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Started out at ringing rocks. . .

P. is hammering on the ringing rocks. . .

October 28, 2019

I’ve been to visit Mark in Warm Springs three times, now.  I am discouraged.  Once, forty years ago, Mark told me not to get disco-uraged, in the Portable Wall probably back in 1976.  Now I am discouraged.  Down.  Got the blues.  Don’t know what to do.  Hey!

It’s fun to travel in Montana, if the weather is fair.  When it’s foul it’s fun to travel in Montana. You might die, though.

Thursday, we went to Norris Hot Springs.  Spent the night at a gas station parking lot.  Slept really well after bathing, despite the intense wind.  

Friday, went to the ringing rocks close to I-90 on the Homestake pass into Butte.  You take the Pipestone exit and drive on about 3-3/4 miles on dirt roads.  We had to park our RV and walk about half a mile up a rough road.  I recommend it, depending on how dry the road is.

P. and I visited Warm Springs State Hospital.  I went in to see Mark for about two and a half hours, while she took Gunther to a nearby fishing access at Warm Springs Ponds.  That was Friday, while the storm was brewing.

Surprise, a nurse brought Mark into a hallway announcing he had a 30-minute pass to go outdoors.  We made our way past a secure door, then through the dining area, to the vending machines, around to the long hallway with pictures all along, to the front desk.  Two workers sat behind the deskworks.  Mark’s patient ID had a circle with “1/2” written.  I figured that meant 1/2 hour.  They smiled and gestured toward the front door.  We went through and Mark told me this was the first time he had not been under constant surveillance, his every move and speech being recorded.  I looked at his face.  It looked drawn, deeply creased.  Intensely sad.  Mark’s words chilled me. When I tried to pooh-pooh his fears, he said, “Listen! I’m telling you!”

Mark told me things “couldn’t be worse.”  He said “they either hate me or they will soon hate me.”  He said the patients and staff have almost nothing.  No financial assets.  Not much money.  They are all poor and barely scraping by.  He told me the patients are destitute.  The Warm Springs Hospital is so poorly funded they can hardly afford to feed the patients and staff.  He said the staff eat the same tiny portions as the patients.  Breakfast is a tiny amount of oatmeal, he said, making his hands into a small amount.  Snacks are a banana, maybe, or a tiny container of fruit sauce.  He described inmates having to wait in a long line for a tiny container of some sort of snack.  He said he heard the staff shouting at a man who was going through the trash looking for something to eat.  Mark said he was scared.  His friends had sent him snacks and food.  One of the employees told him he could get the food “discreetly,” but Mark said he couldn’t get the extra food at all.  “Once they find out I have money and friends and food, they will jump me,” he said.

Our friend Kim Thompson Irons and I went to a Rescue Mission Bargain Center and bought Mark some used cold weather clothing for like a dollar each, including socks, a jacket, and a hat.  We placed all of those things in a red gym bag for Mark.  He was horrified.  “Once they see me with that ritzy North Face jacket and Woolrich socks they will think I’m wealthy,” he said.  “They will know I have assets.”  That’s why Mark said he thinks the others, including the staff, will hate him.

That’s why I feel blue.  I don’t know what to do for Mark.  I said as much to him, and he agreed that he doesn’t know what his friends can do for him.

I kept telling myself that I could listen to his sad opinions, perhaps they would lose their power over his thinking.  No satisfaction there, though.  Eventually we used up our half-hour.  We returned to the building and checked back in.  He and I sat in the little room off the hallway.  The two tissue boxes were on the table, same as I left them a few days earlier when I picked them up off the floor.

Perhaps because Mark believed his behavior and speech were under recorded surveillance, he became softer-spoken.  He even smiled a few times.  He told me that his brother was not my best fan.  

This brought up a letter Steve had asked me to deliver to Mark.  I didn’t deliver it.  I told Mark I had read the letter, one that urged Mark to “pull his head out of his ass” and to give getting well his best shot.  Or words to that effect.  Anyway, I told Mark that I could not possibly deliver the letter to him because I didn’t agree with the premise:  that depression was a weakness or a problem of attitude.  “I couldn’t possibly give you that letter,” I said to Mark.

