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Part-time queer

September 7, 2019

As a child of perhaps four, I had an undifferentiated sense of sexuality.  I remember being in my babysitter’s house, that of Gordon and Alice Browder, two sweet people with a mildly southern drawl.  I was rummaging through one of their closets and got excited by a pair of rubber overshoes.  I know it sounds weird, but it was true.  The sexual excitement ebbed when Alice called me over for a snack.  Probably an apple slice.

My friend across the alley and I used to speak of sex.  We wondered what made girls different from boys.  The hair?  We couldn’t really identify any other thing.  “Thing” is a technical term for. . . anatomical difference.  We really didn’t know.  He and I peed together.  I used to poop in the bushes and he later said he would poke at my poop with a stick.  We poked our fingers into each other’s butts.  A sexual act he didn’t enjoy.  These were lame attempts that brought us no closer to understanding sex, but neither enhanced nor diminished our friendship.  We were more interested in other things.

We satisfied each other’s curiosity about each other, but we still were mystified by girls.  He and I were soon bored with each other, unless we had some kind of flammable fluid and toy soldiers.  Cap guns.

We lit my brother’s plastic model planes on fire and crashed them into the dirt.  Then we made a trail of Ronson lighter fluid down the sidewalk and lit one end of it.  Whoosh!  We killed ants with burning pieces of string.  Cruel.  Sorry.  We burned lots of plastic, made up many scenarios of war.

Then we discovered second grade.  A youngster in our class, named Melodie, attracted both of us, so we went to her house after school to sing her songs and tell her we liked her.  As I recall we hid in a coal shed in the alley.  Then we went out on her snowy lawn and her dad chased us away.  Some weeks or months later as I left Daisy Jacobs’ classroom, Melodie handed me a sub-wallet-size photo of her. Wow.  Made my day!

Sexuality reared its horrible head whenever I fell in love with a beautiful girl in one of my grades.  Usually manifested itself in my walking the girl home, carrying her books.  I couldn’t seem to get a kiss. I couldn’t seem to tell her my feelings, but I wanted to.

I took dance lessons at the Episcopal Church in the seventh grade.  Danced with Melodie, but by then, she wasn’t the little cutie.  She had become tall and gangly.  Besides, I had fallen in love with a dark-haired girl whose name I don’t remember.  I just remember that I wore a sweatshirt I had slathered with oil paints (for the Bohemian “beatnik” look) and some of it rubbed off on the FRONT of her white sweatshirt.  She complained about that, and that was the end of my infatuation with her.

My friend Paul taught me how to masturbate.  We sat in the back of the University Theater in Missoula.  Then we climbed a pole at the Clover Bowl.

Fast forward to the Marine Corps when I got into trouble and was thrown into jail.  This was my depressed, psychotic phase.  Helpless, I decided I was queer.  Only I wasn’t attracted to men, so I decided I was only part-time queer.  A fellow inmate told me I could either be queer, or not, but not both.  I didn’t buy his argument.  Thus, I stayed with my “part-time queer” identity.  This seemed to fit me the best.  I could still be who I was. I had erotic dreams of someone I announced to all of my fellow jail mates as “Mona.”  (I don’t know who Mona might have been.  Maybe I just made her up?)

One of my Millington Tennessee Marine base cell-mates told me he was queer.  He advocated melting the world down to a uniform gray sameness.  I told him I was opposed to that, and I still am.  And yet he had a beautiful tenor singing voice.  I don’t know what became of him.  He was probably discharged, unfortunately.

Then I married, had children, grew up, grew old.  Now I have a gay dog, who likes to march in Gay Pride Parades.

Adult psychiatric inpatient

September 2, 2019

My close friend was admitted last week to Billings Clinic psychiatric unit with severe depression.  We have been pals for at least 50 years, so I’ve been visiting him daily, sometimes twice daily.  I think he is improving, but I doubt if he thinks so.

He had been taking an antidepressant medicine prescribed by his doctor in his home town, but only for a couple of weeks.  Well, at least three weeks, now.  He was troubled by persistent suicidal thoughts, anxiety,. and loss of appetite, inability to sleep.  He was staying with a relative, but he became exhausted by his depressed mood.  He finally went to the emergency department. 

Visiting hours are short.  You check in at the desk and you have to leave your cell phone in a locker.  Then they buzz you in through a couple sets of doors.  “Elopement Risk” reads the sign on the inner door.

