Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dude, where's my car repair shop? (part 1)

My minivan started making funny noises. (Yeah, I drive a minivan. You got a problem with that? I didn't think so.) The engine went "clickity-clickity-clickity." The left wheel went "grrrreeewwwo" every time I turned the steering wheel to the left. As soon as I noticed these noises, I immediately did what I usually do when something seems to be wrong with my car: I ignored the problem and hoped it would go away. In fact, I seem to do that with a lot of non-car problems as well. It often works pretty well. In this case, though, it didn't work. The engine started going CLICKITY-CLICKITY-CLICKITY, and the wheel started going GRRRREEEWWWO.

I don't believe in rushing into things, so I immediately did what I usually do when whatever seems to be wrong with my car appears to be getting worse: I waited until my wife said something about it. She said, "Kuri, I think the minivan's left wheel has been going 'grrrreeewwwo' every time I turn the steering wheel to the left, and the engine has been going 'clickity-clickity-clickity.' Have you noticed anything?"

"Oh. Yeah. Now that you mention it…."

"Don't you think you should get it fixed?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

I immediately did what I usually do when my wife asks me to perform some sort of household task: I forgot.

So she asked me a couple of days later if I'd called the car place yet. "Uh, sorry, I forgot. I'll call first thing tomorrow morning."

The next morning, I forgot to call. In the afternoon, my wife asked me if I'd called. "Uh, sorry, I forgot. I'll call them as soon as I finish this job I'm working on." This time, I didn't forget. I called five times, but the line was busy every time. This was on a Friday, so I told my wife I'd call first thing Monday morning.

On Monday morning, I forgot to call. On Monday afternoon, my wife asked me if I'd called. (Hope springs eternal.) "Uh, sorry, I forgot. I'll call them after the lunch hour." This time I didn't forget. I called five times, but the line was busy every time. I said to my wife, "I called five times, but the line was busy every time."

She said, "Well, why don't you just take it in?"

I said, "Well, we have to pick up the kids from school in an hour. There wouldn't be time to work on it."

She said, "He wouldn't need to work on it. Just show him how it goes 'clickity-clickity-clickity' and 'grrrreeewwwo' and make an appointment for tomorrow or something."

I said, "Yeah, OK, that's a good idea."

See, that's the kind of mechanic I had. For about five years, I'd been taking our cars to a mom-and-pop operation run by a guy named Franz and his wife. He was only about 30, but he had an engineering degree and all. He was easy to get appointments with, he was cheap, and he did good work – a truly rare combination. Not only that, he was honest and friendly. A real treasure of a mechanic.

So I hopped into the minivan and headed over towards his shop. I turned up the stereo so I couldn't hear the 'clickity-clickity-clickity' and the 'grrrreeewwwo' as much. I got there, and instead of Franz's shop, there was like this cheap, sleazy looking used-car lot/detailing shop. What the f -- I mean heck? I thought maybe Franz just changed the name of his shop and branched out a little, so I drove around the block and looked again. There was no doubt anymore. Franz's shop was gone.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Eye of a needle

The summer before I went to Japan to finish my last year of college, I worked out of Los Angeles International Airport driving an airport shuttle. This was, I suppose, a McJob of sorts (a McJob, as Douglas Coupland wrote in Generation X, is a "low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one"), but I quite enjoyed it. Partly because the pay was actually pretty good for an unskilled job -- I made between $7 and $10 an hour (in 1988), depending on tips. Partly because each day was different -- I met different people and drove to different places every day. But mostly because it was temporary. I only had to do it for six months, and I only had to make enough to pay rent to my Mom and to get a plane ticket to Japan. I did that with some money left over for fun, which was abundantly available in LA.

