A gaunt, middle-aging man lay napping on the carpeted floor at Salt Lake City International’s Gate 12. His long, thinning blonde hair was surrendering territory to skin, and the rest of what hair remained was turning unintentionally into dreadlocks. His head rested on a well-used gray backpack, and it appeared as though he lay spooning with a small child dressed in a Day-Glo green rain jacket. The small child was, in fact, a brand new Ortovox Trad 35 alpine pack, made for the serious mountaineer.
The clothes he wore were more appropriate for a teenager than a thirty-something. He wore a tattered pair of black-and-white checkered skateboard shoes, sans laces and socks. His jeans were a high-end fashion brand, low cut at the waist to show off a young, fit man’s abdominal muscles. While thin enough to wear the brand, there was little definition to his stomach, and he was at least a decade removed from the market the manufacturer targeted. The jeans were stained, as was the faded red and black flannel shirt he wore open, revealing a ragged black undershirt promoting Soundgarden’s 1995 “Superunknown” tour.
His face needed a shave and some soap and water. If he had been lying outside on the street instead of inside the airport, the disheveled man might have been mistaken for a homeless person. Which he in fact now was.
Despite appearances to the contrary, the napping man at Gate 12 came from one of the wealthiest families in the world. He was Brigham Young the VIII, also known as Brig, first-born son of Brigham Young the VII and heir to his family’s vast fortune…or rather, was the heir to his family’s vast wealth. He had been disowned, disinherited, and given explicit orders to never contact anyone in the Young family again.
Brigham Young, the first Brigham Young, was the second president, prophet, seer and revelator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as “L.D.S.” or “The Mormons”). He was also the founding father of Salt Lake City, Utah. Fleeing persecution in Illinois and Missouri, he led the Mormon pioneers across the great plains of the United States to Salt Lake City in 1847, earning him the nickname the “American Moses.” As a leader, Brigham Young’s reputation was mythical. His decisions were swift and final, if not always well thought out, and his countenance stern.
Although practiced and advocated by his predecessor and many of his fellow members, Brigham Young was the figure most closely associated with polygamy. In his lifetime, Brigham Young married fifty-five women and fathered fifty-six children. In 1890, God, through his prophet Brigham Young, commanded the Saints to abolish polygamy. However, the American Moses had already planted many a seed in the intermountain area, and the roots of their family tree ran deep.
It is common for a modern day L.D.S. family to have five, ten, or even fifteen or more children, as Mormon doctrine teaches that women have a moral obligation and duty to bring as many awaiting spirit children to earth through their bodies as they can bear. Brigham Young’s first wife died giving birth to Brigham Young II in 1825 soon after being married. He named his first son after himself, starting an unbroken tradition of Young patriarchs naming their firstborn sons “Brigham.” Brigham Young II proved to be as gifted an entrepreneur as his father was a leader. He opened his first hotel in 1850. As converts to the new faith began pouring into SLC, he provided them with a clean, affordable, safe place to stay. Business boomed, assisted largely by the enthusiastic support of his prophet father. Two more hotels were built in rapid succession in 1852 and 1853, and the Brigham Young International hotel dynasty was born.
A too-loud female voice pierced the white noise, blaring over the airport’s intercom system. “Will Brigham Young please approach the Gate 12 ticketing podium? Brigham Young, please report to the Gate 12 ticketing podium.”
For those non-Utahnians waiting at Gate 12, the name Brigham Young likely meant little, but for those that were from the area, or were members of the Mormon Church, the name evoked genuine interest. The Young’s were local royalty, the first family of Utah and one of the last great dynasties in America. Travelers that were rushing to get out of the airport, or to another gate, who overheard the announcement slowed down or stopped altogether to see if they might catch a glimpse of this local celebrity. What was Brigham Young doing flying commercial? Would it be the charismatic, wealthy father, or his spoiled and reportedly drug-addicted son? Time slowed and the area became quiet as the airport paused and waited for one of them to answer the gate agent’s summons.
The United Airlines gate agent who had made the announcement was too busy to be aware of the drama she had created. She had recently transferred to Salt Lake City from Chicago and had no idea who Brigham Young was. She stared ahead at her computer screen, processing the flight’s standby list while trying to ignore the customer waiting to be recognized in the poorly defined line. Eventually, the traveler’s patience was rewarded. The agent, without looking up, asked the portly, almost senior-citizen, “Are you Brigham Young?”
“Me? Heaven’s no!” the man chuckled nervously, as did several others who were standing in line behind him. Encouraged by the positive attention, he stepped up to the podium and continued. “I wish! I wouldn’t be flying coach if I was!” and shot the agent a conspiratorial wink.
The agent, unsure of what to make of the wink, cautiously asked, “How may I help you?”
The man moved closer to the agent, trying not to be overheard, and whispered, “I was just wondering how handicapped you had to be to get one of them wheelchairs?”
“Are you having trouble? I can have somebody bring you a chair.”
“No. It’s not for me. It’s for my wife.” The man tipped his head in the direction of an obese woman sitting in a nearby chair designated for the disabled. “She fell and sprained her ankle, and we’ll need extra time boarding the airplane.”
“Those traveling with infants or those needing a little more time to get seated will be allowed to board first.” She was skeptical of the couple’s need, but in this new era of comfort animals and uber-sensitivity she had forced herself to become ambivalent to the inane requests of the people she served.
“Are you alright ma’am?” she asked, addressing the man’s wife slowly and loudly as if speaking to a dim-witted child. “Did you hurt your ankle?” The fat woman smiled, blushed, and waved her fat hand in front of her face suggesting that they shouldn’t bother. “I hope this man didn’t do this to you? Did he?” The agent stared at the husband accusingly and put her hands on her hips.
“Look. Never mind. I was just asking,” said the man. It wasn’t the way he envisioned the conversation going, and he was mortified. “Please don’t make a fuss. We can make it on the plane without the chair.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. This poor woman needs a wheelchair, and maybe some protection.” The man’s white pasty skin turned beet red, and he now wanted nothing more than to crawl away unnoticed. The agent pulled the microphone back to her mouth, “Can I get two wheelchair assists to Gate 12 for a mister and missus…what was your name, sir?”
