The Politics of Will Rogers

I’m halfway through the run of Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of “The Will Rogers Follies.” I play Wiley Post, the aviator who was piloting the plane that went down  in Alaska in 1935, claiming the lives of both Rogers and Post as a result. I spend the entire show sitting in the audience, yelling “Let’s go flying, Will” every once in awhile. It’s kind of a running joke until the end of the show, when it finally dawns on everyone as to what happens when Will finally takes me up on my offer.

Let’s go flying, Will!

The subtitle of the plays is “A Life in Revue,” meaning that the events of Will Rogers’s life are recounted in the context of an old-style Ziegfeld Follies extravaganza, complete with massive old-school singing and dancing from a bevy of beautiful showgirls. It’s mostly lighthearted fun, but you get a clear sense of Will Rogers’s political point of view throughout, most notably his serious third-party credentials.

At one point, he is asked which political party he belongs to. “Oh, I don’t belong to any organized party,” he replies. “I’m a Democrat.” He also claims that Democratic conventions are much more fun than Republican ones, because the Democrats know they aren’t going anywhere afterwards. In real life, he stepped away from the Democrats in 1928 to run for president as the head of the Debunk Party, which actually carried the District of Columbia in the general election.  Rogers said he took that as a personal compliment, seeing as how the people in DC are the ones who have to live with whoever gets elected for the next four years.

The show turns serious right near the end, as Will Rogers goes on the radio to address the country in the wake of the Great Depression.  The dialogue in the show is a condensed version of a speech that’s come to be known as ““Bacons, Beans, and Limousines.” You can watch it for yourself here:

Watching the speech every night has been a delight, as David Lutken’s performance in the role of Will Rogers has been a joy from beginning to end. Having seen it multiple times, I have had ample opportunity to consider not just the performance but Will Rogers’s message, which has sparked an economic epiphany for me.

Specifically, I’ve decided that a major source of the world’s economic and political missteps come from the mistaken assumption that money and wealth are the same thing. That was an assumption that Will Rogers embraced, and the speech in the show contains couple of moments that demonstrate that he didn’t make any distinction between the two.

The first comes when Rogers, talking about how to relieve the suffering of the unemployed, insists that this shouldn’t be too difficult to do. “We’ve got the money,” he says. “There’s as much money in the country as there ever was, only fewer people have it.”

In a strict sense, that’s true, but it’s also irrelevant. There probably were just as many pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents on them after the 1929 stock market crash as there were before it. But that same amount of money represented a smaller amount of wealth. When old people go on and on about how, in their day, it only cost a nickel to ride the bus, they’re ignoring the fact that a nickel back then reflected essentially the same amount of wealth as the two bucks it takes to ride the bus today. Probably more, in fact, given the technological improvements that have cut the real costs of public transportation. Money is a reflection of wealth, not the other way around.

When the stock market crashed, the money didn’t go anywhere, but a huge amount of wealth disappeared. (Actually, in strictly economic terms, that’s not entirely true, as the stock market was trading on an assumption that the country had more wealth than it actually had, and the crash was the free market making a ruthless correction to bring fantasy in line with reality. But that’s getting a little too far into the weeds on this.)  So while Will Rogers could stand up and say there was just as much money as there ever was, he couldn’t accurately go on the air and say there was just as much wealth in this country as there ever was, because there wasn’t.

If money and wealth were identical, the way out of the Depression would be for the government to write everyone a check for a million dollars. In fact, why doesn’t the government just write us all billion dollar checks and be done with it? We could all be rich! I get first dibs on the private jet with the cool flames on the sides.

But that doesn’t work, because giving everyone a bunch of money for no reason just makes everything cost more. When you increase the money supply without a commensurate increase in wealth, a billion dollars can’t buy you a private jet any more than today’s nickel can get you a bus ticket. You end up having to take wheelbarrows full of dollar bills to the grocery stores to buy one loaf of bread. That’s why governments that try to dig their way out of debt by printing up more money end up collapsing into crushing poverty that takes generations to overcome. If you doubt me, take a vacation in Venezuela and see how well printing money has solved all their problems.

The second part of Rogers’s speech that raised some economic red flags was when he started talking about how we get money. “A man can make a million dollars overnight and he’s on every front page in the morning,” he says. “But it never tells you who gave up that million that he got. You can’t get money without taking it from somebody else.”

This is the kind of zero-sum thinking that fuels President Trump’s rants against China. He’s always complaining about how much money we “lose” in trade with other countries, when neither country loses anything. When people pay money for something, they’re doing it to get something in return. When we give China a billion dollars, they give us a whole bunch of stuff, much of which we can resell at a higher profit than what we paid for it. In international trade, its usually the case that after money changes hands, both sides walk away wealthier.

