In researching the already strange topic of Mormons, who was your most unusual interview?

It was Rocky Anderson—former Mormon, former mayor of Salt Lake City, and gay-rights-advocating presidential candidate. Yep, in this election! Rocky stunned me by describing the kind of porn addiction, prescription drug addiction, and “behind the trees of the city park” illegal sexual activity that taints his city. He thinks it is because Mormonism demands too much, gives too little. People look for a release wherever they can get it.

 

How would you describe the Mormons you met?

Hospitable, well-spoken, eager, intelligent, naïve about the world, naïve about their faith’s controversial history, anxious that I should like them, a bit suspicious, preparing to lead, wary of the scrutiny Brother Mitt Romney is bringing their way.

There are nearly seven million Mormons in America. This is the number the Mormons themselves use. It’s not huge. Seven million is barely 2 percent of the country’s population. It is the number of people who subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens magazine. London boasts seven million people. So does San Francisco. It’s a million more people than live in the state of Washington; a million less than in the state of Virginia. It’s so few, it’s the same number as were watching the January 24, 2012, Republican debate.

In fact, worldwide, there are only about fourteen million Mormons. That’s fourteen million among a global population just reaching seven billion. Fourteen million is the population of Cairo or Mali or Guatemala. It’s approximately the number of people who tune in for the latest hit show on network television every week. Fourteen million Americans ate Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant in 2011. That’s how few fourteen million is.

My friend James and I played basketball every Thursday afternoon when we lived together in Madrid. He was always exceedingly happy to play, although he would bitch, ad nauseum, about the Spaniards’ “bullshit” game.

“They can’t fucking dribble, T. And the fouls, fuck! This isn’t soccer, you hookers…I’m legitimately mad. Aren’t you? They hack you to pieces. You need to stop taking charges if you’re not going to call a foul.“ Hearing these tirades made me relax sometimes. He still had conviction.

On one particular afternoon, there was no Spanish bullshit. On this afternoon, four Americans ran court—a beleaguered cement court in Parque Oeste, a little west of the Arco de la Victoria, Generalissimo Franco’s pretty little door. James and I were engaged in a warm-up game of M-I-E-R-D-A, when we heard the thud of a basketball on the cement behind us. Mormons.

You can spot a Mormon on a mission from a mile away: Athletic, suspiciously Teutonic, clad in white starched, button-down short sleeves and a tie. Mormons especially stick out in Spain, so they’re usually easy to dodge. But sometimes the Latter-Day Saints come marching in from nowhere.

 

“Oh, hell no. It’s the tie guys,” James said, a little too loudly. I couldn’t help but snort. It was curious: James was raised a Baptist, but had for the most part abandoned whatever faith people had pumped through him during his youth. However, and I’ve found this to be the case with most people who have ostensibly forsaken their religion, he had a kind of “Hey, you can’t beat up my asshole little brother—only I can beat up my asshole little brother” mentality about the Church.

The two strapping LDSers came strolling up.

“Soy Moylen,” said Moylen, jamming his hand out. “Muchos gustos a conocerty.”

“I speak English,” said James.

“Hey, how about that!” said Moylen. “Where are you from? “

“Texas.”

“Cool!”

“Hi, I’m Xarek,” said Xarek, pumping his hand into mine.

“Hi, there.”

Proselytizers are like pistachios—intriguing, but seldom worth the trouble after it’s all said and done. I had a perfunctory talk with Xarek about my relationship with Jesus Christ, giving him just enough of a carrot to hunger after, while James practiced layups to avoid talking with Moylen. The two men, boys really, changed out of their “work” gear and into shorts and basketball shoes, but they left their shirts off.

“I guess we’ll be skins,” announced Moylen. Of course they would.

“You can shoot for outs,” said Xarek. I shot for James and me, missing. Xarek drained it. Mormon ball. Aside from being sculpted and in shape, these Mormons were good at basketball, executing passes with surgical accuracy between our legs, around our defending arms, above our overzealous heads. Have you ever seen two members of a religious sect execute a perfect alley-oop? I have.

