Saturday, March 08, 2008
Since I've written a fictional story about BYU, perhaps I should tell you a little more about what I really did at BYU.
I arrived as a freshman and newly-minted apostate in the fall of 1989. Almost everyone arrives at college friendless at first, but I had added the disadvantage of being a lone unbeliever among the faithful in a place where being an unbeliever was more than just being a pariah -- it was against the rules.
When I set out to find a boyfriend, the only real qualification I had in mind (beyond breathing, human, male) was not Mormon. Naturally when the campus environmentalists club announced an organizational meeting, I was there with bells on, dragging with me the least-Molly I could find from among my dorm-mates from Budge Hall. These days being concerned about the environment is almost respectable in Mormon circles. In those days, it wasn't. It looked like a good opportunity to meet some rebels.
Unfortunately, the organizers (and the rest of the club, if there was one...) never showed. Aside from me and my friend, the only person there was Steve. I had just turned eighteen; he was thirty-five and still an undergraduate. But he was just what I needed.
Steve was a funny guy. Mostly "funny ha-ha" but there was one thing funny-strange about him: he'd recently been expelled from BYU (for smoking pot), and instead of learning his lesson from this, he'd gone through the repentance/readmission process and came back. This is the kind of selection you get when you go looking for rebels at BYU. Of course I didn't know about his expulsion when I first met him -- I didn't even realize he still had one foot in the church. I treated him as though he were as much an apostate as I was, and after a few weeks with me, he was.
When I met him, Steve was living in a little motor home parked in a trailer park in the far end of Provo. After graduating he moved it to a cheaper-yet-less-legal spot behind his friend's shop in Salt Lake and lived there. He felt it was foolish to join the rat race just to get nicer accommodations and buy more and fancier stuff. As Americans we're born in a resort, he said, where (on just occasional, marginal employment) one can enjoy the simple pleasures of life: books and education, decent food, a little travel, a little weed. He liked to spend his evenings relaxing in his mobile home watching programs he'd recorded on his VCR at the foot of the barely-double bed, working the controls without getting up by pressing the buttons with an old fencing sword he called his "remote control."
And, yes, Steve was the guy from the infamous BYU library story. He was also the one who introduced me to reading primatology books, which I love to this day. He had great stories: about growing up in California, about the pretty Mormon girls in his High School who'd flirted with him to convert him to Mormonism, about his Italian mother and about his father who'd at one point worked setting up pins in a bowling alley, back when that was done by humans, about the archaeological dig he'd participated in to get his financial aid to attend BYU after so many years, about his years off from education, spent -- among other things -- selling heroin, cocaine, and satellite dishes. Sounds like a winner, I know, but any hard drugs were years in the past, so it was cool because he was a little dangerous but not really. He was an intelligent, articulate person who provided a window on a whole array of life experiences that were completely alien to me. He was rich in experience, and I learned from him.
Of course I didn't see it that way at the time. With all my Math and Latin I felt I was a lot smarter than he was, and in my youthful arrogance I wasn't shy about telling him so. But I loved our adventures. One time we drove all the way to Tijuana, via Las Vegas and then a crumbling hot springs resort in California, forgotten by everyone but a few aging guests. Even spending the weekends with him in Salt Lake (once he'd moved there) was an adventure since his friends there were such characters -- they deserve blog posts of their own, if not whole novels.
Back at BYU I explained all these trips as "visiting friends" until the year I moved into an (unapproved) studio apartment and no longer had any roommates to answer to. I had never found pot very interesting, but when Steve offered me a joint to take home, I took it and smoked it in the Student Review office when none of the other BYU-level-rebel kids on the SR staff were around. Why? Because I was baaaaaaad. I was the uber-nerdmeister of badassness in my rebelliously hand tie-dyed t-shirts and other naughty outfits.
It's fun to be young and out to find life wherever it may be hiding. For me, sitting in the warm sunlight on a picnic table in a little trailer park, sipping a glass of white zinfandel (or some other such foolish thing), was a taste of something entirely new.
So is truth stranger than fiction?
You be the judge: BYU