Of course, a great deal of money spent on perishable goods that don’t appreciate in value, but even in those exchanges, both parties walk away satisfied, because nobody feels wealthier if they go to bed hungry when they refuse to buy food for dinner. Money, therefore, is usually offered as a reward for creating wealth, and those who “give up that million that he got” always gets something of value in return for their cash.

Those misunderstandings aside, Rogers is on to something when he talks about wealth disparity and the social responsibility we have to care for our neighbors. While the free market is very good at creating wealth, it’s entirely indifferent to the needs of those who, for whatever reason, are not able to create enough wealth to meet their needs. Good government is able to balance the need for a vibrant free market with concern for the poor. Such balances require active compromise and consensus, and they require input from all sides.

This is probably why Will Rogers’s maxim that he never met a man he didn’t like is so valuable in today’s political world. He’s not saying that he endorses everyone’s point of view; he’s saying that even people who do the wrong things are often doing it for the right reasons. Accepting the good faith of an ideological opponent is a great way to build a country, and a great way to live a life.

To sum up: Will Rogers had some economic misunderstandings, but overall, he was on to something. You’ll get a better sense of the if you come see my show. Get a ticket on the third row, and you can even sit next to me!

I’m Adam; You’re Eve

Circa my college career, I spent three years teaching early morning seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Those not of my faith would assume that meant I was training clergymen, but Mormon seminaries are inflicted upon all kids of high school age. I think one of the reasons I felt compelled to be a seminary teacher was that, in high school, I was such a lousy seminary student. Class is held at 6:30 in the morning, an hour when I’m generally more interested in having dreams and visions than studying them. On the rare occasions I did show up, the teacher would always make me say the closing prayer, because there was no guarantee I would come that way again. In fact, when my old seminary teacher found out that I had followed in his footsteps, word is that he laughed for a good five minutes solid.

But I loved it. I taught in the building right behind the Los Angeles Temple, which got difficult to travel to from South Central LA after the ’94 Northridge Quake destroyed parts of the 10 freeway. But somehow I made it work, and it provided a measure of discipline to my life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

But it was not without its controversies.

The year I was teaching the Old Testament, some parents had gotten wind of my heretical position on the story of Adam and Eve. Keep in mind that Mormons, to begin with, are already heretics on this story when compared to the rest of the Judeo-Christian world. Unlike many believers, we maintain that the Fall was a good thing and part of God’s grand design, not a tragedy to be mourned. I believed that, too. Still do, in fact.

Where I had trouble was with the idea of conflicting commandments.

According to LDS theology, Adam and Eve were given two charges from the Lord that couldn’t both be fulfilled. The first was that they ought to “multiply and replenish the earth,” i.e. churn out some little Adam-and-Evelets. The second was to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge. Conventional Mormon wisdom is that without eating some of the fruit of the knowledge tree, they wouldn’t have been able to breed appropriately, so, faced with a choice between two of God’s commands, they chose to fall in order to fulfill the higher law.

In my mind, this is problematic on two levels.

The first is my discomfort with the idea of God commanding someone to do something that couldn’t be done. Young children grow up in our church singing about the verse from the Book of Mormon, specifically 1 Nephi 3:7, where the prophet states that he will “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

Except with Adam and Eve, though, right? If the Lord commanded them to do two things, and it turns out they could only do one, that makes Nephi less than reliable.

The second problem is the issue of divine enforcement. If Adam and Eve had avoided the forbidden fruit, as they had been commanded to do, at what point would the Lord have shown up and complain about the lack of young’uns?

“I said multiply and replenish the earth! Why haven’t you done what I said?”

“We’re trying, Lord! Nothing seems to work!”

You can see where this might get a little messy.

All that is preface, however, to my current position, which is that this conflicting commandment conundrum no longer troubles me in the slightest. How can that be, you may ask.

The answer is found in the temple.

Members of my church, including me, are quite circumspect about how we discuss our temple ordinances, but I don’t think I’m violating any confidences when I say that the ceremony focuses largely on the creation story, and participants are asked to liken themselves to Adam and Eve. It took me years to understand this, but the fact is that the similarity between their circumstances and ours is greater than I initially realized.

Each of us who enters mortality is faced with the same kind of choice Adam and Eve faced.

We teach that everyone on earth lived with our Father in Heaven, and we were there when he “laid the foundations of the earth” and “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (Job 38: 4, 7) We were the ones doing the shouting, because we would have an opportunity to move forward in our quest to become more like our Father and His Only Begotten Son.