“Cover him, Smith!” James roared. He called me by my last name when I frustrated him.

“Smith, get big.” James always used that expression when we’d be in line at some hallowed European tourist sight. James hated that nobody had any sense of decorum in the queue. “Getting big” entails swinging your arms out like a marionette on amphetamines and spreading your legs as wide as they’ll go to ensure nobody cuts around you in line. So, when James told me to “get big” against these mammoth lambs of God, I assumed it was a metaphor for defense. The only problem with playing defense at this moment was that Xarek and I were both covered in blood.

“Whoa, whoa. Somebody’s cut,” I said. I had blood smeared all across my shirt. I could taste the acrid syrup. Maybe I’d been hit in the lip. I felt nothing. “Hey, you okay?” I asked Xarek.

“Oh, yes. I’m fine.” Xarek had apparently taken the brunt of this mysterious injury. His face was covered in blood. The crown of thorns. “I feel nothing. Maybe I’m just sweating blood,” he giggled. I’m sure I fouled the shit out of him. I always do.

“Luke 22:43-44. Christ’s agony at Gethsemane,“ said Moylen.

“That’s right, Moylen,” Xarek grinned with smug approval.

“What the fuck?,” James whispered to me in passing. “These dudes aren’t right.” In an effort to reverse the throttling, James ordered me to switch up, so now I’d be covering Moylen who wasn’t covered in blood (yet), and who, James assured me, “wasn’t respecting my outside bombs.” “Tyler,” James went on, “I’m going to mix it up with that bitch-ass gory motherfucker down low and you drain threes on the other hooker. Word?”

“Word,” I said, with feigned confidence.

Down low soon began to look like a hematic sprinkler. A number of Spaniards descended onto the blacktop to watch this peculiar spectacle. In the paint, James and Xarek elbowed, shoved, shin-kicked, crab-blocked and generally banged away at each other like two deities in combat—a modern day Titanomachia. The Mormons continued to dominate and won the first game 21-6. My allegedly devastating three-point shot would not fall. “The fucking ball is covered in blood, James!”

“Don’t you make fucking excuses, T. FIGHT!” he screamed in my face, his teeth covered with a gruesome patina. “Do you understand, T?”

“Best two out of three?” asked Moylen. Any communication from the Mormons was now directed to me, as James refused to acknowledge them as anything but objects to beat the mortal shit out of. James had killing in him today. You don’t want to have killing in you too much of the time. I don’t know if I’ve ever had killing in me.

Game two became increasingly violent. Moylen threw an elbow that splashed into my nose, an extra avenue of blood flow, this time unattributable to divine magic on the Mount of Olives. I recoiled, but managed to drive the slick ball around him, and found James under the basket for a layup. I raced back to the outs line, received the ball back from James, checked and passed it back to him on the perimeter.

James intoned, “But with the precious blood of Christ…you cocksuckers. Bucket.” Ball in. James and Xarek, battling low for a rebound, slipped on the court, making obscene blood angels on the concrete. James roared up from the mess and lay the ball in. “Son of man coming with power and great glory….Bucket.” The Mormons kept silent during the second game, which we won, 21-12, James quoting scripture throughout.

I’ve always been impressed by people who can recite scripture, or poetry, or anything. I can barely remember “Fire and Ice,” the Frost poem that everybody learns in “Reciting Things 101.”

Game three began in heightened reality and ended in gauzy fog. We, the aging camels, the yellow camels, the angry, moving divine camels, started with too much intensity. I shot three errant bloodballs in a row, throwing James into a rage.

“Focus, T. Focus. Focus. Hit me low if it’s not falling. Fuck, Smith.” It wasn’t falling. But how can you stop? It feels right coming out of the hand, but when the shots don’t fall, the shots don’t fall. It would have to be James down low, outmatched, bloodied beyond recognition and snarling like the rat-faced man in the corner of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Christ Carrying the Cross.”

