Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Masquerade

"Paper faces on parade/ Masquerade/ Hide your face so the world will never find you."

Last Saturday, my new friend Snake and I went to a masquerade. We got masks at the local costume shop, and I wore my camel-colored leisure suit and my Guido wig, as well. I don't think I knew anyone there besides Snake, but we just danced and pretended we were the most interesting people in the room, and we had a good time. It was a bit freaky, all the masks and color and movement. Like the masquerade on Labyrinth, except without David Bowie sexually singing to a 15-year old girl with sleeves on her princess dress that would prevent her from drowning should she fall unconscious into a lake.

Earlier that morning, Wiggle, Blueshorts, and I went to a different kind of... well, let me back up a bit:

My friend (we'll call him "Hamster" to protect his true identity) had just recently moved to Utah from back home. I knew him in my singles' ward there in California. I had recently learned from a mutual acquaintance that Hamster a) had moved to Provo and b) also deals with Same-Sex Attraction (i.e. he likes boys).

I thought this was pretty funny. I called him up and hung out with him a few times. We met up again at Evergreen, actually, and we played games and caught up and laughed about our mutual plights. During Christmas break, I went with Hamster to his roommate's parents' house in West Valley. Things were great. During our time there, Hamster announced that he was dating his roommate's old high school friend, whom we'll call Gladys because I feel like it. The roommate (Roo) was a bit disturbed by the situation, but seemed to be in good spirits. Indeed, they made an odd couple, as the lady was taller and of a much more substantial girth than the fellow. She pretty much equals three of him.

The following week was a momentous one. During the first few days of their boyfriend-girlfriendhood, Hamster and his roommate Roo got it on. Yes, friends, they crossed that bold line between "appropriate levels of physical attraction between roommates" and "sex."

This was most unfortunate and unsettling for me, because Hamster actually kinda resembles a rodent, and I was really grossed out by the notion. Hamster told Gladys immediately the next morning about what had happened between him and his roommate, and she was forgiving.

Later that week, Hamster reported to me that his girlfriend was feeling bad because he and she had "gone too far" the previous night. The next day they were engaged for this coming April.

A week or so later, the wedding was pushed up to last Saturday. I got my wedding invitation through Myspace: "Come if you want. If not, we're still doing it."

Doing what? one has to wonder....

Anyway, I rounded up the troops and Wiggle and Blushorts and I headed to the wedding. We were a bit curious as to whether the debacle would still be going on, since we hadn't actually heard anything since the Myspace invitation. But when we got to the Orem Institute of Religion, the ceremony was in full swing, and one of their mothers was up there saying how proud she was of the two.

Then the bishop got up and offered generic advice that I'd heard countless times in marriage prep at institute. Then they had the ceremony. The bride was dressed in cream. The bottom of the dress puffed way out, which made her torso look like the fake bride atop a huge delicious champagne-colored wedding cake. Also, I hadn't had breakfast before I went.

The bishop told them to take each other by the right hand, but I think the bride heard "Take his hand with your right hand," because she grabbed his left and pulled him over to where they were to stand.

The ceremony itself was interesting because we were all leaning forward in our pews, wondering whether anyone would object or whether we'd all have to forever hold our peace.

Well, they skipped that part of the ceremony, which is lucky, because I don't think I'd be allowed to rail on the wedding if they'd said it. We all tensed up again when it came time for them to say "I do," but I was pretty sure he wouldn't back out at the last second, because she could totally beat him up. They were pronounced mammal and wife, and the bride leaned all the way in and kissed him. That kiss, to me, was a foreshadow of the remainder of their marriage, with her constantly putting in the effort and keeping up appearances and strong-arming her way through dismal months or maybe even years until finally she realizes she is suffocating and pulls away.

After the ceremony, they were allowed to say words from the pulpit. Gladys went first, and announced that she was glad that her newly acquired husband didn't have car insurance. She explained in a forward and engaging way that shortly after Hamster had moved here, he had crashed his car into someone else's car. She told us that Hamster had needed a ride to court, and explicated the miracle that occurred when the judge gave him a lower fine than those which he'd given all the other violators present that morning. After that, they'd gone to Taco Bell, and that was their first date. The hand of the Lord, she said, had been in everything they'd done that led them to this point. Good thing Jesus took away that kid's insurance, huh? And I'm not even going to touch the fact that the bride wasn't in white. She ended by saying to the audience, "I love him more than I've ever loved anything else." It's really sad because when I look at this kid, I think, there's something not quite human about this kid. He really looks like someone took a man and started turning him into a naked mole rat and then just stopped part of the way through the transformation. And then she had to go and say "anyTHING." Not "anyONE."