To make that happen, however, we choose to come to a world where we leave the presence of God to become subject to pain, sickness, sin, and death. That choice is identical to the choice of our collective first parents.

God, then, forbids us to sin because that’s what He has to do. If he looked upon sin with the least degree of allowance, He would cease to be God. Therefore he cannot compel us to choose to wade through evil and learn the lessons that only come from exposure to a fallible world. But we chose to come and sin anyway, because only through sorrow can we know joy.

The Book of Mormon makes this point with transcendent clarity.

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

– 2 Nephi 2:27-28

Our Father knew this, prepared for it, and provided a Savior for us in order for us to make our way back.

Like Adam and Eve before us, we chose this, with full knowledge that it would require us to suffer. We even shouted for joy when we were presented with the opportunity. We need that perspective when life gets difficult, which it invariably does.

Elder Neil A. Maxwell put it best:

While most of our suffering is self-inflicted, some is caused by or permitted by God. This sobering reality calls for deep submissiveness, especially when God does not remove the cup from us. In such circumstances, when reminded about the premortal shouting for joy as this life’s plan was unfolded, we can perhaps be pardoned if, in some moments, we wonder what all the shouting was about.

I have nothing to add to that, except that I really miss teaching seminary. And Neil A. Maxwell. But not the 10 freeway.

The Healing Field: Connecting the Dots

On September 11, 2002, I was the Communications Director for the city of Sandy, Utah. A few days earlier, I had gotten a phone call from a guy named Paul Swenson, who ran a business called Colonial Flag, which had its offices only a few blocks away from Sandy City Hall. He had, what seemed to me, a really nutty idea – he wanted to put up over 3,000 flags right outside of City Hall, one for each victim of the previous year’s terrorist attacks.

Being the visionary that I am, I told him that time was too short, and I didn’t think we’d be able to do it.

Then I told Mayor Tom Dolan about the idea, and he wisely overruled me.

That led to the first Healing Field, a beautiful and solemn presentation of American flags in rows on a plot of ground that is almost identical to the size of the site of the World Trade Center. I can’t imagine a more graceful and beautiful tribute to the lives lost on that fateful day, as well as a finer expression of unity and purpose. It allows us to honor the dead and also look forward to the national challenges ahead.

The field attracted extensive local attention, and hordes of visitors tramped up to the Mayor’s office to get a bird’s-eye view of the field from the office windows. Then CNN did a story on it. Two days later, I received a phone call from someone in Governor Jeb Bush’s office, asking how they could duplicate the Healing Field in Florida. It has become an annual tradition in Sandy, and a number of other locations across the country have adopted the idea. According to the HealingField.org website, a new Healing Field is now up on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

It’s hard to know how to mark the occasion of September 11. It shouldn’t be a day of celebration – too many lives were lost. But should it be a day of mourning? Yes, but that’s not enough. It should be a day of new resolve and determination. We should honor those who died by doing all we can to ensure our enemies never catch us off guard again.

As we get farther and farther away from that horrible day, we lose the resolve we all shared in the aftermath of the attacks. Our success in prosecuting the War on Terror has produced what was, on September 11, an unthinkable result – we’ve had no major new terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Consequently, our success proves to a mixed blessing – it has produced security, yes, but also complacency. As 9/11 fades into memory, it becomes harder and harder for many people to understand what all the fuss is about.

So John Edwards can call the War on Terror a “bumper sticker slogan” and Michael Moore can snidely assert that “there is no terrorist threat.” If the Bush Administration had only been a little less vigilant on the terrorist front, he might, ironically, be more popular in the eyes of those who see radical Islam as a conservative shibboleth, a figment of a fevered Neocon imagination.

It’s especially ironic that this year’s 9/11 anniversary comes on the heels of General Petraeus’ report to Congress on the progress of the troop surge in the Iraq War. Democrats are already calling him a liar, just as they call Bush a liar for initiating the Iraqi conflict. Whenever anyone tries to make any connection to this war and 9/11, critics shriek “Saddam didn’t attack us on 9/11! How dare you presume there’s a connection?”

Well, if I may be so bold, here’s how I dare. If you’re one of those naysayers who insists that everything Bush does is a lie, please read slowly and carefully, because you’re probably too busy seething with rage to follow my logic.

Immediately after 9/11, the same critics who berate Bush now were lambasting Bush then for not “connecting the dots.” The signs were all there, they insisted. We had the information; we just didn’t put it together and act fast enough. If only Bush had connected the dots, 9/11 could have been avoided.

Maybe so. Hindsight is 20/20, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. But Bush wasn’t interested in blame. Being unable to go back in time, he couldn’t reconnect those dots.

