July 02, 2004

Just a Typical Day in the MTC ...

There comes a time in every missionary’s MTC experience when he or she would prefer to be struck by lightning than spend another day cooped up in the “Missionary Gulag” (Or was it just me?). You get to spend 8 whole weeks doing “SYL”, going to class for 27 hours a day, and eating the same soggy brussel sprouts over and over again. Oh, to finally get out into the real mission field! But in the meantime, you’re stuck “on campus” and you’ve got to find some way to keep yourself entertained.

I entered the MTC in late 1991, and I was assigned to a triple companionship with Elder “D” and Elder “K”. We were truly a threesome made in Heaven (or Hell). If you’ve ever doubted the inspiration behind mission companionship selection, you need only to have met the three of us to know there is a God. We just couldn’t have been a coincidence! We got along so fabulously, possessed nearly identical senses of sarcasm and cynicism (both in short supply in the MTC), and we had very complementary senses of humor. Things couldn’t help but get interesting.

My companions and I were adept at creating new and inventive diversions to pass the time. But by week 6, we had become desperate for some new sources of entertainment. The rest of our district couldn’t take much more of us, given my propensity to drone on and on about this or that controversy, Elder D’s self-inflicted mohawk (which strangely, he was never ordered to remove), and yet another dance routine set to Mormon hymns (think “We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet” meets “Vogue”) choreographed and performed by Elder K. As usual, Elder K came up with a plan to save us all from our interminable boredom…

Some of you returned missionaries might recall (but probably not) that the pharmaceutical section of the MTC Bookstore contained a small shelf stocked with Fleet-brand “enema kits.” You will also recall that all the cashiers at the Bookstore were young, innocent-looking BYU co-eds. Elder K’s idea of fun was to pick the most uptight-looking of the bunch, and then attempt to purchase an enema kit from her. But of course, he couldn’t just buy it as one of several miscellaneous items; he had to make it his sole purchase, so that it would be sure to figure prominently in the transaction. The purchase, accompanied by some casual banter that specifically referenced the enema, was always enough to create some serious awkwardness for the cashier -- and some interminable giggling from the group of elders around the corner. (Yes, we were horribly immature, but what do you expect? We were 19.)

After a couple of sales, this got old, so Elder K proceeded to buy 4 or 5 kits at a time, thereby raising some truly troubling questions (for the cashier) and creating an even more disturbing scene. (They only cost 99 cents each, by the way). Soon thereafter, Elder K graduated to more direct conversations with the cashiers concerning his purchases (“Excuse me, Ma’am, but if these don’t work, can I come back for a refund?” Or … “Can you please explain to me how these work. There are pictorial instructions here on the box, but I’m not sure I understand what these drawings mean…”) Meanwhile, the cackling of elders around the corner proceeded unabated.

This was all just so much fun, of course, but at the end of the week, we grew tired of the antics, and we now owned an impressive collection of 17 enema kits, each of which lay prominently but uselessly on the window sill in our room. What was a group of elders to do with 17 enema kits? (I thought you’d never ask…)

Yours truly came up with the idea. I took a piece of paper and a pen, and proceeded to write:

"Dear Elder _____:

Due to the primitive conditions that you may experience in your mission, it may become necessary from time to time to administer an enema to yourself in the event of severe constipation or other intestinal complications. A small percentage of elders have been known to experience mild allergic reactions to the enema solution, and for this reason, it is important that you self-administer the enclosed enema in order to determine your own reaction to the fluid. Please make note of any uncomfortable reaction to the enema solution that you experience, and promptly report your findings to the MTC medical staff.


Dr. Johnson"
(my forged signature featured prominently here)

We then shrunk and made copies of my letter at the copy center, so as to make it resemble an “official” mass flyer. (The copy center employee realized what we were up to, but he thought it was funny, so he let it pass). We then taped one flyer to each enema kit, and the next morning, we headed to the MTC Bookstore.

