A Tale of Two Highlines

Courtesy of Signature Montana Magazine

Construction on NYC's HighlineTwenty-two hundred miles from the Bears Paw Mountains, in the shadow of New York City’s wild Westside, a raised urban walkway meanders from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea–it’s called the High Line. It’s a top tourist attraction, packed with all kinds of strollers.

Like the highline that stretches from Shelby through Sweetgrass, New York’s revitalized raised rail spur provides open air, natural vistas, spiritual nourishment and a few colorful watering holes. It’s fun for this Great Falls girl to wander past daisies, wild grasses and coneflowers so far from home–there’s even a seasonal irrigation ditch where people take off their shoes and socks to cool tired city feet.

So, what does this have to do with Havre? NovHILINETownMAPUSE

Both highlines witness the change of seasons without closure or apology; both are evidence of the enduring effort of intrepid, hardscrabble Souls–and both the the citified namesake and its Western cousin remind us that wild life and wildlife are better off when conflicting visions are managed in advance.

Real estate developers in the Big Apple didn’t take long to see potential high profits from theirHigh Line. At least NYC boasts adequate water, sewer, roads, and other infrastructure–the straining city services around the North Dakota oilfields are a cautionary tale for what could be headed to Montana’s highline.

To twist the one-liner from Field of Dreams,“If they come, we will have to build it.”

When New York City’s High Line was turned into a walking park, the neighborhood rejoiced at improved property values. A half-dozen new buildings went up, lickety-split, and four imposing structures are on the way–along with the Bakken oil field-sized Hudson Railyards, sort of a city within a city, going up on the north end.

Coneflowers and Wild GrassesGrowth is often healthier on a trellis than when it’s allowed to sprawl: even if the shale oil fields don’t expand westward, Montana’s highline is already the railcar version of New York City’s High Line: Signature Montana readers know that grain farmers have been hootin’ and hollerin’ about untenable rail delays, and anyone who’s planning on riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder should pack a passel of patience: delays in Shelby have pushed eight hours.

It doesn’t matter which Highline you’re on: tread softly, and cock an ear to anyone who carries a big schtick.


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Nobody’s Angel: A New Review for an Old Book by Tom McGuane

The first thing I saw was a torn yellow sticker, Sale Price $1.49, smack dab on a not so sacred, sad piece of painted prairie.

The back cover of Nobody’s Angel has an author photo that looks scissored out, featuring Tom McGuane dead center on a photo that looks like he should have been standing off to one side, illustrative of the scale of the Big Sky.

The author is wearing one of them sweaters that’s worn only because the knitter is within shoutin’ distance. Sweaters like that, with racked bucks above the nipples, never get old: they get donated or incinerated first.

I’d never read any Thomas McGuane. I liked this guy.

Besides, the back cover blurb touted Nobody’s Angel, McGuane’s fifth novel, as  his “best work yet.” Seein’ as how there were likely four worse ones, I picked it up.  It was written back in 1979.

Nobody’s Angel is a dark barn of a book about a cowboy soldier who gets pulled by the backside of his Wranglers into the worst kind of high plains pathos–the kind that involves dysfunctional kinfolk.

The barn door of the book opens fine: chapter one is a shot of word whiskey. It tasted like more.

When I hit the first sentence in the second chapter, it hurt so hard I winced, grabbed my toe and hopped around, cussing:

“The yard light erect upon its wood stanchion threw down a yellow faltering glow infinitely chromatic falling through the China willow to the ground pounded up against the house by the unrepentantly useless horses.”

I have visceral reactions to writing. Malcolm Gladwell makes me want to comb my hair and clean closets. Salman Rushdie makes me want to solve mazes. Michael Chabon makes me want to rub the book between my legs. Thomas McGuane cracked the barn door, his word-hay sweet and sharp-smelling…then, dag nab it, I busted my toe on that sentence.

I read it again, you know, like slowing down when you pass an accident on the road. Then I closed the book and pushed it across the table.

Life’s short. I have lots of books to read. But hey, everyone’s entitled to a leaf of parsley stuck between his teeth. So the guy penned a self-indulgent sentence; I was still thirsty. I patted the cover and got back on.

Somewhere in the next five or six chapters, McGuane’s barn animals morphed from steaming-nostril beasts into carvings from an indoor merry-go-round. The characters, while vivid and rideable, were more about the curlicued carvings in McGuane’s tortured psyche.

