I regret that I have to go back to filtering comments with one of those maddening "copy this" gizmos. I was getting too much spam. I suppose when I have time, I ought to figure out where it's coming from. In the meantime, if you really need to talk to me, do it the old-fashioned way: landline telephone. Information has my listing.

SOCIAL MEDIA

My name shows up on google+ and twitter, but I only monitor and will not add you. I do NOT do Facebook though someone with the same name does. Please use plain email. My phone landline is in the phone book. I have no cell phone.

Other Blogs by me

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE ART OF BOB SCRIVER, PLEASE GO TO: www.scriverart.blogspot.com.

Notes from Alvina Krause between 1957-1961 are posted at www.Krausenotes.blogspot.com


TWO REBLOGS:
Fiction about Indians at www.willowsticks.blogspot.com
Essays about Indians at www.siksikaskinitsiman.blogspot.com



Saturday, September 30, 2006

MONTANA FESTIVAL OF THE BOOK 2006

Rather than Christmas and Fourth of July, my annual trip around the sun is marked by the Charlie Russell Art Auction in March and the Montana Festival of the Book right now in Missoula. This year more of you will be aware of the latter since they snagged the Prairie Home Companion as the Saturday “anchor” of the event. Last year it was “Selected Shorts,” the program that has actors reading fine short fiction, one of my favorite NPR shows. (There are a website, CD’s, and book anthologies.) Of course, even as I type, the Rolling Stones are warming up in Missoula. It’s hard to know whether all this means that Missoula is becoming a culture magnet, or a venue for remaindered culture. They say the Stones are having a little trouble selling tickets.

This is the first year that I’ve read in the Festival. I’ve been attending since I got back to Montana, which is about the time it started. It has morphed a bit -- I think in a good way by opening up a bit to lesser beings, other then the local gods. This is the first year that I’ve been at a session where a double row of young Indians, complete with well-behaved babies, arrived specifically to listen to the speaker, who was Adolf Hungry-Wolf explaining how he developed “The Blackfoot Papers.” (There have been Indians at the lecturn before, since Jim Welch and Debra Magpie Earling were professional U of M grads.) Adolf spoke eloquently and elegantly for 45 minutes with no notes, then took questions.

Vic Charlo, noted poet and chief of the Flatheads, was the chair of an ensuing panel and some of the audience carried over. Dorothy Patent, who writes scientific children’s books about animals, spoke at length about the wonder of albino buffaloes.

Her cultural advisor, Curley Bear Wagner, then orated a bit about the Blackfeet past. (Curley Bear was in the high school English classes I taught in Browning in the Sixties. He claims I did him the enormous disservice of trying to force him to read “Macbeth” and threw him out of class when he refused. He’s probably right.) His “book” was a CD of him telling the Native American version of the coming of Lewis and Clark, so I suggested that the name of the event ought to be changed to “Montana Festival of the Text.” To my mind, CD’s, DVD’s, and videotapes are as much text as books are. I’d even include music. Maybe art.

I spoke about the novel the 7th grade at Heart Butte wrote in 1990 when we decided the reader they had was patronizing and childish -- we threw the BOOK out, refusing to read it. That tells you the change between 1960 and 1990. The other difference was that we wrote our story on the early Macintoshes, the ones that looked like R2D2, only square. That’s when Penny Hughes-Briant came to visit us.

The truth is that I woke up early for the drive to Missoula -- had set the alarm for 5AM but woke up at 3:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep -- and the effect of the resultant fatigue was about like three stiff drinks: I was loud and funny. This novel, “One Windy Day,” is now on www.lulu.com where anyone can order it, either as a softbound book or as a download, which means you’ll get it on your computer right away, but have to print it yourself, if you want a print version.

My own writing, “Twelve Blackfeet Stories,” is also there on the same terms, but I’ve paid for it to have an ISBN number and be listed with Amazon, etc. after Thanksgiving. It was very hard for people to get their heads around the idea that I was writing modern short stories about Blackfeet. Over and over, convinced that I’d gathered another anthology of legends and myths, they asked, “But who gave you these stories?” When I said, “Nobody -- I just made ‘em up!” they looked shocked, SHOCKED! I handed out a flyer with the two lulu books on it, as well as the list of NA writers that I posted on this blog earlier. I’d made fifty copies of each and didn’t see leftovers, though it’s possible they just got dumped someplace.

We had envisioned a discussion about who was entitled to tell NA stories, why and under what circumstances, but there seemed to be little appetite for argument or even discussion on the panel. The audience was primed to argue and I kept trying to interrupt Curley Bear, but he’s been practicing ignoring me since 1962 and is very good at it. I have no idea what Dorothy thought and Vic was inclined to let things play out as they would. I’ll write a blog on some of my ideas, which I suggested there.

I did manage one pretty good joke. Someone had asked Adolf in a challenging way how Bob Scriver could be allowed to open the Sacred Bundles for photographs in his book, “The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains.” Adolf’s answer was that the Blackfeet way was always to let every man’s conscience be his guide and let him take the consequences of his decisions. (Which, depending upon how you think of it, might have been pretty dire for Bob Scriver, since he had a series of health crises after that.) There was also talk about how Sacred Objects should never be photographed. So when I talked, I noted that on many of the occasions photographed by Adolf, I was there but never in any photos. I quipped, “I must be a Sacred Object.” That was the best laugh of the session.

In the afternoon, I read a short redaction from my book about Bob, “Bronze Inside and Out,” which won’t come out until Spring when it will be published by the University of Calgary Press. I had practiced and timed it and, as I say, I was a little punchy and therefore pretty dramatic. The other two readers were less exciting. One was a closely reasoned argument by Liza Nicholas about the advent of dude ranches, which oxymoronically proved that rich people can play by imitating the work of poor people. (Marie Antoinette as cowgirl.) The other was a rousing and timely account of goose hunting by Buddy Levy. Both are adjunct faculty. There was no discussion.

Though I didn’t get to attend my quota of sessions this time, but I did get to touch base with a lot of people. Sue Hart was at the entrance when I came in and we had a few minutes to talk. A big Western male friend of hers and Richard Wheeler’s approached and Sue introduced us. The guy (I didn’t get his name) was peering at the name tag slung around my neck and said, “I’m just trying to see your name, not staring at your bosom!” I said, “Well, why not? Is there something wrong with it?” Later Richard attended the panel, so I got to give him a big hug.

Dale Burk and his wife were setting up their book table for Stoneydale Press, and we talked for a second about touchy Ernie Kraft and his excellent book about the Bison Range where Bob and I used to ride in the roundup. Stan Lynde, incredibly handsome and beautifully turned-out as usual, was crossing the parking lot so there was time for a howdy. (Sharon Brogan was with me and was rendered breathless!) Russell Chatham was deep in conversation with an intense man, but I interrupted for a second, confident that Russ would rather talk to a female. I wanted to tell him that we were born on the same day, me in Portland and him in California, so we were twins delivered on the same “stork flight” and he should think of me if he needed a twin. He said he liked that idea a lot! Stephen Bodio’s name was mentioned and his book was on the table for Chatham’s press.

But the funniest encounter was at the U of Nebraska Press table where the man looked at my nametag and got a strange look on his face. I’m sure the same happened when I looked at his tag: he was Gary Dunham, the editor at the Press who turned down my book about Bob Scriver, saying it was trivial and of regional interest only. We fenced for a few minutes and then softened. He says his real love is sci-fi! He also said that thanks to digital technology now NO BOOK at U of N. Press will ever be out of print again. They have shed their physical inventory for the least likely books to be sold, switching to Print On Demand, which gives them a big financial boost. I was very relieved because I’ve dreaded the day some of the Bison Books go out of print. Incidentally, the U of Neb. Press is co-selling Mary Eggermont-Molanar’s “Montana 1911” at one-third the price it is through the U of Calgary Press!

Rex and Judy Reike were tearing their hair out because they badly wanted to buy a copy, but by then Gary had gone off to receptions and auctions so there was no one to sell the books. I told Rex to just write a check and take the display copy, but he’s far more law-abiding than I am. They bought me supper. I obeyed all the rules for diabetics and he, having been diabetic for ten years, broke them. So that shows that books are more sacred than food.

Rex and Judy Rieke, Dale Burk and his wife, Stan Lynde, Adolf Hungry-Wolf, Cyn Davis/Kipp and Curley Bear Wagner have been good friends of mine for almost half a century now. Penny Hughes-Briant, whom I sat next to at Adolf’s session, has been a friend since she wrote a glowing review of my teaching for the NCTE in Heart Butte in 1990. The Wheeler/Harts have been friends for several years. And I made a terrific new friend, who has been an email and blog friend for a year or so: Sharon Brogan. excellent poet and extraordinary photographer who lives in a condo a few blocks away. () She made the NY Times for her Cat Friday compilations, when her blog is dedicated to cat portraits and jokes. Check out why “Spike Is Evil” on this Friday’s post.

When there was a bit of a gap in time, Sharon and I went for a little Mexican pick-me-up snack and established a lot of wave-length connections. Whisker quivers. Nose touchings. For lunch, I have to admit, I had ducked out on everyone and ate the PB sandwich I brought in my pocket, quietly and alone for the half-hour there was. Otherwise, I might not have made it through. It’s a long time since I spoke and campaigned like this. A lot of people needed to be connected. I never did talk to any of those young Indians. Or give Richard Wheeler a couple more hugs.

The four hour drive over was uneventful except for an egg and toast in Lincoln. The four hours back was the same, except that it was unusually warm so I could drive with my elbow out the window. The moon was first an apricot-colored satin shoe and then went nearly red as clouds moved in, torn, smelling of smoke and windrows down-but-not-dry. There were female mountain sheep along the Blackfoot River!

When I got home, my big fat cats were alert and explained that they were abandoned all day and that Caspar, that rotten cat, came over and threatened them again and that they MUST have treats immediately. Then we collapsed in a heap and the next thing was morning. I have no glamor tales about the major events.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

LULU DOES IT DIFFERENTLY

Readers of this blog already know that I’ve been publishing via Lulu.com which is also a Print On Demand website, but one with some differences. There are also differences about me. For folks who are trying to figure out what they themselves ought to do, maybe there is some value in tracing them out specifically.

