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Take me to “The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance” by Elna Baker

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

I was driving to Cleveland in the dark and I’d had a headache for half of Ohio, when Elna Baker came on my MP3 player. I had downloaded podcasts of The Moth, a storytelling show based in New York, and the latest episode featured the comedian/writer/Mormon recounting a family trip to Cyprus (which you can listen to here). My second reaction was, “Man, my family vacations only occurred at lame places (like Gettysburg,which is as interesting as you think a field would be) or predictable places, like Ocean City (love the salt water taffy). Why didn’t I get to go to Cyprus?” This was my second reaction because my first reaction was laughter, which helped me get through the rest of Ohio.

Later, I looked up information on Elna Baker and realized I’d heard her before, on This American Life where she told another funny, yet disturbing story, about selling dolls at FAO Schwarz. So, when I saw that she had a memoir coming out this October 15th called The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, I requested a copy to review, which is why I am typing this and you are reading this now.

The memoir is a humorous and moving tale of Elna’s life as a 20-something Mormon in New York who has lost 80 pounds. It’s peppered with some stories from her childhood, but the driving storylines of the book are Elna’s search for a boyfriend who doesn’t treat Mormonism like an STD, and her shifting relationship with her faith which is tested and changed by her experiences in New York City.

While I don’t subscribe to Elna’s particular beliefs, her descriptions of how she feels about her faith and the comfort it gives her were touching. It was refreshing to read a book by someone who is sincerely religious, but not preachy, and still has their sense of humor firmly in tact. I can tell that the Mormon community means a lot to her, but she’s also honest about the doubts she’s had about it and the problems she’s encountered with her faith.

But, don’t let that make you think this is a heavy book. It weighs less than a pound and contains many humorous, self-deprecating stories about Elna’s adventures. As I mentioned, she lost 80 pounds in her early 20’s, and then had to learn how to deal with men who never would have flirted with her before. She talks about her loose skin problems (as I have), and explains why she decided to have a tummy tuck. While I recommend the book, I do not recommend losing weight the way Elna did, which involved a crash diet and Fen-phen (though in her defense she didn’t realize that was what her doctor was prescribing her).

Overall, the book is infused with a childlike enthusiasm for the world and all the wonders in it. Where it occasionally stumbles in technique, it makes up for in spirit. Elna has a conversational writing style that is probably an extension of her stand-up comedy experience. She is unafraid to reveal personal stories that leave her vulnerable, an act I respect and admire.

The book is interspersed with humorous drawings and diagrams about Elna’s love life and beliefs at different ages. By the end of the book, things still felt somewhat unresolved, but that is probably because the author still wrestles with these issues herself. Anyway, this was a funny, pleasurable read and if you like the tone of my blog, you’ll probably like this book. It’s official release day is today, Thursday, October 15.

At the end I was left with only on big question. In one chapter she talks about making out with a famous guy she met at the sushi restaurant she works at in New York. She doesn’t give us the leading man’s real name, but he would be about 70-years-old, is an actor and a writer, married, and she says, “he’s up there with Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Jack Nicholson in terms of classic sex appeal, age, and fame. Also, my all-time favorite screen kiss, one that I’ve watched over and over again, belongs to him.” It’s not Warren Beatty. The fact that she couldn’t say who it was has now made his identity far more interesting to me that it would have been otherwise. So, dear readers, please tell me, who did Elna Baker French kiss? I need to know! If we put our heads together, I know we can figure this one out. My best guess was Harrison Ford, but he’s not a writer.

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Amy • October 15, 2009 at 9:15 am

Harshing on Gettysburg, eh? The part of me that spent 4 years studying civil war is dead and cold now. Ironic.


Jamie • October 15, 2009 at 10:52 am

Steve Martin?


Jill • October 15, 2009 at 10:55 am

Sean Connery wrote an autobiography.


bobbie • October 15, 2009 at 11:21 am

Robert Wagner?


PastaQueen • October 15, 2009 at 11:28 am

@Jamie – That one sounded good to me, but I checked his age and he’s a smidge too young.


Amanda • October 15, 2009 at 11:36 am

A 25 year old frenching a 70 year old. Not a great visual to start your day with, I don’t care how attractive he (or his fame/money) is. EW. donotwanttoknow.


psychsarah • October 15, 2009 at 12:14 pm

I thought maybe Richard Gere, but I don’t know if he writes…


Dana • October 15, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I guess Al Pacino?

