Brigham Young University’s annual homecoming festivities were held a couple weeks ago, and I am happy to report that I attended one of the numerous dances with a lovely young woman named Michelle, and, furthermore, that we had a swell time, and, furthermore, that I no longer have any money with which to pay for such incidental college-related costs as tuition.
I didn’t have any money to begin with, and I wasn’t planning on going to homecoming at all, let alone with a date, so naturally, I got one and went anyway. This is the same type of self-destructive tendency that made me take 19 credits my first semester, and live in Deseret Towers (motto: “Where the Leaders of Tomorrow are Urinating in the Elevators of Today”).
Michelle and I doubled with my friend Braden and his date Cheryl. Braden and I told our dates that we would pick them up promptly at 6:00, but Braden and I were ready long before that. This makes sense, since girls have to do things with their hair other than washing it, and put on make-up, and do all kinds of mysterious things with “cotton balls” and “curling irons” and other instruments that are completely foreign to guys, whereas guys just have to take a shower, put on their clothes, and dump a bottle of cologne over their heads like it was champagne and they’d just won the World Series.
So Braden and I decided we should saunter over to our dates’ dorm fifteen minutes early, not expecting them to be ready. But guess what. They were ready. Fifteen minutes early. I thought surely this meant that they had forgotten some key element in their preparation, e.g. putting on their dresses, but sure enough, they were completely ready and completely beautiful.
We ate at an Irish-style restaurant called Mullboon’s, in Salt Lake City. There are several Mullboon’ses in Salt Lake City, and if they all charge the same prices for their food, Mr. Mullboon by now must be wealthy enough to buy Ireland. Braden and I had been recommended to the restaurant by someone who told us very nice things about it, but that person had failed to mention certain other not-so-nice things about it, such as that eating there was going to cost the same as a semester’s tuition at Oxford. The “chicken cordon bleu” (French, meaning “chicken with blue corduroys”), for example, cost $18. That’s what we all had, and that was about the cheapest thing on the menu. It came with a salad and a baked potato, but I thought that at that price, it ought to have come with a pair of pants.
The bill for all four of us came to a figure I won’t mention, except to say that between us, Braden and I had a dollar more than it. This meant that we couldn’t leave much of a tip, and we also had to live with the horrible notion that if one of the girls had ordered a drink instead of just water, which of course was free, we would probably still be there, washing dishes.
(I would like to point out, for the record, that this column was written with the permission and approval of Michelle and Cheryl. So don’t think I’m a jerk or anything. If I am a jerk, it has nothing to do with this. It probably has to do with the time I burped in church.)
(Eric D. Snider is a freshman at BYU and is originally from Lake Elsinore, California, where he had a job for five years and should still have some money left.)
Overall, Homecoming was rather fun. Here you can see an actual photo of the actual girl I actually went with. I am putting the wrist corsage on her, and I look like an absolute dork, while she looks beautiful. So it's a fairly accurate photo.
A couple weeks before this column was printed, a fellow by the name of Justin urinated in one of the elevators in my dorm. There was no good reason for this, except that he was a jerk and thought he was funny and probably thought peeing in an elevator would be just, like, the height of hilarity. He was mistaken, and he was asked to move out of the dorms.
I referred to this incident only in passing in this column, at the end of the second paragraph. I did not think much of it. After all, not only did it really happen, but it also seemed like the kind of thing you would expect to happen in a crazy freshman dorm. In other words, it seemed typical, even though it had only happened once. Therefore, its seeming universality made it funny.
Well. An old woman by the name of June S. West, a retired schoolteacher living in Orem, Utah, wrote the following letter to my editor:
Dear Mr. Biederman:
I was shocked to read Eric D. Snider's column, 'On the Light Side,' in the October 24, 1992, paper (page A-4).
The trivial account he wrote about Homecoming at BYU and the elevators at Deseret Towers was disgusting and belittling of the University and the Herald. He wrote more about the restaurant, Mulboons, in Salt Lake City.
There are so many decent students trying to get enrolled at Brigham Young University -- and so many that can't get in, that I don't think Eric Snider should take up space. He should go back to Lake Elsinore, California.