I realized, about twenty chapters in, that I could give a hoot about what happened to any of ‘em. This is probably because I got my own tortured psyche to ride. I don’t need to straddle someone else’s unless it’s gonna give me a happy ending, thanks.

I lack education and foundation, and I like shlock. I may never be able to paint the vivid word pictures that McGuane spits out like so much Copenhagen. I might not even be qualified to dislike this book.

This writer’s world, my backyard, goes around and around in vivid flashes and aching blurs. When I stepped off, I was at the same place I was before I paid my $1.49. Nobody’s Angel left me a little dizzy–and mighty grateful to see the barn door.

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A Time of the Signs

A Time of the Signs

Great Falls is in full bloom.

From law office liberals…

to “Any Republican will do”…


until November 4th, rectangular biennials abound on Great Falls’ boulevards.

Some homeowners mix tulips with roses: this yard touts a Democrat for the Montana House and a Republican for the State Senate.  Who lives here–the Lockhorns? A blatant advocate of political gridlock? A relative of one candidate, who (not so secretly) accepts the ideology of the other? A cagey voter who wants a foot in both camps, just in case?

Here’s a cheeky conservative. The homeowner on this busy one-way has an early blooming placard: along with local Republicans, he’s endorsing Joe Biden, the perceived weaker Democrat, for president. Maybe he’s going to show up at the polls a year early, just to vote for Joe.

A privacy fence can feature home-scrawled sentiment, but if you spot a hand-painted campaign sign, it ain’t gonna be from no Democrat! It’s ironic that the party that supports small business can put up signs they spray-paint in the garage, but the artsy folk across the aisle have to shell out for posters that bear the Union bug.


If your house is for sale this fall, good luck attracting attention. For Sale signs are visual flotsam amid all the campaign placards.

















It takes chutzpah to put a political sign in front of a business: You won’t see signs at my office–instead of pissing people off before they come in, I prefer to alienate folks face-to-face.

Still, it’s interesting to see who supports whom, and to guess why. When a law office endorses a Supreme Court candidate, it’s hard for passers-by to tell if the decision is based on solid cross-examination or a leveraged analysis of someone’s bottom line.

The owners of this motel lean to the right; even though there’s no room in this hotel for a Democrat, he can hang out ‘on the fence.’ I’m pretty sure Norman would not have been welcome here if his last name had been Bates.

I used to have a tiny paper sign taped on my door: “Proselytizers & Politicians Unwelcome.” If I agree with you, your time is better spent convincing others. If I disagree, I hardly think I’m going to have a Come to Jesus moment on my porch, unless Jesus himself hands me a campaign brochure.

Hmm. What would the neighbors think if I put up four or five of these in my yard:





I am poking fun, but I have three good reasons to dislike yard signs. First, increased name recognition does nothing to inform. Zilch, zip, nada. Second, the presence of political signs on the yards of people we respect lessens our accountability in the voting booth (Jane likes her, she’s got to be good, right?). Third, I don’t really want to know that I am philosophically isolated in my own neighborhood. I’d rather imagine camaraderie when I smile and wave instead of envisioning the re-loading operation across the street.






This mid-term election, please ignore the signs. Consider our deeper struggles, the social and environmental issues, the state of our one-strong-rail/one-weak-rail economy, and the ability of those politicians whose signs are plastered all over town to do the job…before it’s ‘sign season’ again.




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Confessions of a Chocoholic (courtesy of Signature Montana magazine)

“What are you doing?”

I’m licking the chocolate off my iPhone, that’s what I’m doing.

Okay…I may have a worse problem than a melted mass inside my purse.

I’m not talking about an occasional craving for milk chocolate, the inferior portal candy of nine-year olds. I’m jonesing for the nearly uncut, organically grown stuff, dark and shiny as Denzel on a summer night.

I had to ask myself: am I an addict?

Addicts rationalize: dark chocolate has magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. You want instead I should break into the Filipowicz Brothers Salvage Yard and lick the rust off scrap metal?

Addicts make deals with deities: “I’ll eat this, but I’ll do an extra half hour on the treadmill after work.”  Deities are often disappointed.

Addicts have a hierarchy of desperation: chocolate chips are dinky, candy bars are cumbersome. I spurn Mr. Hershey’s kisses. My delivery system for a premium chocolate rush? Dagoba Chocodrops.

