The Health Clinic

October 21, 2008

I mentioned before that my LDS bishop and stake president had asked if my wife and I would volunteer down at the United Way’s free health clinic once a week. We went last Tuesday, and I neglected to write about it.

The counselor in the stake presidency had said he would meet me there, but he was late, and by the time he showed up, I had been helping people fill out information sheets. Hardly any of the patients spoke English, so it was a good opportunity to practice my Spanish. The counselor stayed just long enough to make sure I was actually doing something, and then he left.

There were four or five other volunteer intepreters, all of whom were pre-med students at BYU. I felt pretty good that my Spanish was at least as good as theirs (and way better than one of them). After filling out the information sheets, we moved into the main clinic reception area. The information would be put into the computer, and then when a doctor was available, the patient’s name would be called. I spent some time filing and doing some restocking of supplies, but then I was asked to interpret for a couple of doctors. The one spoke Spanish marginally well, but he had trouble understanding the patients. So there I was explaining to him about a guy who had six or seven bowel movements a day and was feeling some generalized pain. Then I helped a pharmacist explain to a young woman about the medication she would be taking (they have a free pharmacy there, too), and she seemed genuinely grateful that I was able to interpret for her.

I also met a relative of mine who is deeply into Williams family genealogy, so that was a plus. But mostly, it felt good to help people who need help. The number of people who came in and the level of poverty at which they live was overwhelming to me. That we were able to help that many people in one evening felt really good. I know some people have criticized me for accepting this as a church-related assignment, but I don’t care. It’s good to do good.


Top Five

October 20, 2008

Someone has linked to a couple of my blog posts (both retreads from the old JLO blog) from something called Suddenly I’m getting thousands of hits on my blog, and I’m listed as number five on the fastest-growing blogs on WordPress.

My blog has always been a rather small-time affair, and only a few friends and family have spent any time here. My wife, after reading my posts here, wonders if part of the reason I blog is the need for validation. And of course, that’s part of the reason. I can’t even remember who suggested that I start blogging, but I think it was probably someone from the message boards that I used to post on frequently. Anyway, this has been a relatively safe and benign place to write out my thoughts and start conversations about things that are important to me.

Mormonism, for whatever reason, is still important to me. I don’t think I would have spent six months writing and rewriting a missionary memoir if Mormonism weren’t still a big part of my life. But it is. I hope I’ve reached the point at which I can think and write about it without animosity and too much emotion. But the emotion will always be there. When I think about the LDS church, the emotions are mixed. I think of all the wonderful LDS people I have known and loved in my lifetime. I think of the values I was taught (faith, integrity, kindness, service), and I wonder if I would have internalized those values as much had I not been part of the LDS church. But the other part of me feels more than a little betrayed. The religion I pledged my life to (literally) turns out to have grown out of a poorly executed nineteenth-century hoax. I suspect I would have figured that out earlier on had the church taught its own history honestly and openly.

But there’s really nothing I can do about any of that. I am trying to live my life to the values I have been taught while rejecting the baggage of falsity and deception. I don’t know how well I’m doing, but I’m doing my best.

So Cal

October 17, 2008

I’m back home in California at my parents’ house. It’s always strange coming back to my childhood home, especially as a middle-aged father of six, but it’s good to be home.

We arrived at 2:00 in the morning the night before last, and my dad and I ended up talking for a good hour about life and love. We talked about the tension in my house regarding my disbelief in Mormonism. Although my father chooses to stay in Mormonism, he understands where I am and why I have left my faith behind. “Religion is a philosophy by which you approach life,” he said, “but Mormonism wants more than that. It insists on a rigid set of rules governing how you live your life. That’s never been for me.” Nor for me. I’m glad he understands me and doesn’t judge.

On the subject of my book, he told me that I shouldn’t budge on letting my wife edit out the “offensive” parts. “The book is what it is, and letting someone else take out what you wrote would be a crime.”

Yesterday we spent the day at Zuma Beach, and it was perfect. It’s Santa Ana wind season, when hot winds push southward from the Mojave Desert into the city. The winds bring high temperatures and dry conditions perfect for brush fires (hence the big fires earlier this week). But when it’s this hot (96 yesterday) and dry, the beach is marvelous: 77 and clear. It felt so good to dive under waves and bodysurf to the shore. Today we’re doing the “tourist” things that I hate, but my kids want to see “Hollywood,” whatever that is or used to be. My oldest daughter is headed with Grandma to the Getty Museum. I’m so jealous.

Radio Soundbites

October 14, 2008

So I’m driving to pick up my kids, and the radio is on 570 (“Family Values Radio”), and I’m wondering what Bob Lonsberry and Rush Limbaugh have to do with family values (whatever that means). But then they had a teaser for “Utah’s Moral Advisor.” Who could that be? The prophet? The General Relief Society President? Bronco Mendenhall? Nope. It was Dr. Laura.

Now imagine that. A community that believes that a man who has a direct line to God lives just up I-15 about an hour from here is taking its moral cues from a shrill woman who makes her living by telling people how stupid and/or immoral they are. “Stop shacking up” is probably the only Dr. Laura-ism you need to know.

So then I switched over to God’s radio station, LDS church-owned KSL, home of the Tabernacle Choir and BYU sports. They were running Sean Hannity, who said regarding the Obama campaign, “Are you afraid? Then let that fear guide you.” I wonder what you’re supposed to do if you’re not afraid. I am not afraid, and I try not to let fear guide me.

On X-96 they were talking about entries for their pie-baking contest. Bill Allred suggested making a cheeseburger pie by placing cheeseburgers, bun and all, in a light pastry crust, smothering it in gravy, and then covering it all with a top crust. Yum! Then someone brought them some funeral potatoes, and I switched stations.

