Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

The Great Salt Lake

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The plane did a 360 over the Great Salt Lake looking low and thirsty, little mud islands sticking out of ancient salty brine. The Great Salt Lake is what's left of the bottom of the great ocean that covered North America, an ocean so vast and so deep it left behind awesome mountains and complex deserts when it vanished. How do oceans vanish? I don't know. All I know is that my friend Phil Bimstein, a musician and Elvis scholar, is running for the State legislature as a Democrat from a county in southern Utah that's bigger than most European countries, has more rattlesnakes than people, and what people there are are either Republicans or polygamists, or both. I don't know why polygamists should be Republicans, but there you have it. In Utah, everyone has a story about polygamists. They may be a mystery to the rest of us and frowned upon -- but not too meanly -- by their own Mormon church, but in Utah everyone knows that the numerous children of polygamist unions are 1) mowing lawns in the neighborhood 2) sewing and baking and 3) asking innocent questions about sex from non-polygamists who look like they might know something about it. I gave a poetry reading at Brigham Young University, which is Mormon and not polygamist, as far as I can tell. The students were the brightest, most broad-minded nonsmoking, nondrinking, nonpremaritally-dissolute students I ever talked to. Most of them knew the world better than State Department bureaucrats, having gone for two-year missions abroad. I met two men who spoke Romanian beautifully, from having missioned in my native country. They were articulate, understood political and social issues well, and were open to ideas. My ideas, anyway. My ideas may be very Mormon, unconsciously. I believe in angels, for instance. At the same time, I had the vague sense that these well-mannered human beings in the audience were hiding some things. What about the big cave in the mountains where the genealogical records of the whole human race are held? Nobody admitted knowing where it was. Or the wrestling mud-baths where coed battles go on to relieve sexual tension? That's just a rumor, someone informed me, smiling with an entirely too obvious lack of guile. They were very forthcoming on everything else, though. The population of Utah is on the rise because each Mormon family (excluding the polygamists) produces a minimum of five children. It's a ruddy world. Brigham Young, the founder of the Mormons, was reputed to have fathered hundreds. I saw his birthplace in upstate New York. The sign said, "This is the birthplace of Brigham Young, a man of prodigious endowments ..." followed by some bio data. No kidding. If all those children went on to be as prodigious as the founder, Mormonism (and its nontraditional branches) will eventually be the solution to Phil's problems. Given enough people, there's got to be some Democrats among them.

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