Now, I wasn't driving one of the shuttle buses that go round and round from terminal to terminal inside the airport. Instead, what I drove was a van that took people to and from the airport. If you've ever lived in LA, you've probably seen one of the blue vans with "Super Shuttle" in big yellow letters on the side. That's what I drove. It's a "share a ride" system, basically kind of like sharing a taxi to and from the airport. The idea is that it's more convenient than a bus because it's door to door, but less expensive than a taxi because the ride is shared. The system actually works pretty well.

One of the fun things about driving an airport shuttle was getting to know LA. I got to know the city and its geography better in my first two months driving a shuttle than I had in the year I'd been living there before I started. From Thousand Oaks to Pasadena to San Pedro, I knew where everything was, how to get there from LAX and how to get back to LAX without getting caught in the freeway traffic.

But by far the most interesting thing about driving a shuttle was the tips. Not just because making money is fun -- it is -- but because of what you learn about people from the way they tip. In many cases, they fell into patterns based on things like nationality and social class.

For example, Japanese people knew they were supposed to tip, but they had no idea how much. The result was that they tended to "over tip" (although from my point of view there was no such thing, thanks very much). If I had Japanese passengers -- and they always seemed to come in groups of two or more; I don't think I ever had one ride alone -- I could count on at least a 20-percent tip. Filipinos were generally the friendliest people I'd meet. They'd almost always be ready with a smile and a nice conversation to pass the time on the way to their destination. But they were usually lousy tippers. If I had Filipino passengers, I'd expect a $1 tip. That's right, one measly dollar. But I couldn't really hold it against them, because they were so nice. Australians, on the other hand, seemed to resent the very concept of tipping. They seemed to think it was some sort of American racket designed to steal their money. So they'd stiff me every time. Thanks a lot, "mate." Go sit on a boomerang.

Now, you might think that wealthier people would be the best tippers, but that wasn't the case. The fares were preset by geographical area, so it cost the same to go to Beverly Hills as it did to go to Hollywood, $16. If you're not from LA, you might believe that Hollywood is full of movie stars and other rich people, but it's not. It's middle class, with a lot of young working people living in apartments. The rich people live in places like the Hollywood Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, and, of course, Beverly Hills (swimmin' pools, movie stars). But when I'd drive these young people without much money to and from their Hollywood apartments to LAX for the $16 fare, they'd quite often hand me a $20-bill and say "Keep the change." That was pretty much the norm.

On the other hand, people from Beverly Hills, generally older and visibly wealthier than my Hollywood passengers, would hand me a $20-bill for their $16 fare and say, "Give me two dollars back." That happened pretty much every time. And I wondered about that a lot. Four dollars couldn't matter very much to the people from Beverly, but it was more than they were willing to part with. Four dollars wasn't an insignificant amount of money to the Hollywood passengers, but they'd give it away. Why?

I think it's because to the Hollywood passengers I was a human being. They were used to doing things for themselves, so they saw people who did things for them as no different from themselves. Plus a lot of them were probably waiters, or their friends were. They knew what it was like to depend on tips, they knew what it felt like to get good ones, and it made them feel good to make me feel good. They could identify with me.

To the people from Beverly, on the other hand, I think I was just another servant. They were constantly served by maids, gardeners, delivery boys, and whatnot, and over time they'd learned to see them as unimportant, to look right through them, to not think about them. So they'd pay a reasonable tip -- that was part of the deal, and they weren’t crude or anything like that -- but the idea that their driver was a human being who'd be made happy by another $2 or $5 or whatever just wasn't something they thought about.

And I wonder if this sort of distortion isn't what Jesus had in mind when he said it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. If getting into heaven depends mainly on how we treat other people, and if wealth trains one to be indifferent to those beneath oneself, then having much money must be spiritually perilous indeed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Five quirks

Since Carrie included me in her challenge to continue on with the quirk writing, I will now immediately proceed forward to describe and depict five (5) of my own personal idiosyncratic quirks. I have a lot more than five; these are just the first ones that came to mind (not including the one that I'm teasing Carrie about).

