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Origins 2


This one is all about me.

I’m Harry and I was born in Omaha, which is in Nebraska, which turn and turn about is in America and I’d wager you have heard of that, America, probably, so I refuse to take this description any wider. If I wished to be all dramatic and literary and pretentious about it, then I’d say something like this: “I came into this world in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy-Three.” But I do not wish to be all dramatic and literary and pretentious about it, so I’ll just say I was born in 1973. That’s hardly a year one is likely to associate with God much anyway.

Let’s get on with this.

To locate Omaha on a map, first you get a map and then you point to the very center of it. Look at where you’ve pointed. Your finger is somewhere around Omaha. To be honest, your finger is probably in the middle of a cornfield, but the cornfield is not far from Omaha. Back then, I mean in the Seventies and not when you pointed, the city was made up of stockyards and of railroads. Today, it is made up of insurance companies. Things change.


My father was a sheet metal fabricator and my mother was a housewife. I remember our little yellow house and I remember all of the garter snakes around it, mostly outside. One time, me and my little brother and some of the neighbor kids started a Snake Circus. We charged people five cents a head to come and watch whatever it was we were doing with the snakes. I cannot remember what it was we were doing with the snakes and I cannot even imagine what it might have been, honestly, for they were all harmless and almost completely untrainable. Yet still the neighbors came, paid their nickels, and sat down in lawn chairs to watch us.

Another thing I remember is church. Saint Agnes Catholic Church was at 24th and Q and it had a school attached to it and that’s where I went to school. On the weekends, I was an altar boy at Mass. Stay with me here – no jokes.

Being an altar boy was a wonderful thing because instead of just sitting in a pew, fighting off sleep, I got to be part of the performance! At the start of the Mass, I’d carry this huge cross up to the altar. Then, right before Communion, I would take this thingamabob with four bells on it and I would get down on my knees. The priest said:
On the night he was betrayed,
he took bread and gave you thanks and praise.
He broke the bread,
gave it to his disciples, and said:
“Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my body which will be given up for you.”

That’s the first place I had to ring the bells, I think. I rang the hell out of those bells.

Then the priest said:
When supper was ended,
he took the cup.
Again he gave you thanks and praise,
gave the cup to his disciples, and said:
“Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of a new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me.”

That was the second place I had to ring the bells. It all had something to do with eating our god, which was a thing we did. No one is eating God at Saint Agnes Catholic Church anymore, though, because just last month, they tore the whole church down, school and all. Things change.

1982 was the year when every factory worker in Omaha lost their job. My father was a factory worker and sure enough, he lost his job, too. He decided we were moving to Houston, Texas, which was a wonderful thing really, because they had lizards down there, just running about loose. I was enthralled at the prospect of my impending Lizard Circus.

There was a thing though and the thing was this: My family pulled into Houston in our rented Ryder moving truck at the precise instant when every factory worker in the city lost their job. We’d moved for nothing! Still we stayed in Houston and that is the point in my story where everything goes kind of weird.


Comments

  1. What....you're just going to leave us hanging with 'everything turned weird'????????C'mon!!!!!! You were born two years before my daughter....if those pictures are truly of you, you were one cute little kid.

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    1. Thanks. I didn't even expect for this post to be this long. I thought it was going to be primarily a picture post, but I have a difficult time getting from point A to point B concisely.

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  2. You two sure were cute kids. And I will look forward to the details of the lizard circus.

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    1. The cuteness thing took a lefthand turn at around 13 years of age and never came back. It's okay. We all have our gifts. Cuteness is just not among mine.

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  3. I know a lot of great plains/midwestern states have a lot of "nothing" outside of the few notable cities. I'm sure they struggle more with change than anyone.

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    1. We used to drive back up to Omaha from Houston a lot, and much of the drive featured nothing. Nothing. If it was winter, for a funeral, then Kansas looked like the surface of the moon.

      Yes. Predictably, Kansas has some very strange politics. As do Oklahoma and Nebraska, actually. If you're living in an area that is basically unchanged for the past hundred years, then I can see why stories about Muslims and Mexicans and transgender people might be a bit bewildering - and I don't mean that as an insult, really.

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  4. Does the next part of the story start off with "before I knew it I was in my forties, pretending to be people on the internet"? Because that *would* be weird.

