Jack & Lucky Chapter 10, part 3

Jack & Lucky Chapter 10, part 3

Chapter index

Chapter 10, Part 3

Part 2

Jack and Elder Ballard were putting more effort into cooking because the student Mensa was closed for the summer. Jack was standing over the frying pan cooking eggs and bacon for the third time that week. “If we keep eating this good we’re both going to gain weight.”

“You’re right but you could use some weight.”

“Once you put it on, it’s impossible to take it off, so they say. We’re having steaks for dinner tonight and I made some pudding too.”

“That sounds like something to look forward to beyond the routine of this dreary life.”

“Com’on Ballard, give it a chance. At least try to be cheerful.”

“I keep thinking about all those beautiful girls that I can’t touch.”

“Most of them are what we used to call `jail-bait.’ Too young for you to even stand next to.”

“I’m not thinking of them, I’m thinking of Bruna and her friends.”

“Forget it and think about tennis.”

There was silence until the two were seated in front of their well cooked and greasy food.

Jack tried to bring the emotional level up by discussing a new theory he had. “I’ve got an idea that will cheer you up. I have to show you this new etiquette I’ve invented.”

“You can’t invent etiquette.”

“Don’t rush to such a harsh judgement. This is how it works. You know how Italians eat like the British using their forks with their left hands — their knifes in their right — when they eat meat? They do this even when they’re right handed,” Jack demonstrated.

“Ya, I do that sometimes just to copy but usually I just switch like we do in the US.”

“Right. But my new system is the best of both worlds. I am teaching myself to use my knife with my left hand so I can continue to use my fork with my right hand. Watch.” Jack proceeded to demonstrate how to cut with the left and eat with the right.

“You try it.”

Elder Ballard fumbled with his utensils. “I can’t even hold the knife right with my left hand.” He moved his left hand abruptly and nearly pushed his plate onto the floor.

“See it’s not so easy. But I’ve almost got it mastered. It just requires practice and a modicum of dexterity.” Jack imitated a right-proper British accent to dramatize his politeness.

“I’ve never been famous for dexterity.”

“When properly executed, this new etiquette will never be clumsy or indelicate.”

Jack watched as Elder Ballard continued to struggle. “Possibly you could be the exception.”

“I thought you were going to cheer me up.” Ballard returned to the old method with a look of disgust.

For lunch the two missionaries stopped in town for a popular treat called “frulatte.” This was a delicious fruit drink made of any possible combination of fresh fruit and ice. When you put raw eggs in it, it was called a `Recostituente’ or bodybuilder. This was supposed to put the raw protein back in the system, usually with a banana mixed in, or with cantaloupe or watermelon. For 100 lira you could get a full liter of fruit mixed with ice to cool the body during the heat of the day. No utensils or etiquette required to drink your nutrients.

Jack and his troubled companion shared their concerns about their religion from time to time. Elder Ballard was more concerned with his lifestyle and personal habits. Jack was trying diligently to get in touch with that pioneer spirituality he had acknowledged a few years earlier. They decided to give the idea of fasting and prayer another chance.

The Sun rose before Jack did on this warm Monday morning. “What time is it?” Jack shook Elder Ballard by reaching across the space between their single beds.

“How should I know, I’m asleep.”

“You should be up. You’re supposed to get me up too.” Jack managed to sit up on the edge of his bed.

“Since when. You’re the early riser.”

“What did you put in that spaghetti last night. I sure slept soundly.”

“I’m glad one of us did. I must have been awake half the night.”

“What’s the problem, you dreaming about girls again?” Jack got up to leave the room.

“I never kiss and tell.”

“As long as that’s all you do, just don’t wake me.” He left to get ready.

“Don’t forget, we’re fasting.”

“Ya, that’s right.”

Jack returned in a minute. “Our first appointment is at 9:30 so we have to hurry to make it on time. It’s a young guy from the street meeting last Friday.”

“How far away is it?”

