Today I did something I wish I hadn’t had to. Before I get into that, though, I should start at the beginning, which was about six months ago.
I was just going outside for a cigarette and noticed my next-door neighbor talking to a couple of Mormon (or LDS, if you insist) missionaries on the landing. I put on my coat, nodded tersely to the two men and my neighbor, and headed downstairs. I was deep in plotting for The Gael and the Goddess at that point, and fighting a particularly recalcitrant plot point that I wanted to get put to bed before I headed out for Speaking Truth Open Mic at Main Street Books. So far, so good.
I lit up my cigarette, leaned against the garbage can, and puffed away while I tried to figure out which way I wanted this particular part of the story to go. I had three different options, all with their own merits and flaws, and about two hours before I had to leave. The sun was setting and I was busily nipping and tucking plot elements to come up with something serviceable…
I blinked, jarred back into reality by the high-pitched late adolescent voice, and turned around. Sure enough, the two missionaries from the landing were standing there, just oozing sincerity and vibrating with the Good News (whatever that means; my version of the Good News comes in the form of six-figure advance checks, thanks). Even so, I elected not to be rude.
“Howdy,” I said brusquely around my cigarette.
Undaunted, the shorter of the two gave me a smile with so much candlepower I was glad for my shades. “Your neighbor tells us you’re a writer!”
For those who aren’t familiar, the LDS Church believes there’s two kinds of writing: Faith-Promoting Literature (The Book of Mormon etc.) and NON-Faith-Promoting Literature. Care to take a wild guess which pigeonhole my work fits into?
“Well, it’s not exactly ‘faith-promoting’ literature,” I hedged, hoping against hope that would end the conversation. Of course, my luck has never been that good.
“Come on! What do you write?” pressed the larger and heavier of the two.
Heath Ledger as the Joker piped up in my head. “And here…we…GO!”
I sighed, took another drag, and looked him dead in the eye. “I’m an erotic romance author,” I told him with absolute seriousness.
I could have dealt with damned near anything except what happened next. These two kids, whose age put together might equal my own, started to laugh.
It took everything I had not to go off right then and there. Instead, I demonstrated a level of self-control my girlfriend is pretty sure I’m no longer capable of and folded my arms, continuing to smoke my cigarette as if I didn’t have a care in the world. Maybe I sucked on it a little longer and harder than I might have otherwise, but to all outward appearances I could have given frost-covered granite lessons in composure.
About a minute in the laughter got uncomfortable. I watched with slow-burning ire and no small amount of fiendish glee as they pulled themselves down to something approaching sobriety. Then the shorter one gulped a couple of times.
“Oh. You were serious,” he said, as if I’d just revealed the secret of gravity to him. At least he, unlike his partner, had the good grace to look a little sheepish. The bigger kid still looked like he was unsuccessfully not to snicker at a fart joke.
Okay. I’m used to getting weird looks, maybe taking a gay joke or two, even being asked, “Isn’t romance for girls?” (For the tally books, no, it’s not.) But after spending most of my childhood being laughed at for one reason or another, I’ll be damned twice and pay for the privilege before I’ll let a couple of kids, be they ever so clean-cut and earnest, laugh at me for writing about something they don’t (or aren’t supposed to) know a fucking thing about. (Triple entendre very much intentional.)
“Yeah,” I informed him, dropping my cigarette and crushing it out. “I was serious.”
This led to a twenty-five minute diatribe about my opinion of the Church’s sexual mores, peppered liberally with Bible verses and philosophical quotes from people whose names these kids likely couldn’t even spell, never mind pronounce. Somewhere in the middle of it all, I even got an idea for a poem (all the way down at the bottom. You’ll know it when you see it, trust me on this one). And the whole time I fenced with these kids, I actually felt slightly bad for them because they clearly had no idea what kind of lion’s den they’d stepped into and there wasn’t any Angel of the Lord readily available to pull them back out again. (To be fair, I didn’t feel bad enough to stop. My train of thought was thoroughly derailed and I’d been laughed at for something I do for pleasure and profit, which by my count makes four strikes right there.)
Every point they made, I riposted with a counterpoint torn right from the Bible they claim to espouse. Every improvised backdoor argument they brought up I parried with logic and wisdom born of over two decades of studying comparative religion and simply inhabiting this rock we call Earth. I was Errol Flynn to their nameless extras, V against the suit of armor, or Edmond Dantes battling the usurping Count Mondego. In short, they were hopelessly outwitted, outmatched, and outclassed.
However, in this techno-driven day and age, who needs an Angel of the Lord? The shorter kid had…
A smart phone.
Which he employed to call his bishop and issue an urgent plea to get him and his cohort the hell out of there! (I’m assuming he didn’t actually use those exact words, but his posture, body language, and low, urgent tone pitched just right so I couldn’t hear the actual words are pretty much how I’d imagine a guy on a phone asking, “It’s done. Now what should I do with the fuckin’ body?”)
A few moments later a steel-blue late-model sedan pulled to the curb. The missionaries stammered polite farewells at me and proceeded to swarm into the car as if they were being chased by rabid hornets. (Do hornets get rabies? Research question for another time.) I snickered under my breath, crushed out my fourth cigarette, and went inside, sure I’d seen the last of the missionaries.
