First Dance

First Dance

My first dance was in the fifth grade, but I made sure not to dance with anyone. Me and another guy came up with a strategy to avoid dancing on the girls-choice dances, since we never would have asked anyone ourselves! It quickly became clear that wall-flowers usually ended up dancing with someone at some point, so as soon as the music started, we would walk around the middle of the dance floor as if headed somewhere.


Sometimes I’d dance in place for a moment if a teacher was near. Teachers were good at setting people up to get them to dance with someone. When the snowball dance started, we made sure to go get a drink and use the bathroom, taking a considerable amount of time getting back. Using these methods, I was able to make it through the dance without ever having to dance with a girl.

When I turned twelve, one of my first church youth activities was a youth dance. Using my sneaky method, I was able to avoid dancing with a girl for a while – until Sister Johnson, one of the young-women leaders caught on to what I was doing. While strolling about in the middle of the dance floor, weaving in and out of dancing couples, I suddenly walked right into Sister Johnson (obviously she had aligned her position). With a big smile, she said, “Chas, have you danced with anyone yet?”

I knew I was doomed, and gave in, saying, “Uh… no… not really.”

Then she grabbed the first laurel to walk by and said, “Dawn, would you like to dance with Chas?”

Of course, being a mature 16 year-old, she took pity on this poor little deacon. “I’d love to!”

Feeling like a mouse caught in a trap, I stood there as she put her hands on my shoulders. I was shocked. What was I supposed to do now? I stood there stupidly.

“Put your hands on my waist,” she instructed. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was supposed to actually dance with this girl! I’d seen the others dancing, so I guess I knew I was supposed to put my hands on her waist, but I couldn’t work up the courage to do it before the invitation came. I put my hands on her waist and we rocked back and forth slightly, turning gradually in circles. The song was already half over by the time we started dancing, but that second half of a song felt like the length of twenty songs.

When the song finally ended, she thanked me for the dance and I bolted. For the rest of the evening, I kept clear of that girl.

At home after the dance, mom told me how Dawn had come up to her and Dad after our dance and said, “Your son is so cute! I had to tell him to put his hands on my hips!”

Turning purple at the thought that Mom and Dad knew that I had danced with a girl, I wormed off to my room. Maybe next time I would slough the dance entirely.

The KAPE Patrol

I remember starting many clubs as a kid, but the one that probably lasted the longest was the Kcap patrol (later changed to Kape patrol).

The KCAP patrol (pronounced “CAP”) was something we conjured up about the time I was deeply interested in environmental issues – I was probably 10 or 11. KCAP stood for “Kid Cop Animal Pollution” patrol. The original Kcap patrol consisted of Me, my best friend Nathan, my sister Shelly, and probably whoever else happened to be lingering around that day. We started it one day when we discovered that Mike, one of our bully neighbors, was setting off fireworks on people’s lawns. We decided we needed some kind of patrol to protect the neighborhood from such bandits. So we conjured up a quick patrol, made a few membership codes, and got out our skateboards. We rode on our knees, not being very steady on our feet – and rolled down the street, looking for trouble. Fortunately or unfortunately, we never found any. We did find one firework on a neighbor’s lawn, but couldn’t find the culprit. Fireworks were a violation of our new pollution code, and we intended to bring a stop to it.

We never saw any more signs of trouble, so we called off the case.

A few months later, we changed the name of our patrol to the KAPE patrol, using the same pronunciation as before, but this time it stood for “Kid’s Animal, Plant, Environmental” patrol. We thought this a much more inclusive name, and we voted unanimously on it’s implementation. We also re-designated it’s members. Now it consisted of me, Shelly, Nathan, my other sister Maria, and eventually my younger brother Jake. We held weekly meetings and made plans of how to save the world. The KAPE patrol had many meeting places, but by far, the best was the junk house.

One day we were playing at Nathan’s house, having a jolly time, when Nathan’s dad came out and spoiled our fun by telling Nathan he had to pick up the toys and junk around the yard and put them in the shed area. The shed area was the leftover foundations of what used to be a shed, and which was now a 10′ X 10′ area that they used to simply put stuff. Devastated for having to put our activities on hold, we decided to use the task to our advantage.