“Don’t try to cut it too close, just get up and get goin’. I don’t remember, it’s written down in the book. We’ll have to look it up.”

While Jack was getting dressed, Elder Ballard left the room. Jack opened the heavy metal security curtain that covered the entire patio door and window. It permitted so little light in, it made keeping time by the Sun impossible.

We saw appointments and comebacks until noon with some second tracting mixed in. Then home and read Time and prepared a lesson. Then out at 2:00 for appointments, no good lessons. It is really hot. I sweat hard…At 9:00 PM we had an appointment with some Jehovah Witnesses. We finally found their house and talked about the various aspects of religion until nearly midnight. They were somewhat confounded by a few of our scriptures. Then home late and bed.

Both elders fasted all day and prayed silently before going to bed. They were trying to achieve, each in their own way, an enlightened spirituality. This cannot be found in Time Magazine or in the cultural anthropology of B. Malinowski.

The next morning Jack got up early because he left the security shutter half open to invite the Sun to wake him. The two were still fasting.

After Jack read for a while he shook his companion. “Hey you ready to wake up? It’s almost 8:00.”

After he groaned he said, barely discernable, “These late nights make it hard to get up.”

“You must be hungry, I’m starved.”

“I’m okay, I’m still alive.” Elder Ballard struggled to loosen the bonds holding him to the mattress. Finally he got up and left the room.

Jack was up and dressed and had meditated on his spiritual predicament for a while. He just felt numb and hungry, not sensitive to any spiritual impulse. He tried to pray but didn’t know which way to turn his antenna to establish communication. He hadn’t settled the basic question: “ARE YOU THERE? ANYBODY HOME?”

“I’m not getting anywhere with this fasting,” he confessed when Elder Ballard reentered the room.

“You’re expecting a miracle or something, it’s just not going to happen.”

“I’ll settle for just a small lightning bolt.”

“See, your whole attitude is negative. Of course, I’m not much better, at least you like getting out and working. I’d just as soon stay in bed.”

“Maybe it won’t matter if we eat. What difference will it make if we starve ourselves for a week? The Mission Office discourages lengthy fasting, I heard them say so at the last conference.” Jack’s mind found a good rationalization for the sake of his body.

“Suits me.”

Maybe he never got hungry enough for his body to produce the hallucinogenic drugs required for a “revelation.”

Sunday, up, read, prepared, then to Priesthood Meeting. The lesson was on signs of the last days. All the elders are taking bets on when it’s going to come, but they are just joking of course.

This sensational idea of the Millennium and the second coming of Christ during “the last days,” is of primary concern to Mormons. They believe that the dead will rise in the resurrection and join the glory of a new life with Jesus Christ as the “King.”

Death is always a sad, quiet time. Jack was no stranger to this emotional impact.

Several people died in our apartment today. One person below this morning and one lady, the wife of our English speaking friend, Franco, who was in the hospital having a baby. She died in childbirth. Saddening…

Italians drape black cloth outside the doors of those who experience a death in the household. There was a black bunting spread over the street entrance to the elders’ apartment building. It effectively communicated the shared sadness of loosing a loved one. This seemed to make death a community affair which also made their lives somehow more significant.

After working in the morning on the 2nd of August the two returned home to a nice surprise.

Then bought a Newsweek Magazine for a change of pace and home for lunch. I got some goodies from Julie. Cookies and Candy. She is really fine…

One thing that naturally stimulated Jack’s interest in Julie was his attendance at a dinner by the member lady that lived nearby. Her name was Anita Lago. She was a thick, well proportioned and experienced lady about 35 years old. She appeared to have been a beautiful girl at one time and still had the personality and youthful charm of her earlier persona.

The two missionaries parked their bikes outside the white-washed stucco house. They were wearing their dark ties with their short-sleeve white shirts wet under the arms as usual. After they knocked on the door it was opened immediately by a very attractive young girl.

Elder Ballard asked with obvious admiration: “We’re looking for Signora Anita Lago. Is this her house?”