Mark smiled and said he understood.  (Smiles from Mark were rare that day!)  I had to allow that Steve might be right and I might be wrong.  I believed in depression being a sort of “chemical imbalance” that was amenable to medication therapy, rather than “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps in a macho manner.”  We agreed that Steve was the sort of person who could navigate the world with his incredibly strong personality and will to succeed.  Mark was a different sort, a couple years older.  I am confused, but . . . 

I suggested that Mark should have slapped Steve around a bit when he was a kid.  I quickly regretted that.

Mark replied that he had hurt Steve when they were children, punching and breaking Steve’s nose on two occasions.  Wow!  I had touched on a brutal moment in their lives.  Mark said Steve has a disfigured nose to this day.  I was sorry I said anything.  I could see the regret on Mark’s face.  Mark acknowledged that Steve loved him strongly despite that.  He admitted he didn’t know why his brother loved him so much.

He said when he got the four-hour-long van ride from Billings to Warm Springs, in chains and handcuffs, the driver did not stop to allow the two mental patients to use the toilet or to eat or drink. The other guy had to pee behind the seat, Mark said. Mark said he was so dehydrated he fainted when they arrived at Warm Springs and they had him walk from the van to the hospital building. They made him stand up and he fainted again, he said. Then Mark showed me his ID tag with his picture. He looked goofy. He said he had just recovered from fainting when they took the picture.

I promised Mark I’d visit him the next day.  Only I had to phone him later to renege on that promise.  P. and I were headed Friday to White Sulphur Springs to the spa.  I called Mark, who sounded quiet and sad.  Mark admitted to being paranoid before. He said he was no longer paranoid.

The White Sulphur Springs spa was fantastic.  People throughout that part of the state were friendly.  I could not help thinking “because we’re white.”

After swimming and soaking we drove toward Harlowton.  I turned off at a Forest Service sign that promised National Forest land.  Only we turned off the main road quite a few miles later to camp for the night, near a gate leading to private land.  We let Gunther out to pee and poop.  I thought we were well off the beaten track.

After our dog was back inside our van a bright blue spotlight shown through the blinds.  That’s when I realized, we were out on the evening before the start of hunting season.  I jumped back into the driver’s seat and we ended up in a park in Harlowton.  

Then a snowy drive back the 91 miles to Billings on Saturday.

Warm Springs

Warm Springs State Hospital.

October 19, 2019

Our friend Mark was sent by a judge to Warm Springs State Mental Hospital for “not more than three months.”  The judge oversees Stillwater County matters.  (Mark lives in Missoula, but had been staying lately with his brother Steve near Columbus, Montana.) 

The psychiatric ward in Billings Clinic has a pleasant visiting room, perhaps 20 feet long on each wall.  In one corner sat the judge (wearing a sport coat and tie) and transcriptionist.  A lawyer represented Mark, another, dressed in riding boots, represented Stillwater County.  Mark’s doctor sat next to the riding boots lawyer.  On another wall that had windows sat Mark’s brother and his wife, and Kim Irons, and me.  Neither Kim nor I were asked to speak.  Steve’s wife also did not speak.  The court reporter swore in the witnesses.

Mark’s doctor was the first to testify.  He told about Mark’s history of depression while at Billings Clinic.  I’d been visiting Mark almost every day and his testimony seemed accurate.  Mark told me he disliked the doctor and didn’t trust him to have good intentions towards Mark.  

Then Steve spoke of Mark’s behavior at his house over a nine-week span.  His brother seemed to require intense care and attention.  Steve and the doctor arranged to send Mark to a facility in New Orleans, but Mark declined to go at the last minute.  

Steve and the doctor agreed that Mark was so distraught and anxious he dug deep into his skin with his fingernails.  Mark was deemed by the doctor and the judge to be at risk of neglecting or harming himself.  

I was thinking, yes, perhaps.  But if Mark is at risk, he is barely at risk, not hugely.  

Mark testified last. He told us, with frequent pauses, about his losing struggle with major depression.  He said he wants to live independently again. Said he felt hopeless and he ate little and forgot or didn’t care to take his medicine.  He confessed to having suicidal thoughts, but that he had not, and promised he would never, act on.  Nevertheless, the judge weighed the doctor’s testimony and Steve’s sad experience with Mark at his home.  The judge even asked the question, “if not Warm Springs, where would you go?”  None of us had an answer.

