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Snowbird’s birthday today


July 19, 2018

You never know what kind of birthday celebration to expect when it comes to Eddie Alden.  Most of us play the roles of extras in the greater story of his life.

I (and I suspect I was not alone) started getting phone calls from him in June and the conversation started with him:  “Dan [pause] Dan [pause] my birthday is next month.” 

It hit me like that.  By golly, his birthday was next month.  Eddie (known by most people by the handle “Snowbird,”) has the charismatic knack of bringing together dozens of people to celebrate.  

Today was such a day.  I’ve had the pleasure of being Eddie’s friend for almost 30 years and his birthdays are interesting and educational.  Here’s what happened this year. 

Eddy phoned me after father’s day to ask when he could bring me a couple bottles of wine as a present.  He nearly always phones late in the day, like when I’m in bed.  Like about 7pm.  I’m retired and I like to — well, retire early.  “Call me tomorrow, only earlier,” I urged.

Ultimately Eddie came over when P. was out so I drank one of the bottles (a merlot — not bad!) while we reminisced.  Eddie doesn’t drink alcohol (or use drugs), so he drank a glass of lemonade before hoisting one of his trademark bladder buster Pepsi big gulps.  Eddie, self-employed as a bicycle rider about town, no doubt has inside knowledge of every men’s restroom in the downtown area.  I don’t know how many times he pees a day.  He is seldom seen without a huge container of soda.  I’m talking 48 ounces, but that was in the old days.  These days I doubt if his beverage container is more than 30 ounces.

Eddie’s visit with the two bottles of wine helped plan things out that culminated in events today.

Anyway, last Sunday he phoned to remind me of his impending birthday.  I asked him if he’d gotten ahold of mutual friend Tom.  (No, he didn’t have Tom’s number.)  I asked him what about his friends at the Billings Gazette.  “Yeah?” he said.  I never know what Eddie means when he says it that way.  I didn’t push the point.  I asked him if he had got ahold of my nephew Jon.  No, he hadn’t been able to reach Jon by phone.  But that is sort of Eddie’s way.  He seems sort of forlorn until the big day of his birthday, when wham-o!  The world joins together to wish him a swell birthday!

I asked him what he wanted for his birthday this time, and he replied, socks.  Well, I replied.  Call me early in the day and we’ll see about buying you some.  “Do you have a Shopko card?” he asked.  I answered in the negative.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to Shopko, wonderful store, I’m sure.  I haven’t been to lots of places built since the 1980s.

The next day he phoned me right after 6, but I’d just finished a glass of wine.  I explained that I wasn’t about to drive anywhere that late.  Would he kindly phone earlier in the day?

Last night he called after supper, but again, I’d drunk some wine.  He promised he’d come over today at 9am, before his noon party.  He explained that he hadn’t called earlier because he had a flat tire on his bike.  I asked him what he does for a flat, and he answered that he replaces the inner tube.  Eddie bicycles more than anyone else I’ve heard of, so I resolved then and there to replace the inner tubes whenever I get a flat.

At our house, in preparation for a new couch today, P. and I moved the old one to our back room, so I was taking a farewell nap when Eddie arrived at 10:30.  I quickly grabbed the keys and we headed for J.C. Penney.  Traffic was light.  Parking lot was nearly empty.  Eddie led me swiftly to the men’s sock department.

He searched among the products for a package of eight pairs of men’s size 12 white socks.  I got antsy waiting as he carefully examined each display.  Then he hurried to find a clerk, a young woman, who told him (I heard her!) that they didn’t stock any but packages of 6 pairs.  I thought that she was kind when she offered to special order packages of 8.  Just then another clerk approached me and asked if I needed help in the sock department.  I referred him to Eddie.  He also said the packages of 8 didn’t exist.  Soon, Eddie and I were alone again, amidst the socks.  I offered to purchase two packages of six before a display caught my eye.  “Two pair free, with a pack of 6,” it read.  I showed Eddie.  “Look!  1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8!” I counted the pairs.  Eddie grew more animated.  “You’ll buy me two of these?” he asked.  “Yes,” I replied, affecting weariness.

