Coffee shop discussions always start with the weather and it doesn’t have to be bad weather. In fact, this fall’s excellent late weather on the East Slope lulled me and others into believing that we had more time to prepare for winter than was actually true. There was talk about an “open winter.”
Then my sewer line to the street was blocked or collapsed, but at least the ground wasn’t frozen. The town dug up the half towards the street and two plumbers looked at the house-side. One used a giant roto-rooter. I did not know that my side of the sewer was Orangeburg and neither did he. Roto-rooters buckle Orangeburg. The bill was $345, but luckily I have a little Christmas money. Sullivan came to look at replacing the Orangeburg and managed to get the flow restored so long as I don’t throw TP down it, so I save the wads in a bucket and burn them in my little garage wood stove. He couldn’t dig it up right away because the town of Brady contracted for new water meters with some fancy out-of-state operation that screwed it all up and he was helping to get their water back by Christmas. They tell me most of it is fixed now. The Valier crew was monitoring the weather and dumped a lot of sand into the open trench just in time to prevent freezing.
Northwestern Energy supplies both our electricity and gas. They took advantage of the weather by replacing the town power poles. There were a few gaps of nearly an hour with no electricity, but the crews tried to time them so they didn’t interfere with meal preparation. I was glad to see the improvement because dirty electricity interferes with computers — gaps and surges are not good for them. I wondered what it was doing to the telephone lines which I suppose were on the same poles. And you saw a photo of them from my kitchen window where the cats took careful notes.
The next problem was that my carbon mono detector operates off the house electrical circuits and if there’s an interval, it screams like a banshee. The work on the poles was setting it off. I couldn’t distinguish what was poles and what was gas and began to have worries. I’m using the floor furnace. Part of the reason I keep this old-fashioned heat is that it works by convection so I’m not at the mercy of electricity. But I’ve lost friends to carbon mono. I ordered a battery operated monitor.
Then, just in time for Christmas, we were abruptly in winter: below zero temps and snow. My little old pickup refused to start. The headbolt heater wasn’t working, somehow. But I had bought a battery charger and it worked. I thought. By then it was late in the day so I ran the engine for a while (everyone in town runs their engine for a long time in the mornings, esp. the big diesel pickups) and figured I could get back to do my first-of-the-month big grocery buy the next day. But the next day the battery hadn’t held a charge enough to start the engine. I had to get a new battery or stop driving. The problem is that if the pickup won’t start, I can’t get to a town big enough to stock a battery and batteries can’t be sent UPS or whatever. I spent a good part of the day trying to revive this battery, but then I remembered that I had joined AAA.
I had noticed their car insurance rates: HALF what I’ve been paying in Cut Bank for the last ten years. So I switched. I have never made a claim. The insurance woman was insulted and billed me fifty bucks for what she said was coverage I hadn’t paid for. I pushed that back on my monthly bill cycle twice. She sent it in for collection without calling me, I’m sure in hopes of hurting my credit. The collection agency called me as early as was legal on the day after Christmas and I just put it on my VISA.
My VISA is supposed to be for my teeth because I can never predict what’s needed or how much it is. Now my problem turned out to be that the dentist’s practice, which was owned by a local health care organization, got involved in a wrangle because of a new manager from back East who wanted to force modern practices. That meant enclosing the receptionist behind a locked door and eliminating all the mounted heads that the dentist and his wife had collected in the field. I do not have morbid ideas about trophies: I was married to a taxidermist. In fact, our previous dentist was the one in this same office who sold the younger man his practice. Now both dentists have left. I haven’t found another one. These local practices, which used to be one dentist and one helper, are now half-a-dozen young women doing peripheral things for which one is billed. They INSIST. To them it’s not about teeth: it’s gums. They expand their territory all the time. Now they've started talking ear/nose/throat. They want total access.
Something similar happened at the local doctor clinic. There is a glamorous Physician’s Assistant who let people think her Ph.D. was an MD and a second less-glamorous MD on a different day — she IS an MD. My previous doc is in Great Falls, which you can guess is a problem with my dubious pickiup, but the last straw was when this prom queen PA said she would not renew my meds unless I did exactly what she said. I do not want a doc with control issues who is racking up billing hours.
When people think about moving to a small country town where everyone is full of rural wisdom and high character, they don’t think about this kind of stuff. It doesn’t occur to them that one might have only one bathroom and one vehicle. They don’t even think about what’s under the ground. I’m told that plumbing infrastructure across the state is like the trees: the same thing was done by everyone about the same time with the same materials and now decades later the corroded galvanized water lines all over Montana start splitting and all the aged-out silverleaf cottonwoods are crashing in the high winds. The only town mechanic is hospitalized with kidney disease and the only town grocery store is full of local political issues.
So now this guy sends an email. He got my name off a list of Northwestern University alumni in Montana and wants to get us all rounded up so we can watch TV football and drink beer together. He’s a writer — a journalist with a speciality in sports. Luckily, he lives in Billings which is over 300 miles away. He does not grasp how different we are. Good thing, that! At my much later U of Chicago graduation ceremony the speaker advised us that no matter where we hid, the alumni association would find us. Both universities are after me to donate. They sold me that degree so I'd tithe to them the rest of my life.
While I was between phone calls and slow realizations due to watching YouTube explanations of car batteries, I was continuing to follow the Ken Burns “Roosevelt” series on Netflix. Wars, Depressions, suicides, alcoholism, power-mad mothers-in-law, polio — heck, it was just like everyone’s lives. It’s all struggle with intervals of smooth sailing — some of them pretty short. Friends and helpers, lovers and pups and relatives, they come and they go. As long as we don’t run out of cat food or TP, everything will work out just fine. Eventually.
Sure enough, now it's Thursday and Greg brought up a new battery, installed it right in the driveway, and told me my previous battery was too small. For years I've thought it was my starter failing! Now I turn the key and it's zoom zoom, instead of sputtersputter.
In minutes I was on my way to Cut Bank for grub. The wind is coming up -- I started under bright cloudless sky and came back in rising wind, snow snaking and sometimes sheeting across the highway. I only forgot to buy two things: envelopes and cat treats.