The adult inpatient area has a central nurse’s station with three hallways that radiate, maybe 100 feet.  A couple of other short hallways go to doors.  One is an exit. I don’t know where the other goes. There are also three visiting rooms at the apices of the hallways, close to the station.  The decor is austere.  Windows have metal frames, studded with screws.  Beds are fastened to the floor.  The door to the bathroom is cut so the room camera can see in.  

Several patients, including my friend and his roommate, pad in stocking feet or slippers up and down the three halls.  Oh yes, an outdoor playground and exercise area is visible through one of the windows, but my friend tells me hospital staffing is inadequate, so they are not allowed outdoors.  Anyway, it’s been beastly hot these days.

Usually, when visiting my friend, it’s impossible to find a private place to talk, so I’ve gotten to know a number of the other adult patients by name. 

Sunday my friend phoned me, then handed the phone to “Rhoda” (not her real name.)  She told me in a hushed tone the staff had refused to bring in a minister to conduct a worship service, even though a number of them had requested one.  I told her I would ask my friend Cheryl Stewart, an ordained minister who lives nearby.  Cheryl readily agreed to meet me at the psych ward.  

That’s when a hospital chaplain also showed up.  Turns out the hospital staff didn’t refuse “Rhoda” at all.  

Graciously, Cheryl invited the chaplain in to take charge.  We sat around a table, 8 or 9 of us.  The chaplain invited each of us to say something about ourselves.  I was impressed at their honesty and humility.  To respect their privacy I changed their names.

  • One, I’ll call “Janice.”  She had a sad-looking face that made her look like she was scowling.  She was pleasant and spoke softly.  She was slightly built and used a walker.  She said she will be discharged tomorrow.  Unfortunately, she normally lives in a nursing facility on the high line where she has “nothing to do.”  Also, her friends there have died.  She said she likes being in Billings Clinic lots better.  She said she is grateful to be humble.  I didn’t know what she meant by that.  The chaplain asked each of us to say something we were grateful for, and that’s what she said:  “Humble.”
  • Another, I’ll call “Rhoda” is a garrulous woman who sort of corralled the rest of us, including my friend Rev. Cheryl Stewart, a minister in the United Church of Christ, for the Sunday service.  Rhoda set the agenda, pretty much, and I didn’t learn much about her, except people seem to enjoy her company.
  • “Jebadiah” wore a Donald Duck sweatshirt.  He looked like he was almost too young to be in the adult inpatient area.  I can’t remember much about what he said, except he had a charming smile and beautiful voice. He looked African American.
  • “Suzette” is a Native American woman.  She didn’t share much about herself.  Saturday she had at least three visitors who obviously care for her.  One of them was tearful at first, but brought her in some Reece’s peanut butter cups and a Pepsi.  (No salty snack, though.  My friend doubts there is a salt shaker in the building, it being a hospital.)
  • I didn’t get the name of a 20-something-year-old man with a blanket around his shoulders and with suicidal thoughts.  He said he is a poet and musician. With a great beard and long hair.  He went to his room and returned with a poem, in which he explained why he would never commit suicide.  The room heaved a relieved breath.  
  • Rev. Cheryl Stewart led us in a song she wrote.  She distributed copies for us to share.  It was a long song, maybe 8 verses, with a refrain that was easy to remember, a tune that was catchy.   Toward the end the room was filled with spirited singing and laughter.
  • My friend told the group about being a member of a Buddhist Church in Missoula.  Rituals, music, quiet meditation.  Also outreach to the Buddhist prisoners at the state prison in Deer Lodge, who appreciate the visits.  
  • A 42-year-old man sitting next to me was bedeviled with grand mal seizures.  These left him in worse and worse mental condition and he struggles to regain his faculties.  He said he plays guitar and sings, as does my friend.  As does Rev. Stewart.  However, none of them were allowed to bring in their guitars.
  • “Leonard” is Mark’s roommate.  Friendly and polite.  He said he spent two years in prison for something he didn’t do.  
  • “Bud” is a middle-age man who mumbles that he is a licensed practical nurse, speaking to no one in particular.  He doesn’t engage people, as far as I could tell. He didn’t attend the service.
  • “Hank” looks to be about 80.  He said he needs to go feed the cows outdoors.  He looks like an old rancher, and when I agreed with him that he needs to feed his cattle, his female companion, his wife, I thought, whispered “thank you” to me.
  • “Oliver” seemed like a friendly sort, but he was not often up and about, so I never spoke with him.
  • Another young woman — perhaps 20 years old— seemed to spend most of her time on the phone crying while a nurse chaperone stood by.  As she sobbed she complained that she couldn’t even use the bathroom without being constantly watched.
  • Several others were in and out of the rooms.  Everyone was lucid except for the crying woman, “Bud,” and “Hank.”

