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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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!