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A Sonnet for Magic Mike

Another pop culture sonnet.  This one is based upon the popular 2012 film Magic Mike and was suggested by my friend Barbara, who actually said that line that she’s given credit for in the sonnet.  You can read her work here.

There are things that I notice people like

And one of those things is Channing Tatum

Ladies and men talk about Magic Mike

They want to love, hate, or masturbate him

“A masterpiece,” claims Bret Easton Ellis

Barbara says, “less acting, more stripping!”

Some men agree but aren’t quick to share this

Bowties, underwear, sweat that is dripping

McConaughey will take your wife away

Returning when credits begin to roll

Takes more time to read 50 Shades of Grey

And she’ll still go home primed with you, her troll

Women love nakedness as much as men

Pay for her to see Magic Mike again

The men from the strip club movie.

A Sonnet for Kristen Stewart

While talking to a friend the other day, he asked the usual, “what have you been up to?”  Often I answer that question with a ridiculous answer, which in this case was that I was writing a sonnet about Twilight actress Kristen Stewart.  Then someone else asked me to see it.  Rather than admit the lie, I quickly (well, as quickly as I could) wrote a sonnet for the young starlet.  It’s in iambic pentameter and follows the Shakespearean rhyme scheme.  I thought I might as well share it.

Celebrity crushes, few ever hurt

But I saw her lips pressed together tight

Please answer my letter, Kristen Stewart

I promise to read each book of Twilight

I rewound your boob shot from On the Road

Carried an US magazine in my pack

Even dressed like Joan Jett, my heart explodes

I don’t care if you ruined Kerouac

Cheat on the Englishman, see if I care

I’d love for you to decide to be free

Dream me tonight, my face in your hair

Crack of Breaking Dawn, be wary ’round me

Telling myself there’s better things to do

I rent another movie starring you

The unlikely muse.

Johnny Cash and King David

God-fearing songwriters

Johnny Cash and King David: Seeing Bible Heroes in Modern Times

The rapper Kanye West received a great amount of criticism for telling ContactMusic.com that he belonged in a revised version of the Bible, due to his contributions to society (ContactMusic.com).  Although most everyone agrees that Kanye West is not exactly Biblical in nature, it does bring to mind the question: Are the characters of the Bible relatable to people in our own lifetime? Sometimes Biblical characters are fantastical, but even if no one knows a talking snake, they know someone who is manipulative like the snake.  Samson, who sounds incredibly unreal, might be equally baffled to hear how many Japanese were killed by Harry Truman, with atoms instead of ass bones.  Although there are many comparisons that can be made, one of the more interesting ones is comparing the Bible’s David with country music singer, Johnny Cash.  Characters from the Bible often seem larger than life when compared to people of the modern era due to an unwillingness to compare saintliness with normalcy, but often they’re very similar when considered from outside the reverence given to religious texts.

One of the first things that might cause objections to this comparison is their place in life; David is a King, Johnny Cash is a country music star.  The positions are certainly different, but they both lend themselves to financial wealth, fame, and adulation.  In a land without kings, we find people to admire in a similar fashion.  For example, Elvis Presley was called the King of Rock and Roll, and Michael Jackson was called the King of Pop.  This is not by accident; it actually explains the level of esteem the famous are held in.  Once it was royalty, and now it’s just royalty with a different name.  America seems to have found a psychological replacement for the appreciation of royalty, and often admire the wealthy in their place.  Paris Hilton, as flawed as she may be, is almost a wayward princess whose activities simply must watched by the masses.  Coincidentally, in the first paragraph of Cash’s autobiography, he states that he is, “descended from King Duff, the first king of Scotland” (9).  Johnny’s bloodline is painted to be an honorable one, much like David.

Despite the bloodline of their ancestors, neither David nor Cash come from wealth.  David’s first appearance in the Bible comes with him being fetched from the pasture.  “Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold, he keepeth the sheep (1 Sam. 16:11).  Cash was raised by a farmer, one of seven children, who “all grew up working the cotton fields” (Cash 16).  Both coming from humble beginnings, their stories require that their road to prominence is paved by their own virtue and the help of the Lord.  Even in a capitalist society where most believe anyone with enough determination can be anything they would like to be, economic mobility doesn’t leave much wiggle room to rise to the top.

