The day begins with Elder Stone’s mirror routine. After starching and ironing his shirt, he stands in front of the mirror in the front room, puts his belt on, then his shirt, and then spends a couple of minutes fluffing the shirt around the waist to get it just so. When he’s finished fluffing it, he ties his tie–and the tip must come to the exact center of his belt; if it doesn’t, he redoes it. He might redo his tie five times. The young man teases him about it, but Elder Stone is undaunted. Then it’s the hair, which has to be just so and then gelled solidly in place. His hair is dark, and it has a sheen to it that lasts the whole day. This is salon product, not your off-the-Walmart-shelf stuff. Today, Elder Stone looks especially sharp because it’s zone conference, and they must all be in suits.
Zone conference covers half the mission and involves talks, training, and final testimonies. In today’s final testimonies, Elder Spencer, a tall, lanky district leader in their zone, is giving his final testimony. The young man likes Elder Spencer–he is Elder Spencer’s zone leader, and after one evening of being chastised, Elder Spencer told him, “I love that you bust on me. It fires me up. Makes me feel like it matters.” This is not how normal missionaries react.
Today, Elder Spencer is recounting stories from his life and mission: “When I was a young man, even a deacon, I got my first lessons in preparing for a mission.”
Suddenly, Elder Stone is cracking up. Elder Spencer dispenses more history and reflection on his mission, then launches into a story that concludes with, “And as we rose up out of the water, tears were shed, hearts were warmed, and the Spirit . . . the Spirit was felt by all.” Elder Stone leans forward because he’s laughing so hard, and no one else is.
“Dude, what’s so funny?” the young man says.
Stone looks at him. “I challenged him to put in at least one Thomas S. Monson ‘even a deacon’ and at least one Monson passive triad. He had to do both with a completely straight face, and he looked right at me and totally did it. I lost the bet. I laughed. I owe him a burger before he goes home.”
After zone conference, they drive back to East LA for the second discussion with Irma and Roberto. You cannot see Irma’s apartment from the street–it is attached to the home in front and opens to the long driveway running the length of the house. The young man has to duck to pass through the door frame. The floor is uneven cement; the kitchen is marked by a thin layer of linoleum that ends halfway in the room. The family room has a threadbare rug that covers a bit of the cement between the two beat-up couches. Irma shares a bedroom with Mingo, who is not her husband or Roberto’s father and does not want to attend the discussions. Irma is in her early forties, and Roberto is thirteen. She wears a thin shawl, though it’s always warm.
After small talk, the young man says, “So how was your reading, Irma?”
She looks at Roberto. “It was really exciting. We read together. About the tower and the languages.”
“Wow, that’s great,” the young man says. For a moment, he pauses. 3 Nephi 11 is about Jesus appearing, then teaching about faith, repentance, and baptism. It has nothing to do with the Tower of Babel. Then he remembers–the tower is mentioned briefly in the Introduction of the Book of Mormon. They have read one page together.
He looks at Elder Stone. Stone says, “Reading second?”
“Yep,” says the young man.
So they read 3 Nephi 11 together, and when the time is right, Stone invites Irma and Roberto to be baptized. He is a pro at it, and they both commit, though this is the easy part. Having Mingo marry Irma or move out is the hard part, and they will deal with it later, maybe in the next discussion. As they get up to leave, Irma is smiling, and she says, “Do you know why I ordered that Bible from you?”
“No,” says Stone.
Irma swallows and runs a finger through her long curly hair. “I had a dream this one night. I stood before God, and He told me that I had not done well with my life but he would send me two guys in white shirts to tell me the truth so I could do right again. The next day, I was watching TV and I saw your Bible commercial. I didn’t know where the guys in white shirts would come from, but I didn’t even have a Bible and it was free so I figured I better get one for when the two guys came. I didn’t know that you all in the white shirts are the ones who bring the Bibles.”
Stone smiles at her–he has perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth. “That’s awesome. It’s amazing how God is aware of the small details of our lives.”
Back in the car, it is evening now. The young man is considering whether they should tract a street or check on a nearby member when Stone says, “Hey, can we head back to Alhambra and go see Joe?”
“Who’s Joe?” the young man says.
“Livingston and I baptized him. He’s a probie paramedic with the Rosemead fire department. They give him all the crap hours, so he’s doing nights and weekends. He barely gets to Church, but he’s solid as a rock. Such a strong testimony. I just don’t want him to feel forgotten.”
“Let’s do it,” says the young man.
When they knock at the apartment, a slim, shirtless, brown-haired man in his mid-twenties answers and yawns.
“Hey, Stone!” he says. “Come on in.” He looks at the young man. “You’re not Livingston.”
“New comp,” says Stone. “I wanted you to meet him.”
They pass through the front hallway and into the kitchen. Joe yawns again and points to seats at the table. “Do you like him?” Joe says to Stone.
Stone smiles. “Nah.” He laughs. “Love him. He’s awesome. We’re killing it. Just committed a mother and son to baptism.”
“Yeah? Awesome. Where?”
“East LA,” says Stone.
Joe grabs a shirt from the back of the couch and sits at the head of the table. “That’s great, man.”
Stone sets his bag next to his chair and his scriptures out in front of him. “So how about you? How’s things?”
“Good, man,” says Joe. “I can’t have y’all stay too long cuz I gotta get ready for work in an hour.”
“Oh, all nighter again?”
“That’s how the probies roll,” Joe says with another yawn. “But hey, good news. Bishop wants to interview me for the Melchizedek Priesthood. Not sure I’m ready since I’m not at Church much, but pretty cool.”
The young man nods and says, “That’s a great step. And if he thinks you’re ready, you probably are.”