We started by gathering the larger junk – especially the large flat items, such as screen doors, child-gates, and wood flaps, and made the basic frame for a club-house. We made sure it had enough room to fit the whole KAPE patrol. Then we piled the rest of the junk around the frame, including bikes, old Christmas trees, chains, yard toys, and tools, leaving only a small inconspicuous opening in the back. When we finished, it looked like one massive junk-pile. The yard was clean, and we had the best hideout in the neighborhood! We climbed inside, and found it to be a spacious and well secreted clubhouse. We posted lookouts and located enough peak-holes to spy out Nathan’s backyard, our backyard, and the side porch where his parents would likely come out looking for him. We assigned each member of the KAPE patrol a different lookout spot.

That clubhouse lasted a long time – until Nathan’s younger siblings discovered it. Then Nathan’s parents tore it down, considering it to be a safety hazard. Disappointed, we moped about it for awhile – that is, until we learned how to make a wikiup in the backyard… but that’s another story.

Electro-dog

Yesterday my wife and I took our dog for a walk.  Every once in a while we stopped and I’d go hide in the sagebrush while my wife held the dog so I’d have time to hide before she came after me.  This is one of our dog’s favorite games, though she’s not that great at tracking people – she could use some practice with her sniffer – but she has fun trying.

One of the times I asked my wife to hold the dog and I prepared to go hide.  While trying to get hold of Lola’s collar, my wife let go and said, “Ouch! I think I think Lola’s got a cactus spine or something.”  So I came and felt around for it.  At first I couldn’t find anything, but then I felt it – some kind of poke.  I seemed that she had a spine in her neck, and as I searched for it, I felt it again.  Was it a poke… or a shock?  I felt around more, and after a moment felt it again.  “Ouch,” I said, pulling back, “that’s weird!  I’m not sure it’s a poke we’re feeling. It’s almost more of a shock!”  I felt her fur again, and the more I touched her, the more poke/shocks I felt.

Then we realized that we were standing almost directly beneath one of those massive beefy electric wires that carry electricity over mountains and miles of empty terrain.  It was even making strange zapping noises.
“Uh…” I said, looking at the gigantic power-line, “let’s get out of here.”  So we scrambled away from the electric wire.  We checked the dog every couple minutes, and sure enough, the further we got from the power lines, the less conductive she was.

I don’t know if the dog ever noticed anything, but if she starts demonstrating super-powers, I won’t wonder why.

The Jughead American Dream Burger

I have Conquered the Jughead American Dream Burger. That’s one of my few claims to fame – eating a 1 KG (2.2 lb) hamburger with a side order of fries in 35 minutes. That weight didn’t include the weight of the bun or extra fillings of the burger, either. 2.2 lbs of pure lean beef. When they brought it out, I thought it took the term “my eyes are bigger than my stomach” to a new level. In this case, the burger itself was bigger than a good part of my abdomen, and looked like a small cake.

Pano’s Diner was a little restaurant owned by one of the local stake presidents, so we got free shakes whenever we came – which worked out nicely for washing down the Jughead American Dream Burger.

I’m almost ashamed to say I ate the thing. Two other missionaries had conquered it already, and I wanted to show them up. You might say I did, since it took only took me a half hour, while it took them 2-3 hours to finish their’s. But I’ve always recognized the fact that the faster you eat, the more you can eat. But even more than that, anyone who can finish the burger in one sitting got a free shirt, and got to sign the wall of the restaurant. Who could pass up such an opportunity?

I still have that shirt, and I wear it with pride. It’s fun to be able to explain how I got it.

What I generally fail to mention is the difficulty I had in keeping the stuff down. Numerous times I felt it almost coming up, and for many hours afterward, even most of the day, I was deathly thirsty. A couple of times I tried to drink, but even a sip nearly brought the load out. Also, it was probably the most money I spent on a meal in my whole mission.

