Random Past Blast

So this is my nine-hundred-and-ninety-ninth post here on Logos con Carne (which turns nine tomorrow). I’ll talk more about that when I do the anniversary (or perhaps more accurately, the birthday) post. What I’ve been struggling with for days is what this post should be.

The celebration post, as usual, will look back at the past year (as well as the past nine), which leaves this post wanting a topic. Yesterday I was looking at some old photos and got the idea of looking back at my own (much longer) past.

I figure it’s gotta be an easier post to write than trying to explain a tesseract.

I was born. I’m pretty sure that’s true, although I don’t remember it at all. (In my defense, I was very young then.) But I have been assured it really happened.

The place was New York City — a hospital in Manhattan. And not to get all pathetic right out of the gate, but almost immediately thereafter I experienced my first rejection in life. Whoever my birth mother was, she gave me up for adoption.

Which happened quickly — I was adopted as a baby by a young minister and his wife, and as far as I’m concerned, they are, and always have been, my Real Parents. I never had much interest in seeking my gene donors — at best a mild curiosity.

My family of four. (The ‘rents have shuffled off their mortal coils.)

Given what (little) I know about the adoption agency, it’s probable my biomom was a Midwestern teen who got pregnant and was shipped off to the Big City to give birth far from prying local eyes. A long vacation for her health or perhaps an extended visit to a cousin.

I have no ill will. Simply put, my life, with all its ups and downs, has been fucking awesome. It really has. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, and — most importantly — I’ve had lots of joy and tons of fun!

(Also sorrows and pains, of course, in full measure, but that’s just the border that offsets the picture. Happiness has no meaning without misery. Yin and Yang are fundamental.)

The brick building was dad’s first parish in New York. We lived in the upper floors of the white building (my first home). I’m told the “X” marks my bedroom window. (Photo from my folks visiting NY many years ago.)

Dad was a Lutheran minister; mom was a music teacher — also choir director and church organist. My moral sensibility and my love of music come from them. Mom taught me to play piano so long ago I don’t remember ever not knowing how to play.

My sister, who is a few years younger, was also adopted as an infant. She and her family still live in California (whereas I moved back to Minnesota; I’ll get to that).

That little brick church in the above photo was a struggling congregation when my dad started there. It was his first ministry, so they gave him a parish the “new guy” couldn’t screw up. As it turned out, dad built it into thriving congregation.

Because of that, the ALC gave him the opportunity to create a new parish. Literally new. They built a new church on a vacant lot in The Bronx. We lived in the building next door, my second home.

My dad’s second parish, a new church in The Bronx. We lived in the building rising behind it on the left. (Image from Google Earth street view, so fairly current.)

The neighborhood in the 1950s was a mix of poor people: Italian, Puerto Rican, Black, and White. The American Civil Rights Movement didn’t gain momentum until the 1960s, so things, at least on the surface, were calmer then. (Which is not to say things were right. Tragically they still aren’t, and we have very far yet to go.)

So I was born into a cross-cultural world (with amazing food experiences). Crucially, I learned from the beginning that skin color and nationality mean nothing intrinsic. The heart and mind inside mean everything.

Assholes and Angels come in all colors.

Dad built a thriving congregation in The Bronx. That success created a reputation and lead to the ALC offering him a struggling parish in Minnesota.

We left New York just after I finished kindergarten (IDR;IWVYT).

§ §

Minnesota was white as unpeed snow, and cross-cultural meant Norwegian, Swedish, and German. (My parents were first-generation Americans. All four grandparents immigrated separately from Norway.)

Dad’s clan standing outside his new parish in Minneapolis. His brother’s family on the left; his dad in the center; dad, sis, and mom, on the right. I’m the dweeb in the plaid jacket striking a pose.

I call my years in Minnesota my “Wonder Bread” years (if you remember the old TV commercials). It’s definitely a reference to the culture.

Dad’s brother (who taught theology), and his parents, lived in Minneapolis, so there was a sense of family we’d never had before. (Dad’s dad was also a minister. Lot of preachers and teachers in my family tree. Sister teaches grade school now.)

My cousin (left in photo above) is almost exactly my age (just a month-and-a-half difference). We had a lot of fun playing together during those years. As adults we grew apart; we’re rather different people.

Sister, me, and our first family dog. That beagle was an escape artist my mom often chased around the neighborhood with a raw hot dog as bait. We had a lot to learn about dogs.

