RETURNING HOME FROM PHILLY

First Draft Disclaimer: Most of this is a rough first draft. I haven’t paid much attention to crafting each sentence, spelling, grammar, etc – I’m just getting the ideas down, the polish will happen in a phase between this, and publication. Take it all with a grain of salt.


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As the the MD-80 banked on it’s approach to the Salt Lake City Airport, I saw Cache Valley beneath us. I could almost see my house. I was struck by how barren, brown, and broadly distributed everything was in Utah, a stark contrast from the densely compacted humanity and lush green of the East coast. I already missed Philadelphia. 

‘Can you just drop me off right here?’, I silently begged of the pilot. 

What would take an hour and a half to drive, we flew over in seconds as a mere detail of the landing approach. Perspective can be so weird. On some subconscious level, I just wanted to avoid what was waiting for me at the Salt Lake City airport:

Mireesa was my 7th grade crush. We crossed socio economic lines and dated in high school. After two years of dating in high school, we decided that our constant bickering was reason to end the relationship. 

18 months between high school graduation and my mission, I took a few classes at Utah State, worked, played in my rock band, and prepared for my mission.   

At this point in the story, I’m sitting in the landed MD-80. I have a window seat, so I let the people in my row exit without me needing to leave. I let everyone leave the airplane. My hands are visibly trembling with fear. Before we jump back into the story and de-board the plane, let me tell you about my first love in life:

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The First Love Of My Life

I was never that good at anything. I was terrible at sports and was always picked last for teams. I got mediocre grades. I felt incredibly second class…. And it’s worth noting that the version of Mormonism I was raised with was an exercise in feeling unworthy. Nothing is ever good enough for the Mormon God. You never really know where you stand with Mormonism’s Heavenly Father – though being imperfect as we are, one can safely assume you are constantly on the outs with him. 

In the sixth grade, I decided to enroll in band. It was decided that I would learn to play the trumpet.  For the first year, I was incredibly average at that, too.  The second year, however, brought an awakening. My tone and technique made big jumps forward. Soon, I was one of the top kids in the band. For the first time in my life, I felt GOOD at something. This pattern continued through highschool. I was always one of the top musicians in the state for my age, winning awards at various all-state competitions throughout my high school days, which lead to receiving a music scholarship to Utah State University.  

As much as I enjoyed playing Haydn and Bach trumpet concertos, as much as I enjoyed playing chamber music with my brass quintet, as much as I enjoyed playing in the jazz band – I rarely listened to any of that music in my discretionary time. 

I grew up on rock & heavy metal.  Those were the days when Metallica was actually dangerous. I loved the subversive, anti-authoritarian thrash metal sensibilities of the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. In an unexpected twist of events, I fell in love with RUSH as a teenager, too. 

Two of my friends, Jared and Ryan, decided to start a rock band. Ryan played guitar. Jared and played trombone, and I, trumpet. This was not our vision. Jared decided to take his air drumming skills to the world of actual sticks and skins, and I would learn to play the bass.  Soon we were making rudimentary songs in the style of these influences – Metallica, D.R.I., and another band I loved, a SoCal surf skate punk legend, Agent Orange.  We called our band “Undefined”.  We wrote songs, played at every opportunity, and recorded an EP that we called “Infinity”.  I reveled in every aspect of the band, from songwriting to designing liner notes for our self-release (which we would produce via dual cassette deck for our adoring friend-fans). 

Following high school, Jared and I continued our musical journey and founded another band with an awkward yet brilliant guitarist named Dan Watts, and a singer named Jack Keith.  

Jack was unlike any other friend I’d had so far: He had long hair, he wasn’t mormon, and he drank beer. (It’s also worth noting he had a phenomenal voice).  From the first time I met Jack, I felt like I’d met an old friend. If you’ve ever heard me do the Louie Bonaciacci character, that was created with Jack while going to a Salt Lake Bees baseball game in the summer of 1995.  To this day 25 years later, Jack and I are still great friends.  

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Jack, Mormons, Family, and the first fracture of my faith 

One other important point about Jack – 

Jack’s family broke one very important rule in my life, which would prove to be the first fracture in my faith: 

The Keith Family – John, Linda, Jack, and Ben: I’m not going put them on an unnecessary pedestal here – but that being said – the Keith home had a wonderful, loving vibe. They had a family culture that was full of legitimate, deep care, concern, and love for one another. They weren’t loving one other because someone behind a pulpit told them to – they just DID, and it was obvious.  

