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2019: waiting for Springtime

May 24, 2021
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.

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