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Gunther looks back. . .

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.

Gunther checks to be sure I’m there. (I think.)

Street person with RBF

This is me. I have RBF. (Resting Bitch Face.) I’m actually friendly, most of the time.

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 to do my household chores.  

This morning at church a middle-age Native man was the first up, about 5:30.  He had a scowl.  Remembering my own “resting bitch face,” I asked him where he would 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 polite 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 last night.  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.

Indoor quilt, outdoor Briggs & Stratton

Gunther within the hall of snow.
Stairway quilt.

January 20, 2019

Our son Bob, his wife Heather, and daughter Olivia—and puppy 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 that looks out on their monstrous back yard that I’d hate to mow.  Maybe they will raise lentils, or something.  Bob is big and strong, maybe he’ll mow it with a push mower.

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.  Couple days ago I helped Bob fix some pig wire to contain Velma and prevent her from making an end run around to the front of the house.  Last I heard Velma loves the yard, but is learning to escape the fence.

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.

Trouble on the block

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.  Gunther and I headed out for our morning constitutional walk.  Our dog wanted to walk around the block clockwise, so I followed him, listening through earbuds to the 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. Our maestro, Dr. Dulais Rhys, sent us exquisite recordings.

A house at the end of our block was in disarray.

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

That’s when I found out her son had been struggling with a mental illness.  For years, 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 a loud, angry voice.  At first I walked past, then because the house is near 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. Anyone else would intervene somehow, I thought.

Gunther and I returned to the front door and a young man, perhaps in his 20s, 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. I could identify with him.

“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.  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 dozens of 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.  Fortunately, 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. He lost control of his bowels and got a sitz bath there.

Meanwhile, I spoke to Jon who invited me to have the cursing guy on the end of the block phone him.  “If he’s on Medicaid, he can get help immediately,” Jon said. “I’d be happy to see him once for free.”

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.  Candles burned. The vaping device shined blue.

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.  Reminded me of a religious shrine.

A circle with a star, several feet across, made of duct tape was on the carpet.  The 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 (whom I’ll call 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 will 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, he said, 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.

Next day we drove to Deer Lodge to get a dog for our son’s family. Jerry called when we were in Butte. I texted him Jon’s phone number. He thanked me.

After returning to our block we walked Gunther and Velma. We found a kitchen knife with a burned blade along with what looked like burned newspapers on the sidewalk in front of Jerry’s house. I dropped the knife on the porch. A fellow who called himself AJ came out. He said he was staying with Jerry.

This morning when I walked the new dog at 4:30 I saw no evidence the mess on the porch had been cleaned up. The broom looked broken, but the house was quiet. I walked past the burnt newspaper.

Giant Black Schnoodle

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.  Melva 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.  Melva, 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.

Tale of Christmas

March 6, 2012

Private First Class Carl Ralph Bonde Jr, died Christmas Eve, 1944, along with 762 of his fellow Americans when a U-boat torpedo sank the Belgian troop ship, the SS Leopoldville in the English Channel.  Bonde, or “Bud,” as his mother and sisters called him, was just 21.

How many times have I tried to say those words in order to explain the early death of Bud, my only maternal uncle?

I don’t know who took this picture of Bud in front of his house in Kalispell, probably in the winter of 1943 or early 1944.

I never even met Bud.  It’s hard to say when I first became aware that he ever existed.  Could have been something I overheard at my grandparents’ house when they played bridge with my mother and her sisters.  In those days the grownups  (but not grandma) smoked heavily and drank whiskey when they played bridge.  All of these adults, with the possible exception of my grandpa, were college educated and absolutely none was overly sentimental.  That is, as long as you don’t count being bitterly angry and chronically depressed as being sentimental.  They were Norwegians and they did not use euphemisms for death.  People died.  They did not pass away.  Bud’s photograph probably hung on a wall somewhere at our grandparents’ house in Kalispell, but no one told about him unless we young kids asked.  Bud’s presence was inextricably part of his parents’ Victorian house.  Are you ready for this?  It and a garage stood alone on top of a hill on the outskirts of Kalispell, Montana.  Like the vampire castle in Transylvania.  This is so corny I am ashamed to say it.  I have to say that I don’t think the place was considered to be valuable real estate when they bought it.  The house was probably 50 years old and the indoor plumbing consisted of one short water line.  Now that I think about it, I don’t know where their water came from. My cousin said from a well. I do remember that the water heater was electric and stood in grandma’s rectangular kitchen on the side near the clothes washer.  Once we heard the cat yowling and grandpa stopped the washing machine, opened the door, and gingerly pulled some sopping clothes from the tub.  No cat.  Somehow, the cat had gotten into the machine enclosure where the motor was.  I don’t know why the cat was there, perhaps grandpa had pulled off a panel and replaced it.