….and they drank beer. 

In my world, the only people who should have that spirit of light and love about them, are those who are obeying the Commandments of God.

That means, no beer! 

But wait… there’s more – 

Not only did they not go to church, they were all agnostic. Linda grew up Mormon on record, and as an adult had her name removed from the records of the church. This was an unthinkable sin, along with the beer.  

In the spiritual equations I grew up with, there was no way this family should have a family culture that was better than any Mormon family I’d ever been around. 

I couldn’t deny the reality of it, though. At the time,  I simply slated Jack as a mysterious example of the kind of light and love I hoped to embody some day, myself.  The effect of their quiet example on my own enlightenment cannot be underestimated.  Dear reader, take note of this. You never know who is watching and what kinds of seeds you are planting. 

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We started a band called Shades of Sound, and immersed ourselves into the artistic process. Again, I fell in love with every aspect of being in a band. Long nights of rehearsals followed up with high level artistic conversations about art, music, philosophy… discovering new music together (Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band, LIVE, to name a few), planning benefit concerts, crafting lyrics, the inside jokes that only band mates can appreciate – all of it had a certain quality of existence that I drank up deeply.  I loved the process of total immersion in a creative endeavor.   Those times had a certain creative romance and magic to them which I miss to this day. Dan soon left the band and Ryan rejoined us as his replacement on guitar. Jared and I were preparing to go on missions, which meant our band had a hard expiration date.  Our final show together was in an LDS church for a youth dance. The last number we played was a cover of Dave Matthews Band’s cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watch Tower.  We all choked back tears as we loaded our gear of the stage one final time.

I promised myself that after my mission, I would come home and give myself two years to completely immerse in, and pursue music. I would not worry about school, I’d only work what was necessary to facilitate the music. In a perfect world, I hoped to restart the band and see where we could take it, though I was open to playing with different musicians too.  I’d dedicate my life to music 24/7 just like I was about to dedicate it 24/7 to The Church – and after that two year immersion, I’d accept the outcome. If additional music opportunities were present, I’d keep on the path. If it was a dead end, I’d accept that and move on to a different chapter of life. 

I may not have listened to Miles Davis much as a kid – but as a man, I listen to him with new ears. 

We now re-join the story in progress: deboarding the plane in Salt Lake City: I was terrified. My hands were visibly shaking. I walked down the jetway and emerged into the airport to find my Mom, Dad, sister Camille and brother Mike – and – 

Mireesa.  

We drove back to Logan. My very first concern was a reunion with my bass: I pulled my stereo and bass amp out, plugged it all in. Rush’s Counterparts was still in the CD player where I had left it two years earlier. To my surprise, my bass was still perfectly in tune. I turned everything up as loud as it would go: like two lovers who had grown clumsy through separation yet fonder than ever, my fingers moved over the strings, my room boomed and resonated with the roar of my bass amplifier and stereo, soaking my body and soul in low frequency vibrations – a bliss that is singular to this day.  

The next item of business was to get “released” as a missionary – this is a Mormon formality – I reported to my Stake President, giving account of a successful mission.  I was honorably released and was now considered a free man, a civilian. In practical terms, it meant I could be alone with Mireesa without that being a violation of mission rules (which one is under until being “released” — Mormons treat missionary service with a kind of decorum that you only see in military service, but with some extra frosting on it). 

That night, I went to her house to visit with her and her family (who were like a second family to me at that point, given our history) – and thus it began. 

Let’s revisit my promise to myself regarding the first love of my life: I would give my whole life to it for two years following my mission – in this version of reality, dating was an afterthought at best, if at all. 

I’m not sure why you are reading this book – 

Maybe you think it’s a book about porn – the making or consuming of it. 

Maybe you think it’s about the artistic life of a photographer. 

Maybe you think it’s about my journey in and out of Mormonism. 

This is where one of the major themes of the book – and my life – begins to coagulate:

This is a story about codependency. 

This is all a backstory for one of the most fascinating and informative experiences of my life: dating a porn star (of sorts). Stay with me. The naked ladies will be here soon. 

 


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