  1. I'm never, never sick at sea. Not just hardly ever; never. I don't get seasick. I don't just mean on ordinary boat rides when only a few people get sick, but on really bumpy ones where almost everyone does. I've been on a couple of trips like that -- one in particular where I think only about two or three out of the 75 passengers didn't vomit -- and I never felt a twinge of nausea, although the sight, sound, and smell of so much energetic regurgitation was rather unpleasant.
  2. I can't stand a dirty windshield. The first thing I do after I start my car is turn on the washer and wipers and clean the windshield. And not just when I'm driving. It doesn't bother me if I'm in the backseat, but if I'm riding shotgun and the windshield is dirty, I squirm through the entire ride. Sometimes I even ask the driver to clean it.
  3. I don't have a "most embarrassing moment." I'm not really sure why, but I'm at a complete loss whenever that subject comes up. I'm not sure I ever feel embarrassed. Except in the abstract, I'm not entirely sure what embarrassment is, actually.
  4. I hate not being the tallest person in a room. The author Michael Crichton (he's like 6'10", 208 cm or so) wrote that once he was at a party when Wilt Chamberlain came into the room, and he got so upset at not being the tallest person there that he had to leave. I'm nowhere near that bad, but I can certainly understand his feeling.
  5. I don't like to be touched. It makes me uncomfortable. Not psychologically, but physically. My sense of touch is hypersensitive or something. I don't like the feeling of anything touching my skin. Light touches especially bother me. I can't stand sitting in front of a fan, air conditioner, or heater if it's blowing on me. I have to get up and move. Windy days make me uncomfortable. I never wear tight clothes. Even when I wear loose clothes, the sensation of them touching my skin will bother me several times an hour and I'll have to rub the feeling away. My need for and enjoyment of affection and sex are strong enough for me to be normally expressive in those areas, but it often takes a conscious effort on my part not to pull away when someone I want to touch me does so.

So there you go. I'm not going to call anybody out, because that would be too much like a chain letter or a virus, but I'd like to hear about anyone else's quirks too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rat in me kitchen, part 3: The Mother of All Rats

(This is Part 3. Read Part 1 and Part 2 first if you haven't yet.)

Out came the rattrap again, and up the stairs we went. When we came down the next morning, the cage was full of five dark grey cute little baby rats that peered up at us with winsome black eyes and huddled in the corner of the trap and peeped piteously when they saw us. Turns out that the Shaq Rat from Hell was actually the Mother of All Rats. "Ha! We got a bunch of them this time," said my companion.

"What are we gonna do with them?"

"Drown 'em."

"Drown them?"

"Yeah, drown them."

"Are you gonna drown them?"

"Aren't you gonna?"

"Not me."

"Why not? You drowned the other one."

"Yeah, I drowned the Shaq Rat from Hell, the Mother of All Rats, but that doesn't mean I wanna drown five cute little baby rats. Anyway, it's your turn, you drown 'em."

"I don't wanna drown 'em."

I waited. He waited too. I broke first. "What're you gonna to do with them?" I said.

"Let's leave them outside overnight," he said, "and they'll freeze to death."

"We already tried that."

"That was the mother. These are babies."

"If they didn't freeze inside our kitchen, how're they gonna freeze outside?"

"Let's just try it."

"Fine."

"Fine."

We left the trap with the baby rats outside behind the building and went out and did missionary work all day. In the evening when we came back, we checked on the rats. They were still alive. When they saw us, they peered up at us with winsome black eyes and huddled in a corner of the trap, peeping piteously. I looked at my companion. "They're not gonna freeze," I said. "You have to drown them."

"Let's just try it," he said.

"Fine."

"Fine."

So we left the trap outside and went in. The next morning, we went outside to check on the rats. They were dead. Frozen stiff. Son of a gun. My companion was right and I was wrong -- first time that ever happened. He picked up the cage and started to open it. "What are you doing?" I said.

"I'm gonna dump out these dead rats."

"What, right here behind the church?"

