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30 years with Snow Bird

New Nike sneakers

August 16, 2019

In my almost 30 years with Mr. Eddie (Snowbird) Alden, I sometimes said to myself, Wow.  Someone needs to write a book.  He was unique.  Several people remarked on his singularity at his memorial service, that lasted two hours and forty minutes.  Eddie was unique.  I have never seen anyone even remotely similar to him.  His life made sense to him.  He was his own boss, a crime fighter. Like the Green Lantern.

Several times I asked him if I could call him Snowbird.  “Call me Eddie,” he said each time.

Eddie was an iconic figure in Billings.  He weighed more than 300 lbs, always wore a bright yellow fleece, unless the weather was hot, then he wore a clean white tee shirt.  He pedaled slowly across parking lots, across streets.  His hair was always cut short, less than a quarter inch.  He had vertical black stripes on his scalp where his hair was a bit longer.  He wore white Nike sneakers, white cotton socks, black sweat pants, the bright yellow fleece.  He owned perhaps a dozen of those fleeces, which he stored at a unit on the West end of Billings. I helped him take a lot of his belongings from an apartment near 6th Avenue. As we drove away an old guy, perhaps a property manager for the basement apartment, called out to Eddie, “Don’t come back!”

Aside from angry landlords, he was well known, even loved; but sometimes hated.  One Crow man told me as a child he remembered seeing Eddie and was afraid of him because he sometimes lurked at the corner of buildings.

How well known was he?  This blog you are reading typically attracts one or two readers a day, sometimes as many as ten, when I write about picking up my small dog Gunther’s poop in the neighborhood.  

The day I wrote about Eddie’s funeral service I got more than 500 readers!  I think the most I had ever gotten was around 30, when I wrote about being depressed.  I always took for granted that my blog posts are dull.

The day after that, the blog post about Eddie attracted nearly 8,000 readers!  That number was back to about 500 today.

Eddie always liked publicity.  I think he would be thrilled to know how his story attracts people.

Three days ago, Eddie’s memorial service was held at the Spirit of Life Four Square Church, in Crow Agency.  Right around the corner from the old Crow Mercantile, which was across the street from the Post Office.  I’d say 30 people attended, including four or five of us from Billings.  

Eddie’s service was gorgeous, elaborate, beautiful—all those things.  Two of his bikes were on display with his trademark 64-ounce Big Gulp soda holder.  A two-liter Pepsi bottle, some cologne, a couple of radios, tape recorders, yellow fleeces.  Lots of little touches.  Grocery bags hanging from his handlebars.  He didn’t always use plastic bags.  He started out with paper bags, each reinforced with a half-roll of duct tape. Probably that was before he was settled in Billings, complete with lots of bicycles.

Over the years, I often asked Eddie questions and he would answer cryptically, “Yeah?”  Example:  “Eddie, are you coming over for Thanksgiving?”  He would answer, “Yeah?”  Me:  “Is your apartment clean?”  Eddie:  “Yeah?”

The people at Eddie’s funeral extolled his virtues, which are approximately the same as those of any officer in law enforcement, except Eddie invented his own, volunteer, role.  They said Eddie had some sort of disability, but he valued his family’s tradition of police work.  Generations of policemen (and women, perhaps).  Therefore, according to Eddie’s uncle Art Alden, “Snowbird had a siren on his bicycle.” 

I think I’ve gotten ahead of myself again.

Eddie did not say much about himself, unless asked specifically.  Even then, he was often vague.  Example:  “Eddie, what are you doing tonight?”  Answer:  “Oh, you know, routines.”  I learned later that “routines” referred to the route he pedaled his bicycle.  

I was shocked to learn that he had enemies.  Oh yes.  They were often his victims—people he turned in to the police, usually when intoxicated, often when driving.

One year at Crow Fair, which is a huge annual encampment each August of literally hundreds and hundreds of tepees—possibly more than even one or two thousand—I found Eddie pedaling his bike on one of the many curved roads.  Typically, Eddie wouldn’t recognize me right away.  The reason:  non-Indians, like me, all look alike.  But I called out Eddie’s name and he pedaled slowly to me.  I never saw Eddie pedal quickly. I had driven over to Crow Fair early that morning for the annual “Teepee Creeper’s Classic” three mile run.  I was expecting breakfast at a relative’s camp, so I asked one of the women there if I could invite “Snowbird.”  She said, “sure.”  I didn’t know it, but she was just being ultra kind and polite to me!  

She fried up a rasher of bacon, which Eddie ate from a paper plate.  Soon, my son pulled me aside.  He told me that more than a few people in that camp had spent actual time in jail because of Snowbird’s ratting them out.  I was never never NEVER to invite him to breakfast there again!  

That’s when I learned of Eddie’s “zero tolerance” for the crime of possessing alcohol on a dry reservation.  Both the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations are “dry.”  Eddie also had zero tolerance for any natives that crawl out of a bar and get into a motor vehicle in the small hours of the morning when the places closed down.  Eddie would certainly call the cops on them and that might result in going to jail.