We have had many offers to take the two Salt Lake papers (with the Utah Edition), but we need a local paper. We have lived in many states in the United States, but retired in Utah Valley. We have not read such a repulsive statement in newspapers as the snide remark Snider made about the elevators in Deseret Towers.
If this type of writing is going to be tolerated in the Herald, we shall terminate our subscription. I'm also writing to President Lee at the University. We have had three children graduate from BYU and three grandchildren plan to return to the 'Y' when they complete their missions.
June S. West
(Note how June S. West underlined her "snide remark/Snider" joke so that we wouldn't miss it. Note also how, quite coincidentally, actually, "Snide Remarks" later became the name of my weekly column.)
A few days later, I received a letter from President Rex E. Lee, then president of BYU. The envelope included a copy of the letter June S. West had sent him, as well as a copy of the letter he had sent her in reply, as well as the photocopy of the column that she had originally sent him. (She had marked the urinating reference on the column, making it exactly clear what she was so upset about.) Here's her letter to Pres. Lee:
Dear President Lee:
We were shocked to read Eric Snider's column in the newspaper, concerning 'Where the Leaders of Tomorrow ... the Elevators of Today' in Deseret Towers. [She couldn't even bring herself to retype the word 'urinating,' so offended was she by the mere idea of it!]
We read of the many students who cannot come to BYU because of the lack of space and Eric Snider doesn't appreciate being accepted. He is trying to tear down the good reputation of a University that is trying to turn out decent educated young men and women.
We have lived in many states but sent our children thousands of miles to the 'Y.' We have three grandchildren who plan to return to the university when released from their missions. When we retired we moved to Utah Valley to help our grandchildren if they need help and guidance. Their parents work elsewhere.
We feel that Eric Snider is not worthy of being a student of your university.
June S. West
And here's what Pres. Lee wrote back to June S. West:
Dear Sister West:
This is in response to your letter of October 24, concerning Eric D. Snider's column "On the Light Side" which appeared recently in the Daily Herald.
I do not know Mr. Snider, and had not read the article at the time it came out. I am taking the liberty of forwarding to him a copy of your letter, with the suggestion that he offer any explanation which he feels is appropriate.
Rex E. Lee
I was one step ahead of Pres. Lee: I had already written to June S. West. Here's what I said:
Dear Ms. West --
I received your letter today when I dropped by the Herald offices. Thank you for your openness and candidness.
I'm sorry you found my 'Where the Leaders of Tomorrow are Urinating in the Elevators of Today' statement 'repulsive.' Just imagine how repulsive it was for us, the residents, to have to ride in an elevator that someone had relieved himself in.
You see, that actually happened. Perhaps you think I was just being silly, using urinating in the elevator as an example of something juvenile college students might do, but it actually happened here in Q-Hall. Someone from my floor (the fourth floor) urinated in the elevator not once, but three times.
Also, I'm sorry you don't think I'm fit to be attending Brigham Young University, but quite frankly, I don't see how my use of the word 'urinating' in a newspaper column constitutes unworthiness on my part. Feel free to check with either of my bishops -- the one here, or the one back home.
Again, thank you for your feedback.
Eric D. Snider
So since I had already written back to June S. West, I thought I'd call Pres. Lee to make sure he agreed with me and all the sane people in our stance that June S. West had over-reacted. I called his office and his secretary took my number, saying that he had been hoping to talk to me. A while later, I got a phone call.
"President Lee is on the line. One moment, I'll connect you."
Obviously, a busy man like Rex E. Lee cannot be bothered with having to dial his own phone calls.
I told Pres. Lee I had gotten his letter, and that I wanted to see what he thought about my "urinating" comment. He said, "I think it's disgusting."
I pointed out to him as I had to her that it was a real event, and that I hadn't made it up. It was then that he said something that I think will always be my motto for as long as I am a journalist:
"Just because something happens doesn't mean you have to write about it."