One of the sports shows was talking about an article in USA Today about the BYU football team and in particular its coach, Bronco Mendenhall. He has done some interesting things, such as short practices and giving players more direct roles in team meetings and determining starters. He’s doing a great job there, as his team’s win-loss record shows. But his speaking style reminds me of a General Authority giving a motivational speech using management buzzwords.

I ended up putting in a Dylan CD instead.

It’s done

October 13, 2008

I finally finished editing and rewriting my mission memoirs. A friend of mine, “ElGuapo,” did a fantastic job reading through it, editing it, and giving me suggestions for making it better. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I’ve done something worthwhile and good.

Now comes the fun part: trying to find a publisher. Wish me luck.

Around the UC

October 10, 2008

Work today consisted of my boss wanting to argue about how the pedestrian walkways at the Gateway complex in Salt Lake have been overrun by cars. I’ve been there only once, and it wasn’t full of cars, but she was itching for a fight. I was kind of glad when the time came for me to leave and pick up my wife’s nephew, who was arriving from Idaho.

After I dropped him off, I had to run some errands.  I loaded up the van with an old chair, some old cardboard, and a few bags of yard debris, and headed for the solid-waste transfer station west of Springville. On the way south out of Provo, traffic was horrible, and a bald man in a dirty white pick-up cut me off. Scrawled on the tailgate in what looked like gray paint were the words “I HAVE CANCER AND OBAMA SCARES ME.” I have absolutely no idea what that means.

As I approached the Springville exit, I passed one of those signs made of vertical slats that rotate and thus change the sign. At first it was advertising some LDS-themed DVD, and then it abruptly switched to an ad for “Rebel Bail Bonds.” Priceless.

The transfer station was winding down for the day, and the woman at the gate directed me toward the first bay, where some tacky lamps and a faded blue child’s swimming pool lay in the sludge. I carefully stepped across to the only dry patch of dirt and unloaded the van. Slowly we are making our way through the boxes we still haven’t unpacked from Texas, so it feels like we’re settling in.

On the way home, I stopped for laundry detergent at Wal-Mart, where several rather animated teenaged girls were waving signs for the “Helaman Academy.” I think I blurted out, “You have got to be kidding” without thinking. But really. Like I’m actually going to give money to one of these hyper-Mormon, right-wing private schools. I felt kind of bad for them, as they were shivering in the wind from an approaching cold front. But not bad enough to give them some money.

After depositing a couple of dirty rugs in an industrial-sized washing machine at the Laundry on Ninth in Provo, I drove to Albertsons for some cold medicine and fiber (thanks to Bolivia, my digestive system doesn’t work too well) and then on to Blockbuster. The streets are crowded because it’s BYU Homecoming, and a ton of people were going into the Marriott Center as I passed, presumably for the “Spectacular,” which I’ve never found all that spectacular, but that’s just me.

The Creamery on Ninth was crowded with elderly folks and students, the line for the ice cream counter snaking around up past the registers. A middle-aged woman stood in the middle of an aisle, pondering a carton of BYU Creamery ice cream intently. I bought my kids some Drumsticks and headed out the door, just then realizing that my “North Texas Mean Green” sweatshirt and pants were splashed with plaster from patching the drywall in the downstairs bathroom. With the dirt from the dump, I must have looked a sight. But I am clean-shaven with short hair, so I didn’t look too out of place.

But most of the time I feel out of place here. It’s very strange living in a place that is so familiar, but as an unbeliever, I’ll never quite fit in here. But that’s OK. I like it anywhere.


October 8, 2008

You can always tell that autumn is in full swing in Utah when each storm that passes through leaves more snow on the mountains. Gradually the snow makes its way down the barren slopes above the treeline, through the aspen and pine at the very top of Y mountain, and then on down through the scrub oak–by now a brilliant amber-magenta–until it obscures the whitewashed block Y on the mountain above our house.

This morning as I drove south on 9th east toward work, the sky was absolutely clear and almost violet in the sunrise. I could see the sun reflecting off the snow on the back side of Mt. Nebo, and I wished I’d had a camera. The snow reminded me of the yellow nicotine film that covered every surface in my mother-in-law’s apartment when we were first married, but there was a fierceness to the contrast between the indigo-brown of the rocky peak and the bright but muted yellow.

Living in Texas, I had forgotten about seasons, really. They say that in Houston there are ten months of summer–and then July and August. For most of the year the grass stayed green, and the trees retained their leaves. And then, of a sudden around Christmas time, the leaves dropped and the grass went to a dormant straw color. Only the spindly limbs of the pin oaks told you it was winter because it never got all that cold. We had central heating and a gas fireplace, and used both about twice a year.

The last winter we were in College Station, an ice storm passed through. I had never seen such a thing, but when I left the house in the morning, everything was coated with a quarter of an inch of clear, glassy ice. The trees and the eaves of the house hung heavy with delicate icicles, and both cars were impenetrable, the doors and door locks sealed with ice. Eventually I managed to crack through enough of the ice to get in the car and start it. The roads were treacherous, each bridge, no matter how small, a slick sheet of ice.

But it was nothing like the snow. Last year, we drove up to Sundance, and the kids stood in the falling snow for at least thirty minutes, faces upturned and tongues out, reveling in the newness of the event. But it didn’t stick that day. But we watched the advance of the snow down Mt. Timpanogos until the day in late October last year when the yard was blanketed in heavy snow. My children made a couple of snowmen and had a snowball fight, but by the next afternoon it had all melted.

It’s supposed to snow this Saturday, and my kids are already arguing about who has to shovel and when, but I can tell there’s just a hint of excitement in the air. The seasons are changing, and we’re happy to see it.