But Eddie didn’t mind at all if I drank.  He even provided me with wine the last few years at Christmas.  Always great generous bottles of pink, or this last Christmas, merlot.  He had gone to some trouble to find out what kind I liked.  Last Christmas I sat with Eddie and drank a few glasses of the merlot.  Our conversations went something like this:

Eddie:  Dan?

Me:  Yeah, Eddie?

Eddie: Dan?

Me: What is it, Eddie?  

Eddie: Does Jon want to buy me a gift card for the Holiday station for Christmas?

Me: How would I know?  Why don’t you ask Jon?

Eddie: Yeah?

Sometimes I bought Eddie black sweat pants for Christmas, sometimes shoes and socks.  One time, I bought him a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, which I wrapped in shiny paper with little trees on it.  After he unwrapped it, he put it on the floor.  He looked at it, then at me.  “This is it?”  He didn’t bother to take it with him.

That’s why I often said that I didn’t really know Eddie that well, despite being acquainted with him for almost 30 years.  Part of the problem was that I frequently was critical of him.  I scolded him for teasing the Bureau of Indian Affairs police officers by carrying around pop in a Budweiser beer box at Crow Fair.  

I got perturbed when he got into trouble, usually having to do with his relationship with a landlord, and he asked four or five different people for help, but didn’t tell any of them about the others.  “Eddie, you need someone’s help,” I said.  “But you don’t need four people who each think they are the only ones helping.”

Eddie kept his business to himself.  He frequently lined up several unrelated groups to help him celebrate his birthday.  On the big day he stopped in at one after another:  the police department, legal services, the Billings Gazette, my house, his sister’s house.  When things went well, he couldn’t help exulting.

I didn’t know Eddie 30 years.  I knew Eddie 1 year, 30 times.  I miss him because his independence delighted me. A legend in his own time.

I criticized Eddie for hoarding stuff in his apartment.  That’s one of the reasons he got eviction notices.  His places were frightful.

I didn’t visit the last three places he lived because I felt depressed when I could barely fit through an aisle of plastic trash bags filled with filthy blankets, gray sheets, phones, sweat clothes, socks, batteries, tape recorders, hair clippers, bicycle parts, radios, cameras, new bike helmets (never worn—I don’t know how often I urged him to wear his helmet.  His answer was always, “Yeah?”) 

Pill box organizers, prescription bottles, envelopes, newspapers, hunters orange gloves, empty soda containers (large) cologne bottles, more envelopes, posters, tools, telephones, more telephones, more bike parts, underwear, camping gear, televisions, fake flowers, food wrappers, bottles of cleaners, vacuum cleaners, neck ties, suits, mattresses, more radios, toy police cars, flashlights, flashlight batteries, a bull horn, a siren, blue and red flashing lights, more toys, hats, hats, more hats, coats, old shoes.  Garbage. Newspapers.  Like 40 copies of the same date.

Fire crackers, bottle rockets, matches, other toys, an empty whisky bottle, pepper.  More pepper.  Thirty cans of black pepper.  And telephones, police scanners, police scanner parts, bicycle seats, bicycle wheels, tires, tubes.  More receipts, paper, a huge pile of bike wheels, bike frames.  A couch, under there somewhere.  ID cards for random people.  Panty hose.  Telephones.  Cooking pan on the stove, with grease.  

I’d ask Eddie the last few years:  “Are you keeping your place pretty clean?”  He answered:  “Yeah?”  

“Really?” I continued.

“Yeah.” He said.  Well, I couldn’t vouch for his honesty in that regard, but I never checked.


PW Volume II number 1


Click the link below to read the entire issue.


Nothing much here, just the usual crapola.

The crapster at his controls.

November 4, 2021

I no longer believe I am capable of plumbing.  Leaky faucet?  No.  Running toilet? Nyet.  Broken toilet seat?  Not really.

Eighteen years ago I set out to make sense of the plumbing in our house.  Copper pipes ran hither and yon across the basement ceiling to the kitchen sink on the other side.  Then there were drain pipes and other pipes to vent the stinky air and allow the drains to drain.  Clogged toilet?  Slow-draining sink?  I can do some good with this last one.  

My paramour has long hair.  I used to use Drain-O, a plunger, a six-foot sewer snake.  Had filth, trouble, loose connections, leakage.  Then I discovered the seven-inch length of coat hanger that I fashioned into a crochet hook.  I poked it into the drain (without removing any parts of the sink or drain apparatus) and managed to withdraw great masses of hair to be wrapped in toilet paper and placed into the waste basket.  Worked like a charm on our bathroom sinks.  

I worked in Lame Deer five days/week, so I’d drive 1.5 hours to work, then put in about 8 hours, then drive 1.5 hours home.  This left a remainder of thirteen hours of every day to be wasted in sleeping or fixing the plumbing.

As I mentioned, I set out to make sense of the copper plumbing.  Using a pencil and paper, I sketched the location of the various sinks and bathtub and faucets upstairs and downstairs.

In the end I had an interesting jumble of angles and cross pieces. At two a.m. i turned on the water.

