In 1979 my father waged war against the Mormons. Not against all of them--only the ones who lived behind us. His reason: they were too nice. His weapon of choice: Donna Summer.
It began the minute they moved in. They smiled, they waved, they offered to lend a hand whenever needed. Whatever it said about our neighbors of other religions, my parents found this behavior (which they labelled Mormon Behavior) bizarre. The last straw for my dad was when the Mormon family returned from a trip to Atlanta and had thought to bring my parents over a big cardboard box of peaches. "Is that weird or what?!" my father said later, "Just to be nice? Figures! Mr. Nicey Nice. They're weird, those Mormons."
Their last name was Moelston but for reasons unknown, my father had dubbed them the Moleheads and delighted in using this nickname often, within the walls of our home. "I see Molehead and Mama Molehead have a new car" he'd say, or "Oh look, baby Moleheads are playing frisbee!" He'd say these things with a weird glee, so we left it alone.
I should add, this family really was nice, that was true. When they observed my dad acting rude, they responded by pausing and then continuing to be nice, often creatively so. I suspect it was difficult work, being our neighbors.
And then one late afternoon this family thought it was possible to eat their dinner picnic-style on their back deck. A summer evening, a gas grill, this should have been possible. The only problem was my father happened to be blasting the disco sounds of Donna Summer, and the Mormon family couldn't hear themselves speak or think.
And so the father of this family came over and asked my dad if he might be able to turn the music down a little. "We're just enjoying all this nice weather" the Mormon father said, as if to apologize, "Otherwise we'd be eating inside and probably wouldn't even hear it." "I see," said my father, "But I'M enjoying listening to Donna Summer."
If the Mormon father had been less nice he might have recognized my dad was drawing a line in the sand. Maybe he was encouraged by the fact that my dad was actually verbally responding. Maybe he thought they were having a conversation.
Whatever it was, he thought to add, "That's another thing, the songs."
It seems many of the Donna Summer songs, filling the air, blasting into their skulls, weren't so much of the family variety. Off the top of my head I can recall one which I believe was called OOOOHOOHOOHAAA Love To Love You Baby. But the song that bothered our Mormon neighbor, enough that he mentioned it specifically, was a #1 hit called Bad Girls.
Released just the year before, Bad Girls was a sympathetic anthem to prostitution and featured a horn section, a fiesty disco whistle, and a shake your thing baseline. It was the kind of hit single that gets played maybe every seven minutes on the radio, the kind that taps your toes, that makes you sing along.
In this case, about call girls. (TOOT TOOT HEY BEEP BEEP)
Our neighbor said the words to this song didn't really go with a family dinner. He said they'd be finished eating in about an hour, and maybe my dad could play the song then.
For some reason, to my father, this was a declaration of war. "I'll certainly give that some thought," he told our neighbor. Then my dad closed the front door, turned to face us, and said "I gave it some thought and have decided what we need is more volume."
Before this, my dad had just been letting each full side of the album play, from start to finish, but upon hearing our neighbor had issues with the song Bad Girls, my dad decided he should play that song over and over, and much louder than before.
So the volume went up and Donna sang about those Bad Girls (SAD GIRLS YOU'RE SUCH A DIRTY BAD GIRL TOOT TOOT HEY BEEP BEEP) over and over and over. The official start time of the Bad Girl O Thon was around 4:30pm. My mother looked nervous but assured me my father would tire of it within a few minutes.
Except he didn't get tired of it, if anything he seemed energized, perhaps by the disco beat itself. My mother and I tried to ignore it but Donna's voice prevented any TV watching, any homework doing (BAD GIRLS BAD GIRLS TALKIN BOUT THE SAD GIRLS SAD GIRLS) and I found myself almost hoping our neighbors, Mormon or otherwise, would call the police. Unfortunately, no one did, so the music went on and on.
15 minutes in we saw the Mormon family, all five of them, standing in a line on their back deck, all pointing their fingers down, their faces still kind but looking unhappy.
"Hmm" said my dad, "I think they're telling me to Get Down! Must be it. They want me to dance!" And then he walked out on the back deck and began dancing. With gusto.
I begged my mother to intervene. "I'll go talk to him," my mother said. And I watched as she walked out onto the deck and proceeded to dance along with my father. (TOOT TOOT HEY BEEP BEEP)
I walked outside and stood on the back lawn, next to the back fence, and watched the spectacle my parents were making of themselves. On the other side of the low fence, the eldest Moelston son was doing the same.
He was twelve, a year older than I was. He smiled and leaned forward, shouting so I could hear him speak. "It's OK," he shouted, "we know it's your dad making the noise, we aren't mad, don't worry," and he was laughing as he said it.
"We're so sorry," I shouted back. I couldn't think of anything else to say.
Around 5:15pm my dad tired of the game and turned the stereo off, mostly because he was hungry for dinner and couldn't eat and replay the record at the same time. All that night my dad was certain he'd won this war.
The next day our neighbors drove past our house and all of them smiled and waved. This so stunned my father that he accidentally waved back, a little smile on his confused face.
My mother saw this. "Maybe Molehead was saying he forgives you," my mother told him.
My dad looked down at his shoes and then back up at her. He smiled and then seemed to be speaking mostly to himself as he said quietly: "Their name is Moelston."
After that, my father still played his records, although not the Donna Summer one ("kind of got tired of that one, turns out" was how he put it) and never at loud volume.
And when it got to be around dinnertime, he'd turn the music off. He did this with a smile, and without explanation, so we left it alone.
My Father, The Mormons, And The Donna Summer War is from the collection GREEN SHOES MEAN I LOVE YOU, available at www.amieryan.com
Author P.S. I was delighted when, thanks to Facebook, I was able to share this story with Donna Summer's daughters and they clicked LIKE :)