“Look, it’s OK. Really! There’s been a misunderstanding. She doesn’t have a broken foot. It’s only a sprain, and she’s the one that wanted the chair, not me. Please. Just forget I asked.”
“So you don’t want the chairs?”
“No ma’am,” he said, slinking away.
“Cancel the wheelchair assist at Gate 12. Will Brigham Young please approach the Gate 12 ticketing podium? Brigham Young, please come up to the Gate 12 ticketing podium,” the agent repeated.
Throughout Mormon history, the Youngs had been the family that other Mormon families aspired to be. Young family members were expected to live their lives in strict accordance with the teachings and doctrines of their faith. It was extremely rare for a family member to stray from the fold, as the consequences were excommunication from their church and family. For more than 200 years, every generation had succeeded in delivering a new Brigham. However, with each new generation, the pressure to live up to massive expectations grew more intense.
Charismatic, confident, and hyper-aware of his status in the community, Brigham Young VII was born to be a leader. In high school, he had been an all-star, all-state quarterback for the Highland Rams, and accepted a full-ride athletic scholarship to the University which bore his name.
However, before beginning his college football career he would serve a two-year Mormon mission. Church leaders sent VII to the Philippines, where he baptized hundreds into the church. When he returned to BYU, he picked up his football career where he had left it, and during his sophomore year became the starting quarterback for the Cougars. Unfortunately for the BYU football program, but fortuitously for Brigham Young International, VII suffered a career-ending knee injury in the “Holy War” rivalry game against the University of Utah. In VII’s final year at BYU, he met the beautiful Edna Abigail Pierce.
Perhaps it was the shrill voice or the volume of the speaker system, but somehow the gate announcement penetrated VIII’s drug-stupefied skull. He stretched, rubbed his eyes, shouldered his backpack, and staggered towards the podium with short, tentative steps, as if he were walking a balance beam. Some of the other travelers took notice, staring, pointing, and whispering amongst themselves about the disheveled man they started to realize was the junior Brigham Young. Brig took no notice of them, having, over the last few weeks, grown accustomed to the notoriety. The gate agent looked up just as Brigham neared the podium and asked, “Are you Brigham Young?”
“The one and only,” Brig slurred. “Well, not the only. But I am the one you’re looking for.”
“Well, good morning Mr. Young, you’ve been upgraded to business class all the way through to Hong Kong as you requested. If I could see some identification and your old boarding passes, I’ll exchange them for your new ones.”
She isn’t unattractive, thought Brig. A little older than he liked, but cute, in a “Molly Mormon” sort of way. On a scale of one-to-ten, Brig ranked her a six. Ranking women based on how attractive they were had become a reflexive, albeit boorish, habit for Brig. A score of five was average. The vast majority of the earth’s women scored below five because they were “too old,””too young,” “too fat,” “too thin,” “too butch,” “too girly,” “bad skin,” “bad hair,” “no hair,” “mole,” “mole with a hair in it,” “mustache,” etc., and fell below Brig’s level of interest. Despite his superficiality, and substance abuse issues, most women, loved Brigham. He was charming when he wanted to be, handsome in a boyish way. And of course the clincher; he had loads of money that he wasn’t afraid to spend. He’d been with, among others, a Victoria’s Secret model, a beauty pageant winner (Miss Utah 2002), a Playboy playmate (Miss March 2010), and a Dallas Cowboy’s cheerleader, but had never been in a monogamous relationship that lasted more than six months. Until a few weeks ago, he had never proposed marriage to anyone.
“I knew you were going to tell me that. I’m a prophet you know.”
“A what?” The gate agent asked as she tapped at her computer.
“A prophet. A Seer. A Revelator.” It suddenly dawned on Brig that he wasn’t dealing with a local. “A fortune teller, if you will.”
“Hmm.” Unimpressed, the agent handed the freshly printed boarding passes to Brig and gestured for him to move along. “If you don’t mind…”
“It’s true. My great, great, great, great, et cetera, et cetera, great grandfather, Brigham Young the first, was the first prophet, um, fortune teller, in our family, but not the last. The gift of seeing the future runs in my blood,” Brig explained. “For example, I know that my bags have been checked all the way through to my final destination and that we are going to miss our original departure time.”
“Wow! You’re good!” the agent said with feigned enthusiasm, “Yes, your bags have been checked through to Hong Kong, and since we have only,” she paused to look at her watch, “ five more minutes until our scheduled departure time, and we haven’t boarded yet, it is probably safe to assume that we will be a little late taking off. But we will be boarding very soon, and I’m confident you will have plenty of time to make your connecting flight in San Francisco.”
“I knew you were going to say that,” Brig smiled and moved aside.
Brigham “Brig” Young VIII was born in the summer of 1980, the second child but first-born son of the Youngs. Brig’s sister, Brenda, was two years older than he. As the first-born son, Brig was first in line to inherit the massive wealth the Youngs had accumulated throughout the decades. But something often overlooked was that he also inherited the equally massive responsibility of being Brigham Young.
Brig and his sister were close growing up and enjoyed a Norman Rockwellian childhood. As Brig entered high school, it appeared as though he were on the same successful course that his father had so easily navigated, doing well in athletics and academics. Although their father had been mostly absent while the Young children grew up, their mother Edna more than made up for it. She was a stay-at-home mom who adored her children, and with the help of a host of maids, personal assistants, drivers, bodyguards, and other employees befitting the ridiculously wealthy, she kept the estate running and the children grounded while VII was off expanding the Young empire.
However, in early December 1995, Brig’s world ripped apart when Edna died in a car accident. She was the only other passenger in the BMW driven by one of VII’s friends. There were rumors of an affair, but VII was able to keep the scandal contained.
Brig moved back to his spot on the airport floor and sat down with his back to the wall. He could feel the eyes of his fellow passengers on him as he pretended to study the information on his boarding pass. Other church members or Salt Lake City residents surely recognized him, or at least his name, and wondered how this wretch of a man could be the direct descendant of one of the most beloved leaders in Mormon church history. Others, perhaps less familiar with the church, might have wondered what relation this guy might have with the Division I university that shared his name, and still others might have questioned how a bum like him had found the money, or earned the mileage, to upgrade to business class.