"Yeah. They'll decay and return to nature."

"In the snow?"

"Sure. It's outside, right?"

"Yeah…"

"Dead animals decay and return to nature when they're outside, right?"

"Not in the winter."

"Why not?"

"Because it's below freezing."

"Let's just try it."

"They're still gonna be there when the snow melts."

"Let's just try it."

"Fine."

"Fine."

It snowed that night and covered up the dead baby rats. Soon after, my companion transferred to another town. I didn't see any rats, live or dead, for six weeks. Then the snow started to melt. My new companion said, "Why are there five dead mice behind the church?"

I said, "Those aren't mice, they're baby rats."

"Why are there five dead baby rats behind the church?"

"It's a long story…."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Rat in me kitchen, part 2: The Shaq rat from Hell

(This is Part 2. Read Part 1 first if you haven't yet.)

The following day, we went down to the local hardware store and bought a rattrap. The only traps they had were live ones, which puzzled me, because who wants a live rat in a trap? What are you supposed to do with it? Anyway, that night, we baited the trap -- with bread, of course -- before we went to sleep. In the morning, the trap was full of an angry dark grey rat. Its greed had been its undoing. I thought I'd seen some big rats before, but this one was humungous. It was roughly the size of a small pony. This was the Shaquille O'Neal of rats. But a mean Shaq, not a friendly smiling one -- the Shaq Rat from Hell. The beast glared at us with fiery black eyes and began bouncing around and biting the bars of the trap when it saw us. I suppose it's just trick of memory that makes me recall it growling at us as well.

As I had foreseen, the question now was what to do with our captive. My companion suggested taking it somewhere and releasing it, but I said that would be irresponsible. It would just run into someone else's house. "Let's leave it outside overnight," he said, "and it'll freeze to death."

"That sounds kind of cruel," I said.

"No," he said, "it'll just go to sleep and never wake up. It'll be very peaceful."

"OK, but it's just about as cold inside as it is outside, and if the rat didn't freeze to death in our kitchen, how's it gonna freeze to death outside?"

"Let's just try it."

"Fine."

"Fine." (A lot of our conversations seemed to end that way.)

So that night, he put the cage outside before we went to sleep. When we went outside to check on it in the morning, the trap was still full of a humungous angry dark grey rat that glared at us with fiery black eyes and began bouncing around and biting the bars of the trap when it saw us. If anything, the beast was even madder than the day before. I suppose it's just a trick of memory that makes me recall it snarling at us.

"That didn't work too well," I said to my companion. "What now?"

"We'll just leave it out some more," he said.

"It's not gonna freeze."

"It will if we leave it out long enough."

"Then it's not gonna freeze, it's gonna starve."

"Dead is dead."

"You can't do that, it's too cruel. It might take a week for a rat to die like that."

"What do you suggest then?"

"We have to drown it."

"Well, I'm not gonna drown it, you drown it."

"Me?"

"Yeah, you. It's your idea."

"Fine."

"Fine."

I got a trash can and filled it with water. I picked up the rattrap. I looked into the eyes of the beast, and the beast stared back at me. "Go ahead," it seemed to say, "make my day."

"Some rats you just can't reach," I said, and dropped the rat, trap and all, into the water. The creature struggled for awhile and then grew quiet. As the beast stopped fighting, it seemed to say "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" or maybe it was just "Rosebud." Either way, it was now an ex-rat.

So I put the ex-rat in a garbage bag, and we went out and did missionary work all day. We came home and started fixing dinner. While we were cooking, we heard more scuffling noises from under the kitchen floor. We looked at each other. Another rat.