First of all, I started out “publishing” by writing handouts for Bob Scriver, both in the Museum of Montana Wildlife and to accompany sculptures. He did the editing and he was good at it, clear about what he wanted and why. So it was purposeful writing, not just a creative endeavor. For a while I had a column in the Glacier Reporter, which got me in political hot water, so I learned to consider my audience more than my psyche. Then I preached every Sunday for ten years, for three years repeating each sermon four times. It was structured and presumably reasoned writing, pitched to a specific consumer.

I’d written very little fiction until I came to “Twelve Blackfeet Stories,” which is the manuscript I’ve published through Lulu. But it is didactic fiction, written to a tight structure and meant for a specific audience. Hopefully, it will inspire Blackfeet to write stories of their own and release them from the trap of having to be 19th century Indians with feathers on horseback. Personally, I’d love to see more stories about the beginning of the 20th century, the Campbell years when a tall red-headed agent neglected oil rights because he believed in mixed agriculture. He was the first agent to systematically visit every Blackfeet household on the reservation. What a tale that might be!

Even for myself, equipped with guides and insider advice, it is a formidable project to get anything Western past the Eastern establishment that dominates publishing. Even the editors of the Western university presses tend to be young, academic, from back east, and full of Red Empowerment politics. Anyway, like me, most local Blackfeet have no money. But Lulu doesn’t cost a darn thing. Type your manuscript, post it, there you go. It’s essentially a blog that you can order bound into a “blook.” (You WILL have to give up the idea that anyone will pay you to publish your writing.)

Let’s compare with AuthorHouse.

1. There is no base price. If you use a library computer, you could theoretically spend no money at all. Of course, you’ll probably want printouts, might have to do some research, and stuff like that. It turns out that historical institutions charge $20 per photo plus you must seek formal permission to use them. This can feel pretty bogus when the photos were collected from your own relatives in the first place. All the photos in Bill Farr’s book of Blackfeet images were once in bureau drawers and boxes under beds around here.

2. If you want to sell in bookstores, you need an ISBN. That will cost you $99. If you just sell from Lulu.com, there’s no cost.

3. You don’t get any free copies. You get a discount, so you can buy some copies yourself and then sell them locally, but that costs money up front. You have access to a database that will tell you how many copies are sold and when. Royalties are paid out quarterly.

4. When I got my two test copies of the book (for which I paid) they looked like any other book I would get in a bookstore. This is not a thick book (about a hundred pages). I designed my own cover, which is plain red with black words: TWELVE BLACKFEET STORIES. A pair of moccasins is dropped over the “ee” in Blackfeet, because in Canada they say BlackfOOt, and I thought it would be good to sell on both sides of the border. Lulu sells anywhere in the world except two African countries which are too unsettled for commerce to be dependable.

I could publish this book in Blackfeet if I could type it that way. They’ll print any language because they don’t edit -- they define themselves as printers and only printers. What the author sends is camera-ready, which is a two-edged sword.

Also, they will make picture books, CD’s, and other media. Since it doesn’t matter how many copies are made, one could easily produce a family album to use for Christmas presents.

Copyright remains in the name of the author. The law protects the rights of any writer as soon as the work is published with the declaration: “Copyright (the year) by (author).” Some of the earlier Print On Demand houses tried to own the copyright and ran into terrible problems. Once in a long while, against all odds, a P.O.D. book becomes valuable.

One of the things I like about blogging is that as soon as my work is posted on the Internet, it is copyrighted. It may be copied, quoted without proper credit, sent here and there, but the earliest publication is provably mine and therefore the copyright rests with me. What we learned in the sculpture business is that it’s nearly impossible to keep other people from copying, but it’s important to keep a record of the earliest creation so that they don’t keep YOU from using your own material by claiming they were first. Even then, it’s rare to be able to collect damages. You can only force them to admit you wrote it.

(The other important thing about blogging is that if writing is on a blog at Blogger, then if one’s own computer crashes or someone at the library erases your novel, it’s still there on the blog.)

All the stories in “Twelve Blackfeet Stories” were posted on my blog and, in fact, circulated in manuscript form even earlier. The first story was written more than ten years ago and I made it a point to hand it around among Blackfeet to see what they thought. They are famously noncommital, so I didn’t find out a lot, except that the “two-spirit” story made some of them very nervous and others very happy. I’ve discovered that the people least likely to read my blog or order books are my relatives and the friends who always encouraged me to write. I don’t know why.

Currently I’m accumulating material for a blook on Animal Control. More slowly, I’m collecting weather essays for a blook to be called “Valier Seasons.” It’s meant for local Christmas trade, presents for grandma and so on. Aside from publishing on Lulu, I’ve been making books on my computer or by using outfits like Kinko. I sold 350 copies of a biography of Bob Scriver, just locally, with a wire binding.

The cost of homemade books breaks out this way: a dollar for cover glossy paper (books that are not glossy don’t sell), .02 per page, .10 for the wire binding, .05 for the last page which is poster board. That’s materials. (The bio of Bob was 57 pages, which some thought was too long!)

The binding machine, a GBC product, sells for a little less than $300. The Pagemaker and Photoshop software can cost up to $1,000 but I got educator’s versions for less. I used my own slides to illustrate. That’s capital investment.

Then there’s my time and the gas or postage to distribute. I figure it takes a solid week -- say 40 hours -- to get the manuscript in shape to duplicate AFTER it’s written. Duplicating and assembling probably takes a little more than twenty minutes each copy. I can assure you that punching holes and crimping wire bindings takes a certain amount of muscle and doing 300 copies at a time will make your arm sore.

I sell at tourist venues with few exceptions, and they are at least thirty miles away, so a quarter-tank of gas to get there and back. Last summer I compiled the earliest of my blogs on prairiemary.blogspot.com, entitled them “Blackfeet 101 for Napi-kwans,” (napi-kwans are white friends) and sold them to stores for $10 each. In turn, they sold them for $17.50 which some people thought was outrageous. I always end up giving some away to friends and influential people. I’m not making any profit, except that I’m learning, so I can count it as education.

No one edits these books except me. I’ve laid them out to be large print, in two columns per page, on letter-sized paper so they’ll be easy to read. “Twelve Blackfeet Stories” includes a time-line, which is what got me started on the idea in the first place. I’m arrogant about it on the one hand -- after all, I was an English teacher for ten years -- and humble about it on the other hand. (My next-door neighbor, who considers me an educated fool, pointed out that in my first book I’d gotten my own phone number wrong!)

Lulu doesn’t market. If books are sold, they credit one’s account. If those books come back, they debit. I don’t know where the books end up. Lulu doesn’t promote. Lulu doesn’t do layout. The system they’ve worked out is listing a little circle of approved professionals who DO do some of these other things. I just do all this myself.

A blog is a good way to promote a book -- so long as the provider doesn’t decide to charge commercial rates for the blog all of a sudden. People could just download the material and bind their own book for free, but I doubt that many do. The angle I’m coming from is that there are certain categories of people (a tribe, an occupation like animal control, a locale like Valier) who look for materials specific to them and use both Google and Amazon. They often have newsletters that accept ads or meet for conferences where readings might be presented. Most important, word of mouth is likely to be high energy and valued. The commercial publishing world ignores them.

I’ve been slow to understand that if a book does well as Print On Demand, a publisher might ask to include it on their list, buying the right to do so. Books sometimes start out self-published or published by a small company, and then “catch on” so that it is worthwhile for a bigger publisher to buy the rights. By that time often the editing and layout investment has already been made.

Of course, everyone dreams of selling the movie rights! Even if the movie never gets made! It's so much fun to pretend to cast it! Let's see -- who should play ME? A little modest narcissism is a reward for most authors!

Monday, September 25, 2006

AN AUTHORHOUSE WRITER

Today’s Great Falls Tribune features a story about a young woman named Jessica Wyatt who has published a book via Print On Demand with AuthorHouse. Jessica is twenty and her book, called "EXODUS," is a fictional modern holocaust account 557 pages long. It cost her $2,000. So far 80 copies have sold with one or two dollars in royalties coming back to her for each one.

What Jessica’s money bought breaks down this way:
A base price of around $700 includes
1. Custom layout of cover and interior
2. The ISBN that allows the book to enter the regular bookstore distribution system
3. 10 free copies
4. High quality paper with 80 pound cover stock

Add-ons iinclude:
1. Copyrighting (actually books are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are published, so this must mean the registering of the copyright with Washington, D.C.)
2. Copy and content editing
3. Marketing (I suspect this means mostly listing in pages like those in Bloomsbury Review -- a photo of the cover and a squib about content, ten to a page for four pages)
4. The “book return program,” which costs $699 for one year and gives retailers the option to return books that don’t sell. This is one of the real anchors hanging around the necks of publishers, who can think they have sold an entire printing of a book, only to have them nearly all returned at tax time to avoid inventory taxes. It is one of the practices that Print On Demand may end. But AuthorHouse claims that no bookstores will order books they can’t return.

Wyatt didn’t opt for copy editing, though she is operating with a G.E.D., and says she still finds many errors. She made some changes during proofing that cost hundreds of dollars. She is a television watcher, doing much of her writing during commercials, and was finally motivated into writing her book when her viewing was interrupted by 9/11. What she REALLY wants to do is produce a movie. In the meantime she works at Quizno’s Pizza.

One can separate the stages of book-making this way:

1. Someone writes or compiles it. This is the most poorly paid part and yet the authors come crowding!

2. Someone (usually someone else, often someone with a lot more experience) edits in one or both of the following ways:
A. Reorganizing, trimming, asking for more writing in a specific way, focusing, and in general improving -- one hopes.
B. Line-editing, which means correcting for spelling, grammar and so on

There might also be fact-checking or a legal review. Lately it has seemed necessary for publishers to make sure people are who they say they are.

3. When the text is in order, photos or other art might be added. Then someone does the layout, which means arranging things on the page. When it is done with a computer program, expertise with software counts heavily. Few do old-fashioned paste-up boards anymore. Layout might be contracted out.

4. The book is actually printed and assembled. This is done by a contractor.

5. The book is distributed to points of sale. The revolution has been that this point might be on the Internet or at a website. Authors are less and less enamored of going to a bookstore and signing autographs to bring in the customers. Behind all the bookstores is a wholesale warehouse called Ingrams. When you ask whether a book can be ordered at a bookstore, they go look at the Ingrams microfiches. If it isn't there, they say no. On the Internet one is not limited to Ingrams.