All right. Fast forward to less than two weeks ago. I was sitting at my computer (come on, my eyes were open. Where the hell else would I be?) when a knocking came at the door. I sighed and got up, not expecting anyone at that hour. I opened the door…
You guessed it. And they couldn’t wait to tell me the Good News!
I sighed and gestured over my shoulder at the three nude drawings adorning the far wall, all of which I rendered with my own hand. Then I proceeded to give them a very abbreviated version of the previous fiasco and explained that after that disagreeable experience, my interest in and odds of desiring to join the LDS Church had dwindled to roughly the same odds as those a fresh snow cone might enjoy at the bottom of an active volcano.
At least they had the good grace to look embarrassed on behalf of their proselytizing brethren and even offered to take their names back to their bishop for suitable chastisement. Of course I didn’t remember that information and it really didn’t matter. The point was made and they sheepishly made their way to greener pastures not barred by a guy with dirty drawings in his living room and a crisp, precise attitude honed by working in a prison. I shut the door and went back to what I was doing, a relatively mindless website rewrite for a little extra pocket money, thinking surely this would be the last visit.
And until today I was right.
This visit started a little differently, with a pounding on the front door roughly six inches from my head of such violence that I fully expected to hear the words, “Police! Open up!” When no such demand was forthcoming, I stood up, perfectly prepared to vent my spleen on the person who’d damned near scared me into a fucking myocardial infarction. (Yes, I can use the word “fuck” AND spell medical terms correctly. One of the many contradictions of being me.) To my exasperation, I saw two more missionaries standing there.
Just to fully illustrate the moment: I was fuming at the stupidity of various human resources and insurance company personnel and the mismanagement of my girlfriend’s short-term disability claim, largely because I was pointedly NOT permitted to ride forth from my lair and seek the heads of those responsible. I was trying to get cover art done for the print version of Dusk, which I hope to be able to sell in Las Vegas in June at the Northwest Barnes & Noble with Jimmy Thomas and Angela Aaron. I was working on a blog post that was not coming together despite my formidable word wizardry skills. And on top of that I was in the kind of mood that starts off irritable, loses ground from there, and ends up with a guy on News at Eleven saying, “SWAT teams are currently in position and awaiting a clear shot at the suspect.” So having my heart abruptly jolted in my chest did nothing to improve my outlook on life and much to make me reconsider the potential benefits of reupholstering my office chair with human skin.
“Listen, guys, I appreciate you coming by. I admire your devotion and your dedication to your faith. However, I’m going to save us both some time here.
“My faith is my own, and I’m quite comfortable with it. The last time missionaries came here, it was not a satisfactory experience for either of us. (Not entirely true, but I reserve the right to bend chronology when making a valiant and conscious effort not to hurl intruders down a flight of stairs.) I am an erotic romance author. That’s how I make my living. Your faith says I can’t do that and be a part of your church. If I decide I want to convert, there is a church within my line of sight from this very house and I know where to go. So please, with all due respect, believe what you want to believe and do what you feel is right…but don’t do it here.” I extended my hand, they both shook it, and they left.
Upon returning to my chair, I thought to myself, I wonder if there’s a do not contact list I can sign up for. That would fix the problem for sure! So I did a little Internet sleuthing, found out which ward and stake I’m in (don’t ask me what those terms mean; I don’t know and don’t care enough to even attempt to find out), and learned the name of the local bishop, whom I promptly called…only to be informed he was not expected home until after 5.
So I did a little more Internet sleuthing and found the LDS Church does NOT in fact have a formal “Do Not Contact” list. They keep all kinds of other lists, including some I found more than slightly creepy, but no list for those who do not want to be bothered. One website, exmormon.org, was particularly full of information. Of course, it being the Internet, I took the testimonials listed therein with a nigh-fatal dose of salt, but there are enough points of congruity that I at the very least found it interesting reading.
Now 5:20 rolled around, and I called again. This time I got the bishop himself, a soft-spoken man who listened as I explained in cool, precise language what my issue was and what I wanted done about it. He advised me there is no formal do not contact list, but that he would be glad to take down my name and address and ensure it was passed on both to his missionaries and posted on his wall so he would remember it. I detailed what had soured me on the missionaries so radically to begin with and explained that I have no issue with the Mormon faith or those who practice it, but their way isn’t mine and I ask only to be able to work in peace. He assured me he understood, and I wished him a good night before hanging up.
This whole experience has left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. As a general rule, I disapprove of proselytizers simply because if I wanted to change my religion, I would go to the appropriate place and do so. I feel that faith is something intensely personal and specific to a given person and as such, everyone’s faith is going to be a little different. Having faith is a fine thing, but it is best done in private and do remember to wash your hands afterward. It’s difficult to on one hand try to respect the beliefs of others and at the same not feel like your own beliefs and the basic, innate right to live your life are subject to attack or merely gentle rebuke with every unexpected tap on the door. It is for this reason, and this reason ONLY, that I resorted to the measures I did. I sincerely hope my message has been received, as I received theirs.
In the meantime, I’m going to go relax and commune with my God. We’re not much on preaching, but we do like us some whiskey and Coke!
Until next time,