Here’s a rebellious guy

The old fart himself.

August 18, 2019

Tonight I got reprimanded by our illustrious director of opera for goofing off at a rehearsal.  

Indeed, I was goofing off, but trying not to move my lips while singing, so as to “throw my voice.”  I don’t know how he could tell it was me!  I swear I was looking innocent.  Later, I asked him how he knew, but he didn’t answer me.

You’d think someone (like me) who is 70 years old could behave better in a group of mostly younger people.  

On the other hand, you’d think someone who is only about 60 years old (like him) would have more respect for his elders than to call them out in front of the cast.  

As my father wrote in the 1940s, “Ah me!”  His chastisement would have had more effect if he had spoken to me privately  —as I think he should have.  But anyway. . . 

I have to admit I’m getting tired of kindergarten shit.  I probably shouldn’t volunteer to be in any more productions.  I think my correct role is to clean the theater, much like my esteemed colleague, Gary Treglown, retired Methodist minister extraordinaire, and someone I’d like to emulate.

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.

Snow Bird

Edgar Max Alden, Jr.

August 4, 2019

            I’m trying to collect my thoughts.  My nephew’s wife, Kristi, called me a couple three hours ago saying she heard that Eddie Alden had been found dead in his apartment this morning. I posted my grief on Facebook:  A photograph of Eddie and me.  A friend in Hillsboro, Oregon, telephoned me with his condolences.  Turns out he has more trouble in his life than I do, so I tried to console him.  In many ways Eddie lived an ideal life, certainly an unusual one. He profoundly affected me.

            He was his own man.  You might say he was developmentally challenged, but he lived on his own.  He invented his role in life.  He was like a super hero, working to help the forces of law and order on his bicycle, traveling alone from dusk to the wee hours of the night.  

            People in Billings knew him simply as “Snow Bird.”

            I was terribly saddened to learn that Eddie passed away.  I worried about the many others of us who cared about him.  He trained us to care about other people.

            Eddie’s sister, Pam Garza, worked as a nurse at the Lame Deer Clinic when I did, so I looked her up on Facebook.  That’s how I got in touch with her and her sister Edwina who both loved Eddie.  They invited me to speak at Eddie’s service at Crow Agency.  

            Of course, I said I would be proud to speak.  I’ll be in good company because Eddie had a knack for making friends with journalists, policemen, and pharmacists. 

            You might have seen Eddie in Billings.  He looked striking, a 300-pound man wearing a bright yellow and black fleece, pedaling slowly throughout downtown.  

            I met him 30 years ago at the old Crow Agency hospital, where the pharmacy was on the end of the building near an exit.  Another pharmacist told me “Eddie is pinned down by a bunch of rock-throwing kids on the back ramp!” Turns out Eddie was hunkered down behind some heavy screen and several grade-school kids were pelting him with gravel. Outraged, I ran outside and yelled at them to stop!  They ran away and Eddie came inside.    

            Anyway, that’s when I met Eddie.  I gave him a ride to Billings, where he had an apartment near Deaconess Hospital.  This was 1989.  Donovan said he had also given rides to Eddie, as did our hospital laboratory manager, Marvin Flaten.  Marvin was kind to Eddie and noted that Eddie didn’t drink or do drugs.  I heard him reassure Eddie that none of us would let him go hungry.  That was a kind of mantra that seemed to quiet his anxiety.  That we wouldn’t let him go hungry. I learned to recite that also.

            When we prepared medications for Eddie, he would take his pills to Marvin at the laboratory who had a big calendar.  Marvin would put a pill in each square of the calendar to demonstrate that the quantity would be sufficient to last until the next month.  If there weren’t quite enough, because the month had 31 days, Marvin and Eddie showed up for the one needed pill.

            I always enjoyed how Eddie sometimes changed people’s names to suit them better. Example:  We had a very attractive female pharmacist named Yvette, whom Eddie called “Lovette.” 

            Trouble was, Lovette didn’t return Eddie’s affectionate communications. What could I do?  My boss even asked me to tell Eddie not to visit the pharmacy so often.  Like, limit to twice a day.  This is the part of the story I like best.

