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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.

Link

PW Volume II number 1

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Click the link below to read the entire issue.

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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?”

“Nothing.”

“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.  

Drive to Willow Creek to visit Pat Zuelke

Jef

Jeff and Phyllis Dorrington

June 9, 2021

What I learned recently.

Monday morning P. and I delivered about a dozen “meals on wheels” as part of that program here in Billings.  I always get a kick out of old guys who accept the meal with a thanks with their dog accepting a Milkbone(R) with —not much—appreciation.  In the case Monday, “Peanut” held the treat in his mouth loosely, not snapping it greedily as Gunther is wont to do.

After the deliveries we stopped back at the house to eat ramen noodles with chicken.  

We loaded the Hymer van with clothes, dog, food, personal effects.  Drove to Bozeman via Clyde Park and Willsall.  In the Bridger Mountains we stopped at Battle Ridge trailhead to walk around and let Gunther pee and poop.  He did both.  Well, he peed.  He must have pooped surreptitiously.  Birds were active.  P. thought she saw a mountain bluebird sitting atop a dead tree way up there.

Great diversity of woodland plants at Battle Ridge: lupines, other familiars whose names I can’t remember, but probably a half-dozen species of plant.  Wild strawberries’ flowers.  Certainly some elderberries, probably not any huckleberries.  Sometimes it’s hard to be sure about those until the berries pop out.  I wasn’t convinced.

Soon we traveled to Bozeman, then Three Forks, then Willow Creek to visit Pat Zuelke, retired school teacher of the same town. Pat bought and renovated a small house. It was one of those houses with gas heat in the front room, a kitchen behind, a bedroom off to the side and a bathroom. A back door.

We walked into her back door to find — a smorgasbord of delightful viands and beverages.  

And people!  The in-laws Jeff and Phyllis Dorrington were there.  Also, friend Louisa.  Rounding out the group was Pat’s niece Shannon and her two children Bo-bo and Lucy and Pat’s child, Liberty, and her daughter Amani. 

I’m still peeing blood, so I excused myself to use the bathroom.  Then I found a skewer and used it to eat pieces of ham and cheese while catching up with Jeff.  Jeff, like I am, retired as a federal pharmacist.  I tried to get him interested in my recent surgery on my prostate gland, but no dice.  Instead, we talked about cars: he bought a Tesla, P. and I bought the Hymer.

He and I both have distressing dreams about pharmacy:  He can’t remember the combination to the safe (neither can I).  We can’t seem to fill the prescriptions either fast or at all.  That’s what pharmacists care about.  We really want to fill prescriptions.

At some point I crawled into the Hymer and fell asleep.  Yes, the guests had gone home, yes we sat around talking until a late hour.

Next morning we coffeed and oatmilled.  I had gotten some painful slivers from Pat’s porch, so I sanded and varnished with many coats the offending area.  Then I did a variety of small jobs.  Organized paint.  Arranged tools.  Leaned pieces of sheetrock against a wall.  Folded a tarp.  And another tarp.  Like that.  Small jobs.

At last Liberty showed up with a room carpet.  I mean a carpet, complete with border and pattern, somewhat smaller than the room it was to go into.  She and Pat unrolled it and and a pad beneath.  Then Lib trimmed the pad with a pair of scissors.  Nor did she get a blister, apparently.

Louisa and her husband Thomas invited everyone to their house in Bozeman for a feast.  This was a caesar salad, expertly prepared steak, artistically concocted cocktails, oyster mushrooms.  Louisa was born and raised in Paraguay.  Thomas from New York state (The Hamptons).  They have two children Lana, and Shane, both bright and interesting.  They created the desserts, creme brûlée’s.

I tried some humor, some stories.  When Louisa said her sign was Scorpio, I replied, “hmm. I’m a feces.”  This got a startled response from Shane, certainly not the warm, appreciative laughter I hoped for.  

I tried telling my story from NOVA about my exploits as an adolescent explorer of University of Montana buildings in which I became trapped in a laboratory.  This went over well until I expanded upon my troubled past as a bed-wetter.

“My mother hated that I could wet my bed by standing in the doorway of my bedroom and urinating on my bed,” I explained.  This got another hostile reaction.  I was trying to explain that NOVA catered to the kind of troubled youths of which I was one.  I think I got mixed success.

After supper P. and I drove back through Bozeman, took Rouse Street to the highway past Bridger Bowl, then back to Battle Ridge.  We cruised the campground and found a likely site.  Got backed into it.  Then, lo!  A dome tent was back in the distance.  Worse luck!  Occupied!  We drove back to the highway and back to the trailhead parking lot where we boondocked.  Things were good until a rude, cowardly one-eyed pickup came into the area, spun several brodies spraying some gravel into our rig.  I threatened to give them a good talking-to, but didn’t fulfill my threat.

Things were quiet the remainder of the night and we drove to Billings, arriving at 11:30 a.m.  Took the interstate after we returned via the Shields River.

Why I quit hunting. . . .

Mule deer doe.

6/1/2021

Today is my grandson George Roberts’ birthday.  I was with his mother at the hospital when they delivered him by C-section years ago.  I think it was 12 years ago, but I’m not sure.

I’ve been reading the folk novel, Monkey, by Wu Ch’eng-en, translated by Arthur Waley a bit before 1943.  One of the characters returns a fish to a stream, good fortune. 

Made me reminisce about my own history hunting and fishing.  Hunting, specifically, for mule deer bucks.

Do you remember the story about how I used to play with my grandpa’s hunting rifle?  He had a 30-30 Winchester carbine.  My cousins and I used to take apart the bullets and light the gunpowder.  Anyway, my brother sold the carbine to finance his high school graduation tour de United States.

I told that to my kids, and Robert had always wanted to replace the rifle.  He won one in a lottery and, well, . . .