It leaked heartily. So I pulled a 40-gal garbage can to catch the water.

As I watched the water splash gaily, causing bits of paper and trash to dance happily on the choppy surface of the water, I abandoned my post.  I sprinted up the stairs to wake my spouse.

“I fucked up the plumbing,” I said.

Back in the basement I turned off the house water at the entry valve.

Then I ascended the stairs, undressed, put on my pajamas, and went to bed.

Next day I re-soldered the many joints, ruining a perfectly good piece of sheet metal I used to mimic the steel in the galley trays when I made page proofs.  That piece of sheet metal is permanently warped from the heat of the propane torch.  I used the metal sheet to protect the house from catching fire when soldering joints in the basement.

Basement.  My life from the days when I first learned to toddle has been obsessed with visiting the basement to play with the tools and paint therein.  I didn’t play with plumbing early on because it scared me.  I should have been afraid of electrical wires, but electrical wires don’t threaten to flood the house.  Once, in the bathroom, I cranked both hot and cold water faucets on but for some goddamn reason I couldn’t turn the water off.  This was the first of three times I screamed.

I soon had the water turned off because I had no choice but to keep trying.  You can run away from electricity but you can’t run away out of the bathroom if the faucets won’t turn off.  You scream, but you keep ranking and pulling and twisting the faucets.  Nobody else was home.

The second time I screamed I got stuck in the elevator in the university library between floors.  Nobody heard me then either and I got my wits gathered enough to keep trying the switches and playing with the elevator doors that opened on the south and north sides of the elevator, but at different floors.

Third time I screamed was as a principle actor in an opera because I couldn’t sing my solo loud enough to suit Hall Diteman, the director of “Bastien and Bastienne.”

I’ve not screamed successfully since, although I’ve groaned, yelled, hollered.

And yet people ask me to help with their plumbing.  And lead to confusion and delay.

The few diary entries the past month, or so. . . .

Gunther is a constant joyful presence.

October 26, 2021

Started writing several times, but it was no good.  I am ridden with contentment these days, despite the divisive politics and large calamities I read about.  

Opera Pagliacci came and went.  Trip to Hillsboro was most enjoyable with Guy Davis singing some of his modern blues/hip hop/social commentaries. We visited the Hoyt Arboretum and dug dozens of species of maples.

October 6, 2021

P. and I delivered Meals on Wheels yesterday morning.  Went well and the people we delivered the meals to were pleasant in most cases, and in other cases they were mildly grateful.  Sometimes they are so grateful they thank me repeatedly.  I assure them the pleasure is ours and, of course wish them a great . . ..

Today I was up at 6:30, back in bed by 9 to nap, then up at noon.  Drinking my third cup of coffee today.

September 16, 2021

Is this the best of all possible worlds?  How would we know?  Seems like we’re programmed in a secret way and things go well for us if we yield to the inner program and follow the way, no matter how mundane, no matter how scary.  The I Ching admonishes us to not present false appearances to God, as there is no use.  

A hundred and a half. . . .


September 2, 2021

Feeling the sting of not writing in more than a week.  I wondered what would happen.  Not much.  Frightening?

Olivia just came in;  She finished her fourth day of school at 3 pm, and is eating snacks to get ready for an hour 45 minutes of swimming at the Y.  A high school kid’s athletic schedule.  Billings Senior High School has no swimming pool.

(Reminds me of a dilemma I had in 1969 in Marine basic:  Each of us recruits was issued a “cover block,” consisting of a 24” by 6” piece of 1/8” plastic with a screw and wing nut to fasten it into a hat-size cylinder.  This device came flat, so we had to bend it into shape to hold our hats so we could brush on much starch.  A starched cover looked much sharper than the flaccid cotton we started with.

My cover block had a screw without threads.  No.  The wing nut had no interior threads, but the screw was fine.  No matter how I tried I couldn’t block my cover to starch it.  I needed a replacement wing nut-screw assembly.

That evening I walked to the hut where our instructors had their office.

I reported correctly to my senior drill instructor in his office.  “Sir the private requests permission to speak, sir!

“Go ahead.”

“Sir the private’s wing nut ain’t got no threads, sir.”

I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination for what happened next.  I mean, I knew it would provoke derision from the instructors.  I wasn’t worried, and I can honestly say it wasn’t terribly painful, but I got no satisfaction, hardware product-wise.  

In the end, I think I rigged up a clothes pin to starch my cover.)

Those are not my fondest memories.

Yesterday:  I heard back from someone in my distant past:  Gerry Berry, retired person living in Florida.

In 1971 Penny and I had Todd, newborn, and we lived in military housing, some old strip houses across Red Hill Road from MCAS(H) Santa Ana, California, 92710.

Our modes of transportation were a baby buggy and a bicycle.  I’m sure many can identify with that.  We lived in the orange orchards surrounding Santa Ana in Orange County.  I worked part time cleaning a Xerox facility.  It was the Regional office.  One of the things I liked best was cleaning the offices of the various vice presidents on up to the president of the Region himself.  Here’s what I noticed:  The pipe tobacco was Balkan Sobranie in the president’s office.  No.  It was Black Malorie.  I remember Peter Koch telling me back in 1969 about Black Malorie.  Finest tobacco anywhere, he said.  It was not attainable.

