Tuesday, August 3, 2021
.......is unlike anywhere else, in my experience. I mean THIS August that came in with ))blistering heat and no thought of rain. The first sizable bit of water to fall since the last (skimpy) snow in late April poured down on August 2 in a reckless thunderstorm that dumped minimal wet stuff but could take out electricity in a Western part of town.
Town or city? Billings, of course, is 'the magic city' ( a motto of its own making, proof of which has yet to be revealed). Long live the imagination.
Where all heat records were broken this year I'm told. Way high - 105.
Thankfully, I could dash out of rain into Golden Nails salon to meet with Jun for a full blown pedicure, all action and little fuss. Whereby I intrude upon public manners by asking 'the dirty question', as the good-humored proprietor called it: Are you vaccinated? He wore a mask ('have to,' he said - local law or custom, I assumed). In reply he said 'where are you from?' I said that was 'a dirty question.' Two women getting a manicure at his desk laughed, as did he.
I had sensed some hesitation as I entered - obviously a stranger but one who had thought to make an appointment ahead. A young man and woman plus the owner (I assumed) who, I found, could also act as 'surgeon' correcting the troublesome feet of clients.
He answered with a chuckle and broad smile: "If you are from California, you have to wait longer." California is understood to be the brazen outsiders coming to town exploiting the place. Or so I assume since by then I was in the massage chair, ready to be pampered without further talk.
Walking along the Dude Rancher Motel ("Historic Site'), I see a sign on the front door that warns that no one with a local address will be allowed to rent a room. Thank you, etc. The reason must have to do with some criminal dealings of late, possibly buying and selling. but who knows? The coffee shop was closed. Nobody was around.
Auto licenses here come in 50 different designs - apparently the right of locals to pay extra for decorative adornment and colors on the required metal plate. "God's Country" is one of them. Horses and bulls.
Cruising along the Interstate between Missoula and Billings, through isolated farm country, we spy a lone man on a ski board being pulled through the water by a small motorboat. Shades of summer! Way out in nowhere is a long stretch of water of no special design or location. A water skier in the middle of a field...
Up up and away we move on and over the Continental Divide ('6393' feet it says, along with a mysterious sign warning that "all watercraft must be inspected before launching after crossing the Continental Divide). We are moving around and above what is purportedly 'The Richest Hill on Earth" (try proving that) which is Butte, which also claims to be the"Largest Historic District in the Country." It all depends on what you judge as historic and probably on how you measure. Few places, I'll wager, can brag of being ' a mile high and a mile deep.'
Why then, in the land of surprises, should it be a surprise to discover a business in a way-out industrial space that deals in "Seafoods of the World" - both fresh and frozen. Apologies are offered for not having fresh Maryland crab available: too costly says the clerk.
Now for a bright light surprise and tragedy of sorts. Think 'Swanky Roots' and you might think - wrongly - of hair styling for men and women worried about what is happening on their head. To get swanky, you get color. Not so in this little conversation with an ongoing college freshman working behind the counter of a family-owned hydroponic vegetable farm way outside Billings - yet not so far that it can't be reached for an all-too-wonderful collection of homegrown greens, etc. (Think zucchini, onions, herbs, etcccc as well). Sold in house but also downtown at a Farm Hub for those who pledge head. The place is sweltering on this August day but the retail shop at least has freezer and cold shelves. Bless the plastic covered greenhouses next door - and in the area where tanks of fish (yes,) whose excreta I am told help enhance the water that enchants the microbes that make the mighty vegetables, etc. grow.
Tours are offered but today is too hot to imagine one, and there are complications. Some teenage boys from a local high school not long ago broke in and ran off with the expensive ($500) register-safe holding the cash, which of course they took. They mangled and dumped the safe in a nearby field. Videos identified the culprits, who are known by all - locals being aware of a teenage coven of sorts causing havoc for fun (or for drugs?). Recently, this gang had put red flags on cars around town and then went back to break into the cars that had not taken away the flags. What sense is this?
A piquant experience: To be a relative stranger in a strange place and be able to introduce residents to some of their special attractions ('Swanky Roots" - who could believe it?)about which they might never have known. Or share with someone local the pleasures of some off-beat unfairly described ones, such as Zoo Montana, a combination zoo and arboretum. Plus, of course, an education all its own.