My son Robert gave me a rifle a few years back, a 44-magnum carbine.  A lever-action cowboy rifle.  I’ve not owned any firearms since high school, but I was trained as a marksman in the Marine Corps, where I served from 1969-1976.

During those years of military service I qualified annually as a shooter of the M-14 and M-16 rifles.  I think both of these firearms are obsolete now, but I learned how to hit a 24-inch target at 500 meters with iron sights.

We called them iron sights, as different from telescopic.

Toward the end of my marine experience I got quite good at shooting.  I learned to shoot with a rear peep sight and a front sight blade.  In fact, I didn’t know how to use a scope. I have lots of good memories. A guy with a cigarette behind his ear announcing that he would now smoke a tobacco cigarette.

The carbine my son gave me had a kind of sight with which I was unfamiliar.  It had a rear sight notch and front sight ball.  I didn’t think I could hit anything with such a strange arrangement, so I purchased an adjustable rear peep sight online.  I attempted to find a gunsmith to install it, but ended drilling and tapping a screw hole myself in the barrel.  I did a pretty bad job of it.

Now I had a rifle with a sight I could use.  I didn’t really adjust the sight, except crudely, in the garage.  Then I got a box of 44 magnum bullets.  Then I got a hunting license and I was ready to sight in.

Only I didn’t.  Before I had a chance to practice sighting in with the Rossi (maker of the carbine), Robert invited me to hunt with him out west of Columbus, Montana.  I had bought a bag to carry the Rossi and a few bullets.  I wore snow boots and a parka.

We struggled up a long, long hill through snow up to our knees.  Bob thought he saw a small herd of elk about a thousand yards up the hill, so our plan was to go up the right flank and get them when we reached their level. He had tags for a mule deer buck and an elk buck.

Wet with sweat, boots full of snow, this was real struggling.

Bob went on ahead, so I found a rocky outcrop and sat down to rest.  “CRACK!” came from Robert’s direction.

Bob didn’t see any elk, but he did find a small herd of deer.  He brought down a buck.  He and I struggled across the ravine downhill and up until we reached his quarry.  I watched as Bob blessed the animal with a prayer, then gutted it.  A young buck.  I dragged it for him. It was too large to carry on my shoulders.

We started back down the ridge where the buck had been shot.  There was a fence line.  A couple hundred yards downhill we spotted some deer back across on the side of the ridge we’d just clambered up:  A buck with a few does.  I looked at them through binoculars.  They seemed nervous, walking into and out of some brush.  The sun was setting and it got darker and darker.  I knew if I was going to get a buck I’d need to act soon.

I unzipped my bag, removed the carbine, pointed it across the ravine, chambered a round, flipped up the rear sight.  

If you haven’t shot with iron sights, you might not know that the correct way is to locate your prey downrange, then you focus your eye on the tip of the front sight.  The rear aperture is close to your eye and you make a sight picture:  Front sight is centered in the aperture.  You place the front sight at six o’clock on the target, which is necessarily out-of-focus.  I had always been told not to focus my eye on the target.  That’s what the drill instructor called “chasing the bull.”

I waited until the deer walked out from behind the brush, then I aimed.  I made the sight picture, squeeeeezed the trigger, and “BLAM!”  The distant deer dropped after perhaps a half-second.

Long story short:  The deer was a doe, not the buck I had permission to hunt.  Bob said my shot was at least 600 meters.  He slogged across the ravine, gutted the doe and dragged it down the ravine.

Meanwhile, I dragged Bob’s buck down a long ridge to the road, to the car.  It was dark and snowing and I was soaking.

Bob got my deer stuck in a creek at the bottom of the ravine.  We returned next day and he couldn’t get it out of the creek because it was wedged into rocks and limbs.

I have not hunted since, and I don’t plan to go again; I don’t like venison, never did.  I’m sorry I made an illegal kill.  I don’t even like shooting that much, although I confess I’m pretty good at it.

Just part of getting older. . . .

The paper my doctor gave me prior to the “procedure.”

5/28/2021

Do you know what kind of surgery is a TURP?  I thought you did.  I got one done to me Tuesday and it was a trip.  Far, far easier than I imagined.  Should I go into detail?  No.

Instead, I’d like to proclaim the beauty of Spring here in Billings, Montana.  I was feeling affectionate.

“Do you want to go with me to the landfill?” I asked my spouse.

“You say the sweetest things.”

The Billings Solid Waste Division is impressive.  You see, we retired our mattress, opting to use an extra from upstairs to use as our primary.  What do I do with the unwanted mattress?  I thought about this for — a week — I suppose.  Then it came to me: Call a place that sells mattresses and ask them what they do with theirs.

Mattress King at 17th and Grand solicited questions by text on their website, so I asked that way.  Was I disappointed when the anonymous texter suggested the landfill?  Yes.  I didn’t want to believe it.  Meanwhile, we loaded the mattress into the back of our van.

The city-county landfill has never looked better to me.  The hills look terraced and light green with sprouting life.  When we reached the office for instructions, an intense woman asked what we had. “A mattress,” I replied.  She directed us to a steel building about the size of a football field.  Once inside we saw a mostly empty building with a bobcat tractor in a far corner.  I drove to a pile of mattresses and added ours.  A man came over to us, said the pile is only for mattresses.

Who would have thunk they have a building for discarded mattresses?  I did see what looked to be part of a sofa in amongst the mattresses.

Okay, morbidly curious.  Now I’ll tell of my TURP.  Trans Uretheral Resection of Prostate.  My urologist said I had a large prostate, about the size of guacamole.  I was having a dickens of a time peeing because urine must pass through the urethra that is constricted by the “avocado” sized prostate surrounding the urethra.  God!  Why?