On David’s journey to becoming king, he first becomes a warrior when he fights Goliath, the giant Philistine.  Johnny Cash was in the United States Air Force during the Korean War, and although he didn’t see a tremendous amount of action, he was a radio interceptor and happened to be the first radio operator to pick up the death of Joseph Stalin (Cash 164).  At this point, they both are locked into a service they don’t particularly enjoy, but they also proved they were not afraid of battle.  After the victory against Goliath, Saul kept David in his service and “would let him go no more home to his father’s house (1 Sam. 18:2).  It would be in military service that they would become men.

After military service, both characters live a transitional position that is not the happiest time for either of them.  David works for the slightly batty Saul in his court, assisting him with torments and avoiding volatile attacks (1 Sam. 19).  Johnny worked in Memphis as a door-to-door appliance salesman (Cash 17).  During this time, both of them worked on a shared passion: music.  David played music to calm Saul from the tormenting spirits sent by God, and Johnny played gospel music with Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant. (Coincidentally, Johnny’s manager was a man named Saul Holiff.)  Through music their poetry was expressed, as many of the Psalms were arranged to be put to music.  There is an apocryphal story that Johnny Cash only wanted to play gospel, and Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records told him, “‘Johnny, go sin a little bit, (then) come back and sing me some songs…’ You didn’t have to say that to Jerry Lee Lewis” (Edwards).

The Greeks believed in a concept known as metempsychosis, where souls migrated or were reincarnated as different people (or animals), and although to a modern westerner this might sound silly, we will accept that genius happens, and every so often someone comes along who is similar to another person that came before them.  It’s easy to point out humble upbringings and music to create a kinship between David and Johnny Cash, but it doesn’t end there.  The Bible gives God credit for the turmoil caused by David’s sin, and in the case of Johnny Cash we can only speculate.  We’re certain that Bathsheba played a part in David’s downfall, and to some extent it could be argued that June Carter played a part in Johnny Cash’s worst times.

Johnny admits in his autobiography that he was married when he began to court June Carter.  The first time he spoke with her, he told her he was going to marry her – even though she was married at the time (448).  Neither her marriage nor his own deterred him from this courtship, which nearly all theologians will agree is a sin in the eyes of God.  It is after Bathsheba that David’s life is thrown into a whirlwind of chaos and sorrow.  The adulterous Johnny Cash has to deal with his darkest times while forming his relationship with June, a time of drug abuse and violence.  Both David and Johnny would rise out of these depths, but they would rise out of them as changed people.  Older, wiser, and more appreciative of the blessings that the Lord bestowed upon them.

David says in Psalm 51:

Against you only have I sinned
and done evil in your sight:
so that you are justified in your sentence,
and blameless in your judging.

Evil have I been from my birth:
sinner I am from the time of my conception.

But you desire truth in our inward being:
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. (Psalm 51)

And Cash sings on “Unchained”:


I have been ungrateful,
I’ve been unwise.
Restless from the cradle,
Now I realize, It’s so hard to see the rainbow,
Through glasses dark as these.
Maybe I’ll be able,
From now on, on my knees.

Oh, I am weak.
Oh, I know I am vain.
Take this weight from me,
Let my spirit be unchained. (American Recordings II)

Bathsheba and June Carter may not be the first wives of their respective husbands, but it is through the marriage to them that the family name lives on.  Solomon is David successor and he is born through his union with Bathsheba, and John Carter Cash, Johnny’s only male child, was born through his marriage to June Carter.  This proves that although there is punishment for sin, there is also forgiveness.  Out of sin comes sorrow, but eventually joy is returned with the relationship to God being repaired.

The significance of these similarities is important. The further removed characters of the Bible are from our reality, the harder it becomes to relate to them.  Whether studying the Bible as literature or for religious reasons, once the characters become less than human, the story loses its integrity and the message becomes blurred and confusing.  Being able to see King David in Johnny Cash, Wilt Chamberlain in Solomon, or Doubting Thomas in a skeptical friend from high school — each enriches the stories from the Bible.   When a reader sees things they already know reflected in the text, they begin to see truth in the story, and truth in literature and religion is what many of us are looking for in the first place.