Town/city - which is which? Maybe a town like Billings (pop. re 110,000 last census) can only claim to be a city when the freight tracks that run through the center of what passes for a 'downtown' are moved or bypassed to allow a free flow of traffic on north-south streets.
For a change of pace and presumptions: August 14-21 at the Chautauqua Institution, where the week's theme (one of nine topics chosen for this brave semi-open summer season) was the human brain. Heavy subject indeed, lightened much by some of the scenes on the grounds.
A stuffed lion leans out of the library window facing the 'village green.'
And this more concrete image of a philosophy embraced by many who call themselves Chautauquans:
What does that mean, exactly? No explanation should be required in a community that purports to uphold a sort of declaration of universal human rights to examine life spiritually, physically, intellectually, etc.
Saturday, July 24, 2021
The month of woe in many places, with heat and smoke interrupting life in many ways.
Still the suffering can seem limited, depending on a person's location. Escaping Washington, D.C., humidity to Billings in southeastern Montana can be a blessing since the record high temps here aren't matched by exorbitant rises on the humidity scale. It's possible to sit outside in the shade and not feel encumbered by a hot cloth. To date the only inconvenience wrought by unusual weather patterns has been a city order to reduce times that residents can water lawns. A minimal order: no watering on Mondays.
Does that amount to sacrifice? Maybe only if you are in charge of keeping the golf course green.
The subject is a good 'safe' one for conversation. Not so a visitor's questioning store employees about why the rule to wear masks has been dropped - well, everywhere else, too, it seems. The Albertson's clerk comes out from behind the fish counter with an offer of help while I look over the selection. That alone - the gesture - was striking but not as much as the sight of the man in a blue stretch fabric covering the entire lower half of his face. I start to question him when he says "I"m growing a beard" - as if that explained much. (How many men are vain about hair growth on their face?) He plainly wasn't fearful of a virus and didn't want me to think so or else he was lying. I can't resist asking in turn that if the public he serves close up aren't concerned about the Delta variant, especially in unvaccinated people, infecting others? A non sequitur maybe. He turns away and goes on to the next customer. That's a blunt contrast to the young woman (unmasked like everyone else but one old-old couple I spied) with the wild black hair at the checkout counter who is ever solicitous that one of the eggs in the carton is cracked. She goes immediately to get a new one at the far side of the store, ignoring customers waiting in line behind me.
Over drinks an emergency room physician says nearly all victims coming her way these days are unvaccinated but the hospital does not make it mandatory to give such people a shot...even when she explains the likelihood that all of them have the Covid virus that could lead to an early death. Invariably, the sickest - almost all - ask for the vaccine in hopes it will 'save them.' Whoops.Too late. Should have thought about that a few weeks earlier. Do they really believe vaccine is a medicine?
Attitudes are everything. Heaven help the unwary and unwise. Drink up and forget what can't be changed.
A young mother of two, another physician whose husband also is one, says she has almost given up relations with her parents over their misguided belief that vaccines are the result of a government conspiracy. The parents can give no logical reason other than someone (no reliable medical authority) convinced them likely on social media or Fox TV. Such defiance may have its roots in other regions too deep to dive.
A long summer weekend in a family-centered world where, as one resident ( a Billings native who is a young female CEO of a major trucking firm begun by her father) describes the place as "a suburb looking for a city." Hence, an outdoor birthday party for the six year old featuring an enormous colorful blown-up slide and fun house almost as large as a 'regular house' that covers a minimum of the entire lawn. The father is a corporate executive with Dunkin Donuts, the mother works closely with the founder of Oracle. A Tesla - owned by a relative from Boston - is parked in the driveway. So much for 'rural Montana.'
These are observations/recollections - better, diversions - to avoid a dual crisis in the West (western Montana included) that is linked in many ways: draught and fires resulting in water shortage (see above) and tremendous terrifying poisonous smoke. All of which impacts people in very intimidating ways. Think: loss of income, health, etc.
But to date neither impacts the plan I originally conceived to try being a 'downtown girl' in a city that is mainly a suburb. Where the center of town so-called is a canvas flap resembling a sail hanging over a certain not very distinguished intersection. This involves rental of a tiny well-worn cottage that describes itself as sunny though letting in the sun requires raising all blinds and exposure to a parking lot and a massage parlor. No trees of distinction. My earliest visitors at dawn the first night: a noisy Waste Management vehicle scooping up with a robotic arm the large cans outside my back door and, in the front yard, a black rabbit seemingly frozen in place.