6. Promotion is supposed to be done by publishers through their catalogues and contacts with critics. So many publishing houses do so little that some authors pay a business that does this specifically. Whoever got Wyatt into the GF Tribune was doing a very good job of promoting. There’s a color photo with her kitty and a cover of the book, plus price and suggested sources.

7. Criticism could be considered a kind of promotion, but might more usefully do some sorting, setting up categories and criteria, comparing, searching for meanings and explicating methods. The Bloomsbury Review" is an instrument of criticism.

The September/October 2006 issue has six pages of color advertising from AuthorHouse, each showing the front of an AuthorHouse printed book alongside a squib about the authors, which range from Buddy Ebsen’s script for “Barnaby Jones” to “Baby Alligator Comes to Play” which is meant to help little kids face the dark at bedtime. That is, there is no characteristic editorial framing of the mission of the press -- just one-book-after-another with no pattern that I can see. I believe I recall a court case where an author sued, claiming that the press was not promoting his or her book though they had promised that service. These pages would defend the press against those charges.

I don’t think I’ve ever noticed an actual review of an AuthorHouse book in the Bloomsbury Review.

Bloomsbury Review is valuable because they are based in Denver so not dominated by a Manhattan view of the world. Therefore, many of the Western university presses take full page ads. The University of Nebraska Press has the back page, which lists eleven of their books, five of which have covers shown. The University of New Mexico Press, which has the first inside page, lists eight books with no covers shown. The University of Arizona Press has one column, seven and a half inches tall. None of the university presses can afford color. The thing to do is to call and get on the list for the catalogues, which often contain drastically slashed prices for excellent remaindered books they can no longer afford to keep in warehouses where they are taxed.

List servs exist for academics focussed on one subject, like Western history or Western literature. I rarely hear them discuss the books in Bloomsbury Review, either the university press ones or the AuthorHouse ones. They don’t read reviews: they ask each other.

What Print-On-Demand operations do is to move the existence of books to cyberspace before they are printed, rather than waiting for something like the Great Google Project of photocopying whole libraries. Books today are often only printed to exist temporarily in the hands of someone who is very likely to resell the paper copy through the Internet used-book websites like Alibris.com or Abebooks.com or even Amazon, which now has become a kind of “books in print” headquarters where one can sell one’s own books, like eBay. The stripping of books from libraries -- in order to make room for computers -- has been a bonanza for many of us with a taste for a kind of book no longer written. This is hard on contemporary writers.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

USURY AT HIGH NOON

If you were listening closely at noon on last Friday and were tuned to Here and Now on public radio, you would have heard my thirty seconds of fame. I said, “Phantom charges, my foot! That’s plain old usury!”

I thought it was just me who missed payments, thus triggering staggering interest charges. So did the host(ess) of Here-Now.org, the noon program on Yellowstone Public Radio, until she had as a guest David Laibson, a professor of economics at Harvard University, who is on leave at the moment. Professor Laibson has just published a study of hidden fees and costs in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (with a co-author, Xavier Gabaix). One shouldn’t need an economist to point these out -- the real need is for a microscope to read fine print. The devil in the details. Or rather the usury in the details.

Robin herself had taken a beloved pet to the veterinarian where the bill turned out to be quite steep. Luckily, she was offered a very nice credit agreement, but she didn’t read it carefully. After a few months of conscientious payments, she missed one. The interest rate immediately skyrocketed. By that time the veterinarian had sold her account to a money company. They were not sympathetic.

When I moved into this house, I was pressed to take homeowner’s insurance but cautioned that if I missed a payment, my policy would be cancelled. I missed the fourth or fifth payment, which I suspect is what usually happened. But I had heard stories about this realtor and knew that most fatal flaws would show up in the first few months. (Blue flames shooting out of electrical outlets, etc!) So I was thinking of it as temporary anyway, while the insurance company was betting that nothing would go wrong for the first year. We both came out okay.

In this state car insurance is mandatory. I would get it anyway. People who wouldn’t get it anyway are only slightly more likely to pay for it at least long enough to get their paperwork set up. Otherwise, they go out there just as much a hazard as ever. It was the insurance companies that pushed the idea, though it was disguised as a public safety and wealth-protection measure.

I paid Staples late by a week on a thirty dollar account and was penalized twenty-five dollars. That’s the last time I used the account. It was all there in tiny fine print which I didn’t read. Same at Home Depot. An insurance payment check went astray -- put in the mail but never came out the other end. Suddenly my policy was cancelled, then -- after an explanation -- re-instated but with a “reinstatement fee.” Airplane tickets lately have been demanding a “fuel surcharge.” The telephone bill and the water and sewer are packed with mysterious charges. I was at the town council meeting where they decided to double the fee for turning water on or off -- for no reason except that “everything is more expensive nowadays and it’s a pain the neck to do it.”

Because Great Falls is a military town with Malmstrom Air Force Base being a big part of the economy, there is always a lot of military news in the paper. Lately there have been stories about the financial predators who specialize in young, inexperienced, strapped-for-cash military folks. People who give you an advance on your paycheck, or loan you money on your car title (keep on driving your car!), or give you rent-to-own furniture that ends up costing three times the normal price. Last week there was a story about a Congress “fed up” with such practices, so they have passed legislation that will cap interest at 36%. Bush is trying to decide whether to sign it and what reservations he will write into the little fine-print codicil that he always attaches.

Typing “usury” into Google brought up “usury” on Wikipedia where I really got the story. The three Abramic religions have all defined the charging of interest as usury, denounced as well by Plato, Aristotle, Cato, Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, and Guatama Buddha. The big three Abramics are interesting. The Christians hedged that there were certain circumstances when usury might be necessary. The Jews were forbidden to charge interest to other Jews but free to charge interest to any non-Jews. (Now there’s a good way to stir up resentment.)

Only Islam says NO always, anybody, any circumstances -- NO USURY. This gives us a clue about why they have not been eager participants in world trade or willing to join the dominant countries as clients. It also points to why it was the World Trade Towers that were a target.

Wiki says, “The historical rendition of usury as a vile enterprise stems not only from a spiritual view that charging exorbitant interest is a flagrant manifestation of unchecked greed, but carries with it social connotations of perceived “unjust” or “discriminatory” money-lending practices." Speak to that Mandan rancher over in the Dakotas who can’t get a low-cost government loan the same as the other local ranchers.

Saint Thomas Aquinas said expecting a loan to be repaid and then interest on top of that was like charging someone for a bottle of wine and then charging him again for drinking it. He must have been thinking of some restaurants who don’t have a liquor license but allow you to bring your own wine if you’ll pay a fee for them to open it.

It was John Calvin, that hard old Protestant who burned the Unitarian Michael Servetus at the stake, who opened the door to capitalism by defending interest charges. But Dante put usurers in the inner ring of the seventh circle of hell, below suicides but shared by blasphemers and sodomites. Ah. The movie business.

Racketeers must watch out for state laws which set usury rates -- it’s interest below that line and usury above -- but the feds don’t set a line. The military people need a law from the feds because they are in an island of jurisdiction, on federal military land like an Indian reservation. (Does that give you any ideas about why that Mandan rancher has a problem?) BUT the infamous RICO law meant for racketeers (not congressmen) defines “unlawful debt” as money lent at an interest rate more than two times the local state usury rate. Oh, yeah, it’s a federal offense to use violence or threats to collect interest, usurious or not. Though a Montana judge recently put a woman in jail for not paying her penalty as ordered by the court.

Lately a new wrinkle has developed through the credit monitoring businesses that have become so important. Companies are using credit ratings when they hire -- saying they want only reliable people who pay their bills. And the insurance industry has developed sliding scales so that anyone who has a bad credit record will have higher rates for insurance policies. (The problem of not paying off is a whole different sort of criminal behavior.)

The argument defending this usury is that of “freedom of trade,” which says that the person entered into the agreement voluntarily and any laws would be “restraint of trade,” hampering their ability to do business. In short, depriving someone of the right to volunteer for indentured servitude is denying them life options. After all, so many of our ancestors got to America this way.

There’s a lot more in the Wikipedia, valuable stuff that is hard to read and that I can’t paraphrase without possibly changing the meaning. Suffice it to say that we are now a nation built on usury. To stop interest, dividends, futures, stocks and bonds, returns on the many complex forms of investment we’ve devised which are little more than gambling, we would have to paralyze the country in its tracks. The momentum has us and there are no brakes.

It’s harder to get off the money grid than it is to get off the utilities grids. It may take a crash.

Friday, September 22, 2006

LION IN TOWN

“Dog catching” is not always about dogs. One morning early the janitor at Vestal Elementary School called us. “You aren’t going to believe this,” he said, “But there’s a camel tangled up in the swing set on our playground.” And there was. It had been picketed not far away, brought in for a promotion of Camel cigarettes. Luckily, the owner and keeper soon found it and led it off. None of us knew a darn thing about camels except that they were supposed to be cranky.

One of the more rural officers got a call to where a cow had broken through the badly maintained cover on a septic tank and was standing up to its neck in sewage. The officer drew himself up and said, “All right, I’ll be easy on you. I’ll give you until noon to get this cow out of there or I’ll write you the most expensive ticket you’ve ever imagined!” Then he made his business to be far away until after noon. The owner had hired a backhoe to lift his cow out, something he might have been reluctant to do without the incentive of a ticket. The officer didn’t ask how they got a bellyband under the cow.

Responding to a call of my own about chickens in traffic, I found two batches: six white leghorns and a dozen small banty hens, sure enough running around in the street. They had been bought for a farm, but left in a residential garage with a lot of feed which the optimistic owners thought would keep them there -- even with the door open -- until they could be transferred to the farm after work. Or maybe someone else had opened the garage door. I spent a half hour making a fool of myself chasing chickens around. They were full of food and needed exercise more than enticement. Beyond that, the leghorns would go in as a group and the banties would go in as a group, but both groups refused to go in at the same time. Then a boy came home from school and I told him HE had until rush hour to get those chickens in. I expect he quickly got his parents home. The complaint didn’t repeat.

Inevitably, we had a more daunting stray, an African lion. It was only a six-month-old female but it was already bigger than a German shepherd. The owner was a young gypsy man who had named it Jamalya. I lived not far from him and had walked past his yard when he had it out on a chain and it seemed quite tame. We talked about it at the shelter but we had no law that addressed lions at that point.