In reflecting back on this, I thought about how much we gorge ourselves with the things of this life. We cram our stomachs with things that are not bad of themselves , but which crowd out time and energy for the essential things. We see the rewards that the world has to offer, and they look enticing to us. We work hard to obtain them, and get the reward – the chance to sign a wall and take home a free shirt that recognizes our accomplishment – or perhaps something more alluring, such as prominence, position, power, money, or popularity. While it is seldom that these rewards are inherently bad, our pursuit of them may cost us more than we are willing to admit. They may cost time, means, or energy, when those things could have been used to build the Lord’s kingdom and our families. If eating a certain thing makes it impossible to drink water, it is better not to eat it. Our families need water, our callings need water, our testimonies need water, but if our lives are too full of unnecessary secular “hamburger,” we may not have room for them.

Also, carrying that hamburger the rest of the day was difficult, which brings to mind the Savior’s promise that if we take His burden upon us, we will find it much lighter than the burden we place upon ourselves. It’s hard to keep sin down and hidden. It usually comes up, and when it does, we are humiliated and ashamed. But Christ can remove sin from our hearts. His burden costs so much less than the price we pay for our own burdens and sins. Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking the way is too hard or too straight, but if we look close, we find that it is our attempts to stay on our own paths while following Christ that makes it so difficult. Besides, we can see the immediate rewards of our hamburger paths, while the rewards of the Spirit seem very slow in coming, if we see them at all.

Yet the spiritual rewards for taking Christ’s burden on us are of far greater, even infinite value.

Good Night Son

sleepyboy.JPG

We have two kids. My daughter is almost 2, and my son is two months old. We’re still working on teaching our daughter not to lay on her brother, poke his eyes, pick him up, push her head against his, comb his hair with hard objects, sit on him – you know, the usual kid stuff. She was trying to teach him to count this morning, though she only gets to 9 before getting distracted, and always starts on 2.

Yup, they’re bundles of fun. Our son’s still got to learn to sleep at night. He seems to prefer the day. It makes for an interesting pattern. After an exhausting day of work, I get home about the time he starts waking up bright-eyed and ready for a full evening of wide-eyed grunts and grumbles. I get ready and climb in bed – my wife’s already sound asleep by this time, totally oblivious to the whimpers and strange disgruntled noises coming from the bassinet, which I expend the energy of my whole soul trying to ignore. But of course, the intense effort begins to give me a headache, and leads my brain from exhaustion to a sort of wired, zombie-like mindset.

Finally I give in and leap from the bed with more vigor than I intend, swooping the poor little runt from his torture chamber, plop down on the rocker, and begin pumping with gusto. If this fails to lure him to sleep, it succeeds to induce the fall reflex, in which he stretches out shaking hands and wears an expression of suppressed horror.

Of course this only proves to waken him more, so I take him in the living room to change his diaper – the bane of my son’s existence (and he makes sure to let me know it every time). After re-wrapping him and stepping back to see if he shows signs of sleepiness, I realize that while he is now calm, he’s as awake as I would be at noonday. But noting that he’s being fairly quiet, I return him to the bassinet and slip back under the covers. Then comes the time of blissful sleep that I long for, and I feel myself slip gracefully into the comfort of my dreams. About this time, the noises from the bassinet return, tearing me cruelly back to reality. After another herculean effort to ignore the whimpers and grunts, I decide that for the time being, sleep is a higher priority than proximity to my wife, and I spend the rest of the evening on the living room couch. Good night son!

People Pile

people-pile.jpgWhen I was in the fourth grade, I was coming in from recess one day with my sister, when we noticed an unusual commotion in the doorway of the school. As we got closer, we saw that there was a large pile of kids stacked 3 feet high, each kid shouting and struggling to get out of the pile. I don’t know how they got that way, but they looked so ridiculous that I laughed out loud. I pointed, saying to my sister, “Look at that! It’s a pile of people!” Suddenly someone bumped into me from behind. The next thing I knew, I was at the bottom of the pile. Well, almost at the bottom – I could feel an arm under me. Kids piled atop me, and I screamed with the rest. It was another minute or so before a teacher was able to get the pile sorted out and the kids all standing again. I remember going to class with a puffy wet face, and a feeling of utter humiliation.

I’ve thought of that situation many times since then, and it makes me laugh nearly every time I do.