Thursday, June 3, 2021
Yes, by all Covid counts, cases are dropping in the US while rising most places elsewhere. The transition period is a relative concept. I dare not think 'freedom' - suspension of anxiety, worry, etc. - without remembering my state of mind many long months ago when the prospect of a vaccine- imminent injection - was possible. How it took some finagling to find time, place, date for that first one. Then such was the subconscious insanity that I could pretend to know what I was doing when I was way off the rails in some way. I had imagined a place to go one January morning that was totally wrong. I set out on foot to a CVS only to discover I was due at a Safeway instead. In spite of having the name and address written down on paper in my hand. What happened in my mind that I didn't connect with reality that day? And the nervousness: not being able to find the right place, not being able to get there on time, to be refused -that first shot. So I'm now very aware of my mental state, to understand it may be operating on two levels. I live in the present as a shield, having to be cognizant of alternate universes around me: people who may or may not be concerned with Covid, or fearful of vaccines, unwilling to hear other voices.
June, in theory, we are over the hump with more people than not going unmasked since more have now had one dose than not. Still, insecurities remain. I find myself still a captive of the New York Times Cooking pages - the visual appeal of the recipes excites the gustatory senses. Somehow the ability to print out any and all can be a substitute for not even trying most of them - it is easy escapism. To have 'digested' the ingredients and instructions becomes tantamount to a meal. And owning them allows me to discard them at will, as though I have had the experience of trying them. Such are the wayward habits of a somewhat sequestered life.
Not so sequestered that I can't extend my turtle head in pursuit of a USPS package that never arrived at its destination. Our folly and illusion to believe tracking every single thing through their service is possible. I have gone full into the strange recesses of this organization's ways of not quite admitting when something is 'lost.' Does anybody out there have a similar experience? Somehow I'm getting lost in the terrain, one district distribution center to the next and no answer to my query.
Keeping up by keeping going: Even such a simple appointment as a hair cut/color allows me some insight into the outside world. The trick is to exchange an everyday routine for an entirely different one - and stay aware of what the difference is about. Today (6/11) Walter told me he has seen people, clients, who never have left their rooms in the Westchester enclave in two years. Perhaps they have strayed into the corridor, come down for a haircut in the salon on the lobby floor - but not gone outside. Is that possible? Walter can tell me about dinner in an upscale Virginia restaurant with his wife - Argentinian, though he always orders salmon not the meat - and is charged $32 for a class of red wine. Why didn't he ask the price ahead of time? He doesn't say, only that now he has a story to tell - which may justify the price since he can't recall how good was the wine - probably only his wife tasted it -and that gives him satisfaction. The client before me gives him homemade pumpkin bread; I give him $20 over and above his ridiculously low charge for the session. He wants stories, he admits; he is here to collect other people's experiences with no ulterior motive that I can see. He says he will one day open a house for older people to live together who might otherwise have to stay and burden their children. How sincere is he? I can't trace his true allegiances. Peruvian and worldly, what does he call home? A brother back in Peru he won't visit because of quarantine rules (four weeks at your own expense, entering and then what does the US want?). He can vent his ire at the price of the wine. He laughs exuberantly when I say that the charge took care of the linen tablecloth.
Tricky, entering a world semi-maskless. At my local Trader Joe's (masked as required), the checkout clerk remarks that my hair has a different shade today. Indeed, Walter has given me a trendy shade, he says: Red Wine, buy a German company Wells. (He also says the same chemical in that dye has probably given younger people cancer but the rot works more slowly in older ones... So should I assume safely?) How would she even remember me? "It was a brighter red before," she says - no notion of how she would know me at all, except that may not be the way the store tracks customers - by their obvious physical differences. We both are masked, and I am flustered. Does the store keep notes on customers? I'm stupefied, caught, not for the first time.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
The 'whatever' month. Transition. Ambivalence. The third month into what these days counts as freedom, of a sort. Freedom from a virus attack in virulent form. It's still a time to count pleasure from small things: observations during a walk, success at putting a recipe together out of unlikely ingredients (as recommended on the NYTimes food page). The larger things (pleasures) come from enjoying food together with friends in a restaurant. Uncertainty certainly applies to questions about travel overseas this summer.
