10.22.2012

The Best Two Years

It's been two years since I've logged on to this blog. I absolutely cannot believe how much traffic it is still getting. It actually peaked this past January - 14 months since I last updated.

Thanks, kids. Mini ego boost.

For a while now, I've been thinking about opening this blog up again. When I stopped writing it two years ago, it was because I was starting a new chapter in my life. I was going for the whole "clean slate" thing. But have you heard? We're in the midst of The Mormon Moment! Thanks to Mittens, some coworkers and friends have been asking me a lot of questions about Mormonism lately (and yes, I've been blowing their fucking minds with my answers). I've been spending a lot of time on the exmo boards again lately. And so this blog has been nagging at the back of my mind.

When I quit this blog, part of me wanted to keep writing, and just leave out the Mormon stuff. After all, I was moving on. But there were two complications with this plan: one, most of my traffic/followers are a direct result of my exit letter. I've gots to give the people what they want, eh? Two, I haven't totally moved on. Maybe I never will - at least not as long as so many friends and loved ones continue to build their lives around the Mormon church.

However, I've done a lot in the past two years that is relatively Mormon-free. In November of 2010 I picked up and moved to a new city in a new state, because I knew that if I stayed in Salt Lake I would never find a good enough excuse to leave my crummy job and start taking some damn chances. I would never be brave enough to try to do something more meaningful with my life if I didn't force myself into unfamiliar circumstances.

And so I did. I took my measly savings account, packed up my car, and journeyed west. For the first few months things were unpredictable - I was terrified that I would fail and be forced to move back home with my parents. I was incredibly lucky, having landed a temp job within a week of arriving, but the pay was low, the commute was far, and my savings were drying up. The employer was impressed by me, and asked me what I thought about the temp job becoming permanent. To be honest, it didn't thrill me. It was accounting, which I hated and had left Salt Lake to get away from. But at least, as a permanent employee, I would get a pay increase and some stability, and in the current economy, I'd be a fool not to take it.

Then, rather unexpectedly, the person I was taking over for came back. She had decided that sitting around all day being sick with cancer was terribly boring, and she wanted to come back to work. My boss hadn't made me an offer in writing yet, and so I was squeezed out, just two days after moving (again) into a house much closer to the office.

The next week was terrifying. I had told the temp agency that I needed another job, but they were not able to find one quickly. My budget was so tight that after only a few days, I calculated that I could last about two more weeks without income before I would run out of enough money to make the drive back to Utah. I felt like an epic failure. I hadn't saved enough, I'd spent my savings too liberally when I first arrived, I hadn't done enough research on the cost of living in this city that was much larger than I was used do.

Then, on day 4 of unemployment, my phone rang. The woman on the other end identified herself as a representative for a temp agency who had a placement for me. I asked the name of the agency - I had never heard of them. I asked how she had gotten my information - her rather cryptic answer was, "from your email." She offered me two days worth of work as a receptionist and administrative assistant at barely above minimum wage. I accepted, figuring that any income was better than none, and the likelihood of securing a better job that week was slim.

When I showed up at the gig on Thursday morning, I almost walked away immediately. Opening the office door was like opening the portal to Narnia, if Narnia had been a disease-ridden land inhabited by hoarders with a hand fetish. Sheets of paper stacked on top of boxes stacked on top of rickety furniture were crammed against all the walls. There was a thick layer of dust over almost everything. An unplugged, unwashed coffee pot sat precariously atop a broken fax machine. The carpet was somehow both slippery and sticky, and I had no idea what color it was. Scattered atop the bookshelves and filing cabinets and boxes and stacks of paper were dozens of statuettes of hands. Wooden hands and ceramic hands and hands carved from stone. Hands holding flowers, hands holding other hands, hands holding... is that a fetus? It's a hand holding a fetus.

Just as my fight or flight instinct was kicking in, a voice from the back room called out, "Hello?" I hesitated. If I answered, I would have to stay here for two whole days. If I didn't... my bank account balance flashed before my eyes. I took a deep breath, instantly regretted it, and turned to stick my head back outside the door for a moment. There. One more deep breath. Air. Beautiful, clean, industrial-and-automotive-area-of-town air. I had to nut up and do this.

So I walked to the back office, where I found "Jim" seated at his desk. His workspace was still cluttered and dusty, but nowhere near as disgusting as the area up front. Jim motioned for me to sit, and before I had a chance to introduce myself he said, "I just got an email from Desmond Tutu."