“Thanks . . . what is it? Laws? Elder Laws. Yeah, thanks, man.”
“So how’s work?” Stone says.
Joe drums the table with his hands. “I think we cover the craziest area in the world.”
“Yeah, check this out,” Joe says. “So we’ve had to take a bunch of homeless guys in lately. Any guess why?”
“Drugs?” says Stone.
Joe shakes his head. “Nah. That’s easy. And that’s just regular. No, check this out. Some dude . . . and the cops don’t know who yet . . . has been going to parks at night, finding homeless dudes sleeping, and shoving a knife up their asses.”
Stone jolts back. The young man lowers his head and shakes it. “Come on,” says Stone. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, so we have to take these guys in with serious rectal wounds. You can imagine how fun that is.”
“What on God’s green earth would compel anyone to do that?” says the young man.
Joe hops up, goes over to an envelope sitting on the coffee table in front of the TV, grabs it, brings it back, and slides it down the table to the missionaries. Stone opens it. A Mexican man is sprawled on the ground, eyes shut, arm over his head.
“What am I looking at?” says Stone.
“So that dude there was loaded with about a quart of tequila, didn’t realize there was a curve on the 101, wiped out a minivan in front of him, hit the side wall, and was thrown from his car. That’s where we found him. He was dead.”
The young man looks back at the photo and stares at the dead man’s features. Mustache, dark hair, pot belly with a white T shirt pulled up.
“The family in the van?” Stone says.
“All lived, amazingly,” says Joe. “Usually it’s the other way around. The drunk guy lives and the family dies. But hey, justice every once in a while.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” says Stone.
Joe sits back down and runs his fingers through his hair. “Oh, I forgot to tell you the worst one ever from this week.”
“Yeah?” Stone says. He closes the folder and slides it back to Joe.
“So we cover the El Monte jail, right?”
“Sure,” says Stone.
“We’re always getting calls from there. Dudes are always trying to get out, so they’re always faking illness or trying to injure themselves or whatever.”
Stone is nodding, half smiling. “Right, right. Makes sense.”
“So we get this call to come get this guy because he’s cut his wrists. We get there, and he’s smiling, and he’s cut his wrists, but not like deep or anything, right? But the prison people don’t wanna mess with it, right? There’s protocol. Suicide cases gotta go to the hospital, get a psych eval, all that, right?”
Stone is still nodding. “Yeah, I got it.”
“So we put him in the bus, drive him over to the hospital. We’re walking him down the hallway, and we stop to talk to one of the nurses about where to take him. Now mind you, he’s in leg irons and handcuffs still. But we take our eyes off him for a minute to figure out where to take him because he has to be under guard. He can’t just go into any old triage room.”
“Uh huh,” says Stone.
“When we turn back, he’s got a shank in his hands. The front of his outfit is covered in blood. Like, especially his crotch. And he’s cut his throat, but not deep. Same as his wrists. So we make sure his throat is okay and won’t bleed out. Then we have to check out everywhere else. So we have to get his pants off to see what he did. And you’ll never believe it.”
The young man shakes his head and looks at the laminate wood table.
Joe lowers his voice. “His dick is gone. Nothing there but a bloody mess.”
“Ah geez,” says Stone. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Hey, I had to see it,” says Joe. “And that’s not even the worst part. So if you lose an appendage, we’re supposed to find it ASAP because they might be able to sew it back on. So we’re like, ‘Dude, Miguel, where’s your dick?'”
Stone is laughing and has his head down. “Joe, you’re killing me.”
“Nah, man, listen. This is the worst part.”
“Probably why I shouldn’t hear it,” Stone says.
“So at first, Miguel just smiles at us and shakes his head. And we’re like, ‘Come on, Miguel. If we’re gonna save your dick, we gotta know where it is.’ So you know what he does?”
“He opens his mouth wide.”
There’s a heavy silence. Then Stone says, “Why?”
“Dude,” says Joe, “he swallowed it.”
Stone pushes back from the table. “Come on, man!”
“Dead serious,” says Joe. “They had to sedate him and pump his stomach to get his dick back and reattach it.”
The young man is laughing awkwardly and can’t look up. “So were they able to?”
“What’s that?” says Joe.
“Reattach it?” says the young man. “Were they able to reattach it?”
Joe shrugs. “Not sure. They were pumping his stomach, and we got called right then for a CPR in progress. And of course, that should not have been ‘in progress.’ It was an eighty-year-old dude who had been dead so long that the blood had already drained to his back. But his son had found him and now was doing CPR.”
Joe takes a deep breath. “Hey, I’m sorry, guys. I gotta hit the showers. Wake myself up for the day. Or the night, I mean. Another big night in Rosemead ahead, you know?”
“Yeah, man,” says Stone. “Sorry if we woke you.”
“It’s all good,” says Joe. “Sometimes, it’s just good to have someone to talk to.”
“We gotta get you a girlfriend, man,” says Stone, as he stands.
When they’re back in the car, the young man says, “How did y’all find him again?”
“Media referral,” says Stone. “Book of Mormon. Pretty much a golden contact. Dated a member girl in high school. Guy’s a stud.”
The young man nods. “He’s living a nightly horror show.”
“Yeah, right?” says Stone. “Normal members can’t really be around for him because they all have day jobs. So I try to catch him at offbeat times. Dude is awesome, but he needs some normal stuff once in a while.”
The young man turns toward their apartment. “Hope he advances in the priesthood. Would be nice to see his schedule lighten up, too.”
“Yeah. Gotta keep praying for him.” Stone smacks his own thighs. “And Irma, man. That was an awesome story.”
The young man nods. “Yeah. Now we gotta see if she’s willing to move Mingo out.”
“She’s gonna do it,” Stone says. “I feel good about it.”