Works Cited

Cash, Johnny, and Patrick Carr. Cash: The Autobiography. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.         Print.

Cash, Johnny. “Unchained.” American II: Unchained. Rick Rubin, 1996. CD.

“Cocky West: ‘I Should Be In The Bible’.” ContactMusic.com. ContactMusic.com Ltd, 09 Feb.    2006. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Edwards, Bob. “NPR – Morning Edition – Sam Phillips, The Legacy of Sun Records.” National    Public Radio 28 Nov. 2001. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1997. Print.

Oldboy and Oedipus and Spoilers

Oldboy, a film by Park Chan-wook, 2003

WARNING: This blog contains spoilers. 

For a couple of reasons, I had never seen the 2003 South Korean film Oldboy until last night (03 June 2012).  It’s not that it hadn’t been recommended to me, it was simply one of those movies that took me forever to get around to watching.  One one hand, I couldn’t justify renting it since it was streaming on Netflix; on the other hand, the Netflix version is a crappy dub.  I hate dubbed films and can’t understand those who refuse to read subtitles, but that is an entirely different topic.

The film seems like a live-action anime feature, which makes sense since I later learned it was based upon a manga work.  I know that manga pretty much just means a Japanese comic, but in my mind it sounds so much worse.

“What are some of your hobbies?”

“Well, I’m into manga…”

“You sick son of a bitch!”

…anyway.  The most interesting thing about the film to me is how similar it is to the old Theban play Oedipus the King (or Oedipus Rex, Oidipous Tyrannos, et cetera) by Sophocles.

Key similarities are that the protagonist of Oldboy, Oh Dae-su, is punished for something he is unaware of, much like Oedipus, who was hobbled and left to die as an infant — later growing up for years in exile– while Oh Dae-su is held captive and tormented for fifteen years for an unknown reason, which also gives him time to disconnect with his family and reality. Coincidentally, both received their cruel treatment due to troubling information.  For Oedipus, it was the prophecy of his rise to the throne by the murder of his father; for Oh Dae-su, it was accidentally sharing information that damaged the reputation of an acquaintance.  Comparitively, a moral against gossip can be taken from Oldboy, but in Oedipus the King there is no stopping fate.

Oh Dae-su, although unaware, begins a relationship with his daughter.  Oedipus, unaware, begins a relationship with his mother.  In shame, Oedipus gauges out his eyes, Oh Dae-su cuts out his own tongue… their reasons, however are different.  Oedipus doesn’t want to see the shame he has caused, while Oh Dae-su wants to prove to his tormenter that he will never talk again.  Oedipus goes to Colonus with his daughter; Oh Dae-su reconnects with his, although the ending is ambiguous.

The key differences represent the changes in our culture.  The people who saw Oedipus the King were treated to the performance of a story that they were already familiar with.  It’s a perfect example of dramatic irony, where the audience knows what the characters do not.  This is flipped in Oldboy, where at least one of the characters knows exactly what is going on, and the audience is as clueless and shocked as the protagonist.  Also prophecy and the fates carry little weight with today’s culture, so Oh Dae-su is a victim of another man’s cruelty rather than a victim of his own destiny.

Another representation of change in culture is that the Greeks didn’t mind knowing the ending before they watched the work, but these days it’s as if we’re obsessed with being surprised.  Think of Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, and the entire career of M. Night Shyamalan.  Oldboy made top ten lists and was critically praised.  While I’m not sure it will have the enduring quality of Sophocles’ works, its existence helps reaffirm the value of that old Greek’s play.  It’s a great example of dressing up the ancient.

While I know no one will read this who hasn’t seen both, I would recommend that you recommend to your friends that if they liked Oldboy, perhaps they would like Oedipus the King—and vice-versa.  If they are offended by Oedipus the King, by all means avoid watching Oldboy.  The film, in its own way, keeps the classics alive.  By reading them, you can too.

