Oct 18, 2013

Summer 1980: The Mormon Missionary

August 6th, 1980, a Wednesday night.  I was in my 1974 Dodge Dart, chugging along the Interstate.

I was depressed. I had been planning to stay in Omaha with my minister boyfriend Fred forever, but it didn't work out.

Then I spent a week recuperating with my high school friend Tom in Los Angeles.

Now I was on my way back to Rock Island, where there were almost no gay people that I knew of, wondering what went wrong.

Delano Hotel, Beaver, UT
In Utah, near where the I-15 meets the I-70,  I decided to stop for the night in the quaintly named town of Beaver, at the Delano Hotel, one of those old-fashioned neon hotels that advertises "color tv" and "telephones," as if those amenities are noteworthy.

The desk clerk (I don't remember his name, so I'll call him Eli)  was college-aged, handsome, with short black hair, black eyes, and a muscular frame.  He had a rugged, leering look.  In a 1980s gay nerd movie, he would play the arrogant jock who is dating The Girl before the nerd comes along and wrests her away.

Somehow I mentioned that I visited Colombia last year, and Eli said, "I'll be in South America  in September.  Brazil. My church is sending me there to be a missionary."

Mormon Missionary
Not Eli

This was unexpected!  I expected Eli to be a juvenile delinquent, maybe, but not a missionary. "What church?"

"The Latter-Day Saints," he said.  "Pretty much everyone around here is LDS."

Mormon!  Nazarenes hated Mormons almost as much as Catholics -- an idolatrous, polygamous cult.  Of course, Nazarenes were wrong about almost everything.

I remembered the incongruous sight of pairs of clean-scrubbed, grinning young men riding bicycles while wearing suits.  There was always something erotic about them, a sensuality hidden just beneath their feigned asexual wholesomeness.

"What do you do for fun around here?"  I asked.

He mentioned a bowling alley.

"No, I mean real fun." I stared at him suggestively.  "You know, guys only."

Still Not Eli

He grinned.  "Oh, you can find just about anything you're looking for down in St. George."

"That's a long way.  I passed it like two hours ago."

"In the countryside you learn to be patient.  Sooner or later, the fun comes to you."  He paused.  "I'll be here all night, in case you get lonely or want to talk -- you know, about God or anything."

I went to my room and lay down on the bed.  Anything you're looking for. In case you get lonely.  Could he be gay?   Maybe his missionary partner was his lover?  Riding on bicycles side by side through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, returning to their room every night to cuddle and kiss?

I want to say that I invited Eli to my room, and we spent the night together.  Or that he came out to me, and we talked all night about growing up gay and Mormon.

But what actually happened was: I fell asleep before I could muster the nerve to call.  And when I woke up in the morning, someone else was staffing the front desk.

I kicked myself all the way across Utah and Colorado.

And I wondered how many other gay men were stranded in small towns in the mountains, longing to reach out but never getting the nerve.  Or the chance.

To this day, I have a thing for religious leaders: preachers, priests, monks, rabbis, imams -- and Mormon missionaries.

Update: I tracked Eli down!  His real name is Derek, and he's a muscle bear in Yuba City, California.