It was in the latter stages of his stint as a prophet that she entered his life.
One morning, as she was walking to her job as a waitress at the local camel stop, she happened to notice him in his back yard, dressed in his sandwich board and hammering nails into boards. Curious, she stopped to kibbitz.
He ignored her and continued his pounding.
“What are you doing?” Elsie ﬁnally asked.
“Building a boat,” said Noah grufﬂy.
“Yeah?” She smiled at him. “Taking up boatbuilding, huh?”
“What’s wrong with being a boatbuilder?” he asked defensively.
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “It’s just that this is the middle of the desert.”
He put aside his hammer. “There’s a lot of job satisfaction in building boats,” he explained. “A recent survey showed that 90 percent of the boatbuilders rated their job satisfaction—”
“Wouldn’t that be a hundred percent? You’re the only boatbuilder around.”
He stopped to recalculate. “Right,” he ﬁnally agreed. “One hundred percent rated their job satisfaction as either ‘good’ or ‘excellent.’ But only 66.8 percent of the camel drivers rated their—”
“So they get a little sand in their eyes.” It was her turn to be defensive. Some of her best friends were camel drivers.
The morning after placing my imprimatur on the Summum project, I began a descent into a male version of postpartum depression. This started with a food-free breakfast, which turned into an absence of energy, moved on to irritability, and ended with a sleepless late afternoon nap, during which I pondered the prospect of shifting my attention from Corky Ra to Joseph Smith, the man I had come to suspect was his principal model.
hat evening, after diagnosing myself as a victim of social deprivation, I descended the stairs from my bachelor apartment and sauntered several blocks down the street to a popular non-Mormon drinking establishment known as the Heretic Lounge. There I chose a small table and, when the barmaid came, asked her what drink she might propose for a religious skeptic. She suggested a Latter Day Stout; I lethargically agreed.
While strumming my fingers on the table waiting for my drink, I noticed a young woman across the room sitting at another small table, alone and keyboarding at a furious pace. When the barmaid returned with a mug of stout, I impulsively instructed her to place a second Latter Day drink at the young woman’s disposal, “courtesy,” I said, “of a fellow scribbler.” Then I returned to my reclusive state, staring by turns at the floor and the ceiling.
Suspecting that my spartan bedroom would yield no more clues to my identity, I cast my eyes about for a point of egress and detected a closed door about four feet beyond the foot of my bed. I moved toward it with the aid of my cane and, when I finally achieved it, found it to be unlocked.
As I emerged from the bedroom, I found myself in a small hall. Immediately in front of me was a passage through which I could see what appeared to be a standard refrigerator, which appeared to be humming, a valuable indication that it was apparently in good working order. Glancing to my left, the hall appeared to open out into what appeared to be a room somewhat larger than my bedroom. This room contained what appeared to be a stuffed chair, several pairs of stuffed bookshelves, and a computer station, complete with a computer and books of instruction on its intended use.
I stored all these conjectures in an accessible mind-file. Then, glancing immediately to my right, I noted what I surmised to be a door to a bathroom.
I turned the knob, pushed the door open with my cane, and entered the room. My surmise proved correct. I was in a bathroom, which, though it appeared to be fully stocked and clean, I judged to be of inferior quality, being decorated in much the same tasteless fashion as the bedroom from which I had only minutes before emerged.
Continuing my inspection, I noted that the room contained a bathtub; a washbasin above which one could discern a mirror, hidden behind which I guessed was a medicine chest; and an elevated commode of the sort one would expect to grace the bathrooms of the frail elderly.
I sniffed about my person to determine if I should either bathe or shower. I was pleased to find no unpleasant odor, or at least none that could not be remedied by a swipe or two of what I expected to be a stick of Old Spice deodorant.
Next I maneuvered myself into a position to open the medicine chest and get at the Old Spice. The achievement of this goal required the performance of a series of discrete actions: locating a stool; moving the stool, with the end of my cane, from its position adjacent to an empty wastebasket to a position immediately in front of the medicine chest but away from the wash basin; and climbing onto that stool, again with the aid of the cane I had come to regard as indispensable for any locomotion, toward a place that had piqued my cavernous curiosity.
Significance of the stool:
Establishes the fact that the Narrator is short.
Significance of the Old Spice:
Reinforces the suspicion that the self-described “old man” hasn’t lost his vigor.
Reason for referring to the Narrator as “The Narrator”:
He does not know his name.
Will he find out?
Q. Is it Aaron?
Q. Does it begin with an “A”?
A. No. And that’s all I’m going to say.
The next Sunday evening, Benny Good found himself creeping along a Southern California freeway in Dennis Bright’s Infiniti, dressed in a new suit and tie and looking for the exit leading to the church of his choice.
Benny’s schedule for his three-week all-expenses-paid vacation had called for five days at Santa Anita cheering the horses of his choice, one week in Reno mending fences while enjoying the best of what that city has to offer, and of course one week coming and going. This left a full weekend to check out one or two religions and to browse around a used bookstore seeking information about several of the others.
