Friday, February 26, 2010

(Now go sit down.) Part of the "Every Weird Thing..." series

Mormons (L.D.S.) usually grow up to be fairly confident public speakers. This is probably because in our church, we don’t have a paid clergy. The bishop (what most other Christian churches call the minister or priest) is called to serve on a volunteer basis, usually for about five years. During this time, he keeps his day job. In our main worship service (Sacrament Meeting) on Sundays, members of the congregation participate by giving assigned talks on gospel topics. So instead of hearing a sermon from the same person each week, we take turns teaching each other.

In Primary (Sunday school for children), our kids have opportunities to give talks from a very young age. Before they’re old enough to read or memorize, a parent will stand beside them and whisper the words they’ve rehearsed. A child spends much of the two minutes he’s up there breathing heavily into the microphone while the parent repeatedly prompts. Even as they get a little older, a parent will usually help the child write his or her talk. I used to help my kids. (Sometimes I didn’t know about the assignment until we were sitting in Sacrament meeting. Or I knew, but had forgotten. I’d round up a piece of paper and pen and scrawl out a talk for whichever child it was.) I’d write it out for them right down to the closing of “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.” And then I always put, in parentheses, the words “Now go sit down.” I thought this was funny. And they thought it was funny, when they practiced giving the talk, to say aloud “Now go sit down” after they said Amen.

Our boys are encouraged to serve two-year missions for the church when they turn nineteen. It’s customary for them to give a talk in Sacrament meeting before they leave and again after they return home. We recently had one son return from serving a mission in Brazil and another one leave to begin his mission to Germany within a week of each other. They were asked to speak in church on the same Sunday. They both did an excellent job. Their dad and I were very proud. Later in the day, I found the younger son’s typed-out talk lying on the kitchen counter. I looked it over and noticed on the last page, after he had actually typed out “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen,” he had added the parenthetical phrase: Now go sit down. I laughed and laughed. He said “I always write that when I give talks, Mom.” It has been many years since he’s needed my help. I told the older son about this. He immediately went and found the scribbled notes he’d used to give his talk and showed them to me. At the end, he’d scribbled, in parentheses, “Now go sit down.”

It was my second proud moment of the day. I hope they keep up the tradition when they’re writing out talks for their own children someday.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Really Cool Fanny Pack"

A few months ago, my husband, our daughter and I went out to eat at Costa Vida. As we stood in line to place our orders, I remembered that I had a coupon in my purse. I dug out my Ziplock baggie of coupons and began to rifle through it right there in the line. They were both horrified. Carolyn was probably twice-horrified: once that I would consider using a coupon and then because I kept my coupons in a baggie in my purse. Kent’s always in favor of a discount, but the baggie thing was a bit too much for him.

Yet for years, he has repeatedly tried to get each member of our family to wear a fanny pack. Someone will be packing for a camp-out or preparing for a hike and he’ll invariably produce a fanny pack (usually a free promo item from a software company which makes it even worse) and suggest to whomever it is, “Why don’t you wear this really cool fanny pack?” The kids and I try to point out to him that “really cool fanny pack” is an oxymoron.

The other day I was in the weight room at the gym. I saw a woman, probably in her late fifties, with her car keys safety pinned to her t-shirt. With an over-sized safety pin. It wasn’t up on her chest like you would wear a name tag. That would be really bad. It was very subtly attached down low and over to one side. Well, it was as subtle as you could be and still have your keys pinned to your shirt. At first I actually thought, “Wow! What a great idea!” Sometimes I go to the gym without a jacket, and my workout clothes don’t have pockets. I have to figure out what to do with my keys. A big safety pin would solve the problem. Then I remembered the incident in Costa Vida. I imagined what my family members would think of my pinning my car keys to my t-shirt with a giant safety pin. My kids would surely disown me. Kent would probably suggest I wear a really cool fanny pack while working out instead.

I think openly doing these nerdy things is a sign of confidence. A confidence that comes with age. Maybe in another decade or so I'll have lost all reservations. My mother-in-law carries her camera around in a paper gift bag. (I always think she's bringing me a present.) I hope to be just like her someday.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dream Car

I’ve never been a car person. I don’t know about makes and models. I go by color. And I really don’t pay much attention to that. The Petersons, next door, drive a white car. I think.