But he could connect the dots he had.

The new dots said that Iraq was a belligerent nation who had already proven its willingness to wage wars of aggression with its neighbors and to deploy weapons of mass destruction, which it had already used – against its own people, no less. After the Gulf War of ’91, Iraq had agreed to disarm completely and verify its disarmament to the United Nations. Everyone – the U.S., the U.N., even France – agreed that Iraq was not in compliance with the terms of its surrender in 1991.

Bush-haters, look closely, because here’s the connection to 9/11: Bush didn’t connect the dots before September 11. But he did connect the dots prior to the Iraq War. In a post 9/11 world, he knew the United States did not have the luxury of letting a madman with weapons of mass destruction hold the world hostage.

Keep in mind that no one is saying that Saddam had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. Certainly George Bush never said that. Those who scream that he lied about this connection have yet to produce an actual statement of his to back up their slander. On the contrary, both Bush and even Darth Vader Cheney himself have both repeatedly said Saddam did not attack us on September 11, 2001. So the critics are left sputtering about “insinuations” and “misleading” and blah blah blah, all the while unable to come up with concrete facts.

I remember calling Tom Barberi, a failed Utah radio talk-show host, not long after someone in the administration admitted that Iraq did not pose an “imminent” threat to us at the time we invaded. Barberi was brimming with righteous indignation as he accused Bush of lying to the American people. I reminded him that Bush had never said the Iraqi threat was imminent. In fact, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, he said exactly the opposite.

I quote:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

We didn’t react on 9/11 until after the threat was imminent, and we all see the horrific consequences. 9/11 taught us we need to connect the dots. That’s why Congress, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote that included the support of both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, voted to authorize the war. That’s why the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted for Resolution 1446, which warned Hussein of “serious consequences” if he didn’t disarm immediately.

Then, when things got difficult, everyone went wobbly. Everyone, that is, except George W. Bush.

The old saying is that success has a million fathers, but failure is an orphan. People who see failure in Iraq want to pretend that it’s all Bush’s fault; that he lied all along, and that Iraq is a distraction from the “real War on Terror.” They couldn’t be more wrong.

(As for the “no-weapons-of-mass-destruction” issue, I always ask Bush-haters why Bush didn’t plant the weapons once he got there. Surely if he were dishonest enough to willingly deceive America into believing in imaginary weapons, he’d be slimy enough to fabricate the evidence, or get Cheney’s Halliburton buddies to do it for him.)

The fact is that the War in Iraq is critical to the future security of our nation. If we pull out, al Qaeda has a safe haven from which to plot new and more brutal attacks on America. The Islamists who hate us because of who we are become emboldened. America, which has never been beloved by Islamic nations, would now no longer be feared by them, either.

And then what happens next? Connect the dots.

Missing Langy

A fellow Languatron opponent reminded me of this video recently, and it made me laugh anew. I made this sometime last year, and it’s not nearly as a waste of time as it seems at first glance. That’s not to say it wasn’t a waste of time at all, but it was my first foray into film editing and Flash animation, and both skills have served me well in the interim, so making this stupid little thing has proven to be helpful to my career. How’s that for rationalization?

Anyway…

If you’re just discovering the lunacy that is Langy, then some background is necessary. It is axiomatic that Languatron is shunned by decent people everywhere. When he shows up at an Internet bulletin board, he is summarily booted off of said board as soon as the moderators are accused of being corporate shills of Universal Studios and/or gay.

So, sometime in either 2005 or 2006, Lang hit upon a solution: he would start his own board. And he would be the only member. He was the only one allowed to post or comment. He would post a topic, respond to his own messages and then carry on lengthy conversations with himself.

To make this scenario even more ludicrous, Languatron would comb through his visitor logs and block the board from being seen by anyone who had previously visited it. Why? Because if you wanted to read Langy’s board, you were obviously a Universal Studios executive trying to spy on him! Eventually, to cut to the chase, he made it so only registered users could view his board. Since he was the board’s only registered user, only he could see his posts.

Languatron effectively disappeared.

The board is no longer online as of 2013, when I came back to re-edit this page. But originally, at the time of this writing, it had “1004 Posts in 765 Topics by 1 Members – Latest Member: languatron.” He may still be writing there, for all I know.

Once Langy was gone, I was surprised by how much I missed him. So I prepared this movie as a tribute to his legacy – and also to bug the hell out of him. The movie touches on much of his celebrated history, including his tortured grasp of the English language, his battles with five posters he termed the “Flatulent Five,” and his infamous bet with RGrant that got him booted from the Cylon.org board.

Summing up: it’s pretty stupid.

Enjoy!