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    1. Someday, I'm going to tell that story. It was the original point of starting this new blog page. Writing in characters has been one of the better things about my recent life, up until last year when I stopped.

      I need to tell that story. I'll get there.

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    2. > someday
      You better make sure you do that before you die. The bus factor here is very real when it comes to biographical stories!

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    3. I don't look back much. There's always seemed to be something unseemly in it. But still, there's some things I'd like to get down in words.

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  5. That ET t-shirt says it all really. The thought of you as an Alter boy did make me snigger. Sorry.

    I still take communion every month, minus any bell ringing.

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    1. Haha. I realized after I posted it that i really didn't need to specify "1982" after that. The two televisions in that pic - the one on the left that looks like a dresser and a bit of a black and white one on the right - places it in time as well. The big color TV must have been down and we were probably stuck with the black and white during the interim.

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  6. As I have written about, I did the maintenance gig at several manufacturing plants in my area over the years. Was laid off twice due to economic downturns and both were damn near traumatic experiences. Given that my wife is an attorney, and the primary breadwinner, we've never had to move but still, being laid off is a ball buster to the ego.

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    1. What I didn't include in here is that the job my dad had lined up in Houston before we made the move disappeared sometime during our trip down here. He was unemployed again as soon as we arrived.

      I don't know whether he ever completely recovered. He found work but much of it was night shift and I didn't see him very often.

      Life doesn't turn out how we expect it to, I guess. Marrying an attorney is a good idea, haha. Well, unless you marry a pathological non-profit attorney like me and end up with the salary of a teacher, basically...

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  7. I went to St. Ray's school. There are more than 10,000 saints in the Catholic Church - wonderful internet can most anything except more time in the day. I tried out for the choir but was rejected. Looking back, I could of picked-up some Latin by being an altar boy. But they rejected me for choir so why give them another chance to reject me. I'm sure the tough job situation gave you a more realistic view of life. Oh, there were snakes in my childhood too.

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    1. What's amazing is learning about how many of those saints never existed. In 1969, the Church purged a lot of the fictitious ones.

      Saint Christopher, for instance - the guy never existed and was removed from the calendar back then. I think he was the patron saint of travelers. I associate him with Tom Waits' song, "Hang on Saint Christopher." But he apparently never existed.

      My parents did a pretty good job of hiding from us just how poor we were.

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  8. If your family had moved somewhere else, it probably would have been the same anyway. Except maybe the weird bit. Texas is a little different from everywhere else - so I'd say the weird was all Texas's fault. Not that we don't have a bit of that here in Montana, too.

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    1. I suspect that Montana was high up on the list of possibilities for where my dad would have agreed to move. Only he'd lived in Texas while he was in the navy and felt it wasn't a completely strange place.

      He still talks about Montana, actually, although I don't know whether he's ever been there. He sort of talks about it the way one would talk of Siberia or or something. Almost like a threat.

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    2. Haha! Yeah. Especially right now. Forest Fire Season has started and I can't stop coughing.

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    3. I hadn't heard about them up there this year. The California fires get all of the ink.

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  9. You know us so well, since I'm certain I'm not the only one who grinned at the mention of your altar boy(ing) years. I, too, was very active at our church, but... was politely asked to stop coming because well, I asked too many questions and had some rather strange ideas (said some) about the reliability of many of the teachings as interpreted by some of the teachers. Anyway, this is about you, not me... One of these days, you should bring your Snake Circus back. But be very careful. I'm sure the snakes that lurk around where you live now are not nearly as harmless. Maybe... maybe you can get some bells to enthrall them.

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    1. Yeah, once we got down to Houston, we had copperheads in our yard. The neighbor kid caught a coral snake once, and those are about the most venomous snakes around. There are also cottonmouths.

      Regarding church, one of my favorite lines ever from "The Simpsons" came when Bart went to Sunday school and asked, "If you lose an arm during life and then years later you die, will it be waiting for you when you get to heaven?"

      It's a legitimate question.

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  10. Ok, I want to know the rest of the story!! Harry, this was a great read! Really enjoyed the pictures! Very cute! Snakes and lizards? Maybe you should have worked at a zoo? I hope your dad got work!

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    1. Hi, Stacy! I tried to find some pictures of me with snakes and other critters for this post, but my mom sucks at keeping pictures in any kind of sensible order, so thanks, Mom...

