Today I read one of my mission friend's online bio and she had married someone else from the mission... a missionary who always seemed a little crazy to me, but maybe he cleaned up his act after... well, if I give too many details, it would be obvious who I was talking about, so instead, I'll tell you a story. Gather round, children, and listen to a tale that will make Mormons cringe in terror and non-Mormons think, "Taking bad LSD is scary, this not so much." Anyway, here goes:
The summer of 1992 was particularly enjoyable in Kristiansand--a sunny, summer-resort type of town on the southern tip of Norway. The area had 6 elders, two sisters, and two member missionaries who were really cool, and we were much more prone to meeting at the pond at the local park than actually knocking on doors. This state of affairs wasn't helped by the fact that our area leaders were, how shall I put this?... liked to have a lot of fun. Anyway, over the course of a beautiful southern Norwegian summer, the eight of us became quite lax, quite tan, and quite close. Unfortunately, as the mission was a cruel taskmaster (the mission president was, in any case), the dreaded day came when transfers were announced. Only one elder was being moved--Elder Johnson. He was REALLY bummed, because the entire group had been together for a few months without any moves and he knew that he'd miss us all and that he'd be missing out on a lot of fun after he'd left. The night before the move, all the elders decided to met at the area leader's apartment for a evening of fun, games, and brownies. Then the evening started to get INTERESTING!
After we met up downtown to catch a ride to the apartment, we all loaded into their car (yes, all 6 of us, in a tiny VW hatchback) and headed up. En route, one of the leaders got to wondering if you could get a buzz off smoking a phonebook (yes, a frickin' PHONEBOOK... he was desparate for stimulation, I guess!), so we stopped at a phone booth and he stole the one there (obviously STEALING was against mission rules). Back at the apartment, the evening started fun--someone made brownies, we played some games, and then, as the evening wore on, the mood drifted to a more somber tone. Elder Johnson realized that he needed to start packing, so he would pack up a few things, then come back out to the living room to talk some more, then head back and pack. We had a little wood stove in the living room, where we had made a fire (also against mission rules--boy, The Man was really oppressing us!). After a while, we were just sitting around staring at the fire. Elder Johnson started cleaning out his food in the fridge and gave us a sausage, since he wouldn't be able to take it on the train. A couple of us took clothes hangers and cut it up and started to roast it on the fire. Someone put on a Simon and Garfunkle tape (which was also against the rules, as we were only supposed to listen to hymns) and we were just quietly sitting there in the dark room, lit only by the little fire. The leader who stole the phonebook took the opportunity to pull it out to try smoking it (which broke a number of CHURCH rules as well as mission rules). He took probably a couple of hundred pages and rolled them up as tightly as he could. He then got up close to the fire and stuck one end of the roll into his mouth (which was COMPLETELY open to accommodate the diameter, and stuck the other end into the fire, inhaling as much as he could to keep the end burning. He sat back and he and another missionary without any sense took turns with that burning phone book. It was so crazy to see them with that huge roll in their mouths, not able to just puff, but having to literally INHALE just to get air movement over the burning pages. Soon both of them were looking completely sick to their stomachs, tears streaming down their faces at having been breathing paper smoke (which smelled awful--maybe it was the ink). I remember at that moment, holding a straightened-out coat hanger with a sausage dangling from the end of it over a fire made of old mission newsletters and planners, in a dark, smoke-filled room with two queasy smokers, with Simon and Garfunkle singing "Homeward Bound," that I realized that that was the most surreal experience of my life up to that point. And even after 15 years, it still ranks up there at least in the top three.