(To be continued…)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Rat in me kitchen, part 1: Lèse majesté

When I was on my mission -- don't you hate it when guys in Sunday School start their spiritual anecdotes that way? I mean, come on, 24 hours a day with another guy, no entertainment, no women, and that was the "best two years of your life"? Yikes. But don't worry, this isn't a spiritual anecdote, it's a rat anecdote. Anyway, when I was on my mission, the first area I was sent to was up in the snowy mountains of northern Japan. The branch I was in had about four active members in it, so we didn't have our own church building or anything. Church was in a rented building. Downstairs there were a big room that we used for sacrament meeting, two smaller rooms that we could use for classrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

Upstairs there were two little rooms, which is where the missionaries slept. That's right -- we lived in the church. So every Sunday, we'd invite people over to our place for church. Most of them didn't come. Maybe it was because they thought we were poor hosts. All we offered our guests was a torn-off piece of bread and a tiny cup of water; some guests we wouldn't even let have that.

So anyway, this was a small, prefab, cheap, dingy commercial building, not a real house or anything. Like most buildings of its type back then, it had no central heating and no insulation. We heated whatever room we were using with kerosene stoves. Now, this was up in the mountains in winter, in a place where the snow stayed on the ground from December until late March. We had to turn off the heat overnight, because you can't leave a kerosene stove on when you're asleep without the risk of turning that sleep into an eternal one. That meant that on really cold nights, the temperature would drop below freezing inside the building. A couple of times, I left a half-glass of water by my pillow and woke up in the morning to find it partly frozen. Seriously. If you had food in the kitchen, the only way to be sure it wouldn't freeze overnight was to put it in the refrigerator.

OK, sorry for the long set up. Now for the rat. There were just two of us missionaries living there, me and my "companion." (Fortunately, the situation wasn't nearly as homoerotic as that may sound. We hated each other's guts.) Anyway, we started hearing scuffling noises under the kitchen floor. We had a rat. Like many thieves, this one began with the theft of petty objects of little value. Leftover food would disappear if we forgot to wash the dishes. We'd find a little garbage scattered on the floor after the rat had been at it. Things like that. As with many thieves, however, success bred greed, and the rat began to move on to better and bigger things. Our own food began to disappear. An apple. The three-inch remainder of a loaf of French bread. A banana. Clearly, this was a most enterprising rodent.

The last straw came one Sunday morning. The night before, I had left the remainder of a loaf of bread -- two and a half slices -- in what I thought was a rat-safe location. The bread was for my breakfast and for Sacrament Meeting. Two slices for me, and, since we only needed bread for about six people, a half slice for the sacrament. When I came downstairs Sunday morning, though, there was no bread where I had left it. There was only an empty wrapper and half a slice of bread on the floor. No bread for my breakfast, but apparently the rat was a pious one, because it had left the half slice for our Sacrament Meeting. That is to say, it's a little hard to tell tooth marks from the marks left by a serrated knife, but I was pretty sure that it was the same half slice and not another one that the rat had eaten half of and left behind.

After Sacrament Meeting, my companion and I discussed the matter. I'm a tolerant man, but this rodent had gone too far. Stealing my breakfast was an act of lèse majesté for which even the piety of leaving bread for the sacrament could not atone. The rat was condemned in absentia to the sentence of death, without appeal, may God have mercy on its soul.(To be continued...)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

More sneaky bastards

Lately I've been getting a lot of mail from companies that want me to consolidate my student loans. This is a perfectly legitimate form of business in the USA, and for all I know they may even save some people money. But this is also another area where the standard practice for some companies is to try to trick people into doing business with them.

The first step is to use official-looking envelopes. They may look like some sort of government notice:

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Or, they may look like a bill:

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On the outside, the letters may have vaguely governmental-looking return address names and logos:

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They may conspicuously refer to your student loan payments, and reference your "file number," as if you are already involved with them in some way:

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Or, they might inform you in red letters that that this is your "SECOND NOTICE," as if referring to a bill that you had overlooked.

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The second step comes with the letters inside. These letters avoid at all costs saying what they actually are: solicitations to do new business with a for-profit corporation. Instead, they make it sound as if you're already about to make payments to them and need to take some sort of action.