Whatever. Brig didn’t care. He just prayed that nobody sat next to him on the flight to San Francisco. However, judging by the number of people in the waiting area, that wasn’t likely. Consequently, Brig lowered his expectations to just hoping that his neighbor would be a quiet, uninterested fellow traveler that would let him fly to San Francisco in peace.
Brig checked his cell phone to see if he had received any new text messages. Nothing. He dialed his voice mail, entered the password, and learned that he had “no new messages.” Brig was not surprised, but it still depressed him. His family hated him. He no longer had any genuine friends. His secret life of a drug addict limited his “friendships” to those who wanted to sell him drugs, and those who wished to use the drugs with him. He had convinced himself that he didn’t care that nobody cared, and he was going to make everyone sorry that they hadn’t treated him better, particularly his father. The only person he had hoped to hear from was his ex-girlfriend, and he hadn’t heard from her since the day she left him several weeks ago.
“We are ready to begin boarding United Flight 5223 with service to San Francisco,” announced the gate attendant. “First and business class passengers, those traveling with infants, and those that may require additional assistance are welcome to board.” She scanned the crowd. Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber were nowhere to be seen. “In a few minutes, we will begin general boarding. Please show your boarding pass and government ID to the gate agent as you proceed through the boarding gate.”
Brig rose to his feet and made his way through the gawking crowd to the line that had formed for pre-boarding. He kept his eyes pointed to the floor, careful not to make eye contact with any of the other passengers to avoid conversation.
He fell in line behind a young couple traveling with several children. The smallest, an infant, slept quietly on the mother’s shoulder. The father was busy collapsing the tandem stroller, and weakly admonished the three older children to “quit playing” and “hand the nice lady the tickets.”
Please don’t let them sit by me Brig silently prayed. He liked kids. Had once hoped to have ones of his own, but at this stage of his life he couldn’t imagine himself married with children. He couldn’t even take care of himself.
The father, who was about Brig’s age, was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved dress shirt. Although non-Mormons may not have noticed, Brig could see the subtle outline of the man’s temple garments, or Mormon underwear, underneath his shirt. Adult Mormons found worthy to enter and attend sacred services in Mormon temples were required to wear “garments,” special underwear as part of their faith. It was only recently, after meeting Happy, that he stopped pretending to be a Mormon and discontinued wearing the sacred skivvies.
The father was finally able to herd his family onto the airplane. Brig stepped forward and handed the “nice lady” his ticket. It was the same woman that had processed his upgrade and given him his business class tickets. Brig noticed now that the name on her badge said “Tina.”
“I knew I would see you again. Why don’t you join me? I’ll buy you a companion ticket and you can fly to Hong Kong with me,” Brig flirted.
“Oh wow. That’s a wonderful offer, but since this flight is full, and I have this job…” the gate agent said sarcastically as she took Brig’s SLC to SFO boarding pass. She tore off the stub and handed the rest of the boarding pass back to Brig.
“It’s only a matter of time now,” Brig continued. “I had a vision while I slept, and the Lord told me you are to be my next wife – my tenth! Come, woman! Obey or suffer eternal damnation!”
“That’s really weird,” Tina said with sincerity. “Enjoy your flight Mr. Young.”
“Ah. You’re no fun. I guess the mile high thang is out of the question?”
“Excuse me?” She knew what the “mile high thang” was, and it shocked her that this customer thought he could speak to her this way.
Uh-oh, she’s getting pissed, Brig thought to himself. He must’ve crossed that line people without senses of humor are always referring to. Should he abort or press on? He mistakenly chose the latter.
“It’s alright darlin’. I’ve been a certified member of the Mile High Club since 1998. I’m sure I can get you in. I’d love to be your sponsor.”
“Careful Mr. Young,” Tina raised her eyebrows menacingly and warned Brig, “I don’t care how many frequent flyer miles you have. I will not let you talk to me that way, and I will have you taken off of this flight by security if I have to.”
“Well, that escalated quickly.”
“Not another word!” Tina warned.
“Fuck ya’ then, ya’ fat twat!” Brig said. Fortunately, it was to himself.
August 8th, 1988
Today is my birthday! Happy Birthday to me! I am eight years old. Mother and father gave me a new bike. It’s red. It’s a Schwinn. I love it! I rode it all over the place today. I also got a real football. Brenda gave me this new journal. Grandma and Grandpa Pierce gave me a new set of scriptures because on Sunday I will be baptized. After they baptize you, all your sins are washed away and the bad things you do really start to count as sins, so I need to do all my bad stuff before then! Ha-ha.
Father called me to wish me a Happy Birthday. He is in a place called Hamburg. It’s in Germany. Father told me hamburgers were invented there. He was just kidding. He told me we would celebrate my birthday a second time when he gets home.
I’m tired. Goodnight.
Before there was Facebook, people wrote the events of their lives in diaries or journals. Mormons have always invested in keeping journals. Their scriptures, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon are journals of men believed by many to have been prophets of God. In a speech entitled “The Angels May Quote From It,” Spencer Kimball, the Latter-Day Saints’ twelfth President and Prophet, directed the church’s membership to “Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions, and your testimonies.”
Eight-year-old Brigham Young closed his journal, capped his pen, and placed the book back in its secret hiding spot under his mattress. He slipped off of his bed and onto his knees, said his prayers, and got back into bed. He had already washed his face and brushed his teeth, and after a few minutes his mother ducked her head in to say goodnight and switched off the light. Brig was still a little afraid of the dark, but today he felt closer to being a man. He didn’t need the R2-D2 Star Wars night light for comfort anymore. But he was glad it was there.
Brig’s childhood had been comfortable, uncomplicated, and uneventful. He loved his mom, dad, sister, grandma, grandpa, God, Jesus, and his dog, not necessarily in that order. “Briggy,” as his mom called him, was precocious, loving, respectful, and if we’re honest, slightly spoiled. But how could he not be?
He went to school where he always did well. He attended church every Sunday, and took part in other church-sponsored social functions throughout the week. Brig was born into the wealthiest and most influential family in Utah. He was the only son of an only son, in a long line of firstborn sons. He was the progeny of a man millions revered and believed to be a spokesperson for God. Eight-year-old Brig did not yet comprehend the daunting pressure and responsibility of being the eighth Brigham Young and fell quickly into the untroubled sleep of a child.