Jamalya appeared early in the morning at a local business. Lyon Moving Company had some employees picketing out front, but since the boss was not at work yet, the sympathetic front desk people had invited the picketers in for coffee. Just before they were ready to go back out, the lion peered in the front window. Police response was confused by the fact that it was a lion at the Lyon Moving Company, but they soon had a firm grip on one thing: this was obviously an animal control problem.

The first of our officers on the scene were Bill Lennox and Kathy Christopherson, the coolest and most appealing people we had. The media and the neighbors did not overwhelm them and they were able to keep the people away from the lion, although there was a lady who rushed up in a mini-pickup with a baby in her arms to tell us that she had once had a pet lion and knew all about what to do. It never occured to her that this particular lion might be different or that she might be endangering her baby.

When I arrived, I thought maybe by using her name I could get close enough to snap a leash to her collar. After all, I’d seen how tame she was. One giant paw with claws made a swipe at me, immortalized on the front page of the Oregonian the next day. An upset disoriented lion thinks quite differently than it would in her familiar place with a familiar person. We had had a case not long before when a man with a pet lion he trusted utterly had had his forearm laid open to the bone by one paw swipe. I decided I didn’t want blood on my nice clean dress.

By then Burgwin and Dr. Watts were there. I suggested getting the gypsy guy to come claim his pet. That was vetoed. Did we really want to give him back his lion when he clearly couldn’t keep it under control?

By now the lion had been hazed into a fenced pipeyard and had jumped into one of their huge bins of pipe fittings. We had a couple of daredevil officers and they made an attempt at roping her from overhead, climbing out on the roof of the bins. Didn’t work.

So now Dr. Watts got out his trusty air-powered tranquillizer gun. I’d brought the zoo veterinarian in for a workshop and he had gotten us started, helped us pick out the rifle, taught us to operate us, coached us while we shot up a pile of cardboard boxes with animals drawn on them, and cautioned us of the dangers. For instance, it’s a major mistake to tranquillize a horse anywhere you don’t want it to lie down and pass out, like in the middle of a bridge. And the dosage of tranquillizer for horses, aside from relating to the weight of the animal which has to be guessed -- sometimes in the dark -- completely changes if the animal has been runnning and scared. Our policy was that only the veterinarian could use the gun and luckily Dr. Watts turned out to be a decent shot. Anyway, he was the only one able to calculate the dosage of the meds.

One outfit I had called when researching was a game farm in Florida where the owner bellowed jovially, “Hey, come on down and we’ll practice on the critters we’ve got. If you accidentally kill one, we’ll eat it that night.” Everyone forgets that one of the more formidable guns Lewis and Clark took along was an air gun. The zoo vet explained that one of the quandaries was that the best place to get the drug into muscle was the hip, but there is a huge vulnerable nerve (the sciatic nerve, which you know about if yours has ever been inflamed) running down the middle of the hip and it could be permanently damaged. He’d been a quarter-of-an-inch off once when trying to tranquillize a giraffe and it limped forever after. The public is unforgiving about such misadventures.

In Montana I lived next to Glacier National Park when the rangers were just beginning to tranquillize bears instead of killing them. I’d heard the stories about how if they pumped up the pressure a little too high, their tranq dart went right on through the bear, killing it as effectively as lead. One of the first victims was a little female black bear with a cub. The rangers said she stood up to see what they were doing, took the dart in her chest, put her paws on her bosom just a person would, and keeled over dead. They felt awful. And they were afraid to try to tranq the cub until they figured out what went wrong so they had to spend days trapping it.

But Dr. Watts and a few others had practiced enough to feel fairly confident. The problem was what drugs to use for a half-grown lion, how to figure the dosage, and how long the interval would be before she woke up and started demolishing the truck. Luckily it all worked. She didn’t wake up until she was safely in Dr. Watts’ sick bay, which were the only kennels with a lid and no outside access.

But then what does one do with a lion in a dog shelter? What do you feed a lion? (Some suggested small dogs. No one laughed.) Actually, we just went up to the zoo and bought a sack of lion chow. Then who’s going to clean up the “processed” lion chow? I’d read an article about lion excrement, which claimed it came in neat round balls, something like horse manure. The article was accurate. In fact, the zoo bagged up its lion and elephant manure and sold it as “zoo doo” for gardens, especially good for tropical plants. And stray animals stayed out of the yard.

It turned out that since I’d bragged about how seeing how tame she was and since I’d raised bobcats in Montana, I was delegated to clean the lion cage. I went in with a squeegee on a very long handle, which scared the cub so much she leapt straight up in the air. The hair on both of us also stood straight up. I made the shelter supervisor stand just outside the sick bay door watching through the window in case Jamalya tore my throat out. She asked what she was supposed to do if that happened, but I had no answer. Not my problem.

Months before I’d gone to LA to visit friends and bargained with the county to rent me a car down there if I would go interview LA’s animal control and bring back ideas. Their “special ops” guy was a former Marine, waiting to finish a degree in night school so he could be a regular police officer. At least it started out that way, but like so many of us, he got so fascinated that he kept putting off the transition over to the police.

He told me that they averaged five lions a year and that they were not much trouble. Mostly trained and docile -- valuable enough in the movie business that their owners were right after them. What they hated in LA was ostriches, emus and the like. The big brainless birds could disembowel a human with one swift swipe of a clawed foot -- descended from dinosaurs, you know. One of the officers had actually gotten an immigrant Argentinean to teach him how to use a bolla, one of those sets of three heavy balls connected by rope which one throws to entangle feet. Then all you had to worry about was their beaks, but you could throw a blanket over their heads.

The lion’s gypsy owner finally emerged from hiding and began working to get his lion back while we stalled. It was decided to transfer the animal to an exotic animal shelter, she was loaded, and the lone animal control officer with police driving training was delegated to drive along to run interference. But the gypsies did follow closely enough to find out where the lion was taken and finally managed to get Jamalya back, mostly by paying all costs and promising to never bring her back to the county.

Then we began to hear rumors that the local “Black Panthers,” which were active at that time, had gotten themselves a mascot actual black panther, far more untameable than a lion. It never appeared.

Late one night a cougar was hit by a car, right in town, and knocked unconscious. The officer on call was Renee, who had trouble with the people present. One of them was a woman who insisted she wanted to cradle the cougar’s head in her lap while it recovered. In the end a sheriff’s deputy had to stand by, both in case the cougar came up slashing and to keep sentimental women at bay. It took a little help to get the cougar into the truck and this time they didn’t bring it back to the shelter. In fact, when it seemed to have recovered, except for being a bit groggy, it was released into appropriate habitat.

Another time a burglar broke into a very nice house and was so disconcerted to be met by both a doberman pinscher and a pet cougar, its playmate, that he left by the front door, failing to secure it behind them. It was a bright moonlight night and the pals were having a wonderful time chasing each other around the well-manicured lawns of the elegant neighborhood when both animal control and the animal owners arrived. The doberman was whistled into the house and the cougar followed, much to everyone’s relief. Some thought both animals ought to have been shot and others were quite charmed by the image of the animals in the moonlight on the grass.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

THE ECOLOGY OF ANIMAL CONTROL

It’s been a long time since I’ve really thought about animals on the animal control level. In the last decade I’ve thought more about environmental issues and things like “deep ecology,” which is about as unsentimental as a person can get. Deep ecology tries to understand how the world works AS ITSELF without any human preferences or controls. For me it was a good antidote for the constant panic over the world ending, at least as we know it. As legitimate and even desirable as it may be for big strong male enviro-writers to stand at the microphone and burst into tears, as they have been doing in the past few years, it makes me uncomfortable. I’d rather be a bit stoic and detached, but not tolerant of what is unnecessarily destructive

We’re obsessing about the nation falling to pieces, democracies dying all over the planet, global warming changing everything, plagues cutting the population in half (now AIDS in Africa, bird flu soon to arrive in America), and even asteroids hitting us. Even the people in denial about all that are busy maxing out their credit cards for status items, using up all the oil in the world before someone else gets it, eating themselves into diabetes, drinking themselves into comas, and destroying all their stable relationships by asserting their right to do whatever they want to. All because of knowing that dinosaurs came and went, glaciers came and went, and we, too, as individuals and as a species will probably come and go.

The Buddhists already knew this. But the big three Abramic religions are thriving on the promotion of escape through death to a Heaven they sponsor and control while all the time insisting on a bigger share of the real estate in this time/space continuum. They have a lot of stylistic similarities which is why, like sibs, they are often at war. It’s kind of nice to not talk about God but, in a reverse, talk about Dog for a while.

When I read through some of the NACA material (www.nacanet.org) I saw that, predictably, they are pretty much focussed on urban situations. Rural settings are a bit different but usually don’t have animal control as separate entities anyway. Rural deputy sheriffs function as animal control officers as well as pretty much anything else that comes at them. Livestock inspector. Midwife. Highway accidents. Welfare checks. The deputies here do a bit of teen counselling. More like the RCMP than beat cops.

It seems as though rural situations or just the idea of differing ecologies is worth looking at. For instance, here in the small reservation towns close to the mountains, loose dogs in the street help control unwanted bear and cougar visitors, especially at night. (But then some of these big ferocious dogs have been known to kill pets or even a child.) Helena, the capital of Montana and a respectable city; Missoula, a major university town; and Fort Benton, an historic river town, have become invaded by deer trying to survive the last six years or so of drought by coming to watered lawns. The deer have lived in backyards for so long, mating and giving birth there, that they have begun to think of it as theirs and try to run people out. People have been gored, slashed with front hooves, and chased under or on top of cars. Rather than hunting the deer, which has been tried to some degree, maybe it would be better to run a pack of Irish or Russian wolfhounds through the streets now and then -- tall dogs who can run fast.

NACA encourages the licensing and confinement of cats, but here in Valier where there are grain bins and elevators right in town and the wheat fields come up to the houses at the edge of town, small rodents are still best controlled by cats. They aren’t feral so much as they are a community service, a good alternative to poison. In nearby oil towns free-range cats might not be such a good idea, eating more garbage than mice. In Valier where a good share of the population is retired, small companion animals like cats or small dogs are a pretty good idea and tend to stick right around their owners who are always there. In the oil towns where there are many single men working, following jobs across the country, there might be a desire to keep big dogs as companions, but fewer resources for confining dogs since they may be living in motels or trailers. Heavy drinking and hot tempers can be hard on dogs.