At the checkout the clerk applied several kinds of discounts, and the 16 pair of premium gold-toe white socks cost a mere $21!  I was elated.  I thought of my own sock supply before deciding I didn’t need to also buy any.  I am still considering returning there.

Eddie and I went to the Golden Corral cafe.  On the way he phoned someone at the Gazette to ask them to meet us and to see if Tom could also be invited.  He left a message for Jon.

Soon Eddie and I were eating lunch with two professional, highly trained, newspaper professionals.  They probed Eddie with wonderful questions that elicited colorful and memorable replies.  I’m being serious here.  At one point Eddie removed a stocking cap from his pocket that held a 3-inch stack of gift and a debit card.  Very impressive.

The waiters at the Golden C. sang a rousing birthday song for our hero before we departed.  Eddie was headed to the Wells Fargo bank for a birthday party.  On the way Eddie received a call on his cell from a baker who wanted Eddie to pay $19 for a birthday cake he ordered.

Trump is making us feel sick

Photo on 3-30-17 at 1.35 PM

July 15, 2018

Yesterday P. and I visited the homes of perhaps a hundred voters in support of re-electing Sen. Jon Tester.  I always feel uneasy approaching the doors of strangers.  In the parts of Billings we visited, I’d say about half were Republican–and so far most of them have been polite when they turned us away.  I always wonder how they experienced the world. ‘Why can’t they all agree with me?’ I wondered.

We visited a high-rise, low-income, apartment building, “Prairie Towers,” after some mixed results at privately owned houses in the neighborhood.  We didn’t pick and choose whom to visit; we were using a list we got from the local Montana Democratic headquarters.

Prairie Towers has seven floors.  A “no solicitors” sign had been posted by the front door, so  I was ready to ask P. to skip the building; but we had many pages of voters to visit.  As we approached the door a man in front of us had pushed a button to summon a bearded fellow to let him in.  P. asked if we could enter to canvass voters.  The guy shrugged, so we rode the elevator to the top to work our way back down.

What contrast.  Without exception, well, maybe one, where a guy brushed us aside saying he doesn’t “do politics anymore,” the denizens were Democrats who occasionally were so excited to see us that they asked to “sign me up” to support Sen. Tester.  We didn’t have anyone sign anything, but we listened to them.  People seemed lonely and glad to have a visitor.  Did I mention it was nearly 100 degrees outdoors?  The air-conditioning in Prairie Towers was welcome.

One woman, who had recently lost her son and then her dog, said she would have become blind today but for the work of Tester and especially President Obama.  She was obviously grieving and she showed us photos and told us her tale of woe.

Another hollered at us through the door to hold on.  When she opened the door she explained she had to find her false teeth first.  Yes, she was a Democrat.  She said the current President made her feel sick at her stomach.  “What a beast,” she said, with a sad look on her face.  She didn’t stop with that, but It’s all I can remember.  Remarkably, she said she had no computer and had only recently gotten a TV.  A wicker basket hanging on the door was labeled “Gazette.”


Summer is good for depressive illness


July 12, 2018

Nearly 2 months without a post, corresponding with the change in my psychiatric medication—antidepressant—just two months ago.  At that time my psychiatrist, Dr. Stiles, reduced my bupropion dose in half, an amount I continued for 4 weeks, then discontinued altogether.  Surprise.  My world has become only slightly better without the bupropion that I had been taking for perhaps 5 years.  

Oh yes, I’m still taking an antidepressant,  venlafaxine.  (I don’t want to give the impression that I’m fiddling with my own meds for my disorder, major depression, potentially lethal.)

Most of my friends know I’m a retired pharmacist who used to be a board-certified pharmacotherapist.  As such, I know the importance of placing important therapy decisions in the hands of a qualified practitioner, much as an athlete relies on a coach to dictate a regimen of exercise.

