By Marvin Payne
As I review the concerns recorded in my current journal entries, I feel myself compelled to write about Terrorism, Politics, and the Economy. In that order.
Halloween is coming. I know it’s weeks ahead, but it’s coming. There’s no way I’m saving this story until October, though, because if you were to read it while cobwebs and giant spiders festoon Wal-Mart and straw witches on brooms impale telephone poles, the terror of it all would simply be too much for you to bear.
Did you ever see the film “The Stepford Wives”? The current version is rated PG-13. I saw the one made in 1975, which was probably only about a PG-8 or 9. Very scary movie. A bunch of guys replace their real wives with robot copies who are more pleasing and compliant. (I advise you not to see the 2004 one, because it was directed by Fozzie Bear, that crazy jokester, who may have succumbed to the obvious temptation to replace the real wives with Miss Piggy, or, perhaps more appropriate to the story, Camilla Chicken.)
Well, last night I got the most surreal telephone call I’ve ever experienced. It reminded me of The Stepford Wives. I still have goose bumps. The call came while I was sitting by our fun new fire pit outside where we had celebrated my daughter’s eleventh birthday. Happily, the kids were by now inside breaking the presents. Unhappily, I was alone in the dark, gazing into the spooky dying coals.
On the other end of the line was a friendly voice not unlike that of Guy Smiley on a mellowing drug.
Hi, is this Marvin Payne?
(In England, they begin all their telephone conversations with the question “Are you there?” This is so wise. I mean, if the other party isn’t, then what’s the point in going on? That’s how it was explained to me by an English person. But what if somebody answers the question “No.” Then what? Huh? In this case, there was really only one option open to me.)
Guy: Terrific. I’m calling from the _______________ Theatre. (I’m leaving this blank because this theatre is owned and operated by people I like ((and suddenly worry about, you’ll see why)) and I don’t want their reputations blackened by this story and, well, I want to work there again sometime.) Are you familiar with our work?
Um, some of it.
(I was pretty familiar with 58 performances of “The King and I,” for example.)
Great! Then you’ll know what a marvelous thing we do in your community. (The voice used words like “marvelous.” And why didn’t it say “our” community?)
Then it paused as if it could hear me nodding my head in agreement with its assessment.
Have you been to any of our plays in the past year?
Well, that depends. Are you calling from the Orem theatre or the West Valley theatre?
(This theatre has two locations.)
That’s too bad. As you know, all our work is non-profit. Your donations.
MP: (under a sudden light-bulb adorned cloud)
Hey, is this a recording?
Do I really sound that bad?
[This is the truly amazing part. This Stepford marketer was programmed to continue! Even though his programmer foresaw that somebody might ask this question!]
No, you sound better than Guy Smiley. I was just wondering if you’re calling from Orem or West Valley.
Let me hand you over to my associate.
Associate: (foreign feminine voice as if speaking through a garden hose, the other end of which was in Atlantis)
Hello, I was just asking the fellow where you’re calling fr.
She must have meant this figuratively, because she was obviously calling from a walkie-talkie in a jungle clearing in Papua/New Guinea (by way of Atlantis). I didn’t argue.
Well, while you’re on the line, I just gotta ask. Is that guy a real person?
Oh yes! He is a real person; he is just using a computer.
I plumbed this statement for hidden meaning. I failed to find any.
Um, I don’t think this program is going to work very well for your theatre.
Yes. I mean, I just don’t think I could ever get this whatever-it-is-I’ve-been-talking-to (I pictured a Borg, only smiling-like the Stepford wives always did) to understand that my relationship with the ________________ Theatre is of such a nature that typically they pay me instead of me paying them.
Long silence, then.
Associate: (under a sudden light-bulb adorned cloud)
You are an actor?
I stopped myself from asking, “Aren’t you?” I wondered how the smiling Borg was programmed to answer that question, had I asked it of him.
This is the rub. A while back I heard on the radio a “futurist” being asked what current jobs would be done by machines in the not-so-distant future. He said, “All of them.”
“What? Every single job?” And he conceded, “Well, probably not actors.” I was comforted at the time, but this phone call sent a chill through my bones.
To paralyze our nation with fear, self-doubt, and broken logic, all al Qaeda needs is a phone book. And Guy Smiley.
I will now write about Politics .
The media claims to be impartial. Every now and then, though, some key member of the media goes with their instincts and their cover of impartiality is irrevocably blown. We have just seen the political bias of a single member of the media throwing the current election squarely into the lap of one party over the other. We might as well skip November (except for the turkey end of the month). The television man (woman?) with his (her?) hand on the switch at the Republican convention who (who?) was reckless enough during Sarah Palin’s speech to allow a camera to linger on the Governess’s little daughter licking her palm and pasting down her baby brother’s hair will be held accountable in some heavenly tribunal for ensuring a GOP victory this fall. Enough said.
The Economy .
There is a Grand Key to fixing the economy, the turning of which cannot help but stimulate the buying and selling that we call “growth.” This came to me in a flash yesterday while driving south with my family on Interstate Highway 17 in mid-Arizona. A few miles north of Cameron, where you turn off to the south rim of the Grand Canyon (the other grand thing in the region, besides the key), we passed a Navajo gift shop with plywood siding. It was painted yellow with several exhortations splashed on it in big red letters. “Buy a gift for your friends!” and “Come in right here!” (with an arrow). Finally, my favorite, in three-foot-high letters, “NICE INDIANS.” Within these bold red strokes are embedded the Grand Key. Neither of the first two exhortations constitute the Grand Key. Perhaps exhortations generally (there were many more on the plywood), are not the answer. But in the third example, more a reassurance than an exhortation, there is the economic balm of Gilead. We’d sell more cars if we could honestly advertise ourselves as “Nice Car Guys.” We’d accept without question more telephone appeals if we believed we were talking to the “Nice Telemarketers in Technologically Competitive Developing Countries.” We’d read without suspicion the ruminations of “Nice Meridian Columnists.”
In the fibers of our beings, we all want to do business with people who are “nice.” In a general conference not too long ago, former President Gordon B. Hinckley, going about the Lord’s business as always, looked through the teleprompter at us as though weary of continual exhortation and said “Just be nice.”
Now, Prayer. (As kind of a bonus topic, you might say.)
It has been suggested to me that Latter-day Saints pray for safety more than for anything else, particularly anything else that might be considered as having something to do with getting home from this meeting. If we were less afraid of following our hearts and praying honestly, less frightened by our human passions, we’d be asking for more ice cream, not safety. Nevertheless, I will end here with a desire that we, as a people, may be kept in merciful safety. Safe from the terror of robotic thespians. Safe from the secret political agendae of media minions. And, finally, safe from any Indians who, for one reason or another, are not nice.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)