Here’s an example: Back then I was already both a nerd and a geek — very much in my own world. Cousin was more aware and material (a difference we got from our respective fathers). We had a bunch of nickels and dimes to play with, and cousin, knowing and regarding the value of money, wanted all the dimes.

Which was fine with me; I preferred the nickels. More substantial, weighty, real. More interesting. Didn’t care about the monetary value — wanted the interesting ones.

Funny thing is, I’ll still take the nickels.

§ §

In one of the more emotionally traumatic times of my life, dad accepted another assignment to another failing congregation, this one in Los Angeles

The trauma came, in part, from moving in the middle of the school year, in part from being 13, and in part culture shock compared to Minnesota.

Our house in Inglewood, California. That’s my VW bug in the driveway (my first car — I loved that little bug; put over 100,000 miles on it). Mom’s roses are along the side of the house.

But my early years in New York turned out to be good training for living in Inglewood, the Los Angeles suburb just west of Watts — which famous for its towers and its Civil Rights rebellion (the year prior to our move). I had a sense of what class struggle is about and parents who taught me to see people.

Those years, my high school years, were often tense, although by today’s standards it was pretty mild. If a student so much as pulled a knife on a someone (let alone used it), that was shattering news. No one had guns then.

No high school students (or teachers) died.

Civil Rights made it a time of turmoil and hope. (It resulted in some progress, but fifty years later, Barack Obama’s election demonstrated how little had truly changed.)

Dad got seriously into gardening in Minnesota and kept it up in California. By then he was into organ gardening, had a worm farm and a compost pile. We even had an orange tree. My parents despaired my distaste of vegetables. Still not big on them.

For me though, high school involved my first rebirth, version 2.0 of my life. I discovered the theatre and an artistic side I didn’t know I had. Some other wonderful teachers also made life-long impressions. See: Somewhat Unique and The Love Connection.

I also went to college in Los Angeles. Loyola Marymount, a Catholic university. That was an interesting experience for a Lutheran guy. (Jesuits are way cool — they’re kind of the scientists of the Catholic religion. (Also, I once smoked a joint with a Jesuit priest, but in the 1970s pretty much everyone did.))

The irony is that I selected that university because of their hands-on approach to teaching filmmaking and TV production — my intended career. But as often happens in my life, it was unexpected chance that led to version 3.0 of my life: computer programming (which did become my career).

My mom’s clan was huge and most of them lived in So Cal. Dad is kneeling on the left, sister is on the right (in black top), mom is upper center (grey top). I took the photo, so I’m behind the camera.

It took a few years, but I came to really love Los Angeles. It was an amazing place to live in the decades around 1970. There was Hollywood, the beach, the hippie enclave that was Venice, the LA music scene, the restaurants (the seafood!), Westwood village,… It was utter heaven for this young hippie rebel.


Rebellion is apparently something else I learned from my dad. He rebelled against the ALC administration during my high school years.

Sister and me in high school. Both striking a pose.

His church in Los Angeles was in a mostly Black neighborhood, and the ALC didn’t fully appreciate the different needs and dynamics involved. My dad’s New York sensibilities had him insisting the church should better serve what was then called “the inner city” (yet another code for Black people).

The proverb is: “The nail that sticks up gets pounded down.”

They pounded the shit outta my dad until he gave up and quit his position as a minister (but never his faith). My mom went back to teaching music at a grade school to help support the family while my dad sought to learn a new profession: printing and publishing books (my bibliophilia comes from his bibliophilia).

He first got a job as a press operator for a law firm, then bought his own press and shared a print shop, then bought enough stuff to open his own shop, eventually published some vanity books,… and never really made a dime (but we had a few nickels along the way, metaphorically and otherwise).

My dad’s shop, Potpourri Printers, is the right third of a building that used to be a strip joint. Notice the signs on the pole? We never bothered to change them. And there’s my VW bug, again.

Dad just wasn’t a businessman. Neither am I, and it was watching him I realized that. (I still prefer nickels. I’m just fortunate enough to be smart enough to get away with it.)

I worked in his print shop for three years, which gave me a fallback career. (A few, actually: product photography, process camera photography, dark room work, color stripping, and design layout. I made nearly perfect halftones, but I never got the feel for running a press.)

We both felt it was time for me to move on, so I got a job as a field tech for The Company. After four years fixing customer machines, TC offered me a transfer to HQ.

Which happened to be in Minnesota, so back I went.

§ §

And here I still am!

Funny thing: I hated being back in Minnesota as much as I initially hated California. But the same thing happened: I grew to love what’s here. (It isn’t so much the fickle love the one you’re with but finding what to love in what you have.)