Black Malorie was the tobacco in the office of the president.  Balkan Sobranie was in the vice’s.

Amenities tended upward in the chain of command.  President had his own shower and dressing room.  Vice president had a large waiting room, but none of the other stuff.

As we worked down the hallway from the apex, a curious phenomenon:  Number of staples in the rug increased exponentially. We picked them out with needle-nose pliers.

In those days (1970s) computer work meant cutting 80-col key cards.  For some reason staples held the cards together, sometimes.

I tried to find work in Anchorage, Alaska, back in 1969.  Most of the secretarial-clerical (stuff I hoped I could find a job doing) work had to do with those keypunch cards.  In fact the word “keypunch” seemed to be everywhere.  Typing would have been a good enough skill to do “keypunch.”

Man of la Mancha

Not me: Sr. Don Quixote de la Mancha.

August 16, 2021

On this day in 1988 Lame Deer had a snowy blanket of ashes from forest fires.  I crawled out of my sleeping bag in a government three bedroom house, vacant, my home for the week until the government provided me with other living quarters.

That night the streetlight on the cul-de-sac illuminated the ash fall that I walked through the next morning to work at the Lame Deer IHS Clinic pharmacy.  I would be the second of two pharmacists on duty at the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.  This was a new position; all the pharmacist action used to be performed by one pharmacist.  Turns out they had hired additional doctors so they needed additional nurses and another pharmacist.  Me.  

I was apprehensive.  Fires burned out of control in the nearby wooded areas around the edge of town.  Two locals were on death row at Deer Lodge for killing a caucasian man.  I saw a pile of four dead horses yesterday morning near the Little Bighorn Battlefield while I drove to work.  Old cars rusted on the lawns of houses along the highway between Busby and Lame Deer. All my fears were gone in 24 hours.


We’re having Bob and his family over shortly.  Gotta go.

I’m back.  Things are humming here in Billings.  We have a lot of union people, social democrats, moderate republicans, moderate democrats.  I get an inkling when I speak with Bob.

I think fishing will be restricted the remainder of the Summer because high temperatures stress some of the fish, especially the various species of trout.  This is a river-by-river deal.  I think I’d google Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks for current information regarding a river of importance to you.

We are hoping for cooler weather this Wednesday.

Did I mention I am reading Don Quixote?  I’m about a third through it, getting more and more involved in one of the ancillary tales that reside in the book.  Amazing work is this book.  What is he saying?  To whom is the humor directed?  

Published in 1604, in Spanish.  Translated numerous times into a modern American vernacular by many, and by someone named “Grossman.”  I don’t own the Grossman translation, but I’ll get it pretty soon via the internet.

Parts are funny enough to make me laugh out loud.  It should be read and enjoyed by most everyone, especially if high school age or older.

Long beard’s diary

Geeky haircut.

August 10, 2021

Today was odd.  I had some kind of military dream that I was enduring basic training in the Marines again.  It was “ho hum” the second time. Just couldn’t get shook by the crazy drill instructors.

I’m going to write for thirty minutes.  Believe me when I tell you!  I’ll never tell you no lie.  No, no no.

That was Samuel Clemens’ declaration at the beginning of Huckleberry Finn.  I would hold with his disclaimer.  Mostly.

I cannot afford to be sanguine.  Much injustice prevails, albeit temporarily.  Necessarily temporarily, in my opinion.  I believe that ultimately justice, truth, and reality are so powerful and indestructible that they will prevail.  They are everywhere and lies and deceptions are only momentary.  Friendship mind is the law of the land!

How can this be so? 

I stumbled out of our bedroom to greet P. and Taylyn, our 10-year-old friend.  P. was planning to visit her sister Dolly this morning, then to lead us in a walk around Lake Elmo, in the Billings Heights.

(I check my blood pressure.  123/71.)

Don Quixote, translated by Ormsby, sits at my right elbow.  Two copies of the book, actually, because I ordered a second copy when the first one was disintegrating in my hands.  Next, I need the newest, the Grossman, translation.  A kind of ultimate, I believe.

August 11, 2021

Went to a list of places:  NOVA to work on the main stage; Rocket Burrito to return a growler that once held cream soda; B&B Tire to purchase four new ones for our car;  Sportsclips where the marvelous Mai wasn’t there, so I got a geeky haircut.  The library to return a book.  P. got her eyes examined for cataract surgery; Taco Bell to feed our inner selves.

I am a geek.

Nearing Cloud Peak

He took the Hymer 45 miles down ti Buffalo, Wyoming.

August 7, 2021

Last night for the first time in months P. and I and Gunther had the whole house to ourselves.  The rest of the time we’ve had our children and our grandchildren vacationing with us.  And us with them, when we went camping.  And for us, camping usually means going in our Hymer RV.  It’s really just a repurposed Dodge Promaster van and we can eat, sleep, shower, bicker, and play Scrabble right in our car. It’s about ideal for P. and me.

