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September 07, 2015
Life on Planet Kathy
Six Degrees of Mormon Bacon
by Kathryn H. Kidd

Back a decade or two ago there was a game that was popular in Hollywood circles — The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The premise was that Kevin Bacon had worked with so many other actors that there were no fewer than six degrees of separation between him and anyone else in Hollywood.*

For example, how do you connect Kevin Bacon with Elvis Presley? Well, Kevin Bacon worked with Edward Asner in JFK, and then Edward Asner worked with Elvis Presley in Change of Habit. The person who can make the connection with the fewest number of links wins the game.

The game swept through Hollywood because Hollywood is such a small community that people realized the phenomenon applied to just about anybody. There were no more than six degrees of separation between any two people, if you compared their common friends and stopped to work out the details. It was fun to figure out how you were tied to so-and-so. You just had to figure out how to connect the dots.

With 15 million Mormons, you would not think we are a small community. But we can play “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” with the best of them. In fact, we’re so good at it that when we get going you’d be tempted to get out the waffle maker and whip up some breakfast.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

The first of them happened back in 1974, the year of the Spokane World’s Fair, which was called Expo ‘74. This is such ancient history that I had not even met Fluffy yet. (Meeting Fluffy would not happen until Halloween of that year, and Expo ’74 was a summer event.)

I am somewhat of a World’s Fair freak, having been to the ones in New York, San Antonio, Spokane, Knoxville, New Orleans, and Vancouver. Some people like Disney; I like World’s Fairs. World’s Fairs do not have those annoying theme park characters in them. Whenever I see one of those, I just want to punch them in the mouth. I have anger management issues with theme park characters, I think.

On this occasion, my sister Susie flew up to Utah and we drove to Spokane to the fair. Being 24 and oh, so stupid, I did not bother to get housing reservations for Spokane before we set off on our journey. I did look at the map and thought the town name of “Fish Trap” sounded cute. I decided we would stay there, but I did not bother to get any motel names or try to secure any reservations.

Little did I know that “Fish Trap” was not a town at all but a farm exit that did not have so much as a gas station for weary travelers. I learned this from the state trooper who pulled me over to give me a ticket at the other, not so cute imaginary town of “Speed Trap, Washington.” “Speed Trap, Washington” was apparently a big moneymaker during the fair and I was a visitor there.

On the whole, I would have preferred Fish Trap.

The state trooper told us that if we did not already have reservations we were in big trouble, but I was not worried. We were on our way to the Fair! So off we went, and we did have a grand old time.

Of course, this was Washington, and even back in those days Washington was a tree-hugging, granola-eating state. This was the first environmentally-themed World’s Fair, and it made us feel guilty for using toilet paper (or any paper, for that matter) or driving gas-powered cars. If you could come up with a one-word theme for that Fair, “guilt” would pretty much be the theme. Washington was that way even back in 1974.

It was rainy and cold on that first summer day we visited the Fair. We didn’t care. I should have cared. I was already on my way to double pneumonia, which is something I can cook up for myself the way the rest of you can cook up a batch of microwave popcorn. But I didn’t think twice about it. Susie and I were having a grand old time.

When it started getting dark, we started thinking about lodging. We packed ourselves into my Chevy Nova, turned on the windshield wipers, and headed north through town.

The state trooper was right. There wasn’t a motel room to be had, anywhere. I stopped at all of them, even though there were “No Vacancy” signs posted at each and every one. We kept driving and driving until eventually we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Scratch that. Eventually we weren’t in Washington anymore. We had crossed over into Idaho. Surely there was a motel room in Coeur d’Alene, which was 33.8 miles away.

Well, no there wasn’t. There was a dental convention in Coeur d’Alene, and not a room to be had in the whole town. It was cold, it was raining, and it was close to midnight. We were doomed.

At that point I got a bright idea, or what passes for a bright idea in a really dumb person. I drove us to the police station and asked that we be arrested for vagrancy. The police officer wasn’t having any part of it, however. There was no way he was going to let us sleep overnight in his warm jail when I had a cold, wet car right outside in the parking lot.

I was completely out of options. I didn’t know what to do. Then, the inspiration struck. I would call the local Mormon bishop. I found a pay phone and squinted in the darkness to make out a number. The telephone was answered on the first or second ring. (It is experiences such as this that made me realize no sane man would ever aspire to the office of Mormon bishop.)