Our grandparents’ attracted all my cousins each summer.  Grandma baked the usual pies and rolls until they were nearly black.  Grandpa smoked and spit and puffed through pursed lips.  He kept his liquor down at the barn, a bottle of whiskey that I tasted once and ran and ran because it burned.  He gave us money.  However, the house itself sucked us in because of its rundown majesty and, at the bottom of the hill, its creek—Ashley Creek—and the woods across the bridge.  Grandpa had five acres with outbuildings: a root cellar, chicken coop, storage shed (that none of us ever entered), barn and a long skinny garage.  I’ll get back to the storage shed and chicken coop later.

The pig wire fence around their acreage had huge fat spiders that would give you the willies whenever you tried to climb over or through.  There were places, like near the chicken coop, where the fence had a hole to crawl through and meet a spider.  Grandpa and grandma had garter snakes, sometimes hundreds of them dripping off a rock retaining wall.  Their place had apple trees that grandpa painted the trunks with whitewash to keep the ants off.  Grandpa said the lime was one of the powders he and I would need to make our own wet cement.  Otherwise we would need some cement and sand.  And water, too.  We never made cement.

We cousins played outdoors and indoors and we often found evidence that Uncle Bud had been there.  There were fishing poles, and lures with treble hooks on shelves above the workbench in the garage.  The garage always smelled of gas and oil.  It was long and skinny with four windows at the back end, all on the south side, none on the end.  The door on the west end was hard to open, so it generally stayed open.  (I don’t have to remember the garage so carefully because I found a photograph of it, taken from the vicinity of the barn at the bottom of the hill.)

We cousins figured the adults were hiding something.  Of course we were right.  Adults are always hiding something.  Should I start in telling how I took a tape measure to the interior walls of the Kalispell house to locate the hidden rooms where they kept the corpse?  Otherwise, what happened to Bud?  The ceilings were so high, perhaps 10 feet.  In the hallway were built in closets and cabinets up close to the ceiling.  This house was no bungalow, but a big, square wooden frame house that seemed to center around the wood furnace with gravity flow air heating.  When grandpa had the fire going good in the winter the house smelled of pine wood smoke and I could huddle over one of the silent grates with warmth drifting up and play with my toys and grandma’s cat.  She named it “Ting Ting,” or some such nonsense.  Everyone, even she, called it “Kitty.”  Kitty was a great companion for me.

My mother told me about her little brother Buddy whenever we sat on our couch in Missoula to turn the stiff black pages through her photo album.  I was not old enough to read, but she showed me pictures of Bud as a five-year-old dressed in some sort of two-piece bathing suit with stripes that made him look silly like a little convict.  He was outdoors in glaring sunlight and had an umbrella and a sly grin.  The picture was taken at one of the houses his folks rented in town before they got the big place on the hill.  Kalispell gets especially hot in the summer and Bud was being squirted with a hose.  He looked bright and cheerful, almost maniacal!  My mother’s reaction to seeing her little brother’s photograph added to my impression of profound loss because I could see my mother’s grief through her stoicism.  My mother dearly loved Bud and she was my best source of information about him.

The striking thing about the photographs of Bud was their paucity.  All were on just the one page.  There was the picture of the happy five-year-old next to a teenager smoking a cigarette; then he was pictured in an Army uniform in several more.  At last one showed him with a hunting rifle.  It was snowy.  After that, no other pictures.  My mother made no secret that he was soldier who died.

My own childhood calamity had come in 1953 when I was four when my father died of brain cancer.  I remember crying in my bed nights the way children do.  My mother had me say ritual prayers and we talked about my father’s death (he died, but his spirit lives on).  This segued to talking about Bud’s death (a dead soldier who was such a good private that he was private first class).   My grandma often referred to empty bottles as “dead soldiers” with no irony at all.

I think just about every child in the early 1950s played “army.”  My friends and I played army in our back yards and alleys and basements often.  Even the older kids let us play army because we could be the Germans.  Many neighbors had dads and uncles in the war.  That distinction gave them authority to direct play.  For my part I told them about Uncle Bud, and even though I didn’t have much information about him, I got to join in the play with the character “Uncle Bud.”  He was a tough army man, or something.  It was okay to just make up the rest of the heroic story, as long as the good guys beat the Germans.  The neighbor boys had dads who survived the war and even if the dads didn’t have much to say about their experiences, they invariably had guns or other gear—souvenirs tucked away in cabinets or drawers somewhere.  We boys sometimes made the rounds on the weekdays when the adult men were at work.  I only had photographs of Bud.  (“See? He is marching with a hunting rifle!”)  My dead Dad (yes, that’s how I referred to him in elementary school when speaking with friends) had not been a soldier, nor had his father.  His grandfather, George Struckman, had been a soldier for the North in the Civil War.  My mother kept the civil war pistol hidden during my army-playing years.  It turned out to be excellent for playing cowboy once I had found out where she kept it hidden up in the closet.