We bought the Hymer a couple years ago in Alaska. Now we’ve put on 30K miles between Minnesota, California, and Montana.  So far, we’ve replaced the coach batteries, front tires, and radiator, but otherwise the driving has been relatively trouble free.

Tuesday Todd and his family and P. and I set out from Billings to climb Cloud Peak in the Big Horns of Wyoming. 

P. and I were the support crew.  We headed south on the west side of the Big Horns.

About 8 pm we stopped at a bar in Ten Sleep to eat supper.  Todd shared his rocky mountain oysters, breaded and deep fat fried.  Some smooth eating. The bar was packed, but the patio was nearly empty. We resumed driving into the evening, headed up the pass.

On to a road that took off from Highway 16.

I followed Todd on a nasty Forest Service washboard road that chattered everything and caused our new radiator hose to fail. Well, it hadn’t been installed correctly and would have failed anyhow.

You can’t drive without coolant in the engine, so we didn’t. We figured things would work out if we chilled out that night. We had no cell service. We were on what seemed like a deserted road.

P. and I slept in the Hymer on the place on the road where the engine coolant puddled. Todd and his family camped at the East Ten Sleep Lake campgorund, only about 150 yards from our disabled vehicle.

Next day a Forest Service man named Jeff radioed to have our Hymer transported to Buffalo, WY for repair.  (Turns out a hose had been improperly installed last month and it jiggled loose on the washboard road. ) 

Todd and his family headed toward Cloud Peak Wednesday while we worked on restoring the Hymer to health. After the mechanic had reattached the hose, we spent the night at Circle Park campground.

P. and I and Gunther goofed off Wednesday, hiking to Willow Lake and back. 

Thursday we walked up the trail to Cloud Peak, as we expected Todd and his group back.  We spoke with other hikers, asking those returning if they saw a family of four: Todd, Susanna, Cyrus, Roland?  None of them had, and we admonished hikers heading out to tell a family of four that we would be waiting for them. They made the connection. However, I didn’t know the hikers would refer to us as being “an elderly couple.”

Our message was transposed and garbled by the time the four arrived back at the parking lot.  [Joyous reunion.]

Thursday, we moved the camp from East Ten Sleep Lake to another campground:  Circle Park. 

First we six went in to Buffalo to eat at a great Mexican restaurant.  Then Sus bought two bottles of merlot at Crazy Woman Liquor.  Then back at the camp we sat around and talked while Todd took a shower in the Hymer.

Yesterday we hiked up a limestone canyon a little more than a mile, to admire the amazing natural sculptures.  We ate at the same restaurant, a little place close to the Buffalo exit from the interstate highway.

Encounter with an octopus

He crawled away.

July 31, 2021

Do you know about octopuses? 

We went with my nephew Chris Angel on his boat at Ketchikan, Alaska, to haul up some shrimp pots he placed on the bottom of the bay a couple days previously.  Most of them had lots of shrimp, in addition to some star fish, hermit crabs, and in one case, an octopus.

We had eaten shrimp a couple days earlier.  You twist off all but the tail, then you boil them. Finally, you pull and peel off the chitinous exoskeleton to get the yummy meat within.  All of this is a crude way to get the goody; consider the octopus we pulled up that had gotten into one of the traps. 

No live shrimp with the octopus, but some perfect cellophane-looking exoskeletons.  The octopus did an amazing job of cleaning the meat out of the shrimp.

This octopus was holding onto a rather large (maybe a foot diameter) starfish.  We managed to get him and his starfish out of the shrimp pot and into the bottom of the boat before one of us picked him up (perhaps 10-20 lbs, probably three feet from one tentacle tip to another.  I touched him and his skin was soft.  We put him overboard and, although I didn’t see it, he squirted ink as he jetted away.

I learned that octopuses live relatively short lives, usually just a couple years, especially the males who die soon after impregnating the females, who also die soon after giving birth to the youngsters.

Octopuses are reputed to be damned intelligent. Learning a maze, using tools, that sort of thing.

Vignette of USMC life in 1970

This was 1971. I was still a private in the USMC. The puppy is Ning, a wonderful one.

July 6, 2021

Swept the garage, vacuumed the basement, rearranged my grandson’s video game apparatus so I might walk through the big room.  Oh yes.  Gunther’s sleeping on the couch.  Can’t tell if he’s bored or tired.  Or both.  It’s over 90 degrees today, again.  Good idea to hunker down and wait for cooler air to slide down from the Beartooth Mountains.

There’s that word “vacuum.”  I know of only two double u words:  equus and vacuum.  Must be more than that.  How does one pronounce vacuum?  vac- you’- um?  Or as my mother used to say, vac’-yoom.  

Never mind.  Working on banjo playing.  I can play “Worried Man Blues,” after a fashion, but “Cripple Creek” is coming painfully slowly.  I’m sure it sounds that way, too.  I practice most days, but for short periods.  Once or twice a day.  Nothing is really pushing me, but I want to learn to play with the three finger style.  I’ve tried claw hammer, but can’t get any traction.