*There are rumors of Spike Lee directing an American version of Oldboy, but personally I think it would be better if Lee’s nemesis, Tyler Perry, were to direct his own version.  He could play both Oh Dae-su and his daughter Mido.  Tagline: “He escapes his captors to bring you laughter!”  –Just an idea.

Summer Reading Recommendation 2012: The Crying of Lot 49

A muted posthorn, the symbol of the Trystero

Summer Reading Recommendation: The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.  A postmodernist novel not only about conspiracy, symbolism, and meaning but also about confusing the three.  At only 152 pages, it is short enough to read during a week vacation, while in-depth enough not to make the reader feel as if they’re slumming with a Grisham.

Jean-Francois Lyotard claimed that postmodernism “allows the unpresentable to be put forward only as the missing contents; but the form, because of its recognizable consistency, continues to offer the reader or viewer matter for solace and pleasure” (337).  Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49 is made in the same recognizable consistency as many novels before it, but traditional interpretation will not offer the obvious meanings to the obvious symbols – in fact, quite the contrary- the unpresentable is presented within the lines and the story outside the story.  The Crying of Lot 49 embodies the spirit of postmodern literature as it exists by the “shattering of belief and without the discovery of the ‘lack of reality’ of reality, together with the invention of other realities (Lyotard 334).

If one were to describe Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 in one word, one might choose paradox.  There is a metanarrative consisting of a character’s (Oedipa Maas) journey to discover meaning in a world full of clues, half-truths, and mysteries; while the reader is simultaneously trying to discover the meaning of the work through the same foggy glass that Oedipa is looking through herself.  As she is awakened to a deeper secret world, the reader is also curious about another version of the truth and history but the reader, like Oedipa, can’t be sure if what they’re discovering is reality or their (mis)interpretation of it.

Characters have familiar names that could represent something higher or nothing at all.  Some critics have claimed they have found difficulty with character names such as “Mike Fallopian” or “Dr. Hilarious” – neither of whom accurately fit their descriptors.  Symbolism has been reduced to absurdity, while contradictorily implying that symbolism is unnoticed all around us and should be elevated.

According to Terry Eagleton, “Postmodernism, which tends to both anti-elitism and anti-universalism, thus lives a certain tension between its political and philosophical values” (343).  There is a strange balance of both anti-elitism and anti-universalism in The Crying of Lot 49.  Oedipa’s dead former beau, for whom she is caretaker of the last will and testament, is hinted at being (we never meet him) both an economic and esoteric elitist.  He is virtually unknown and can be interpreted as playful or nefarious.  As a foil, Oedipa’s husband, Mucho Maas, is out of touch with the elite and out of touch with the universe.  The work implies greater meaning while also implying meaning is not what we think it is.  It is familiar but distorted and “so becoming a mirror-image of the universalism it repudiates” (Eagleton 343).  The Crying of Lot 49 is a distorted mirror.  It is a mystery and a comedy.  It is fearsome and it is ridiculous.  It is a wild and fun ride.

 

 

 

Eagleton, Terry. “From Illusions of the Postmodern.” Ed. Patricia Waugh. Modern Literary Theory: A Reader. Ed. Philip Rice. London: Arnold, 1989. 341-343. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “From Answering  the  Question: What is Postmodernism? in The Post    Modern Condition.” Ed. Patricia Waugh. Modern Literary Theory: A Reader. Ed. Philip      Rice. London: Arnold, 1989. 334, 337. Print.

Finnegans Wake

James Joyce


“I’ve been reading Finnegan’s Wake for almost 15 years. It’s on my bedside table and I try almost every night to read a little before I go to sleep … It inspires one’s dreams. It colors one’s dreams very nicely. If one dreams with a certain amount of language in your dreams, as I often do. Because the language in it is incredible. There’s so many layers of puns and references to mythology and history. But it’s the most realistic novel ever written. Which is exactly why it’s so unreadable. He wrote that book the way that the human mind works. An intelligent, inquiring mind. And that’s just the way consciousness is. It’s not linear. It’s just one thing piled on another. And all kinds of cross references. And he just takes that to an extreme. There’s never been a book like it and I don’t think there ever will be another book like it. And it’s absolutely a monumental human achievement. But it’s very hard to read.” -Tom Robbins

Got a copy of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake for Christmas. I’m going to try to read it Tom Robbins style, although I would prefer to read it Robert Anton Wilson style with a group of people taking turns reading it aloud while drinking copious amounts of Guinness. I don’t even know how to find a group of people who want to read James Joyce aloud, I barely know anyone who reads James Joyce. Wish me luck.