I had not thought much about people who hunt with hawks and hounds until I began reading “Querencia,” Stephen Bodio’s blog about his birds and dogs. The hawks and hounds need open space but they are not out of control or preying on humans. (stephenbodio.blogspot.com) The government has somehow (homeland security?) developed a mania about listing and registering all these animals, forcing computer chip implants or tattooing on the birds of pigeon hobbyists. Other groups hunt with terriers, an old sport, which consists of the terrier chasing something down a hole and then the sportsmen digging up the burrow. Doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s certainly aerobic! I’ve never seen a law about it. Maybe something about the resulting holes as a hazard. The point is that a lot is going on out there that isn’t in the public mind at all.

Dogs that appeal to criminals are pretty hard to regulate by passing laws. If laws worked on criminals, the world would be quite different. The best approach is to eliminate the social niches where such people accumulate: rundown housing, bad economic prospects, ghetto enclaves, drug use hangouts, and so on: their ecology.

Recently there has been a fashion for very small dogs as accessories for women: held in the arms, carried in special bags, or possibly on leashes -- maybe more than one dog. I’ve witnessed several slashing, snarling miniature dogfights. I suspect any attempt at passing a law about such a phenomenon would be a flop, but pity the poor headwaiters.

When we overhauled the Multnomah County animal laws, we took a whole year and combed through (we thought) every possibility. Then we went to public hearings, thinking we could cruise through, but hit a speed bump: bees. It turned out that we’d left in some old-fashioned laws about bees and the beekeepers were “mad as hornets.” It didn’t help that they all seemed to be ancient former ministers of churches, virtuous and eloquent. We had some quick rewriting to do. We didn’t want to alienate the beekeepers, of all people, because every summer we got several frantic calls about bees that had swarmed, moving en masse to find a new home for a new queen. The beekeepers always came calmly, suited up in coveralls and veiled hats, and took away the menacing buzzing horde. WE didn’t want to have to do it!

The moral from all this is that a jurisdiction is usually drawn by law and has a clear edge. Who is in charge of what within that jurisdiction is also ideally determined by laws that are clear and appropriate. But real life is always an ecology and ecologies are dynamic, always interdependent and changing both creatures and the forces that shape them. What might be ideal here could create havoc there. And last year’s laws might not work this year.

Burgwin’s practice was to gather the 6 or 7 supervisors regularly to “download” them and brainstorm what would be an improvement. It worked pretty well. Years later I worked at the Bureau of Buildings, very similar except dealing with noise, garbage, slum landlords, weeds and illegal building instead of animals. That group was asked to meet as a whole, maybe thirty people, and was supposed to bring treats. (If you let secretaries have anything to do with anything, they organize the bringing of treats.) It was a disaster. The head manager was a woman who badly wanted to be liked. There were games, show-boating, punishments, and suck-ups. The only thing it encouraged was secrecy and avoidance. So the first ecology to be addressed is the one at home, starting at the top. If you don’t have a manager who inspires confidence, you have a garden without sunlight. Then nothing can grow to fit the space.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A QUICK CHECK LIST OF NA WRITERS

This short list is a quick handout for a panel at the Montana Festival of the Book on the 29 of September in Missoula. I'm white, but these are the NA writers who have impressed me over the past couple of decades.

One of the major issues has been whether non-Indians should or could write about Indians. Because the definition of an Indian is so complex (blood, culture, rez-idence, passion, etc.) the whole matter has kind of died down to embers, but it flares back up now and then, as in the case of Ward Churchill.

The more important issue, to my mind, has been why there was such a storm of writing for a while, but then it all sort of fizzled out. I feel confident that if you read the work of this list of people, you'd just want more and more of it, though one book is not like the next. You'll have to find them online, but that's very possible.

Warning: may contain white men/women

ASSIMILATED TO THE FICTION SHELVES
These three writers are known to people who don’t even think of Native American writing, but just like a good yarn. They are best selling and are normally shelved with regular novels. The media loves them and often does stories about them.
Louise Erdrich
James Welch, Jr.
M. Scott Momaday

TRAGEDIES
Both of these men, young, handsome and educated professors, crashed in suicide, giving great pain to the many who loved them, both readers and students.
Louis Owens
Michael Dorris

MONTANA
Not nearly so well known as they ought to be, both writers are professors as well as writers.
Debra Magpie Earling
Sidner Larson

CANADA
Both of these very popular men do satire with flair and bite. Kinsella is white.

Thomas King
W. Kinsella

DIVAS
Proud and competent, these powerful writers are people you want on your side.

Elizabeth Woodie
Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

WOUNDED KNEE
Both writers were there and told about it afterwards.

Delphine Red Shirt
Russell Means

WARRIORS
Woody was both in Vietnam and Wounded Knee, Phillip was in Vietnam, and Silko wrote the archetypal war-recovery novel.
Woody Kipp
Phillip Red Eagle
Leslie Marmon Silko

WISE MEN
Joe and Carter have been guides and encouragers for many NA writers. Joe’s family operated a press for many years. Both are extraordinary writers and people.
Joseph Bruchac
Carter Revard

PROPHETS
These guys really come out swinging and land their punches. Churchill turns out to be white but an honorary member of a tribe so he can sell his “Indian” art without being arrested, since it is illegal for whites to misrepresent “Indian” art.
Joe Giago
Vine Deloria, Jr. (Gone now and much missed!)
Ward Churchill

POWER WOMEN
Harjo plays the sax. Susan writes about grass dancing.
Jo Harjo
Susan Power

OUTRAGEOUS POETS
Everyone knows Sherman. Louis is the author of “Skins,” which became a movie. Few know Marie who often does a stand-up act in Vancouver, B.C., and is wilder than the men.
Sherman Alexie
Adrian Louis
Marie Annharte Baker



Go to Abebooks or Alibris and Google these names. You won’t be sorry!



Compiled off the top of the head of Mary Scriver

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

DOGS IN GREAT FALLS, MONTANA

Today’s Great Falls Tribune front page ran two stories that play right into my hands! Just what I needed to compare and contrast humane societies with animal control units. One story is about the GF Humane Society falling short of their animal control contract with the city and the other is about the Sweetgrass port of entry officers who ended up with five unwanted snakes. The photo with the humane society story shows a nice lady in an apron (a mom) giving a kitty some medicine. The story about the border crossing showed the biggest and scariest snake, a five foot python.

I don’t think it was accidental that the two stories were published side-by-side or that the sharply rebuking story was illustrated with a kindly image while the “humane” story (the callousness of keeping snakes for pets and then abandoning them when they are inconvenient) had a menacing illustration. (Well, if you like snakes, it wasn’t menacing -- but for most people...) The Tribune seems to have a policy of publishing a “positive” story every time they publish a “negative” story -- at least that’s the way they address Native Americans. I have no doubt that they get a lot of flak otherwise or even in spite of the strategy.

Two conflicting but very common alternative practices have confused animal control functions. One is that historically when a sheriff was assigned the duty of stray dogs, he [sic] conventionally sighed and picked out his least effective deputy -- maybe someone old or fat or a beginner or a screw-up -- and just assigned all that "trivial" stuff to the one unfortunate guy. After all, there are two things you can do wrong if you’re a “dog catcher.” One is catching a dog and the other is NOT catching a dog. Both make someone angry.

The other practice is making a contract with the local humane society to assume animal control duties. After all, humane societies are nonprofit, usually relatively powerless in terms of making political trouble, well-meaning, and already maintaining a kennel. And the local humane societies usually need the money. But they have no training in law enforcement, much less experience with animals beyond dogs and cats. Things can go badly wrong.

A case related in the snake story was in Kalispell a month or so ago when a boy unexpectedly met a five-foot alligator. (Must I point out that ‘gators are not native to the Flathead Valley?) For lack of an efficient protocol and response, the locals shot the ‘gator with an arrow, tied its snout shut with fish line, and ineffectively cut its throat. “Federal officials” ended up shooting the beast. What would you do? The reporter doesn’t say who’s in charge of scary wandering reptiles, except that the five big snakes (airplane ride, anyone?) were sent to a rescue mission in Zortman, essentially a humane society.

Law enforcement is Dad -- humane societies are Mom. So they have drifted into being in our gender-preoccupied society. One is official and one is volunteer. If a volunteer tries to do law-enforcement, they become either a joke or a menace -- at the very least a confusion. Just like today’s gender issues.

So Father Great Falls (which incidentally has a female mayor, Dona Stebbins) called the humane society on the carpet, or as the headline writer had it, “rode herd” on them. (Headline writers can’t resist animal metaphors, jokes and puns.) They just weren’t rising to the “level of service” the city expects. The city expects 74 hours per week of “patrolling” while HS people had only been patrolling 61. No description of “patrolling” which -- in my opinion -- is one of the most ineffective methods of creating change. The numbers suggest one or two officers wandering around in a rather sizeable city. Thirteen hours more -- a day and a half?

The president of the society (James Donahue, a man) said he “does not believe the society will have any trouble meeting the city’s demands.” He thinks that complaints “just come with the territory.” The city has given the humane society sixty days to shape up. The society’s board is down from nine members to five. One member actually “cursed!” Good grief! Last year the deficit was $2,500 and this year it’s $30,000. The interim president, Christian Cornelius, had eliminated paid membership. The city has not been receiving financial reports. The HS said they didn’t think they were required. Donahue admits, “We don’t pay very well because we don’t have much income.”

Police Captain Dave Bowen says all animal complaint forms should be countersigned by the supervisor. The City Manager John Lawton says he has gotten complaints about both officers and attendants being understaffed and untrained. Police Chief Corky Grove says if the HS doesn’t shape up, they will “start proceedings to cancel the contract.” (I’ll bet his fingers are crossed that he won’t inherit the job.)

The National Animal Control Association is exactly the right organization to address this mess. They have a website, they have people who know how to work with police and train AC officers in their methods, they work with humane societies, esp. the ones who have contracts to enforce animal laws or provide kennel support, and they’ve been down this trail over and over. But no one knows they exist.

