Saturday, January 25, 2014


A rare winter trip to Great Falls in fifty degree weather.  Recent snow is mere streaks, like a man who has shaved with lather and left a few traces just before rubbing his face with a damp towel.  Bright clear blue sky when I started out but smudged with high clouds on the way back, like a poorly erased chalkboard.  A storm shelf barely nudges over the Rockies.  Due in tomorrow night -- pushing the air before it as wind.  Sun River has thin ice; Missouri has none at all.

I had a game plan, which didn’t take much work since it’s always pretty much the same.  Straight down to GF (80 miles) then out Tenth Ave South, which is the big truck and commercial artery, to Van’s which was Teeple’s when it started out in Browning.  Tenth Ave South is often reviled by those who hate traffic, big signs, and 18-wheelers roaring alongside them, but politics will not support a by-pass around the south side.  It's the money hub. 

The Van's end is close to the Malmstrom housing, which means it’s next door to bars with exotic dancers and the massage parlor where the elderly provider was recently beaten and sexually assaulted with a "metal object".  Sometimes the businesses along here are put off-limits for Airmen, but that’s always soon relaxed.  Too much money at stake.  There are new gun shops: one called SWAT and one called something like “Paradise.” 

Brief stop to drop off the toner cartridge recycling at UPS.  The delivery truck in Valier won’t accept them.  Clerks used to be older women; now they are young men.  Wonder what that means.

Then back to Jo-Ann fabrics for waistband elastic and blanket binding.  Amazing stuff on bolts, huge spangles attached to net, all sort of gold lamé and fuzzy squiggles in day-glo colors.  It looks like stuff for theatrical events.  The shop windows in Conrad are already displaying prom formals, so maybe that’s what it’s for.  Proms are no longer demonstrations of maturity, girls in virginal white dresses, formal dancing.  Now the girls wear movie star garb with sneakers underneath.  They dance imitations of coitus.  They say their preferred method of birth control is anal coitus.  They got that from "Downton Abbey."   If you get pregnant In spite of all efforts, there are dresses for you.

At Jo-Ann there’s a new manager, a man who was actually sewing when there were no customers.  A little cluster of non-buying customers around him, listening to his wisecracks.  One woman had a strange laugh, like a bird call.  An older woman over to the side was asking an older woman clerk how she could learn how to sew a quilt.  She had started one and got stuck.  The clerk suggested that she search among her friends for quilters, invite them over, provide a bottle of wine, and just happen to have her quilt on the frame.  
Back to Marketplace at the other end of 10th Avenue S, which is sometimes as far into town as I come -- it’s a sort of compound of big box stores.  On the floodplain of the Sun River, it could not legally be developed for housing.  For fantasy I go to the faux Starbucks in Barnes and Noble.  It serves Starbucks coffee but one writes the check to Barnes and Noble. Quiche and a latte, $8.50.  (They are not doing very well.  Nooks are not selling.)   The clerk had an exceptional tattoo, very pretty and graceful with aqua and peach details.  I asked her whether she knew about glow-in-the-dark tattoos (I’m thinking about a story that has a woman tattooed with roses that glow in the dark) and she showed me hers.  You couldn’t see it without a black light but the skin was different.  She got it there in GF in a “nice” tattoo shop in the proper downtown.  As in the authentic Starbucks, she is not required to remove her piercings for work.  She only had three.

I saw no book or magazine I wanted to buy.  They haven’t changed -- I have.  I’d brought along my newspaper from home and read that instead.  This bookstore briefly had a shelf of black male erotica -- I presume for the Airmen.  (Today a letter to the editor objected to officers being called “Airmen” but the newspaper said it was an accepted term for any Air Force member.)  In the nearby movie complex I once attended a matinee (don’t remember the movie) where two Airmen (white) sat ahead of me in the nearly empty auditorium, holding hands throughout.  As I went out of Barnes and Noble, a woman came in with her children.  "Pick out what you want," she said.  "Then we'll go home and order it cheaper from Amazon."

On to Office Max next door for 3-hole punched computer paper and red 3-ring binders to file Indian articles.  My binders are color-coded -- is it racist to use red folders for Indians?   At Jo-Ann’s I had had to sign on a machine that debited my account directly instead of processing a check.  The machine malfunctioned so my signature was totally unintelligible.  It’s always like that.  They accepted it, as always.  The office supply store’s machine wouldn’t even record a mark and the register kept spitting out my check.  “Why is it that the office supplies stores always have office machines that don’t work?” I asked the barely-out-of-high-school clerk.   “Cheap junk,” he said, tight-lipped.

Then to Smith’s, which is a NW-connected grocery that has swallowed both Fred Meyer and Krogers and that caters to the Malmstrom Air Force Base, which is just above at the top of the butte. It carries exotic foods for people who have lived overseas.  No fighter jets went screaming overhead only a hundred feet off the ground.  They’ve been transferred out and soon the base will be receiving huge cargo planes.   The hangars must be enlarged.  The pilots will be a different demographic, steadier and older.  They will be welcomed by some.

Missile Silo

Morale is low here.  This is where the missile silos are based and there has been scandal.  Sleeping on the job, leaving access doors open, failing regular tests of knowledge plus lying, general slackness.  Penalties are falling on all, even up the chain of command.  Also, more silos are being decommissioned and the ones that have been closed down long enough to deteriorate are being put into a final state of disabling.  Apart from the nuclear scandals, young Airmen have been indicted for killing babies.  

This time as I entered Smiths, a little group of junior high girls were coming in with an overweight chaperon, evidently a mother.  They wore tight jeans, very high heels, and camisole tops with string shoulder straps and stayed close enough together to touch.  Their demeanor was a mix of defiance and shame.  The mother pushed them along.  "Get in there."  It echoed bordello.  I wonder.

Driving the way I do -- slow and sort of half-hypnotized by scanning the horizon -- takes about an hour and a half to get to Great Falls, good thinking time.  When I got gas before leaving Valier, one of my former students from Heart Butte was there and we visited a bit.  Then again when I stopped on the way back at the grocery store in Conrad another student from the same class was just going in and we talked.  I was only in Heart Butte two years, but it was a vivid time.  My “book” about it is posted as a blog:  The yearbook is also posted there.  Only a few people have found it so far.

So this is the tension of people living on the planet earth: that we can go all out for domination and money, gathering goods and ideas from across the planet, or we can hunker down, depending on human relationships.  If we choose the former, the quality of life will depend on making enough money to buy goods -- IF they are available.  Family will be scattered, friends will be transient.  If we choose the latter, the quality of life will depend on the quality of our relationships, how we interact with each other.  At least that’s been the story until now.  


Because of technology, it’s ALMOST possible to have both.  It is possible to Skype to dad or mom in Afghanistan or back home in Indiana.  But it’s also possible to operate a predator drone that destroys someone else’s family in Afghanistan before going home to dinner in Indiana.  The forces underlying are the same ones that break out when one band of chimps destroys another because they are Other.  The civilizing forces in Great Falls don’t consider that their business.  They are restoring a beautiful bridge with arches as though they were in Italy preserving the Renaissance. 

I scan the horizon.  Beside me on the pickiup seat are Rio Grande Pinon coffee beans from New Mexico, packets of hazelnut bits, red 3-ring binders, Crackers' fav dry cat food, the right kind of hairball med for Squib, a new dishpan.  But I'm thinking about the two young women from 25 years ago.  They tell me one murderer in their cohort has finally gotten out of prison, but the other one likely never will.   Most of their class has done pretty well.

Rocky Mountain Eastslope

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