Friday, April 21, 2006


Protest seems to be the word on everyone's lips these days. Sometimes it even feels like I'm in a real college town, what with all the demonstrations and campaigns going on around here.

My co-worker Keri, frustrated by the oppressive system we have at work for who gets to wait on which tables, complained aloud and announced her plan to bring about change when she gasped, "Why don't I ever make any tips? I am REVOLTING!"

I told her she'd just answered her own question. I don't think she caught the joke.

My friend Hero, also in the spirit of social reform, performed a small demonstration against the Malt Shop on University Avenue recently. He told the girl that he wanted the Wednesday student two-for-one special and asked for a shake and a root beer freeze. She sent the order back and then charged him almost eight dollars.

"Eight dollars! I asked for the two-for-one deal!"

"well, you can't get the two-for-one deal with the freeze. Only shakes," said the bovine employee, repeating the price through a mouthful of cud.

Well, Hero is the sort of being whose whole night can be ruined by one single interaction with an imbecile. This girl could have told him that he couldn't get the discount on the freeze before sending the order through. She also refused to cancel it. So he paid for the shake and the freeze, and when they came, he dumped half his shake on the carpet in protest. Then he said "whoops," stepped in the mess, and marched out of there. It was funny.

Meanwhile, real and actually organized protests have abounded recently.

One involved unattractive vegetarians standing on the street corner right in front of the restaurant at which I work, making out in their underwear and telling people to avoid meat, and handing out tracts with pertinent quotes about animals and their souls and brains from such leading spiritual and scientific leaders as Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson. As I've said before, I think there must be some sort of animal by-product in soap, because Vegans always seem to need a shower. These ones had a mattress out there and had adopted the slogan, "Vegetarians make better lovers." If anything, having mostly-naked people dancing about in front of our store only increased our business that day, and I made sure to suggest the steak enchiladas or the beef chimichanga to every customer I got. I sold tons.

Then there were some whose causes I respected a little more.

The first surrounded a controversy over BYU's firing of a man named Todd. If you live in the Provo bubble, you have probably heard whispers of this story. The reason I am retelling it now is that I have a little bit of ironic personal involvement in this story.

Todd was a grown-up who worked for the BYUSSR, more legitimately known as the BYUSA. He had a number of job responsibilities, one of which had something to do with BYUSA "elections." Over the course of his years at BYUSA, Todd noticed some unsettling glitches in the operation of the BYUSA electorate machine. So he decided to write a letter in the Daily Universe which decried the entire process, pointing out that an anonymous cadre of randomly selected students were put in charge of disqualifying candidates, a power which he inferred had been used unfairly by members of the group to aid their friends.

Certainly the letter was timely; this past election was once again riddled with scandal as students were disqualified for getting photocopies of campaign papers run off with a discount at a private copying center rather than at whatever the committee deemed to be "market price," whatever that means (there is a rule in the election procedures that students need to spend their campaign funds only on items they purchase at "market price"). The discount they received was actually available to all the other candidates. It was time for somebody to speak up, and Todd was our man. He mailed out that letter to the DU.

So they fired him. That's right, BYU fired Todd for publicly calling into question practices of the organization for which he worked. They offered him hush money, saying that if he would agree to not disclose the reason for which he was fired, they would continue to give him health insurance and other benefits for a grace period. Todd, always one to stand against censure and the man, refused the offer and sent off another letter to the Daily Universe. Soon a full-scale real protest was in full swing, with students duct-taping their mouths symbolically.

Well, I see some interesting parallels between myself and this Todd fellow....