The big national humane societies -- the ASPCA, the HSUS, the AHA, and so on -- make a lot of noise and get a lot of publicity, even if it’s pretty silly (which undermines the efforts of animal control). The NACA members are busy trying to get their work done. But the NACA members would like to have some of the friendly feeling that accrues to humane societies, so they hesitate to separate themselves very much. Everyone loves Mom. Not so sure about Dad when he’s a disciplinarian.

This situation repeats itself all over the country. But there is no need for it. Education is the answer and education exists. It’s just a matter of some Googling and phone calls.

Another continuing story in the GF Tribune is a phone directory that left out a lot of important numbers. There is a small alternative “community directory” with all the government listings that were left out of the main one. The reporter says approvingly, “The dogcatcher’s listing also is just that, dogcatcher and pound.” Sigh.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

ATTACHMENT

When I began to think about how to educate new officers, I had a lot of wild ideas and Burgwin was pretty tolerant about just letting me try them out. Sometimes the people over his head didn’t think I was conventional enough, but he believed experiments were worth while. One of his best was rotating new people through every job to keep them from getting hierachical, thinking officers were better. Officers mucked out kennels, shelter attendants rode along in the field a couple of times, everyone filed dog license records alphabetically. That’s the job everyone hated most. It was surprising how many didn’t know their alphabet and had to have a cheater alongside.

One of my best ideas -- though it bugged some people -- came from evening classes I was taking towards a clinical psychology degree, though it wasn’t turning out to be what I thought it was. I took a class called “Motivation” -- that oughta be good useful stuff, right? But it was about why rats get hungry or thirsty -- what part of their brains were involved, what the chemical metabolic sequences were and how we know. Nevertheless, I learned how behavioral psychologists sat and observed animals -- such as monkeys in a zoo -- with a clipboard holding charts where they made a hashmark every time the animal did something specific. Made a noise, swung by an arm, swatted a neighbor, ate something, threw something -- etc. Someone remarked to me offhand how fond of the observed animal the observer became.

So I asked each new hire to take a chair out to the kennels, pick a dog, and record everything it did on a chart I made. They had to stay out there continuously watching and making marks for a half-hour. Then they were supposed to come back and write a short report about what kind of a personality the dog had, where they thought it had come from, what might have shaped it, and so on. Nine times out of ten they wanted to adopt the dog. Of course, most of the dog’s behavior was courting the attention of the person! “Love me, love me! And I’ll love you forever!” That’s how dogs make their living.

That tenth person was worrisome. And if they picked an unlikeable dog to say negative things about, that was worrisome. And, of course, at that point we found out whether they could organize a decent report with readable handwriting and conventional spelling.

Attachment seems to be natural mammal behavior in many species, but not all. Leopards, for instance, are only attached -- even to their cubs -- long enough to raise them. But for most people and most dogs, to be in close physical contact with another living being, especially when sharing food or sleep, is to fall in love. An urge to protect, to praise, to guide is as natural as it is for a parent with a child. This appears to be hard-wired, but supported by life-experiences. It’s healthy. Old people, single people, lonesome people, ill people, are all helped by relationships with animals. They smile; their blood pressure goes down. In an old-folks’ nursing home in Montana where I worked briefly, the head nurse -- who also was a rancher -- would bring a couple of calves to put in the enclosed courtyard so that the patients, many of them also ranchers, could enjoy their antics. There were fewer arguments on those days.

Human beings can attach to other species and animals can attach, too. Race horses often acquire a buddy: a cat who sleeps on their back, a chicken who perches on their stall door, a goat who sleeps with them. The most extreme case I ever heard of was a lioness who insisted on adopting a baby antelope, though she couldn’t suckle it. She cleaned it and curled warmly around it. I knew a lady who had a black lab that brought home ducklings, herding them along in front of her. The lady had to feed them, but the dog snuggled them at night. It’s got to be chemicals and wiring -- hormones and neurons -- but for humans there’s often a kind of symbolic level in which animals mean more than just themselves.

Unfortunately for cats, this is two-edged: on the one hand they are like babies, small and cuddley, but on the other hand they are devils with fiery eyes and sharp claws. Some people can hardly keep their hands off any cat, wanting to smooth and praise their little soft round heads. Other people want only to shoot them, seeing them as predators who kill birds. This is reflected in the laws about cats, which sometimes define them as an agricultural good that eliminates rodents and other times define them as feral, predatory, no better than weasels, legal to kill. When a person kills a demon cat that happens to be someone’s angel baby, the emotional collision is huge. Collars with bells and so on might help and might not. I always remember the man in hunting season who went out and painted “C-O-W” on the side of his prized Jersey in dayglo red paint. It was shot in the middle of the O.

It’s hard to know whether deliberate killing of animals is increasing or not. When I was in elementary school there was a boy who tortured cats, but we weren’t supposed to talk about it. Now many tragic things are put in the newspaper. Recently at a campground in Montana a man blew up because a chocolate lab pup kept coming over to his camp. He shot it, chainsawed the head off and threw the head into the camp of the family whose pet it was. It was a felony. He is serving his jail time now. We read about kids who get bored with paint ball vandalism and switch over to shooting sheep or horses along the roads. It’s worse when the animals aren’t killed outright but die slowly. Are they physiologically and emotionally unable to attach to other living things? Or is there some kind of internal storm that destroys their ability to understand what they’re doing? Or is it just that they can afford guns and cars in a world where no one checks to see what they are doing? Damaged kids now simply have the means to do more than kick dogs.

One of my other ploys for education was to get other entities that dealt with animals to come talk to us. I had a hard time persuading the Primate Center to come and they certainly didn’t want us to go there. It’s very hard to even hear about their experiments with head injuries or starvation of babies, though they are meant to produce information that will help with treatment of trauma victims or with recovery strategies for starved human babies. They came in full of self-protective arrogance, but were surprised when we listened. Their attachments to their animals were far more difficult to handle than ours, and they WERE there. On both sides, we sat with folded arms, battling our preconceptions with varying success.

Maybe we should have had clipboards and charts to make hashmarks on.

PHILANTHROPY AIN'T JUST A FANCY WORD

This is a guest blog by Darrell Kipp, a friend of mine and a well-known figure around here. He was asked to give a short bit of advice at a conference in Big Sky and when I read it, I thought it was so good, I asked to print it here.

Prairie Mary




Philanthropy ain’t just a fancy word. It is a way of life. A lifestyle where rejection and reward wear the same coat. It can be as surreal as waiting to catch a flight home with a quarter-of-a-million-dollar check in your wallet, and just enough cash to buy gas at the other end to get back to the reservation. It can demand extreme patience and conjuring. It can prompt one to move one’s desk (hoping for a change of luck) across the room after receiving over forty rejection notices replying to carefully composed query letters; then moving it back again when the rejection count approaches one hundred. Today my desk appears to be misplaced against an entrance door and visitors questioned the odd location, but this is where -- in desperation -- I pushed it the day before a large national foundation finally informed us of a major grant award. The desk sits askew, marking the long awaited day, and there it will stay. My advice is to make sure everyone knows where the good luck spot is within the office.

As a stalwart professor of the English language, my use of the colloquialism “ain’t” is in fact purposeful. It is my way of saying that nothng is as it’s supposed to be. There is no correct way, better way, or The Way in philanthropy circles. Granted there are signs to be observed -- or ignored -- but always keep the word “fickle” present in one’s vocabulary and state of mind. Also remember that one of the fallacies of all time is assuming that simply getting a grant will fill the coffers. A grant application can often turn out to be worth only slightly more than the paper it is written on. Likewise, while a response to a query letter means a knock on the door has registered, that might be a cheap thrill quickly ended upon reading the enclosed rejection notice. Rejection is best summed up as the body/mind crash occurring when the fair damsel rejects one’s offer to dance; or in her case, when no one asks. Treat rejection letters as a part of the mechanics of making a contact and accept that with it comes the adage, “If you don’t ask, you for sure get nothing.” My solo piloting of one of Piegan Institute’s major funding campaigns brought in several million dollars, and while this may be construed as a boastful statement, it also must be mentioned that a huge and replete collection of rejection letters and phone calls came with the effort.

Let me digress back to the notion that philanthropy ain’t just a fancy word. Philanthropy does have a set of rules, but many program officers aren’t any clearer as to what they are than those seeking funding. I break it down to this: philanthropy is a little two-piece heart locket, the kind where the pieces when put together form a complete heart representing love, caring, sharing, goodwill and partnership. The foundation is one piece and the fund seeker is the other. One has money, the other a dream and workers. Together they form a tangible unit seeking solutions to the many ‘what ifs” nonprofits deal with. Notice that both pieces are equally important. Half a locket is no locket.

Approach program officers and foundation boards with a sense of equal status. Although there are times the atmosphere is intimidating, it is important not to negotiate from a beggar’s point of view. It is recommended one be clear of mind: possess an abundance of pertinent information supporting one’s request. Present what is needed clearly and concisely, with an attitude of developing a partnership or, even better, a friendship. Speak from the heart to what is needed; nothing more, nothing less.

In our first major fund-raising campign, we actually turned down offers of small grant awards, knowing they couldn’t get us to where we needed to be in five years. Where we needed to be in five years dictated what we asked for, and what we accepted. We were building a private school with all the attributes of ambience and structure appropriate to what we deemed as a solution befitting our children. We pushed aside offers to renovate an abandoned house because we knew you can get what you want and not just what you need. What we wanted was a beautiful, well-designed, furnished private school on ten city lots, landscaped with trees and lawn and surrounded with a dignified wooden fence. This private school is now the home of our tribal language, The Blackfeet Language, maybe its last home, so it was our collective wish to make it a place worthy for our language to be nurtured and revitalized. We needed five million dollars to make it so. Car washes, raffles, and bake sales wouldn’t do, so we went out into the world to get it. Also, we put our hearts, minds, every ounce of expertise, labor and planning into mustering the very best we could into our program.

Our town sits in the middle of a county listed as the 35th of the hundred poorest in the United States of America. Our family income average is the lowest in the country, so we knew our community could not provide the funds we needed. although their generosity was never questioned. Our tribal government offered ample moral support, but was overwhelmed with the needs of our growing tribal populace. The writer Charles Bukowski wrote, “I do not glorify poverty, nor do I apologize for it.” We do not apologize for being without financial resources, but speak only about solutions and assume foundations should know poverty exists on the Indian reservation.