A Day Outside the Temple in Mormontown.

Outside the Mormon Temple

Outside the Mormon Temple

On Tuesday afternoon, December 2nd, 2008, I found myself in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Along with the disadvantage of being in Utah, I was also next-to-broke and alone. I had helped my friend Mandy move to Utah for her new job with Sundance Film Festival. After dropping Mandy and her new roommate, Samantha, off at work in Park City, I was left with her car and nothing much to do. Even though I had a few drinks the night before, I was pretty chipper that morning.  This usually happens to me when I have a few drinks and then have nothing to do the next day.  Responsibility and finances are  the only enemies of carefree living and I wasn’t thinking too much about either of those. Since I was out of town, I decided that both of those depressing thoughts would have to be dealt with on the return home.

I was in good spirits, possibly thinking about how I one day would like to live in a hotel or some other nonsense, and singing along with the radio as I drove back to Salt Lake City to sit alone in Mandy and Samantha’s apartment.  Once I got there I was suddenly bored; a problem that usually can be cured by a television or the internet or a book… and while their apartment had no television or internet yet, I did have a book.  It was The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie, and it started bothering me since it was about a plane crash and I was due to fly home the next day.  It also reminded me of all of the vitriol held by the Muslim people against Rushdie, and reminded me that they still have a fatwah out against him for writing the novel.  This got me thinking too much about plane crashes, terrorists, and terrorist-induced plane crashes to the point that I wasn’t in such a good mood anymore.

I tried reading The Darwin Awards, but that isn’t a book you can sit down with and become too engrossed.  In my opinion, it would make a perfect book to be published in a tear-away calendar form.   I could easily read one grim anecdote each day and be slightly amused and then throw that day’s moronically tragic tale into the waste-can.

I decided to get out of the house and explore the city.

My iPhone was not mapping things well for me.  I had made it from Park City back to Salt Lake on memory, and I was surprised I had been able to find it so quickly, what with the overload of new sights and unfamiliar territory.  With no internet map resources I was forced to try an archaic style of information gathering that required one to approach a stranger and ask them outright if they know how to get to a place.  This is often less reliable than our modern directions because when asking a stranger, they more than likely will base them largely on landmarks, which is troublesome for out-of-towners.

I can hear in my head right now someone from Nashville presenting directions, “It’s over by where Lucy’s Record Store used to be…”

For out-of-towners, of course, this is a nightmare.

Nevertheless, I got in the car determined to find or see something interesting.  If worse came to worse, I would do what I did the day before and sit in a coffee shop getting amped up on caffeine and tool around on the internet.  I looked at the tallest buildings and steered that direction.

I hoped that this would lead me to the “sights” and like most cities, it led directly to the belly of the beast.

***

My fascination with Mormons began about ten years ago, when I was first told some of the crazy shit that they actually believe.  Wait.  No, it began much earlier than that.  I remember as a child that I was extremely gullible to advertizing schemes.  These days I hardly ever buy anything due to an advertisement, but I was moved to believe everything I heard on television when I was a child.  My recollections bring back many Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints commercials.  They all seemed to be about caring for the old, behaving, and one particularly was about lying.  It had a jingle that I can vaguely remember, “If you tell one lie, it leads to another, then you tell another lie to cover each other…” They would sometimes have ads offering a free copy of The Book of Mormon, which as I child made me extremely curious.  After all, I enjoyed the Bible stories from Sunday School and here was my family, fooling around and not even bothering to read the sequel.

