Mannequins and Mormons


THE MORNING was dark and drizzly, ugly in a way that only New York can be. Snarling people, filthy streets, dog shit everywhere. Three cups of coffee hadn't done much for the head. Still bleary-eyed, still in a fog, still feeling the pitchers of beer from the night before. Groping my way down Broadway, wondering why the hell I was heading to the Museum of Modern Art to see Guernica and the rest for the hundredth time.

At the corner of 65th and Broadway, I noticed a building on my left. Spacious, modern and airy, looked like the home for Exxon or ITT. But instead a large sign in front announced, "Mormon Visitor Center. Guests Welcome."

I started thinking about Mormons. The only ones I'd ever known were my freshman proctor and his wife, and the only thing I knew about their religion was what I learned the time they invited my freshman roommates and me over for dinner. We brought a bottle of wine and, when the proctor answered the door, he looked at us sternly and said that Mormons never drink.

I hadn't given much thought to Mormons since, but, as I looked at the building, I got a sudden urge to go inside. At least it would be dry. Walking in the front door, I found myself in a large, empty lobby. The carpet was the deep, thick kind that absorbs most noise, the kind that you sink into as you walk across it. On the far side of the lobby sat a short, squat old man wearing a freshly pressed three-piece suit and tightly gripping a cane. As I walked in, he looked up at me eagerly.

"What can I do for you son?"

"Well, nothing really. I just kind of felt like looking around. I don't really know very much about Mormons."

"That's fine, that's what we're here for. If you'll just take this staircase behind me up to the second floor, we've got lots of people who will take care of you."

As I climbed the staircase, an inexplicable feeling of paranoia gripped me. With this nervousness reaching a peak, I walked through a large door at the end of the stairs and found myself face-to-face with a grandmotherly woman. Her gray hair carefully set, she had a kind, unwrinkled face. A badge on her chest proclaimed, "Sister Wood." Warmly grasping my hand, she told me how glad she was to see me.

WELCOME TO our Center. That was my husband downstairs with the cane, and we're both here because we're part of something so wonderful that we want to share it with everybody, and we especially want to share it with you. How much time do you have? It's a very special message, and I want to be sure that we have enough time."

I still felt cautious.

"Only about a half hour."

"Well, that's time enough. Before we start, why don't you sign our guest book? Just put your name and address down and that way we can always keep in touch with you."

The paranoia returned. Visions of Mormon missionaries gripped me. For all I knew, they'd be coming by my room night and day, proselytizing, smashing bottles of booze. I decided to give a pseudonym, but was somehow unable to think up on on the spur of the moment. For a few minutes, I stood in front of the guest book, drumming my pen, trying to think of a fake name, smiling weakly at Sister Wood. Finally, feeling more foolish than ever, I put down my first and middle names--"Cliff Myer."

"O.K., Mr. Myer, just follow me into this room and we'll see a very special show."

We walked down one of the hallways and into a small, well-lit room with several rows of comfortable, plush blue couches facing a stage. Nobody else was in the room. Sister Wood took me to the first couch, and we settled into it without speaking. Sister Wood stared at me for a moment, seemed to be sizing me up, and then started talking.

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