Bud’s absence made a sort of hole in the fabric of reality, especially when we cousins stayed at our grandparents’ in Kalispell.  We kept finding stuff of his that we couldn’t explain.  In the garage we found boxes of large bullets that did not appear to fit our grandpa’s rifle.  We had a ritual of two steps:  declare them our property (done) and take them apart by closing the projectile end into the vise and simply breaking it free of the brass casing.  Done.  Oh, I almost forgot the third and best step of all:  lay the casing with gunpowder onto the oil-soaked wood of the garage floorboard, make the powder spill out perhaps an inch out, and light the powder with a match!  The powder would burn with a white-hot flare, hesitate a moment while it burned into the brass, then … POP!  The primer within the brass would explode.

At first just my cousin Mike Judd and I did this.  Many times.  Then we invited Mike’s brother Carl, two years older than we.  He liked burning the bullet too, although he was chicken to try it until we showed him how.  Then we invited David, the next oldest.  He also liked it.  Then we invited the four oldest:  Tom, Dick, Blaine, and Carol.   By this time the adults found out what we were doing and we got a stern warning to stay the hell away from the bullets.  Grandpa was too wheezy to get after us, so the duty usually fell to Corinne, our eldest and most authoritative aunt.  The consequence of doing dangerous “dumb stunts” was never a spanking, just a few words of warning followed by a declaration of how we frightened them.  All this while Bud’s presence was … not there.  And yet he seemed to have recently been there the way my mother could tell that I had been recently watching television when I was supposed to be home from school sick in bed, pretending to be asleep.  “Still warm,” she said, placing her hand on the set.  I was not only pretending to sleep, but the civil war pistol was under the covers with me.  In pieces, of course.

Our basement in Missoula smelled strongly of gasoline because of the motor scooter I took apart.  The scooter came from Kalispell, from Ted, the kid who lived across the road from my grandparents.’  Ted’s dad had been a soldier in WW II and Ted’s dad was so frightening that none of us dared to speak to him.  Ted did all the talking (out of his dad’s hearing, of course).  According to Ted, all motors worked because of mysterious things called “coils.”  This seemed patently false to me.  I never repeated this nonsense to anyone else, especially not my grandpa.

Grandpa spent much of his days in his reclining chair because he had a hard time catching his breath from emphysema.  This made him ideal for any sort of game that didn’t require him to move.  He also had a tobacco can about three-fourths full of pennies.  I was not aware of the second world war until I found steel/zinc pennies in amongst the copper.  The 1943 pennies were minted from steel because the government needed the copper for ammunition for World War II, grandpa told me.  I also found a book about the army.  The wall in the sitting room had a floor to ceiling built-in bookcase that ran clear across the wall from room corner to doorway.  The ceiling was really high, all lath and plaster, so the uppermost shelves were nearly inaccessible.  Well, inaccessible when an adult was in the room.  When I was alone I could climb up there like a monkey, of course, and I often did.  That’s how I found the book about “Infantry Tactics and Training.”  Not only did the book once belong to Buddy, but also Buddy built the bookshelves.  My grandfather had unknowingly increased my knowledge several times over about Bud.  And there was a photograph in a desk drawer in the parlor, over by the piano.  It had been folded, but an aunt, probably, told us that Bud was a member of whatever Army unit that was.  “Where is he?” we asked.  We searched the faces until we found one that someone had circled with a pencil.  That was him!  The pencil made a sort of dent in the glossy surface of the photograph, so you had to sort of hold it to see how the light reflected.  “That’s Buddy,” went the word as it spread through all of us cousins

I am tempted to declare that Bud’s bedroom upstairs was kept intact, exactly the way it had been the day he left for war.  Unfortunately, my grandparents had a chimney fire and the room was damaged by smoke and water.  In fact, one winter I helped a mason clean up mortar he dropped on the floor when he was making chimney repairs.  Perhaps that’s why I hounded my grandpa to help me mix up a batch of wet cement.  I overheard my grandparents talk about how grandpa’s Norwegian friend noticed the fire when he was coming to visit them.  For some reason, grandma seemed to resent the friend who saved their home.  Was the problem that he and grandpa spoke Norwegian and she did not?  Did she really want her house to burn down?  I doubt if she did.  In fact, she and grandpa remodeled a sunroom on the southwest corner of their house.  Now I wonder if they used the US government insurance money from Bud’s death?