I’m not sure my if mother ever gave me a solid answer about why I couldn’t call the toll-free number in order to receive a free copy of The Book of Mormon, which always confused me since it was free.  I mean sure, when I asked for her to order me a copy of Dianetics after seeing its commercial, that cost money… I was used to being turned down on requests for things that cost money. To my mind as a child, it seemed like passing up a free lollipop at the bank.  In retrospect, it was probably good parenting on my mother’s part to keep me away from that nonsense.  If I was a sucker for commercials, then I would probably have been a sucker for a cult, and my mind needed maturity before I found out what both Scientology and Mormonism were all about.

To be brief, in Mormonism as well as Scientology, God comes from space, but with the Later Day Saints’ version, “God” had a bunch of spirit babies from whom “He” needs to find something to do.  He consults his oldest sons, Jesus and Lucifer, and has them come up with a plan.  Lucifer wanted to be savior, but God chose Jesus since he had a better plan.  Jesus died on the cross, then came to America where he and a group of native Israelites fought a really mean crew named the Nephites and they became all but extinct except for this one guy (whose name might have been a bizzare attempt to caricature Italian-American immigrants) named Moroni. Moroni ostensibly wrote down these stories of the great battles, explained how cool polygamy could be, and a few things the Bible didn’t clarify because it was poorly translated.  Luckily, Moroni’s ghost came to Joseph Smith and gave “the prophet” the golden plates—which were written in Egyptian that he somehow translated—thus beginning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: The Mormons.

I knew that much about it before I got there.

The Family History Library

The Family History Library

Slowly and surely I found my way to Temple Square.  I found free parking on the street and began to make my way to the main square, but I decided that since I had parked in front of the Family History Library, I should check it out first.  I walked in and an old woman walked up to me slowly, in such bad shape that I felt like I should help her, but as I reached out she waved me away and said, “I’ve got this” and then crawled up into a tall chair at the entrance that I suppose was her post.

“Now, what can I do for you?”  she asked after adjusting herself a bit.

“I’m from out of town and I’ve never been here and was just checking to see what this place is all about.”  That reply was probably the most honest answer that I delivered to any of the Mormons for the rest of the day.

She pointed me to an old man, who in turn pointed me to another old woman, and that old woman led me into a small theater where I was to sit alone and watch a Power Point presentation.  I felt awkward, like I was imposing, as if I had rousted up the projectionist in order to watch a movie they weren’t showing when the theater was about to close.  It basically explained what a fine facility that they’d created and how it was free to the public.  I contemplated  leaving at this point, but I didn’t know if that would be more awkward than sticking it out.

After the presentation she took me to the research room where tons of people were at computers reading and searching, and they all seemed to be on task.

“Does anyone want to help this young man?” she asked a group of volunteers who were all sitting around talking.

“I’ll take him,” said a very slurred and impaired voice. A young woman with some sort of severe affliction rolled over to me.  “Follow me,” she said and wheeled her chair on over toward the computer.

“You’re lucky, she’s the best,” one of the other volunteers said to me as I walked behind her.  I did not yet realized that this was a smart-ass statement by a rude volunteer.  At this point I gave her the benefit of the doubt, that despite her affliction, she was really good at what she does.

And so began at least thirty minutes of sitting with a disabled young women, who turned out to be mentally handicapped as well as physically disabled.  Her reading ability was low at best and most of her help consisted of barking at me to click links on the computer that I often knew weren’t going to lead us in the right direction, but I humored her along the way.  I felt that in this situation it was more polite to grin and bear it than to ask for another person to assist me or to get up and leave.

Even though I didn’t have the best assistant, we did manage to click our way to a few of my family’s old census records, and I’ll admit that it was amazing to see photocopies of my great-great grandfather’s actual handwriting where in 1890 he wrote down the names of his family and their age.  My great-grandfather, like myself, must not have known exactly who he wanted to be as he sometimes wrote his name as “Bailey Spurgeon Enoch” (the way I knew it), sometimes he spelled it “Baily”, and most peculiar was how on a couple of documents he was called “Spurgeon R. Enoch” who could be a different person were it not for the same address, same birthday, same wife, and same kids.