Good reason.  The prostate normally provides the adequate seminal fluid for sperm cells to be ejaculated from the penis during sexual intercourse.  For some reason the prostate continues to grow outward for greater diameter and inward to prevent easy urination.

My urologist explained he would take a loop-shaped tool into my penis and carve right through the urethra and prostate from the inside until nothing but the rind of the prostate remained. Kind of like when you remove the green part from inside an avacado. Only imagine removing the meat through a tiny hole on one end.

For my part Tuesday at same day surgery, I laid my head in a sort of operating room pillow, a yellow styrofoam ring.  Then I arranged my body on the narrow table so that it was in line with my head.  A male nurse from Oklahoma held an oxygen mask over my face. I wondered if I’d smell ether or some other gas.

Then my anesthesiologist, a woman whose name I cannot remember, nor pronounce, injected a cold fluid into my vein.  She was explaining how I’d feel the fluid in my arm, spreading throughout. . . .  I think I had pleasant dreams.

I was all done!  I stretched my legs.  Surgery was finished and I was in a recovery area, magically, about an hour-and-a-half later.  I tried to sit up and it hurt!  A nurse gave me a pill.

A couple hours later they sent me home with a rubber hose—a catheter—sticking out of my penis.  We got careful instructions in what to do if the system failed and urine stopped flowing.  Well, blood clots can occur, she said.

Three days later and no blood clots occurred.  This morning I removed the catheter myself, as per instructions.  Worried about possible bleeding, I pulled on an adult diaper, but I need not have worried.  Just a spot of blood.

I’m almost ashamed at how easy the TURP was.  The urologist gave me a half-dozen strong pain tablets, but I could have done fine with only three or four.  More importantly, he gave me some anti-spasm pills for my bladder.  These cause dry mouth, but relieve the thrill of bladder spasms, which feel intense like orgasm, only unpleasant.

So what have I got to show for myself?  I no longer have to take my old man pills for my prostate.  That means in time I’ll be able to donate blood. (Finasteride is proscribed for those wishing to donate.)

I told my grandson, Josiah, about my urologist, how he had performed the TURP on several thousand men.

“That’s SICK!” he said.  “What kind of person does that?”

2019: waiting for Springtime

Velma in 2019

January 7, 2019

Spent the time it takes to walk around two city blocks listening and repeating Welsh for a tiny part of the opera Blodwen.  This was the first Welsh opera, composed by Joseph Parry with libretto by Richard Davies.  They did this in the late 1800s.  

I’ll be in the chorus of Blodwen when it opens May 19 this year.  Our director, Dulais Rhis, sent us all Drop Box recordings for the 13 opera songs with chorus parts, so I can listen from my iPhone through ear buds.  He carefully pronounced each phrase, then set it to music, then sang it slowly so we can get it right.

This morning I listened to the 11th song.  Then I studied the score at home.  Did I mention we have until May 19?

Turns out those morning walks with Gunther are good for more than just one or two things.  Thanks to the example set by that genius author, David Sedaris, I now pick up the random bits of trash I encounter on my short walks.  An empty water bottle.  Marlboro package.  Things like that.  I make my walks two or three times a day, so I have given myself permission to pass up stuff if I’m not in the mood to stoop down.  I can get them later.

Organic matter like sticks or even frozen dog turds from someone else’s dog get a carefully aimed kick to get them off the sidewalk, of course.  This morning I did that to a chunk of ice that turned out frozen fast to the sidewalk.  Pain in toe.  A couple soccer-style side kicks did the trick.

I’m thinking of further trimming low-hanging branches over the sidewalk on our block where I have to duck.  I have a pruning shear in the garage I’ve employed before.  Mrs. Johnson on the far corner or our block has a beautiful tree that hangs too low that I’m reluctant to attack because it is symmetrical.  I avoid its branches by walking near the edge of the walk.  I don’t know what kind of tree it is.

I was amazed at perhaps a dozen low-flying geese, in formation.  They always seem to be in formation.  

Blodwen.  After I get more familiar with the sounds of the Welsh words I’ll write them out on note cards to memorize, standard practice for opera singers. 

January 8, 2019

The day started normally enough, although I didn’t drag myself out of bed right away.  P. brought me a cup of coffee.  The stuff I made was too strong yesterday.  The dog and I headed out for our morning constitutional walk.  He wanted to walk around the block clockwise, so I followed him, listening to some Welsh opera:  Blodwen.  I will sing in the chorus here in Billings when it opens May 19.  The songs are all in Welsh, hence the need to practice.

At a house on the west end of our block I heard a man loudly shouting and cursing.  I saw broken glass and other junk on the porch.  

I wasn’t totally surprised.  Last summer I had stopped to speak to one of the occupants who rented there, a woman and her grown son.  

That’s when I found out her son had been struggling with a mental illness.  I too have been struggling, so I suggested attending a NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) meeting.  She was apologetic and embarrassed.  She said she needed NAMI at least as much as her son.

Anyhow, this morning I heard much roaring and hollering, “SHIT,” cried the voice.  At first I walked past, then because the house is on the alley, I walked Gunther down the alley a short distance, righted a big dumpster that was sideways, collected Gunther’s poop.  I heard more shouting.  More cursing.

Gunther and I returned to the front door and the young man came out.  Tattooed, wearing a black tee shirt, he smoked one of those vaping cigarettes.  He told me he was sorry he had been shouting.  The vaping device had a blue light.

“Sounds like you are hurting badly,” I observed.  He said yes, he was in pain and he didn’t want to frighten me.  He seemed remarkably composed, considering the ruckus he had been making.  I told him I wasn’t afraid, but I was willing to help him.  I told him I had some experience with people on meds, like my own brother.  (This was an understatement.  When I worked for the Indian Health Service on the local reservations, I had become friends with many schizophrenic and bipolar and depressed sufferers.  Several close relatives wrestle with mental illnesses.)