Once upon a time there was a small community of smurfs that lived somewhere in the woods of Belgium in stone houses that looked like mushrooms to the untrained eye. Further into the wood, they had a computer, and it was attached to the internet, and the smurfs found a BYU website called the Hundred Hour Board, where BYU students could anonymously and cleverly answer people's questions about anything and everything. They applied to write for the Board, and were accepted, and in the time during which our story takes place, they had been writing for the Board for several months, and it was their raison d’être. Then one day a dark oppressive shadow loomed over their idyllic little forest. BYUSA decided to censor the Hundred Hour Board. The poor little smurfs ran for shelter, but they were too late. Soon all was black in their forest. Were they defeated? No. They made a last-ditch effort to battle the forces of the evil bureaucracy, answering questions just as they always had. One day a question came in about how to improve race relations on campus. The smurfs pulled out all the stops, giving an informative yet amusing answer, citing examples shared with them by real minorities attending BYU. Before that answer could ever post, however, it caught the attention of one of BYUSA's cronies, who was floating around in the smoggy cloud overhead. He sent the smurfs a letter, demanding that they remove any evidence of actual instances of racism on campus. The smurfs refused, and used the last of their energy to respond angrily (although cleanly) to this unreasonable letter. But they were too late. The next time they tried to visit the computer, it had been slashed to pieces by BYUSA, and they were never able to log in on the computer again.

So you see, I can totally relate to Todd's little predicament. But if you grease the machine for long enough, Todd, eventually it'll slip and cut you.

Also I should mention that this Todd fellow is the selfsame troll who was censoring the Board, and who kicked me off. So while I admire the fact that you finally grew a backbone and tried to take a stand against the monster, I still have to chuckle at the irony of the giant monster swallowing you up after you helped feed it until it grew big enough to eat you too. Hahaha, Todd. Seriously, that's what you get, especially when you mess with THIS smurf.

I'm not still bitter about it, I swear.

Later that same week, there was another on-campus protest, led by a group called Soulforce. Soulforce was a group of thirty-two gays and lesbians who decided to rent a bus and tour religious and military universities to help stop "religious oppression" of homosexuals, as they put it. Their leaders said at a rally the night before the protests began that BYU was the "crowned jewel" of the tour.

I didn't attend any of the on-campus events, but I came near the protests at the park. I couldn't hear much that was being said because the rumble of the generator they used to power the microphone was louder than the microphone itself.

Soulforce's points were many. They cited the numbers of gay Mormon teen suicides (a BYU student named Matt even took the mic and testified about his own failed suicide attempts), said that BYU students are uneducated about and intolerant of homosexuals, and basically just complained a lot. They said that their surveys showed that more than ninety percent of BYU students said they wouldn't want a homosexual as a roommate. I'm skeptical, to say the least.

Your name: Smurf

1) Would you rather have roommates who are gay or straight?

a) gay ___
b) straight _x_

2) Would you be ok with a lesbian roommate?

a) yes ___
b) no _x_

See? Even I don't pass the test. It's all in the way you word it. And I present as evidence to the contrary Asmond, BAWB, Toasteroven, Gravy, and the Snake, all of whom willingly entered roommate situations with gay kids and/or were staunch defenders of them afterward.

At any rate, I had several beefs with Soulforce's message.

1: "Religious oppression of homosexuals?" I'm doubly offended. I don't appreciate three dozen hippies coming to my school to tell me that I'm at once oppressor and oppressed.

2: The use of Gandhi's and Martin Luther King Jr.'s countenances in their logo. I don't care if they DID have permission from relatives of the two men. This was a cause that a Hindu and a southern reverend would NEVER have been behind. In the words of Alecia, my sassy black manager, upon her hearing about the logo, "Oh HEEEEELL no!" That's just plain offensive.

3: The issues presented were for the most part issues from years past. Today's political climate with regard to homosexuals is one of tolerance at worst, even here in conservative Utah. The head lesbian was a minister for some religion and proudly claimed to have been excommunicated thrice, eventually leaving the church altogether and taking up residence with her former visiting teacher. She delivered an angry speech, much like those presented by other alumni, about how horrible it was to attend BYU. The problem was that she was speaking to a bunch of students who currently attend BYU and were having trouble seeing any of the problems she mentioned.