“Yes, I’m her niece.”

Jack came from behind at the sound of the sweet, feminine voice to see who it was. “We were invited to dinner. Are we too early?”

“We’re expecting you. I’m Regina and my cousin here is Lidia.” A second gorgeous young woman came from the kitchen area.

“Ciao. Nice to meet you.”

Elder Ballard turned to Jack and whispered in English wearing a newly created blushed face. “What are we getting ourselves into?”

“This looks like a good test for your integrity.” Jack poked Elder Ballard in the ribs with his elbow.

Sorella (Sister) Lago came from the other room and picked up on the conversation.

“I hope you’re hungry. We have a lot of food and spaghetti alla Carbonara. Have you ever had that?”

“Probably,” Jack theorized. “It seems I’ve had hundreds of different kinds of spaghetti.”

“If you had Spaghetti alla Carbonara you would remember. You came in time to help cook.” She handed each elder a dish cloth to use as aprons and proceeded to take off their ties. “You won’t need these.”

The dinner was special because she prepared spaghetti according to a local recipe named for the Carbonara region. The spaghetti is boiled lightly then fried in oil, garlic of course, ham, onions, a few eggs then add cream and grated cheese. It was a dream come true for hungry missionaries tired of their own cooking.

These two younger girls would have liked nothing better than to make a connection with missionaries and get a free trip to America. They were practiced flirts and, encouraged by Anita, they teased about sexual subjects. Jack restrained himself and his companion. It was a good object lesson for Elder Ballard, although his natural shyness kept him safe. As it turned out, his imagination was a greater problem than his conduct up close and personal, he was polite and well composed, at least until they left.

Neither Jack nor Elder Ballard were entirely unaffected by the temptation to share the carnal knowledge the girls eagerly displayed. The girls possessed an unashamed and unabashed awareness of sexual affairs and in much greater proportion than the boys; another case of Eve and Adam.

Two days later this fraternization was still affecting Jack. After going to a movie with the guys on Saturday night, he writes:

I’m lonely tonight. I thought a lot about Julie today.

Of course, all he could do was pine away. It was times like this, sitting on his balcony in the pleasant evening breeze, watching the spectacular glow of the sunset that time went slowly, but kindly. This was the proverbial calm before the storm.

By Monday evening the weather had changed. There was a period of torrential rains, the Italian equivalent of a Monsoon. Jack and his companion willingly avoided overexposure to this insult to humanity. They had an appointment during the evening at 9:00. They were blessed with a break in the weather during the afternoon so they went to work in their area before going to their appointment.

We met with 12 or so students of our own age and talked until 9:00.

There wasn’t much teaching that could be done in such a large group but Jack tried to encourage their curiosity from time to time so he could possibly teach a few later, separately.

The missionaries escaped the friendly youths and arrived late at their next appointment in a high-rise apartment. These people lived on the seventh floor, so the missionaries arrived in front of the door breathless and well exercised. They knocked after a pause to catch their breath and the door was opened immediately by a young man and a women, apparently his wife. He smiled broadly and extended his hand.

“Ciao. Thanks for coming up all those stairs to visit us.”

“Buona sera. That’s okay, we need the exercise.” Both elders were still full of energy as they entered the flat.

Once the introductions were settled and refreshments were served, the young couple began asking questions about the Mormon religion. It seemed as though they had a rough basis of understanding already. They were members of the Baha’i Faith, an international ecumenical group somehow descended from the Zoroastrian community of the Middle East.

Jack found their ideas intriguing but tried to steer the conversation along the direction of the First Lesson every chance he got. He wasn’t supposed to stray into other subjects if he hoped to challenge them to accept the inspiring Mormon doctrine. But, this day had been a bust anyway, first with the weather, then the long, distracting visit with the students. The teaching process doesn’t always go as planned. These people wanted to cover all the bases at once.

“What about Negroes and other racial groups. Do you Mormons allow them as members into your Church?”