Gratifying to me that I feel somewhat better now that one of my meds has been discontinued.  I did not expect it.  Dr. Stiles asked me to promise I’d phone his office if things got worse.  Luckily things have gotten better both in terms of life events and in terms of mood.

Probably helped that our tall blonde daughter brought her three children and dog from San Diego (Poway, actually) for a visit.  How we camped!  We hiked!  Ate Top Ramen and canned chili.  The children, ages 12,11, and 9, only fought a couple times, usually about a toy.  We have multiple mosquito bites, or at least I do, and I love to scratch them.  That’s why I have multiple scabs and sores.  The dog, part spaniel and part poodle, developed sore feet from either cactus or cheat grass, so we took him to Dr. Kilzer, my favorite veterinarian.  That’s how the last week went, and now I am tuckered.

Gunther seems to hardly know me after the storm of guests, so I gave him a treat and walked him.   The trees overhanging the sidewalk brush my face and I vow to bring a tool to clip.  Nearly 90 degrees today.  G. did a splendid poop, so I know he’s okay.

We have no household air conditioner, so we rely on closing the house up during the hot periods and opening during the cool nights.  Numerous fans drone.  Gunther sleeps under a table.  P. is watching a Midsomer Murder on her laptop.  The fridge has hard boiled eggs.

Gunther is a good dog for a depressed guy



May 22, 2018

Despite my angst, the blossoms of spring filtered through my consciousness.  

Moreover, Gunther remains a damned good dog.  These two agents of cheer—spring and Gunther— are related.  Here’s why:  

  • Indoors, Gunther usually comes when I call.  I guess the indoor environment bores him.  Outdoors, is a different story.
  • He goes to bed at night when I ask him to “kennel up.”  He is lazy like me.
  • We have a routine when he gets up in the morning.  He goes outdoors to pee, then he comes in when I call him and whistle.  I get a taste of the morning.
  • He jumps up on the back of my chair and sits on my sore neck, causing a soothing warmth while I drink my first two cups of coffee.
  • I cannot remember the last time he made an error on our floor.  Sphincter control, there.  Maturity.  He reliably poops on the other side of the block.
  • When it is time to put on his leash and harness, he does what P. wants, although he looks blankly at me from a distance like a moron.  When P. asks him to “stand right here” he meekly does so.  Therefore he is a good dog for her, but not for me.
  • Outdoors unleashed, he might or might not come when I call.  Usually he ignores me, especially if he finds some french fries.  Or birdseed.
  • If I ignore him after he doesn’t come when I call he eventually catches up with me on the other side of the block.
  • He knows how to “stay” if it is for no more than five seconds.  At least he tries.
  • He is damned cute, with his underbite and smiling jowls.  Looks like a little bad wolf.
  • Our seven o’clock walks in the cool morning have birds, sprinklers, children looking out their windows at Gunther.  “I know that dog,” one exclaims.  

He’s a bad dog, isn’t he.”  (Gunther sometimes snaps at timid children, so I tell them Gunther is a bad dog, not to try to pet him.)

A couple of years ago when I was first being treated by a psychiatrist for depression I got Gunther from “Help for Homeless Pets.”  He has been a good friend to me, although I have to give the psychiatric medicines lots of credit.  These days my symptoms of depression are gone and I feel like a regular person again, whatever that means.  I think it means I have gotten back my curiosity about things and I am able to deal with just about everything except our current president’s fascism.  I’d say that’s pretty good, considering how crippled up I was before I got help from my internist, who referred me out to a shrink.

After a couple of false starts with medications that either didn’t work or made me feel worse, my psychiatrist got me on a regimen that I have been on for about a year, now.  Depression is a dangerous condition because it can lead to self harm.  Still, I would like to be gradually weaned from at least some of the meds, and next month I’m going to ask my psychiatrist.  We have been talking about that for the last six months.