When I sat down to write I think I had an idea, but I’ve forgotten.  I think it had to do with my Marine Corps experience in mid-1970.

I joined November 23, 1969.  That was Penny’s birthday, a sad occasion, because I said “goodbye forever.”  I was off to Vietnam, of course.  Everyone knew that’s what happened if you joined the Marines in those days.  Didn’t they?  I had my faith.  I had been reading a bunch of Eastern religion stuff:  Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism.  All of them extolled mortifying the flesh and entering reality.  The Vietnam war was my reality, naive as I was about the particulars.  I knew I was a hippie, but I also knew I couldn’t stick my head in the sand or be a coward.  Real hippies were brave and true.  Or so I thought.  I was also under the influence.  Of Don Quixote.

I’m re-reading Don Quixote as I write.  In 1969 I read the Putnam translation, but now I’m reading the Ormsby translation.  Mr. Ormsby used Putnam in his scholarly re-writing in English.  Nonetheless, it was written by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra.

Under the influence of Sr. Cervantes Saavedra, even joining the Marine Corps during Vietnam makes perfect sense.

I had friends shout at me!  

Whereas people on the street had enjoined me to “get a haircut!” My hip friends urged me to become a “happy hippie.”  Life has its serious aspects.  I knew I had to face front.  I had to face the reality that seemed most real to me.

One monday morning I strode into the Marine Corps recruiter’s office on West Broadway in Missoula.  “I want to join the Marines,” I mumbled.

A gunnery sergeant looked up from his desk with mild interest.  “What are you running from?”


“Ever been arrested?”

“Drunk and disorderly,” I replied (omitting the part about indecent exposure). (I pissed on the window of Skeet’s Cafe after a racist cook threw me out because I threw a rag at him.)

“Come back tomorrow,” said the sergeant.

The gunny was smiles and welcomed me when I returned.  He had me take a test and answer a bunch of questions.  What I remember about the test:

  • I had to identify parts of a car motor, including ignition coil.  Since I didn’t know the parts of a motor then, I don’t know if I got that one right.
  • there were lots of other questions.  I’m pretty good at taking tests, so I believe I answered most of them correctly.
  • I had to answer if I’d been a member of a list of organizations, none of which I’d ever heard of before.  I think the gist was “young communist league,” and “communist party of America.”  I’m making these up, but that’s the impression I got.  I wasn’t able to say I was a member of any of them.
  • I had to list all of my addresses.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the basis of my gaining a Secret security clearance through some outfit called ENT NAC.  I listed all my addresses.  I was too naive to know if any of them were incriminating.  Anyway, my address tended to change every week in those days.  Depended upon the whim and generosity of friends like Bill Reynolds and Peter Koch and my brother Tom.

My Marine Corps experience was particularly foul.  I disliked the drill instructor because he was a sadistic pig.  I did enjoy the company of the other recruits, however, at least most of them.

Later, I was bullied by a little shit when we got to infantry training.  Turns out ignoring him didn’t work.  I learned to confront bullies until I was bullied by my commanding officer in training group at Millington Tennessee.

I punched out the commanding officer, went to jail for five months, and was subsequently forgiven by the upper echelons of the Navy Board of Military Appeals.

The cosmos, the stars were beginning to line up again after I was transferred to a helicopter squadron on a small base near Los Angeles. This was MCAS(H) Santa Ana, CA 92709.

At last.

Here’s my story:  I was starting my second year as a private E-1, having never gotten promoted because of my altercation with the Marine major.  Just because you get forgiven for punching one of them doesn’t mean you’ll get a promotion any time soon.

In Southern California, I lived in a big concrete barracks with the rest of squadron HMM 161.  Many of the members of my squadron had recently returned from Vietnam, from Bien Hua.  One of these saw a fellow named Sergeant Sergeant.

The guy with this unfortunate name was officious, punctual, neat, and personable.  

Nobody could stand him.

“He’s a real dipshit,” explained my friend, Sergeant Bobby Haines.

He was on duty at the barracks the day one of my fellow squadron members, a kind of sleazy guy named Jerry, offered me some marijuana. 

I eagerly accepted his offer.  Because I was paying a forfeiture of pay for my previous crimes I couldn’t afford the $0.25/pack of store bought smokes, so I rolled my own with Prince Albert and Top papers.  I mixed some pot in with the tobacco for a mellow smoke and a welcome high.

After I lit up and took a couple of hits off my cigarette, into my cubicle marched Sergeant Sergeant!

“Private STRUCKMAN!” he yelled.  “Report to the quarter deck!”  His desk was at one end of the squad bay and was technically known as the “quarter deck.”

I figured I’d be busted and kicked out of the Marines. This would have been a disaster because I was negotiating with Penny to get married the following year.

Nothing to lose, I hollered at him, “Sergeant Asshole!  You are one dumb motherfucker!!  I’m smoking a tobacco cigarette, SEE STUPID?  (I held up the can of Prince Albert.)  It’s nothing but PA!  IN A CAN, STUPID!

Poor Sergeant Sergeant got apologetic, mumbled something, and slouched away.