I told my helper that he was the only family member I was really interesting in and moved on.  I have more information from family members who have actually spent some time studying the family tree and have mapped my father’s side back to arrival to America when it was still under colonial rule.  Surprisingly, my ancestors moved from Pennsylvania to the south and have pretty much stayed in the Murray, KY/Paris, TN vicinity ever since.  They never did much but farm and definitely didn’t trek across the country to find a place where they could marry a bevy of young women in peace.  Maybe that is why I found the place so interesting.

Next I crossed the street and timidly walked into the Temple Square.  I had no idea if people were allowed to just walk in or not. It was quite desolate, but I went in anyway, figuring the worst that could happen would be that I would be asked to leave by a polite but stern Mormon representative.

There was a help desk and an old man gave me a map and told me they have a tour starting every fifteen minutes and it would be a great thing that I “don’t want to miss”.  I had thirteen minutes before the next tour arrived and it seemed as fine of a time as any to smoke a cigarette.  It was open air, it was brisk, and no one was around.

Then I met a polite but stern Mormon representative.

“You can’t smoke that in here, sir!” he said, rushing towards me.

I apologized and noticed a problem that all smokers deal with when they arrive at a place that doesn’t allow smoking—there are never any ashtrays.  I looked around before tossing it on the ground and stomping it out.  “Oh, sorry!”  One thing that I had learned about Mormons but forgotten was that they didn’t believe in cigarettes or caffeine.  I’d gotten a cup of coffee earlier and it had crossed my mind to carry it with me.  Good thing I didn’t.  These are sins among the Mormons and from the look on his face, I may as well have been naked and making out with a same-sex lover up against the church.  Thank goodness they are hungry for the convert or any number of things could have happened to me, from getting kicked out to getting my ass kicked.

I decided from this point forward I was going to try to play it cool.  Try not to offend, just take a tour,see the sights, and hear all they have to say about it.

The main building housed their statue of Jesus in Space that they all are terribly proud of. I walked around and waited for the next tour to start.  The Mormons ran their place like a well-oiled machine, everyone knew when the next tour started, and everyone seemed to know their place and what was going on.  Two beautiful women began approached me and they seemed incredibly interested in where I was from and what I was doing.  One of them, a gorgeous Brazilian woman named Larissa—who had some of the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve ever seen—began to chat me up and the words she said just flew in and out my ears, while in my head bad ideas were sprouting.  “Yes, I think you do have a great thing going here.  Yes, I was a little skeptical but I think you make some valid points.  You’ve never been to Nashville?  I would be happy to try and research some place we could go where caffeine and tobacco aren’t allowed so we can have a real good time.  I could be married to you and attend this church with you, no sweat!  I mean, if that’s what you want.  And if they ever repeal those bigamy laws then what the hell?  Oh sorry, I mean what the hey…”

Joseph Smith or Clay Aiken?

Joseph Smith or Clay Aiken?

Luckily for me, she was called to other duties and I was sent off with another Brazilian and a young Filipino woman, both of whom might have been pretty if I hadn’t just had my mind turned to mush by Larissa.  They took me around showing me the various “attractions”, like a wax statue of Joseph Smith that had an eerie resemblance to Clay Aiken. I managed to hold my tongue and not bring up their similar features.  They showed me a wax statue of an American Indian who was working on the gold plates.

“When do I get to see these gold plates?” I asked them.

“The gold plates aren’t here, they are returned to heaven.”

“Why?”

“Because we have The Book of Mormon, we don’t need them,” the Filipino girl said while looking at the Brazilian girl with questioning eyes that seemed to say that she wasn’t sure.

“How much do you think they are worth?”

“It doesn’t matter because we don’t have them anyway, but I’m sure they would be priceless.”  They were both looking at each other now and I decided to lay off a little with the questions.  I wanted it to stay friendly and was not really looking to debate.  I was a voyeur that was peaking into their wacky little world, and I just got the feeling that there were some sick sexual secrets going on in this place.  After all, the founder had forty wives.  Most men don’t sleep with that many women in their lifetime, much less frequently sleep with that many women.  It made me feel sorry for the two of them.  Like there was something in store for them that they didn’t know was coming.  Then again, my imagination could have just been running wild from being surrounded by these strange people and this strange religion.