Why wean off medications?  My brother Tom said it like this:  “Some people swim with water wings, others employ arms and legs.”  Of course that presupposes one knows how to swim.  Likewise, one would need to know how to cope without medicine, such as with exercise and Gunther and my psychiatrist.

A trip to Norway, the kids wrestled and giggled

Nila Peter's children

This shows the Wichstrom family in Norway, from which I descended through my maternal grandmother.  We visited many Wichstroms in Oslo.

April 20, 2018

I felt gritty jet lag a couple weeks ago when we got to Oslo.  Turns out it had just a little more snow than Billings, Montana, our starting place.  Difference was the snow in Oslo was older and crustier and the air maybe 10 degrees colder. The sky was sunny and clear.  Even though we four adults were traveling with kids ages 10,11, and 12, the whole time I heard no crying, whining, or bickering.  Well, once I did a few days into our trip when Olivia defended herself from a bossy cousin.  That was the only time.  However, the trio wrestled, giggled, and talked incessantly.  Didn’t matter where we were.  Oh, they didn’t act unruly when we ate with 10 and 20 relatives at Norwegian formal dinners where we got to know our second cousins.  The kids looked forward to skiing.

We traveled by tram from our air b&b fourth-floor walk up apartment across town and up the side of a mountain to a ski place with an old log restaurant.  There we trooped in to a side room to meet Anne, Bjorn Wichstrom, and Celine Wichstrom Flinders and her boyfriend, all second cousins.  Well, Celine’s boyfriend wasn’t.  We ate lingonberries and reindeer meat in a sauce and had dessert that had whipped cream.  At the end we traded gifts:  huckleberry jam and native beadwork from Montana; a heavy book from Bjorn.

We caught the train back to our neighborhood after walking down the mountain about a kilometer past a couple ski jumps towering what looked like a hundred feet.  What insane person would launch himself?  The kids talked incessantly and wrestled like baby raccoons.

Our apartment was close to a tram stop, so the next day we rode it to the Viking museum to see real ships large enough to travel at sea powered by oar and sail.  The ships carried the men who wreaked havoc 1200 years ago.  In fact, I learned on the “History of the English Language” podcast that the words “wreaked” and “havoc” are in our language precisely because of the Norse invaders of England.

Our son Bob used his iPhone to navigate Oslo, which reminded me somewhat of Paris, in that it was confusing to get around.  I exaggerate.  It was confusing for me, but everyone else seemed comfortable with Oslo.

We had three-day Oslo passes, but nobody asked for them until the Viking museum.  The person there let me in anyway, once I told them I lost mine.  We got on bus after bus and nobody checked to see my pass.  Or anyone else’s pass.  I guess they figure if you made it all the way to Oslo you certainly had one.  I don’t know.  Finally, on our last day in Oslo, a man came through the train asking to see passes, so I handed him P’s, since I was sitting next to her on the aisle.  He said something in Norwegian about the date of first use on the pass, then didn’t check P’s.  Satisfied, with everyone else’s, the man sat down ahead of us.

We returned to the restaurant at the top of the ski hill and rented sledges to ride down to catch the train back to the top.  Roland and I nearly flew off the track on a curve.  Roland rode solo afterward and I drank coffee at the restaurant with P.

We visited Ingrid and Neils-Marius Conradi, some more second cousins, at their house in Oslo.  Another fancy meal with several courses including a rich dessert and a couple different kinds of wine to drink with Norwegian salmon and a fancy beef stew.  At the end we traded gifts and Bjorn gave me several  books.

The train ride to Bergen was six pleasant hours of mountainous journey through what looked like Western Montana, but with tunnels galore.  We rode in a deluxe car that had complementary beverages, but none were alcoholic.  Our first drink stronger than beer was the wine at Ingrid and Neils-Marius’ house.