            That evening as I drove Eddie back to Billings, I told him my boss’s request that he visit the pharmacy no more than twice a day.  Eddie was silent for a couple of minutes.  Then he said, “No one else has to follow a rule like that!”  

            Wow, I thought.  Then I said, “You are right, Eddie.  I’ll tell my boss what you said!”  I learned an important lesson that day about fairness from Eddie. Even my boss had to agree with Eddie.

            He told me how he went to Texas as a young man to learn how to make computers. In turn, I sang him songs from an opera I was learning, a Mozart opera, called “Bastien and Bastienne.”  I sang my part over and over and he laughed at the funny parts.  You know what?  When we performed the opera, Eddie came to the Babcock Theater and wore a business suit with necktie.

            For a while Eddie was homeless, living beneath a bridge between Crow and Hardin.  I remember he bought Raid! insect spray for the ants and fire crackers that he hoped would scare away harmful people.  

Fortunately, Marvin helped Eddie get a bed at the Montana Rescue Mission.  Marvin said he visited Eddie there.  “It kind of stank!” Marvin said, but the beds were decent.  Next thing I knew, Eddie said he had been 86’d from the Rescue Mission. Someone was bothering Eddie’s stuff, so he threw a rock at the guy.  I think that’s when Eddie lost one of his front teeth.  Gave me a glimpse of what life was like at the Rescue Mission.

            Eddie knew how to defend himself.  He kept a tape recorder and a camera handy to document things.  I remember once when he lived on 2nd Street North across from “Goofy’s Bar” he got arrested, but then they let him go.  “Wow!”  I said. “What happened, Eddie?”

            “This guy was trying to crowd into my apartment,” Eddie said.  Then, pulling a photograph out of his pocket, he showed me an angry-looking man entering a door with the number of Eddie’s apartment plainly visible near the perpetrator’s head.

            “I stabbed him.” Eddie said.  “What?” I asked.  “What with?”  “Barbecue fork.” answered Eddie.  The police apparently didn’t charge Eddie with a crime because he had evidence that the man he stabbed was being aggressive.  

            I could go on and on.  Eddie had a hard time getting an apartment, for a while.  My nephew Jon Angel went to the property management outfit and got a copy of the criteria they used to decide if a renter was a good prospect for the property owner.  It was clearly discriminatory against people with disabilities, and Eddie was disabled. I was never clear what his disability was, and I didn’t care, either.  Eddie needed a place to live.

            When the Crow Hospital moved to the new facility near the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Eddie was concerned that the Service Unit Director, Tennyson Doney, wouldn’t have a designated parking spot.  “I’m worried about where Tennessee will park,” he said.  I loved Eddie’s subtle turns of speech.

            Eddie celebrated all of the different holidays with us:  New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s, Fourth of July, his Birthday on July 19, Crow Fair third week in August, Halloween, Thanksgiving,  and Christmas.  The weeks leading up to each of these events were always busy for him.

            New Year’s eve was especially important.  Once he and I were the only ones still awake at my house, and it was midnight.  Eddie still had some fireworks left over from the previous fourth of July.  In fact it was a bottle rocket.  We went out on the porch where I lived near downtown in Billings and lit off a bottle rocket.  The rocket shot across the street and landed on the porch of a pair of 90-year-old spinsters, the Hansen sisters, before exploding with a loud bang.

            Eddie and I turned off all the lights and peered out the front window of our house before he left for his home.

            Another memorable New Year’s Eve was 1999.  Eddie, Emily Witcher, and I sat on our front porch watching the snow fall in silence.  The great millennium disaster didn’t happen.  No streetlights went out.  Everything seemed fine.  We wished each other happy new year and went our separate ways.  Just three souls together for a brief time, watching the year turn over.  Once, Eddie bought a new suit, complete with white shirt and necktie.  

            Sometimes when Eddie came to our house I fried him an egg or two.  

            One of the most exciting times with Eddie was a halloween when he had a particularly scary mask.  I don’t know where he got his masks, but they were not just scary.  No, they were combination wolf, African lion, and crazy hyena with a great shock of hair.  I talked him into wearing his mask and giving out candy to the next person to ring the doorbell.  When the five-year-old child saw Eddie, he screamed and sobbed and ran to his mother! That might be the only time Eddie was actually angry with me!  