Um.... what?

For the next three hours, I sat in stunned silence while Jim talked. And talked. And talked. He talked about $50-a-gallon gasoline and Brazilian housewives and Bill Clinton. He talked about Uttar Pradesh and Charlton Heston and the Nobel Prize. I was flabbergasted. The woman from the temp agency had told me I would be answering phones for a small nonprofit while the receptionist was on vacation. But I had sat there for three hours, and the phone hadn't rung once. There was no one else there, just Jim and me. And I could not, for the life of me, figure out what the hell he did. Even the name of the charity made no sense - it was just two nouns thrown together that offered no clue to what the mission statement was.

This man is batshit crazy, I thought to myself as I nodded along to Jim's rant about currency. This man is absolutely, certifiably insane. I am being paid slightly less than your average McDonald's cashier to listen to this crazy old man talk at me about elephants for two days.

Finally, at lunch, Jim asked me a few questions about myself. He asked where I was from, how long I had been working as a temp, if I had gone to school.

"Yes, I got my degree a few years ago," I told him. He asked what I'd studied. "Film."

"Film?"

"That's right."

"Did you study screenwriting at all?"

"Actually, yes. That was my emphasis."

This excited Jim. He showed me a couple of filing boxes full of loose sheets of paper, then said, "These are five of the best screenplays you'll ever read. You could sell any one of them for a million bucks." Jim proceeded to tell me that his father was a four-time Oscar winner, and that a few decades earlier Jim had decided to write some movies to help further his cause (which, by this point, I had figured out was promoting women's and family health in developing countries, particularly birth control). The fruits of his labors were now stuffed inside these two boxes, which he asked me to "go through".

"And do what?"

"Just go through them. You understand screenplays, right? So go through these."

Uh... okay. I spent that afternoon and most of the next day sorting the contents of the boxes, separating out the loose pages into their five separate screenplays, and filing them accordingly. Jim was so impressed with my efforts that he asked me to extend my contract and return the next Monday.

My original temp agency still hadn't found me anything, so I agreed to come back for a week. When I showed up on Monday, Jim took me downstairs to a completely different suite in the same office building. He told me that he was planning to move down to this bigger space, but hadn't gotten around to it yet, and that for now I would be working here. Then he showed me the two boxes of screenplays I had filed earlier, which he had carried down and left on top of a card table. "Have at it," he said, and left.

I had no idea what to do. Crazy Boss Is Crazy had just asked me to do the work I had already finished. What in the actual fuck was going on?! I figured I had nothing to lose, and until I found another job I had better just be grateful I had a tiny bit of money coming in. So I sat down in a folding chair, pulled out one of the screenplays, and started reading.

Oh my god. OH MY GOD. You wouldn't believe me if I told you. It was the most insane, blathering, pointless piece of shit that has ever graced a page. Plot summary: I DON'T KNOW. It was something about a guy in India who goes to America and harasses celebrities and then has kids dress up like condoms at a high school football game halftime show and he ends up making a bajillion dollars somehow and I am not making this up. From what I could decipher, that is the actual gist of the screenplay Jim wrote.

The others were just as bad. My personal favorite was the one about a scientist who invents a device called the Vas(ectomy) Plug, which is then made internationally mandatory for every boy on the planet to be fitted with at puberty. If later he and his wife wish to conceive, a doctor can temporarily disable the plug, but everyone is limited to two children (I never understood if this was meant to be every man was limited to two, or every woman, or every couple, but I digress). This solves the population explosion which makes the world a better place and earns the scientist the Nobel Prize. The scientist then starts making suggestions to world leaders for other things they can do to solve all the world's problems, but none of them want to listen to him, so he sneaks away to his secret underground computer lair where, unbeknownst to everyone, he can remotely control the Vas Plug of every man on the planet. When the world leaders don't sign laws or push agendas the scientist supports, he retaliates by messing with their dicks via remote control. Of course, every world leader (because there are no women in elected office in the futuristic year 2006, Jim?) is devastatingly embarrassed by their penises acting inappropriately, and, because the scientist's secret computer lair is so hard to find, they are forced to do whatever he wishes. Because while there are supposedly thousands of doctors qualified to insert or disable the Vas Plug, none of them can remove them. Apparently. Anyway, so the world leaders eventually track down Jim, but by this point all of his suggestions have so drastically improved the planet that THEY GIVE HIM ANOTHER NOBEL PRIZE.