The basketball court was a ghastly sight. The backboard looked like a wall behind which executions took place. Blast radii of mammoth blobs of coagulating bloodsputum littered the court. Xarek and Moylen screamed at each other to play defense, to get open, to focus. They invoked scripture. They seemed rattled. Their ball.

Moylen drove to James’s left. I moved over a little to try and cut off his lane, but was waylaid by Xarek with a crushing pick. As I lay in a heap, Xarek stepped on my head and popped to the outside, behind the two-point line. James made a valiant effort to get a hand on Moylen’s outlet pass, but slipped and collapsed next to me on the wet concrete.

Xarek spoke before he shot: “Behold, I will give you the victory.” Bucket.

Final score:

Latter Day Saints: 21
Heretics: 19

Xarek and Moylen high-fived, their bloodstained bodies glistening in the Madrid sunlight. James began to weep. I’d only seen him cry once, when he talked about his mother. He was just a boy and thought she’d written the note after she’d done it. The poor kid. From that day on, his eyes were too wise for a child. They still were.

The crowd swarmed all over the Mormons, cheering, clapping, and slapping them on the back. Everyone was given a Book of Mormon and Moylen and Xarek went about their mission, their church, their victory.

I did my best to console James. “Let’s get a drink,” I suggested.

“We should have won that game, T,” he said, then went supervoid.

I, along with five other friends served as pallbearers for James. Outside the church, there was a long discussion about carrying the casket. We all naturally thought pallbearers had to carry the thing.

“Don’t worry, it rolls,” said some church official. Then there we were in a line, taking communion. Everything in a line. The priest had to get more wine. We raided the church stash—the blood of Christ was much more appealing than his body. “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Nice try, Revelations. But we’re thirsty.

I walked around during James’s wake, carrying his basketball for three hours like a goddamned fool. What else do you do? You play basketball. So the pallbearers played a game of three-on-three with James’ basketball at his parent’s house while people looked sad, the way you’re supposed to look at these functions. Strange glances were thrown. It wasn’t the same. We should have won that game.

But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate…

Driving across the country always feels like freedom. Music blasting, singing at the top of your lungs to songs you would never begin to admit you have on your iPod, and single-handedly keeping Starbucks in business as the plains of Eastern Oregon and Idaho blur together out the car window at 105 MPH. A good road trip is never hard to find. Every time I take to the open road, I realize I don’t do it enough. It’s the idea of the unknown, new beginnings, adventure, and of course, my unfounded fear of serial killers that keep my foot firmly planted on that gas pedal.

Stories and media tell us that the Pacific Northwest is the favored stomping ground of serial killers. So, were I a logical human being, it would be clear that the apex of my terror, for this road trip, should be in Oregon. The sense of impending doom lay waiting in the thick, lush ground cover and moss. The humidity aiding nature and speeding up decomposition, leading to my untimely outcome. But, no. Not me. Utah is the state that makes my skin crawl. I’ll admit it, I have an irrational fear of Utah. Moreover, I have an irrational fear of serial killers in Utah.

On my latest adventure, I had made it not only through Idaho (which smelled like a port-o-potty vulgarly punctuated by neon beer pong ads), but had also covered a solid portion of the Grand Master Flash anthology, pocket dogs resting soundly in the backseat, night falling around me… A success story in the making. So, you can imagine my horror when I see the sign, flashing its distasteful orange message at me with a sneer: I-80 closed.

This means I have to reroute myself. I can’t drive through Wyoming and continue on into Colorado. I have to drive through the state of Utah.  This wouldn’t be so incredibly bad, but I have no GPS; I also have no sense of direction. Under normal circumstances, my inability to discern my right from left is comical, something that gives everyone a good chuckle, myself included. This time however, I’m alone, in Utah; I’ve gotten off on one of those no-man’s land exits in search of a gas station with wireless internet (or a map, do they still make those paper things?).