Sure enough, the bishop’s wife was glad to make a pallet for Susie and me on the floor of their living room. By the time we got there, the blankets were ready for us. We spent a warm, dry, and safe night. It didn’t stop me from catching pneumonia, but we were able to enjoy the rest of the Fair.

Several months later, when I returned home and met Fluffy in Salt Lake City, I learned that he was the home teacher to the daughter of that Mormon bishop, way off in distant Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. What would be the odds of a thing like that?

The other incident happened to Fluffy, when he was a tyke in what was then the little town of Ogden, Utah. Halloween was approaching, and he and a friend decided to build a spook alley in the friend’s family garage. That was a popular thing to do, and you could charge other kids in the neighborhood a nickel or a dime for the opportunity of being scared by a ketchup-stained dummy.

All went well, until the evening approached and it started to get dark. Then the friend, who was trying to hook up one of the displays in the spook alley, needed a little extra light, and decided to run into the house for a flashlight. When he returned, he told Fluffy he couldn’t find a flashlight and was going to use a candle instead.

Fluffy didn’t think this was a great idea. This particular display featured an open container of gasoline that would burst into flames when it was heated by the wires from an electrical battery. The flame feature had been tested successfully multiple times, but it was getting difficult to fill the gasoline pan in the fading light.

Fluffy didn’t think it was a good idea to be pouring gas by candlelight. He even told his friend it was probably not a good idea.

The friend told Fluffy he would be careful. He said he would hold the candle way … out … here, far away from the dish of gasoline, and from the glass bottle of gasoline he was pouring into the dish.

You can guess what happened after that. It began with a big, “WHOOOSH!” and it ended with a burned-down garage. Fluffy’s friend spent several days in the hospital, with serious burns on his legs. Fluffy was told never to associate with his former friend again, which he considered pretty unfair considering the candle was not his idea, and that he had even advised his friend to come up with a better plan.

Several decades later, and all the way across the continent, Fluffy was sitting in one of the rooms of the Washington D.C. Temple where temple workers gather. He sat there listening to one of the men tell a story about his crazy brother-in-law that got more and more familiar as the story progressed.

Sure enough, the crazy brother-in-law had been the “WHOOOSH” friend of Fluffy’s childhood — the ex-friend that lived two thousand miles away and that Fluffy had not heard a word about in more than thirty years. It just served to show us once again that no matter how far a Mormon goes, we can’t escape who we are.

Of course, these days you don’t have to be a Mormon to play the “Six Degrees” game. The Facebook phenomenon has shown us all that the world is much smaller than we ever knew.

Fluffy gets a real kick out of going into his friends’ “Friend” pages and seeing who knows whom. Sometimes he’ll find that two people he knows who live thousands of miles away from each other are somehow connected to one another. It always blows him away to see that these “strangers” are friends with one another, and also with him.

How did they ever meet each other, anyway? How did their lives touch? Sometimes his curiosity gets the better of him and he will ask one of them. “Oh, he is the former missionary companion of a guy who dated my sister’s roommate when she was in college.” Kevin Bacon would be so proud.

The world used to be a big place. People’s whole lives used to be circumscribed by the distance they could drive in a horse and buggy. In fact, there are communities today within driving distance of my own home where people are still confined to horse-and-buggy-distance from home, without benefit of television or internet or modern transportation. Communities that are outside that horse-and-buggy circumference are dead to them.

This makes it convenient when you are doing genealogy, because you will find generation of ancestors who lived within spitting distance of each other.

But for those of us who have modern conveniences, the world is tiny. Just a casual glance through my own Facebook Friends page shows people in Singapore and Abu Dhabi and Tokyo and Australia and the United Arab Emirates and Quito. I’m sure there are others. I’m too old to keep up with where people are living these days. I wish I could visit all of them. I want to see everywhere.

Despite the vastness of the world, we need to remember that we are all God’s children. He knows us all by name and loves each one of us as if we were His only child. We need to show the same concern for one another as He shows for us. For all we know, that random stranger next to us in line might be our future boss, or bishop, or daughter-in-law. The older we get, the smaller the world seems to be.

*Kevin Bacon is not your typical Hollywood jerk. He capitalized on the phenomenon of the game by creating a charitable foundation, SixDegrees.org, which connects celebrities with other charitable endeavors and helps raise money for worthwhile causes.


Copyright © 2021 by Kathryn H. Kidd Printed from NauvooTimes.com