We took the high road and today we are glad for doing so. We now have, for the first time in fifty years, children able to speak our language again, and a permanent place for future generations to do so also. Today, our school is lauded as the model of tribal language revitalization nationwide and countless tribal delegations visit year round to adopt the model. We share everything with them, every “how to” we know of, every trick in the book, so they might succeed like we did, because fifteen years ago the Native Hawaiians did so with us. Our version of sharing, networking, non-competitiveness, and a spiritual alignment led us to formulate the following rules.

Never beg for what you must have to meet your needs, but know for sure what your real needs are.

Think in terms of how your work will revitalize your tribe, not just your program. Building a new and beautiful school without government funds was important to us because it proved it can be done by impoverished communities and, most of all, it is a noticeable improvement in our run-down town.

Never ask permission to begin a revitalization movement. Get the few who share your dream and go with them. Don’t elect boards and don’t subject willing helpers to some archaic hierarchical model of management. School board, tribal council, and advisory board management models often are the only ones Indian communities are familiar with. Your organization should avoid replicating these models because they are contentious and often self-destructive. A three-person board, the legal minimum for a nonprofit, operating on a group consensus, can provide a more effective and fluid nonprofit management model.

Never debate with outsiders the important issues your dreams address.

When the naysayer arrives, tell them to leave you alone and send them off to play bingo.

Learn through process and action how to succeed.

Last of all, show, don’t tell.
Show with tangible results what your group can do. Don’t be going around “telling” everyone what you are “going” to do: just do it and let the results speak for your group.

There were only a small number of us in our original chartered group twenty years ago. The first thing we did, although we had no money, was to hire a Certified Public Accounting firm to handle our financial records and keep us in excellent standing with the IRS. This is our hallmark today, and probably one of the most important factors in our securing grant awards. Also, with strong program documentation the gossip mongers who like to throw around the words “indictment, fraud and mismanagement” are effectively silenced. We made it clear to our people that we are not mercenaries or exploiters of our tribal language.

Make friends of your critics and lifelong friends of your acquaintances.

A reservation nonprofit without a “hot” mailing list is neglecting an integral part of its existence. The list should only include people who have visited the program, been a participant in an organizational activity, or in some way shown an interest in the work of the group. A well-maintained Guest Book is a key factor in gathering the names of potential donors. Put your affluent community friends on the list and if they fail to respond, go to their house and demand to know why they are holding back. Your minimal goal is a thousand names of national, regional and local people considered friendly enough to assist without lengthy entreaties. Remember those are people with whom your organization has a personal relationship and they will donate significantly more than some purchased set of names or people contacted by a hired fund-raising company. Once a year send them a personally signed letter with a picture and return envelope. Maintain this list ritually and try to expand it every year.

Today our buildings, land and equipment are debt-free. We rely more on the donor list and the small grant awards we once set aside. In the past twenty years my life has been an integral part of our private nonprofit fulfillment of our dream of revitalizing our tribal language. There have been countless rewards and setbacks, but I praise the Creator for the guidance, blessing, and good fortune we enjoy.

Today I join you so we hopefully can share what works in our Indian communities. We are not of the mainstream and we are not on the radar screen of the majority of foundations. Many of the inherent precepts of modern day philanthropy run counter to Indian ways of giving, sharing and asking for hep. Yet I learned through experience that the basic concept is an honorable one and dealt with the incongruities while maintaining a respectful adherence to both over the years. Nonprofit organizations can do a great deal to fill in the gaps and voids left by overburdened tribal governments. They are an excellent way for community people to acquire what they truly want and need. Indian communities are also shamefully underserved by the philanthropic community and only we can change that.

I wish you all the luck and good fortune in our endeavors because our dreams are powerful and only we as Indian people can make them truthful realities.

Darrell Robes Kipp
Big Sky, Montana
Summer, 2006

Unyihee.

Friday, September 15, 2006

BUT CRITTER GETTER IS "CUTE"

But Mary, don't you think "Animal Control Officer" is a tad militant? I much favor "critter getter." Maybe, "County Critter Getter" if it has to have an official ring.

By leading off with a lot of funny and even touching stories about me as a sort of tousled, squishing, smudged female who can’t keep a crease, I’ve led some credulous and inexperienced folks into the recurring trap of trivializing the work of the animal control officer. Some jurisdictions have begun to refer to animal “regulation” or animal “support services,” since so many people seem to resent the idea of control, and some have even tried to speak of “animal wardens” as though their work were a kind of “park in the city” duty. But the role of the animal control officer is irreducibly to BE an officer, an officer of the court, that is, with law enforcement powers -- sometimes the power to arrest and sometimes with authorization to carry a weapon. That’s why they wear a uniform and a badge.

Certainly animal control officers are authorized to use deadly force against animals and maybe, in very extreme circumstances, humans. They are not “critter getters.” Impounding live animals, picking up dead animals, and intervening in violent circumstances involving animals are incidental to enforcing legal human behavior involving animals. If a human is troublesome enough, that person can be arrested and transported, though often the police will be called to do the job, since it requires special training, procedures (handcuffs in all cases), and a properly equipped vehicle (protection between back seat and driver, doors that don’t open from the inside). Where I live now, a village in Montana, animal laws are enforced by the ordinary deputy sheriffs. It’s only in high population settings, like cities, that it becomes a specialized job.

Some people don’t take court orders based on the decisions of a judge in an animal case very seriously, failing to show up or to do what the judge has ordered. In such a case, the judge issues a bench warrant for contempt of court and the citizen can be arrested, at least long enough to post bail. A warrant is not something you want to show up in a computer away from home on a Saturday night with the kids in the car when you’re stopped for something minor like a tail light out.

Some variation on the cute phrase, “Critter Getters,” is often used as a catchy business name for nuisance abatement companies who pursue rats or hornets. It would not be legal for them to impound dogs unless they immediately took them to the authorized governmental point of detention (pound) so that the owners would be able to find them. The idea is to find the owners. If no owner can be found, then the dog can be put up for adoption. If no one wants to adopt it, the dog might be euthanized. Not all dogs are owned, not all dogs are wanted, not all dogs are good pets.

Enforcing animal-related law is not different than enforcing any other kind of law, like theft or abuse. It has three “layers.” The first is consensus on what the law ought to be, which is written down somewhere, whether county or city ordinances, state law, interstate law, or treaty international law. Ideally, this is developed by the citizens themselves deciding what their own constituency/community sees as boundaries -- not necessarily what ideal behavior might be (defining that is the work of the humane society) but what is simply intolerable.

Second, the court (with or without the help of a jury) must decide when questions about whether the incident in question is actually an infraction and, if so, what the penalty ought to be. Third, the officer is the person who, in Burgwin’s phrase, "takes names and writes reports." That’s the part of the exercise that really counts, NOT the impoundment of the animal, which is only to keep property safe and to keep others safe from the property which confusingly has a mind of its own when it’s an animal.

An officer has considerable leeway in the field, just like any policeman. He or she could pretend not to see anything; give a verbal warning, with or without a record; write a ticket worth fines and even jail time; or call for unquestioned backup from regular law enforcement. In some places an officer can, on the spot, kill dogs harassing livestock or kill livestock for purposes of euthanasia or to protect humans. An officer who did things that were unjustified or crooked would risk being fired.

A high priority is always the protection of the safety of the property in custody (animals). In some cases an officer must guarantee a chain of custody in the same way as weapons or drugs that are involved in an arrest. For instance, an officer might be asked to testify that a vicious pit bull caught in the act of fighting for gambling is indeed the one in custody, though very often by the time the case comes to court the dog has grown fat and mellow in the shelter. In short, an animal control officer is a policeman PLUS the extra duties contingent on involving animals.

Annie Dillard once remarked that we are constantly building altars to itty-bitty gods. We don’t seem to be able to get hold of sweep, dimension, universality, transcendence. Instead we tread in our familiar little circles, taking everything for granted, trying to replicate yesterday when we plan tomorrow. We are no less this way when we try to understand our society, our culture, our way of relating to non-human but nevertheless living beings.

Last night I watched the second season of “Cracker,” the intense and challenging British murder mystery in which the “Cracker” of the title is a psychologist who can “see into” what people are thinking. This particular episode, called “To Be Somebody,” is about a trivial man who demands honor, so he begins to kill people. (This has become so common as to be banal, though never less than tragic.) One of the investigating policemen interviews him but because he has a cat with a set of kittens he has not had the heart to drown, the detective thinks he couldn’t possibly be a bad man or a killer. If he couldn’t even kill a little kitten, how could he kill another human being? Cracker is disgusted. “Everytime I hear this kind of stuff, I recognize it for what it is,” he spits contemptuously. “Pure sentimentality.” But the media reinforces it over and over, except in some counter-conventional context like “Cracker.”

It is similar sentimentality to define an “animal control officer” as “militant” -- that is, (dictionary definitions) 1. "actively engaged in war, fighting,” or 2. “aggressive or combative, esp. in support of a cause.” -- simply because his or her charge is to keep order, and because that charge includes removing animals from the street. It is the humane movement extremist who more commonly becomes “aggressive or combative in support of a cause.” Animal owners themselves become aggressive and combative in order to avoid punishment, then romanticize their behavior into some kind of defense of innocent animals. OF COURSE the animals are innocent, but the animals are not charged with breaking the law. They are confined so the owners can know where they are, not to punish them. If they had been properly confined at home, there would be no need to fine the owners. People constantly try to displace their own shortcomings onto their pets. (“The dog got out.” “The dog lost its license.” The dog ate my homework.”) It’s as though they think the dog will take out a wallet and pay the fine for the owner’s negligence.

So -- sorry. Comment overruled.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

TEN POINTS FOR "RECONSTRUCTION"

I’ve been asked to provide a blog on the theory and practice of blogging for an online publication called “Reconstruction.”

Okay. I’ll be methodical and do it list style.

1. I started out on academic listservs and discovered that I wrote too much and too idiosyncratically to suit some readers. A blog solves that problem.

2. I blog to network with other bloggers, the way I did with favorite posters on listservs, some of whom have been friends for a decade now -- though I’ve met very few in person and have had hot arguments with several.