I know what I drive. It’s an Isuzu Trooper. It’s silver. I don’t know what year it is, but it’s getting up there. It’s starting to make a lot of sounds. Squeaks and rattles. Yesterday it whistled. Just for a moment, but it was clearly a whistle. I’m getting a little nervous.

As long as I have something reliable to drive that doesn’t look so bad that it attracts all kinds of attention, I’m good.

My husband, Kent, drives a little pick-up truck. It’s a greenish-gray color. I think it might also be made by Isuzu. Maybe Toyota. I noticed recently that it’s starting to look pretty shabby. Not much paint left on the hood. But it runs well and gets him where he needs to go.

We had a series of unreliable cars during the first few years of our marriage, cars that attracted all kinds of attention, but at least we weren’t in debt. When we were engaged, I borrowed Kent’s white Volkswagen Rabbit one day. It was old and I think it had bald tires. One of my neighbors was a little concerned and asked “Are you sure he loves you?”

We once owned an old V.W. bus (not my idea) that we attempted to drive across the country. We broke down in St. Elmo, Illinois. I can’t believe I just wrote that because I try really hard to block the memory. Bad experience. I’m scarred from it.

We had a car that had a whole list of things wrong with it. For a long time, it wouldn’t go in reverse, so we couldn’t park anywhere where we’d have to back up. The only door that opened from the outside was the driver’s door (and it was a four-door). It used to get a mystery puddle of water on the floor of the backseat. Never figured that one out. And for a while, whenever we turned a corner, the horn blared. This was a bit humiliating. As we’d drive through the neighborhood, people in their yards thought we were greeting them, and would wave to us with strange looks on their faces.

But we had almost arrived at that point. Our next car was brand new. I was so excited: a reliable car! Wrong. It must have been one of those that came off the assembly line on a Friday. Or is it a Monday? Whichever day tends to produce lemons. Sometimes it just wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t even try to turn over. Not a sound. We took it in to the dealership for repairs.

“There’s nothing wrong with this car. It started right up,” the guy told us.

“No,” I told him. “You don’t understand. It only does it when I’m across town with two small children and need to get home. Or when I come out of the grocery store with frozen foods and my husband is working in the city and can’t rescue me. Or when I’m late for a meeting.”

The guy just looked at me.

“Well, it started right up. Apparently there’s nothing wrong with it. I can’t help you.”

We fought with them over this for months. Finally someone figured out that it had a short of some kind and they fixed it. We never had another problem with it.

And since then, I’ve always had a reliable car to drive. For which I’ve been very grateful. I remember one day driving my son, Jeff, and a bunch of his friends somewhere. They were about nine or ten years old at the time. They were talking about their dream cars: Mustang convertibles, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Jaguars.

Parker Almeida asked me “Hey *Sister Gassman, what’s your dream car?”

“This is it!” I told him with enthusiasm, referring to my red mini van. It was a Plymouth Voyager.

It got so quiet in the back of that van that you could have heard a Hot Wheels drop in a roomful of Cub Scouts.

I loved that car. It didn’t break down on me and the tires weren’t bald. It worked in reverse. I had complete control over the horn. Everybody was driving one just like it. It had two built-in car seats. We drove it for a long time. I never noticed when other people started getting rid of theirs. One Sunday in the church parking lot, a neighbor waved me down and motioned to me to roll down my window. She approached the vehicle.

“Melinda,” she said to me in a businesslike way, “Kent needs to buy you a new car.”

She’s a real car person.

From that day on, I began to be a bit self-conscious about my red mini van. I mentioned to Kent that it might be time to think about getting a new car. He agreed. It was a sad day when we sold it. That’s when we got the Trooper. And now it’s getting kind of old. I’m afraid my neighbor is going to flag me down soon and tell me that it’s that time again. But I do consider myself very lucky. Not many people get to drive their dream car. I wonder what my next one will be.