We drug all our luggage from the Bergen train station, across town, over a sizable bridge, and up the side of a steep mountain to reach our air b&b there.  (Modern, had a toilet with heated seat.)  The kids trooped ahead, dragging their immense suitcases in silence.  Once we reached the apartment they giggled and wrestled.  We were hungry.  Bob and I hiked down the hill and across the bridge back to the train station looking for a store.  It was Easter.  Good Friday, I mean, and groceries were closed and streets deserted.  I whined to Bob that I wanted a cab and a restaurant.  

The cab took us back to the air b&b but all of us couldn’t fit in the cab.  Restaurants all seemed to be closed, except one the cab driver knew about.  Bob tried to phone but got an answering machine.  The cabbie knew the place was open, so P. and I took the cab and the kids and Bob and Heather walked.  Turns out the cab driver took us to a place called “Snack Bar,” and Bob, Heather, Olivia, Cyrus, and Rowland trooped to a different restaurant.  Everyone waited for everyone else.  

P. and I didn’t have a phone and we couldn’t remember the address of the air b&b.  So we waited two or three hours, drinking wine and gin at the snack bar and eating hamburgers.  No one rescued us, so we finally got a cab whose driver figured out how to get us home.

I took the day off while everyone else walked all over Bergen.  We ultimately met at a restaurant called the “Penguin.”  The kids wrestled and giggled.

Next day Bob rented a van and we drove to Vang, a farm neighborhood in Valdres about four hours from Bergen.  My great great grandmother Berit Bonde started out in Vang where her first husband bought her a house, still there.  Bob took a couple rocks and a rusty tool from Berit’s place where we walked across crusty snow to look inside.  It was now being used as a shed to store woodworking tools, apparently.  Nearby lived Knute Bunde, a fellow about my age, who was unavailable to speak with us.  Our b&b host in Vang told us he didn’t usually talk to strangers.  The b&b in Vang was deluxe.  I banged my head on a low beam repeatedly.  The proprietors fed us reindeer meet, lots of root vegetables, and heavy cream.  We rented skis.  We visited a stave church at Hore.  We visited the former mayor of Vang who fed us an immense lunch.  The kids went outdoors to wrestle and giggle and slide down a hill on sleds they found.

Later, the boys skied near Vang at a grade school with 10 kilometers of cross country ski trail.  I tried to ski and fell hard on my butt.  The icy snow had a thin top layer of grainy snow.  My skis slipped sideways when I tried to slow down, lost control, fell on butt.  Bob and Heather and the kids did much better than I.  We had the rented van, so we returned to Oslo that way.  I suffered a bruised butt.

Back in Oslo we met even more cousins, and Bjorn was there.  He gave me some books at the end of the evening meal which consisted of reindeer meat, salad, ham, and potatoes.  The Norwegian hosts gave us many kinds of root vegetables and traditional waffles in the shape of hearts.  People treated us like royalty.  The supper at cousin Erik and Solvar Hardeng’s house had 20 guests and I can’t remember most of the people’s names, but they were friendly, warm folk.  Again, Bjorn, an adorable man in his 80s, was there, dressed in his blue suit with necktie.  He gave me several books when we parted.  Erik and his wife had grandchildren who wrestled and giggled with our three.

Sadly, Erik Hardeng has terminal cancer and doesn’t expect to live more than a month, or so.  He showed us a brief slide show of his trips to the south and north polar regions.

Bob and Erik had a tearful parting.  We drove off in the van.  Erik phoned us minutes later when he discovered Heather had forgotten her purse.

Ultimately, we returned to the US with loot.  I bought a variety of paper clips bent in the shapes of animals.  Later I discovered they had been made in China. Cyrus and Roland each got tanned hair-on reindeer skins in Oslo.  I then bought a sports bag to carry them and some of the books back to the US.  Bob got himself a wool sweater.  Roland bought a model of a Viking boat.  I had a birthday in Oslo, so I got a bunch of trinkets to carry back.  A couple pens, a wooden globe.  Oh yes, and books.  Lots of books.  Olivia returned with a sheepskin.  I don’t remember much else.  Roland bought his dad a cow’s horn for drinking.  I saw lots of candy and gifts in P’s luggage that she bought when I wasn’t looking.