He replied he thought he needed meds.  He said he had been locked up before, and he had tried the local Crisis Center.  They don’t send you home with prescriptions, he said.  At the Crisis Center “You have to stand in line for hours behind a whole bunch of homeless people,” he complained.

I promised to ask my nephew, Jon Angel, who counsels mentally ill people, for advice for him.

Gunther and I finished our walk home, then I took him to an appointment with Dr. Kate Kilzer, veterinarian.  Gunther is in excellent condition, but he needed blood work and two immunizations and a course of some sort of good-tasting pill to prevent worms.  Gunther is afraid of the veterinarian’s office.

Meanwhile I spoke to Jon who invited me to have the cursing guy on the end of the block phone him.  

So I stopped back to visit the guy at the end of the block.  Broken glass crunched underfoot as I approached his front door. It had a broken window.  I knocked.  

The tattooed guy with black tee shirt opened.  I relayed Jon’s message to him.  I told him that Jon is a licensed mental health counselor and that he loves to get patients just like him.  He looked pleased.  He invited me in.  He closed the broken door.

The room was dark because the shades were drawn.  The TV was on, I think, possibly with a video game that I didn’t recognize.  

Previously I had told Jon about the broken stuff—lilac sticks and glass—I had seen out front of the house.  Jon surmised the guy might be angry and took out his anger on stuff, not people.  A good thing.  I told Jon I thought the guy’s mother was probably in her bedroom with cotton stuffed in her ears.

However, once my eyes adjusted, I was relieved to see lots of decorative glass objects—crystal goblets—in the living room, artfully displayed.  

A circle with a star, several feet across, made of duct tape was on the carpet.  What looked like candles burned in some of the goblets.  The man invited me to sit, so I had him call Jon with my phone.  Jon didn’t pick up.  It went to voicemail and the guy (whose name is Jerry) handed it back to me.   I left a message for Jon to please call Jerry.  We traded names and phone numbers, I urged him to hang in there, and I assured him that we all need to stick together.  He gave me a warm handshake.  I reminded him that we are neighbors.

As I left I asked about his mom.  His mother, as it turned out, was at work.  He had a broom and dustpan for the broken glass.  There was some evidence that he had swept up some of it.

January 10, 2019

We drove to Deer Lodge to receive a puppy—some kind of poodle mix that doesn’t shed—for Bob and Heather.  Velma is quite large and gambols about.  Gunther remains unimpressed.  She’s a big 2 and 1/2-month-old who pooped and peed in our kitchen, then on the rug in our dining room.  I put her into the backyard, but she managed to squeeze partway through our metal fence.  Luckily, I heard her crying.  Her hips were stuck and I walked her legs on through.  

I added chicken wire on the inside, fastened with plastic zip ties.  She cried when I went indoors, so I put Gunther back there to keep her company.  Gunther headed into his little doghouse.  Velma, however, quit crying.  At first.  Oops, I just heard a yip.  Penny went to investigate.  She’s just standing in the backyard looking somewhat forlorn.  I’m bringing them both in.  

Plan:  to be careful when feeding her.  I’ll take her around the block on a leash soon as she finishes eating.  I’m not sure what to do about her peeing, other than to get her to the backyard every two hours.

January 20, 2019

Bob, Heather, and Olivia—and Velma—are moved into their new house in Billings, a cool 1960s-style horizontal wooden house with flat roof and floor-to-ceiling windows in their front room.  Looks out on their monstrous back yard that I’d hate to mow.  Maybe they will raise lentils, or something.  

I love the wooden walls in their front room and kitchen.  Reminds me of my Aunt Corinne’s house in Seattle, the one that looked out onto Puget Sound.  I helped Bob fix some pig wire to contain Velma from making an end run around the side of the house.  Last I heard Velma loves the yard, but is learning to escape.

It snowed about 8 inches yesterday, so I fired up my new 24” Briggs and Stratton snow thrower and carved out a path from one end of our block to the other, then halfway up the east side.  I ran the machine again today, taking cutting out some of the deep snow on the street for parking.  I love doing it.  I’m also getting better at it.  My first few attempts with the machine got lousy crooked results, but I’m making a straighter path now.

This morning I got Gunther up before seven.  Thanks to my neighbors who dug out their sidewalks, I was able to walk the dog without a leash.  Like being in a hall with walls of snow, I needed to keep Gunther ahead of me, stopping so he could pee on some snow here and there, sniff a fence, like that.  As long as he was ahead of me he kept out of mischief.  

The house on the west end of the block that had the angry, troubled guy I called “Jerry” who screamed obscenities, was vacant this morning.  A side window, presumably broken in one of his rages, was boarded over with thin plywood.  I don’t know what happened to Jerry or his mother, but I could see in the front window a vacant room, lit by a lone lightbulb.  I guess the agency that manages the property sent someone to board the window and they left a light on.  I wonder how they are faring?

Gunther and I walked past to the corner where the Hispanic neighbors were getting in a van.  I picked Gunther up and held him under my arm.  The little girl who likes Gunther had her hair in neat braids.  She always used to ask to pet Gunther, but P. and I agreed that because G. sometimes nips at kids, we should tell the girl that G. is a “bad dog.”  Nonetheless, the girl grinned when she saw me carrying Gunther, but didn’t say anything.  I howdy’d the mom who wished me a good morning as she fussed with something in the van.  They were up early.  Like me.

I lit a fire in our stove at home.  Yesterday, P. invented a quilt to stretch over the top of the open stairway to our unheated upstairs.  It stretches horizontally, stapled to a board that wedges between wall and railing, over a supporting board, to another board laying across the top of the stairs that also is wedged firmly at its ends.  Got the picture?  It looks like it will keep the first floor warmer, although the forced air furnace ran and ran this morning, even though it was only about 26 degrees out.