I am a Mormon as well, and loved your review. I have never heard of Elna, but am going out to buy the book and to check out the podcast. I’m always the last to know….lol


ellenk • October 15, 2009 at 12:41 pm

i loved that story on NPR~~she had me rolling as much as David Sedaris does. although, it probably wasn’t good that i was driving at the time :D


PastaQueen • October 15, 2009 at 12:43 pm

@Dana – He’s the right age, but I don’t think he’s a writer.


Jen @ The Short Years • October 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Clint Eastwood? But he’s not a writer. Nor can I think of a famous on-screen kiss he’s known for.

Woody Allen? Although in my opinion he has zero classic sex appeal.

Robert Duvall? Michael Douglas? James Brolin? but again, not writers.


Sandy • October 15, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Had to be Woody Allen, she didn’t name him because she was embarrassed about his reputation.


Emma • October 15, 2009 at 1:21 pm

William Shatner? He’s famous for the first kiss between a white man and black woman on TV and he writes…


Lainey • October 15, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Hmmm, I don’t know. I thought Harrison Ford, too, as I was reading your post.

I don’t care how famous they are–I don’t understand why a young woman would want to kiss a 70-year-old. Eww!

Let us know if you figure it out. Now I’m curious, too.


cathleen • October 15, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Michael Caine? Donald Sutherland? Dustin Hoffman?


cathleen • October 15, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Then again, didn’t Patrick Stewart start out as a journalist?


Brenda • October 15, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Is anyone else shocked that these men are in their 70s? It makes sense but it’s just crazy!


cloudy • October 15, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Michael Caine?


boots • October 15, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Okay, so maybe this is stretching it on the “classic sex appeal” thing, but possibly Alan Alda? He’s 73 and he writes, and is married…

OMG, this game is way too fun. I’m not getting any work done!


Jennifer • October 15, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Sidney Poitier?

Sylvester Stallone?


Gina • October 15, 2009 at 6:18 pm

I would TOTALLY make out with Sean Connery. Have you seen him in the Ralph Lauren ad?? That’s my vote, but onscreen kiss, yes I can’t think of a “famous” one from him.


Cathleen • October 15, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Michael Caine has written at least three books, and he kissed Christopher Reeve in DeathTrap…. I don’t know that that would be my all-time favorite screen kiss or that I’d feel the need to watch it over and over again, but that’s my bet.


Deanna - The Unnatural Mother • October 15, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Interesting… I can’t wait to read!


Jill • October 16, 2009 at 12:11 am

Eastwood. Maybe Michael Douglas, but I guess Eastwood for sure.


Kathy W. • October 16, 2009 at 1:24 am

Could be Sam Shepard. He’s about 66, leading man and big-time writer. My friend and I were once in a then-trendy restaurant in the Village when he walked through and made *prolonged* eye contact. He always seemed to be in NYC w/out Jessica Lange, who was back home in the Midwest. Notorious flirt for sure, and he used to be really attractive…


Roxanne • October 16, 2009 at 6:19 pm

I’d guess Tony Curtis. Born in 1925. He kissed Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot”.

Or maybe Christoper Plummer? Remember the kiss from “The Sound of Music”?

I’m a long time reader, but this is my first time commenting. I can’t resist a good mystery.


Zoey • October 16, 2009 at 10:22 pm

@Kathy W. – I couldn’t think of his name; yep, Sam was the one who came to my mind.


Patti • October 16, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Sam Sheppard first came to mind, and then Clint Eastwood.

But the kiss in “The Sound of Music” WAS mighty (ahem) titiillating (Mr. Plummer, you hunk)!

Nevertheless, I can’t shake the feeling that there is one name that’s not coming to me – one that I did not read in the comments.

Staying tuned… Patti


Kathy W. • October 17, 2009 at 1:02 am

adding to the Sam Shepard evidence: the scene in “Baby Boom” where Diane Keaton is ranting by a car and he grabs and kisses her, leaving her speechless, turns up on many lists of “greatest movie kisses.”


Rebecca Hoover • October 17, 2009 at 10:11 am

Ew, Sam Shepard, yuck. I hope it’s someone else, he’s never done it for me.


Katherine • October 17, 2009 at 7:42 pm

@Rebecca Hoover – Oh, no…he’s a lovely one, Sam Shepard. But for the life of me, I can’t imagine who it is! Methinks the author is playing coy…her description could be any or none of them, actually…..


Katherine • October 17, 2009 at 7:55 pm

@Rebecca Hoover – Oh, no…he’s a lovely one, Sam Shepard. But for the life of me, I can’t imagine who it is! Methinks the author is playing coy…her description could be any or none of them, actually…..