Brig occupied a window seat on the right side, towards the front, of the Boeing 767. No one had yet taken the aisle seat next to him, and he remained hopeful that no one would, though they had already announced that the flight was full. Business class on this leg of the trip was not a big deal. A slightly bigger, slightly more comfortable seat, with extra legroom and a lower bathroom-to-passenger ratio.
Brigham Young International owned a 2015 Gulfstream 650, and as the North America Regional Sales Manager, his father occasionally let Brig use it. Now that was traveling in style, Brig reminisced. He was not likely to enjoy that kind of luxury ever again. In fact, this business class transport to Hong Kong would likely be his last taste of extravagance. The thought depressed him.
Brig looked around to see if anyone was watching him before opening his backpack and fishing out an orange prescription bottle of oxycodone. He had secured a little over two-hundred pills for the road. Before losing his job and his inheritance, getting drugs had never been a problem. He had a long list of sketchy “doctors” and white collar drug dealers that fought amongst themselves to supply him. Brig always paid top dollar, rarely asked for credit, and everyone knew he wasn’t a cop.
He tapped out three pills to help get him through this leg of his long trip to Hong Kong. His tolerance for opioids had grown annoyingly strong, but he estimated three 60mg tablets should do the trick. If he fell asleep, which he hoped he would, the flight attendant would wake him when they reached SFO. He didn’t want to be so out of it that he missed his flight to Hong Kong.
The economy class passengers now started to file onto the airplane, and still nobody had claimed the seat next to him. There were eight business class seats, and only two of them remained unoccupied. Brig leaned against the window and looked out at the men loading the bags onto the airplane. The sound of a newspaper flopping onto the seat next to him, broke his stupor. A large man wearing a cowboy hat was struggling to force his “carry-on” into the overhead compartment above their seats.
Great! Brig thought. John mother-fuckin’ Wayne!
December 25th, 1995
I can’t do this without you. I can’t! Everybody says how you’re in heaven now, in a “better place,” but why now? I need you here far more than God does, I’m sure of it.
The psychiatrist says to “write stuff down,””get it out of my head,“, “it’ll make me feel better.” Blah, blah, blah. But it doesn’t. Nothing makes me feel better. I’m angry…at God, at Dad, at everyone. I feel empty…I feel like throwing up.
What happened? Nobody will tell me anything but that you were in a horrible car accident. I couldn’t even see you one more time…your casket was closed. Dad said it would be better to remember you the way you were. I guess the wreck must have messed up your face, but I still wanted to see you and touch you once more. I hope you weren’t in any pain.
Please talk to me. Or at least let me know that you’re listening. Can you? I’ve prayed every night, hoping that you, or someone, or something, will let me know you’re still around.
But I’m not feeling anything.
That 1995 Christmas journal entry was the last Brig would make for several months. He was devastated by his mother’s death. It was the first time he had questioned the existence of God and his faith. It wouldn’t be the last. Brig’s father, hardly involved in the children’s parenting anyway, turned over all childcare duties to nannies and willing grandparents, which seemed to work out fine for Brenda, but Brig struggled. Where Brig used to be friendly and outgoing, he was now sullen and withdrawn.
Brig went from being an A student to one that did just enough. He stopped attending church services on Sundays and eventually stopped going to any church activities at all. It didn’t happen all at once, and his grandparents, who were now the primary caregivers, hoped it was just a phase, but they weren’t capable of guiding Brig through those difficult teenage years. Brig needed his father. When Brig’s father eventually learned of his son’s rebelliousness, his reaction was to take something Brig valued away from him, such as his transportation. VII had given Brig a brand new green Range Rover for his 16th birthday – Brig’s first birthday without his mother. Tempers flared, tantrums were thrown, guilt trips were taken, and within a few days the Range Rover was returned to Brig, as VII had urgent business in some faraway place and didn’t have the time, or the endurance, to maintain the discipline his son needed. It was a pattern of behavior that would serve as the foundation of their relationship for the next two decades. Brig learned that VII rarely followed through on his threats. Whether it was because VII didn’t have time and couldn’t be bothered, or because he felt guilty about not being a good father, Brig didn’t know and didn’t care, as long as he got what he wanted.
“Are ya’ all making these things smaller these days?” the man joked as one of the flight attendants moved forward to help. It was a soft bag, and after a few strategic shoves they were able to close the compartment door. The man looked around for someplace to put his 10-Gallon hat. Another flight attendant pointed to a small space in a compartment several rows back. However, the urban cowboy had no intention of having that much separation between himself and his hat. He shook his head and mouthed the words, “No. But thank you kindly,” exhaling as he took his seat next to Brig.
Another prayer unanswered Brig thought sarcastically as he turned his head back towards his window, hoping to avoid conversation with this man. Although Brig was looking the opposite way, he could feel the man’s eyes surveying him, sizing him up, trying to find a way to introduce himself. He looked like a guy that liked to talk, or maybe Brig was just being his usual dick self.
Brig leaned his head against the bulkhead and closed his eyes as the aircraft began to taxi towards the runway. He was finally on his way back to Hong Kong. It had been more than ten years since he had last set foot in the “Fragrant Harbor.” He wondered how much it had changed.
Brig was at a point in his life where young men pushed for greater independence. He desperately needed guidance from his parents, particularly his father. Well-meaning relatives and friends of the family tried to provide direction, but Brig shut them out, finding his only solace in climbing the mountains along the Wasatch Front, a sport he had taken up soon after his mother died.
July 14th, 1997
God, it was hot today. The sun was almost unbearable, and that last pitch was a bitch. But once we made the top, it was all worth it. Davey and I went up the Social Engineering line on Dead Snag Crag. Looking down Big Cottonwood Canyon, it reminded me of the John Muir quote, “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” I wish I could climb all day, every day. When I’m climbing all I think about is that moment…I don’t think about all the other bullshit that’s going on.
Tomorrow we’re thinking Heisenberg, up Little Cottonwood. VII is in town, and he’ll have a nervous breakdown when I don’t show up for church, but he’ll get over it…or he won’t.
