Monday, May 03, 2010

Random Arizona Anecdote


I was a "choir kid" at Tucson High School, heavily involved in the large concert choir and the smaller, more advanced vocal ensemble. It was all very "Glee," but (mercifully) without the dancing.

Every once in a while, we'd take trips to other parts of the state for, you know, confabs 'n' such: invitationals, competitions, etc. Going to Phoenix was never a big deal, because it was so close that everybody would just carpool back at the end of the day.

Flagstaff, however, was a different matter. It was far away, so you'd have to make a weekend of it. That meant staying with host families. Before going, our teachers would have to give us a little pep talk about this situation. "Many of you," they'd warn us, "will end up staying with Mormon families. Prepare yourselves." After all, this was Northern Arizona, an area dominated by the LDS. No big deal, right? Wrong.

See, a big part of the Mormon Church, maybe even the biggest part, is all about proselytizing, and children, even (maybe even especially) from non-Mormon households, were considered fair game. Basically, if you ended up staying with a Mormon host family, your every waking non-choir hour was going to be filled up with attempts to drag you into the church. "Oh!" they'd say, "we have a special youth picnic today," or, "It's so lucky you're here this weekend, because you'll get to attend our big carnival of fun!" The rest of us attended huge, illicit kegger bonfires in the forest while our poor friends went to Friday night "teen" church services.

I don't think it was luck that prevented me from having to stay with a Mormon family; I'm pretty sure everybody knew that better not happen, as I was stridently atheistic from a very early age. Everybody knew full well it would be disastrous to throw me into that mix. My friends, though, weren't so lucky. They all got "zapped" at one point or another. We'd meet up the next day, and you could always tell who had gotten stuck at LDS activities the evening before: they were the dazed-looking kids spouting forbidden obscenities, chain smoking Pall Malls, and taking hits off flasks of Jack Daniels like their lives depended on it, just to get it out of their systems. Poor things. Afterwards, they'd get LDS junk mail for years.

All a part of growing up in The Copper State!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I could never understand how Mormonism moved out of "cult" status into "accepted religion" status...marketing? money? mass hypnosis?

Then again, if you get down to it, there isn't too much different between cult and accepted religion anyway.

Just sayin...(as one strident atheist to another)

Patrick said...

HA! Great story. I am really enjoying your continuing series of AZ posts. I have lived in Tucson since 92 and am a child of the 80's (i.e. dayglo teenager), resulting in a quasi - "YOU ARE THERE" experience. Thanks for the daily diversion.

Angry Parakeet said...

Your nuggets of Tucson are a treat - in the 80's I visited a girlfriend (actually my Mom's uber cool unmarried girlfriend)there. She took me to a delightful Friday night art event that was in some gallery/warehouse on that big strip/main drag street...there was an event where a man clad in little more than sparkles "emerged" from a "cocoon" suspended from the roof with harp music accompanying...for years my fave T-shirt was one I bought from a performance artist touting his "Blind Man Sees No Evil Tour" wherein he painted images while wearing blacked glasses...were you part of this?

Peteykins said...

Hmm... doesn't sound familiar, Angry Parakeet. I'm sure I knew some of the people, though; that's inevitable.

sfmike said...

Love that story. Your description of "dazed-looking kids spouting forbidden obscenties, chain smoking Pall Malls, and taking hits off flasks of Jack Daniels like their lives depended on it, just to get it out of their systems" sounds like a description of my mother and me after attending a sister's Mormon wedding in Chico many years ago. Except in our case, we used Marlboros and good scotch to wash it out of our systems while the new in-laws were all running around on scary sugar rushes. (Mormons and sweets is a whole subject unto itself.)