Lydia • October 17, 2009 at 9:57 pm



Jenni • October 19, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Warren Beatty! My local news paper (The Salt Lake Tribune) has a review of her book and it says there is a Warren Beatty chapter, so he is my guess.


Jenni • October 19, 2009 at 1:33 pm

@Jenni – ah dang. I just read the “its not Warren Beatty” damn my speed reading.


auntjone • October 19, 2009 at 1:39 pm

I thought Woody Allen but he loses in the sex appeal department. Ick.

Ooooh Christopher Plummer. Yeah, I could kiss him despite the age difference. Help me RHONDA he was hot in TSOM.


Sara • October 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Mildly off but totally on topic:

I so enjoyed Elna Baker’s website and the audio/video story snippets. Thank you for pointing me in her direction!


K • October 20, 2009 at 1:47 pm

@Gina – Ew. Have you ever heard his mysogynistic views on women?

Beating the occasional woman that doesn’t know how to “behave” is OK by him.


spooler • October 24, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Gene Hackman meets all the criteria except he may be too old – He has co-authored at least 2 books, he’s married, was one of the top actors of the ’70s. He isn’t known as a romantic lead but he has had his moments -there is a love story subplot in Hoosiers, Another Woman, and a favorite of mine – All Night Long.


PastaQueen • November 9, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Oooh! I talked to Elna’s publicist who got her to take a look at this page and she said someone has guessed the identity of the mystery man! But, she still won’t say who. Congrats to whoever figured it out, though none of us know who you are.


harry • November 21, 2009 at 11:46 pm

ok i’ve GOT to know who this is! it’s been driving me nuts since i hear the story on “risk”. my bet is al pacino i guess, only cuz he’s 69 but i don’t know much for screen kisses unless she likes the “frankie and johnnie” stuff or the “cruising” stuff. but is he as much of an ass as the risk story makes him?

please put me outta my misery! i don’t know why i care but i do!


Me • November 22, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I though Woody Allen, but he’s not at all Warren Beatty-esque. I think Clint Eastwood is too old, didn’t she say 69 or so? Clint is almost 80. Robert Duvall has written a couple of movies., but I think he’s a bit too old too.

Sam Shepard makes a lot of sense, as she sort of hints that he wrote plays, but he’s nowhere near as recognizable as Beatty.


harry • November 23, 2009 at 11:50 pm

pacino’s never married, so scrap that. tho sea of love has one of the greatest screen kisses of all time.


mark • November 29, 2009 at 12:31 am

just heard the “warren” story on RISK podcast, and hadn’t realized i’d listened to elna baker many times on this american life, the moth, etc…..she’s great. wound up on your page because it was driving me nuts trying to figure out who the guy was, too, and my wife hasn’t had time yet to give the story a listen. thing is, ms. baker also said he was an oscar winner (at least on the RISK podcast), so now i (and any other interested parties) have to narrow it down, if her publicist is telling the truth an one of the above guesses is accurate. thanks for the help!


Sherlock • December 10, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Let’s review the clues: He’s a once-sexy married leading man/playwright b. abt 1940 w/a CA area code famous for a steamy movie kiss…

It can ONLY be Sam Shepard b. 1943. The biggest clue is playwright. Very few leading men are also successful writers–and she says he recommends he use a line for one of his CHARACTERS. (And while Sam isn’t technically married to Jessica Lange, it’s a common-law marriage.)

A second guess is Woody Allen (b. 1935) but he is too old to match her description and was never a movie heartthrob with a rewindable movie kiss…


harry • December 10, 2009 at 2:00 pm

@mark – i’m not sure if dustin hoffman was listed already, but he has won an oscar and is 69-70, and i beleive he had a memorable screen kiss in tootsie. as far as writing i’m sure he has but i don’t remember. also-is married.


Sherlock Too • December 11, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Apparently it wasn’t even a unique evening for Mr. Shepard. Bad boy.

SAM Shepard pawing beautiful young Stella Schnabel at the bar at Beatrice Inn, looking like “a grizzled bear who’d found some raw meat and was rummaging through a trash bin to get at it” . . .

From the NY Post in February


Tera • December 25, 2009 at 2:58 pm

She says in the dedication that there is a “Warren Beatty” chapter!


