Sunday, June 26, 2016


My plan was to time it so that everything would end at once:  ramshackle house, worn-out little pickup, too-fat cats, and me.  Just naturally happening together.  When I came back here in 1999, I thought I probably had twenty more years, half of them still pretty young and then another decade of sliding downhill.  Now we’re up to a total of 17 years in residence.  The cats were 14, the pickup is 27, the house is 86, and I’m 77.  All sliding.

The cats slid first, a little earlier than I anticipated but they were in pain and unhappy.  The vet was skillful, had a good helper, and the cats did not protest.  They just relaxed.  I’m not quite through grieving yet.  Finnegan and the Bunny were relieved, since Squibbie beat them up all the time.  Now they can sit in the good cat window.  This was not part of the plan.

I went to get a forecast on the pickup which was pretty pessimistic. The seal job that cost $400 last time was estimated at $2,000 this time.  The Ford dealer is on the main street of Cut Bank which is being entirely rebuilt right down to substrata, storm sewers, electrical line, and fiberoptic internet.  It is a failing town, just like all the rest of the high-line villages, but it is attached to the federal blood supply of the Blackfeet Reservation.  It has political clout.  

Entering Cut Bank
Southern Boundary of the Blackfeet Reservation

Internet and good drainage are keys to the future.  CB is the only part of Glacier County that is outside the rez.  It used to be a lawyer’s haven, but now the tribe has produced indigenous lawyers, not that they're so different.  If you like 3-D chess, you’ll love speculating about the boundary games one can play as the Cobell Buy-Back money flows onto the rez.  Anyway, in the long run this dealership is probably as doomed as my pickup. Access was confusing, threading through narrow gaps -- bad for business.

An evening or so ago I went to close my front door, but couldn’t.  Looking at the frame I noticed a fourth hinge.  But it wasn’t a hinge.  It was a very good imitation of a hinge -- growth achieved by a fungus.  I had not known how resourcefully a mushroom could disguise itself.  The most vulnerable parts of the house shell is at the creases where the front room was added on.  Both have been penetrated by water.  If this weren’t such dry country, the walls would have fallen out — or in.  

Of course, underground out front is another problem.  Because of a leak or a blockage, the access sewer was renewed last fall but only halfway, the side by the street, because we are waiting for Sullivan the backhoe man to get around to the rest.  In the meantime it works, most of the time, and I just limp along.  The bill is estimated at $1,000.

I’m sure the UU minister who recently came to visit —her name is also Mary — was grimly horrified by my bathroom.  Crackers was still trying to get into the litter box but missing so she squirted the floor and Finnegan delighted in throwing litter over his shoulder to create desert dunes of grit.  Then there was the toilet seat, which some genius made “easier” to install except that his invention doesn’t work for old ladies with weak hands.  It comes detached at unpredictable moments.  

Some people can’t recognize the vicegrips that serves as the flushing handle.  All they have to do is push down on it, but they think they have to do something complicated and soon it IS complicated.  They get all embarrassed and fish around in the tank, unable to decode the situation. 

I’m not sure that all those middle class people we keep hearing about have a very clear idea of what it is to live poor.  Fewer machines, more of them second-hand or quirky to operate, little compensating actions and wedges and sidesteps.  And if you try to explain, their faces go blank.  On the other hand, recently I felt a little edge on the metal frame of the glass shower door, pulled on it, scraped a bit, and discovered that it was a film of plastic meant to come off after installation.  No wonder the door has been hard to open and close all this time: it didn't fit by a millimeter or so.  I’ve been operating it that way since we installed it in 1999.  It’s ME who is not middle-class.

Not only that, I’m a fugitive from the law.  Parking was very tight at the Ford dealer but I thought I was safely backing around a corner.  Not.  I collided with something, got out to look and thought I’d bumped into a big post guarding the corner of the building.  I looked at a golf cart, didn’t see damage (with my squinty dry eyes), and went to the grocery store.  Pretty soon I’m being paged, though I barely recognized my name on their PA system.  It was The Law. 

A woman had seen me back into the golf cart and its fiberglas shell was cracked.  I never saw her but she followed me down to the store and called the cops.  He was a nice guy.  I had most of the proper documents (one was missing, the Title, but the signifying sticker was on the license plate).  

He helped me load up my groceries and we went back to the dealership where everyone was very calm:  “Oh, accidents happen.  No problem.  It’s tough to maneuver through this construction.”  I didn't realize for a day or so that the reason he helped with the groceries was to see whether I were buying alcohol.  Not.  Just cat food.

The officer, who had begun by saying I might be ticketed, let that go.  It was clear that everyone — except the woman who was determined to nail me — was seeing a befuddled, half-blind, old woman still in shock from what the shop foreman had told me.  I was not about to question that.  Anyway, the evidence was against me.  I had insurance, the dealer had insurance, the golf cart had only a crack hardly visible but would probably need a whole section replaced.  Middle class people in dying villages demand perfection.  Their demands are what they have.  They consider themselves as "having standards."

I got home without incident, shelved the groceries, and went to bed to restore my head and eyes.  I was wakened by a cold-caller from AAA wanting to know whether I were getting the stuff they mail me.  I turned the tables on her.  I’ve never put in an insurance claim before, so I asked her to tell me what to do next, which threw her all off stride.  She had trouble picturing how I could collide with a golf cart.

Such are adventures of someone just trying to get by  with the minimum domestically, because the payoff is the time and freedom to write.  Lots of people do it.  You never read what they write — publishers are middle class.  They have demands that real writers can never meet.  Standards!  Publishers demand safety and prosperity.  I don’t have any of that to give.  I deal in risk.

Twice in the last few days I've had company, people I knew but far enough in the past that I didn't recognize them at my front door.  One was Tony Bynum, who takes the remarkable photos I sometimes use, and the other was a woman I once taught with.  Both were sad, almost panicky about the state of things on the rez: drugs, bullying, corruption, alcohol, deaths from hard drugs, Browning town is in receivership -- things all too easily seen when driving through.  The real progress is invisible, indoors.  I feel two ways about this:  on the one hand a person wants to yell, "Hey!  This situation needs help!  What can we do?"

On the other hand the way to travel on thin ice is carefully, slowly, without making a lot of commotion and, well, sober.

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