Nothing about this story is simple or easy.  Bud’s absence, like his presence, was ethereal, hard to grasp.  We did have pictures of him.  We did have the things he owned as a boy.  Why couldn’t we meet him?  Why couldn’t we go hunting and fishing with him?  I got involved with Bud more recently during the past 11 years.  I didn’t even realize how much his person meant to me until I found myself on the front porch of a house that had been built on the site of Bud’s childhood home trying to explain to a freckled frightened looking 12-year-old why I wanted to get some dirt from his driveway.

I tried to tell him in as few words as I could that my uncle grew up where he lived and he died on Christmas in 1944 in the English Channel and I wanted to get some dirt and put it in the water there.  For him.  I started to cry.  I hadn’t rehearsed my speech for the lad, or even thought how I was going to ask.  The boy looked sort of shocked.

“Sure, mister, go ahead and help yourself,” he said.

An unfortunate occurrence required a desperate move

December 19, 2019

At a quarter to six yesterday morning I kept my appointment with my psychiatrist for followup after he stopped all three of my antidepressants.  He said I was doing well and did not any further followup with him.

Don’t get me wrong, here.  I didn’t just quit my meds.  He tapered me off them one at a time, excruciatingly slowly.  Like over a year.  Turns out I felt better than I did before I suffered my bout with depression, which started, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago.  I feel sharper, somehow. He said other people had a similar experience.

I strongly recommend anyone with persistent sadness to talk to their doctor about getting help.  Depression is not trivial, you knew that.  I was in denial, though.  Doesn’t everyone feel sad sometimes?  Sure.  Doesn’t everyone self talk about what an asshole they are?  Sure.  Not constantly, though. Meds got me by.

What about anxiety? asked my doctor.  I reflected on the anxiety I felt about getting my wife a Christmas gift.  However, the anxiety will abate once I find her something.  I told him that, yeah, I have some anxiety, but it is not crippling the way it is for some people.  Anyway, he said I am good to go, but I should phone his office if I have depressed feelings that last for two weeks or more. I told him I have him on speed dial.

Brings me to my morning.  I sat in my pajamas as I listened to a program of NPR Christmas tunes on P’s computer until about 8, then got dressed for Gunther’s morning walk.  We made it to the end of the block where I snapped a photo of a persistent rabbit, a wild neighborhood bunny who blends in well with the lawn there.  A few steps more and Gunther did an enormous poop (for him.  You know, a decent handful) which I caught in one of the plastic bags I bought from Petsmart.  I get them in lots of 360 each.  They come on little rolls.  I made a dispenser, five dowels drilled into a board.  Each dowel holds two rolls of bags.  But I digress, as usual.

I plopped the knotted bag of Gunther’s poop into a dumpster in the alley, then snapped a photo of a graffiti’d garage.  Realism, I thought.  I shared it on Fb.  We had been out of town for a week, so I figured I’d continue the rest of the way around the block to see if anything had changed.  I picked up a bit of litter along the sidewalk.  “Service is the rent we pay for living on the world,” I recalled my high school English teacher saying.

Gunther kept wanting to veer onto the lawns, the way he does when he has to poop.  I thought, hey! He already pooped and I already used the one bag.  I pulled him back to the sidewalk.  Gunther persisted, so finally, I let him have his way and sure enough, he hunkered down.

He started to poop again just as the front door opened and a man stepped out.  He glanced toward me. “Nice,” he said, not smiling as he walked toward the street.

“Good morning,” I chirped, and in desperation, I grabbed up Gunther’s second enormous poop with my bare hand.  Well, I couldn’t just leave it there could I? I had nothing else to pick it up. I couldn’t even use any of the litter in my pocket because the bits were too small. I smiled in the direction of the man, but he wasn’t looking. He crossed the street. Maybe he didn’t live there? I felt a twinge of remorse that I had defiled my hand.

The poop was well-formed and warm, luckily.  I tried not to think about it as I picked up yet another small bit of paper from along the sidewalk.  I knew I could drop Gunther’s work into another dumpster when I passed the alley again on the other end of the block.  This I did, then I wiped my poopy hand on somebody’s lawn. The lawn of the woman with the crazy teenage son. I still had brown residue on my hand.

When we got home I faced another challenge, to take off my coat without getting any bits of poo from my hand in the sleeve.  I satisfied myself that if I made a fist no poop would rub off.  Man.  I am sorry to be writing this.  Am I depressed? I don’t think so. Not now. I mean, I could have told the man I’d return to pick up the turds. That was P’s idea when I told her my story.

In the end I didn’t make a fist, but I sort of formed my hand into a claw to keep the poop from getting into my sleeve. 

I carefully washed my hands twice, but I’m not eating any toast until I wash them again.