Hooey

I hate Cascading Style Sheets.

Someone who wants to make a fortune will invent a reliable, easy-to-use CSS WYSIWIG editor. If you’ve got one, would you please get it to me by noon today?

Thank you.

I also hate doing dishes and/or laundry, especially at the same time. I’ve never done them at the same time, but I’m sure that would be bad.

Folding clothes is a pain in the rear. I used to just shove them all, unfolded, in a drawer. But nooooooo! That “wrinkles” them. Oh, for the days when wrinkled clothing was a sign of artistic rebellion and not just pure sloth…

Who likes cats, raise your hand. You’ll notice my hand isn’t up.

Why, at 10:00 PM, when I’m watching the only television I watch all day, do all three shows I flip through have commercials on at the same time?

I want to commit crabgrass genocide.

I’m enjoying my rediscovery of the Travelling Wilburys. I think George Harrison is the most underrated Beatle, and John Lennon is the most overrated. Ringo is still the luckiest man on earth.

If I want to feel old, I ask people if they can name all four Beatles. Very few people under 30 can do that. I have yet to meet anyone besides me who can name all of the Rolling Stones. Except that’s a trick question, anyway, because Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, and Bill Wyman were all Rolling Stones but aren’t anymore. Only Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Charlie Watts have always been Rolling Stones. Ron Wood is a Rolling Stone now, but he didn’t used to be.

I heard “Roundabout” by Yes on the radio yesterday. Is there a more pretentious, boring band on the planet? I’ll save you time. No, there isn’t. Their “90125” album was good, though, but that was Trevor Rabin, not Yes.

Martin Short was funny on the 1984-1985 season of “Saturday Night Live” and in the movie “Three Amigos.” That’s about it.

Glenn Beck is the least tedious talk radio host.

Global warming is dishonest – not because it isn’t happening, but because the alarmists are using it to further an unrelated political agenda that they can’t pursue openly. And if global warming is happening, it’s not our fault.

I hate parking.

That is all. For now…

Sweet Baby James

My two-year-old son and I have the same first name – James – and before too long, he’ll be too old to be rocked to sleep by a lullaby. That’s too bad, because he loves “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor. He always nods off during the chorus:

Goodnight, you moonlight ladies
Rockabye, Sweet Baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won’t you let me go down in my dreams
And rockabye Sweet Baby James

We already had four kids by the time James came along. And, as you may have guessed, James wasn’t supposed to come along. Yet here he is. He was a mistake who became a surprise who became a blessing.

We had already planned our lives around the idea of four kids in school. My wife was going to go back to work part-time; I was going to get rich, and everything was set. Then James came along and screwed everything up. We weren’t sure if we were going to forgive him for doing that.

The day he was born changed all that instantly. He came out with a full head of dark, scraggly hair – unlike all four of our other kids who were bald as ping pong balls upon their arrival. James also, unlike our other kids, had a hard time breathing for the first few days. We were told his prognosis was good, but he he had to be put in intensive care on a respirator, and we couldn’t hold him. The irony was thick on the ground – here was the child who’s arrival we had been dreading, and now we were terrified at the prospect of losing him. The day we were able to take James, healthy and happy, back home with us was one of the greatest days of our lives.

I think the hair was still helping matters. The dark hair was replace by blonde curls, again, unlike the four straight-headed kids who preceded him. Near his second birthday, my wife asked me to go get his hair trimmed, and, being an idiot, I gave very vague instructions to the SuperCuts girl, who proceeded to practically shave his head. My wife burst into tears when she saw the curls were gone, and they haven’t come back. It’s still a sore subject around the house, but, fortunately, we’ve found other reasons to love him.

He’s smart and funny, and he wants to grow up in the worst way. Last night, at a cousin’s house, he decided to imitate his older cousin by crossing his legs, but he couldn’t quit lift his right leg over his left. It was fun to watch him struggle with it. He’s obsessed with cars, or “bye-byes,” as he calls them, and given the opportunity, he’d watch Pixars “Cars” movie all day long. Sometimes, when my natural sloth takes over, I almost let him.

That’s a mistake.

This is precious time that we’re never going to get again. He’s the last one. I’m trying to remember that. I’m trying to enjoy the fact that he carries his little blue blankie everywhere; that his face lights up every time he sees a doggie or a kitty, that he calls all his brothers and sisters by name but still calls himself “baby.” He’s growing. He can crawl out of his crib now. He wants to grow up more than I want him to stay little, and nature says he’s going to win out in the end.

I’ve only got so many “Sweet Baby James” nights left.

The True Story of Richard the Bricklayer

Once upon a time – about a hundred and fifty years ago, to be precise – in a faraway land called Birmingham, England, there lived a humble bricklayer named Richard.