He told me about how people often judge the LDS Church based on what happens at BYU, and so BYU must maintain a good image, and how this sort of writing doesn't put BYU in a positive light, and blah blah blah. I could see his point, but I stuck my defense of, "If you think TALKING about urinating in elevators casts a bad light on BYU, what do you think actually DOING it does?"
He said he thought I should apologize in the paper. I said I didn't think I should. We were at an impasse, and while the conversation was polite, we did not reach much common ground. The conversation ended. I hung up my phone, and I imagine he had his secretary hang up his for him.
Reading June S. West's letters again now, especially the one to Pres. Lee, I am reminded of just how irrational she was. Let's look at it. First of all, she wrote them both on Oct. 24 -- the same day the column was printed. She didn't have much time to think it over and collect her thoughts coherently. One should never act while in the heat of passion, I feel.
Secondly, she gives no indication that she had ever read anything else I'd written, and for that matter, it seemed to be only that one word -- "urinating" -- that bothered her. This does not speak well of her sanity, to be so upset by one word -- a medical term, I might add -- that she would write two letters.
Third, she tells Pres. Lee that she feels I am not "worthy of being a student at [BYU]." Does she think she's on the Board of Trustees, or something? What did she hope to accomplish by writing to Pres. Lee? It would appear that she was actually trying to get him to kick me out of school. She says I'm trying to "tear down the good reputation" of the school, she says I don't appreciate being accepted into BYU -- she makes a lot of assumptions about my intentions, all based on one word. She talks about her "credentials" -- children and grandchildren at BYU, blah blah blah. It really seems like she's trying to make a case for my expulsion. My mind reels as I try to determine what, if anything, was going on in her head.
And quite frankly, I take great offense at her suggestion that I am not "worthy" to be a BYU student. Whether she meant that in a secular sense, or in a religious, righteousness-oriented sense, it's still the same holier-than-thou, pompous, self-righteous attitude that has made me determine never to attempt to raise a family in Provo. I don't want my children exposed to that kind of closed-minded, judgmental way of thinking, and it unfortunately seems to be prevalent in Utah County.
One last note. After getting my letter, June S. West was not appeased. In fact, she thought I was trying to rub it in by using the word "urinate," or some form of it, three times in my letter to her. (I did not yet fully realize when I wrote it that it was that word itself that bothered her so much.) She came into the office and met with Earl. Earl later told me that he mentioned to her the other letter I'd gotten -- the one complaining about my use of "fornication" in a column. (Click here to read it.) When he told her about what I had said, she blushed and giggled at the amusing situation I had written about. In other words, she found it funny.
For June S. West, fornication was OK, but she drew the line at urination. Whatever.
Oh, and I should mention that Pres. Lee stepped down as president just after I returned from my mission. He had contracted cancer and was becoming more ill. He held a question-and-answer session in October 1995 which I attended, and afterwards, I went up and introduced myself. After some prodding, he remembered the incident. I told him I could understand his position a little better now, having matured a bit myself. I did not apologize for the column, but I did apologize if I caused him any undue stress. I was sincere about that, too. Regardless of my disagreements with him, I respected him for being so dedicated to the things he believed in. He really was a great man.
He said that as he recalled it, I had been very professional and mature with him on the phone, and that he was not upset with me. What's done is done, that seemed to be his attitude.
He died a few months later. I'm glad I was able to talk to him before he did. But to this day, whenever I smell something odd in an elevator, I always think first of Justin, then of June S. West, then of Rex E. Lee. But I think GOOD things about Pres. Lee, while I have lingering unpleasant memories of the other two.
Postscript: In 1999, when I was writing a humor column for The Daily Herald again, we got another letter from June S. West, complaining about me. She did not sign her name, but I knew it was her because she discussed the above incident. In fact, she said the reason she wasn't signing her name was that last time she did that, she received a very "offensive" letter from me in return. I didn't hang on to her 1999 letter, unfortunately, but I do recall that it was complaining about my humor columns, as well as my theater reviews which, in her mind, were always too negative. (They're actually negative only about 30 percent of the time, but facts are irrelevant to June S. West.) So I was glad to know that, despite her being well over 1,000 years old in 1992, she was still alive and well and complaining in 1999.