The elephant has pockets. I’m thinking about Republicans but also about that parable we hear everywhere now, the one about the blind men trying to figure out the beast, each of them finding something different: a rope, a tree, a fan, a garden hose. But there are pockets that the blind men’s seeking hands never touch. Even so small a village as this one is so many different things to different people.
My internet connection has been breaking off every afternoon about 3PM until late in the evening — maybe 10PM. It’s not a disaster for me because most of my emailing is first thing in the morning or in the middle of the night. My writing partners are on the east coast and Europe where the time zones are quite different. I’ve been hypothesizing that it is congestion caused by the school kids getting online to chat and do homework, but one local person pointed out that the hours also coincided with the east coast closing down their day and transmitted big data loads. We have a LOT of federal entities in Montana. We may be getting bumped off at a much higher level than our own backyards.
I went scouting around only to discover that the rich people here have wireless and the poor people don’t even have computers. My DCL connector is showing all the wireless people when they go online, as though they were were all sitting in Starbucks. They don’t seem to know or care. Few were aware that corporate forces have just captured the FCC in their new rules about freedom of the Internet.
Last night I went to the town council meeting, as I always do, and asked to be put on the agenda. “Oh, no,” said Marie Antoinette, the mayor. “You have to apply 24 hours ahead in order to be on the agenda.” Huh? New rule. Then some back-pedaling — did I want some kind of action? No, I just wanted to report what I knew about this internet access problem. “That’s not our problem,” said MA. “That’s the telephone company. I went to wireless.” She’s soooo much more au courant than the rest of us. (She’s from Microsoft country over there by Seattle and was once the world’s authority on a piece of software now defunct.)
“Would you like some candy, Mary?”
“But it’s wonderful hand-dipped specially made truffles!”
“Are you deaf? I’m diabetic!”
“Diabetes is an epidemic in our community.”
“We can’t push sweets at meetings anymore.”
I made my report. No one had a comment. They were worried about snowplow protocol. At exactly what time should the city employees arise to plow if the snow is 2” or 4” or . . . and what exact route should they take? And who will knock on the plow drivers’ doors to alert them to snow height? MA has prepared a detailed plan. She has little idea who gets up when to work where, where the school buses go, which are the most-traveled routes, etc.
The sheriff’s deputy on the council had an idea about plowing the snow to the middle of the widest streets instead of berming in everyone’s driveway. Much discussion about whether the plow should be required to open everyone’s driveway. At least they weren’t insisting on us shoveling our sidewalks (major issue in Great Falls) since a) there is NO sidewalk in many places and b) the sidewalks end up under a four-foot berm of snow-turned-to-ice. One look at the plow driver’s face and you knew he was going to do what he always does anyway: what’s possible and what works. The day before the meeting the two employees had been required to watch an OSHA safety film about how to plow streets without running over dogs and little old ladies. The exasperation is palpable.
The second issue that came up was taking back the airport, which is legal county property, because it is prime lakefront land and if people built fine houses there (the kind of people we like and want to associate with — like RICH people), our tax base would be much improved (as well as our social status). Why is the airport there anyway, they asked.
First, you have to know this lake is an irrigation impoundment rather than a natural lake and that the canal company that owns it could drain it anytime they wanted to.
Second, this is not a lovely sand beach. When the water is low (often, late in the season), there is mud.
Third, the mountain view is thirty miles away and rather low on the horizon.
Fourth, there are far more splendid places closer to the mountains — accessible by rich people who own airplanes but they can’t land here if there’s no airport.
Fifth, if there were no airport, the fine houses would be looking at cheek-by-jowl trailer parking in the campground.
Sixth, this airport was built as an emergency landing strip during WWII and the “Lighthouse” for which our excellent eating establishment is named was originally the airport beacon. The airport itself needed the lake as an orienting landmark.
Seventh, though those present believe the airport is not being used much, my ears tell me differently, even now that the crop-duster and his poisons have moved out into the country.
Eighth, in the notorious flood of 1964, the airport was underwater.
Ninth, this is not a “rich person’s” treasure. It is a geezer lake where fish are planted so someone sitting in a boat or an ice house can catch them. (Rich people fly fish in streams.)
Tenth, just across the lake is a Hutterite pig farm, whose lagoon once broke and emptied into the lake, which is the water supply for the county seat, Conrad, though when the lake is low they pretty much suck mud.
Delusions of grandeur are not surprising when things get tough, but the truth is that this year Montana had the best grain and hay crop of any for a very long time. Beef prices are up. People here are building on to their small houses. They are too busy to attend the town council meetings. Why do I go? I sometimes claim the idea of being a public philosopher, but the truth is that I’m acting more like a community minister. Yesterday I typed up all the information I’d found out, complete with persons who need to be contacted in order for them to have the evidence they need for upgrading the system. (Some pretty competent and enlightened people, I must say!) I handed my document around to places I thought it would do some good.
Marie Antoinette has taken up daily residence in our village office. She does not see her constituency as being the population of the village and its surrounds. She sees herself as an enforcer of rules, like any good corporate officer. I have a larger concept in mind. The problem is not MA. It is that the elephant has lost its memory and is settling for peanuts when it could have the freedom of the veldt. But you have to show up at the circus.