Yes, Richard laid bricks. It was a good and useful skill to have, since Birmingham was a big ol’ city that needed a bunch of bricks for its buildings and such. Of course, the job had its drawbacks. In nineteenth century Britain, the bricklaying trade didn’t offer a whole lot in the way of social mobility. Whether he liked it or not, Richard had resigned himself to the fact that he would likely be laying bricks for the rest of what probably be a short and difficult life.

And that would have been exactly what would have happened if Richard hadn’t married Maria Foster.

Maria (her name was spelled like the West Side Story Maria, but it was pronounced Mariah, as in Mariah Carey) stayed close to the rest of the Fosters after her marriage, so she was unduly influenced by the company they kept. This proved to be something of a problem in her marriage, since all of her family had fallen in with some unsavory characters from the United States, most of their unsavoriness due to the fact that they were Mormons.

Nowadays, when the Mormons get their claws into you and begin their brainwashing process, you pretty much just have to quit drinking beer and chasing broads. It’s really not that bad, all things considered. But back in the Birmingham of the 1850s, once you joined those loony Mormons, you had to pack your bags, sail across the ocean, and then get a covered wagon and march across the Great Plains, where you finally settled down with all the other Mormon crackpots in a worthless desert next to a big, salty lake with lots and lots of brine flies. That’s where these loons planned to build their Zion.

Maria was ready, willing, and eager to go.

Richard wanted no part of it. And, really, can you blame him?

Still, he loved his wife enough to strike a deal. Maria could join the church along with the rest of her family. Richard refused to be baptized, but he agreed to emigrate to the US on the condition that they had enough money to return back to England once Maria came to her senses.

Good plan. Alas, it was not to be.

As soon as they got to the East Coast, all of their money was burned up in a fire – a fire which they blamed on their young son John, who was given the name Foster as his middle name.

No matter who did it, the reality was what it was. Richard was stuck.

Westward ho!

Richard, bitter and angry, nevertheless made the arduous journey west with the Mormons, and when he finally showed up in Utah, he made a beeline to Brigham Young’s doorstep to give the Mormon leader a piece of his mind. He demanded that Brigham and his fellow Mormons provide him with financial help to make up for the money that had been burned up back east. Perhaps he thought this was his ticket back to bricklaying. Brigham responded by saying he would be happy to provide assistance to a fellow church member. Richard, however was still an unbaptized heathen, so the church refused to help.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, both for Richard and his wife. She left the church, too, but they didn’t have the resources to head back to England. She, too, was stuck.

Not long after this experience, Brigham Young called on the entire Foster family to head up north and colonize the Bear Lake area, which was right along the Utah/Idaho border. They said yes, pulled up stakes, and headed north, all except Richard and Maria, who stayed in Salt Lake and told Brigham Young to stick it.

One summer, their son John Foster, the accused pyromaniac responsible for the whole predicament, was sent to live with his cousins in Bear Lake. He was past the age of 8, around which time respectable children were baptized, but he was still quite unaffiliated, which caused much consternation among his devout Foster relatives. So he joined the Church, much to the surprise of his family upon his return home.

Perhaps out of latent respect, or maybe out of sheer spite, Richard didn’t try to undo what the Fosters had done. On the contrary, Richard told John F. that now that he was a member, he was going to have to live like one.

He never got baptized himself, but Richard was scrupulous in making sure that his son paid tithing, attended his meetings, and stayed active, which he did throughout his life. He was the only child of Richard and Maria who had any connection to the Church, and he went on to become a prominent and prosperous businessman. Maria Foster became an alcoholic and died estranged from the Church, and the rest of her children lived relatively ignominious lives. John F.’s wife Rose later remarked that her husband was “the only member of that family that was worth the price of a bullet.”

John Foster was my father’s grandfather. I owe my legacy of faith largely to him.

Richard, therefore, was my great-great grandfather. I owe my geographical location to the fact that he cheerlessly followed his wife around the world, burned up his money, and then told Brigham Young to stick it.

On Being Hated

Thinking about my previous hatred essay, I came to realize that I’m usually on the receiving end of the whole hate thing. I’m somewhat impressive in the sense that over the course of my life, more than a few folks have hated me with a burning passion. Something about me inspires pure loathing that can last for years, even decades.

Case in point: For most of my childhood, I was in a performing arts group in LA called the Kids of the Century that sang at state fairs and such. We traveled to most of our gigs in rented buses, and Hank and Sheila – not their real names – used to share a seat near the front and proceed to make out in front of everybody. They were one of those gross, cutesy couples with the pet names and the Eskimo kisses and the slobbering. Always the slobbering. Being an insecure adolescent, and probably being somewhat jealous because I wasn’t making out with anybody either in public or in private, I mocked them every chance I got. I don’t remember what methods I used, but knowing me, I was probably pretty annoying.