As everyone knows, every Wednesday, a new crop of elders arrives at the MTC, and after their initial orientation and good-byes to family, they line up to pick up their “bluebags” filled with MTC materials along the far wall of the Bookstore. And let me assure you: Sneaking 17 enema kits with attached doctor’s notes into the “bluebags” is no easy feat! But we managed to do it. It took a couple hours, and required that our bag-stuffing attempts coincide perfectly with all the cashiers simultaneously looking the other way, but we stuck to our guns, and ultimately succeeded!

Alas, we were never able to follow up with most of the 17 elders to see whether they’d fallen for the gag. In one case, we did follow up (since Elder K and I knew the elder from BYU), but he was a pretty bright guy and he didn’t take the bait. Nevertheless, we look back on the experience fondly and take comfort in knowing that given the number of enemas placed, it is likely that at least a handful of elders chose to “be obedient,” only to realize later they’d been conned. Who knows – maybe some are still wondering why they, but not their fellow comps, were singled out by that enigmatic “Dr. Johnson.” If any of you dear readers out there remember being on the receiving end of this gag, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Aaron B

Posted by Aaron at July 2, 2004 05:04 AM

p.s. pleast don't try to track Aaron B down for either the police, a personal injury lawsuit or a church disciplinary court. his joke has long since past the statute of limitations. FYI.

Posted by: lyle at 09:44 AM

This reminds me of something I convinced my district to do when we were bored. I suggested we get brown bag lunches every day. If I remember right, you could choose up to five items for your brown bag lunch (a sandwich, drink, chips, treat, etc). Well, I came up with the bright idea to go on a two-week long lunch fast. The six of us would go through the line only to choose Hostess products. We did this for nearly two weeks in order to collect enough Hostess products to fulfill my plan: Make a man out of Hostess! Heaven knows that you still get fat in the MTC even if you skip lunch! We wrote up design plans and spent a good part of P-day molding our creation. When we were done, we had a four and a half foot tall man we decided to name Elder Hostess. We were so attached to Elder Hostess through the coming weeks and never thought of eating him. Instead, a few weeks later right before we left the MTC, we wrote up a treasure map for the next district, which included clues as to how to find each of his hidden limbs and reconstruct/resurrect him for further companionship. Ah, the good ol' MTC days...

Posted by: Bob Caswell at 10:26 AM

Lyle, take a deep breath and then tell us something crazy you did on your mission!

P.S. How well do you know the statute of limitations? I've always wondered how that works.

Posted by: Bob Caswell at 11:11 AM

Bob: Statutes of limitation are either set by statute or the common law; depending on the crime/wrong-doing.

However, I was really just venting & using humor to defuse anyone else more offended than I. However: It was one part upset that someone would harm another like that; one part realizing it was just a joke & not to get so worked up; and one part wondering why we use each other as objects of amusement...i.e. not very Kantian.
Crazy? Um...I was so frustrated & filled with my lack of faith in dealing with the language & trying to get an "explicit" & "express" testimony of different parts of the Gospel that I hit the bathroom wall, full-on. That was crazy...and I didn't hurt anyone other than myself. ;)
Elder Hostess. Very original. Very funny. Way to build your districts capacity to work together as a zion-team! ;)

Posted by: lyle at 12:24 PM

My MTC district had one guy in particular who was a real jokester. It didn't take much talking to get him to make me his partner in crime.

We took the little plastic rod you used to pull the curtains open and found some orange tape to wrap around one end. It made a very convincing blind-man's cane every Wednesday when the newbies came in.

Because the Japanese word for "corn" (tomorokoshi) was so fun to say, corn became our battle cry. Every dinnertime we'd smuggle a bowl of canned corn out of the cafeteria and add it to a ziplog bag we had. Then, we took great delight in hiding it in someone's closet and waiting for them to find it. By week eight, you checked every morning to make sure the bag of ethanol-in-process wasn't in your closet waiting to rupture! There were many other jokes; too many to list here.

Perhaps our finest moment was with the Sister Missionaries that were going to Japan. They were a fun-loving bunch and often lamented that we never played any tricks on them. We, of course, would only be happy to oblige.