BBC News recently announced that on January 13 past some members of the scientific community were concerned that an object approximately 30 meters in width was hurtling toward the Northern Hemisphere of the globe we fondly still call home. According to their calculations, this object, presumably an asteroid, had a one-in-four chance of hitting its presumptive target, thus inflicting inestimable damage.
Confronted with this data, these astronomers considered the possibility of putting in a call to the president, who, they surmised, would issue a general alert.
Instead, they chose to call the Myles Junior Think Tank and ask our opinion concerning the options. I replied that, in the jargon of our trade, I would “get back to them.”
“We’ve got 36 hours,” said the near-frantic voice on the other end of the line
“Posthaste,” I replied confidently.
After hanging up, I calmly finished my mug of Guiness while considering the options. Then, posthaste, I strolled briskly into the lounge, where my most brilliant and trusted colleagues were sipping their afternoon ports and sherries while engaged in technical talk concerning a plan we at MJTT are devising to send highly-trained polar bears to the nether side of Mars to report on the presence or absence of other furry mammals in that corner of the Milky Way.
Tersely but coolly, I reported the substance of my recent conversation with a certain highly-placed NASA official.
My colleagues continued to sip, though this time with furrowed brows.
“Perhaps,” replied one of my most brilliant lieutenants, “we should send a contingent of recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize out there to meet their people. Negotiate with them. Appeal to their peace-loving instincts. Suggest that they aim the missile on which they are perched in another direction. Suggest Pluto as an alternative.”
More sipping. More deeply-furrowed eyebrows.
Then a few skeptical voices voiced their objections to this plan.
“Could we get the Peace Prizers to agree on this strategy on such short notice? Wouldn’t they have to negotiate among themselves on a command structure?”
“Is the asteroid manned? If so, with creatures capable of communication?”
“Suppose their instincts are not, like ours, peace-loving?”
All heads shook from side to side in token of a recognition of a forbidden heresy.
“I was only trying to think outside the box,” apologized the heretic.
“Is there life on Pluto?”
“Pluto is a rock,” came the reply.
“Either that or a bag of gas,” replied a voice from behind a cloud of cigar smoke.
“Look it up,” suggested another hidden voice.
The thinkers simultaneously depleted their sherry glasses. “Either way,” one of them pointed out, “it’s not thought of as capable of sustaining life as we know it.”
All heads nodded in agreement.
With nothing left to sip, several heads nodded off.
“What were those odds again?” inquired a head, still alert to the problem.
“One in four.”
A long silence.
“Anyone for a game of badminton?”
“It’s a little cool outside.”
While three or four chessboards were being peopled with kings, queens, bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns in preparation for figurative battle, I withdrew to my office and placed a call to my contact at NASA.
“Well?” asked the frantic voice. “What did you come up with?”
“Our calculations show,” I said soothingly, “that this object, which we are calling 2004 AS1, is in fact 500 meters wide, and that it will miss us by 12 million kilometers.”
“Thank God!” replied my Unitarian friend.
And so, the crises averted, we continued to chat about this and that project on which NASA and MJTT are in serious collaboration.
One Saturday evening Karen and I had finished our chores and were just starting to crack open our Sunday School lesson on the miracles Jesus used to enjoy working when the phone rang.
Mom answered it.
“Oh dear,” we heard her say.“How bad is he? . . . Is he, uh, in the back room? . . .Waldo’s not well, and I just don’t know what to do . . . Okay, I’ll send somebody right over . . .Thanks.”
Karen and I gave each other looks.We knew what was going on.We knew Grandpa Unruh was down at Boswell’s and that he’d been drinking. We also knew Dad couldn’t go get him because he was sick in bed from having a whole mouthful of teeth yanked out by a Pocatello dentist who’d lost count because he was loaded with whiskey and was one of those kinds of dentists who gets a kick out of hearing himself talk when he has his fingers in your mouth, so Dad couldn’t tell him to stop after the first half a dozen teeth. The only thing we didn’t know was who’d have to go pick up Grandpa.
We didn’t have to wait long to find out.
“John,” said Mom, “I have a job for you.”
“I nominate Karen,” I said.
“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask you to do.”
“How do you know I don’t know? You think I’m stupid or something?” I was eleven going on twelve and waaay past the stupid stage.
A Routine Five-Year Physical
He wandered into the office and checked in at the front desk. He had an appointment, he reminded them; he was there for his five-year physical.
A young nurse smiled at him sympathetically, gave him a form to fill out, and pointed him in the direction of the lounge. He shuffled over to the lounge, bumping into a potted plant on the way. He steadied himself in front of an armchair before sitting down. He squinted at the grid of boxes requesting vital facts about the patient. He sighed. This was the part he hated most, answering all the personal questions. But he had to do it. It was all part of the system.
Address: 7 Eden East Drive.
Occupation: early retiree.
Marital status: married, with children.
