During the first snow, the first fallen leaves lie sodden on the uncut grass, and the cats go crazy from boredom. I’m saving my usual trick (drawers of junk pulled just open enough for a cat to get her arm into it) for later when the deep snow comes. This is only Oregon-type snow -- though in Oregon it falls in January -- and the temp is just above freezing, so that if one walks around outside (I’m not that bored!) one steps from snow to puddle to slush. The cats intermittently go out, crouching under the pickup and dashing to cover under the tall fir trees, which have limbs down to the ground and never really get wet underneath.
The reason I’m not bored is that two newspapers -- utterly dissimilar -- arrived in my post office box this morning. They often come together. One is the “Prairie Star,” an ag newspaper for which I worked briefly (that’s another story) and the New York Times Book Review. When I lived in Helena in the Eighties, I sometimes met new friends when their NYTimes Book Review got folded into mine and jammed into my PO Box. Although I simply remailed their copy, later at some event I would recognize the person’s name and introduce myself. After all, we tended to travel in the same circles.
Here in Valier I doubt that anyone else subscribes to the Book Review, but many count on the tabloid-sized “Prairie Star.” It doesn’t have news in it, per se, but accumulates enough copy “above the fold” to justify the many ads that fill the rest of the page and pay for the paper. It is free to the reader and was started by simply mailing copies to a state master list of farmers. On the basis of that readership, ads were solicited from the infrastructure ag businesses: machinery, insurance, fertilizer, and a host of indispensable “stuff.”
Pretty soon small ads came in from farmers wanting to sell or buy machinery. Often they were scribbled almost unintelligibly on scrap paper, with a signed blank check for us to fill in. These people were old-timers, often not too good at speaking English but scrupulous about economic matters and confident that others were, too. Their small ad “ventures” -- an inch or two in a column -- were a great source of interest to their kind and others. A sort of card game, with a blind draw element to it. Women told us that their husbands would sit in recliners all evening, reading these little ads and wondering what was really involved, speculating if they ought to make a phone call.
The copy, I was a little surprised to discover, was simply down-loaded from state ag agents’ websites, of which there are many. One of the constant controversies at the paper was whether information from the Dakotas could be included as helpful or whether it was too far east to be relevant for our area. (I kept one memorable long article about how to raise peonies for an income. State ag agents are a good source of info for gardeners, esp. if you’re more interested in healthy plants than buying the latest in garden ornaments.)
Once, when I was living in Saskatoon, I went off to a conference back East and acquired a copy of the Village Voice to read on the plane. It was when singles ads were blooming and I got a lot of chuckles from cutting out VV ads, as well as a representative group of a Saskatchewan ag paper’s singles ads, and pasting them side-by-side on one sheet of paper, which I xeroxed and sent to friends to demonstrate cultural width. The VV ads had a lot of references to “rubber goods” and exotic preferences. The Saskatchewan preferences were good teeth, strong backs, and compliant dispositions.
The Great Falls Tribune, which is delivered in Valier, belongs to a big publishing corporation. They have a formula: front page about local stuff unless something really BIG nationally is happening. Two next pages about international stuff. A page of editorial. A page of continuations of stories. Back page with the weather. Montana section. Sports section with a back page of business. “Living” section, two pages folded with the classifieds. A weekly insert on “Outdoors,” another on entertainment. The newspapers in Montana used to be dominated by Anaconda Copper. The impression I have now is that they are gripped by the big hospitals. Medicine is money: equipment impossibly expensive, meds supposedly miraculous, and always the hovering presence of the insurance industry. INDUSTRY. Many ads for doctors, clinics, research institutes, and hospitals.
If I had to choose only one of the above, it would naturally be the New York Times Book Review. That’s where I really live -- in that land of ideas and time-travel. I save far too many of the reviews, put them in boxes and files, and years later -- trying to throw them away -- once again rereading become enthralled and can’t give them up. In the end I’m intensely aroused to write -- but thoroughly confused about WHAT to write, HOW to write, WHOM to write for, where to send it anyway.
The news one gets from a newspaper is never about oneself, even the NY Times stories of brilliant psychological theories. The NY Times rarely writes about the Rocky Mountain east slope anyway -- except sometimes in the Book Review section there will be a review of a book about this place, these lives. Generally the review is either patronizing or gushing. But once in a while there will be something so illuminating, so tender, so tough-minded, that I have to save it. Then I want so much to be in some kind of relationship with people who say those things. But I have no phone number. They do not place small blind ads.