Missoula, A Place. Sort Of.
It began as my entry in the 1982 Missoula County seal contest: A flying animal that might be a platypus or a very ugly duck, drawn by an artist named Jan Faust, surrounded by the Latin words Vos Hic Estes, translated as “You Are Here.”
Most government seals are designed by Chamber of Commerce boosters who think they live in the best place in the world (spend a slushy gray winter in Missoula or a hot smokey summer and you will quickly be cured of that odious conceit). For example, here is Missoula County’s current seal, whose designer wants you to notice its homage to, what? Snow, trees, water, Indians? Boring and uneventful, like brunching with bureaucrats.
The following year I reworked my seal entry and came up with this lateral move at the line of scrimmage:
In 1984 I started printing the image on tee-shirts and selling them. Here’s what the advertising copy said:
“The Tee-Shirt that tells the shocking truth about Missoula!
Just in time for Christmas, the shirt the authorities don’t want you to wear. The shirt that isn’t afraid of Missoula’s dark secret. The shirt your friends won’t believe. Only $8.50 each. Available in eight startling colors . . . . For external use only. Void where prohibited by law.” [4/12/2022]
School coup crushed
Like Putin’s invasion of Ukraine the push by Krazy Kristers and radical right zealots to demolish public education has stalled, at least in Missoula County. On May 3 Mike “All hat, no cattle” Gehl, Missouri carpetbagger Amy Livesay and anti-mask extremist Jill Taber lost their bids by huge margins to “serve” as school trustees. Another win-win is that we won’t have to drive by their annoying yard signs anymore. [5/4/2022]
While some people on Easter like to listen to gospel or Christian rock I am playing the haunting strains of a song by Carl Gustav and the 84s from the 1984 punk album A Complicated History. Here are some lyrics:
I don’t wanna play rock and roll
I don’t wanna die before I get old
I wanna be there when the Russians come
I wanna be there behind the sights of a gun
I don’t want no political discussions
I just wanna kill Russians
The band is named after the Carl
Gustaf recoilless rifle, an 84-mm anti-tank weapon produced in Sweden. British troops refer to it as the Charlie G. To Canadians it's Carl G and U.S. soldiers call it simply Gustaf. In February 2022 Justin Trudeau’s government sent 100 of these lightweight weapons plus 2,000 rounds of rocket ammunition to Ukrainian forces fighting Putin. [4/17/2022]
Angry White Men
[back to the beginning]
Brad Tschida is obsessed. Although the Missoula Trumpster trounced his Democratic opponent in the 2020 Montana House of Representatives race by a margin of 57 percent to 43, like a pit bull with a squeak toy he won’t let go of his allegation that the election was rigged. After he and some twenty of his fellow conspiracy theorists invaded the Missoula County Elections Office in 2021 to do a sloppy hand-job “audit” of the envelopes that contained mail-in ballots he announced that he smelled a rat. But the election had already been certified by the Montana’s Republican Secretary of State.
Worried that Tschida’s antics were discouraging Gopers from voting in upcoming races Missoula Republicans paid $5,000 for an audit in March of the 2020 ballots. The audit found zero schemes, zero fraud and zero irregularities. This pissed off Tschida even more. He claimed the recount revealed brand new rats.
Putting aside the possibility that Tschida is a Democratic mole trying to drive Goper voters away from the polls, his rants are typical of an anger management issue common among privileged white men. Take for example, Richard Fuisz, portrayed by William Macy in The Dropout
. He was accused by disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes of stealing her blood analyzer patents. She sued him. He spent years trying to prove that she was a fraud. In the process he ruined his personal life. His wife left him.
Another example is Robert Kearns, who invented the intermittent windshield wiper for vehicles, an idea stolen by every major automobile manufacturer in the U.S. Portrayed by Greg Kinnear in Flash of Genius
, he sued them. In the process he ruined his personal life. His wife left him.
Finally, consider the case of Matt Lauer, portrayed by Steve Carell in The Morning Show
, who tried for years to get people to believe he lost his job at NBC not because of sexual misconduct, as was alleged by the network, but because he had been kancelled by Kancel Kulture. In the process he ruined his personal life. His wife left him. [4/14/2022]
Hee Hee. Ho Ho. NorthWestern’s Got to Go.
[back to the beginning]In December 2019 NorthWestern Energy promised it would reduce its “carbon intensity” 90 percent by 2050. The corporation that supplies much of Montana's electricity claims to have already reduced its “carbon intensity” by over 50 percent since 2010. However, during that same period it continued to own the same amount of a coal-fired power plant, plus it added a gas plant to its portfolio. So how can the company make this claim?
According to the Montana Environmental Information Center: “The key to deciphering this bogus statement lies in defining the term ‘carbon intensity,’ which is not the same as ‘carbon reduction.’ NorthWestern is using the term ‘carbon intensity’ as if that means it will actually reduce real world greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. But ‘carbon intensity’ is a ploy to confuse people while the company avoids actually reducing emissions.”
