My X-rated Misadventures as an LDS Missionary in Thailand
Now that I’m drawing early Social Security I can look back on my spotty employment record with tolerant bemusement. Losing your job in the prime of life, which I did more than once, seems like a crushing catastrophe at the time. But time has a way of softening the tension and stress, and, eventually, the resentment.
Take, for instance, the last job I had before cashing in my meager chips with Uncle Sam. I had applied for a job as an English teacher at Nomen Global Language School here in Provo. The owner, one Clarke Woodger, decided instead to hire me as his first ever Social Media Manager. Very well, I figured I could do that job — since I had been the Publicity Director for Culpepper & Merriweather Circus for two years. Same idea, just new media.
One of my first brainstorms was to photograph a few of the more toothsome female students, casually posed in the student lounge over their textbooks. We used to call this ‘cheesecake’ in the Bad Old Days. Once I started posting these photographs on the school’s Facebook page our clicks took a noticeable jump. I used captions such as “This Brazilian bombshell is trying to figure out the difference between feint and faint.”
Unfortunately, Clarke Woodger had kittens when he read that caption, and furiously demanded I remove it at once. I did — but that didn’t stop me from posting other lovely students in carefully posed reclining positions, ostensibly studying, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Which eventually led to me being canned from my job, although the official reason was that the school was ‘retrenching.’
This is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve always appreciated the publicity value of the female form — even back in the sanctified days when I was a young LDS missionary in Thailand. That philosophy got me into hot water back then, as well. Here’s what happened:
As I have written previously, I spent a large part of my mission performing as a clown doing benefit shows for the Thai Red Cross. My mission president, Paul Morris, thought this would help boost the name recognition of the Church in Thailand, and help dispel rumors that we were CIA operatives (this was at the height of the Vietnam War.)
So I scheduled myself into schools, hospitals, libraries, even prisons, under the auspices of the Thai Red Cross. Soon I was in demand for all sorts of charity shindigs and I didn’t have to go looking for performing gigs — people came to me to ask for a show. It was a good feeling — actually, a head trip for me. But my comeuppance was soon at hand.
One steamy day, after the monsoon rains had once again turned the streets of Bangkok into open sewage lines for the afternoon, I was sitting by the phone, hoping for a call to do a show so I wouldn’t have to go out tracting in that smelly muck but could take a taxi to some nice auditorium instead. The phone did ring — and I was asked to appear at a Thai Red Cross benefit that night. Hallelujah! I wrote down the address and began packing my clown props.
When I told the taxi cab driver where to take me — a nightclub on Soi Cowboy — he gave me a second glance.
“You’re a teacher of religion, aren’t you?” he asked me point-blank.
“Yes, of course” I replied as I slid into the back seat.
“And you want me to take you to Soi Cowboy?”
“Yes. And please hurry; I have an important appointment there!”
He shook his head in silent disgust and put his buggy in gear, merging with the sluggish stream of traffic.
What he knew back then, and I didn’t, was that Soi Cowboy was, and still is, the biggest red light district in Bangkok. He let me out in front of the nightclub before the evening shadows began to fall — that is to say, before the shady ladies were out in force; so I still had no idea what I was getting into.
Once inside the club I put on my makeup and costume and waited in the wings for my cue. I should mention that when I perform I never wear my glasses — so the world is just one big happy blur to me.
After my spot on the program, which featured a string of throbbing romantic singers and some go-go girl routines, I came offstage to the flash of cameras as the Bangkok newspapers got my white face profile for the morning papers. I was asked to pose with two showgirls — I couldn’t see them very well in the dimness of backstage and without my glasses. But I figured this would make a nice photo to promote the Church. I made sure the photographer knew that I was a missionary for the LDS Church.
Early the next morning the phone rang. It was President Morris. He wanted to see me down at the mission office. NOW.
My companion and I got down there, filled with curiosity about this urgent summons. Was I being awarded a medal, perhaps? Or to be made Assistant to the President (a very coveted position among LDS missionaries.)
Instead, I was closeted with President Morris for twenty-five of the most uncomfortable minutes of my young and innocent life, while he raked me over the coals for allowing myself to be photographed with two barely-clad and leering harlots — which photograph had made the front pages of Thai Rat News, with a caption that read: “Mormon missionary cavorts with sexy night life girls.”
I was summarily ordered to pack my clown things away and go back to my duties as a plain, ordinary proselyting missionary. No more funny business, Elder Torkildson! I would be transferred up to Khon Kaen in Northeast Thailand (tantamount to Siberia) for the duration of my mission.
I slunk out of his office, feeling no resentment but only a huge regret that I had brought such infamy upon my church. A few days later I took the bus up to Khon Kaen, where we had all of 3 active church members, and resumed my duties as a humble missionary with my companion.
Happily, when a new mission president took over a few months later I was pardoned and brought back to Bangkok, where I finished my mission back in harness as a buffoon for the Thai public.
I doubt anyone still remembers that photograph — it never had the repercussions it might have had. And today, 42 years later, my only regret is that I never saved a copy of it. I’d give just about anything to have one to put up in my living room next to my photo of the Salt Lake Temple.
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