So then the groom spoke. The little fellow looked so happy up there. There was more joy in him than his tiny frame could contain. He kept saying "these past few weeks," as an awkward reminder to everyone that the couple had only been dating for a month and engaged for a little under three weeks. When he was done speaking, there was another all-her kiss, and then there was a closing prayer and it was all over. All over.

We talked to some of the other guests at the wedding. Everyone was dressed in their best Sunday smiles. We were all very polite and very "supportive." I don't know what it really means to be "supportive," but I've decided that in the church it means to show up, smile, and not mention the fact that somebody is making a very stupid and huge mistake with his or her life.

Wiggle wondered aloud on the way home whether any of Gladys' friends had even once pulled her aside and said, "Look, I think what you are doing might be a Very Terrible Mistake."

At any rate, they are married now. May they find peace and happiness and monogamy.

I do realize that today's post is a tad more sardonic and potentially hurtful than my normal posts. But there's this phenomenon I've recognized here. I call it "the Provo Effect," and I used to think it was the greatest thing since Cap'n Crunch. But now I'm starting to wonder.

Here in Provo, you see, it doesn't matter what you do. As long as you act like you're supposed to be doing whatever it is you're doing, everyone else will act like that as well. If you just walk into a stranger's apartment, drink out of his milk carton, and change the channel on the TV, he will say "Hey, what's up?" and act as though he's the crazy one for either not remembering you or being offended by what you are doing. And seriously, you can get away with it. And yes, I do know this firsthand.

So naturally, when I moved to Provo, I took full advantage of this phenomenon. I would knock on random doors and ask the girls inside for dinner, and they would whip something up, or give me the leftover pie from last night. I came to realize that the film Ocean's 11 wasn't exaggerating when it had the Mormon Twins tell Saul, the old con artist, "I think you should try Provo. I think you could do very well there."

But soon I started to see the downside. Have you ever watched American Idol during the tryout phase, and been like, "Why on EARTH do these wretched people think they can sing?" Well, the answer is, the Provo effect. Nobody is going to be the one to tell you that you can't sing, especially if you always sing with "self confidence" (a subject for a different rant). If you're a terrible singer but you sing all the time, and then you go up to your boss and say, "I'm quitting my job and I'm going to go make a fortune on American Idol," your boss is going to say, "Oh! I think you'll do great!" because first, nobody, even bosses, likes to be the one to tell you that what you are doing is not okay with the rest of the world, and second, at least now the office will be quiet enough to hear the Muzak playing overhead.

The world hates Simon Cowell, but really it should hate all the Paula Abduls out there who only hinder people's progression by never giving them the feedback that they need. In the name of being "nice," we are being dishonest, and it has to stop.

One day Heather Angela Hicks (she was still heather Angela Hawks back then) got a pink mohawk and spiked it up all crazy for church. I had been telling Heather from the moment she got the mohawk that I thought it looked terrible and trashy. And it really did. But after church, she was pleased to report that several of the sisters in the relief society had complimented her on her nice new mohawk. That's when it hit me. The Provo Effect was exactly the same thing as the Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome. And we're letting our emperors parade around naked!

Maybe all the people who have a proper sense of decency assume that the rest of us do, too. Let me assure you, though, that there are plenty of us who check the propriety of our actions against the reactions of those around us, like a sort of prosthetic conscience. Your failure to react genuinely does us a great disservice. Not that I'm trying to lay the blame for my own misdeeds on someone else. It's just that I think people care about what everyone thinks a little more than any of us lets on, and so it's time for us all to feel responsible for the opinions we share.

Instead of, "Oh, I like your hair," you can say, "Oh, I notice you got a new mohawk. Not something I would ever wear to church, but if it helps your sense of self worth, then I suppose it's a good thing." That comment, after about fifty repetitions from various members of the relief society, is going to send a message about the ridiculousness of the stupid haircut.

Hamster's wedding was the nadir of this effect. The event was the real masquerade of the day, with all of the guests hiding their true faces and feelings and putting on a facade of grotesquely exaggerated smiles. As long as nobody at the party shows his true face, nobody can be held responsible for the resulting tragedy, right?

Now, Hamster's wedding scared me for another reason, as well. Here he seems to have found what we all seem to be looking for (on paper, at least): a girl who proclaims to believe in the gospel and forgiveness and repentance and who is willing to overlook our shortcomings and marry us anyway. But any closer look will reveal that that is merely the facade; it's the lie hamster is telling himself. These two young people are in absolute denial about their future. They seem to believe in an impossible life in which they can merely divorce themselves from their feelings and breezily forgive away any trespasses against them.