“Yes, everybody is invited to be baptized. Just like Paul of Tarsus wanted to teach The Gospel to Jews, Gentiles and Romans, we teach everybody.”

“But I heard that Negroes were not allowed. Is that wrong?”

“Yes. But The Church doesn’t give the Priesthood to Negroes, that’s the only difference.”

“Why do they exclude black African people from the Priesthood? Do you also exclude Indians or Japanese or American Indians?”

This was just the kind of wandering around Jack was supposed to avoid.

“No. Only Negroes are regarded separately. It has to do with their heritage. The Bible and the Pearl of Great Price, which is another Mormon scripture, teach that God separated Man in the earliest days. And, He placed a curse on some who disobeyed His laws. These were the descendants of Ham. These scriptures also teach that the sins of the fathers will be visited onto their sons. This was a curse of black skin and this group was historically excluded from having the Priesthood.”

“That’s ridiculous. Why should the Mormon religion set itself up in judgement over people like that?”

“That’s not the way it is. Besides it’s only important if you feel that God’s Priesthood has been restored and that this Priesthood is important to you and to the world. If you accept that, it means you accept the Prophet Joseph Smith and his mission to restore The True Church of Christ in these Latter Days. Once you understand the whole religion and accept it, you will see how the Plan of God will save these people just as well as it will save you and me and everyone who accepts it.”

The convicted Baha’i just shook his head in disbelief and disgust.

Jack continued undaunted: “In the end, you are right. There is no difference. Those who hold the Priesthood are the servants of all mankind. Women don’t hold the Priesthood in the Mormon Church either. They benefit from it as a glory they share with their husbands. That is consistent with almost every religious tradition in the world with which I’m acquainted. I hold the Priesthood but I don’t feel particularly special. I just feel that it gives me responsibilities and extra duties. That’s why I’m here in Italy teaching you. Because I feel that it is desperately important that you become aware of God’s Plan.”

Jack was getting back on line gradually until he was distracted again.

“Don’t you think that natural selection had something to do with the development of people with colored skin? People lived in Africa under the hot Sun for generations after generations. The best survivors are those with skin pigments capable of protecting them against the direct Sun. Its obvious from the demographic distribution of people that darker skinned people thrive in the Sun and live closer to the Equator. Even your skin turns dark in the Sun to protect itself when it is acclimatized properly. What does this trivial fact of nature have to do with religion and dividing one people against another?”

“There are a lot of questions we can’t answer here on Earth. This issue of evolution vs. creation is not clearly settled in my mind nor by the Mormon Doctrine. Mormons accept natural selection and evolution of species but they also accept the principle of Divine guidance. That’s what Prophets are for. They are the closest possible link to God for the whole Church. And once we accept that, we accept their guidance. But we don’t have all the answers.”

“No religion is legitimate until it has a philosophy of including all Men in equal status. The Baha’i Faith embraces all religions and all Prophets, even Joseph Smith, as long as they teach a gospel of Love and Charity. Why can’t we come together and unify our teachings for the good of Mankind. Religious differences are at the root of too many wars. What we need in the world is more effort like yours but in the direction of solving the primary problems that divide man. We don’t need a religion that divides Man along some arbitrary line. It’s like creating The Chosen People. This is the primary cause of bigotry and racism. We have to overcome that. How do we do that? Can the Mormons help do that?” He had become enthusiastically agitated. He was a forceful orator, not mad, just involved in his subject.

Jack and Elder Ballard had met their match. In fact this was a basic defect of the Mormon Religion, an anachronism which would be corrected some twenty years later. But even “The True Church” would not change until it had undergone direct protest from Civil Rights groups and the embarrassment of an unpopular public opinion in the US political arena. Jack had just stumbled over one of many objectionable aspects of the Mormon religion. He had given the party line explanation as well as it could be given but it always came up short of satisfying any scrupulous examination.

