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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.


Irresponsible Dog Owner.

Gunther doesn’t want to be left behind.

March 26, 2020

Yesterday my nephew Jon had bronchitis, saw a medical provider, got an antibiotic.  He said in 24 hours his cough abated. They didn’t suspect coronavirus because he had no fever.

Mentally for me, things are not quite so smooth.  At the grocery this morning we bought our usual list of fruits, vegetables, cereal, eggs, dog food, lemonade.  Otherwise, we stay at home nearly all the time.

We also needed toilet paper, so I checked out the “bathroom tissue” aisle, nearly bare.  I asked a nearby store man for some TP.  He went to the back part of the store, then tossed me a 12-pack.  He said before they instituted the “senior only” hours from 7-9 each morning, young people would show up when the store opened, clearing certain shelves.

I’m stalling.  I need to confess.  I am certifiably an irresponsible pet owner.  Allow me to explain.

Yesterday we went for a three-mile hike. Gunther loves to hike with us.

As usual, as soon as I set his soft crate near the back door, G. ran into it and hunkered.  He seems to fear being left behind.  Me, I dislike lugging him in his carrier all the way out to the car.  He weighs almost two stone, according to his veterinarian.

Therefore, I upended his crate and poured him out.  I shouldered my daypack and jacket, and out the back door and down the steps.

Only Gunther didn’t trot to the car.  He started howling and barking and sprinting to the front of the house to challenge our mail carrier, who by coincidence, was passing the end of our driveway.  

Another time he had warned me that he didn’t like being harassed by our dog.  

I ran after Gunther and shouted at our mail carrier, “I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!”

But it didn’t help.  Our carrier turned for the street, making a wide circle around our place.  He didn’t stop to deliver mail or pick up the Netflix envelope.  

I felt doom.  Jon’s wife, Kristi, who is also a mail carrier, told me that she had been instructed not to deliver mail to places with aggressive dogs.

Gunther howls and barks sometimes.

Nonetheless, we hiked at Sword’s Park.  Had a pretty good time walking three miles.  Visited Yellowstone Kelly’s grave, although I never get too worked up over Yellowstone Kelly.  I should probably learn about him, but I’m not curious.

Today after our grocery trip I posted on Fb the news that yesterday G. menaced the postman, because guilt weighed on my mind.  Kristi told me it was a serious offense.  I worried.

By noon, while I cowered in the bedroom, the Postmaster came to us.  He hand-delivered a letter to our adult son, stating that our mail delivery service had been stopped because of our unrestrained dog.  I would have to visit the main post office to get mail delivery again.

The letter.

Kristi recommended I take additional action.

I wrote an apologetic note to our letter carrier.  Then I drove to Starbucks to buy a coffee card.  Then I drove to the main post office to collect our mail and sign a letter of understanding that if our dog menaces the carrier again we would have to rent a post office box because we would forfeit our mail delivery service for ever!

Only trouble was, the clerk at the main post office didn’t know where the letters of understanding were.  She said to try later.

Irresponsible pet owner.

Back home, I harnessed Gunther for his noon constitutional walk.  As we turned the corner of the block near Mrs. Johnson’s (where Gunther likes to poop) I came face-to-face with our carrier!  Of course Gunther growled menacingly so I pulled tight his leash.

“I’m so sorry!” I stammered.  “Look, I wrote you an apology!”  I handed him the envelope with the card.  

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said.  

“We appreciate you!” I insisted.  “Please accept my apology.  I put in a coffee card for you!”

He smiled, placed the envelope into his mail pouch.  “Thanks, Dan!” he said.  He told me a couple minutes later that he would deliver mail to us again after he gets the letter I need to sign at the main post office.

Later, P. and I drove to the main post office, signed the letter, and got two pieces of mail.  Junk mail.  Well, one was a birthday card from our insurance agent.  I resolved to leash Gunther if we so much as think about going outdoors.

