Mall Basement Theocracy: Deseret Book | Alex Reinsch-Goldstein

Mall Basement Theocracy: Deseret Book

By Alex Reinsch-Goldstein

As far of temples to divine entities go, most of them are hardly nondescript. Think Angkor Wat, Teotihuacan, the great cathedrals of Europe, all the grand structures that man builds to dole out morsels of divine wisdom. All signs point to God not tolerating architectural mediocrity. 

And so it is quite funny that He, in his infinite wisdom, along with placing unending suffering on the earth, placed Deseret Book in the basement of a mall. 

I have passed it often, walking from the lower floor of the parking garage at the La Jolla Village mall to the escalator in front of the AMC theater. A semi-official organ of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Deseret Book is headquartered out of Salt Lake City and runs a chain of stores around the west, hawking Mormon memorabilia to people in thirteen states. Located in the hallway between the parking lot and the mall atrium and directly across from the restrooms, it seems fitting to have twin repositories of feces staring each other down.

Every time I passed Deseret Book, it looked the same: a remarkably placid retail existence.  There were posters advertising a book by Mormon church president and “prophet” (a title that surely indicates entry into the terminal stage of narcissism) Russel M. Nelson; “Sunday best” outfits (displayed on mannequins) of the kind that probably haven’t been worn since a funeral in 1925; Lego models of Mormon churches; orderly rows of shelves whose contents have scarce been touched. The lights were always on, but there was almost never anyone there. The place was to an actual functioning business what an embalmed corpse is to a living person. 

Suddenly, I walked past it the other day and there were a flurry of anxious signs plastered all over the windows: Closing soon! Sale! The red ink surprised me; Christendom generally shys away from anything that isn’t a subdued black or brown (I’ve always wondered why the Bible’s cover is black instead of a more eye-catching fuchsia or razzmatazz, which would probably make more people read it). The signs proclaimed that the store would be closing on January the 4th. I checked my watch to combat the disorienting effects of being on break and no longer knowing or caring what day it was, and found that today was indeed Saturday, January 4th--Deseret Book was on its last legs! After passing it so many times, I felt I would’ve been remiss in my duty to experience the world in its full absurdity if I didn’t go in and see what the place was about on the last day before its demise. 

There were actually two or three people in there, which had to have been a world record of some sort. I have to wonder what impression I created; I was the only person in there under the age of 50 and of the male persuasion. Unfortunately, given that my (ironic) reasons for being there were not obvious, I have to confront the fact that my presence was reassuring to Deseret Book’s clientele: “Look, here’s a real genuine youth interested in the scripture of Jesus Christ! Maybe the younger generation isn’t godless after all!” I promise that was not my intent in the slightest.

On the bookshelves were obligatory copies of the black-cover Book of Mormon. Fun fact about the most recent software update to the operating system of Christianity: it was written (“transcribed”) by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith who claimed that the book was copied off of golden tablets given to him by an angel named Moroni (one “c” off from a very good descriptor for the Book of Mormon). When people asked to see the plates to determine if they were real, he said that they definitely existed but God had specifically said no one else could look at them, and we’re not going to go around disobeying the will of God. Unfortunately God apparently appears to be slightly forgetful as to the details of his creation, seeing as the Book of Mormon is littered with anachronisms (such as references to horses in America 2,000 years before they were actually introduced by Europeans, or accounts of ancient Israelites using French words like “adieu”). 

In the back was a wall of glassy covers under the header “LDS fiction/literature,” essentially a stack of Mormon romance novels--one genre that I didn’t know existed, and I wish I had never found out. Besides, the plot must get fairly complicated when a man has four or five love interests and ends up marrying all of them. 

There was also a shelf for missionary gear--the Mormon church is the largest proliferator of missionary activity worldwide, sending thousands of young Mormons overseas to harangue foreigners into converting. Deseret Book will provide you with everything you would need for your mission: self-help books (including how to deal with being sent home from a mission early, which is apparently enough of a disgrace that it would make any self-respecting samurai disembowel himself), ties, wrenches (?), “Called to Serve” luggage tags, and “I’m a missionary” cupcake liners. It’s comforting to know that Deseret Book has you covered, and you will never have to stoop to the level of using secular cupcake liners after making baked goods for the Papua New Guineans you are trying to convert to Christianity. 

A rack on the end of one of the bookshelves displayed a selection of Mormon action figures (an admittedly weird three-word combination, quite possibly even more nonsensical than “enraged Dalai Lama” or “justified American invasion”). There were missionary action figures, in their white shirts and colored ties, waving in friendly fashion on foot or riding smilingly along on little bicycles. One could also buy little models of Joseph Smith and Moroni--allowing every child to finally reenact the action-packed scene of a ghost delivering a Bible fanfiction to a polygamist from upstate New York. 

More shelves stocked low-to-no budget films about intrepid Mormon pioneers and albums of LDS-friendly music (the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s mixtape slapped so hard it’s criminal). The Lego models had already been put in boxes for their long journey into oblivion, and they’d taken down the mannequins with the ‘20s grandmothers outfits--the place was getting ready for its ultimate end. The few people who had come for Deseret Book’s obsequies took their books and their Moroni action figures and their GI Joe-seph Smiths and passed them in silence to the cashier. I, carrying nothing, left before they did. No one cried.

Deseret Book was a cornucopia of things I never expected to exist. You could probably read in all sorts of things to the demise of the mall basement Deseret--things like the decline of faith, the increasing godlessness of the world, the high price of temporal real estate, etc.--and I’ll leave those inferences to your own decision. But one thing is beyond doubt: this world is definitely very absurd, the next one too, and all the gods and prophets only add more layers onto the Costco sheet cake of hilarious existence.