By the time the meeting was over Jack was thoroughly drained. He exchanged some information as a way of ducking any further controversial discussions. The pair never returned. Self-righteous Mormons have aphorisms to warn missionaries against wasting their time teaching people who don’t want to accept The Gospel. In the New Testament it admonishes not to “…kick against the pricks…” and in the Pearl of Great Price it suggests the error of “…putting pearls before swine…” In more practical terms it is simply a waist of time to argue with people who are so thoroughly convinced by their own emotional make-up that you are wrong and they are right. It’s better to spend your time constructively teaching other people. So that’s what Jack and Elder Ballard did. Of course, this predictable reaction begs the serious questions these people raised.

The missionaries avoided the source of contention but the contention would fester in Jack’s mind as had the extra-curricular discussions with the Communists in Padova, then Rinaldo, the Adventist’s and the writings of Malinowski.

Dan Bailey walked easily toward Lucky and the girls. He was blond and resembled Jack with a square jaw and straight cut to his checks. He was shorter, thinner and lighter than Jack by nearly twenty pounds. He was taller than Lucky but about the same weight. His legs were bowed slightly and he wore polished cowboy boots which gave him another two inches.

Lucky waved him over again as if he needed coaxing. “Here’s my main man, Dan Bailey. Dan, this is Margaret and you met Mary Jane last week.”

“Ya. Hi Mary Jane and Margaret it’s nice to meet ya.” Dan was from Colorado and naturally spoke with enough western style to be recognizable. He noticed the substitution of Margaret in Wanda’s place but didn’t let on he noticed.

“Hi, Dan.” Mary Jane was first again.

“Pleasure to meet you Dan.” Margaret was just a little too proper but she smiled broadly.

There was a chair between Margaret and Lucky so Dan put his books down. “I guess I got time for a drink. Excuse me for a second.” He returned to the counter.

“Look at what this bone head is studying. Calculus. He’s got a Chemistry book at the room that’s twice this thick. He’s practically a bookworm.”

“Come on Lucky, he’s just trying to get ahead.” Margaret was obviously attracted and was already defending him.

Dan returned with a large Coke.

“Dan, do you think we would get in trouble if these girls came over to visit tonight?”

“No. Hey that’s a good idea. I could show you my new stereo eight track player and speakers.”

“Dan’s got the whole room wired for sound. He can make the windows vibrate if he turns it up loud enough.”

“There’s no problem about you two comin’ over. You can stay until midnight before anybody cares. You could probably stay all night. I know guys who’ve had girls in all night and nobody every says anything. As long as we don’t screw up at work we have lots of freedom. Right Lucky?” Dan knew how to needle Lucky without revealing the details of the situation.

“Ya, that’s the gospel truth.”

“We can’t stay all night,” Margaret flushed bashfully.

The rules weren’t quite that lax. Their Commanders weren’t strict since they weren’t in a trainee barracks. They weren’t supposed to have visitors, especially girls, overnight. If Lucky got caught with girls overnight he’d loose a stripe for sure and he knew it.

“How do we get into the gate. I got my folk’s Mustang but we don’t have a sticker or nothing.”

“That’s my job,” Lucky asserted. “I can fix it with the guys at the gate. The public is welcome as long as you have a purpose and someone to visit. That’s no problem. Just follow us back if you don’t mind driving slow as a snail behind that bus.”

“Okay with me.” Margaret was ready and willing.

“Ya, me too. We can see how clean you guys keep your rooms.”

“When we get to the gate I’ll give the guard the low-down. He’ll do what I tell him. I have to turn the bus in after I get back but that should only take a few minutes. I left my bike at the motorpool, so I’ll be back before you know I’m missin’.”

It was all settled. They talked more and got acquainted while waiting for the others. Everybody was accounted for within an hour and a half from the arrival so the bus driver went to open the bus. The girls went to get their car and pulled in behind the bus and they were off the same way they came.

The troop entered the main gate as planned. Lucky returned his release slip to the guard.