In retrospect, I think he was glad not to bust me, a guy who’d been busted already for punching a major. Whatever the reason, I was glad to escape prosecution!

I, of course, took the evidence to the toilet and flushed it!   

Moral of the story:  tobacco will not mask the smell of weed.

Sixth Grade Chemistry Nerd

Sixth Grade Nerd. I had big lips that I sucked in

June 30, 2021

Five weeks since my TURP.  That, if you’ll remember, was the medical procedure in which my prostate gland was resected (reamed out) with a surgical instrument.  A trusted urologist did this work.

Put less delicately, a doctor inserted a kind of knife through my penis down into the area of my “man gland.”  Using multiple cuts, he cut out my urethra and prostate until there wasn’t much left but a husk.  I like to think of it as removing the guacamole from an avocado.  At least I was asleep and don’t remember a thing.  Lucky for me.  

I still like guacamole, incidentally.

I haven’t peed red blood for at least a week!   And at least now my pee doesn’t look bloody.  Importantly, I don’t have to take medicine to help me urinate.  That was the trouble that led up to the need for a TURP in the first place.

Oh, the tamsulosin worked quite well, but I couldn’t tolerate the side effect of low blood pressure upon standing.  Some times I had to lie flat on the floor.  My internist told me it was not safe to have a blood pressure that low.  

I am grateful to my urologist who did the TURP because I think he was expert and thorough.  And careful.  I’ll admit I keep a diaper at the ready if I should become incontinent of urine—and I have peed my pajamas a time or two, but I think that might have been a result waiting until I was desperate to go.

Thanks for reading thus far.  Now my reminiscence.

As a 12-year-old in Missoula, I was naughty.  I stole or begged important chemical reagents and apparatus from the university laboratories that I needed.  

I did draw a line.  I didn’t steal and beg from people, but from institutions.  One of my fellow grade school students stole from people and I despised that.  Also, he ate the proceeds of his thievery and got quite fat.  I eschewed such crime.

In 1961, I lived at home with my brother, sister, and mother.  We all had our own rooms, but I preferred to play in the basement.

Most important was my basement chemistry laboratory, where I performed the experiments I read about in my sister’s high school chemistry textbook, Matter and Energy.  

My basement laboratory was scant.  Lots of concrete and dirt and cobwebs.

Trouble was, I could get the necessities for my experiments only at Christmas and my at birthday, in March.  Those were the two times I could cajole my mother into purchasing materials (poisonous chemicals, flasks, beakers, test-tubes, ring stand, burners, glass tubing) by mail from the Chemcraft company in Hagerstown, Maryland.  

Other times I was not above stealing chemicals or items of apparatus from the University of Montana science buildings.

I worked alone, although I shared the results of my experiments with my fellow sixth-graders.  

A lazy and a lousy student, I expected my baffling knowledge of chemistry to carry me through.  

It did.  My entire life it did.  I still try to baffle.  Ask my grandchildren.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  In the beginning I wanted to impress my fellow sixth graders and my teacher, Mrs. Jay.

Example:  I wanted to make a working volcano.  

This would be an 18-inch square plywood board with plaster-of-paris replica of a mountain with a hollowed out top for a chemical reaction that would look much like an eruption.  My aim was to make such a replica and show it to my fellow sixth graders at school, and perhaps at the annual science fair.  I doubt if I made the plaster volcano.  I think I borrowed it from another student who had the means to create such a majestic object.

All the while I made such wonders for the amazement and edification of my fellow students, the few denigrated me for not knowing the times tables or being able to perform long division.  

Damn!  I still have trouble with those.  I didn’t learn my 6’s and 7’s until I was in the Marines.

Familiar with the old baking soda and vinegar combination to produce a fizzy eruption, I wanted something that had a bit more pizzazz.  Looking through a variety of books (at the university library) I found the recipe:  Sodium bichromate, I believed, could be touched off with a match to produce a spew of ashes and a hot flame.  Trouble is, I didn’t find out until nearly fifty years later my plan had two major problems:

1.  Not sodium, but ammonium dichromate is flammable as described in the books.  

A chemistry professor gave me a large brown bottle of the inert powdered sodium bichromate (after assuring me that dichromate and bichromate are equivalent chemical expressions).  At home I tried in vain to light the sodium bichromate.  I even returned to the chemistry professor and expressed my disappointment, but he didn’t know enough about the bichromate to enlighten me.  What I did end up doing was to mix the bichromate with water and a bunch of other inorganic chemicals in water and attempt to boil them to distill out the water.  

Only this maneuver didn’t work.  When I heated a flask with the chemicals, the mush jumped out of the container and went “splook” out the distillation apparatus.  I discovered the best way to clean up the tube was using a sprig of lilac sprout to rub the interior.  I did this in the backyard before I broke my foot.

2.  Bichromates cause cancer.  I think there was a movie about a young lady lawyer who sued a company that polluted with hexavalent chromates.  They have a property of linking when exposed to ultraviolet light, so they can be used in organic colloids as photosensitive emulsions.  However that’s going to be the topic of another post.  Bichromate must be handled carefully.