A single packet of these bad brown boys costs almost as much as a bag of plasma. There are days I want to hang the Chocodrop pouch off an IV-cart, calibrating it to dispense 74% dark chocolate at life-sustaining intervals.

When I sought solace in the like-minded companionship of fellow self-loathers, all I found were websites that reveled in this insidious addiction–featuring recipes and quotes from Bridget Jones’ Diary. Like that helps.

Narcotics Anonymous, though, had a helpful quiz. I adapted seven questions for chocoholics:

1. Do you ever use alone?

It’s a scientific fact that chocolate tastes better alone, in front of a Lifetime TV movie.

2. Have you ever substituted one substance for another?

I still have carob flashbacks from that Missoula health-food jag I had back in 1977.

3. Have you ever stolen to obtain your substance of choice?

Attempting to rearrange remaining gift-boxed chocolates around a missing mocha truffle–does that count?

4. Does the thought of running out terrify you?

I am not mining for stale M&Ms between couch cushions. I am CLEANING.

5. Have you ever tried to stop or control your using?

This time, I tell myself, eight Chocdrops will last for an entire hour…Whoa, they’re gone! The only rational explanation? A chocolate-induced blackout.

6. Have you ever felt defensive, guilty, or ashamed about your using?

None of your damn business.

7. Have you ever lied about what or how much you use?

I can’t lie because I don’t know how much I use. I’ve got a bowl in my showroom (less tempting low-grade stuff), Chocodrops in my office drawer, Green & Blacks bars in the pantry and an emergency reserve of Sunspire chocolate chips in an unreliably sealed container inside my purse.

Bonnat Hacienda El Rosario 75% Dark Chocolate from Flickr via Wylio

© 2010 Lee McCoy, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

I may be a chocoholic, but I guess I’m not anonymous anymore.





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Courtesy of Signature Montana magazine

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Squashing a Spring Bug

Squashing a Spring Bug

Last night I rolled over in the dark, held my breath and tilted my head toward the window. Was that a cat on my roof?

When I exhaled, there it was again: the high-pitched whine of a clogged nostril.

An hour later I woke up cowering from a World War II air-raid dream.

Buds are swelling on the honeysuckles. I need my coat in the morning, but I forget it at the office every afternoon. I’ve oiled the garden tools and doubled up the squat thrusts. Soon, it will be time to shave my legs for Spring.

I refuse to catch a cold.

Instead of running for covers, I open my medicine cabinet–nice and slow.

My secret weapon? A $3 dose of lipospheric Vitamin C that tastes so bad that I stomp one foot as I bite off the corner of the packet and guzzle the half-gelled contents by inserting the whole pouch and pulling it out out between my teeth. Instead of following instructions that prolong the unpleasantness, I deliver it, grenade style, in one swallow.

Take THAT, rhinovirus!

I’ve been eluding the creeping crud since Halloween, dodging contaminated airborne particles like automatic weapons fire. I empty trash cans with tongs and cut away from crowded aisles at the grocery store. Snotty children make me shiver. I gather my books and move my seat at the library at the the second sign of a cough.

In January, my husband got so sick that he jammed a tissue up each swollen nostril and skulked around the house imitating the Abominable Kleenex Man. I kicked him out of our bedroom for nine days.

Another Abominable Kleenex Man (NOT my husband)

Unlike my husband, who at least had the decency to hole up, many of the Walking Infected participate in a weird ritual of martyrdom and tribal recruitment. “I’ve been sick for three days,” one of them tells me. “I dragged myself out of bed to make this appointment.”

“Gee, thanks,” I say, disguising my recoil as a stretch.

Despite repeated confined exposure, no way am I buying NyQuil. Putting that stuff in your bathroom is like hanging a sign around your neck: “Come and get me.”

I will launch pre-emptive attacks with echinacea, garlic, zinc and Vitamin C. I will buy a homeopathic remedy with five syllables of O’s and C’s, but I will not not buy the dreaded green fluid until the pharmacist takes two steps backwards when I ask, “Where’s duh Die-kwul?”

And if there are extras from a Zombie movie in that aisle at Walgreens, I’m gonna wait it out.



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I Hate “Gay.”


Click on the link to my hubpages blog to find out why...