Fade out, fade in. Several years after high school, I went to a Kids of the Century concert, only to see Hank and Sheila, now a happily slobbering married couple, sitting two rows behind me. It made me smile to see them again. I went up to them at intermission. Hank was very friendly, and we chatted amiably, but Sheila wouldn’t speak to me. When she saw me coming, she made a point of standing up and dramatically stalking off in a huff. I was unable to take a hint, so I caught up with her, but she still wouldn’t speak to me. She wouldn’t look at me. And all I was trying to do was say hello. I went back to Hank, who sheepishly told me that Sheila still hadn’t forgiven me for the way I’d made fun of her all those years ago, and she still talked about me with venom in her voice.

Keep in mind – I hadn’t seen Sheila for probably close to a decade. I hadn’t been talking about her. I hadn’t thought about her. Yet after all this time, she was, in the words of the Scottish poet, “Gathering her brows like gathering storm/Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.”

It was a bad scene.

I’m not justifying my adolescent behavior. I’m saying that, by keeping that hate alive for so long, she did herself a whole lot more damage than she did me.

To sum up: Languatron comes by it honestly.

Learning from Larry

I feel very sorry for Senator Craig. His career is over and his reputation is shot, not necessarily because of what he did but, rather, what he’s doing now. His revisionist explanations of the events in question are more than pathetic. He attributes his footsie with the guy in the stall next to him to his “wide stance” as he takes a dump? Please. For under-the-stall foot contact to occur naturally, Craig would have to poop with his legs at close to a 180-degree angle. Women who give birth don’t have that wide a stance.

Still, I should probably be grateful. Prior to the events of this past week, if I had wanted to solicit anonymous gay sex in a public restroom, I would have been at a complete loss as to how to do it. Now, thanks to Larry Craig, I’ve learned far more than I ever wanted to know on the subject.

Which raises the question: how did Senator Craig learn all this?

Think about it. These aren’t skills you just pick up at a seminar somewhere, especially when you’re a public figure who has to lie to those closest to you to keep your secret tightly under wraps. Yet Craig was quite accomplished at the signals necessary to get what he wanted, which suggests he’s probably had plenty of practice. Never mind why he did it. How did he know what to do?

I’m a well-educated guy with a Master’s degree, but the longer I live, the stupider I feel. Even in the realms of heterosexual, male/female interaction, I’ve made an utter fool of myself more times than I can count. I’m not sure if I ever made the right moves, or if I even know what the right moves are. My wife would have to tell you whether or not I’ve learned anything over the years. (And if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather you didn’t ask her.)

This problem extends to areas well beyond romantic relationships. For instance, I don’t think I could become a heroin addict even if I wanted to. Where would I go to find heroin in the Salt Lake City area? How much would it cost? How could I get the stuff and avoid arrest? And once I got it, how would I go about injecting it into my veins? There are clearly people who do this over a long period of time, but I have no idea where they get their information. I doubt Google would be much help.

Now I admit that this is just idle curiosity. All things considered, I’d rather not have gay sex or become a heroin addict. But I’d venture that almost 90% of everything I do on a daily basis wasn’t taught to me in a classroom setting. I’ve ruined two ceilings by “fixing” toilets directly above them. I’ve destroyed computers, clothing, furniture, musical instruments, lawns, cars, air conditioners, and credit ratings because of my woeful ignorance and complete lack of mechanical skills. Maybe if they taught me how to a mow a lawn in high school, I wouldn’t run over so many sprinkler heads. Maybe I should have taken auto shop instead of trigonometry.

Except I don’t remember any trigonometry, so it’s pretty much a wash.

On Hating

My six-year-old son hates school. At least, that’s what he screams on a regular basis. “I hate school! I HATE IT! I HATE IT!” He repeats this mantra every night before going to sleep. There’s usually some flailing involved, too. You get the idea.

Now I don’t think he really hates school. He’s all smiles when he comes home, and he looks forward to meeting his friends every day. Besides, hatred is hard work. It takes concerted effort, and, quite frankly, he’s a lazy kid by nature. I don’t think he’s up to it.

I know I’m not.

I’ve hated bosses and I’ve hated obnoxious actors and I’ve hated girls who done me wrong. But it never sticks. The last time I made the effort to really hate somebody over a long period of time was back in college. They were my dance teachers – the Landrums.

Bill and Jacqui Landrum.