Gunther sits on my shoulder and on the back of my chair while I write.  I hope to find the sweet places to write from, those hippie times that troubled me with fears about straight society.  As I recall, I didn’t fear having nowhere to live or nothing to eat in those days.  I suppose I should have.  I was afraid of Vietnam.  I knew I could handle being in the military, after all, I’d heard it wasn’t as bad as football practice.  I wasn’t any good at football, but I stayed with it all through high school, sitting on the bench for games.  I enjoyed practice. 

Some of my friends are writers, successful ones.  I think their secret is their perseverance, their consistent, hard work.  Plus, they enjoy telling stories, like I did before I became so deeply depressed.

I owe my life to my psychiatrist and the medicines he prescribed, but they had mild side effects.  All medicines have side effects, and considering the potentially lethal effects from depression, I’d say the medicines caused mild inconvenience only.  Still, I’m glad Dr. Stiles tapered me off the psych meds because now I feel sharper and I have more insight into the nature of depression, the illness.  I’m thinking I can take up writing, once again.

February 6, 2019

Today when I got home from my three-hour shift hosting Billings street men and women, sleeping on yoga mats on the wooden floor of First Congregational Church, I put on my PJs and went back to bed.  Mixed up dreams.  Couldn’t quite fall far enough into sleep, but I got up at a little after ten.  

A Native man was the first up, about 5:30, this morning.  He had a scowl.  Remembering my own “resting bitch face,” I asked him where he could go next.  He politely told me the Crisis Center would be open, so he could get warm again there.  So much for the “scowl.”  His face didn’t reflect what a good person he was.  P. tells me my own “RBF” has improved since the time she photographed me at the Mexican restaurant sipping a margarita.  

Nine persons, and these all reminded me of friends I had when I was a fake hippie in the 60s, slept at the church overnight.  Two of them brought no belongings.  A tenth person had exited the church in the night, not to return to the mat on the hardwood floor.

When I showed up at three a.m. me and a guy named Juan relieved two women who looked my age—perhaps 70 years old—and who also reminded me of my hippie friends from the 60s.

The night was uneventful.  I read about a third of a book about Edward Curtis, Indian photographer from the early 1900s.  I have mixed feelings about him.  I mean way mixed.  I think my friend Adrian Jawort was critical.  Others said Curtis was an artist who preserved Indigenous history.  Probably the truth is both views are valid, but I’ll put my money on the views expressed by Natives who know that Curtis doctored the photographs.  

Anyway, my shift seemed to pass relatively quickly.  Juan spent time looking at his phone, then he got a Bible off a shelf.

Juan and I chatted a bit at the beginning and ending of our shift together.  He looks friendly, charismatic.  I told him so, and I think he told me I’m full of shit, although my hearing is messed up from rock and roll concerts and the marine corps.  He smiled a lot and seemed eager to help homeless street people.

He originally came from Mexico City, then moved to the Yucatan, then to Oakland, California.  He married a woman who directed non-profits.  They moved to Santa Cruz, then to Billings.  He said his wife, originally from Billings, directs the CASA program here.  I think you’d like Juan.

You also might like some of the street people who stumbled out of the sleeping area into our part of the church before six to collect their belongings, get a pitiful little pastry in a plastic wrapper, drink some water, use the bathroom.  They each folded their blanket and rolled up their yoga mat.

Lisa Harmon, associate minister at the congregational church, showed up to help us close down the sleeping area and the area for the volunteer hosts.  She sprayed Virex from a plastic squirt bottle on the mats and said she takes all the blankets home to wash them for the next night.

Last night the temp was -7F; tonight it’s forecast to be -14, so I offered to show up again.

I had to get training, which I got Monday at the First Baptist Church from MarCee Neery, the director of the Billings Community Crisis Center.  Then I was on the email list from Lisa Harmon, who sent us the schedule for the night, showing who had already signed up for each shift.  I responded with my availability, then she sent out the final schedule.  

The street people we get for the “My Backyard” project have been vetted by MarCee and her staff at the Community Crisis Center.  Staff bring 5-10 people to the church in a van, people who, for one reason or another, were unable to stay at the Montana Rescue Mission, but are still considered reasonable people.  On the other hand, unreasonable people (mentally unstable, high on substances, whatever) remain at the Crisis Center, either for observation, or just to spend the night.  She didn’t say, but I suspect, the most unreasonable folks have to leave the Crisis Center, perhaps to go the psych unit at the Billings Clinic Hospital.

Each person who stays with us in the “My Backyard” project has to agree in writing to a list of expectations.  No profanity, no bothering each other, no sneaking out and sneaking back in.  

The idea is that sleeping on the floor of a church is better than a dangerous night of sub-freezing weather.

MarCee told us in training how to handle emergencies, how to help people who get despondent, in other words, how to act toward our fellow humans.  I appreciated her tips.  She was familiar with each individual street person and seemed to appreciate their personalities.

March 12, 2019

This morning started out good.  My neck was hurting from recent spinal fusion surgery so I had to get up before seven to make coffee.  I make it strong and I make a lot of it.  I got Gunther up and P. took him out to pee.  She also brought in the paper while I poured a cup of really strong java.  P. watered hers.  Then we read the news locally and on-line.  We started the popular “Spelling Bee” puzzle challenge in the New York Times.  I recommend it.  You have to make as many words as possible with the seven letters given.  You also have to use one of those seven in every word.  Yesterday we found all 28 words of the puzzle’s admissible word list and were designated “Queen Bee.”  Made me feel good.  The last word found was “coho,” the salmon.  

Didn’t do so well this morning with “Spelling Bee,” but it’s still early.