4: The idea of the homosexuals blaming religion for the suicides. It just pisses me off. The problem isn't solely with either side. The problem is the imagined chasm between the two sides, with poor youths feeling trapped with a foot on either side. Religion and homosexual tendencies are not naturally at odds. For years, churches painted the picture thus, but our church has come a very long way in the manner in which its leaders deal with those who experience same-sex attraction. We are aware that feelings of incongruousness between a religion believed to be true and an immutable sexual desire believed to be false can cause great psychological trauma to our young people. But just when our little bubble community seems to be taking steps to find middle ground, the other camp pulls away even more vehemently, and those chasm-straddlers are going to find themselves falling to one side or the other or down into the blackness. We need to be closing the gap from BOTH sides.

5: They weren't friendly. Tell them you're a closeted homosexual fighting to keep your sexual identity under wraps until just barely after graduation, and they'll welcome you with open arms and offer you the drinks they're serving in the corner. But stand with the small peaceful counter-protest (as I did) and suddenly you'll find an angry middle-aged redhead in a pantsuit storming toward you and unsavorily unplugging your music. Many of the lesbians from the bus decided to smoke on campus, or march around distributing fliers and otherwise breaking the protest rules set forth by the university. The smoking thing particularly got my goat, since not only is it a BYU rule that one cannot smoke on campus, but it is also against the state laws of Utah to smoke within a hundred feet of a public building. When students (such as my roommate Asmond) kindly asked the lesbians to refrain from smoking in front of their workplace, the lesbians took it as an affront on their message and their sexual identity and refused to either extinguish their cigarettes or move along.

The counter-protest was kinda weak, really. There was an insane hispanic woman with two people I can only assume were her own progeny, shouting "Shame on you" louder than the speakers AND the generator. "Let me tell jew something jew don't know," she said to me, advancing until she would have been right in my face had she been a foot taller. I let her, but she only told me things I already knew or that I still don't believe, like the idea that the gay movement is secretly being run by politicians and filmmakers who aren't actually gay themselves but rather hope to make a buck off the whole idea. Then there was a guy whose wife and daughter were playing on the playground while he distributed his own manifesto to the classy tunes of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir under a banner that read "You want your freedom of expression; please allow us ours." Then there was me, standing silently in the cold with my arms crossed, the ever non-partisan participant.

Why was I standing with the counter-protest? I just wanted someone to know that Soulforce does not speak for me. I don't think I'm a radical. I don't imagine for one second that I'm typical. But I like to think I am reasonable, at least. I didn't appreciate Soulforce's rhetoric. I didn't like their tying depression and suicide to homosexuality. I especially didn't appreciate that they purported to represent me. AND accuse me. As Wiggle so often repeats, "You don't KNOW me."

My old friend LLama was the one person whose actions that day receive a full endorsement from me. He was out there distributing lists of resources for people who are trying to deal with homosexuality in a positive church context. Way to be, LLama.

So, the point is that BYU seems to be at least taking a step forward by allowing these protests on campus, right? Especially after the American Association of University Professors put us on its list of censured schools in 1997 after a female professor was allegedly fired for being pro-choice and feminist.

But wait, by some coincidence(?), the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities happened to be visiting our school that same week that the protests were being graciously (and uncharacteristically) allowed on campus. This is the organization that every ten years decides whether BYU should maintain its accreditation status. So the question remains, is BYU actually becoming a more progressive school, or is it just trying to save face for the man?

Amid all this chaos, the Mexicans are enojados. It seems they feel they are under-appreciated. I'll agree with that. On May first, there is to be a nation-wide walk-out for all trabajadores of hispanic descent. In other words, the Mexican restaurant where I work is going to have an absolute dearth of cooks and dish washers that day. The owners are considering making Alecia cook fajitas and serving everything on paper plates all day. I guess Alecia is the next closest thing we have to Mexican after the real Mexicans and the Chileans and Salvadorians and all.