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Top Ten Reasons to Retire in New York City, at my Hubpages Blog!

Give Me Your (RE)tired, Your "Poor Me's", Your Huddled Masses Hankerin' for the Whole Foods Salad Bar

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An Unqualified Urban Anthropologist Asks: Why are Homeless People Cold?

NYC Homeles

From Ten People a Day to at Least Five Thousand

When I’m in Great Falls, Montana, I see maybe ten humans in a typical day. When I’m in New York City, I encounter at least five thousand.

I admit that many of them are seen in a blur: on the treadmills at Planet Fitness; on the A Train as it rumbles between platforms past 23rd Street; bobbing heads across the next intersection, warning me to take a hard right to avoid Times Square.

Of those five thousand faces, I don’t talk to more than six of them a day. Speaking less than twenty words a day, and walking all around the island gives me plenty of time to observe other members of my species.

Distinguishing the Needy from the Want-y: Impossible

I don’t care how tall/short/fat/thin/pretty/ugly you are: there’s someone in New York City who is taller/shorter/fatter/thinner/prettier/uglier, usually within a ten foot radius. Among the well-heeled, the tourists, the artists and the worker bees, there are some very desperate people.

It can be difficult to distinguish the needy from the ‘want-y’ in New York City. At Bryant Park last week, a guy came up to me in a spotless Ralph Lauren polo shirt, claiming he was a veteran who needed money. If I had not been frequenting Bryant Park for years, I would not know that Bryant Park is this red-headed, pock-faced guy’s office: he’s there, year ‘round.

It’s impossible to know who is truly needy. It’s like those handicapped parking spaces: you never know what someone’s infirmity might be, so it’s best not to judge.

The Non PC Question: Who is Pathetic Enough for Spare Change?

In front of Eataly on 6th Avenue, there’s a kid with a dog. His sign says, “Everybody Needs a Little Help Sometimes.” He’s young, fit, attractive and literate–he reads the classics. He’s been there for TWO YEARS. (Yes, I am tempted to edit his sign).

Are either of these people homeless? I don’t know for sure…and a donation would not entitle me to ask. Because they are clean and appropriately dressed for the weather, I’m not convinced.

It’s a judgement that passersby make, many times a day: you are not pathetic enough for my spare change.

The Cold Truth?

The one thing that many tragic-looking people have in common is that they are overdressed for the weather.

Why do homeless people layer on so much fabric, even in warm weather?

  1. Because they are homeless, there’s no place to put their stuff. If they aren’t wearing it, it might get swiped or chucked.
  2. They are really, truly, honestly cold. Sometimes if I catch a chill, no matter how warm it is, I can’t seem to warm up. Perhaps all those cold winter nights have imprinted on them, and they are storing warmth for the inevitable winter.
  3. Malnutrition/drug use.
  4. Maybe it’s emotional insulation. Life has not been kind to them, and clothes that keep out the cold actions of a cruel could serve as a barricade. It’s got to be a womblike state, floating in all that sweaty warmth.
  5. Are they hiding? Sometimes, there’s so much stuff attached to a homeless body that it becomes urban camouflage, human beings masquerading as refuse.
  6. There are a few homeless people who make their insulation into entertainment. Somewhere around the Port Authority (usually outside one of those dollar-a-slice pizza places) there’s a guy who dresses totally and THICKLY in discarded newspapers. He’s sort of a homeless performance artist.
  7. Territorial markings. On this crowded island, it might help to recognize one of your own kind, so a territory can be staked out. A fearsome ambiance might deter panhandling competition as well as unwanted companionship.
  8. Clothing as repellant. I admit to cutting some homeless people a wide berth. Sometimes there’s a potent olfactory barrier, other times it’s as though the person underneath all that stuff lives in an alternate reality that’s best left undisturbed.

The Cruelty of Academic Analysis

It’s cruelly academic to discuss a homeless person’s attire. We should be working to deal with the root causes of homelessness: mental illness, poverty, drug use, violence, a top-heavy economy, and general hopelessness among the people who need more than just hope.

If you want, instead of poking at a problem, to actually do something, consider donating time or money to the National Alliance to End Homlessness.http://www.naeh.org/ This is a Charity Navigator four-star charity, which means the money goes where it needs to go, and the transparency of the organization is excellent.