Those Sisters would gather under the window outside our building (they couldn't come in for obvious reasons) every Saturday night (we had Saturday P-Day) just before lights out and hymn-carol to us in Japanese. We were on the top floor.

One Saturday, we took one of those 55-gallon plastic trash cans on wheels that are everywhere at the MTC, cleaned it really well, then filled it with warm water from the showers. We rolled it up right against the window and waited.

Sure enough, the sisters came a-caroling. We let them get to their third song and then poured. Since reading Japanese took real concentration at that point, none of them saw it coming until Bullseye!

I worried afterwards that maybe we'd gone too far. The next morning all the Sisters showed up for Sacrament Meeting carrying umbrellas ;-). Later, I was told by one sister that it was probably the best practical joke she'd ever been a part of; she loved it!

God bless them all.

Posted by: Chad Too at 05:39 PM

Ah, my memory of the MTC is slowly coming back.

First, in an effort to practice our street contacting skills, my district (named Opladen, heading to Duesseldorf, Germany) would spend a bit of time outside the mail room getting to know the people (well, girls mostly) dropping off packages for their missionaries. We let them know our mailbox number and the dearth of care packages we were receiving. When we couldn't be there in person, we put our message on a poster outside. Needless to say we got quite a few goodies, including pictures. One mom gave us a grocery sack of food every week and some of the girls continued sending care packages once we got to Germany (thank you Alissa from Star Valley, Wyoming). This was in late 1990, and I like to think we had something to do with the eventual (and supposed) abandonment of hand-delivered packages to the MTC. Did that really happen? Is it still in force?

Another experiment had to do with cafeteria food. If you take a little bit of leftovers from your meals during the 9 weeks you're in the MTC, put them in a big ziploc bag, leave it under the heater in your room, what do you get? I don't know exactly, but the missionaries who came after us certainly found out.

Posted by: Matt Jacobsen at 05:53 PM

Our district consisted of 8 elders, 4 in each of 2 neighboring rooms. One of the elders had a small alarm clock with a wicked loud ring. Somebody (I can't remember who started it) hid the alarm clock in the neighboring room, set to go off at 2:30 a.m. All four elders had to get out of bed, turn on the lights and follow their ears to track the sucker down. But now, of course, the super-weapon was in the possession of the other camp. We went back and forth over several nights. The other room finally got the best of us, though, when they unscrewed one of the vents, put the alarm clock in the duct, and screwed the vent back on. Tight. It took us nearly twenty minutes of ear-splitting fumbling to get the thing out of there. I understand that other folks had a hard time staying awake during those LGMs, but we had a good excuse.

Posted by: Dan Richards at 09:45 PM

Well, I got a good laugh out of that.

Sorry, I don't have much to contribute myself. The craziest thing I did in the MTC was probably having a huge crush on the very hot sister in our district who was going to Chile. But even that wasn't all that crazy; I'm pretty sure that all of the Elders in the district had a thing for her. I guess I'm just boring. . .

Posted by: Kaimi at 05:34 PM

Ah, MTC memories,

I had some good ones myself, like the times we got pizza delivered to us on the way home from the temple, district sleepovers, convincing our teachers to sneek us in goodies from "the world," and cruisin' around the mtc parking lot in another teachers boyfriends z3. The sad thing was that my companions and I were the MTC AP's. Even so we still had no real feeling that there was anything terribly wrong with any of this. We were pretty sure that most elders had the same experience.

