Maybe it’s important in a time of outrageous international scandal, mostly happening in Washington, DC, to maintain an awareness of what’s ordinary in the middle of the country. Maybe since no one in commercials is ever poor or under thirty but occasionally a person of color — usually an unusually attractive young person or a mythologized ancient person — we should talk about those of us who are just ordinary, sort of old but not really, part of the small-town life that revolves around school and church — pretty confident that no one will turn up with an M-15 to murder as many children as they can.
But I’m not like that. I don’t mow my lawn often enough. I find techies tiresome when they load up my favorite computer programs with so many barely perceptible little flourishes that I can do nothing I want. I’m impatient with people who can’t follow my content or vocabulary. I stand with the C-Store clerk who accepts small jobs as worth doing well and who understands that if a person wants high pay it’s necessary to take big risks and work hard at something kind of foreign.
When I set out to make the rounds of the major stores in the nearest county seats (each thirty miles away) I discovered that the techies have escaped the internet and have sent hordes of barely literate teenagers to change everything, relying on data scraping for instructions. (One kid has been sent home for drug use but probably others are doing the same. Housed in low-level motels, fed junk food, bossed by people who couldn’t get a better job — what can be expected?)
The biggest shock was the first stop, which has dependably been orderly and clean, seasonal and clerked by older women who have lived around there all their lives. In the bathroom (I never remember to stop drinking coffee for the last hour before I leave) the towel dispenser and the soap dispenser are off-the-wall, literally gone. It must have taken a crowbar. Is it an in-house plan to replace or has there been some kind of vandalism? A disembodied voice from one of the stalls warns me that the TP is also missing, though the dispensers are there. Cardboard cores are lined up on top of the discard container which is also there but empty.
Merchandize was posted with drastic sale prices but the shelves were nearly empty and everywhere askew. I barely remembered what I needed. (Cat litter.) The garden plant center alongside was open but I was too confused to go look. The idea must be to renovate before the tourist swarm begins. Even the major service station/café/gambling joint/C-store that counts on truck traffic headed through the Canadian border — one way or the other — was in the throes of a do-over. In fact, the café was closed.
Instead of coming back here, I made a circle fifty miles long to see whether my own county’s laundromat had reappeared. Last time I went to use it, there was only a flat dirt lot. This time there was some kind of brand new store, too new to be identified but clearly not a laundromat. The grocery store there had had the same cyclone renovation but was only somewhat restored. It’s advertising for two new employees: a produce manager and a cake decorator. The produce was indeed not happy and there wasn’t much of it. Far more of what was on the shelves was processed and shipped in from other countries. The plus was that the deep-fried chicken cafe had been removed, so the rancid smell was gone.
This store has one of my favorite clerks, a soft-spoken very tall woman with tattoos of her favorite New Testament verses on her forearms. Her hair is white-blonde except at the part and she not only remembers me but remembers that I once asked for my groceries in paper bags. This time I settled for plastic, though it’s politically geo-destructive. It’s easier to carry. I forget the bespoke bags I should re-use.
This time I didn’t visit my usual laundromat and grocery store in Cut Bank. That grocery store is also suffering drastic reorganization. In spite of feverish and swarming change, there is an air of expectation, that something might be about to happen, good or bad. I wondered whether this had something to do with Trump’s threatening trade war, or with the expected jump in gas prices this summer, or the continuing deregulation of commerce. The wholesalers and outlet chains have been gobbling up each other and now have absentee owners.
The laundromat in that town is also endangered because the owners are aging. They want to sell but youngsters find a laundromat is too much work. There is an attached car wash and everyone here has a clean-car fetish — it’s as much an indicator of virtue as a mown lawn. There will probably be an offer to buy only the car wash.
I won’t buy a washing machine until my plumbing mysteries are solved. It seems clear that there is more involved than just my sanitary stack but I don’t want to go through another winter with the system venting through my shower instead of up the stack. Our efforts to replace and realign may have destabilized the attachment of the bathroom add-on to that end of the main structure. Everything is always attached to everything. Most plumbers here are only roto-rooter owners, but the last one told me that my house was sinking and every sign is that he’s right. Books are part of the problem -- they’re heavy.
I’ve moved all files to the garage and will now begin to sort and discard in earnest, including boxes of sermons. What do I do with a year’s worth of email banter and information accumulated when I was writing “Bronze Inside and Out”? The correspondent was Bob’s second wife, who is a bit of an unreliable witness, but she’s dead now. Why even keep it? At one time it seemed that Bob Scriver was a genius who should be closely analyzed for his contributions and what they might teach new entrants to the art world. Now there are others just as good, though not anchored in the early life of the rez; he is discredited for being white; the money popularity is not there; and people don’t want to hear that the key to his success was hard daily work in a remote place.
But somehow that’s all trivial. What really counts is that now the cumulus clouds tower into a warm blue sky every afternoon, arriving along with the hail and flooding creeks. Ground water still lies in shards on the fields, stilled enough to mirror the sky. Big birds are keeping their eggs warm in hidden places. Little birds are everywhere. The song sparrow who lives in front of the church next door has nearly burst his throat with arias. The last batch of kittens is half-cats now. One mother cat is in heat, screaming her climax every time a tomcat gets to her. The world goes on, regardless of politics or even location. The quote is “the force that through the green fuse drives.”