By eight I was taking Gunther on his morning walk.  Icy weather, so I put my metal cleats on my snow boots.  They really didn’t help me keep from slipping on the hard ice on the sidewalk.  Instead, they acted more like skates.  I soldiered on.

Gunther likes to run ahead of me.  I can get away with not leashing him first thing in the morning because he’s not so easily distracted by the neighbor’s bird feed on the ground and other garbage, like french fries.

I took a picture of him.  He runs ahead of me, but frequently turns to look me in the face, just to be sure I’m still there (I guess).  I snapped a photo of him doing his “business.”  I’m not publishing that violation of his privacy.

April 10, 2019

Overcast, steady rain.  When I left for home from First Christian Church last midnight I saw a group of homeless lying huddled in the cold beneath an overhang and another person at the main entrance, lying beneath a colorful fleece blanket.  Another had some black plastic.  Across the street at the library were several more people curled up next to a wall to escape the rain.

I started my diagonally parked car; the headlight glared on the homeless man with black plastic.  I could have turned off the lights before I started the car.  I shivered with the dampness. The bleakness.  Half block farther and I two people, a large wet-looking man and a small woman in white crossed in front of me.  The woman looked drunken because she seemed to lean backward as though her legs were walking without her cooperation.

I had left Pastor Mulberry to watch the nine who slept in the church choir room.  Alone.  Apparently they’re having trouble recruiting enough volunteers for two chaperones at each three-hour shift. 

I slept in until 8:30 when Sasha from the Community Crisis Center asked me if I’d volunteer again tonight.  Sure, I said.

Our famous dog, Gunther, waited at the back door for me to walk him to the end of the rainy block so he could relieve himself.  We hurried home for our morning routine:  coffee, read the news, check the blog, emails, Facebook, work on the NY Times puzzles.  Breakfast cereal.  This morning I made a fire in the stove.  P. is working on a quilt she says is ugly.  I urged her to finish the damned thing.  Made her laugh.

Today P. volunteers at Broadwater grade school to help with language arts.  Weather permitting, I’ll work on our back fence, to plant a post, nail horizontals, erect cedar boards.  A young man marked the location of the natural gas line yesterday with a can of yellow spray paint and a metal detector.

Later I’ll make jambalaya.

April 24, 2019

Gunther and I like to explore our alley.  Well, I like to explore our alley.  Gunther’s likes have to be guessed at.  According to where he sniffs.  He generally prances a little way, then puts his face close to the ground and trots farther.  At first, I thought there was something wrong with him, but now I see his methods are his own.  I guess he’s looking for other dogs, or food.  

One of my neighbors put out a toilet by a dumpster.  I noticed it had a vinyl toilet seat cover.  I never did like those.  Can’t say why.  I wonder if someone will scavenge the toilet?  I shudder.  Perhaps it was too heavy to drop into the dumpster.  I like to pick up the most egregious trash—the stuff that pokes me in the eye—and drop it into dumpsters.  You know, bright paper scraps, plastic grocery bags, like that.  I think people are going to feel better when they visit the alley, only they won’t know why.  It’s because the bright paper scrap and grocery bag aren’t there.  Does that make sense?

Gunther and I proceed.  I usually pick up everything in the alley behind our house.  Today there wasn’t anything new.  I would have admired my fence, but I was busy scanning the alley ahead.  A neighbor on the other side had cleared some of his hedge and left the mass of branches in the alley.  Only now most of the brush was gone, just a lot of individual branches.  I grabbed up a beer box and some newspapers.  Also a soda bottle.  

Before walking Gunther today I read an article Ed Kemmick posted about traveling 4,000 miles around the southern US.  His writing feels good to read.  He visited Denver, Memphis, another town where Muddy Waters came from, New Orleans, Austin.  Ed is passionate about American musical roots.  He used to post links to his blog on Facebook, but I don’t know if he still does.  I got my post via email.

May 31, 2019

Got my annual physical exam today.  Apparently all was well.  Except my blood pressure wasn’t quite low enough, just two millimeters of mercury high on the diastolic, which improved when he remeasured.  He ordered the lab to draw blood for electrolytes, kidney, liver function and analyze urine; got a phone call reporting all normal except some blood in my urine.  He’ll recheck that next month.

This next Christmas eve will the the 75th anniversary of our uncle Carl Ralph Bonde’s death when his army troopship was torpedoed in the English Channel by a German U boat.  Carl’s friends told me he died instantly because he was berthed where the torpedo struck.

What a debacle that was.  After the torpedo detonated and the ship’s compartments began flooding the officers of the survivors seemed incapable of acting decisively or communicating with help ashore.  

The soldiers of the 66th US Army Division stayed calm, helping rescue those below decks.  The Belgian crew of the ship, the SS Leopoldville, hastily boarded lifeboats and abandoned the troops.  The captain, who spoke Flemish, apparently never left his quarters.  Ultimately, three or four of Carl’s army buddies joined a couple hundred soldiers who boarded a Navy ship, the USS Brilliant, that pulled up alongside the sinking ship.

The remaining hundreds and hundreds of soldiers who were unable or unwilling to leap 10-20 feet to the Navy ship ended up in the icy seawater after the Leopoldville sank, just 5 miles from the French port of Cherbourg.  Thus, 763 US soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge before reaching the shore.

The U Boat, U-486, survived the efforts of the allies to destroy it that Christmas eve.  However, the submarine was itself torpedoed near the West Coast of Norway by the British submarine, HMS Tapir, about four months later.  None of submariners on U-486 survived.

I see a pattern that stretches from my experiences with the racists I encountered from Mississippi when I was in the Marine Corps, to the racists who killed my uncle and many of his buddies in WW II.