Oh yeah. I’ve got to remember to pick up more ‘biners. Stoked!
As Brig became more rebellious, continually antagonizing and testing his father, Brenda became more obedient, driven, and sought every opportunity to please him. She embraced being a young Mormon woman and was every bit the role model that the Youngs were expected to be. Of course, Brenda lived without the pressure of being the first-born male. Still, she was too young to understand her brother’s attitude, and often chastised him for his bad behavior. Consequently, Brig and Brenda grew apart.
Brig’s circle of friends changed. He began drinking beer and chewing tobacco, two significant rule violations for members of the Mormon Church, and ones that threatened to derail him from fulfilling one of his most important responsibilities as a Young and as a Latter Day Saint – serving a Mormon mission.
One warm evening, Brig had been out drinking with some of his climbing buddies near the base of one of their local rocks, and boasted that he could free climb (without ropes) a specific route they had been contemplating. Of course his friends called “bullshit,” and Brig was forced to accept the challenge. To be fair, his buddies didn’t expect him to climb, and they certainly didn’t expect him to climb right then, but Brig was seventeen, over-confident, and buzzed on liquid courage. Even sober and during the day, the route would have been challenging. But buzzed and at night, Brig fell and landed badly. He broke his left arm and both legs in several places, but his head had miraculously gone unscathed. Doctors told him how lucky he was, and that he would need several months of rehabilitation. The doctor prescribed Demerol, and Brig learned that drugs could take away more than just the physical pain, at least temporarily.
Brig jerked awake and instinctively threw his hands to his ears to protect them from the overly loud announcement from the flight attendant blaring over the airplane’s speaker. “Good morning once again passengers. We will soon land in San Francisco where it’s a cool 57 degrees. As we prepare to land, we ask that you return to your seat, buckle your safety belt and return your tray table and chairs to their full, upright position. We hope you have a great day and hope to see you again soon on United.”
“Why always so loud?” Brig asked under his breath as he sat up and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands.
He glanced over at his neighbor, who looked as though he hadn’t moved the entire flight. His white shirt still looked freshly pressed and his hat was placed lovingly on his lap, just so. Brig saw that he was wearing a bolo. A bolo for God’s sake. In his semi-conscious state, Brig’s eyes accidentally met the other man’s.
“Going home?” the man asked Brig, who was still groggy from his nap and the drugs.
“Are you on your way home…to San Francisco? Visiting friends, or just passing through town?”
“Um…no.” hoping his brief answer ended the conversation.
“No? No what? No home? No visiting friends?” the big man smiled and persisted. He was trying to be friendly, oblivious to Brig’s growing agitation.
“Getting out,” Brig pronounced the word “out,” emphatically… o-u-tah!
“Getting out of…” Tex was starting to pick up on the negative vibe and finished his question tentatively “…Utah?”
“Just out man. Just out.” His aggression began boiling over. “…and why are you so interested? Are you writing an article for ‘Dumb Ass’ magazine?”
“Well, excuse me for asking…”
“No. Excuse me,” Brig retorted, not letting the man finish his sentence. “I’ve given you every sign, used all of my body language skills, to communicate to you, without being rude, that I have no interest in speaking with you. None! Look. We’ve had a good flight. I got some sleep. You protected your hat.”
Now it was the cowboy’s turn to be confused, “What?”
Brig observed that their conversation had attracted the attention of a few of the other passengers. He raised his voice so that they could hear better, “It’s not you, it’s me. We had a good time together, but it’s over.” As if choking back tears, Brig continued. “It’s over! Do you hear? We’re done! I need to move on.” Another dramatic pause. “If you love me…if you’ve ever loved me…” pause. “Never speak to me again.” Brig turned to his window and dabbed at his eyes with the back of his hand.
The man looked around, embarrassed, well aware of the implication. “You’re crazy,” he said to Brig. “He’s crazy,” he said to the other passengers who were pretending not to have noticed.
Brig smiled at his blurred reflection in the hard plastic window.
Upon turning eighteen, all worthy young Mormon men fall under enormous social pressure to serve a “mission.” Serving a mission involved leaving home, volunteering two years of their life to teach Mormon doctrine, and attempt to convert as many non-Mormons to their religion as they could. Brig had the added burden of being the only son, in arguably the most notable modern Mormon family since The Osmonds. Brigham senior had served a mission in the Philippines, Brig’s grandfather (VI) in Mexico, and all of his great-grandfathers before him had served somewhere in the world dating all the way back to the first Brigham Young.
Brig was a neurotic mess as his eighteenth birthday approached. He needed to tell his father that he was not going to serve a mission. Not only that, Brig had developed an obsessive desire to climb Mount Everest, and needed to convince his father to pay for the expedition. While convalescing from his fall the year before, one of his friends had given him a copy of the September 1996 edition of Outside magazine. It was the edition that included the article “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, who wrote about the 1996 disaster when eight climbers died attempting to climb Everest. Although the story was a tragedy, it had planted a seed of thought in Brig’s brain that was at times all-consuming. He carried the magazine everywhere, and when the magazine began to fall apart, he made copies. When he learned that the “Into Thin Air” article had been published as a book, he paid $180 for an illustrated hardcover edition signed by the author. The book replaced the Book of Mormon as his spiritual touchstone. He marked passages that were particularly meaningful to him with a yellow highlighter, to the extent that the book became more yellow than not.
Brig decided that he would first ask his father for the money to climb Mount Everest. He anticipated that his father would reject his request, especially when he learned that it was likely to cost more than $60,000. Brig would plead, and his father would eventually point out that Brig would soon be going on a mission. At that point, Brig would promise that if his father approved the trip to Everest, he would go on a mission within a year of his return. In Brig’s mind, it was an excellent compromise.
Tex would have run off the plane had the other passengers not been in his way. He wanted to put as much distance between himself and his alleged ex-boyfriend as possible. Brig was in no hurry to get off the plane himself. Just as the gate attendant in Salt Lake City had promised, he had plenty of time to make his connecting flight to Hong Kong. In fact, he had more than enough time to get an alcohol-fueled buzz started in United’s business class lounge. He made his way through the SFO domestic terminal, grading the women in his head as he went. Seven. Five. Yikes! Minus two, or is that a dude?