            Helping Eddie move from one apartment to another was an adventure.  I think I only helped him do it a couple, maybe three times.  The first time, they were tearing down his apartment building next to Smith Chapel to put in a city parking garage.  Eddie lived on like, the third floor.  It was Wednesday—I had to work— and Eddie needed someone to help him carry out his stuff. Our kids’ friend, Emily Witcher had a car, and I agreed to store his belongings in our garage.

            She hauled stuff three days:  Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  Box after box of things.  Boxes with telephones, their curly wires dripping over the sides.  Tape recorders and cassette tapes, jumbled all over. Socks, double-A batteries, hair clippers, bicycle wheels, pill bottles, newspapers, bright orange signs that said, “Snowbird.”  More telephones.  More telephones.  I quit counting telephones and started counting bicycle wheels.  

            Saturday morning my nephew Jon and I showed up to help Eddie move.  The apartment was still full of Eddie’s things! At one point, I saw a dead mouse in amongst the stuff.  Eddie sort of grinned and threw it out the window.  

            I miss Eddie.  He was thrifty and kind.  He did like to tease the “BIA Cops,” carrying around a Budweiser box full of Pepsi at Crow Fair.

            * The time he recorded the highway patrol calling me in for speeding, then getting home before me to play it for my wife.  Then he played the recording for me as I ate supper.  Over and over again.

            * The time Lame Deer citizen Olivette Glenn told me how Eddie had saved her from some tough guys who were bothering her in Billings.  She told me Eddie pedaled over on his bike and made the tough guys leave her alone.

            * We went to buy him socks at JC Penney for his birthday.  He insisted on white cotton socks in packages of 8.  Two clerks swore up and down they were available only in packages of six.  Eddie looked all around until he found the packages of 8!

            * Snow melt.  He bought several stores out of salt because of an ice dam out behind his place. We’re talking hundred of pounds of salt. We are thinking he succeeded.  The ice had been a foot thick and a block long.

            * Eddie’s story is complicated and difficult.  However, he could glide around town on his bike.

            * How he managed to get 128 ounces of pop for the price of 64.  Of course he always got a lot of ice.  He used gift cards and coupons expertly.

How we got rescued 30 years ago from East Pryor Mountain

William H. Thormahlen 1934-2019

July 25, 2019

Our daughter Clara and I weaved our brand new ’89 Nissan Sentra sedan carefully through the sharp rocks atop East Pryor Mountain.  I had gotten through before with a VW, even though the sign recommended a 4WD.  The day was gorgeous!  Warm, blue sky, lots of June wildflowers.

She and I wanted to find Mystic Cave, reputed to be one of the best-decorated limestone caverns in Montana.  You have to drive a couple of hours from Billings, half of it on dirt roads, then up on top, past Big Ice Cave, then the road gets iffier and more rugged.  You drive on a broad ridge through the BLM wild horse range.

At the far end of the East Pryor ridge we eased down a steep hill but crunched against some sharp limestone.  The hideous crunch didn’t sound good, so I set the brake.   On hands and knees on the rocky ground I reached beneath the hot engine.  

Oil.  Turns out, we busted the oil pan at least 30 miles from the nearest gas station.  You could go ahead toward Lovell, Wyoming, or back toward Pryor or maybe Bridger.  Obviously, we were stranded.  I felt almost panicky.

It was maybe three in the afternoon, and what could we do?  We walked back up the way we came on the ruts perhaps a quarter mile when we saw a 50s-era Willys Jeep loaded with four people coming our way.  This was barely a road.  The jeep was open on top, freshly painted bright blue.

I waved them down.  I explained our situation to the driver, an older man with big white beard.  He said he was taking his friends on a tour, but he would come back around and get us.  I felt like we were getting the brush off, but heck.  His Jeep was full.  I could see crying wouldn’t help!  I wanted to ride on the spare tire or running boards.

We were alone again, so we walked back to the car.  Damn!  

Oh well, it would take hours for the bearded guy to return, so we might as well look for that cave.  She and I hiked on down the road, then combed the timbered top of the ridge.  We didn’t find the cave.  

An hour or two later we returned to our car, only to find a second car.  A Jeep Wagoneer.  

This time It was not the bearded man, but another guy, who said he was a pastor from Billings.  I explained our plight again.  He offered to take us to Billings and I accepted.  

An hour later we were back on the main Forest Service road descending from East Pryor Mountain, when a couple of deer ran in front of the minister’s car.  Right behind the deer was a six-passenger pickup with that familiar bearded face behind the wheel.  We stopped and I got in with the bearded guy.  Clara stayed with the minister for the ride to Billings.