They may ask you to contact them to "verify information":

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(Note how even though the company's return address is on the West Coast, it conspicuously refers to "Eastern Standard Time," as if, perhaps, it were coming from Washington, DC.)

Or, they try to confuse you into thinking the letter is some sort of government notification:

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Or, they may tell you that you must contact them immediately to avoid higher payments and ensure your "rights":

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Or to avoid "overpayments":

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And, of course, they don't have salespeople, they have "advisors":

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The common theme of these letters is a simple one: deception. Trick the customer. Make them think you're something you're not so they'll do business with you. The customer is always stupid.

Well, "stupid is as stupid does." One would have to be pretty foolish to do business with one of these companies. But I wonder why this sort of trickery is even legal (assuming that it is).

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pather Panchali

I watch a movie where nothing much happens. It's just a family, doing family things. Children play and study and get into mischief. Neighbors gossip. Parents work and worry and argue about money and persevere. I watch, and steadily my astonishment grows.

I'm on the screen. I'm in this movie. My wife is in this movie. My family and my life are in this movie.

My wife watches next to me. Over and over, we glance at each other, smiling and laughing as we recognize ourselves on the screen. We laugh, we sigh, we weep together as the film gently unfolds.

In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck had one of his characters say of the movies, "I was to a show oncet that was me, an' more'n me; an' my life, an' more'n my life." I watched a movie like that last night. It was made in India over 50 years ago. It's in Bengali. Its name is Pather Panchali. And it's about me.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Self-esteem

Take a look at this handsome fellow.

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Young, tall, slim, tanned, blond, healthy, well-dressed, adequately-funded, smart, funny, and kind, he got a lot of attention from women. It seemed like every time he went somewhere, women would come up and talk to him. This would happen not just at clubs and parties where that was expected behavior, but almost anywhere. At the grocery store, at the veterinarian's with his dog, at the dentist, visiting someone in the hospital, at the gas station, at McDonald's – he was hit on by women in all those places, and others as well. Women all but threw themselves at his feet and begged for his attention.

And he liked women. No pretty gay boy he, in fact he loved women. He loved everything about them. The way they looked, with their array of lovely shapes and their rainbow of beautiful colors. The way they acted, with their infinite variety of personalities, no two alike but each fascinating. The way they felt, the way they smelled, the way they tasted. To him, women were a feast for the senses, for the body, for the mind, for the soul. He loved women.

But.

But he didn't know how to react when women hit on him. In fact, a lot of the time, he didn't even realize that was what was happening. The idea that women were attracted to him was scarcely conceivable to him. Because he thought he was ugly. He thought he was boring. He thought women had no reason to be interested in him.

I know all this because he was me. I was him.

Eventually, I got over those feelings. Mostly. They've never completely gone away. They lurk, somewhere in the depths of my psyche, but I didn't let them stop me from winning the girl everybody wanted. "Two hundred men sitting in that tiny social hall watching her dance. …I didn't speak a word of French, six weeks later she was my wife." Not exactly like that, but close enough. Out of all the men who wanted her, I was the one who took her home, forever.

Self-esteem. What is it?

An internet friend describes how youthful rejection by adults -- by one adult especially -- negatively colored his view of himself and of God for decades.

Self-esteem. Where does it come from?

Another internet friend describes herself in terms that to me seem grandiose and quite literally fantastic. When a man rejects her and turns to another woman, she ascribes his choice to a desire for mediocrity, even though by any measure I'm aware of, the preferred woman seems vastly more accomplished than she.

Self-esteem. Why do some have so much and others so little?

A third internet friend escapes an emotionally abusive relationship and slowly begins to realize that she is not, as her husband has told her for 20 years, ugly and stupid and unlovable, but is in fact smart, cute, fun, and attractive to men. Even over the internet, it's a delight to watch her as she learns this, as she discovers herself again.