Good lord. Good fucking lord.

It took me that whole week to read these screenplays, between navigating the utter inanity and listening to Jim's 3-4 hour daily lectures about who knows what. One thing I started to piece together, though, was that before he dove headfirst into a great steaming pile of guano, Jim had a fascinating life. He had traveled all over the world, lived in some of the most remote and poor places on the planet, and was, in his time, highly influential in setting up the governments of several developing countries. So, even though I had no idea what it was Jim had hoped to accomplish by keeping me around, I came up with a proposal. I told him if he would pay me directly as an independent contractor instead of going through the temp agency (where I lost almost half my earnings), I would help him write his autobiography. He agreed.

I spent ten months working for Jim. I was making good money, setting my own hours, working in my own office. Jim checked in on me almost every day, to take a nap on the couch in the back of the suite and to give me another hours-long lecture about how many Egyptians you can fit in a mailbox. Sometimes he would get tired of working on the book, and give me another project to work on. I ended up writing an analysis on a report from the UN about coal emissions, letters to diplomats and businesspersons all over the world, and rewriting a few of his screenplays for a "modern" audience (meaning, I removed all the references to the USSR). My favorite side project was the day he asked me to help him draft a meeting agenda - for his wife's birthday dinner. Jim had two grown children, and had been trying to get them invested in his pet projects for years. He had created a family foundation and expected his kids to run it when he retired, but they weren't interested. So, since they would all be together that night to celebrate his wife's 70th birthday, he thought it was an opportune time to discuss business matters.

The next morning he asked me to help him write a letter of apology to his wife.

Eventually, I had to quit working for Jim. The nonsense of it all was starting to get to me. I was seriously lacking in purpose or direction. We were nearly finished with the book, and I decided that it would soon be time for me to move on. Jim had other ideas, however.

One morning he came into my office and said, "I've been thinking. The only logical way for my autobiography to end is with my death, and I'm not ready to die yet. So I want to stop working on the book. I'll pay you through the end of the month."

And that was it. Bye-bye, Jim. It wasn't the very end - six months later, he would call me back to his office for a half-hour meeting where I would explain to him how progressive time worked, and he would tell me about a fax he sent to Saddam Hussein in 2003.

But when I quit working for Jim, something quite lucky happened. I decided to take the rest of the week off to decompress, then on Friday I called my old temp agency to see if they had anything for me. I hadn't worked for them in almost a year, so I didn't expect anything to happen right away. But while I was on the phone with them, I was put on hold for about two minutes, then asked if I was available to start Monday at the headquarters of a national charity. I'm still working there now. In my first six months I went from an office temp to a staff admin position to the head of the communications department. Things are good.

With all the fuss made about Mittens' religion lately, one of my coworkers has become absolutely fascinated with Mormonism. I've told him bits and pieces, and watching his jaw hit the ground has put my former religion in a whole new light. For the first couple of years after I left, the people I talked to about it were all familiar with the church. My friends were all exmos themselves, or nevermos who lived in Utah and had therefore absorbed much knowledge. But seeing some of this nonsense through the eyes of someone who knew absolutely nothing about Mormons a year ago, except that they were clean cut and had large families, has given me such a different perspective.

The church is no longer this thing that I'm angry about. It's no longer this controlling force that stole so much of my life away from me. Now it's this absolutely batshit crazy story I can use to entertain people. And I love a good story. I love hearing them, but mostly I love telling them. Mormonism is now just like my time working for Jim - it was this bizarre chapter in my life that nobody can really believe happened without being there themselves. I get the same reaction when I tell people about the time Jim's pet monkey ate his condom collection ("It had condoms from fifteen different countries!") and when I tell them about the time Mormon prophets taught that Bigfoot is Cain and that people who live on the moon dress like Quakers.

So, I'm back. I don't know how often I'll post, but to everyone who has left comments over the last couple of years encouraging me to return to this blog (particularly those of you who promised to shower me with love and/or baked goods), thank you. Say hello.

These stories are for you.

1 comment:

Jon Pulsipher said...

Oh look, you came back ten months ago. But it would seem your gone again.

That was a damn good exit letter. "Exit letter - The Movie". I can see it now.