Now here's where it gets interesting for me. Norma and the other cooks and dish washers have told me that I'd better not come to work that day. After all, I am one quarter Mexican, and would be doing my old abuelita great dishonor by coming to work on that day. If our restaurant weren't situated exactly in the heart of downtown, I might just ignore their invitation. And also if it didn't have huge glass windows that look right out onto the street where the main demonstrations will be going on. And if the cooks hadn't been whispering about how they fully expect things to turn quickly into a riot.

And really, I do respect their cause, and my grandmother, and all. The last thing I want to be is a scab. So not only am I moderately interested in their cause, and medium terrified of the prospect of a thousand illegal immigrants hopped up on tequila coming at me with whatever the Mexican equivalent of pitchforks and torches is while I'm at work, and extremely excited about the idea of a totally good excuse to not show up for work for a whole day, but I also am relieved when I check my calendar and realize that the whole thing is moot because I have Mondays off anyway. I think I'll go have me some all-you-can-eat fajitas that day, as long as Alecia's cooking.

So there you have it, folks. Three major protests going on, all of which really relate to me (after all, I am a BYUSA-censored, homosexual, Mormon who is descended from illegal Mexican immigrants), and yet while I feel passionately about each of those subjects, I just can't find myself getting behind any of those causes.

You want to know the cause I CAN get behind? Protesting Panda Express. Seriously, Gravy and I always talked about marching in front of that store with signs that say "Don't believe their lies!" and "Panda Express is chicken" and distributing PETA-esque pamphlets that explain that there is no actual panda meat in ANY Panda Express products. I can't believe the number of people who still eat there, seemingly unaware of the flagrant false advertising. I hope Vero will be back in town on May first, because I am off work that day, and I'd bet she would help me with my movement. And that day is perfect, because there won't be any workers there to come out and stop us. Because after all, not only is their panda secretly just chicken, but their Chinamen are secretly just Mexicans.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Double Feature

Part One: Homemaking Night

So Pinetree has this roommate. He's a nice guy, but he has some questionable taste. Like, for instance this poster that he puts up in their living room. It's all, "Marines: liberators, protectors, warriors." And it shows this marine all gussied up in his killing gear and it looks kinda like this, only nighttime:

And so naturally, Pinetree hates the poster, right? I mean, besides being flagrant propaganda, it's not like it's even a cool picture. Seriously it's lots lamer than the above picture. So anyway, Pinetree comes up with this ingenious plan. We're gonna steal the poster. Only we can't just take it down, because then it will be totally obvious that he did it, because who else cares what posters are up in somebody's house? So Pinetree decides to make up some girls and then we can frame them.

So I borrow some pink and yellow construction papers from Wiggle and write in my stupid-girl handwriting a message that's all, "If you ever want to see your poster again come to apartment 9 tomorrow at 7" or something. And then I cut it up in little puzzle pieces.

Then we decide to make some cookies to sweeten the deal, with a little note that's like, "There's more where this came from." But we also decide to make the cookies really nasty just because that's funny, right?

Well, a few days pass, and before we can get in there to do it we end up at Denny's at midnight with a buncha friends, including Vero Awesome. And she's all, "Time for frivolity, yo." So we're all, yeah, let's go make cookies. And somebody has the sweet idea to just buy some cookies at the store and then frost them with something nasty. So we choose toothpaste. The only problem with toothpaste is it might not be nasty enough, and there's a little note on the box that goes, "If more than the normal amount used for brushing is swallowed, contact a physician or a poison control center immediately." So we're worried they'll be all, "Mmmm, minty cookies" and eat 'em all and totally croak, as opposed to them being all, "Blech! Aquafresh cookies! Angry!" and then we all laugh. So we go to the store, and we open one container to see if it's nasty enough, but it's blue stripes, so before we even try it, we decide to close it back up and put it back on the shelf. But it's not staying closed, see, so we go to the tape aisle and get some tape and tape it shut and put it back. And the tape. We put them both back.