Tracey • January 19, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I totally think it’s Sam Shepard! Here is an article in the Irishtimes (which, if you’ve heard her on the Risk podcast, she mentions the guy wanting to take her to Ireland)



cici • January 21, 2010 at 11:53 am

I just listened to this story on the Risk podcast. Sam Shepard hasn’t won an Oscar but he was nominated for The Right Stuff screenplay. Best guess so far!
The NYPost quote convinced me.


slam • January 25, 2010 at 10:41 am

My guess before coming here was Steve Martin. Sam Shepard doesn’t have the right fame profile to be “Warren Beatty”. And Steve Martin has written quite a few plays. But he hasn’t won an Oscar, and the NYPost blurb is compelling, so maybe it is Sam.


Hilary • February 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Okay so I have way to much time on my hands and my curiosity always gets the best of me. My mother in law recommended this book because she says Elna reminds her of me…hmmm. So after much research based on what we know and the previous blogs where someone correctly guessed the famous actor; this is a pretty good narrowing down of the suspects. Here it goes;

Al Pacino – never married
Micheal Douglas – too young
James Brolin – no oscar
Harrison Ford – no oscar, a little too young, not married
Dustin Hoffman – too old
Patrick Stewart – no oscar
Alan Alda – no oscar
Sam Shepard – too young, no oscar

Those were the closest to the known variables. The one that fits best is….Gene Hackman. He is 70, married, oscar winner and writer. He does not have a 310 area code, but that would be because his agency or manager set up the phone number is based out of L.A. I am not familiar enough with him to know his on screen kisses; plus, what one person thinks is a great kiss another might not.


Hilary • February 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm

So I need to check my research better…Gene Hackman was born in 1930, making him 80…shoot this is not the first week my math skills have failed me…back to square one


Darren • March 8, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Ok, so check this out. It’s the most obvious choice of all- Warren Beatty. I know she says it’s not him, but think about it. That’s the one way she can protect herself, yet reveal it as well. He’s married, he’s won an Academy award, he’s a womanizer, he’s a big star. And besides, it wouldn’t be fair to use his name as a proxy if it weren’t. People like Jenni above could misunderstand the story and just here “Warren Beatty”. By saying it isn’t Warren Beatty, she has it both ways.
Now, my question is what is the best screen kiss. She’s Mormon, so she probably hasn’t watched Shampoo. My guess is at the end of Heaven Can Wait on the football field in the empty stadium.


Darren • March 8, 2010 at 6:33 pm

@Darren – Sorry, I meant “hear” not “here”!


Staci Kramer • May 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Seriously this mystery is gonna keep me up at night. How in the world does no one know the answer to this question? Isn’t there someone who heard the story from her before she wrote the book? Theres no way she didn’t tell people all about this. The Sam Shepard theory is really disappointing for me because I swear I have never even heard of him. I like the Warren Beatty theory and when I was reading it I pictured De Niro or Connery. I hope this gets difinitively solved! Elna, You have got to spill!


Mr. Applecot • February 5, 2011 at 4:00 am

I’m a little late here (just listen to this story on the Risk! podcast) but I think it’s a close tie between Sam Shepard, Steve Martin and Woody Allen. That said, none of them fit entirely.

They’ve all written plays and are all massively successful enough to have the crazy entitlement of the “Warren Beatty” character featured in her story.

Woody Allen definitely has some iconic kissing scenes (Manhattan or Annie Hall, maybe?) but Mr. Allen would NEVER have a 310 area code.

Sam Shepard doesn’t have an academy award, so that doesn’t quite work, but both Steve Martin and Woody Allen do (Steve Martin won for a short film he did in the seventies). The 310 area code makes me think it’s Martin, though the famous on-screen kiss is a bit of a throw. Steve Martin’s pretty lacking in that department, though maybe there’s something in Roxanne or Shopgirl perhaps? Steve Martin’s also quite well-known for his plays (Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Wasp, The Underpants). I can also totally see him struggling to say please and half-jokingly say “Show me your tits”. He also hasn’t visibly aged since the 80s, so the author’s surprise about finding out his age works as well.
My money’s on Steve Martin.


Angela DiGiovanni | Living Out Loud • February 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm

But Steve Martin and sex appeal just don’t go together. Not for me, anyways. When reading the book, I originally thought Harrison Ford, like many others, but then, yeah… the writer part…

I like Darren’s Warren Beatty theory!


Tambi • April 13, 2011 at 10:21 am

I am completely with Darren. She’s hiding Warren Beatty in plain sight by saying it’s not him.

It sounds exactly like him.

And she doesn’t seem like the type of person who would casually draw an innocent person into the story, even as an example.

The guy who *isn’t* Warren Beatty… *is* Warren Beatty.


Anon • April 13, 2012 at 3:32 am

Sam Shepard?


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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