Inhuman Swill : Utah

Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics: Thursday, March 24, Wiseguys, Salt Lake City

Comedy-lovers in Utah, you owe it to yourselves to get to the Wiseguys Comedy Club at the Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 24.

The remarkable Bengt Washburn is bringing his posse, the Beehive State Boat-Rockers, for an evening called "The Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics."

If you have an irreverent bone in your body, you'll love this show, which features Christian Pieper, Abigail Harrison, and Spence Roper alongside Bengt himself, telling hilarious stories you'll never hear over the pulpit at testimony meeting.

I first met Bengt in the early '90s, when he was just starting out. He's one of the funniest, hardest-working people I know, so I hope you'll turn out to the show, or see one of his solo sets on March 25 and 26. You'll be glad you did.

[ Bengt on Conan O'Brien ] [ Bengt talks circumcision ]

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The articles are beginning to pile up in my queue again, so it's time to clear them out and fill you in on some of the fascinating things happening in the world of Mormonism...

What do Utah Mormons have in common with the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn? According to this fascinating Time article by Jon Birger, both religious communities are in matchmaking turmoil thanks to an excess of single women.

The wide-ranging piece is excerpted from Birger's new book Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, and it explains how the gender imbalance has arisen in both populations, and what unexpected consequences have followed.

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Kanab family values

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Almost exactly five years ago, I called your attention here to a brouhaha in the small town of Kanab, Utah, over the adoption by the city council of a non-binding resolution defining the family as "one man, one woman" with a "full quiver" of children. A few months later, Laura and I visited Kanab (a town founded by Mormon polygamists), where we were pleased to see many businesses opposing the resolution with "Everyone Welcome Here!" stickers in their windows.

I wish I'd known sooner, but I've just learned that there's a documentary out about the whole controversy:

Natural Family Values

I can't vouch for the quality, not having seen it yet, but you can be sure I'm ordering a copy and will watch it with interest.

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ShunnCast #51

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Epidode #51 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Donald William Shunn II remembers the original model (1936-2008).

See also shunncast.

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You know ... fry sauce!

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One of the stranger things about Utah fast-food joints is the ubiquity of a condiment known simply as "fry sauce." I didn't exactly realize how strange it was, though, until I moved out of Utah.

An alert reader (sadly anonymous) of this blog brought a recent Associated Press article about fry sauce in Utah to my attention:,1249,650220850,00.html

It seems to have awakened a craving in me for the pinkish stuff, which I rarely think about unless I'm actually in a Utah fast-food joint. Fortunately, the craving can be overruled and outclassed by a visit to that Belgian frites joint on Second Avenue that has fifty varieties of mayonnaise, but fry sauce remains a weirdly compelling taste sensation, not just for me but for people all over the West, it now seems.

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This tune is narrated by a clerk at a 7-Eleven, selling generic cigarettes to lowlifes in the wee hours:

It's not that I don't like them And I feel all right to sell it But I'm scared when 20 guys are buying GPC's And not one of them can spell it
Gets me every time.

Insatiable is a ska band I used to go see at the Dead Goat Saloon in Salt Lake City, way back in the early '90s. (My friend Mike and I went thirsty through those shows because we were too embarrassed to ask the bartender for a pitcher of root beer.) I'm not aware of any album Insatiable has cut, but I was delighted to find two tracks by them on the second volume of Ska: The Third Wave, which I picked up a few years back on eBay.

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Naturally stupid

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The city council of Kanab, Utah, has unanimously endorsed a non-binding "Natural Family Resolution" that promotes the claustrophobic values of '50s America. You know, that nice women-belong-in-the-kitchen morality that had grown across the nation like kudzu on a railway trestle, smothering everything underneath, and which was soon to be sprayed with a liberal dose of '60s-era Weed-B-Gone. Everywhere but rural Utah, that is. Yeah.

Here's the Salt Lake Tribune:

Carol Sullivan voted for the resolution - pitched by the conservative Sutherland Institute - last week when it was introduced by Mayor Kim Lawson. But the council's sole woman did so with some reservations.

"I saw no reason to vote against it because it is nonbinding," she said, noting that no one spoke out against it. "But I did wonder why it should be a government issue."

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Why we fight

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Someone on my CD mix club mailing list posted a story this morning about how she ran across a stoop sale over the weekend which turned out to be John Wesley Harding's! (His real name, btw, is Wesley Stace, and under that byline he will be reading from his novel Misfortune this evening at Housing Works Used Book Cafe on Crosby Street. [Damn polymath!] Check it out, but show up early.)

Anyway, that post prompted me to post a story about the time I met JWH, which I reproduce here:

I met him several years ago when I worked for an online music company and he came to our offices to do a hosted chat session. I told him that I remembered when he was in Salt Lake City to play a show at the Zephyr Club in 1992, and how I won a copy of Why We Fight that morning from a radio station where he was doing an interview because I knew that all his albums thus far had taken their names from Frank Capra movies. He reminisced about that Zephyr Club show in great detail, and offered to send me a copy of a bootleg video that had been taped that night. "You might even be in it!" he said.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that I hadn't actually gone to the show.

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What's my line?

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I just received one of the nicest compliments I've had lately. One of the departing employees, whom I may not see again in an office setting, told me: "You know, out of all the people in this department, if I had to pick the one that was a former Mormon or from Utah, I never would have thought of you. And I hope you understand I mean that as a compliment."

Of course I understood. I understood perfectly. And I'm so pleased I could burst. That was the goal, you know.

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Between me, safe in my seat on this bus,
And the decadent majesty of the salmon-red cliffs of eastern Utah,
A ghost landscape stands sentinel,
As if etched into the glass by a cadre of capering goblins.
The residue of a hasty window washing—
Loops and whorls of dirt left untouched, uncleansed,
Unrepentent, at the bottom of the glass on each fluid upstroke—
It sparkles, gritty and salt-sharp in the oblique sunlight,
Like a series of pearly solar flares,
Or a graph of the desert's pulsebeat,
Or spectral negatives of a washed-out sandstone arch,
Photographed in stages over eons of time—
Snapshots from a child-god's flip-book—
Frothing, leaping, peaking, then falling back into the ground
Like fountains of earth,
A time-lapse planetary signature
That will melt and return to dust
With the next unlikely rain.

Originally published in Sunstone, February 1994
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