      There was a time when I really believed I would end up working around animals. Then, it turned out that I am horrible at science (partially the fault of some awful science teachers) and was good at some other things (partially the fault of some great English and History teachers).

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  11. Omaha? That's where Mike Mogis and Saddle Creek records are from, right? I used to be quite the Rilo Kiley fan, and took a shine to Orenda Fink while I was at it.

    Wow, 1973? That was the first year I raced motocross. I was 12.

    And 1982? That's when the logging and fishing industries simultaneously tanked in Eureka (events that were related, but that is a story for another time) and unemployment soared into the double digits and everyone grew pot.

    Like, everyone. Cops. Little old ladies. Catholic priests. The superior court judge.

    And little side industries grew up around the still at the time illegal practice: there were army surplus camo nets to be sold to shield the bright green from the eyes of Reagan's CAMP helicopters, and since carrying water uphill is no fun at all, my boss at the auto body shop bought a disused 1940's fire truck, rebuilt the engine, and charged $100/hr to pump water up those hills instead.
    Then came the 60 Minutes expose, after which the wholesale price went above $2K/lb and people started doing really stupid things, things involving theft, and guns, and treachery, which those folks just weren't equipped for or disposed toward. That's when I lost a couple of good friends and started thinking about moving a little closer to the music that had by then pretty much taken over my existence.
    Then there was a girl, and a Peter Gabriel concert, and all of the sudden I was in Oakland, and damn, for the time being, I'm still here...

    Yup, my friend Zsuzs got us back online today.

    -Doug in Oakland

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    1. Good to have you back, man.

      One thing I didn't include here (yet) was that i moved back up to Omaha for law school, 14 years later. Just for three years.

      I actually did my shopping down on Saddle Creek Road. I think I might have missed the big Saddle Creek indie music explosion by a tiny bit. Certainly I didn't hear of Bright Eyes until I was back in Houston in 1999.

      My grandparents were living in northern Louisiana when the Elephant 6 bands hit the indie scene, and that's where they were from. Monroe, Louisiana. My grandparents moved back to Omaha just in time for the Saddle Creek bans. I was convinced that the indie scene was just following two 75-year olds around.

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    2. Wow, so St. Christopher wasn't real? Does that mean that all of those little badges or medals or whatever they were didn't really bring good luck?

      -Doug in Oakland

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    3. This gives me a great idea for a short story.

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  12. Oh, you were an alter boy?!? Did you get to do the fun thing with the lantern on the chain that you swing and the smoke goes all over the place? That and the not having to constantly kneel and get up, were the most appealing parts of being an alter-kid. "Today it is made up of insurance companies," is a very simple yet evocative description that I think can describe a number of towns.

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    1. Never got to do the thurible. I think it's called a thurible. That's a great word, whether it's what it's called or not. Maybe it's not a word at all.

      That would be thurible.

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  13. Hopefully to be continued because I really want it to be continued because I need some closure, Harry. =)

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    1. Haha, thanks, Mr. Shife. These "Origins" posts seem to be very sporadic indeed. The first one was last September! It's hard to believe it was that long ago, actually.

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  14. 1973 is one of my favourite years - I was three and I gained a brother. But we didn't get pumpkins in Cornwall till some time in the Eighties - we had to carve turnip lanterns. Those are great pictures and I'm keen to know more, even if you hadn't ended with such an enticing hook :-)

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    1. You'd think with the amount of British horror that i read that I would have known about turnip lanterns. It's probably one of those things I read and disregarded time and time again.

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  15. What a vivid picture you paint!

    I was invite to be an alter girl when I was a kid. I passed, because I was shy and also I could probably sense that my relationship with the catholic church wasn't always going to be sympatico...

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    1. They didn't do the altar girl thing at the old church when I was young. I never gave it much thought when i was young - church was just something we did. It did not take overly long for me to realize that I wasn't getting from it what people were supposed to be getting from it, though.

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  16. It's always fun to learn a little more about a fellow blogger. I looked at my map, and you are right - Omaha is right smack dab in the middle. Love the ET shirt! ET was the first movie I ever bought on video tape. I think it was $149.

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    1. I forgot how wildly expensive VHS feature films were at first. For some reason, Spielberg was particularly weird about allowing ET to hit video. But yeah, the t-shirt definitely places the picture in a certain time period.

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