Recent studies have shown that a large percentage of gay-straight marriages fail. Psychologists maintain that the only chance such a relationship really stands is through an incredible amount of communication between husband and wife. Well, Hamster and Gladys do seem to be able to communicate with each other. She was well aware of his indiscretions when they united in matrimony. My fear is that neither is really communicating with himself. Hamster is a fool to think that marriage will be his Pool of Bethesda. An optimistic, pathetic fool, whom I pity and understand, but a fool nonetheless. And Gladys is likewise a fool to think she can strong-arm him from place to place in the marriage, just as she did at the wedding, for the rest of their lives. She is going to squish the li'l fellow.

I hope that the mere fact that I can recognize the flaws in their thinking will prevent my making a similar mistake. I hope that someday I will find a virtuous woman who does have the capacity to love me and forgive me through all of my shortcomings, but at the same time will have a sense of her own worth and who will hold me to a higher standard of behavior rather than just continue to increase her tolerance of my misdeeds.

I wish that were the end of the post, but there's always another chapter to my stories, as Pinetree can attest after his on-campus run-in with (and run-off without) the Latina chick whose roommate had tried to get me to set the two up.

All that aside, though, I got an e-mail from Rose today. You remember Rose, right? The transvestite from my ward who got baptized while I was at efy? Click here for the story. Click here for her Myspace, including more pics if you log in. Well, she's getting married in April. To the boy she was dating right after her baptism several months ago. And she says she's saving me a spot in the temple. Of course, this puts me in the rather uncomfortable position of possibly being the only one to attend the wedding who knows that she is, in actuality, a "he." So I have set another appointment with the Bishop and I will be taking him the evidence that Heather Angela Hicks was smart enough to photocopy, and I will ask him what he thinks I should do.

This could easily be another wedding where I sit there with my mouth shut and say nothing. Just watch the embers fall and sit there, smugly reassured that I'm not the one responsible for the fire. But maybe it's time to be Simon, not Paula, and to call the disaster where I see it.

Sharkbite asked why I even attended Hamster's wedding at all. I told him that if there's a train wreck on the side of the road, you can't just drive by and not turn your head to look. Then again, I'm starting to realize that sometimes an emperor can parade by naked, and you really can just clamp your mouth shut and pretend not to see. Not everyone in the crowd believed the tailors and their nonsense about not being fit for our station, I've learned. Half of us are just clenching our teeth, hoping some kid will say what we aren't willing to stick our necks out to say ourselves. Oh, well. The first resplendent ruler, in all his glorious déshabillé, is gone, the next approaches, and all I can do is hope that at the end of the parade, there is Santa, and he's throwing candy.

13 comments:

Muse said...

ok, ok, you win. But be glad to know you've strengthened my decision to confront my roommate about some stupid mistakes she's making.
oh, and I might take you up on that sometime. I'm glad to know I'm "funny enough to hang out with"

Scott said...

You have a lot of valuable insight to dole out. That wedding sounds like it was a scary experience. Also, have courage with that transvestite situation, you might have some responsibility in the matter considering the information that you have. I don't think that transvestite marriages are supposed to be performed in the temple. That would require a lot of repenting.

n said...

Wow. No advice on the situation, I think you already know what you're going to do.

But great blog!

I can't explain it. The way it was written made it really fun to read. I feel guilty for finding joy in a story about someone else's future pain, but it was really well done.

Mustard said...

Thank you for this post. You are a wonderful writer and made me think with your insights. I have many comments regarding this post...remind me when I talk to you this weekend. I love you! BE GOOD!

Wiggle said...

It's funny, because the same thoughts have been swirling in my head since the wedding. But I don't think I could have written them all down as well as you have.

вџн said...

Robot, I can't tell you how glad I am for the myspace link. I've seen that profile pic a few times... and every time I come across it, I stare at it because something seems wrong.

Simon says: "She's a man!"

вџн said...

One more thing. I am very proud of my sister for every last one of her conniving skills, and for her trickery in discovering the devious.

That pink mohawk... it was wild.

At least she has real hair now!

Dice said...

Your blog is really long....
But I miss you

Toasteroven said...

Holy crap, Smurf. I'm glad you know about it, so that something can be done. Looks like you'll have another enemy on your hands =|

Yes, the Provo effect sure sucks. I like the way you write about it. I have long despised it and now I have a better way to deal with it and explain it to people. Thanks much ^_^

(Why do you see all the crazy crap? I have seen little craziness as of late. Maybe I should just be grateful).

el veneno said...