It’s easy to laugh at life when I look at it from a safe distance, but when I get shoved into the pile, it stinks. Everyone clamoring to get above me while I’m just trying to get out of the pile. Pounding my fists while my head is being pressed to the floor, I wonder how I ever got myself into this stupid situation.

Sometimes I think of the people pile as an analogy of society – no one wanting initially to get into the mess of it, but once they do, they want to be at the top of the pile. What a strange system we have!

But there is another, simpler lesson that I get from this story. Thank heaven for memory. And thank heaven for perspective, which can turn a horrible situation into a humorous one. It takes work, but it if I’m willing to take a moment to think about it, I can find humor in nearly every challenge, and doing so makes life much more interesting. After I am clear of humiliation and danger, the worst piles in my life make some of the best stories. The worse the fix, the better the story.

So the next time you find yourself at the bottom of the pile, with your face being rubbed into the hardwood floor, just think of what a great story it will make later.

Blind Date

I have a suspicion that the only reason the blind date still exists is that for some few individuals, they actually work. The rest of us must suffer for the sake of the few. Years ago, Dad had a friend at work with a daughter my age, and somehow he managed to set me up with his daughter. So, he gave me her phone number, and after a couple weeks of putting it off, I finally called her. We talked for a bit, and reluctantly I asked her out. She agreed, and we scheduled a date for Friday night.

I have horrible orientation skills, so when I learned that this girl lived in Layton, I nearly panicked. I’d never been to Layton, I’d never known anyone from Layton, and I couldn’t even guess which direction I’d have to drive to get to Layton. There is a tradition that men do not like to ask directions. I suppose this may be so for those who have some glimmer of confidence in their orientation skills. I had long since given up faith in mine. I would ask directions at a service station, and follow them until I reached another service station. Then I’d repeat the process until I was within a block or so of my destination. Occasionally, however, I would get to a station who didn’t know the location I was looking for. In such circumstances, I’d wander aimlessly through a city until I came across another service station – or if there was no such station around, I might stop at a grocery store, restaurant, or business office to ask if anyone knew the way to my location. My family knew about my disorder, so they were usually quite willing to help. Dad offered to drive with me to the girl’s house the night before the date, so I’d know how to get there.

When Friday night came, I was a bundle of nerves. This would be my first single date. I’d only gone on group dates before. On group dates, you can always count on someone to carry on the conversation. With single dates, I knew I’d have half the talking responsibility. I didn’t even know this girl. What if we sat there in awkward silence for half the date?
Just to make sure I would make it on time, and in case I got lost, I left 45 minutes earlier than I had to. As I left, I became conscious of everything. It was summer, and the air was hot and stuffy. This gave the inside of the truck a kind of muggy smell, and I wanted to be prepared to impress my date. So I stopped at a service station and bought a car freshener. I got in the truck, popped it out of the bag, and hung it on the rear view mirror. I had never bought a car freshener before, and I was pleased with my choice – forest pine scent. That should give the car a nice fresh atmosphere. I also rolled the window down to let the old air out. Soon I realized the wind was scuffing up my hair, so I closed it.

After a time, I found my eyes watering with the intense scent of pine. Were car fresheners usually this powerful? I snatched the thing off the mirror and set it on the floor. That helped a little, but just to be sure, I opened the window a crack.
To my surprise, I arrived in good timing, giving me 45 minutes to kill.

Perhaps if I’d known Layton better, I could have window shopped. But the risk of getting lost was too great, so I found a gas station, pulled around back, parked the truck, set my watch alarm to wake me, and tried to take a nap.
Next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and saw my date’s dad staring down at me through the window. “Getting a little sleep in, are we?”
“Uh, oh… hi! Yeah, I was just… I was a little tired.”

He laughed and returned to his car. I could tell this was going to be a grand evening. After that I couldn’t sleep.
By now, the car freshener was getting worse. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a green pine-scented mist emitting from the little tree. I fumbled through the truck till I found a plastic grocery bag to keep it in and stashed the chunk of aroma under the seat.
I showed up at Dalina’s door at exactly 6:00. I didn’t want to be early, in case her dad had told her about my gas station siesta, and I didn’t want to be late lest she thought I’d overslept the said siesta. We left without going inside first, for which I was grateful. No need to meet her father.