One of most daring adventures stemmed from the loss of two of the three sisters in our district(one was sent out early, the other left to get married). Our remaining sister became, well, like a sister to us. We were always looking out for her. Suddenly she became very sick and wasn't able to come to class for a few days, but she did manage to send a message that let us know she was bored and she missed us. This was all the motivation we needed, we wern't going to let our sister suffer. So that morning we put together a missionary effort to rival the relief societies. Care packages were made (with whatever boredom curing items could find lying around, and enough candy to cure even the sickest sister), a detailed map of the sisters building was created from the accounts given to us other sisters dedicated to our cause, assignments were given, sentries were placed at stretegic locations all over the building, and we managed to sneek our entire district up to see her (no easy task as she was on the top floor). the escape plan was nearly foiled by a careless lookout, in the end we had to run for the exit and scramble (two by two) into the normal MTC traffic. But our sister did appreciate the gesture and we bonded as a district (as we did with all of our shenanegans). That one have been over the top, but on the other hand more leaders in the mission field were takien from our district than any other district. It may be just a coincidence but I like to think these MTC experiences had something to do with it. I think they taught us to be creative and enjoy the mission.

Posted by: Nikk at 10:04 PM

That is some important information! I shall remember this for when I go on my mission in a year or so, should I receive a bluebag with some difficult-to-believe instructions enclosed...

Posted by: Angela at 11:41 PM

Speaking of the blue bags...

What was up with the 20 tons of useless vitamins they made everyone pack around for two years? I promptly exchanged mine (which most missionaries didn't know you could do) for the best Sony Walkman they had available.

My MTC experience was fairly uneventful, aside from the snowball fights and Cap'n Crunch. I was just glad to get out of there.

My brother, however, has an entire scrapbook full of pictures of his escapades in the service tunnels of the MTC. Did any of you make it down there?

Posted by: Kent at 01:08 PM

Well, I guess this is the right place to relate my "interesting" MTC experience. (By the way, I was one of those Elders with the wicked loud alarm clock. It "broke" (and my district sure looked innocent) on the day we happened to have permission to go shopping at the mall, where I immediately picked up an identical one, to the groans of my district.)

So, as for my "interesting" experience:

Our district decided to get those goofy polka-dot shower caps they sold at the MTC bookstore; we'd wear them in the shower and joke around. Unfortunately, some other missionaries in our dorm got riled up over a basketball game and started spreading a false rumor that we were running up and down the halls in the nude, banging on doors and causing a disturbance. They got some other missionaries to join them in accusing us.

We got called into the MTC president's office. He first called in our district leader, then each of us, one by one. I was the last one called in, and he told me of these reports. Of course, I denied any involvement. He then asked me to call in the rest of the district. We went in and the MTC president lit into us. He told us that we were lying, that this was the first time that a district accused of bad behavior had all denied any wrongdoing, that our district leader had a bad attitude, that the MTC wasn't a fraternity, that we wouldn't be good missionaries, that he was watching his business go down the drain for the Nth time because of his Church service, that this experience was nothing to write about in his memoirs...

Talk about a bunch of shell-shocked Elders! We couldn't believe that this man, called to preside over us, couldn't call upon the Spirit to tell him that we were telling the truth. When we reported our experience to our teachers, they about had a fit. They were ready to storm the MTC president's office.

When we told our branch presidency, one of the counselors just laughed and told us of Brigham Young's experience being falsely accused by Joseph, and how he just asked, "What would you have me do?" We discussed our options (try to go over the MTC president's head, complain to our parents, try to set up another interview with the MTC president, apologize for something we didn't do, etc.) and eventually decided just to swallow our pride and let the matter drop.

Later, when I served in the mission office, I was grateful for this experience, because it allowed me to interact better with our flawed human mission president without falling to pieces when I discovered that he wasn't perfect.

Reading about the shenanigans you all describe above, I'm amazed none of you had a similar interview...

Posted by: Grasshopper at 01:01 PM

Actually, Grasshopper, your story sort of reminds me of something vaguely similar that happened to my district. Being that I'm a guest-blogger, I think I'll share it later on its own thread...

Aaron B

Posted by: Aaron Brown at 05:36 PM

Very funny, all of these stories. I did some time as an employee at the MTC cafeteria, and would have much preferred having a practical joke played on me instead of the marriage proposals and paper-napkin flowers I got instead.

Posted by: the frozen chosen at 03:54 AM

hm...now that the 15 have 'raised the bar' for missionary service, will we:

1. see even more outlandish pranks/stories? or
2. get more elders who decide to focus on being missionaries instead of pranksters?

