android market), also created the game Operation: Pedopreist, which is one of several “Radical Games” that you can play online at their website.
So now comes before us Kevin Bartini (he’s the warm-up comic for “The Daily Show”), with an organizing effort to change W 121st to Carlin Street.
Bartini, who told the Village Voice that this is a “no-brainer”, says his interest is motivated not just by the fact that Carlin grew up in the neighborhood; he also wants to acknowledge the influence the neighborhood had on Carlin’s comedy:
“…and the Invisible Man has a special list of ten things that he does not want you to do, and if you do any of these ten things he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry, forever and ever, ’til the end of time – but he loves you.”
A petition is now circulating, and after 6 days 3000 signatures had been collected…but this is George Carlin, and this is New York City, and, dammit, this is America, and I think we can do a lot better than that if we try, so do me a favor, sign the petition, and go show some love to someone who truly deserves the recognition.
You won’t have to wear a suit or a big hat, no one will be bowing or kneeling, and there won’t be a collection plate. Sacramental wine is encouraged; if you’d prefer sacramental pizza I’m sure no one’s going to complain – but if you have ’em both together, make sure it’s not at a Sbarro or something.
I think we’ve enough for today, and there’s no need to drag this out when you have your mission, so let’s go get those signatures, and let’s get Carlin Street officially on the map.
And just think: if we succeed – it could well have been God’s will.
And what could be more ironic than that?