I eventually sold that VW bus to a guy in Colstrip, Montana

Typical day for me when we drove the Volkswagen to Alaska.

March 21, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic coincides with daily surprises, front page news.  Deaths in Italy increased dramatically.  Numbers of cases surged in New York and California.  Many schools and restaurants and bars in Billings have closed or changed their manner of doing business. Half hour ago I returned from Masterlube (R) where three workers washed our camper.  It’s Saturday afternoon and hardly anyone is seen downtown.  Perhaps four or five people on the street as I drove a couple of miles through the heart of Billings.  The sky is blue, the sun bright, the temp about 60 degrees F, slight breeze.  Pleasant, but practically vacant of human beings.  One woman on a bicycle.

We got a new roof, thanks to a squad of workers who replaced the house, garage, and woodshed roofs in a little more than two days.  I stayed out of their way.  Today I split some firewood and picked up those annoying little cellophane strips that come from shingles.  Also, three shingle nails from the driveway.  From the margins of the driveway.  Just takes one, I think.

Good to get out of the house, where we two (three, including Gunther) have spent most of the past week.  P. has been making quilts, I read, do puzzles, take naps.  At least Gunther isn’t barking, now that the workers have gone.  As I write, G. is sitting on my neck, a perch he seems to like.

Whenever I sneeze or cough I worry that I’m getting sick.  I will resume my internist’s admonition to abstain from singing, caffeine and alcohol and to take omeprazole twice daily.  This is to reduce irritation to my larynx.  It doesn’t mean anyone else needs to avoid those things, just me because of my laryngeal inflammation.

Mostly I miss the many people I’m used to encountering at singing practices, NOVA Theater, and the “church of the fervently religious.”  Oh yes, our relatives, too.  The ones in Billings whom I see at least once or twice a week.  I keep telling myself to get back to writing this blog, with its tens of readers.  No lack of material for writing.  I’m considering the following topics:

  • Mrs. Daisy Jacobs, who taught us in second grade at Washington Grade School in Missoula in the late 1950s.  Something about her genuine interest in us kids, her generous affection.  I mean, she liked us.  
  • Dana Graham, my ex-sister-in-law, powerful woman, artist, huge personality.  She died young following the death of her daughter Hannah.
  • My mother’s queen anne chair, which she inherited from her mother, then recovered with needlepoint flowers.
  • Our six years living in student housing in Missoula.
  • The seven years in the Marine Corps, when P. and I launched our family together.
  • The amazing story of my sister Carol and her friend Kurt Fiedler who spent their early years breaking into the buildings at Fort Missoula to explore the former Italian internment camp of the early 1940s.
  • My seventeen years commuting to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations for the Public Health Service.
  • The alley behind our house, with its shifting stories and barking dogs.  Gunther loves to walk the alley and taunt his doggy cousins.
  • Mowing lawns and amputating the tip of my finger.
  • Swaggering around my grandparents’ apple orchard in Kalispell.
  • Trying to build a fort out of boards using a hammer and screws and nails.  I mean, why can’t you pound screws in with a hammer?
  • My quest to make gun powder.
  • The youthful desire to explore every building on the university campus undetected.
  • A history of my mental health.  Or any other kind of health.  Wait, I’ve already told you and everyone you know about that.
  • The story of our journey to Alaska in a green VW bus that blew up 20 km from Edmonton.
  • Our good fortune to end up atop a mountain lookout tower, and getting paid to do it.

A poem apropos of our pandemic

March 16, 2020

Returned from Gering, Nebraska, where I enjoyed a couple evenings with my sweet sister, Carol Hotchkiss.  She’s 10 years older.  And she’s smart, too.  You’ll have to trust me on that.  Our idea of fun was reading poems to each other.  We also told how we used to sneak into university buildings to explore and pillage.  We come from Viking stock.

Here’s a poem by Mark Twain, published in his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Helps to read it aloud. Pause after you read the first word of the second stanza, for additional mirth.

Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d.

And did young Stephen Sicken,
    And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
    And did the mourners cry?

No; such was not the fate of
    Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him thickened,
    'Twas not from sickness' shots.

No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
    Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
    Of Stephen Dowling Bots.

Despised love struck not with woe
    That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
    Young Stephen Dowling Bots.

O no.  Then list with tearful eye,
    Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world fly,
    By falling down a well.

They got him out and emptied him;
    Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
    In the realms of the good and great.


Few in Wyoming, is all

March 6, 2020

Back in Billings after a three-day jaunt into Wyoming.  First day, Heart Mountain Relocation Camp near Cody.  We saw tarpaper buildings where several thousand Japanese were interned during 1942-1945.  The hospital, with its huge smokestack, still stands in tatters.  Several hundred souls died there, perhaps 500 others, born.  I learned:

  • Each internee, in 1945 when being discharged from the camp, received $25 and a train ticket to anywhere in the U.S.
  • The experience was humiliating, like being in a concentration camp with barb wire and guard towers.
  • The children of the detainees could play sports, go to school, and join activities, like the Boy Scouts.
  • Heart Mountain was Wyoming’s third largest city in 1944.
  • A high school, complete with auditorium and gymnasium, was constructed at Heart Mountain.
  • Once discharged, the internees faced cruel racial discrimination.
  • The young male internees were subject to being drafted into the military.  Those who resisted were imprisoned.  At least two who were drafted received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
  • One internee built a photographic dark room beneath his tarpaper residence.  His enlarger is on display at the visitor center.

Because it is off-season for Yellowstone Park, we saw few fellows traveling the road from Cody on the Shoshone River road to the East entrance of Yellowstone.  We did see a herd of big horn sheep.  We saw a photographer, actually, then we saw the sheep he was pointing his camera at.  The East entrance was closed for the winter, until May 3, so we returned the same way.  There was the photographer, this time walking back on the hillside.  One of the young sheep had walked up to the photographer’s car.  I took a photo with my trusty telephone.

Just a kid.

I’ve taken pictures—and developed them in my darkroom—since I was in the fourth grade, but I’ve never had as good a camera as is on my phone.

We drove farther and saw a coyote walking across a frozen stretch of river.  

A jumble of add-on rooms and balconies on a ridge-top house was the Smith Mansion.  We stopped so P. could take a photo.  A mule deer grazed a few feet from our car.  A black SUV stopped across the highway, the man evidently watching us.  I waved and he waved back.  We drove on.

Smith Mansion

After perhaps 10 miles we saw a golden eagle picking at a carcass in the borrow pit.  I turned around the car to go back to take a photo.  Or rather, for P. to take a photo from the passenger window.  She felt bad that we disturbed the athletic-looking bird.  The magpies that took the eagle’s place at the carcass did not seem to feel bad, though.  We got back on the highway, again headed toward the park.

Golden Eagle

I needed to turn around again, so I pulled off the highway into a driveway.  Another car, right behind me, also turned into the driveway.  Now I was blocked from returning to the road.  A fat little man, a guy I later learned was named “Keith,” told us he had lived in the Cody area all his life.  He said he was the one watching us photographing the Smith Mansion.  “Lee Smith built the house,” he said.  He also helped design the Cody hospital, including an integral “peace sign.”  

Keith recommended a restaurant called “Our Place” in Cody.  We stopped there. We were surprised to see Keith again.

As we entered Keith held the door for us.  He sat a table away, but chatted with us and another couple, also a table away.  That’s when I realized that Cody doesn’t have many people; some have to do triple duty.  They were friendly, though.  I wondered if they would have been friendly if we didn’t look like them.

Although he didn’t look it, Keith was an accomplished skier, or used to be.  

Keith also recommended we explore the South Fork of the Shoshone River, so we drove to the end of the road 190, 40 miles.  We saw lots of deer.  Hundreds, probably.  No elk, no bears, no skunks, no porcupines, no wild sheep or goats.