“Hi, Sarge. Those two girls in that car behind us are with me. Okay?”

“No problem. As long as they’re with you.”

Lucky proceeded to the barracks to drop off his charges.

In the bus he yelled back over his shoulder, “You guys police up your stalls, I don’t want as much as a candy wrapper on the floor. I don’t have time to clean up after you pigs tonight. Ya hear?”

“Lucky’s got plans.” The heckling began.

“Oink, Oink.”

“What’s up Lucky?”

“Nothin’ yet but it’s goin’ be. Right?”

“Hey driver you’re being followed.”

Lucky tried to defend himself. “Give it a break guys. Haven’t you ever had a date?”

“Not with nothin’ as wild as that Red head.”

“She looks hot, man. When you’re done with her will you give me her number?”

“Shit! You guys are hopeless.” Outside the bus the world was calm but inside the hoots and raze kept flying.

The girls followed dutifully, unaware they were the center of such attention.

When the bus stopped in front of the two story wood frame building, Lucky and Dan walked back to the Mustang.

“Can you guys wait here with Dan while I turn in this bus?”

Mary Jane had an alternative. “Maybe I can come with you and get a ride on your Triumph?”

“No way. Not in that dress. Besides I don’t have an extra helmet. If I get caught with you on the back, in that dress, without a helmet, I’ll lose my base driver’s license and a stripe.”

“Roger that! Come on in. We can get the stereo warmed up.” Dan was trying to be helpful.

“Okay, if you say so. But you’ll have to make it up to me.” Mary Jane was visibly disappointed.

“I can try.” Lucky smiled and jumped in the bus and took off to the motorpool. It took about fifteen minutes before he got back. He secured his bike and hustled into the barracks.

The girls were sitting on Dan’s bed going through his collection of tapes. The music was on and loud. It was the Beach Boys with that strong rhythmic beat. Lucky shut the door tight to help muzzle the sound.

“I see you made yourself at home.” The three already had beers and Lucky went to the refrigerator and got a Pabst Blue Ribbon for himself.

Mary Jane got up to follow him. “You want to dance, big guy?” She started moving suggestively in sync with the music.

“Ya. How’d you know? And that’s not all I want.” Lucky shuffled his feet and moved in rhythm as best he could, he wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire. He opened his beer at the same time, spewing foam over his hand. As he slurped the foam he moved over to the door and reached for the light switch. He turned off the overhead lights so there was only a dim light from the tape deck. There was enough light through the sides of the closed window shades to make shadows.

Finally the Mission announced tryouts for the basketball team, which were to be held in Catania, in Sicily. Jack didn’t expect to be selected, considering his state of mind, but decided to tryout just for the tour. After a whirlwind trip by crowded train to Catania via Reggio Calabria, Jack played for three hours at the US Air Force Base facility. He traveled with Elder Kimble the District Leader, and they returned almost immediately after the tryouts. Upon his return, Jack learned he was being transferred again. Just as he was developing some solid investigators and he and Elder Ballard were picking up steam, he had to leave. Elder Ballard would be staying on as a Senior Companion so he could continue the teaching, at least that was the theory. He had overcome his depression and learned by example how to deal with his sexual fantasies. Jack had probably salvaged his Mission experience, if not his own.

Later Jack learned that Elder Kimble made the team. Jack was genuinely happy for Elder Kimble, who was looking forward to traveling and it would be a good experience for him. Jack didn’t like the thought of traveling and wasn’t disappointed. It was bad enough to be jerked around every three or four months as it was.

The goodbye to Elder Ballard was easy but sincere. They knew they would see each other again, somewhere. They were both ready for fresh companions. Elder Ballard promised to give his regards to Rinaldo, Saverio and particularly to the girls at Anita Lago’s. Jack couldn’t help but feel affection for these people. They had been so kind and friendly to a lonely American. He was as much searching for the truth from them as making a sensational effort to teach them The Gospel.

On to Chapter 11
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