On Wednesday afternoon I was awakened by a pleasant nap by a call from an unfamiliar area code (does anybody know where 435 is? Kolob, maybe?) with the following listing on the caller ID box:


Normally I let calls from solicitors go to voice mail, but I was curious to know what, or who, they wanted. This time, it was Patrick (hahahaha!) and he wants to know who turned him in, by the way. I told the guy to try again on Friday, and drifted off only vaguely worried that Patrick might retaliate and tell him how much I've missed Mormonism, and maybe a couple stake missionaries could drop by to cheer me up. Fortunately, that won't be necessary (at all, Patrick) because the next day I had an experience at work that satisfied any cravings I may have had for to partake of a Relief Society meeting. Don't get me wrong. Cosmodemonic remains as secular as ever-Easter treats notwithstanding-and the Toastmasters meeting to which I am referring was not conspicuously religious, but neither on balance are most Relief Society functions.

Dictionary.com defines a toastmaster as, "a man who proposes the toasts and introduces the speakers at a banquet." The organization Toastmasters is dedicated to imparting these skills to its members, though unfortunately without the banquet or alcohol. Three Cobra subscribers are members: Maestro Toe, the incomparable Amy, and Lovezap (who stops at McDonalds on the way back from the meetings and buys me hash browns, which I think is charming and, to be perfectly clear, should be emulated by more of you as I get peckish around 9am). So I'd heard a few things about Toastmasters before it came to visit our humble workplace, like Maestro Toe frequently ditches the meetings, and if you need a quick joke or thought to begin a speech, pay attention to bumper stickers as you drive.

"For instance," Amy said gravely and cupped one hand over the other, "one I noticed on the way in. It read," she cleared her throat, '"I wish I were just like Barbie-that bitch has everything.' You laugh now."

In return, I told my mother's story about how she saw two bumper stickers on a car, one of which said "ASU" and the other "Women make great leader's: your following one now!" You see, Mom thought that the ASU part undercut the improper form of "your" vs "you're" and just made those alumni look like illiterates rather than the whole of our gender (she's a U of A grad, you see), and I guess it's also okay with me as I graduated from the U of U, and I think this is one of those anecdotes that you just have to be there for to appreciate because while I was telling it Amy inched closer and closer to the hallway entrance and by the time I finished she was gone. Anyway, I figured an hour listening to my fellow Cosmodemons quote bumper stickers didn't seem to be a bad way to not do my job, and with the kind support of my gracious boss, I was allowed to attend.
The afternoon before the event, a young woman from the Tempe office arrived and asked to see Lovezap, who as it turns out is the president of this branch of Toastmasters. He accompanied her and several cardboard boxes to the Presentation Room, and at the end of the day, Amy whispered that it looked like it had done up like a school dance. When I saw the crepe pineapples hanging from the ceiling and the posters showing tropical beaches the next morning, I could see where she got that-but the tables and chairs arranged in two blocks with an aisle down the middle gave me a shiver of as yet unformed recognition.
I surveyed the crowd: nearly all conservatively dressed women ranging in age from about thirties to about fifties; friendly but the tiniest bit furtive, duty bound to mix even though all their instincts raged against it. Clearly they had been conditioned to engage strangers with the purpose of making them feel comfortable. As the stranger, however, watching them gird up their loins to come over and meet you because they have to, twitching and giggling throughout the encounter, then fleeing as soon as possible to their real friends is worse than being ignored. I understand insecurity, believe me, but it's also hard to be on the receiving end of this charitable courage. Luckily, I was sitting next to Amy who as treasurer had her ledger out, so most of the people who approached were there on business and the deadbeats kept their distance.

The meeting was conducted by President Lovezap, and Maestro Toe led the Pledge of Allegiance. Then came the thought of the day, clearly the product of a FW e-mail, which began, "Nostalgia just isn't what it used to be." If you want to read the rest, wait a week or so and I'm sure somebody will forward a copy to you. There was a joke (also making its way to your e-mailbox, I'm sure), and the visitors (myself and President Lovezap's Boss) rose to introduce ourselves and were presented with a gift. Then the talks began.

About a minute into the first one, I finally made the Toastmasters-Relief Society connection. The decorations were a little light-minded for a Sunday service but would have been ideal for Wednesday evening Homemaking Meeting, and the chevron arrangement of the chairs was precisely as it would have been at either gathering. There wasn't an opening song or prayer, but the Pledge is sort of a combination of both. The thought wasn't from Especially for Mormons--the source LDS types turn to when they blow off their thought assignments as the woman admitted she had--but would have been considered appropriate. The joke was mildly blasphemous and violated a couple

of commandments, so it probably would have been skipped unless Sister Melanie Calkins was on hand to tell a more raucous (and funny) one.

But the talks I've heard dozens of times in RS meetings, the first about how the speaker overcame grief over her mother's passing through a passion for scrapbooking, and the second about difficult choices regarding childbirth. I don't mean to trivialize the women's experiences. They were clearly affected and sincere. Still, their flutey delivery, their well timed self-deprecating jokes, their perfection of a technique in which a tear is wiped away with out compromising meticulously applied eye make-up were familiar, as if they had been designed by the emotional blackmail program installed in the brain of nearly every RS functionary I've ever encountered. I sat listening to them, defenseless. If the first woman were selling scrapbooking materials, I could have understood her motivation for invoking her dead mother in a public arena. It would have been a tacky thing to do, but I wouldn't have to kick myself for thinking the story was better told on Buffy the Vampire Slayer the other day and could have used a few monsters. Oh, the guilt! This woman's mother died! Oh, the anger! What does that have to do with my Thursday morning at work? Oh, the guilt! The second woman prefaced her story by telling us she had never revealed the following to most of her family and closest friends, and concluded by warning us never to judge. All I could think of was, "what an odd thing to say to a room full of people equipped with score sheets, expressly here to judge your performance." Oh, the guilt.

The meeting was interrupted for a tour of the building conducted by Muffin. I've seen the building and cannot bear to look upon Muffin, so I stayed behind to chat with Amy. She admitted that this particular meeting was more emotional than the norm, though not entirely unusual. So maybe there was a fatal conjunction this week between the Church reaching out to one of its prodigal sheep and a reminder to another why she strayed, and why she should stay away for good.

Written by Sharon C. McGovern

From Vol. 29
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