Hence, the judgment for involuntary commitment to Warm Springs.  

All the while the transcriptionist typed in a small white box so she could record the proceedings.  The judge had her note that Kim and I were there in support of Mark.  Kim had flown in from the East Coast to visit Mark.

Two days later an officer shackled and chained Mark and led him from the Billings Clinic psych ward to a van with detainees from Yellowstone County.  Mark said he had never before been in handcuffs and chains.  He said he had been given little time to collect his belongings.   He later said that’s why he forgot to collect a red sports bag with warm clothing Kim had given him.

Main hospital building.

The next day P. drove Kim and me from Billings four hours to Warm Springs to visit Mark.  We visited Mark on Friday, stayed with Gunther at the Quality Inn in Butte, then visited Mark Saturday morning before driving back to Billings.  Kim had booked a plane trip home for Saturday evening.

Anyhow, at the WSSH main nurse’s desk Kim couldn’t find the required photo ID in her wallet, but the nurse at the front desk let her through anyway to visit Mark.  Kim had flown in from Stanton, Virginia.   She said she thought she put her ID in a pocket in Mark’s red sports bag when she went through airport security.

I reflected how all us former hippies are 70 years old now.  Kim looks like a little old lady.  Mark looks like himself, only kind of ancient.  (A nurse said he can get a haircut at no charge there in WSSH.)  

Another nurse took us back through a couple hallways through a well-lit, airy dining area to unit A.  

She noted that Mark was still pacing.  I think that’s what she said.  My own hearing is poor.  Mark, Kim and I met in a room large enough for five or six chairs and an end table.  A couple boxes of tissues were scattered under the table on the floor.  Mark told us that boxes of tissue are securely glued to tables in his wing.  For security, he added.

He said if he has to use the toilet he must ask at the nurse’s desk for someone to unlock the bathroom for him.  Someone must get him a cup of water at the nurse’s station because there are no drinking fountains.

Mark looked down as he told us how his hands were shackled to a chain around his waist when he was put into a van and driven to WS.  They did not stop to eat or use the bathroom for the four-hour trip from Billings.  

Remember how I told you Kim did not have her photo ID?  She thought she might have left it in a red gym bag in Billings?  On the way back to Billings Kim phoned Billings Clinic psych ward.  Yes they had the red bag.  They were looking for large enough box to send it to Mark in Warm Springs.  A nurse promised to look for Kim’s photo ID. Kim got it back that afternoon!

When we left Mark Saturday morning he said he wished we would send him books.  Paperbacks, he said. (Because hardbacks could be thrown like missiles?) Some other thoughts:

  • Mark’s roommate snored loudly.
  • The food offered was unpleasing and scant.  Mark said he doubted a four-year-old could live on such a small amount.
  • Guitars are not allowed on Mark’s wing.  Mark didn’t want us to send him a blues harp.
  • The phone 406-693-7000 rings to an operator who directs the call to Mark’s wing.  Patients answer the phone and summon each other.  This may have unpredictable effects, but I was able to call Mark several times.
  • Mark wants visitors and calls.  The address:  c/o Warm Springs State Hospital is 300 Garnet Way, Warm Springs, MT 59756.
  • You can send food in the manufacturer’s original package only.
  • Mark could find few lucid patients.
  • Kim and I thought the nurses were friendly.
  • The staff handled edibles with their bare hands.  Unappetizing.
  • Therapy mostly centers on pharmacological treatment.
  • We ate at Lydia’s Restaurant in Butte.  Kim’s treat, so I don’t know how big the bill was, but we enjoyed our meal.
  • The Butte Quality Inn advertised a pool and hot tub, but neither was available the night we were there.
  • Fairmont Hot Springs was booked up and sold out.  Teacher’s convention, we thought.
  • We took Gunther. P. took him to Warm Springs Pond fishing access to explore, because they don’t allow dogs on the WSSH campus, even if leashed.

The Way North (South)

September 27, 2019

An on-line ad at GORV.COM had an RV, a 2017 “Hymer.”  Only it was in Anchorage.  P. was interested.