Brig found a flight departure screen to make sure that his flight was still leaving on time and out of the same gate. He had to pass through security again and did so without incident. He took an escalator up to the United lounge where two young women sat behind a large desk. “Good morning. May I help you, sir?”
“I think you most certainly can,” answered Brig. Brig awarded both women a respectable seven while noticing that the name tag of the girl that was helping him said Britney. “Which way to the alcohol?”
She laughed politely as the other girl glanced up. “If I could just see your boarding pass…” Brig sensed that Britney didn’t think he belonged in United’s “executive lounge.”
“Of course. We wouldn’t want any lower class passengers or other bad elements to get into our lounge, would we?” he smiled. Brig handed Britney his ticket. As she examined his documents, Brig took the opportunity to examine her colleague who was writing something down. Blonde. Big Boobs. Perhaps a seven was too conservative.
“Here you are, Mr. Young.” It surprised Britney to learn that the rough looking man in front of her was a Platinum Elite member of the United frequent flyer program. Over the last few years, Brig had racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles. “And here are two vouchers for free drinks at the bar, which you’ll find right down this way,” she said, motioning to her right.
He thanked the girl and made his way to the bar where he ordered two jack and cokes, grabbed several bags of pretzels, and found a comfortable seat near enough to the bar and out of the general traffic. It was blissfully quiet and uncrowded. He hoped his flight would be the same.
It was still morning, but he gulped the first drink down as if it were the first round of happy hour. Breakfast of Champions Brig thought to himself and opened a bag of pretzels. He scanned the lounge for talent. To his left was an older couple, the man reading a newspaper, the woman thumbing through a magazine, and far too old to register on Brig’s scale. A group of four men huddled together near a flat screen television. Several other people sat by themselves, tapping on computers or talking on their cell phones. Just as Brig was about to give up, a tall Asian woman strode through the entrance of the lounge. He was raising his second J&C to his mouth but stopped the cup halfway to its destination.
Hold the phone. What’s this? Could it be? the superficial voice inside his head started the calculations. “Could it be? It is! It’s a ten!” Brig whispered reverently, as if a miracle had just walked into the lounge. In truth, Brig awarded scores of ten every day, but as Brig got a closer view of, or spoke to a ten, a skin blemish, an annoying laugh, a bitchy tone, a nervous twitch…something would inevitably lower the score. Such was the case with the latest ten. As the woman walked towards Brig, her hips got bigger, her chest smaller, and she had a slight skin problem on her right cheek. Acne?
Sorry folks, I spoke too soon. She’s a nine. My bad, Brig announced to the audience inside his head. A nine was still good…very good. He kept his eyes on her face as she walked toward him. He was sure she would look his way, and he would meet her stare, smile, and flirt. She was Asian, and maybe she was going to Hong Kong. His hopes of enjoying the mile high club rekindled.
A man behind Brig yelled out, “Angie!” The woman paused, recognized the man yelling her name, smiled and waved.
An eight, and dropping fast. Come on girl. You can still turn this around.
She walked past Brig without a glance.
You lose! Final score: six. It looks like I’m going to need to drink a lot more, and she’s going to have to beg for it before I crawl into an airplane bathroom at 30,000 feet and bump uglies with that tramp!
On an uncomfortably warm Friday evening, Brig surprised his father, who was in Salt Lake City and working from his home office. VII was on a conference call when Brig walked into his study. He acted surprised to see his father busy and pretended to leave, but those days Brig rarely initiated a conversation with his father. Still speaking on the phone, Brigham VII waved Brigham VIII in and motioned for him to take a chair as he finished his call.
“Son! To what do I owe this pleasure? What are you doing home on a Friday night? Surely one of the many beautiful sisters in our fair city would give up her spot in the Celestial Kingdom for an evening with Utah’s most eligible bachelor.”
“I could ask you the same thing. I didn’t realize you were in town,” Brig lied. Brig had known VII had an important fundraiser to attend the next night, and had been planning to spring his plan on this specific night for weeks. Brenda was out, and the Young men had the house to themselves.
“Yeah, I’ve got that Primary Children’s Hospital thing tomorrow night, and I’m making a few calls to make sure we get a few healthy donations. So what do you got going on?” His Dad sounded genuinely interested, maybe even happy.
“Well. You know how I’ve been into mountain climbing the last couple of years.” He didn’t say since Mom died, but they both realized that climbing had been remedial for Brig. “I’ve completely recovered from my fall. In fact, I placed third in a competition up at Snowbird a few weeks ago.”
“I didn’t know you could compete at mountain climbing.”
“It’s actually a race up a rock wall they’ve built on the face of a building…I’m pretty good,” Brig smiled. He hoped that information would rekindle the pride VII used to have when Brig played football.
“I can see that. You’re so thin, and yet I can see the definition in your arms. Flex for me.”
Brig held out his right arm. “The beach is that way.” Brig bent his arm and his right bicep bulged through the sleeve of his t-shirt, his index finger pointing away, at some imaginary beach. For the first time in recent memory, they laughed together.
“Would you look at that!” VII barked in mock astonishment. “Brig, I’m glad you’ve found something you enjoy doing.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Some of the guys are planning a climbing trip, and I was hoping you could sponsor me.”
“Sponsor you? You mean like a corporate sponsorship?”
“Not necessarily. I mean…I mean pay for,” Brig stammered.
“Pay for a climbing trip? I don’t see why not. How much could it be? Unless of course, you’re going out of the country…”
“Yeah. That’s definitely part of the expense.”
“Where is this mountain?”
“Nepal,” Brig mumbled.
“Nepal? The Himalaya’s Nepal?”
Brig nodded sheepishly. “Everest.” He wanted to be confident and knew his father responded better to confidence, but VII had entered intimidation mode. A long awkward pause followed, with VII staring incredulously at his son, and VIII staring down at the hardwood floor.
VII suddenly laughed, breaking the silence. Not a chuckle, or a sneer, but a real gut buster. “You had me going there, buddy. Everest. Don’t more people die trying to get up that mountain than make it to the top?” He laughed again.
Now it was Brig’s turn to be incredulous. Climbing Everest was his dream, and the one person on the earth that could either make it real or crush it thought he was joking. Brig stood up to leave. “You know what? Fuck it! Fuck you!”