Spouse: Beth (“Ma”), age classified.
Eldest son: Methuselah, age 300.
Eldest grandson: Lamech, age 113.
Father: Jared, age 527.
Paternal grandfather: Mahalaleel, age 592.
Paternal great-grandfather: Cainan (a.k.a. Kenan), age 662.
Paternal great-great-grandfather: Enos, age 752.
Paternal great-great-great-grandfather: Seth, age 857.
Paternal great-great-great-great-grandpa: Adam, deceased (cause of death: homesickness).
Family tradition: righteous living.
Personal motto: “An apple a day.”
In 2007, Jared W. Blackley, a writer for the antiestablishment Salt Lake City Weekly, did a piece on Corky titled “Ra’s Deal: If You Like Sex, Wine, Pyramids, And Egyptian Philosophy, Corky Ra Has Your Religion.” Blackley gave a physical description of his subject: medium build, late fifties, stereotype of the aging hippie, bald in front, gray hair gathered in a ponytail descending halfway down his back, calm confidence, soft voice. (The Summum website features a headshot of Ra with a full head of black hair but without the ponytail.) Blackley also interviewed Ken Sanders, one of Corky’s former colleagues at a printing press and design shop, who recalled that Corky Nowell was “a salesman who got the firm lots of job contracts but never quite got the hang of some crucial pragmatics”—that is, he made contracts for jobs that were impossible to fulfill. Corky, he added, would also come to work “carrying what he called an unbreakable ‘bonum rock’ of pink quartzite purportedly from another planet.”
Then there are the miracles Corky is said to have performed. According to sworn affidavits, he has turned a blue sky into a rainstorm, lit a candle by staring at it, and impregnated “several fully-clothed women just by using the energy from the penis of a fully-clothed man standing on the opposite side of the room.” All the women, with a sole exception, escaped their unwelcome state by directing their energy toward releasing their embryos, though what this releasing was all about is never explained.
There is no account of the woman who retained her embryo.
At seven-thirty next morning, Benny left Dolly in Amarillo and headed for California.
As Benny had already learned, Dennis Bright’s Infiniti was capable of triple-digit speeds. It was also equipped with a Fuzzbuster, which appeared to be in impeccable working order. He reached Gallup just before noon.
His regular truck stop was only half full. He discovered that his regular Dolly was on maternity leave. She had been replaced by an older woman, who complained of sore feet. Benny did not greet this replacement with his customary “Hello Dolly!” He did not engage her in his customary banter. He did not bother to order his customary apple pie. Instead he crossed the street to a liquor store to purchase his dessert, which he chose to drink en route.
In Arizona he was greeted by a siren. He glanced in his rear-view mirror and observed a flashing red light. He removed his foot from the gas pedal, pushed a button that caused his right front window to roll down, hurled the bottle of dessert from the moving vehicle, and punished the unfaithful Fuzzbuster with the back of his hand.
Dennis Bright’s Infiniti came rolling to a stop while its driver reached into his shirt pocket and extracted a package of breath mints. He unwrapped the package and threw a handful of mints into his mouth and began to chew rapidly. He pushed another button. Down slid the left front window. Out peered Benny through the mirror. He watched as an apparition approached.
The twenty-something apparition was soon at his side.
She leaned down. “Sir,” she said nervously, “my radar had you clocked at 113.”
Benny looked skeptical. “Have you had your gun checked lately?”
Let it be recalled that in several previous columns, which will show up in the archives as soon as our esteemed editor learns how to fiddle with our website, we at MJTT proffered an ingenious plan to solve the earth’s long-term energy needs. The first stage of that plan consisted merely of plastering the moon (at least that portion of it that is visible to the naked eye) with used tinfoil. The second stage involved a higher technology; it was to borrow a few moons from our sister planet, Jupiter, and set them in orbit around the globe we have learned to call home.
Our colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories and Houston have judged this plan “do-able.” Some have even gone before Congress to plead for funding for its implementation. In fact, we have every reason to believe that our current president is favorably disposed to the general idea.
Now what, the careful reader might ask, is the relation between the MJTT plan and the one set forth by our president?
The latter’s plan, as reported by the media, involves colonization of the moon. What the media does not reveal is that part of the purpose of this colonization is to plaster our favorite satellite with used tinfoil! At any rate, either while the tinfoil is being put in place or while this work is being done (the administration is batting about the options), the moon will function as a station for further exploration of Mars.
The details of and rationale for this exploration so far are sparse. This is precisely where MJTT’s acute thinkers come into play. We propose that the main purpose of Mars exploration should be to see if Mars is warming up. If so, well and good; we can colonize it apace, thus relieving Earth of its population problem. If not, we propose the introduction of greenhouse gases and other noxious fumes on our sister planet to speed its warming, thus relieving Earth, etc.
This activity is self-evidently doable. We need not consult experts to know that. The only question is, Why did it take so long for homo sapiens to imagine this very real, very practical possibility?