Self-esteem. What does it mean? Tonight I have no answers, only questions.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A chip off the old block

If you're LDS, you may be familiar with the story of Elder Gene R. Cook's encounter with Mick Jagger on an airplane. (If you're not LDS [Mormon], Elder Cook is a high-ranking leader in my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I assume that, LDS or not, anyone who uses the internet is probably familiar enough with pop culture to know that Mick Jagger is the front man of the Rolling Stones.) According to Elder Cook, one day he found himself seated next to Jagger on an airplane on the way from Mexico to the US. (Elder Cook told this story publicly in a talk in 1989; from other sources, I gather the incident would have happened in 1983 or 1984. You can listen to the talk here. The part about Jagger starts about 24 minutes in, so in the unlikely event you actually want to hear it you may prefer to download the file and skip ahead rather than to stream the whole thing.)

Once Elder Cook realized who exactly Mick was -- which required Mick showing him a picture in a magazine and saying, "That's me" -- he began to ask him about rock music. He asked Mick what the impact of his music was on young people. Mick apparently replied, "Our music is calculated to drive the kids to sex." At Elder Cook's shocked expression, Mick apparently retreated a little bit and said that it was up to them what they do; he was just making money from it. Elder Cook and Mick then proceeded to talk about various things, until eventually Mick told him the Book of Mormon was a lie, whereupon Elder Cook whipped out his own copy and challenged him to show him one lie, which Mick couldn't do. Elder Cook then testified that it's a true book and that God would hold Mick accountable to the extent of his understanding if he didn't change his ways. End of anecdote.

Now, the way this story is used in the church, by Elder Cook and by those who repeat it, is to illustrate the idea that there is "good music" and "evil music" in the world and that LDS should avoid "evil" music such as that produced by the Rolling Stones. This story was repeated in my daughter M's Seminary class shortly before the winter break. (Seminary is a program of one-hour daily classes on religion for LDS high school students.) According to M, the other students in the class responded, "Yes, yes, that's bad music, we shouldn't listen to it."

M's response was rather different, in two ways. First, she said she couldn't believe that Elder Cook actually took Jagger seriously. She thought it was obvious that he was having Elder Cook on a bit, trying to shock him with his "evil ways." Second, she said something like, "Have any of you ever even listened to the Rolling Stones' music? It's great. I love it. And it's certainly never driven me to have sex."

Those of you who know me from the internet will probably recognize that I might have said the same sort of things. In fact, M and I had a bit of a laugh discussing this conversation and the idea that Mick was probably rather excited to still be able to shock someone. It probably even made him feel relevant again.

So, she's a bit of a chip off the old block. She's learned -- and I guess I'm the one who taught her -- to think critically and independently. She doesn't automatically accept everything she hears at church as The Truth. She questions and thinks, and recognizes poor reasoning and illogical thinking.

And I ask myself, did I do the right thing? Should I have taught her to do those things? I recall this passage from Chaim Potok's The Gift of Asher Lev, where Asher and his father discuss Asher's son Avrumel.

"How can we expect to know everything about God?"

He looked at me, his eyes narrowing.

"I call that ambiguity," I said. "Riddles, puzzles, double meanings, lost possibilities, the dark side to the light, the light side to the darkness, different perspectives on the same things. Nothing in this world has only one side to it. Everything is like a kaleidoscope. That's what I'm trying to capture in my art. That's what I mean by ambiguity."

"No one can live in a kaleidoscope, Asher. God is not a kaleidoscope. God is not ambiguous. Our faith in Him is not ambiguous. From ambiguity I would not derive the strength to do all the things I must do. Ambiguity is darkness. Certainty is light. Darkness is the world of the Other Side. Tell me something, Asher. Do you think Avrumel will be better off if he learns ambiguity from you or certainty from me?"

I said nothing.

And I ask myself if I should have taught M to accept her religion uncritically, if I should have striven to teach certainty rather than ambiguity. And, like Asher Lev, I don't know what to say.