Posted by: lyle at 01:46 PM

There was an Elder Sill in my district who was a really fun guy. He was much more stylish in the way he dressed than I was and knew all these odd rules I had never heard of -- for example, that your socks should match your tie. For some reason on P-days he thought it was ok to douse himself with his extra-sexy Drakkar cologne.

As a person who had never bothered to be in-style or wear cologne, I made fun of this but he stood his ground and swore to me that Drakkar cologne was absolute magic with the women and expressed was surprised he was that I hadn't figured that out for myself.

Well, on one of those P-days I went into his room and actually caught him in the act of splashing both hands liberally with Drakkar and then wiping both hands and fingers through his hair. I think he also managed to get some of it on his face as well. He said "Elder B., this stuff is amazing and I'm going to prove it to you. Follow me and see what happens."

We left our rooms and went to breakfast. It was hilarious to see the reactions of sister missionaries as we passed them in the hallways and stood next to them in line for breakfast. They'd catch one whiff and get this funny look in their eyes and these huge grins on their faces.

Well, we sat down for breakfast and some sisters in a district that adjoined ours sat down (as was their custom) to eat breakfast with us. The one sitting across from Elder Sill was nonchalant but then very suddenly got this alarmed look in her eyes. "WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?!?!" she said accusingly to Elder Sill. She then stood up in dramatic fashion, picked up her tray and went over to the corner of the cafeteria. She ate her breakfast standing there in the corner too.

Her companion explained that this sister had left behind a boyfriend that wore the same cologne.

I never made fun of Elder Sill's wearing of Drakkar again ... though I never did get around to purchasing any of the stuff.

BTW, the mention of Drakkar probably shows you just how LONG ago I was serving my mission.

Posted by: danithew at 01:50 PM

Yes, Drakkar does have that effect on women. . .

Posted by: Julie in Austin at 02:51 PM

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it. I felt like we were filming a Drakkar commercial from the visible and dramatic female reactions we were observing.

Posted by: danithew at 03:06 PM

One day our MTC teacher had us play the lying game, where one elder goes out of the room and then comes back in to find out who the designated liar is by asking true and false questions.

When it was my turn to go out, I came back in and saw that Elder Kenner, who I had grown up with in my home stake, looked funny, so I asked him if he was the liar. He said he wasn't, but I knew he was lying, so I asked another elder if Elder Kenner was the liar. I nailed it in the minimum two questions.

My MTC teacher (actually a substitute) called me out into the hall immediately and accused me of cheating...she asked me how I knew Elder Kenner was lying. I truthfully told her that the Spirit had told me Elder Kenner was lying but she didn't believe me and totally accused me of cheating and lying to cover it up. She said the Spirit didn't bother telling people such trivial things, like whether an elder was lying.

Obviously she just wasn't in tune ;)

Posted by: Rob at 03:45 PM

Oh Lile, lighten up! It's not as if playing pranks and being devoted missionaries are mutually exclusive. Anyone who isn't itching to break from the routine in the MTC after 6-8 weeks needs to have their head examined.

I could tell plenty of less-wacky stories about daily life in the mission field. I could even tell spiritual ones. But how interesting would that be, really?

Aaron B

Posted by: Aaron Brown at 05:17 PM

I had the "pleasure" of serving with some very disciplined and obedient missionaries, don't get me wrong I thought they were great but they were a little over the top on rule keeping. Luckily there was one other Elder who I instantly bonded with. Our favorite prank was to walk non-chalantly into the mens restroom and wad up wet paper towels into a dripping wet softball size water bomb. We would then toss 3 or 4 of these "balls" into the restroom stall where someone was seated and run out laughing hysterically. Our DL put an end to our little hijinks when he went to branch president with our wrongdoings.

Posted by: mouh yahn at 07:19 PM

At least Aaron B's pranks have the virtue of being clever and funny, while others, of the T.P. variety, are less so.

Posted by: Kingsley at 09:41 PM
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