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Blue Jasmine Blooms at the Angelika in NYC

Blue Jasmine opens with Windsor EF Elongated lettering, white on black. It’s the Woody Allen Font.






There are other signs of the neurotic master: interlocking abrasive family dynamics, New York City as a supporting character, and the basically vapid nature of anyone who possesses a postgraduate degree and/or five million dollars.

Midnight in Paris (2011) was a charming diversion, like an iced mocha on a hot day. To Rome With Love (2012) tasted like a warm cafe breve.Woody Allen’s next project, I feared, might curdle on the way to the theater.

Blue Jasmine is the most nuanced work Woody Allen has produced in ages. Whether it succeeds or fails, Allen’s work is always edgy.  Jasmine, instead of prickling and prodding, lifts the covers and hits us in the soft spots.

There’s a lot of “catch and release” entertainment out there. We’v all sat through some bottom-feeders.Good movies are a joy to watch. Truly fine films hook our psyches and tug hard, long after the credits roll.

The ensemble cast of Blue Jasmine gathers around an ill-prepared, Xanax-popping East Coast socialite who is forced into a cluttered San Francisco apartment with her semi-estranged semi-sister (like real life, it’s a long story, that no one wants to hear–and no one has to).

Though Jasmine–who has lost everything except a killer wardrobe, a monogrammed set of Louis Vuitton and a one-way first class airline ticket–is blue, she’d rather step over fertile soil than endure a transplant into the working class.

The supporting cast is so genuine that, at times, it’s embarrassing to watch. Sally Hawkins, Sara Silverman’s twitchy lost big sister, uses her body as an emotional boogie board; Andrew Dice Clay embodies the drudging naïveté that elects fools and resents elections; Louis CK makes a doughy charmer; and Woody has finally found a worthy heir apparent to Chazz Palminteri: Bobby Cannavale manages to be handsome, offensive, endearing and dopey, all at the same time.

Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay

Then there’s a guy who is a dead ringer for Alec Baldwin. Okay, he is Alec Baldwin, playing, of course, Alec Baldwin. Some actors who play themselves are annoying, but Baldwin sure greases up a screen.

Movie critics may contend that Blue Jasmine is about the untenable nature of contextual conscience. If I dragged your gut-scratching uncle to the movie, he would sit at your  kitchen table in his soiled T-shirt and shake his head. “It ain’t so complicated. What goes around comes around.”


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A Brief Case for Alien Invasion

Courtesy 0f Signature Montana magazine: http://www.signaturemontana.com/archives/summer2013/#/90

I’m putting a call out to any little green men within shouting distance: please invade Earth.

Our entire planet is in trouble. Ocean levels are rising. Food crops are being co-opted. Overpopulation and pollution are acknowledged global threats. Human rights abuses and terrorist acts, domestic violence, mass shootings, coups, jihad and organized genocide take turns at being our Disaster Du Jour.

Our dependence on fossil fuels can be compared to addiction; we might change our dealer, our dose, or our hydrocarbon of choice, but we have no plans, at least for the next couple of hundred years, of giving up the jobs and energy that dead dinosaurs provide.

What we need is something to unite us, a common enemy to force us to clean up our acts, to make us think twice about the things that pull us apart.

Where Nelson Mandela, Black Elk, Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King have failed, I am hoping the Threat of Little Green Men will succeed.

Because most of us in the developed world have a comfortable routine, we trust that, at the last minute, someone will spare us the obvious inconvenience of rescuing us from ourselves.

There’s plenty of time, right? Everyone who’s ever seen a Hollywood blockbuster knows, before we even deserve to be rescued, things have to get really bad. Living in the majesty of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, among the great peoples of the Great Plains, it’s hard to ask–are we there yet?

Our earth has experienced at least five mass extinctions. These events occur when changes in the planet outpace the present species’ ability to adapt. Some of these extinctions were unquestionably extraterrestrial (asteroids, not aliens–gotcha).

We wouldn’t have time to fight among ourselves if there was a credible interstellar threat. We’d have to get in shape, conserve energy, and, instead of lavishing media attention and money on entertainers and sports heroes, we’d be forced to value cooperation and critical thinking skills–and possibly, good aim.

Humans  unite during a crisis: it can sometimes take the worst of us to bring out our greatest assets, our kindness and courage.

Give me the threat of an alien ray gun aimed at our bare human behinds, and we might come together to save the entire world.


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