And then we decide on the Pepsodent and it's white, and it's me and Vero and Wiggle and Pinetree, and Wiggle says we need sprinkles to heighten the effect, and she's right of course. S owe get those too, and Vero wants to also give cookies to these two dudes we work with named Ryan and Greg who are roommates, so we get more cookies and we get cards for them. And we sit around in the parking lot, frosting the cookies with ghetto plastic knives I horked from the deli part of the store, even though it was closed and all these break-taking employees were sitting over there looking at me like, "What the? Did that Arabian dude just walk in here and steal plastic knives?" And yes, yes I did.

So we frost the cookies, and the womenfolk sign the cards (which are perfect to begin with because they talk about "more love where these come from" or some crap), and Vero gives us two wonderfully horrible long dyed-red hairs to frost into the cookies (one for each plate). Then we are still a bit worried about, like, what if the guy eats the cookies and is all, "mmm, like thin mints, delish!" and eats them all and dies. After all, the box the paste came in has that little warning on the bottom for a reason, I point out. So Wiggle suggests we just cut that thing out and tape it on the bottom of the plate of cookies. Good thinking, Wiggle! So we do, thus assuaging our guilt in a very legally permissible way.

And we go to Greg and Ryan's first, and Racherella tells us where they keep their key, and I go, but I can't find the key, so I doorbell ditch it and go running out of there like a rabbit from a dog show. But on the way out Vero notices that we got the wrong apartment, so I go back, and fortunately the plate and the card are still sitting there, and we take it to the right apartment and I go in and leave it on their counter and this time sneak out like a mouse at a, um, nother dog show.

And then we go to Pinetree's, and Vero Awesome takes the cookies and the feminine puzzle and comes back out with the poster (remember that's why we did all this in the first place?) and we give it to Dice and we go home and go to bed. It was frickin' awesome, and it reminded me that I can have mischievous fun without getting the police involved.

Part Two: Connections

I have been to see Dr. Robinson four times now. He's incredible. He talks to me for forty-five minutes, asking questions and taking these big long pauses as he considers what to say next. When I speak, he writes everything down, scribble scribble scribble, on his clipboard. He goes through several sheets of paper each time, because I can be quite loquacious. I told him next time I'm bringing a clipboard and writing down everything he says, and then pausing for a few minutes and sighing before responding every time, and see how HE likes it. I don't know if he even understood what I was talking about on that one. After the forty-five minutes he starts telling ME things, and the pieces click together, and I feel like I have been tricked into learning so much.

Anyway, the first time we were together, he taught me something cool that I had thought I already knew about myself and the way brains work.

He gave me an example. He said we take the word "cat." And we take the spelling of the word. He drew this all out for me on paper. He said we can take a baby and teach it that the word means the spelling, and it will learn it. You say the word, the baby will pick out the spelling. He said that we can then take the cat itself and teach the baby that the word means the cat. Then he said that we can also teach these things to animals. A dolphin or a dog or a bird can learn to pick the right one from among misleading choices. You say "cat" and the monkey will point to the cat.

The difference, he said, is that the baby will also automatically learn that the spelling means the word, as well. He will learn it both ways. He will also learn that the cat means the word. And then he will learn that the spelling means the actual cat and vice versa. Humans make six automatic connections where the animals will learn only two. It's what sets us apart as humans, he said. Our ability to make connections. Our minds become a web of connections and it's how we learn and deal with the world.

The cool thing is that I am well aware that my mind forms these connections. I assign everything a color, I spell it out in my head. I alphabetize all items in groups. Like you say "colors," and I start to think "amethyst, apricot, azure, black, blue, brown, burgundy, burnt orange, etc...." And that's just now off the top of my head. The Human mind is amazing. Given a minute or two, we can eventually find a specific link, no matter how feeble between any two given things. For instance, if you had to say how turnips are the opposite of marbles, you could. Or you could find a way in which carpets are the parent of Puff Daddy.