Mom and dad on their 60th anniversary. They showed me long-term love was possible (even if it forever eluded me). They were an amazingly good match — a rare case of young love proving true. Certainly the biggest blessing of my life.

Since I moved back, I’ve lived in Minnesota longer than any other place. It’s also longer than half my life. If I include living here the first time, it’s two-thirds of my life.

The truth is, all those camping trips are the equal of anything I experienced in California. So was skydiving, which I only did here even though I thought about it a lot in California.

To be honest, sunny California is a wonder, but I prefer the change of seasons. I like variety and change. It’s that Yin-Yang thing again. Summer is sweeter for being brief.

§ §

You know what’s a fun movie? Blast From the Past

Cuties Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone, with Christopher Walken as a loving dad (alone worth seeing). Also with Sissy Spacek and Dave Foley. Directed and written by Hugh Wilson, who created WKRP in Cincinnati (a pretty funny show).

The movie didn’t do well (inexplicably, I think), but Roger Ebert (the only film critic I ever respected) had the good sense to give three-of-four stars.

Stay past blasted, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

12 responses to “Random Past Blast

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Another post that went over my 2000-word max limit. It was an easy one to write, and I could have gone much longer. I didn’t even mention the summer I lived in Las Vegas. That’s probably a post on its own, though.

  • Christina Schmidt

    This is a lovely post. I particularly like the picture of you and your sis. An essence is captured there.

    BEAGLE! *starry eyes*

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks! I had a lot of attitude as a teenager. 😮

      That beagle was the most energetic dog we ever owned. After that was a Keeshond and then a Belgian Shepard. And my dad had a Great Dane at the print shop as a guard dog (it was kind of a tough neighborhood, and some people still thought the building contained a strip joint).

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    A very interesting look into who you are and where you came from Wyrd! You’d mentioned before that you came from a family of ministers, but I didn’t realize you were raised by one. Or that your background was that multicultural. Looks like a fascinating life!

    You made me look at my post count today. I’m at 981. I don’t usually note numeric milestones, but maybe the 1000th should have one. Assuming I don’t forget and sail past it.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I was dog-sitting my pal, Bentley, last weekend, and as a reward BentleyMom gifted me with some local artisan taste treats: a loaf of Sweet Rye and two kinds of aioli. The bread makes really good toast, but I’ve been wanting to try some sandwiches (my reward for getting these posts out).

    The reward Thursday for finishing this post:

    lunch #1

    Toasted the rye and added two slices of Swiss near the end of the toasting. Just enough heat to start to melt the cheese. Used Black Forest ham and the Jalapeño ailoi. The beer is Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (the only thing that isn’t local).

    The reward Friday for finishing the Saturday Birthday post:

    lunch #2

    Same toasted rye and Swiss. This time it’s roast beef with the “Everything” aioli (which is much spicier than the Jalapeño). The beer is Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA (again, not local, but very tasty).

    The Saturday reward for “gettin’ ‘er done”:

    lunch #3

    More toasted rye and just-melted Swiss, but with pastrami and the “Everything” aioli. This time the beer is local: Hopcromancer by Bad Weather Brewing. (The pastrami is what I first thought of when I got the bread. It was everything I imagined.)

    The Final Fantastic Fourth on Sunday:

    lunch #4

    Again the toasted rye (only four slices left) with just-melted Swiss, but this time it’s pulled pork with the Jalapeño aioli. (Very, very good!) The beer here is Lagunitas IPA, which is pretty mild for an IPA, but Lagunitas is an excellent brewery with the good sense to make a dog their logo.

    Serious deliciousness. 4×! It’s the little things that make life sweet!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Monday it was the rest of the roast beef (and a Stone IPA); today it’ll be the rest of the pastrami (and the last two full-size slices of the rye — I’ve got two okay slices I’ll toast for breakfast tomorrow).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The first thing I did was try toasting the rye, and it made great toast. It was also the last thing — not actually the heels, but the two smallest pieces just inside them. I’ve been pulling bigger slices from inside the loaf for the sandwiches, so I had both penultimate slices available for the final toast (in both senses of the word).

        Damn, it was good toast! I’ve had sweet rye breads that toasted like cake — this wasn’t quite that sweet, but was definitely on that road. Craggy, so the butter had something to grab onto and soak into. Yum.

        (As for the heels, I ate them raw. The first one as soon as I opened the bag just to check out the bread. I had the other one after my walk this morning as a snack.)

        It was great while it lasted!! 🍞😋

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