3. Blogging is a retirement strategy to help keep me structured and disciplined. If I don’t post daily, there are even some people who will send me a chiding message wanting to know what I’m doing. I’m in a tiny village where few people even read very much, so I can hardly go to the grocery store and discuss literary theory. But I can do that online.

4. I have one of those “hundred monkey” minds that chatters constantly with a steady stream of ideas and images. When I was preaching, I tapped that for Sunday mornings. I especially enjoyed the year I kept a Methodist pulpit warm and preached from a lectionary. There is a group somewhere who organizes the church year into three series of Bible readings: Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel and assigns each to a Sunday. The idea is to read through the whole Bible once a year, but I took the challenge of trying to get all three assigned readings (which are often sort of related in theme) into one sermon. It was fun.

When I dream, I move through the ideas as though they were movie plots. “Snow dreams” are the best. They come late on mornings when I’ve gotten slightly chilled in the night and are usually about urban settings: elegant shops, conferences on university campuses, long silent hallways, formal enclosed gardens, beautifully carved wooden chapels, and -- for along time after Bob's death -- a mill: empty, dusky and echoing though the wheel was turning, and sometimes it had a pulpit. I finally figured it out: my mother's favorite saying was "the mill of the Gods grinds slowly, it grinds exceeding fine."

Blogging is halfway between dreaming and preaching. I usually have an idea to pursue or at least a theme, but I’m sometimes surprised by what comes onto my mind-screen. (Actually, I keep three blogs because they are three separate interest categories: I write quite a bit about Bob Scriver, to whom I was married in the Sixties (scriverart.blogspot.com), and I write about English teacher stuff (merryscribbler,blogspot.com). Those are a little too specialized for most people.

I’m getting between 400 and 800 hits a week on "prairiemary," but nearly hit a thousand when I began to write about animal control. I write a lot about Blackfeet because I came back here to be with them as I grow old. The Blackfeet who are off the rez (about 8,000 people) are more likely to follow me than the ones right here. (Also about 8,000.)

5. Words are my paint. The computer is my grand piano. I often have the impression as I sit here that this is the elephant-ivory and ebony keyboard of a piano. But I can SEE the “music” and revise it as much as I need to. Any art form demands practice and blogs are my scales.

6. It's like ice-fishing. You get a little tug and you don't know WHAT will come up through the hole in the ice but you sure do hope the hole is big enough! Old friends, famous people, total surprises, show up in the comments or in references to me on other blogs.

7. Blogging is entirely practical when one is writing and posting what might be chapters of a “blook.” I’ve already published one blook via “Print On Demand” at Lulu.com (“Twelve Blackfeet Stories”) and have about three more lined up as soon as I can devise decent covers for them. Publishers in general see me the same way that the academic listserv pedants did: too unconventional, too much, not saleable. Publishers in the specific have auteur complexes and try to impose their personalities and theories onto my work, though they are forty years younger than I am, have not had this life experience, and can’t spell.

8. Though I resent the hell out of these self-important “professionals,” I still think it’s smart to know what they’re doing and what they think. I can eavesdrop on their blogs easily enough.

9. Here I sit on a rainy eastslope-of-the-Rockies day we have yearned for the past hot and arid month. My back-bedroom-converted-to-an-office is piled with the kitchen-midden of a compulsive downloader and newspaper clipper, plus DVD’s, rulers, a binding machine, all the wonderful clutter of little instruments that desktops accumulate.

My window looks out on my rough little backyard: the clothesline that my neighbor uses more than I do, the shaggy lilac, the wild mosaic of poplar leaves translating itself bit by bit to bricolage on the uncut grass. It is all soaked, rich with yellow ochre and the last of the green. Just to my left is my tortoiseshell cat, an aggressive little female I sometimes call “the velveteen lizard.” Today she’s playing odalisque under my desk lamp with her fat tummy and pink paw pads turned up to the warmth. This is a good life. She yawns, showing off fangs. It's not entirely an innocent life.

10. Why do I think I have to go to ten points? Good subject for a blog. Is it because I have ten fingers, ten toes?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

THE DOG CATCHER'S IMAGE

The image of the “dog catcher” is forever embedded in the consciousness of America, along with all the epithets: “I wouldn’t vote for you for dogcatcher.” “I wouldn’t wear that hat to a dog fight.” “Don’t date her -- she’s a real dog.”

One day I knocked on the door of a barking dog complainant and found myself face-to-face with my high school counselor, Grace Deierlein. “Why, Mary Strachan,” she gasped. “I thought I got you a scholarship to a good college!” She did, too.

My mother was so embarrassed that when people asked what I was doing now, she’d just say airily, “Oh, she’s doing government work.” In the end, after many wild tales and philosophical discussions, she decided that I was the Margaret Sanger of the animal world (because of trying to cut down pet overpopulation) and after that it was all right. I think that’s the key: all the wild tales and philosophical discussions. Thus these blogs.

When I was first hired, we wore dark green wash ‘n wear work shirts and pants along with what someone called “Texaco gas station attendant hats.” The kind with a little patent leather bill. After a few years we went to the same beige and brown uniforms that the sheriff’s posse wore, along with Ranger hats. We had quite a lot of argument over those hats, which were very expensive Stetsons. Most of us, like police officers, hated to wear hats of any kind. Some wanted ball caps. I’m interested that the sheriff’s deputies in this little town wear ball caps and basically military multi-pocketed cargo pants with mesh and leather military boots. Trim, light, official -- but somehow “kid’s clothes.”

Several of the guys wanted us to look as much like police as possible and haunted the shop downtown that supplied police with leather add-ons, like holsters for the steel flashlights that made such good weapons once loaded with batteries. Mel liked the Texaco hats, but he also liked a good military press on our outfits. When I came in from the field with puppy fur stuck to my pants legs up to the knees, reeking of cat pee, my hair on end, no sign of a crease anywhere, an unidentifiable smudge on my nose, he despaired.

One day I was driving past the big statue of Joan d’Arc who flies her flag at 39th and Glisan, a traffic circle that confused traffic, I saw two Shelties dodging in and out of the cars. I pulled over to the side street they seemed to come from and was bailing them into the truck when the owner, an expensively dressed woman, came storming out. While I wrote tickets so I didn’t have to transport the dogs, she hissed at me about how heartless I was, how barren my soul must be, what a sterile bitch, etc. “Do you have any children?” she demanded. I didn’t.

A little later I got a call to zig over to NE to pick up a dog a man was holding. He was a big black guy and he didn’t like uniforms. “What kind of bull dyke they hirin’ down there at County now?” he demanded, running a critical eye over my bulky physique.

Then I responded to a call about a pack of dogs following a bitch in heat. (A canine bitch, that is.) Sure enough, about five big male dogs. I tried to put the female into the truck, which usually meant the “pack” jumped in as well, but this time it didn’t work. She was too skittish. So I hooked fingers in the collars of those that had collars -- four out of five ain’t bad -- and pulled them towards the truck. Combined, they had roughly the power of a dogsled team and when the female bolted, I became the sled, skidding along on my knees, which demolished my britches. When I gave up, a bystander, a rather well-turned-out young guy who had been safely on the sidewalk a few houses away, shook his head and said, “Stupid ditsy blonde! Don’t know how to do anything.” That made me mad: my hair was naturally bright red.

When I got back to the shelter, one of the attendants was just getting a phone call. Someone was demanding to talk to the woman officer with the frizzy hair and the big boobs. “Here, Mary, it’s for you.” Of course, the other woman officer was a small flat-chested brunette, so it wasn’t a hard deduction.

The first manager of animal control was deeply sexist, a Portugese, and he called me “dear.” I asked him not to, since I was in a feminist phase. He said he’d call me any damn thing he wanted to -- he was the boss. I said, “Okay, sugar!” which so enraged him he almost came over the desk at me. That’s when Burgwin started calling me “Babe,” as in “Hey, Babe, get your butt in here.” Of course, he was grinning and enjoying the whole thing.

When I stopped for lunch at a restaurant and used the ladies’ room, I often startled more conventionally dressed ladies who didn’t expect a uniform.

Portland is famously rainy. We were required to wear black shoes but there was no stipulation about what kind of black shoes, so I searched around until I found a pair of black canvas tennis shoes. All winter I kept the truck heater turned on high so I could dry my feet and stay comfortable with the window rolled down. We couldn’t use a conventional radio because of being on the sheriff’s radio, so I often sang show tunes, the main songs I knew. A citizen demanded, “Are you SINGING??” Well, that was the theory.

Finally one day I was in the courthouse downtown when I was spotted by the head of the County Commissioners. Evidently some citizen had called his office screaming about being ticketed by “some zaftig old female in tennie runners” and then I went pattering and squishing by on the fancy marble floor. He called the shelter and I was ordered to buy black boots. Defiantly, I visited the Danner boot factory, which was in my district, and bought the biggest heaviest blackest boots with the heaviest tread they had -- meant for firefighters who are parachuted into the scene. Actually, they turned out to be very useful when a mean dog made a feint at my ankles.

One hot summer day I was on the Banfield at the end of the day, sweated through and stinking, but cheerful because I had a ticket for the ballet that night. (I’ve always been a balletomane.) The radio came crackling on and insisted that I turn back to pick up a dead animal, not even in my district. I tried to suggest someone else, but I was the last truck out. No choice. Shifted over to the outside lane and the off-ramp, grumbling.

It turned out to be a dead sheep. In fact, it had been dead quite a while since the owner, an old man, had disappeared on his own pursuits and left the carcass where it lay. The woman next door was fed up with the smell and determined to get rid of it RIGHT NOW. So, heave ho, it went into the truck which luckily didn’t have many dogs in it. And SPLUSH the thing broke open in a cloud of gas, goo and maggots. It was by far the most stinking and nasty carcass I ever picked up and it splashed slime on me. The woman shrieked but she was so happy to be rid of the thing that she didn’t complain.

I got to the shelter late and rushed everything enough to get to a shower and dress, but only barely and my scrubbing might have missed a few places. Anyway, I got to the Civic Auditorium and crowded to my seat during the overture, sighing with relief. At the first intermission I glanced at the woman next to me and found she was staring at me incredulously. “Aren’t you the officer who picked up the dead sheep?” Sure enough. “I didn’t know dog catchers went to the ballet.”

Clearly the last part of the consciousness raising project will be the erasure of the phrase “dog catcher.”