My rescuer was a man from Bridger:  Hearty man, named Bill Thormahlen, and he was with another man.  They had a five-gal. container of oil and an ice chest with sloshing water and lots of beer.  The other guy drank a beer and Bill drove.  Told me he had just returned from Alaska where he could fix anything with baling wire, silicone calk, and “hunnert-mile-an-hour” tape.  I made a mental note.

Of course I felt sheepish that I had not trusted Bill to return, but he didn’t seem to notice.  Instead he told me some of the recent history of the Pryors.  For instance, how they had long ago used a bulldozer to create divots on the surface to catch snow and moisture.

When we arrived at our disabled Nissan the other guy, at Bill’s direction, took a leatherman tool to finish draining the oil and to close up the break in the oil pan.  I’ve since wondered how.  Then he took a bunch of the silicone calk and applied it to the pan.  Bill said to wait 10 or 15 minutes for the calk to set.  

Then he put five quarts of oil into the Nissan.  He handed me a smaller, plastic oil container that would hold, perhaps a gallon.  He told me to check the oil half way to Billings and add more if needed.

Before they led the way out, I offered to pay Bill for his time and trouble and oil.  

“Money”  He said.  “Ha ha!  No!  You won’t pay me! No!  No money!” he repeated, laughing again. Again, I made a mental note.

The silicone repair lasted all the way to Billings.  I checked the oil in Pryor, but the Nissan didn’t need any.  It did leak a puddle of oil after I parked in front of our house, but I added some more oil and was able to have the oil pan welded the next day.

I wrote about Bill Thormahlen’s heroism in my magazine, “The Portable Wall,” and sent Bill some chocolate candy at Christmas. I titled my piece “The Code of the West.”

Today I went to Bill’s funeral service in Billings.  I told Jean, his widow, the story of her husband driving up to rescue us on East Pryor Mountain.  He lived to be 85, and his family told about his life as a cowboy and truck driver, but mostly about his being a generous, good-natured man.

Waiting for Bill’s service to begin.

Another political meet and greet in Billings

Wilmot Collins is running for US Senate against Steve Daines.

July 18, 2019

Wilmot Collins, mayor of Helena, Montana, is running for US Senate against Steve Daines, incumbent Republican.  That’s pretty much all I knew about him before P. and I drove to a local meet and greet at the “Agada Integrated Wellness”  in Billings at noon today.

Just getting to the meeting proved challenging.  Second Avenue North was blocked off for construction, so I had to take Montana Avenue.  

Only a long slow train was headed east, blocking the way to the southside, so the street intersecting Montana Ave. had a perpetual red light.  We were back almost a block, almost back to 1st Ave N., so I boldly drove up the left side of the street (against the lane of traffic, which had no cars in it) and turned left against the red light onto Montana Ave.  P.  was aghast, called me any number of names and wouldn’t let up until I admitted to being a bad person.  Once at the address (2409 2nd Ave N) we couldn’t figure out how to find the meeting.  Adrian Jawort appeared on the sidewalk and helped us figure it out.  Or maybe we helped Adrian.  I was confused.

But I digress.  We walked into Agada past a massage table into a small gymnasium. About a dozen, or so, women sat in chairs on the perimeter.

According to an article in Slate, Mr. Collins, 55 years old, got nationally known a couple years ago because he was a Liberian refugee and the first Black to win a mayoral election in a major Montana city.  He might be the first Black to win a mayoral election in any Montana city.  His platform against a four-term incumbent was largely to protect essential municipal services.

Now he is running for Senate.  He seemed conversant with major issues of interest to Democrats:  Health care, veterans affairs, the environment.  He didn’t do a lot of speaking.  When he invited the women in the room to voice their concerns the first woman spoke at length of the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) epidemic.  Mr. Collins listened carefully and patiently to the speaker who was passionately and personally invested in this important issue. He listened for perhaps 10 minutes without expressing impatience.

Another woman spoke of the huge expense to provide insulin to her child with type 1 diabetes.  Another spoke of the nearly hopeless debt load college graduates carry. Another spoke about the need to ban military assault rifles used in school shootings and elsewhere.

He expressed solidarity with labor unions. He did not chime in affirmatively when I suggested the need for gun control. Instead, he advocated better mental health services.

He wore light blue slacks, a navy blazer and white shirt with no tie.  I had on a “Kathleen Williams for Congress” teeshirt and shorts.  

When we shook hands, Mr. Collins admired my teeshirt.