They were pure evil, and I hated them with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Especially Bill.

Not that they cared. They’re big time choreographers in Hollywood – the last time I saw their name in the credits was for the movie “O Brother! Where Art Thou?” They’re both successful and confident, and my hatred didn’t faze them in the least. That’s how it works, you know. The hater damages nobody but himself, while the hated go on blissfully without caring. As my old boss used to say, hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.

Initially, the Landrums and I got along well, despite the fact that he was this faux-European snooty guy who looked like an emaciated Arnold Schwarzenegger, and she was a forty-something Fran Drescher type who looked she’d had her face shellacked. I was a crappy dancer, and they were freaks, but I could live with that.

The famous – infamous?- Bill Landrum moment was when he was showing us the correct dance move to open and close our arms.

“You cannot just open thim like some veectim,” he would say with his untraceable Germanic/Mexican accent. “You must be a king! You must say ‘hello!’ “ And on ‘hello,’ he would snap his fingers, slap his pelvis with both hands, and then thrust out his arms and his ‘jewels’ with power and authority, all the while saying “Hello! These are my jewels! You don’ like them? I take them back!” And then he would snap his fingers again, withdraw his arms and pelvis quickly, and then bow his head with ludicrous solemnity. (At least, that’s how we all did it when we imitated him ad nauseum.) He was quite a character, that Bill Landrum, and I actually liked him once. (I didn’t like his jewels, though.)

I remember the exact moment when I turned on the Landrums. They had come to see a show in which I sucked out loud. It was Noel Coward’s witty one-act play “We Were Dancing,” and I played a zombie in it. The script didn’t call for a zombie, but I played one anyway. Bill told me my performance was “unacceptable.” And he was right. And I knew he was right. But I didn’t want to hear it.

So I had two choices. I could have sucked it up and gone on with my life, or I could hate him.

Two roads diverged in the wood, and I, I took the one that let me hate Bill Landrum with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. The whole experience gave me an enlarged capacity for petulance that has not served me well in these subsequent years. Were I to meet them today, I’d apologize and try to bury the hatchet. But I’d probably still think they were loons.

Back then, though, I was far less enlightened. I devised a whole host of ways to irritate them, particularly Bill. I remember once he told us to hold out our arms at our sides so we could just barely see our hands in our peripheral vision. Like a jackass, I stretched out my arms out at well over a 180-degree angle, far too widely to be seen in my periphery. Bill came up to me and said something like “Jeem, you can’t see your hands!” And I said “Yes, I can! See?” And then I wiggled my right-hand fingers, as if to cutely wave “hellloooo!” Bill, flummoxed, just said “Fine. You’re special,” and walked away in a self-righteous huff.

The nastiness increased, and so did the audacity of my defiance. I remember when we all had to stage our own dances, and I did mine accompanied by PDQ Bach’s classic “Little Bunny Hop Hop Hop.” I hopped like a bunny and hit myself over the head with a cardboard tube. I’m not sure I kept a straight face, but they sure did. They were less than pleased.

And then, of course, there was the infamous moment that I will never forget, even though I wasn’t there to witness it. I had stopped going to their class by this point, but my crank-calling Esteemed Colleague I mentioned two days ago showed up at my invitation and, after dropping my name and asking if I was there, proceeded to dance to the carnival music coming out of his own boom box. When confronted, he introduced Bill to a little stuffed raccoon and said “Say hello to my little raccoon.” Bill wasn’t interested. After being forcibly and profanely ejected, My Esteemed Colleague opened the door again, and his little raccoon, a wind-up toy, came scurrying across the floor.

The next hour, I arrived at Landru’s class a minute or two late, and everything came to a screeching halt as my friends turned and stared at me to say, almost in unison, “Uhhh, Jim – what the HELL was THAT?!!” One classmate said, “At first, it was just kind of surreal, but when he came back the second time, we thought he might have a bomb.”

I’ve enlisted My Esteemed Colleague’s peculiar talents for equally baffling stunts in later years. When Tuacahn came to LA for auditions for our 2001 season, I asked him to come and audition. The season was as boring and white bread as humanly possible – “Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music” – and he came in and did this wild improvised monologue about ball bearings that were running through his veins. He then burst into song, singing something of his own composition with the lyrics “You don’t believe in the Prime Directive? How did you ever get into Starfleet?” There was some pseudo-dancing and writhing involved, too. I had to leave the room because I was laughing so hard, mainly at the stony faces of the other producers and directors who had no idea what to make of this guy. When I came back in, I instantly offered him the role of Captain Von Trapp, which nearly gave the director of “The Sound of Music” a heart attack.

I’m sorry, what were we talking about again?