We went to the Tabernacle and they demonstrated the terrific acoustics of that place.  They told me that Brigham Young knew nothing about auditoriums when he built it.  I told them I had heard he was a carpenter and they confirmed that it was true he was, but he was not an auditorium carpenter.

I hushed and watched from the back row, just me and four people in wheelchairs parked behind me, as they tore newspaper, dropped pins, and spoke as loud as if they were sitting next to me.  I was truly impressed.  They told me that the marble columns were made of wood and that a lot of people don’t believe it when they see them.  I tapped one of them and heard an unmistakably wooden thud and told them they didn’t have to convince me.

I casually asked if this was a special day for the disabled and they told me it wasn’t.  I wasn’t used to seeing this many crippled people outside of a hospital or nursing home.

We next went to the Assembly Hall, where the tour took a strange turn from being about showing me around to sharing scripture.

“Please read this,” the Brazilian girl asked me, handing me a highlighted verse from the book of Alma, a chapter of The Book of Mormon.  I read it aloud and even though it was “translated” around 1830, it was written in the archaic Early Modern English of the King James Bible.  “What do you think it means?” she asked me.

“That it is good to suffer.”  I wasn’t sure because I was paying more attention to the language the verse was written in than what it said, but they explained that sure enough, I had understood the main idea.  “Why is it written in language like Shakespeare, since you said it was translated around 1830?  People didn’t speak that way then.”

I stumped them. After a moment of awkward silence, they suggested we move along.

“So when do we go to the Temple?” I asked. I knew that without sufficient Mormon indoctrination, I would remain persona non grata as far as the Temple was concerned, but I thought I might as well give it a shot.  They explained that was only for pure Mormons and it was some to look forward to after service in the religion.  I was allowed to walk to the Temple and look at it’s dark and looming spires and even take a picture.  The closer I got to it, the more I really didn’t want to go in it, anyway.  I began to take a picture and had to move as two people in wheelchairs needed to get past me.  The place seemed to be a center for the disabled.

Jesus in Space

Jesus in Space

Our last stop was back to the beginning—at the large statue of Jesus in Space. They call the work Christus, which was admittedly a knock-off of a much larger version in a Catholic Church in Copenhagen, Denmark.  The Catholic Church didn’t give Jesus an outer space background, though.  That was a Mormon innovation, all the way.

They instructed me to look to the statue and say a prayer.  Often I feel unsure of what I believe, but I knew I didn’t believe in this. I didn’t know what to pretend to pray for, and I felt weird praying in front of total strangers of a truly strange religion, but finally I opted to recite the Lord’s prayer.  “His will be done,” I thought, “because I can’t make heads or tails out of any of this insanity.”

I was then set free to walk about the square, visit Brigham Young’s house, or watch a film based on the life of Joseph Smith.  Looking at my watch I decided against all of the presented options, because before long it would be time to pick-up the ladies from work; back to the much different, much prettier Park City.  I figured I might as well go ahead and head there, enjoy a cigarette and a cup of coffee during the time I had before they got off work.

I headed to Park City, asking only directions for getting to the interstate from a man in a cowboy hat, who happened to be the first in a line of six people who were all in wheelchairs moving along the sidewalk.

Sitting in the coffee house I had an ice coffee and thought about the large empire of the Mormon religion.

It all seemed like a well-put-together sales pitch.   It was big enough that it must mean something, but I had no idea what. (That men can believe anything as long as nailing wives five at a time is involved, maybe?)  It was showy.  It was brilliant.  The halls were clean.  They didn’t drink, they didn’t smoke.  They lived better and more pure lives than the rest of us.  It was a widely known fact that this metropolis had little crime.  They were honest.  On the outside, this all looked like the happy and joyous experience that religion is supposed to be.

Perhaps, like Joseph Smith, I was taken with a vision. I saw a man in a wheelchair bump into one of the deceptive “marble” pillars and heard the thick thud of its hidden wooden core. Then I heard him softly saying the words, “What a sham!”