According to a growing number of health care experts such as Missoula’s Beth Shenk much of humanity’s looming medical miseries will be caused by “upstream” disasters like global warming, which is produced by greenhouse gases from coal and gas-fired energy factories. The most critical aspect of this environmental crisis will be a lack of water. Look at Glacier Park and the problem is obvious: Snow falls, but it melts earlier and earlier in the season, leaving no run-off for the warmest months. This is why the glaciers are disappearing. The consequence will be crop failures and a sanitary nightmare in which diseases such as cholera, typhus, and dysentery reach plague proportions.
NorthWestern Energy’s stockholders have no reason to insist that the company switch to solar power. What they want are profits now instead of investments for a safer future. While it’s convenient and fun to call shareholders fat cats, in fact because of widespread private pension plans most everyone with a decent job is now an owner of greenhouse gas polluters.
Remove the profit motive from Northwestern’s operations and you remove obstacles to preventing widespread disease and starvation. How do you do this? Ask the City of Missoula. In 2017 after a long legal battle it took control of its water system from a rapacious international equity fund that was allowing the infrastructure to deteriorate rather than invest for the future. [4/14/22]
My Year in Dallas
At recess two girls and a boy walked up to me and stared. “Y’all say something,” the tall girl said after a while, putting her hands on her hips. I got ready to run. “What do you guys want?”
The girls whooped. “Guys! We ain’t guys!”
“Son, what is wrong with y’all?” the boy said, turning his head like a crow considering a worm.
“Why do y’all talk like that?”
That morning our third-grade teacher had asked if anyone knows the name of the thing that lists the freedoms. It was my first day at James Bowie Elementary in the Oak Cliff part of Dallas. I made the mistake of answering. The class turned to gape at me. Maybe these kids had seen Ozzie and Harriet or Leave it to Beaver. But this was probably the first time they had ever heard a real Yankee boy speak.
I had learned the answer at my school in Montana, which was a year or two ahead of Jim
Bowie. But I had no idea what it meant. My little sister and I were spending time with my grandparents, Mother Vaughn and Daddy William. My father was posted at the Air Force base in a town somewhere called Amarillo learning how to fix jets. For me, it would be a year of one surprise after another.
School days began with bacon and an egg fried in bacon grease. While I ate and did my homework I watched Tom Terrific on the television. This was a cartoon about a boy who lives in a tree house and wears a thinking cap that he uses to be anything he wants. Along with his sidekick, the lazy Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, Tom goes out every day to fight with Crabby Appleton, who admits that he is “rotten to the core.”
If I was going to be anything at all in Dallas the first thing I’d have to do was learn how to talk like a Texan. My fake accent must have been pretty good because a few months later I was in a play about rabbits. “Iz you is or iz you ain’t mah chillun?” was one of my lines. [continued]
I walked alone every morning six blocks to Jim Bowie from the house on Crawford Street, which had a big pecan tree in the backyard. I was more interested in the sky than the sidewalks. In the spring a huge tornado had torn through Dallas, killing and injuring dozens of people and wrecking houses all over the place. Three small children had been sucked up into the sky, like Dorothy and Toto, I believed. But Crawford Street wasn’t touched. After Mother Vaughn told me this story I asked her how this could happen. Well, son, God works in mysterious ways.
Sunday school was another new thing. But it didn’t answer my question any more than my grandmother had. Jesus loves me, we sang, this I know, and read Bible stories about whales and floods. Compared to that church in Montana where my mother had taken me—where the man spoke a funny language and there was smelly smoke, candles, and wine plus these little crackers—this stuff was pretty boring. She had pulled me away from a painting of Jesus showing his heart, which was on fire and wrapped in thorns. Staring at his green eyes, I was trying to make him blink.
On Saturdays I walked to the Dallas Zoo to see Jenny and Jimmy, the zoo’s little gorillas. As I watched them play with a basketball a lady told me that when they first met they got into a terrible fight. Here were some more firsts: my first zoo and my first gorillas, plus camels and tigers. One Saturday Daddy William walked me up Crawford to a park and asked some boys playing baseball to let me in their game. I fielded a couple of plays while he watched. After he left I hit a grounder to the first baseman, who tagged me hard before I got to the bag. I didn’t blame him. I spent the rest of the morning at the zoo.
Summer came and with it some more marvels: air conditioning, barbecue, iced tea, cousins and fireflies. One day Daddy William drove me to summer camp. It had a bunkhouse, horses and a swimming pool. Even better, I was sharing the week with my cousin Larry, who introduced himself to me by beating the tar out of a boy who had called me a piss ant.