We bought swim suits at the Cody Walmart.

Took us a couple hours to get from Cody to Thermopolis, purported to be the world’s largest mineral hot springs.  We remembered from long ago a great Mexican restaurant, “Las Fuentes,” and quickly found it.  The food was great, but I remembered fondly that perhaps 10 years before, when I had ordered a bottle of wine, the vintage was unusually old and the price unusually low.  So I asked for a bottle of merlot.  The waiter brought a bottle of “14 Hands” 2013 for $17.  Not as great a deal as I remembered, but still pretty good.

The waiter recommended we camp at “Wyoming Gardens,” a relatively short distance away.  I phoned a woman who had recently gotten cataract surgery by a Billings ophthalmologist.  Turns out she and her husband also own “Las Fuentes” so they gave us a discount.

We soaked in the state-run hot springs spa free of charge.  Twenty minute limit.  P. rented a towel for $1, for me to use.

Driving over the amazing Ten Sleep pass (our name for it) to Buffalo, then North to Billings took perhaps five hours, including lunch break.

March 2, 2020

Gunther. Means “shark” in Belgian.

March 2, 2020

Gunther, my famous Brussels Griffon, will be four years old soon.  As I type this he is sitting on the back of my chair, most of his weight on my neck.  He’s warm!  The vet said his normal temp is about 101 Fahrenheit.  Good for my neck, although I had a couple vertebrae fused by a young Italian surgeon whose name I can say but cannot spell.  He did a great job!  Or I was lucky!  Either way, the numbness in my arm went away and my neck doesn’t hurt much anymore.

Once in a while, when I’m feeling especially vulnerable I hold Gunther like a baby and hug him.  He doesn’t seem to especially like that, or dislike that either.  It soothes me, though. His face is humanoid, unnerving.

P. is out visiting an old friend of hers who is dying of cancer, in hospice care. I believe she is doing a good thing. If I in hospice care I’d want visitors. They could keep me company.

I used to help hospice patients.  In my experience, hospice is under-used by those facing the end of their lives.  This is probably because many people don’t like to admit the end is within six months.  I think it’s easier for the patient, harder for the patient’s family members.

I visited an old gentleman, Gordon, whose terminal condition was heart failure and he was 96 years of age. We talked, told jokes, recited poems:

There was a young man from Stamboul, / who soliloquized thus to his tool: / “You took all my wealth / And you ruined my health, / And now you won’t pee, you old fool.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., in Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade.

Gordon liked that one. He was a WW II veteran, served in France after D-Day. He also served in North Africa. We visited and talked and had thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company for two years until he died.

We had run out of things to say to each other.

A week later the Hospice volunteer coordinator phoned me, asked me to visit another nonagenarian, a retired grocer from Spokane.

He didn’t seem like a guy at the end of his life, though. He was strong, albeit depressed. I visited him for about an hour, and we got to know each other. Finally, I asked him if he wanted me to visit again.

“No,” he said. “Don’t bother. We don’t have much in common.”

Hurt my feelings. The old man died about a week later, I saw his name in the death notices in the paper.

As I write my cell phone goes “ding.”  Someone (whom I don’t know) on Fb messenger asks “How are you?”  I resolve to unfriend whoever that is immediately.  My answer is an unsociable “none of your business.”

What’s the favorite part of your body?

Choir from First Congregational Church in Billings, couple years ago.

February 23, 2020

Had a good day.  Started out with Gunther, walking just a short distance from home before he eliminated his waste product, which I dutifully collected in a plasticized bag, then tied in a knot.  Gunther did not respond to my repeated calling to “go in,” so I went in our back door without him.  I was rebuked by my beautiful and talented spouse for leaving him outdoors to menace our neighbors, so I stepped back onto the back porch and murmured, “treat.”  Low tone, barely audible.  Soon I heard his collar ornaments jingling and his toenails clicking on the driveway.  He can hear what he wants.  I always supply the promised treat, even if it is a pea-size peanut butter goodie. He goes bananas.

