Ben Keller knows most of the secrets and sins of the people of Omaha, Nebraska. Growing up in the seventies as a not-quite-Catholic kid in the very Catholic city, Ben Keller bookmarks his world through the music of Sting, the wisdom of Warren Buffett, and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
His neighbors and family anchor him in—what he had thought was—a normal childhood, laced with a suspected boy-stealer, a creepy creek, and a neighborhood witch. After years of helping his single-mother in her basement salon, Ben stumbles into owning his own shop, the Vanity Insanity, a salon with amazingly strange people who had actually made the choice to do hair.
The accidental hair stylist finds himself privy to the dreams and dark secrets of those who are making regular appointments to sit in his safe chair. As their lives cross and their hairstyles change over the years, Ben slowly starts to accept that his lot in life must be to carry everyone’s sins and burdens so they can feel better about themselves.
Ben laughs at the crazy people, makes fun of the city in which he grew up, and calls out the mistakes of the Catholic Church, while at the same time elevating the goodness of all three.
Death, a fire, a call from the wacky girlfriend of the father who had abandoned him thirty-five years earlier, and the quiet and gradual intertwining of a few special clients force Ben to slowly peel away at the intense denial of his dreams and his feelings regarding infidelity, forgiveness, and the existence of God.
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What Readers are Saying.
“For a story depicting such a seemingly ordinary life, Leatherman’s novel packs a punch. The carousel of themes-abandonment, abuse, adultery, death, depression-keeps the plot lively … A realistic, captivating portrayal of a man’s life in full.” Kirkus Review
FROM VANITY INSANITY
THE BROOM MAN
The ride home was pretty much the same as the ride to church except that every once in a while Grandpa Mac would stop by Goodrich Dairy and get two chocolate malts for us. That night on our way home, we saw a small black man walking down Blondo Street with an armful of brooms and a white cane. Mac waved at the man. The old man, in a suit and tie, wearing a capped hat, held about five brooms over his shoulder. He moved the cane back and forth as he walked down the sidewalk.
“That’s Reverend Livingston, Ben,” Grandpa Mac said quietly. “He’s a blind man who sells brooms for a living and preaches God’s word. Makes the brooms, too. The man’s a saint, a quiet little saint weaving around the city.”
“He’s blind? How does he know if people are paying him the right amount of money?”
“He just trusts them, I guess. I bought a broom from him when I was working downtown. He was walking around the UP building at lunch time, but I’ve seen him all over Omaha.”
Better than the movie was the theater that we went to each time: the Indian Hills Theatre, the coolest theater ever known to mankind. All movies there were shown in a Cinerama wide-screen format. A 105-foot screen, inclined, purple plush seating, a smoking section, a balcony, and the biggest variety of candy offered to my imagination to date. For A.C. and me, Indian Hills was the best movie-going experience of our lives; however, at almost sixteen, we were pushing the age factor and realized that we needed to start acting like teenagers. Sneaking into R-rated movies and going to concerts were next on the age agenda, and we begrudgingly yet excitedly decided that we would let go of our youth and grow up that year—after we saw Star Wars, just one more time.
INDIAN HILLS MOVIE THEATER
In May of 1975, we had unexpected break from the classroom. Barely an hour after school kids made it home for the day, some of the classrooms were no longer there. At about 4:20 p.m. on May 6, several major tornados, with winds gusting up to 260 miles per hour, decided to blow down the center of town, turn left on Seventy-Second Street, and swing by the Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack and Archbishop Bergan Mercy Hospital before driving out of town and lifting at 4:38 p.m. The afternoon tour chopped a path across ten miles of streets and residences.
The miracle of it all is that this F4 natural disaster took only three lives. Omahans were proud to say that their sound-warning system was the real hero; one of the three fatalities had been a hard-of-hearing elderly lady who had not heard the sirens. Omaha drew a breath as the paralyzed community picked up toasters and wallets in their yards belonging to people who lived miles away. An entire block wiped out near Saint Pius had only one wall standing, with a cross hanging soundly.