One evening after a morning ride and an afternoon swim I was told to stay put in the mess hall along with Larry and some other boys. Daddy Williams came in and said that he was going to teach us some stuff that would make us part of a secret club we would belong to our whole lives. I had no idea what he was talking about. But as he told us what to do I was obedient and moved from place to place along with the others and recited the confusing words he told us to say. It was like a game but he didn’t give us the rules. Afterwards we went out into the brush to play capture the flag in the moonlight. The next morning I was covered with chigger bites.
The day arrived when my year in Dallas came to an end. A cranky family stopped in front of my grandparents’ house and loaded me and my sister into their station wagon. The trip back to Montana was awful. I didn’t much want to see my father. But I didn’t have much choice. He had told me the year before that the reason my mother was no longer around was because the Lord took her.
A child’s memories are sometimes accurate. But they’re rarely true. The fact that I never saw any black people in Dallas doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist. That’s because in 1957 the city was strictly segregated. If my rambles around Oak Cliff had taken me only four blocks east of James Bowie Elementary I would have found myself in the Tenth Street District, a “Freedmen’s Town” settled in 1865 after the Juneteeth announcement that emancipated the slaves of Texas. The city had designated the Tenth as a “Negro District,” one of several, including Arlington Park, where the 1957 tornado obliterated the apartment of Birdia and Melvin Anderson and killed their three small children.
It wasn’t until 1966 that the first black child entered the doors of Jim Bowie Elementary, a dozen years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education ruling that school segregation was unconstitutional, and five years after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals tried to give the ruling teeth. Dallas continued to drag its heels. Finally, in 2003, after decades of orders imposed by District Judge Barefoot Sanders, he released the school system from judicial oversight.
If you were going to pick an appropriate name for a segregated, all-white public school in a segregated all-white Texas neighborhood you couldn’t do better than James Bowie. When I was a student enrolled at his namesake all I knew about him was based on the TV series, which was one of the first to be criticized for its violent content due to Bowie’s unwholesome interest in knives. He was a slave-trader, a Confederate zealot and a slave-owner in a state founded on the exploitation of slave labor to grow cotton. A hero to Texans because he was killed in 1836 at the Alamo, Bowie fought against Mexico—because it intended to abolish slavery in Texas, which was one of their provinces until that year.
Bowie was also a notorious swindler who sold land in Louisiana he didn’t own. These days James Bowie Elementary is on a list of schools whose names Dallas is considering changing. It has already changed the names of five schools named after men with ties to the Confederacy, including Stonewall Jackson Elementary and Robert E. Lee Elementary.
Since its founding in 1888 the Dallas Zoo displayed animals in order to make money. By 1980 that attitude gave way to a mission that emphasized science and humane treatment. In 1965 Jenny and Jimmy, the gorillas, produced a daughter named Victory. Jenny died of a stomach tumor at the zoo in 2008. She was 55 and considered at the time of her death the oldest gorilla in the world.
After serving in France during World War I Daddy William, or William Pleasant Vaughn, moved from Mississippi to Texas and bought an eighty-acre cotton farm near a backwater crossroads called Birthright in the northeast corner of the state. He promptly married Mother Vaughn, or Eula Ruth Orr, both descendants of Confederate soldiers. They set about bringing six children into the world. By the start of World War II the price of cotton had dropped so low the Vaughns could no longer make a living in Birthright. The children scattered in the wind and their parents moved into Dallas, where Daddy William took a job selling life insurance for the Woodmen of the World.
This non-profit benefit society was founded in 1890 to provide a safety net for widows who would have been forced to accept charity if not for their husbands’ insurance. It was also a fraternal organization with rituals and rites that drew from Christianity, paganism and a Celtic-flavored nature worship. Its physical legacy is a tombstone shaped like a tree stump found in old cemeteries across the South and the West. Men were ushered into the Woodmen circle with an initiation ceremony featuring a mechanical goat that shot blanks from its butt when the novitiate was bucked off.
The Woodmen established summer camps to give the children of families with modest incomes a low-cost immersion in horses and country life. And to introduce them to the society’s rites and rituals in the assumption that they would be lifelong members. Based on my confusing experience with Daddy William’s instruction in the Woodmen’s secret world, this could hardly be called indoctrination.
I didn’t know at the time that my year in Dallas had been arranged to take me away from Montana and the events that were much more traumatic for my grandparents—on both sides—than for me. A child’s wounds heal faster than an adult’s; and memories of my days with my mother were still warm and adoring. One of these sunny days was a ski trip, me standing in front of her on her skis as we cut a path down the slope. Another was a train ride to Oregon, where I splashed in the Pacific as she painted a seascape in bright, fragrant oils. And then there was the day we walked hand-in-hand down the clear, sandy-bottomed creek that trickled through our three-acre place in the country.
It wasn’t till years later that I learned how she died. And that in taking her life she had almost killed me and my sister, as well, the car idling in a closed garage attached to a small house, where her two young children lay sleeping. [4/16/2022]