“It Takes a Man to Make That”

I once volunteered to perform a violin/piano duet for the Mission Training Center (MTC) for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sao Paulo Brazil. I was 24 years old at the time. It was a huge devotional with the presiding bishop of the church visiting from Salt Lake City Utah. He was to be the keynote speaker.

The purpose of the musical number was to bring the spirit of reverence and introspection into the room and into the hearts of all in attendance regardless of their primary language.

I had played the cello, stand up bass, and electric bass guitar in middle and high school in orchestra and Jazz band. But I had never really learned to read music well and had never played the violin. I figured that it would be pretty much the same as the bass but smaller, and that I could just memorize the piece beforehand as I had done throughout high school. I was wrong.

Problems started during our 1 week of practice as we found spare time between our classes on teaching the gospel (proselyting) and learning the portuguese language. My companion (each missionary had a companion with them at almost all times as we worked as missionaries in pairs), Elder Blanchard (“elder” being a title such as doctor or professor followed by the missionary’s last name) played a little bit of piano but was not known for his skills on the keys. I had trouble choosing the right key, and we made adaptations to make the piece easier for us to try and play together.

I don’t know why we thought we could do it. It wasn’t a joke or prank. Maybe we were learning so much about faith and miracles that we just figured it would work out. The day came and we started to play. Because of all the attempts to make it easier I think we were playing in slightly different keys. Some of our sounds seemed to match up but others did not. As a room full of hundreds of American and Brazilian missionaries, including the MTC president, medical staff, the presiding bishop and their wives sat silently and stupefied we played “Come follow me” occasionally in different keys and with all the screechy terrible sounds of novice playing a small string instrument in a auditorium.

Our rendition resembled a hundred-car pileup on the highway. The destruction seemed to be unending and no one had the power to stop it. I could see the bewildered faces of the presiding bishop, those around him, and the horrified face of the MTC president’s wife (who was in charge of organizing the musical talent). Most of those present couldn’t look up at all. What was worse was that it was close enough to the song that everyone knew what we were trying to play, and must have assumed that we were so nervous that we were tripping all over ourselves. No one had known that I didn’t know how to play the violin in the first place. Likely, because why would anyone ever volunteer to do something like this who didn’t know how to do so, and never had performed on the violin? The MTC president’s wife never even heard us practice, likely for the same reason: why would someone volunteer for something they absolutely could not do?

That’s the question you know? That’s the mystery we are left with.

That “performance” was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. The situation actually sounds like it could be a common trope for nightmares. As the veins pulsed in my forehead and my body shook I worried that an aneurysm or panic attack was imminent.

We finished the “song”, went and sat down, and time passed as blur until the devotional ended and I was approached by a Brazilian missionary. He casually beelined over to me, looked me in the eye and said in beginners english:

“It takes a man to make that.”


By the way, there were plenty of other missionaries that could have played any number of instruments for that devotional. Since musicians were not scarce it was even more bewildering as to why I had volunteered in the first place. Since that experience, a new rule was instituted that all musical performances had to be previewed and pre-approved prior to the performance at the Sao Paulo Mission Training Center.

Minimum Wage Bakery

A lesson in time management.

So this was when I was about 22. I had two full-time jobs. I was a window washer in Fond Du Lac Wisconsin and I was working at a sandwich shop in Oshkosh Wisconsin. While working both of those full-time jobs I decided to get another job at a bakery… I guess it was just a real good time to get jobs. I liked baking and had some experience baking scones. 

I quickly realized there was a lot less baking involved than I had imagined. Basically my job was to put little dough slugs onto a pans and move the pans. Those slugs were going to be baked into hot dog buns. I spent my day standing up, leaning forward, lifting metal trays of dough slugs, and twisting with them. 

My dad is a physical therapist. He told me that the BEST way to get a back injury is to be standing, leaning forward, lifting something, and twisting with it. Which is exactly what I did for my whole shift.  My dad explained that that’s what UPS drivers do for most of their day and they are a large number of his physical therapy clients [at that time].

So I knew that I was doing exactly what I needed to do, to ruin my back. But that’s not a big deal, you know? I figured I’d move my way up in the bakery world? I mean working at a sandwich shop you’re not really going to go anywhere with that perhaps. And window washers, well they’ll all fall to their death eventually. (It wasn’t a high rise job but that’s where you’d move up to, I assume, in that career. So I figured a bakery was a good way to go. I was no stranger to hard work or back pain 🙂 And I think baking’s cool because it’s like the metallurgy of the cooking world.

I saw at least one cockroach in the sink supply room. This is Wisconsin btw. Cockroaches aren’t super common, because it’s cold sometimes yo. So you have to be pretty dirty to have cockroaches in Wisconsin. Which that bakery was. 

I worked there for a week and I got my first paycheck. Then I realized I had never asked what I was getting paid. I figured since it was such a labor intensive job (throughout the whole shift) that the pay must be pretty good, but it was pretty not. The pay was crap. I was getting minimum wage ($5.15ish at the time) which is a lot less than either of my other jobs. Definitely less than both combined. So as soon as I looked at that paycheck I politely quit, right then and there. That was the only time I never gave 2 weeks notice. Because holy crap how can you pay someone that little for that much work?

Okay, so about the other two full-time jobs. I pretty much got fired from the window washing job. I mean I came in to quit. And that’s when they were going to fire me. So it was kind of a tie. But I mean, obviously I had gotten really far behind on my window washing route. It was in a city 20-25 minutes away, I already had a full-time job at a sandwich shop, and a part-time job at a disgusting Bakery for crappy pay. But the sandwich shop that I worked at was going to throw away these two gallon jugs of Dawn dish soap because something happened, and they bought them in industrial size bottles before they got something installed in the wall that dispenses soap. And now they gotta get rid of the dish soap. Well, I happened to know that window washing place I worked for used Dawn dish soap for all the window washer stuff. 

OK, back to the tie. So I’m coming in and they’re all there. And they say 

Hey, we got to let you know that you’re really far behind on your stuff, and your route…

And they’re all looking at me. So I say, 

Hey, I… have a different full-time job and a part time job at a bakery right now. Turns out that’s too much stuff to do. I’m so sorry, do you guys need 2 weeks notice? 

And the boss said no, we were actually going to fire you right now… 

So I said great, okay, no hard feelings here’s 2 gallons of dish soap that you guys use; that’s kind of cool right? 

They were like oh thanks. 

So that went pretty well. 

I don’t know if it was before after that, but I became a manager at the sub sandwich place. So, Movin On Up in the world.