The date started out alright – you know, the typical awkward silences followed by one of us (me, in this case) asking a dumb question like, “So where did you go to high school?” I’ve only found one decent use for that question. You meet a girl, and would like to know her age, so you ask, “Did you go to Cyprus High?”

“No, I went to Highland.”

“Oh,” you reply, “what year did you graduate?”

“1991.”

Then you know she’s too old. Luckily this was not the case with Dalina. But on a first date, you thrive on smalltalk until you can grab onto something interesting to talk about.
Dalina had already mentioned that she was going to school, so I asked, “So what are you studying?”
“Psychology.”
Now I knew I was doomed. Not only was I on a blind single date, but I would be analyzed by an aspiring psychologist.
“What about you?”

“Music.”

“And what would you like to do with your degree?”

“I don’t know – maybe teach.”

“How do you feel about teaching?”

“Uh, okay, I guess. I think it might be fun.”

“And why is that?”

I know now why they call psychiatrists “shrinks.” I felt very small. I felt like I should be laying on a black couch, staring into a pastel light, she at a desk with a clipboard, saying, “Interesting. Very interesting.” I wondered if I should start making up a bunch of horrible things that happened to me as a child that made me what I am today – unfortunately nothing horrible ever happened to me as a kid. Maybe that’s what made me such a dull date. After awhile, I noticed her eyes were starting to moisten. Had I said something to upset her? Had I offended her before our date had really began. “Do you mind if I open the window?” She asked, “Your dad’s air-freshener is burning my eyes.”

I’d been planning on taking her to the Lion House Pantry on temple square, but unfortunately I had not checked their hours ahead of time. The sign on the locked door announced that dinner was served from 5 to 7. It was 7:15. Short of walking over to the mall food court, the only other place to eat nearby was the Garden restaurant at the top of the Joseph Smith Memorial building. Desperate to not look like a fool, I said, “Well, that’s alright, I figured we could go up to the Garden restaurant if this one was closed. Does that sound okay?”

“Whatever you’d like.”

I was certain she was doing a psychoanalysis on my decision-making skills. I was determined not to fail. “Let’s do it then.”

I wonder if she saw my bug-eyed expression when I looked at the price of the menu items. “Get whatever you want” I assured her, hoping she didn’t notice the crack in my voice.

It was a delicious meal, quite like home cooking – which made me wonder why we eat at such places. If we did make it at home, it would cost a tenth of the price, and might even make for a more interesting date. But I guess that would require a bit of cooking skills. I decided I’d best get some before going on another date.

After dinner, we had a tour of the conference center. Most of my early dates included a tour of the conference center. I probably could have provided the tour myself after a while, though that would have required a good deal more talking, which I wasn’t very good at.

After the tour I asked her if she’d like to go see a laser show at Hansen Planetarium. I hadn’t seen one in years, and I thought a date would be a good excuse to go. “No,” she replied, “I have lots of homework to do.”
So I took her home. I walked her to the door, and after an awkward moment at the step, I turned and headed back for the car. Thus ended my first single date. I guess it could have been worse. I could have fallen off the roof of the conference center or choked to death on a piece of chicken.
Driving home, I stopped at a service station and chucked the air freshener, riding the rest of the way with both windows down.

I took comfort in something someone once told me, and which I found to be very true in my own experience. It is simply this: all first dates go badly. The first time you go on a date with a girl, with very few exceptions, the date will not go well. Supposing that a first date is a forecast to the potential of the relationship is like saying 7th grade is a forecast of your academic future. Just imagine if that were the case. We’d probably have Olympic spit-wad flings, and the Nobel peace prize would probably go to the one who had shut the largest number of annoying kids in their lockers. Likewise, if everyone assumed that a bad first date meant there was no chance for the relationship, most people would never get married.

That was the last I ever saw of Dalina. A couple days later, Dad came to me saying that he was confused. “Greg said Dalina told him my car freshener was too strong. I don’t know what she’s talking about. I don’t have a car freshener.”