Turns out ammonium bichromate burns brightly and emits a nice green ashy substance, suitable for a volcano model.  In fact, I have some of that in my basement as I write.  I’ll be happy to demonstrate, should you ask.

Well, that’s one example of my chemical inquiries.  

Mostly I wanted to explore the university buildings, especially the laboratories.  Almost every building had a chemical laboratory or at least a darkroom:  journalism, liberal arts, theater, botany, geology, main hall.  All of them.

  Also, I wanted to use their bathrooms because I had difficulty pooping at home.  Because my poops were too large and hard to go down the toilet, I faced the trouble with plumbing that I couldn’t cope with at home.  I took to using our garage lilac hedge, where I could drop big ones without a bad consequence.  If I wanted to poop in a toilet, the university offered thousands of opportunities and I didn’t need to worry about flushing.  Thus, I could explore for chemistry laboratories and take care of my physical needs after school each day.  

Happy exploring!!

The university labs were most interesting.  Grade school in Missoula let out about four o’clock each day.  Mother didn’t need me around until about six or six-thirty, so I could bicycle over to the university —seven blocks away—after school.

I had a routine:  

  • check the doors of the chem-pharm building.  Usually, I’d go in and explore.  But If they were locked, 
  • I’d try the journalism building.  The darkrooms were great.  Also the printing professionals were friendly.  However, If locked, 
  • I’d try the geology building.  If no-go, 
  • I’d hit main hall.  It had a darkroom and a fossilized mastodon tusk.
  • Then the law building.  Had a library with a glass floor.
  • Then the library.  All kinds of chemistry books.  But, if they were closed, then the 
  • university theater building with amazing laboratories and passages.  
  • Then the liberal arts building, with fantastic elevators.
  • then the various men’s dormitories.  Finally, 
  • the women’s center and the 
  • math-physics building.  

Because all of the doors were always locked, supposedly, I wouldn’t be able to enter any of them, supposedly.

Only I would and did.  Because of the thousands of students and faculty, someone would inevitably leave a door ajar and I’d be inside the building in the space of a few seconds.  I’d just abandon my bicycle somewhere nearby.

A word about my bicycle.  My mom painted it red and white.  At some point I broke off one of the pedals, so I pushed down the remaining pedal with my right foot, then allowed the pedal to coast around so I could pedal it again. Stroke (pause) stroke (pause).  Like that.

In that way I’d explore all of the buildings, ride the elevators, get stuck between floors and panic.  Scream!  At the end of the day people at the university were generally pretty nice to me.  Also, my father was a faculty member until he died of cancer (hmmm bichromate???).  Sometimes students and faculty gave me laboratory glassware to take home to my lab.

One evening I was in a lab in the geology building and I decided I needed some concentrated sulfuric acid.  In those days there was a bottle with the embossed label, “Conc H2SO4” on it.  I didn’t want the whole bottle, just a small amount, so I found a small bottle of litmus paper, I emptied the paper onto a counter, then poured some of the concentrated acid into the bottle.  I didn’t have a cork, so I used a wad of paper towel.  Put the bottle into my pocket.  Rode my one-pedal bike home.

At home I went to the basement, my left thigh was itching.  Also my pants (white) had burn holes from the acid.  The paper towel looked like tar, where it touched the acid.  Ruined my pants, didn’t do a thing for my experiments.

I told the above story to Ted Wood at Todd’s house a couple days ago.  First time.

That’s my writing for today.  Peace Out!

Nerstrand, Minnesota, at Bonde Farm

Kathleen Elizabeth Angel and her small piggy friend.

June 18, 2021

Those of us who aspire to be writers—who doesn’t? —should try writing for five minutes.  By the clock.  I can write that long while letting my mind drift.  So much good has happened in the past several days.  My nieceling, Kathleen Elizabeth Angel, went to Nerstrand, Minnesota, to the old Bonde farm where my grandfather Carl Bonde was born. Kate went by herself, of her own volition.  I am confident, she was greeted with open arms and extravagant hospitality.  Then she posed with a piglet for the fine photograph above.

Ugly truth:  the Bonde farm, with its 150 year-old stone house, is a factory pig farm.  I am not a vegetarian.  However, I respect those who are because I know it comes from venerable, deep beliefs.  It is also likely to be a pain in the ass.  I just finished reading, well, almost finished reading a folk novel by Wu Ch’eng-En, translated by Arthur Waley:  Monkey, a folk novel.  Expanded my brain and gave me a degree of enlightened thinking.

Some of the enlightened thoughts:  many times the shabbiest looking people are truly cosmic rock stars.  In other words, gods-come-to earth-types.  Other times the ogres of our world are the good guys.  Can’t always tell by looking, can we?

I saw a guy at the hardware store packing a pistol, sporting a shirt with a confederate flag. Tough looking! I’m thinking, huh! Maybe he’s one of the ogres. Hard to make that stretch. I think he’s misinformed and gullible.

I’m still trying to reconcile these thoughts with my experience with some of the old codgers I was friends with in my hippie days.