Turns out returning from Oslo to the US creates less jet lag than going, a good thing,  and the kids wrestled and giggled.


Buddy warmed up to college life

His scratchy sweater his mom had given him smelled sour like wool, all the more from the cigarette smoke where he and his friends gathered at the dormitory and talked about women, about ultimate reality, about where to get beer.  The air was ripe with possibilities, yet forces were in place to deny them any of the desirables.  The girls were locked up.  Dormitory rules.  Stern blue-haired dean of women.  Drinking age was 21.

No shortage of women — women their age, more than willing to socialize with them, even slip out the back door to love them up.  Carl licked his lips.  He loved how they smelled.  College was nothing but good.  Frustrating, but good, because hope was always alive.  Hell, he knew how to get a fake ID card.

Of course he had a mid-term exam in Botany 101 Monday.  He and a couple other guys would have to pull an all-nighter Sunday if they were to do well.  Hmmm.  Let’s see:  Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.  He ticked them off.  Plants, vascular plants, and so on right down to gymnosperms, pines, ponderosa.  He had gotten this from a different all-nighter in the dry winter air with its throat-scratching freezing temperatures.  A friend and he had sat up in the basement laundry of South Hall.

Missoula was a party town for college kids.  Had a reputation.  Come to think of it, Carl wasn’t sure about the order and family of the P. Pine.  He’d have to look that up before the exam Monday.  His shoes were not adequate for the cold weather.  Feet would freeze before he and his friends could make it downtown across the bridge to Eddy’s Club.  They’d shoot pool, maybe run into some older women who had been emancipated from the tyranny of dorm life.  Maybe he could get some pussy.  He was still a virgin.

In just one week everything would change.  The Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor and the United States would declare war and just about every healthy young man would be drafted into the army or navy.

Meanwhile, Carl ticked off the kinds of fungi:  basidiospore . . . . In seven days he would have taken the mid-terms, but neither he nor any of the other guys would care about any of that any more.

Three weeks later: no clock, but I figured out the family roots in Norway.

Nila Peter's children

My great-grandfather Christian (emigrated to Wisconsin) is not pictured among the nine Wichstrom children pictured who, with their parents, who stayed in Norway.  The parents, Niels Peter Wichstrom and his wife, Lise, are seated at the table.  No doubt they had to all keep still for the long camera exposure.

I removed the bust of Bob because glancing that direction for the time was unsettling without the familiar clock.  The day after I took the clock to the repairman, he phoned and promised to clean the works.  Did I want him to phone at each stage of his repairs?  Thinking that I had to have the clock asap I incorrectly said no.  Now, three weeks later, still no clock.  Probably he is fixing the clock of someone who cares enough to chat about his work.

Bob (the real one) has been in touch with our relatives in Oslo and in Vang, Norway.  We will eat in Oslo in three weeks, or so, with one of Kjell Nielsen’s sons.  Kiel was in the same generation as my mother, all descended from Peter Wichstrom.  Peter (1) begat Niels Peter (2), who begat Christian August (3), who begat Ellen Margaret (4), who begat Helen Margaret (5), who begat Daniel Robert (6), who begat Robert Joseph (7), who begat Olivia Quinn (8).  We last three named will meet up with Kjell Nielsen’s son.  The second guy named, Nils Peter (seated at the table in the photo above), had a lot of children with Lise Nielsen.  Eleven.  They were, or gave rise to, actors, sailors, bankers, lawyers, carpenters, store-keepers, scientists, policemen, and writers.  They helped populate Oslo.

Kjell was also descended from Peter (1),  who begat, etc., Niels Peter (2), Marie Antoinette Oline, (3) and Margarethe Nielsen (4), and Kjell (5).