For the record, I also have a bizarre fear of Wyoming–it has less to do with having my arms chewed off by some glass-eyed polygamists and more to do with being abducted by rodeo clowns. The latter, for some reason, feels like a much healthier, safer option; I see the result as something that would end up in the pages of Penthouse Forum as opposed to an A&E or History Channel Special titled “The Girl Used as Mulch for Community Garden to Feed Underprivileged Developmentally Disabled Inner City Youth in Mormon Sustainability Project.”

After eighteen hours on the road, I realize there is no way in hell I’m going to get out of the state of Utah before I have to sleep. It’s 1 a.m. I’m exhausted. My eyes are dry and feel like they’re bulging out of my head. My body vibrates from the road, or the coffee, I’m not sure which. I pull into a motel, check in, get the pocket dogs situated in the room and fall into bed. There, I lay awake, waiting to be hacked into tiny bits by some toothless yokel in Green River and served as scrapple to unsuspecting travelers for breakfast. I know this line of thought is getting me nowhere and instead decide to think about what I’m sure every person thinks about while trying to fall asleep under these conditions.

Midget Porn.

I’m enthralled by Midgets, I have always wanted one to live with me, in the small space underneath my stairs. I’d make him, or her, a cute little nest akin to Jeannie’s bottle with a fancy, albeit small, chandelier and furniture from the children’s section. I’m even more intrigued by Midget Porn, which is odd because, as I lay there thinking about it, I realize I have never seen any. It is, however, something that I manage to work into conversations, and I think, is always a fun dinner party topic. As I wait for the serial killers to bust down my door and slice me to death with Post-It’s, I grab my laptop and start surfing. I can see the headline now: “Woman Abducted from Green River Hotel While Surfing Midget Porn.” My mom will be so proud.

Even my sister has seen little people porn. She and her boyfriend were having a date night, the kids had been dispersed to friends houses for the evening. Apparently, some of the neighbors got wind of this, and as a gag, left a bag full of Midget Porn, or Dwarf Porn as she refers to it, on her doorstep. Rang the doorbell and just ran off. As she tells me this I laugh, never revealing my secret desire to ask her what she did with said porn.

As Doug Stanhope says, “Midget porn is the comic relief porn you look at after you’ve just jacked off to something really uncomfortable.” You have to understand: I’ve never really thought about Midget Porn as particularly arousing (and yes, I do read Playboy for the articles, thank you very much… Doesn’t everyone?), but as more of a curiosity, like Supercross or The Polyphonic Spree. I like to think of myself as worldly, in my own special way, a countercultural anthropologist, if you will.

I finally get some of what I imagine to be quality midget porn on the laptop, or as quality as you can get without relinquishing your credit card information. Much like all things in life you think you love or desire so much that it hurts, until you get them in your possession: deep fried Twinkies, a pet pony, Jake Ryan. You realize, sadly, you should have left well enough alone. That the romantic mythology is so much better.

With tired eyes I watch a man enter a hotel room, wheeling his suitcase behind him. He opens his luggage and out pops an abbreviated woman with hair the size of her person and yellow as Big Bird, rigged out in cheap lingerie. I laugh audibly at the squished little lady and worry a bit since the majority of him is of regular stature. I have to cover my eyes as he places her on the bed. Those truncated little legs in garters are way more than my highway addled mind can bear. I can’t take it. Those puffy little fuckers creep me out. There I sit, in my underwear and wife-beater, on a scratchy bedspread in a cheap motel room in Bum-fuck Utah. With my eyes pressed closed, covered by my hands, I have to wonder: did I watch The Wizard of Oz and Under the Rainbow too many times as a child? Maybe spending all those Thanksgiving Holidays watching the movie Freaks is to blame.

I snap my laptop shut, lay down under the cardboard cleverly disguising itself as sheets, and as I close my eyes I see my suitcase glaring at me from across the room. I try to drift off to sleep before a scantily clad, pint sized serial killer pops out of my suitcase of doom and takes me away.

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