Sunday Morning. Salt Lake City, UT. I wake late and stumble around the hotel room searching for clothes. Fuck, no time for Starbucks. My plan is to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir followed by Sunday Sacrament at the ward Sister Steigelmeier suggested. “They’ll know you’re not from here anyway,” repeats in my head as I pull on my Sunday best: dark jeans, a blue and white plaid shirt, and grey and orange New Balance sneakers. I look like some sort of gay lumberjack. “I hope I won’t stand out too much,” I think to myself as I speed walk towards Temple Square.
Arriving at the Tabernacle, a blue starch-suit woman with black and white name tag stops me: “no backpacks,” she says.
“But it has my laptop and camera equipment,” I whine, “where am I supposed to leave it?”
“Bag check,” she points back the way I came.
“Look at her,” I argue pointing at a woman with suitcase-sized tote, “her handbag is bigger than mine.”
“No backpacks,” the starch-suit holds my gaze.
I squint at her, then walk the other way. When I return she catches me again “I’m sorry about that, I realize your bag is smaller than many of the ladies’; it’s just we were told ‘no backpacks.’”
“It’s OK,” I joke, “just sexist.” She smiles awkwardly.
Inside, I sit next to an older woman who recently lost her husband to a motorcycle accident; it’s still painful, I can tell. She is about to embark on a mission, which, as a convert, she didn’t do in her youth. She is excited I have come to check out the church.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for here,” she says. After a brief pause, she asks “are you married?”
“No,” I reply wondering if ‘gay lumberjack’ is an accepted LDS look.
A smile crosses her face, “well, you should definitely stick around, we have many fine, young, eligible girls from all over the world here.”
I look at her twice – is she offering me women, I wonder – then just smile.
The Tabernacle building is beautiful and the choir is amazing, if not slightly traditional for my taste. After the program, I say goodbye to my neighbor and exit the building where I am greeted by a slew of young, beautiful women from all over the world; just as predicted! They hold signs indicating their language of origin – Deutsche, Cantonese, Spanish, Armenian. The hostesses offer to provide more information about Mormonism. If I were a different kind of man in another lifetime, I might take them up on their offer. But, I need coffee and breakfast.
Across from Temple Square I find a cheap all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, where I eat, uh, all I can. The French toast causes bloating and gas, which makes my jeans tighter than when I left the hotel. Now, I’m a gay lumberjack in skin tight jeans. No time to change – it’s off to Sacrament.
Finding my way into the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where the service is held, proves challenging. I try three entrances, all of which were open yesterday, then decide to follow a young Mormon family. Gaining access, a guard sitting in a lounge chair stops me: “May I help you?” I watch as others in their Sunday best walk past unimpeded, “I’m here for the service at 11.” “Proceed,” he says.
I don’t find Sister Steigelmeier, but sit next to a woman who, noting my camera, says “you can sit here if you don’t take my picture.” I don’t want to anyway, I think to myself, then say “no problem, I’ll put it away.” Ms. Camera Shy and I will become close friends over the next hour as she takes it upon herself to translate the service. I scribble questions on the program and she writes answers. We go back and forth like this for the entire Sacrament.
Mary – I learn her name later – points out every inside joke during the service, of which there are many. “He’s a pilot,” she whispers after one speaker jokes about the safety procedure on a plane ride. “He’s from North Carolina,” she notes in a hushed voice after another man jokes about the previous speaker’s mission. I experience the same feeling as in the bar the previous night when I realize that everyone in the room know’s each other and likely knows I am from out of town.
At the end of Sacrament, Mary asks if I have any questions. I do and she sits with me for thirty minutes answering them. Before I leave, Mary finds the a Ward officer and tracks down a Book of Mormon. Handing it to me, she says “I hope you enjoy this and find what you are looking for here.” “Thank you,” I say as I leave her, Temple Square and the Mormons.