Went to church where our new musician, William De Manilow, played some wicked piano and sang.  After church, a cadre of volunteers swarmed the Sunday school rooms to fix them with beds into sleeping rooms.  Three Family Promise families who are temporarily homeless will live in our church this week.  Many of us feel glad to help folks get their lives back.  Wages are so meager these days.  It’s hard to get started with an apartment.

Our minister, Pastor Mike, had a few moments with the children of the church during the service.  He asked the kids to name their favorite part of the body.  One boy volunteered that his favorite part was his bones.  He writhed around, pretending he didn’t have any.  Another, after some moments of hesitation, said his brain.  I thought that was a good choice, although I thought a better answer would have been “my penis.”  Well, he asked for someone to name their favorite part. I can only speak for myself.

Swamping old files–Zen meditation

1040A from 1975

February 21, 2020

Going through our file cabinet today drew forth obscure memories and emotions.  While shredding tax papers, I held back our return from 1975, the last year I was in the Marine Corps, stationed at El Toro, California.  Cryptic information on a government form.

Then we lived in Tustin, perhaps five miles from the Marine Air Station, in a two-bedroom duplex on a dead-end section of C Street. Our kids were 2, 4, and 5 years old. Our gray poodle rescue dog, Pepper, had run away.

We bought a Peking duck we named La Sa Lusa to keep in the back yard. Her nickname was “Juicy Lucy.” We found an egg most days under a bush in the back yard. La Sa Lusa liked to escape out the gate to the front yard to gobble snails before I could catch her and put her back. I was amazed how quickly and efficiently she could get the snails.

I examined the 1975 tax form from our file cabinet.

On the 1040A, I checked a box “no” asking if we lived within the Tustin city limits. Here’s the obscure memory: our neighbor, Sadie Chafee, who lived across the C Street from us, remembered when the adjoining street was a county road that stretched miles from Los Angeles to remote places to the south. I remember she told us our corner of the world was a tiny unincorporated part of Orange County. (Yes, of “Arrested Development” fame.)

Next door to Sadie a woman lived by herself with an ocelot for a pet. She invited us in once to meet it. She guided us into an empty bedroom and gestured toward an open closet and there, on a high shelf, was a sleek wild cat.

In the 1970s Gulf oil crisis, the price of gasoline shot up from 30 cents to more than 70 cents/gal.  (Remember when a standard typewriter keyboard had a “cents” sign (a lower-case “c” with a vertical line through it)?  My laptop has no “cents.”) A gas station was around the corner from our house. Near an Alta Dena Dairy and a U-Haul rental.

Our family of five lived on exactly $7124.37 in 1975.  (Plus, what I earned delivering the Orange County Register and buying, fixing, and selling old Volkswagens.)  In 1975 we earned $38 interest from a savings account, a greater amount than we earned in 2019—or any other year I can remember.  

Of course, we were saving to move back to Montana. I got readmitted to the University of Montana School of Journalism and into family housing for a reasonable monthly rent. We got a four-bedroom apartment in the X-s, across the street from the green hill and Mount Sentinel.

Our duck, on the other hand, lived on commercial poultry food and the occasional snails. We tried frying her eggs, but they tasted fishy, so we made Christmas ornaments of them. We poked holes in each end, blew out the contents, then decorated the shells with glue, glitter, and rick-rack. We still have a few, packed away with the Christmas stuff.

Before we moved away from California we got permission to leave La Sa Lusa with a great flock at the Santa Ana Prentice Park zoo. We looked back and she blended in perfectly.

Back to the present, 2020. I took Gunther around the block, off leash because our mail carrier, Gordon, had come and gone. Busy, Gunther ran up on a nearby porch to check for snacks. As usual, he found none.

Keenan’s house. No snacks found.