Brigham VII stopped laughing. He had never heard his son curse before, let alone the F-Word. “Now you listen here, young man. I will not have that kind of language in my home.”
“What? English?” Brig said in mock surprise.
“Oh, that’s funny. You know what I mean.”
“You mean fuck? Don’t you like the word fuck? Or you don’t like to fuck?”
“Get out of here!” VII demanded.
“Fuck! All right. Fuck. You’re serious?” Brig mocked.
“Fuck! O.K. I’m fucking going. Fuck you later.” Brig slammed the door as he exited.
The sound of the lounge attendant announcing that “United Flight 971 to Hong Kong is now boarding” broke Brig’s thoughts, and once again he gathered his packs and walked towards the exit. He waved goodbye to the lounge greeters, rode the escalator down to the international departure hall, and made his way to Gate 96 where his fellow travelers were waiting to board. He wormed his way through the crowd, gave the gate attendant his ticket, and walked down the gangway onto the Boeing 747. Brig showed his ticket stub to one of the two flight attendants waiting at the open door. She pointed him towards the stairs leading to the upper cabin. “Excellent,” thought Brig. He had always liked the upper cabin. It felt somehow more exclusive than the business class seats below.
Business class on the Boeing 747 was a significant upgrade. United’s business class passengers got their own entertainment system, meals were better, the seats could be adjusted to a nearly horizontal position making it easier to sleep, and the flight attendants were generally more attractive. But for Brig, the icing on the business class cake was the amenity kit that the airline provided, which included a variety of toiletries, a pair of slippers, and an eye mask.
Brig had just finished putting his large backpack in the overhead storage compartment and was arranging his seat when someone startled him from behind.
“Good morning sir, would you like a drink? Some champagne or a mimosa?” A male flight attendant held out a tray of drinks in plastic cups.
“Eh-h-h-h” Brig shuddered as he shied away from the young man.
“I’m sorry, did I scare you?” said the attendant.
“No. Just surprised me is all.” Brig had expected a female flight attendant. He got an effeminate man instead.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked, nodding his head towards the tray.
“I was hoping for something stronger. It’s been a long morning. Do you have scotch?”
“I’ll be happy to get you something more suitable once we’re airborne,” said the attendant, whose name tag identified him as Cliff.
“In that case, Cliff, I’ll take two!” Brig grabbed two cups of Champagne and thanked him. Cliff moved off to serve other passengers that were boarding and reaching their seats.
Brig was again seated on the starboard side of the airplane. As he sat down, he banged his head on the ceiling and spilled some of his champagne. He chuckled as he realized he was feeling the alcohol from the lounge. Let’s keep the momentum going, eh? He pounded the first cup of champagne as if it were a Tequila shot. The second cup followed soon after.
He kicked his shoes off and slid them under the seat in front of him. He closed the window shade and donned his eye covers. No one would dare disturb him with a pair of those things on. He leaned his chair back and relaxed, oblivious to the other passengers.
Brig was beginning to drift off when he felt someone tapping his shoulder. A man’s voice whispered, “Excuse me.” Brig tried to ignore him, hoping that whoever it was would realize how inconsiderate they were being and reevaluate their actions before touching him again. The annoyer persisted, placing his hand on and shaking Brig’s shoulder. He repeated, “Excuse me.”
Brig snapped his eye covers off of his head and in a falsely controlled tone asked, “What?”
A man in a suit and tie with a strong jaw, high cheekbones, and a full head of dark hair stood before him. Not realizing, or choosing to ignore Brig’s tone, he continued, “I’m sorry for disturbing you, but I was wondering if you would mind switching seats with my fiancée?” Looking past the man, Brig saw that the fiancée was none other than Angie from the lounge. She smiled, nodded her head, and wiggled the fingers of her right-hand hello.
Brig wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or not, but he readjusted Angie’s score back to ten. The annoying man, who Brig had nicknamed Ken, was waving his hand and snapping his fingers in front of Brigs face. Angie giggled.
“I’m sorry, what was your question?” asked Brig.
“I asked if you would mind switching seats with my fiancée. It’s a long flight, and we’d like to sit together.”
“No,” Brig replied.
“Great. Thank you.” He stood up as if to give Brig room to change his seat. “We really appreciate it.”
“No, you’ve misunderstood me. I mean ‘no,’ as in ‘no, I won’t switch seats with your fiancée.’ Not, ‘no, I don’t mind.’ That said, I would be more than pleased if you switched seats with your fiancée.” Brig turned his head to the side, arched his eyebrows, and smiled lasciviously.
Ken stared at Brig waiting to see if he was pulling his leg. When he realized Brig was serious, he moved closer to Angie and whispered something. Ken helped Angie take her seat opposite his own, across the aisle.
Ken placed a small carry-on in the storage compartment and took his seat. He took another look at Brig, paused for effect, and said, “Thanks.”
“I’m sorry,” said Brig. “Doctors orders. I get claustrophobic if I can’t see out of the airplane.”
“Um-hm,” replied an unconvinced Ken. Ken looked over at Angie, extended his hand, and shrugged as if to say, “what can you do?” Angie took Ken’s hand and smiled.
Douchebag, Brig thought.
Despite the satisfaction of his self-proclaimed victory over Ken, and the ensuing silent treatment, which he wanted anyway, Brig couldn’t fall asleep. Brig was “jonesing.” He dug into his stash and swallowed another two pills, knowing the combination of pills, alcohol, and altitude was a dangerous one. He was 30,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, and his anxiety was peaking. Perhaps this was as close as he was supposed to get to Mount Everest. He was flying at approximately the same altitude as the great mountain’s peak. Brig could open the cabin door and throw himself out, but could muster neither the courage nor the energy.
Brig spotted Cliff and waved to get his attention. Cliff had been friendly enough at first, giving him two mini-bottles of Jack Daniels for his first round. “Even though I’m only supposed to pass out one bottle at a time,” Cliff had whispered as if he were conspiring with Brig. But their “friendship” had lasted less than two hours of the fifteen-hour flight. Cliff, seeing the frenetic drinking pace that Brig was setting, recognized that Brig might turn into a problem and forced him to slow down by serving him only one bottle at a time. After another three rounds, Cliff reported that they were out of Jack Daniels. Brig doubted that he had drained the ship of their JD, but he was undeterred.