Anyway, the good Dr. R. next drew the word "Rob." That's my dad's name, as well as a variant of my own, since we technically have the same name. So then he wrote "Dad" and draws an arrow between the two. Then he wrote "me" and drew an arrow from "Rob" to "me." Are you picturing this? then he draws all the other arrows, back from "me" to "Rob" and from "Dad to "Rob" and between "me and "Dad" both ways. No wonder I balk at anyone's calling me "Rob," he says. I immediately connect myself to my dad, and his failures. He next wrote "disaster" and drew the arrow from "Dad" to that. And then all kinds of other scary things my dad has done. And all of it connected to me and my dad through arrows.

I'd always known my brain does that, you see. I just had only been paying attention to the aspect of the connection building that helps me to win board games. I wasn't aware that it was also leading to problems in my life.

So the goal is not to break down those connections, but rather to loosen them, and to build up stronger connections that will supersede those other ones.

This last time we talked about prayer, among other things. Dr. Robinson said he has some patients whom he can't cajole into praying, and that he thinks that's a major factor for success. And on the way home (I always walk home so I can process what I've learned), a thought struck me. On my mission I worked very hard to actually "pray always," as Second Nephi suggests. I spent a lot of time studying and pondering how to actually do that. And I learned some helpful methods. One has simply to direct his thoughts, whatever they be about, to God, keeping Him in the forefront of the mind at all times. One can in this way be sure that his actions are in step, as well. It's the idea behind the CTR ring. Every time you see it there on your finger, you remember the good that you need to be doing. On my mission I met a man named Elías, who was trying to quit smoking. This is not a happy mission story where we helped him to quit smoking and he got baptized and is now first counselor in the branch presidency. It's just a time that I learned an important lesson. One day Elías had a piece of string tied around his finger. He said it was to help him remember to not smoke. When asked about the efficacy of the string, he replied that it didn't work because it kept coming off, and he'd forget. So I gave him my CTR ring. I told him that every time he saw it or felt it or noticed it, he was to pray for the strength he'd need to quit smoking. And I promised him that every time I noticed that the ring was gone or my finger felt naked, I'd pray for him as well. And it worked, as far as reminding me went. I didn't need the ring to remember to choose the right. The absence of the ring could serve the exact same function.

So on this walk home from my weekly session with the therapist, I came to realize that praying always was simply a matter of making everything remind me to choose the right. I had to make ALL the connections connect back to God. I looked around me at the mountains and the sun and the long straight stretch of University Avenue and saw gospel symbolism and turned my thoughts to God. But it's easy with roads and mountains. I needed to connect EVERYTHING. Turnips and carpet and cats and Puff Daddy and my own daddy all need to make me think of God and the things with which he has blessed me and the things he requires of me.

And when I do spiritual things, like going to church or the temple or reading my scriptures, I need to relate them back to the rest of my life, so that those connections already exist when I go out into the world. I realized that's why Nephi also tells us to liken the scriptures to ourselves. It's why Christ taught his parables using images from the people's daily lives. Not just because those are the things they could understand, but also because those are the images the people would be seeing every day after Christ was no longer in their presence.

At one point this last week, Dr. Robinson just leaned back, sighed contemplatively, and said, "You're very weird." That has to make you feel great, right? When a guy whose job it is to deal with crazy people tells you you're very weird? Anyway, the week before he'd been telling me I needed to cut out everything gay in my life, because it could become a trigger. But this last time he said he wasn't so sure any more. I could tell he was struggling to reconcile this with his hard fast rules he'd (until then) entertained. At any rate, we both left there wondering what to do, but by the time I got home I knew. I need to consecrate myself a little more. I need to keep saying my prayers throughout the day, every time I need something or am thankful for something or thinking of someone. I need to connect my life and my surroundings to my God, so that all things point more directly toward him, because I owe him, and I love him.