Tour of Central and Western Montana

5/21/21

This post might be BORING.  Stop reading.  I mean it.  Stop now.  Okay, don’t stop.  Read on. You have yourself to blame.

I mean to tell about Penny and my recent trip around Montana to decorate graves a week before memorial day.  Well, we did see a few amusing things, some amazing things, too.

Background:  we make a trip like this most years, decorating graves in Billings, Lewistown, Kalispell, New Chicago, then home again. 

Now we have a Hymer, a sort of ultra-small RV consisting of a Dodge Ram Promaster that has been converted to a motor home, complete with kitchen, bath, and  bedroom.  Also dining area.  Obviously, certain areas serve more than one purpose.  We bought the Hymer in Anchorage, sight unseen.  Penny, Gunther, and I flew to Anchorage, bought the van, drove it south through Canada to our son Todd and his family’s home in Duluth, Minnesota.

This works good with the COVID epidemic.  We eat and sleep in our vehicle.

This is what we call a Hymer.

We drove to Lewistown, Fort Belknap, Shelby.  Spent the night.  Then on to Kalispell, spent the night camping at Bad Medicine campground.  Then Missoula to the KOA.  Weather was bad, so we returned to Billings.  There.  Said it in a few short words.

Monday:  Billings to Roundup, a town of about 1,800, including Wilbur Wood, former editor of the Montana Kaimin newspaper.  Town looked sad and dejected to me.  We saw no Trump signs, but we did see a sign urging us to help “Save the Cowboy” from the prairie reserve.  I’m not clear what kind of threat that is to the cowboys.  I think they don’t want to see Eastern Montana turned into a bison range.

Saw an occasional eagle, an occasional pronghorn.  

Drove from Grass Range to Lewistown to decorate graves of Lillian Meakins, Warren and Marion Rowton, Clara and Emory McMain, and Aunt Mina Orr.  We bought flowers at Albertson’s: bunches of mums, various colors.  Lewistown did sport a Trump flag or two.  (Near New Chicago we saw a “Truth Matters” flag.  I felt better.)

From Lewistown we drove through to Hilger, then Bohemian Corner, then took off of Highway 87 onto Highway 66 through Ft. Belknap straight north where the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes live.  A long, straight highway that was in better condition than Highway 2.  A sign on US 2 suggested we write to our congressperson to fund repairs.

After joining with US 2 at Harlem, we went west to Chester and Cut Bank.  Drove about 20 miles south of Chinook to the Chief Joseph Battleground, where we walked a trail about 1 mile.  We noticed lots of gifts of Indian goods and sunglasses at the various gravesites along the trail.  The US 7th Cavalry dead were in a mass grave, marked with a sign and a depression in the earth.

One of numerous gravesites at Chief Joseph Battleground festooned with offerings.

Drove on west to Shelby, where we stayed the night at a Comfort Inn that had RV sites with hookups.  The bathrooms were well-maintained and we showered there in the morning.  I recommend the Comfort Inn campground.

Tuesday: drove to Browning where we fueled at a Town Pump.  Indian folk were friendly and funny.  Guy asked a woman coming out of the bathroom what took so long.  “Took a bath,” she chirped.  Best Town Pump ever.

Drove through to Kalispell, bought flowers at Rosaurs: Bunches of lilies.  Decorated the graves of three aunts, one uncle, and grandparents.  From there we drove west on US 2 to Libby, then a few miles later went south on highway 65 to the Ross Cedar Grove.  Encountered a guy with a Trump hat who was with some heavily made up old women.  One large cedar had freshly fallen, judging from the condition of the branches and the raw look of the splintered trunk.

Splintered giant cedar. Windblown?

Near there we stayed the night in a forest service campground, “Bad Medicine Campground.”  I put the $16 fee into the available envelope, filled out the form front and back, but the pay station box was duct taped shut.  I tore the tape where the slot was, then, murmuring “take my money, goddamn it!” I forced the envelope with payment inside. 

We boondocked that night, as we had no hookups.  I did dump our toilet cassette into the outhouse pit.  No internet, no cell service, either.  We did just fine.

Wednesday we drove south on Hwy 56 to Thompson Falls, Plains, Noxon, Ravalli, then Missoula.  Ate lunch at Greenough Park, bought flowers at Albertson’s ($5 for potted chrysanthemums) and decorated CC and Joss Orr’s graves, Hannah Banana Wild’s niche, Steven Struckman, Robert, Helen and Tom Struckman.  Only Steven and Robert’s graves have actual remains within.

We then checked in to the KOA out on Reserve, a favorite place for us.  After hooking everything up, Penny and I are busily typing and reading, having gone a couple days without good internet access.

Thursday we got freaked out by the wintry weather, so we bought a couple of potted chrysanthemums for the New Chicago cemetery, and boogied south and east.  Cemetery in great shape with freshly mowed grass.  Gunther pooped near the electrified fence and I picked up same with a bag.  We decorated the graves of George C. Meakins and Hans Kofoed.

A freak who lives near the cemetery had a whole bunch of Trump flags.  Apparently he is Mormon.  Hmmm.

Homestake pass had snow.

Because of the weather we didn’t go through Anaconda, but returned to Drummond to proceed east to Billings.  Made the whole trip from Missoula to Billings in the Hymer on one tank of gas.

Montana seems to be in pretty good shape, despite the divisions caused by politics.

A post about these posts

I am coaxing a burp from my first son, Todd, a few months after he was born in Santa Ana, California. An officer asked me if I thought he was really mine. I told him he’d be mine when I got him home from the hospital. Everyone on the Marine base agreed with me.

Posts

These days I am thinking fundamental thoughts about this blog. Hmmm. Like “who is the intended reader?” Also, “what are the general themes?” And, “why write this at all?”