Walking about: I noticed a sky blue MiniCooper with orange trim and, for some reason, it lifted my spirits. Especially as it was parked in front of a house painted with no fewer than six colors. This was on an ordinary Capitol Hill street on an ordinary spring day that was a mix of sun and clouds. I walked on through a large open space - park and playground combined - watching very young children cavorting under the casual eye of grownups and felt happy for their innocence. So much of the world is distraught these days, and not because pandemic vaccine delivery is slowing as seemingly more people refuse it.
Another day, another glance at some minor rebellion - white paint Black Lives Matter slogan on the back of a black leather-like coat worn by a fellow hung up on his cell phone. The everyday scene at Union Market is a place apart, defiantly its own space with crowds and traffic fighting stubborn pedestrians. A distillery next to a secondhand goods store next to a downmarket emporium of Chinese imports. At the top of the hill (incline, rather) a movie theater is open to a few stalwart patrons. It is late afternoon on too good a day to spend inside yet there we were - all seven of us. The owner/manager thanked us for coming, saying they had opened only recently) before he started the projector (or whatever digital operation is involved).
Definitely, a new mood, a sense of hope. At Eastern Market today - a fair-weather low humidity Saturday - a young man put two buckets upside down outside an alley and floated two yellow smiley-face balloons to draw attention to himself while he stood between them singing an operatic aria, complete with face and hand expressions. He was instant entertainment in hopes of attracting a few tips. All this while passersby wandered along the car-free street with dogs and children past restaurants setting up tables - distancing observed - on the sidewalk Cheerful overall, no catch.
Talk centers on mood mainly. How to relate, how to know. Everyone has his/her own way of feeling 'normal.' It struck me today, during the third week of May, how we might each cling to a single action establishing a 'new phase.' What choices! Going to a restaurant and eating indoors. Buying new clothes for a wardrobe that might never be needed. The act is what counts since who knows the reality of the future?
Monday, April 12, 2021
Nothing much to suffer from when the final vaccination has taken hold so back to complaining about fickle weather awhile exulting in the profusion of plants and flowers.
However, the recognition in retrospect of meaningful times during Pandemic days without forgetting the subprime anxiety and worry about casual contacts.
Here a brief glimpse of the season's magnificence. A cherry tree that spreads its pink wings over four back yards on Capitol Hill. Thick enough at times to hide the helicopters roaring sporadically overhead.
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Coming out of our shell? Well, sort of. Two shots delivered (Moderna) in February two weeks apart, meant waiting two weeks of March to begin to 'feel different.' Sort of. Physically, little changes, though pandemic anxiety is difficult to shake. Sleep is erratic. Public behavior is like playacting. Masks feel eternal - and necessary. Emotionally, relief of course, A lack of fear and trepidation. Lunching with two friends who are also past the danger zone, or supposedly so, when chance of a life threatening disease is diminished.
What's so maddening in the wake of this new phase of life (in which life seems altogether possible, without danger of a virus claiming my own) is the advent of pollen and then the cicada hurricane...I'm left with sniffling and coughing and sneezing, wondering if the scourge will ever end. Both scourges, not to be compared. Pollen-nated while vaccinated.
I"m one of the lucky ones, now today (already officially spring) among a very small minority of those who have' crossed the line'. There is a guilt connected to the sense of freedom, partly compensated by the idea of celebration. What helps, too, is the promise of a great profusion of flowers everywhere, alongside budding trees, the ecstatic delight of color and sun. Plants and flowers engender tremendous emotional support accompanying the medical boost.
Though what to do or say to people refusing to follow CDC 'orders' - who say absolutely no vaccine for them. The strong-minded mother of two young twins declaring she never has been sick, never had the flu, never needed protection and so won't start now. Will she at least allow her children to help protect others from Covid and take a jab when that age group is highlighted. So much still is unknown about the secret carriers - children as well as adults.
A 52-year-old Black man says he refuses the option because he believes the vaccine is 'unnatural' - does not come from nature. He cannot be convinced that the virus itself is a biological mishap arising out of an animal's contact with humans. No, he must insist on a paranoid version - that the virus was created in a lab whether by accident - still unknown - or design. The tall thin man has become fixated on what he calls a natural diet - fruit and vegetables only, little or no meat - and thinks will keep him safe. He works outside as a handyman while wearing mask, has a phone (so aware of the world, at least minimally) but no checking account. He obviously does not feel responsible in any way for fellow human beings; his conscience relates only to the wellbeing of his own body.
PS The pig wants into the game, too.