Wow. Great stuff Smurf. I was wondering how that all turned out for your Hamster friend and I've always been intrigued by the whole Rose story.
Your "Provo Effect" assessment is spot on. Lets start a little revolution to get that changing. I guess I can start by changing myself.

Oh-- and your song "I could never be your woman." You don't know how much I love that song. That was my secret anthem as a kid. I used to pump that up in my truck all the time on the way home from school (with my windows very closed). I've thought of downloading it but never thought about it while I was at my computer. Thanks for the reminder.

suerte

pinetree said...

I would definitely agree that the Provo effect is a problem, but I would definitely caution against going around pointing out the flaws in everyone else. You really don’t dont have to encourage it, or support it, or say you like it either. Like with the pink haired girl; you just don’t say anything at all. If she had walked into church without any of the girls giving her a reaction, she probably would have realized on her own what a silly idea her attention getting scheme was. In fact she probably would have felt downright stupid. Even if she didn’t, it’s really not anyone else’s business how she wants to dress or groom, unless she offends the atmosphere of the church in which case the bishop, who is in a position to judge people, should decide whether to kick her out or not. The only thing anyone should worry about is himself or herself, being sure to dress and act as appropriately as they know how.

On a larger scale, I think that the wedding of the weasel is ultimately his choice too. Sure, if he solicits your advice, you should definitely give it tactfully as a friend. The same rings true for parents or anyone else close to him. I would also hope that the bishop and/or stake president weighed in on the matter as that is their responsibility. If he wants to get married to this chick though, that’s his decision. You don’t have to say you think they make a cute couple, or you think they will do well in life, or you think their babies will be cute or anything. That’s garbage and everyone knows it. I think people should support him in the sense that they should do everything they can to help make it work out as best as possible.

Honestly I think that we should avoid judging people whenever possible. I feel really sorry for bishops and leaders in the church who are put in a position where they have to do it. I couldn’t handle having to decide whether a person was bad or not, or what their true intentions are or any of that. It makes me realize how important the spirit is in all of it. Heavenly Father and Jesus are seriously the only ones who knows all of our hearts perfectly, and are therefore in a perfect position to judge our actions. The rest of us (me especially) are much too fallible and imperfect ourselves.

Again, not judging doesn’t mean that we should encourage or take part in things that we think or know to be bad. Just set a better example and try to accentuate anything that truly is positive. Like maybe if the girl with pink hair has nice shoes or something, you could point that out instead of her flaming obvious hair. Ha, in fact I think that would be hilarious if the whole ward did that...some chick comes in obviously trying to blow everyone away with her hair and the only thing people can say is “Wow, those are some really nice shoes you’re wearing today.” Haha

Anyways...

I think you are doing the right thing going to a church leader for advice about the Rose thing. It probably wouldn’t be such a good idea to go take the matter into your own hands, but not calling the facts to the attention of the church so that they can decide upon an appropriate course of action would be a mistake.

I realize that I sound judgemental in this comment about not being judgemental, but I guess I just expect that when people, especially my friends, blog about something, they are interested in feedback.

So there it is.

You of course still rock though, Smurf.

Mustard said...

Ditto everything Pinetree said! I could not have said it better!

Rusty said...

I mostly agree with your ideas of Simon versus Paula - this is a problem I've been having at Institute for over a year and it has definitely surfaced for me lately. My only qualm stems from the confusion related to the appropriateness of being honest. There are a few in my ward, and by a few I mean a bunch, who take it upon themsleves to judge everyone and tell them what to do. Back in my home ward, when I dyed my hair for the first time, my senior home teaching companion told me that it was inappropriate and that I was breaking the rules in the For Strength of Youth. It was a natural color and a natural style but he still felt that it was his responsibility to discipline me. That's taking your Provo analogy too far the other way. Another wack LDS example that I can thing of involves the ever infamous "shhhh!", perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves. I hate being shushed, and I hate even more the principle that it represents. If people were true leaders they would understand the importance of being passive sometimes (instead of assertive) to set the example and quit telling others what to do. Be the shepherd, not the sheepherder, and shut the heck up instead of feeding the "shh" fire! In my ward, nothing gets done because people just "shush" the whole meeting and no one is actually quiet. This seems to be the antithesis of your problem, and it isn't okay either. I don't think that as a religion we're able to handle truth...we like living a facade because we don't know how to be honest without overdoing it. We don't know balance. People in my ward try to play Jesus whereas in yours they just sit on the bench - which is better? What's the balance?