Intended reader

I keep thinking you are the intended reader. Who are you? You’re intelligent, but impatient. You want the truth and when bullshit appears, you vanish like the sun in May behind a cloud. Otherwise, I’d like most of this stuff to be for my children and grandchildren so they can have a sense of who they are.

I have trouble with the truth. I’d be inclined to say I have a, say, lawnmower, when I really meant an electric Black and Decker M 100. This is important because my dear friend Mark Fryberger owns a Black and Decker M 200.

Grr. Chaps my hide. Near as I can tell, his has a more easily adjusted blade height. Well, he doesn’t have to rub it in. Actually, I don’t think he ever has.

General themes

I have to eschew the term “miscellaneous.”

  • posts that pertain primarily to the title story wherein I am in search of my uncle Bud, killed in the waning months of WW II during the Battle of the Bulge.
  • fables. I have just a few that pertain to the fauna of our block in Billings, Montana.
  • gunther, our Brussels Griffon. He is popular with many readers.
  • stories mined from my childhood. Many of these are boring, but a damned few aren’t–like the one where I got locked in a laboratory after hours, or the one where I almost burned down our house.
  • travel stories about the amazing places in the Northwest part of the United States and Canada.
  • oddities–the so-called cow-in-a-tree.
  • pharmacy stories, especially on the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Indian Reservations.
  • obituaries. Seems like many of these occurred during the pandemic year, 2020.

Why write at all?

Truth is, I feel sorry for the reader. Life is starting to make sense for me, beginning to have a kind of logic. I feel sorry the reader has to wade through so much deceptive bullshit. I believe a little truth to be a kind of magic. As far as making sense, I’ve lived 72 years and amazing things have happened. For instance, the man who hired me and rented an apartment to me later needed me to lend him $300 when he lived in the same apartment. Of course I did! He treated me generously, so how could I refuse him?

I enjoy writing. At the same time, we all know how much fucking work it is; kind of like hammering the wall with your head.

I can’t seem to leave it alone.

George Clifford Meakins

I snapped this when we had just one child and we visited Della and Lawrence in Hall, Montana.

5/9/21

My daughter Clara asked me to write about her maternal grandfather, George Clifford Meakins, whom she never met.

George was a cowboy with little formal education.  He was born in Mobridge, South Dakota, April 3, 1899, to John and Cora Jane Meakins.  George had a bunch of siblings:  Ethel, Pearl, Harley, Vern, Elmer, Dorothy, and Merle.

Mobridge is situated on the Little Missouri River.  George’s dad either died when a mule kicked him in the head or from tuberculosis.  Hard to tell fact from story with George.

Impressions of George come flooding in, not in any sequence, just impressions.  He was a weather-beaten, old-timer.  Penny was always proud to say she was George’s daughter, and often identified herself as such.

Once, in 1972, before Bob was born, when Todd, Penny and I were traveling across Montana, we checked at Garrison Junction Cafe to locate George.  I walked up to a long cafe counter and asked the line of weathered cowboy-looking types if they knew where I could find George Meakins.

“He’s generally at the Corner Bar in Deer Lodge,” answered one gruffly.

I thanked him and we drove the 30 or 40 miles to Deer Lodge to the above bar.  

The woman tending bar directed me back to the area with the pool tables.  The room was dark with several tables under hanging lights.  There, seated in a kitchen chair back in a corner in the dark was a wizened old man.  “George?” I asked.  ‘I seem to remember seeing a dime on the rail of a nearby table.

“Hello,” he answered.  

I asked him if wanted to go with us to visit his daughter Della and her family in Hall, Montana.  He responded by standing and walking with me to the car.  It was almost like he was waiting for us to invite him.

George didn’t drink;  he smoked unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes.  He played pool with unsuspecting, probably half-drunk cowboys.  Perhaps the gruff guy at Garrison Junction lost to old George.

He often didn’t say much.

I remember the first time I met George in the Spring of 1970.

Penny and I met up with him briefly in Deer Lodge at George’s sister Pearl’s house.  This was before Penny and I even considered marriage.  We had broken off our relationship when I joined the military service. After basic I got a 30-day leave of absence so I drove from my mother’s in Dillon to Missoula to visit old friends.

I was soon to be headed to Marine Corps training, Penny was headed to her mother’s in Lewistown.  

I figured she and I might never see each other again, so I felt kind of melancholy.  I had driven my mother’s car to Missoula, picked up Penny, and we drove to Deer Lodge together.

We sat at a dining room table:  George, Penny, Pearl, and me.  Pearl’s husband stood nearby, as if waiting on us.  After some small talk, Penny asked her dad if he would give her a ride to Lewistown.

“I had to sell my car,” answered George, looking sad.

Then he brightened up, “I still have a saddle horse, but just one saddle.”

We chuckled a bit, changed the subject.  I felt distinctly bad for the old man.

Quite a while later Penny noticed her dad’s pink Ford parked in front of Pearl’s house.  She turned pink when she realized she’d been taken in.  He did give her a ride to Lewistown.

I ended up marrying Penny in 1971.

George—I have a photo of him—was a traditional cowboy who bought good clothes:  wool shirts, blue jeans.  He often had a wool hat with earflaps, the kind with a decorative ball on top.  I don’t know if those are still a thing.  He had huge, square hands that had been burned by the sun.  His nose and ears were nibbled away from skin cancers.  Penny said he wore long underwear every day of his life, so he had pale arms and legs, and the top of his head was also white.  He generally had a short haircut.  Penny said she enjoyed playing with his hair when she was a girl.

George died in early 1975 in Missoula.  When we saw him at Saint Patrick Hospital, a radio in his room was playing, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”  George asked us how the roads were.  Penny told him she loved him, that he was a good dad.  Penny offered to sing him a song, but he declined.  He died in a matter of hours.