She had me phone with a ridiculously low offer, which a fellow named Ted rejected.  Then P. and our granddaughter and I went to the Burger Dive for lunch. Usually you have to wait to get into the Burger Dive. We waited.

Part way through a flaming hot jalapeño burger the phone buzzed in my pocket.  Scared me, as usual, because I thought I was getting electrocuted.  It was Ted, who made a counter offer.  Later, we checked with the credit union, and our banker, Brian Callahan, agreed to lend us half the price.  I informed Ted. We had a deal.

We left for Alaska with four suitcases and a dog at six am, first to Salt Lake City, then Seattle, then Anchorage, we arrived at 2:30 pm.  I phoned Ted who picked us up in a rusty old van.  Immediately he told us a list of things wrong with our purchase.  Then he drove us to a rundown lot.  The title would be a problem, he said, adding that we would have to register it in Alaska and get Alaska plates.  

The title wasn’t a problem.  Ted was probably legit.  The problems with the Hymer were trivial. 

The following day we drove many hours from Anchorage to Tok Junction, where we spent the first night of our bold, 5,000 mile journey.  I had bought 8 bottles of wine, six cans of Nalleys chili, six packs of Top Ramen, some milk, cereal, granola, eggs, cheese, tortillas, dish soap, dog food, jumper cables, salsa, refried beans, and coffee.  Also bagels, fig newtons, peanut butter, and jam.  And dog treats:  milk bones and peanut butter nibbles.  

The salt and pepper we bought later. Oops.

While I napped in the back P. stopped at a farmer’s market in Fort Nelson and bought salsa, sausages, potatoes, bannock, bread and onions.

The highway throughout Canada had generous shoulders, was smooth, well-maintained.  However, the cafes and gas stations were old, had antiquated pumps, had fat, sullen, bald-headed owners, and the establishments were nearly all “for sale,” especially in the farthest-north areas.  The views were so beautiful and wide that we felt exhilarated.  I had a hard time taking pictures.

Matanuska glacier, near Palmer, Alaska.

We stopped for the night at eight places, roughly 400-500 miles apart, by the time we got to Winnipeg.  P. wanted to visit the grave of Louis Rial there, at St. Boniface.  The iPhone helped us find it, although it frequently told us to drive the wrong way on one-way streets, or drive on sidewalks.  We had to fly on our own several times, using our “common sense.”

We saw a sign that said, “Everyone who doesn’t want a speeding ticket, raise your right foot!”

If you want to learn about Louis Rial, I recommend the book, Strange Empire, by Joseph Kinsey Howard.  When in Saskatoon, we drove north to a place called Batoche, where Mr. Rial surrendered to the Canadian government.  He was then executed by hanging in Regina.  Mr. Rial was a duly elected spokesman for the Metis of North America, but dishonored by the Canadian government. This was a terrible injustice, racist. Wrong.

Gunther at Teslin Lake.

Are Canadian parks great?  Duh!  We stopped at many and saw bison, caribou, black bears, and heard wolves howling nearby.  Wildlife was most satisfying.  We had purchased a 2019 copy of “Milepost” online to guide us.  

Liard hot springs did not disappoint, but it has been built up considerably since the last time we saw it in the early 1980s.  You have to pay to get into the parking lot and there’s a gift shop and an RV park built in.  We saw a van from Bozeman.  The boardwalk is still the same, and there’s a changing room building.

Bison near Liard Hot Springs

We drove across Canada to Thunder Bay, then southwest on Lake Superior to Duluth to visit our son and his family.  

From there we drove to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, to visit my beautiful sister Carol.  She prepared lavish meals for us and for her daughter Beth and her family.  Carol has a cat named Guy Wiley, a tortoise shell gray.  Gunther barked at the cat the first day.

We hiked five miles the next day.  We walked a path that followed the Oregon Trail to the Scotts Bluff monument.  Gunther stepped on goat heads a couple of times, which we picked out of his paw pads.

Carol made a huckleberry pie and an apple pie, which we ate with cheese.  (Apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.) She made a meatloaf with burger and Italian sausage, and baked potatoes.  She fed P. and me, and Beth and Joe and Luke, Sam and Sammy.

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.