“No problem. I’m an easy-going guy,” Brig tried to whisper. Most of the other passengers were asleep or watching their in-flight entertainment. “What alcohol do you have the most of?”
“We have lots of Sprite. How about a nice, cool and refreshing Sprite?” Cliff countered.
“Doesn’t have the effect I’m looking for, but thank you for the suggestion.” He was trying hard not to get angry. “How about two vodkas?”
“How about we slow down Mr. Young? Why don’t you take a nap?”
“Would that we could Cliffy. Would that we could.”
“It’s Cliff. Just Cliff.”
“Well, ‘Just Cliff,’” Brig was becoming irritable again, “it’s nice and quiet in here right now, isn’t it? All my fellow passengers are sleeping. Not much work for you, eh? It would be a shame if a drunken asshole like me were to get loud…and obnoxious,” Brig said in an increasingly loud voice. Ken, who was sleeping in the seat beside him, stirred underneath his blanket.
“O.K. Mr. Young. Calm down. I’ll get you a vodka,” Cliff relented.
“Two please,” Brig said, holding up two fingers and whispering. “Oh, and a beer,” he smiled sheepishly. “And some pretzels?”
The rest of the flight dragged on. Cliff gave up trying to stop Brig’s binge. He was, however, effective at slowing Brig down by disappearing for long periods of time. It seemed to Brig that the other passengers were also getting upset with Cliff’s poor service. Three hours away from their destination, Brig passed out.
After his quarrel with his father, Brig spent the night in his Range Rover alternating between sobbing and sleeping. He had quit praying years ago, but when he was alone and down, he still spoke, and sometimes wrote, to his mother. He pulled out his journal from under the driver seat.
Why did you marry that asshole? Was it the money? His good looks? His ambition? OK…I sort of get it…and I can also understand and forgive you for finding someone else. I’m thinking now, hoping, that you were planning our escape.
Brig realized he was really writing this for his father. He imagined his father finding his journal, and reading how Brig hated him, and how Brig knew that his mother had been unfaithful.
I do. I understand. But he’s a horrible father, and Brenda and I don’t have you to protect us anymore. He doesn’t care about us. He spends more time with his illegitimate children in the Philippines, or Germany, or wherever it is, he goes.
I’m sure, now, you see how he is…if given a chance to do it again, you wouldn’t, right?
I’ve never asked him for one God damned thing, but when I do, when I ask him for the one thing that matters most to me, he laughs. I expected him to say no, but to laugh in my face? It’s not right. He doesn’t even realize how destructive he is, how much I hate him, and everything he represents. He has more money than God, and he can’t part with a sum that he makes in a few minutes, maybe seconds, to allow me to realize my dream? What a dick!
Brig punched upward, hitting the roof of the Range Rover and hurting his wrist.
The next morning he called his father’s office, intending to leave his father a message on his answering service. A woman’s voice answered, “Brigham Young International, how may I direct your call?”
“Brigham Young please.”
“May I tell him who’s calling?”
“This is his son.”
The woman paused. Brig could practically hear the wheels turning in her head. “Why wouldn’t Mr. Young’s son dial his direct number?” she wondered. Regardless, she wasn’t stupid. She wouldn’t challenge the person who might be her future boss.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait,” Brig pleaded.
“Yes. I’m here. How can I help you, Mr. Young?”
“He’s in the office today?”
“I believe so. Shall I put you through?”
Brig thought about it for a few seconds and then decided he would still leave his message. “I’d prefer to leave a message with you if you don’t mind?” Brig said pleasantly.
“No, not at all. Please go ahead.”
“Hi, Dad. This is your son, Brigham.” He paused, allowing the woman time to write it down.
“Hi, Dad. This is your son, Brigham.” the receptionist repeated. “Got it. Please continue.”
“I have decided NOT…please underline the word ‘not’…to go on a mission.”
“Not… underlined… to go on a mission,” the receptionist repeated back to Brig.
“Fuck you! Brig.”
“And if you could double underline the word fuck, and put an exclamation point after ‘you,’ I would appreciate it.”
“Let me…” the receptionist stammered, but before she could finish her sentence, Brig had disconnected.
Brig was being shaken violently. He opened his eyes, unclear where he was. Eventually realizing he was on a plane traveling to Hong Kong, his first thought was that the plane was going down. He curled into the fetal position and screamed.
“Mr. Young, wake up!” someone yelled.
Brig opened his eyes wider and shook his head. Cliff’s stern looking face came into focus. Behind Cliff stood a large man in uniform. Military? Police?
“Mr. Young, wake up!” Cliff repeated. “We’ve landed in Hong Kong and it is time for you to deplane.”
Brig felt the world spin. He sat up straight, trying to slow the motion, but to no avail.
“Oh my God. Don’t you dare,” squealed Cliff, realizing what would happen next.
“Quick. Grab his arm. Let’s get him to the bathroom,” ordered the uniform. It was the ship’s captain.
But it was too late. Brig managed to open the seat pocket in front of him before retching inside, covering the in-flight and duty-free magazines as well as the bag he was looking for in vomit.
The captain retreated towards the stairs. “I’ll send up the clean-up crew.”
“That’s the thanks I get for serving you all of those drinks!” Cliff hissed.
Brig retched again, though this time to his left, on the seat next to him, where Ken had been sitting.
“Can you at least try to keep it all in one place?” Cliff begged.
Cliff threw his hands up in surrender and backed away as Brig prepared to get off the airplane. He slid his laceless shoes on. There was vomit everywhere – on his shirt, on his shoes, on his pants. He wanted to lie down, but more than that he wanted to get off the plane.
Brig choked back the next urge to retch and stood up. He grabbed the seat in front of him to steady himself. He wiped his hands on the top of the chair and walked towards the stairs that led towards the plane’s exit. Halfway there, he stopped and retched again. Realizing he had forgotten his carry on, he turned around, went back to his seat where Cliff stood in stunned silence, opened the overhead compartment, yanked out his backpack, and said “See you next time.”