*These were neighborhood kids who belong to our church. We use Brother and Sister like Mr. and Mrs. I’m thinking about starting a new blog called “Every Weird Thing You Wanted To Know About Mormons But Were Afraid To Ask Because Then The Missionaries Might Show Up At Your Door.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Low Rider

Last week my son Jeff and I were in Walmart. Have you ever seen any of those People of Walmart slide shows posted on the Internet? Jef and I saw the live version. There was a young man in the men's department, bent over looking for the right size t-shirt on a low shelf. He should have been looking on a higher shelf, where they keep the large shirts, not down low where they keep the small shirts. Usually larger shirts mean longer shirts. This kid definitely needed a longer shirt. We could see half of his underwear. I nudged Jeff and gave a nod toward the show. Jeff immediately started walking faster to get away from me. I think he was afraid I was going to tell the kid to pull his pants up. Actually, I've seen worse. Fortunately, it seems like the trend to expose as much as you can get away with has waned over the past year or so. Evidently there are a few hold-outs to the fashion. This kid better be careful. He might find himself part of  the People of Walmart collection.
I wrote the following about two years ago after I had a close encounter of the very disturbing kind in the K-Mart parking lot.

“Guess what I saw today in the parking lot of K-Mart?” I asked my husband and our three teenage boys as we hung out in our family room last evening. “Or maybe I should say 'Guess what I almost saw?'”

“What?” one of them responded warily, while the rest just wore that look that says “Oh, no. Here she goes again.” They've learned to recognize a moralizing tale before I even get started.

“I was on my way out of K-Mart. I saw a young adult male, I'd say between eighteen and twenty years old, and what looked like his mother and a couple of younger siblings walking toward me in the parking lot. This young man had on a t-shirt that came down to about his bellybutton, and a pair of jeans belted around the tops of his thighs!”

They all stared at me.

“Really!” I insisted. “There was nothing between his navel and the tops of his legs but a pair of cotton knit boxer briefs! I could see the entire fly of his underwear! I could pretty much see his underwear in its entirety. I was so shocked, and so sure that I must be seeing it wrong, that after we passed each other, I turned around to get a view from 'behind'. I could see his complete backside, clad only in a piece of jersey knit.”

“Now, that is wrong,” my husband rejoined.

“You're sick, Mom,” one of the boys commented, then each one wandered off or busied himself with something. They'd obviously heard enough.

I'm still in shock. I mentioned it to some neighbors of mine, a teenage girl and her mother. They thought it was pretty bad, but they didn't seem as shocked as I had been. Obviously, they'd seen it all before.

“Yeah,” said the girl, “you wouldn't believe what you see at the high school.”

I've been seeing the top part of boys underwear above baggy pants for a long time. I've been seeing a lot of top halves of underwear above very low riding pants for a while now. But to wear a pair of pants belted around your thighs? Does that even technically qualify as wearing pants? And you should have seen how this kid moved. Using an odd gait that it must have taken a lot of practice to master, he managed to move himself along in basically a forward direction. And all this effort for what? To keep the pants in place so they wouldn't fall down and expose his legs?

What brand of modesty is this? If these young men really want to cripple themselves walking around with pants belted around their legs, that's their business, but they should have the decency to spare the rest of us, and wear shirts long enough to cover their bottoms.

And it's definitely time to rethink all those “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” signs.

I read an article by Jay Evensen in the Deseret Morning News a couple of weeks ago headlined Reining in a Sexualized Generation. He wrote about the Louisiana town of Delcambre, where the town council is considering prohibiting the showing of one's underwear in public. I remember reading this and being a bit skeptical. Hmm, I'd thought. As much as I agree that underwear should be worn underneath clothing, sometimes a strap here or a band there is accidentally exposed. I'd hate to see decent people get the book thrown at them on a technicality. But after the spectacle I witnessed in the K-Mart parking lot, I'd like to throw in my support. Maybe even move there.

It's a shame that city officials anywhere even have to think about issues like these. It's all about pushing boundaries, isn't it? If enough mothers, fathers, girlfriends, employers, shop keepers, restaurant owners, etc. would set their own immovable boundaries, maybe we could nip this thing in the butt---sorry, I mean in the bud.