It’s over, Billings, and really, it’s not you. It’s me.

Downtown Billings intersection
Downtown Billings intersection
There’s something about Billings … the place makes me want to swing my fists and not stop until I get to city limits.

It’s unfair, I know – a whole damned city, 100,000 people, creeps me out. I probably know a hundred people here. But I was part of it until 2001, and feel it every time I return – the redneck right wingers with their homespun all-knowingness and the comfortable liberals who are more interested in cliche art than real people. (I think there is a small part of Richard Adams’ Watership Down devoted to them.)

From the movie Contact - where they got the idea, I think.
From the movie Contact – where they got the idea, I think.
Perhaps it’s the liberals that make me swing hardest. They have populated Montana avenue with their trendy stores, built a new library, have their own magazines to honor one another as they listen to YPR and vote for Democrats.

I guess I prefer the redneck right-wingers. At least they are on the outside true to the inside. The liberals are so full of pretense. (There are some pwoggies around, I know. I just don’t know where anymore.)

But that’s probably typical of any city of size. Especially out west, progressives, more combative political activists, are singled out for ridicule. Liberals, non-risk-taking Democrats, look for comfort, and find it in trendiness and good non-threatening causes like libraries and art and public radio that avoids controversy too. So let me back step here: Billings, you’re not different or special. That’s just me being me.

Then there’s the religious element. The man who presided over Mom’s burial and her memorial is a wonderful man. His essential goodness is his steadfast dedication to service of others. He does not waver. He is just there. He has a large reserve of inner strength and is focused outward. He’s a Catholic priest too, incidentally. And a Mensch.

So Billings has solid and serene servants doing God’s work, and not for show. No problem there either. And still I am creeped out by this place.

I’ve been back now for five funerals, and the professional religious people ran every show. We just sort of lower our gaze and submit to their judgment. Once I suggested for funeral music a Paul Simon song, and the answer was even condescending: It has to be religious music, chump. (They did not use that word, but it was implied.) Why? That stuff they use is so old, stiff, boring, like religious ceremonies themselves. But we have to pay homage to the religious community. They have us by the balls. Final rites for a relative is no time to go rebellious.

I think my problem there is that these professional religious people do not reach out to us. They do not let us not believe. I’m tired of that. I want a special section at funerals for non-believers so we can eat popcorn and watch porn and bet on horse races and play Dungeons and Dragons while the ceremony and that godawful music and flashing of gold chalices and bowing and wearing of phallic hats is going on. You know how we are, we non-believers.

And that too is standard everywhere. Professional religious organizers are not creative. And they do not care about anyone’s beliefs other than their own. Not for one stupid second.

The worst are the funeral homes. So very creepy! We had a $6,000 funeral trust for Mom, but I did not want to use it, even thought I might revoke it and let Medicaid have it. I said no hearse, pall bearers or elaborate ceremony or embalming. No music. No snacks – the people who will show up are really paying tribute to my late brother Steve, and that’s fine, but I’ve had enough of standing around making small talk with them. [there were maybe 75 people there, virtually all who remember mom and came for that reason. Missed that call by a mile.] I wanted no reason for people to linger. I’ll find those who come to pay respects to Mom and Dad, if any are left. Mom was 97.

At the funeral home Mom’s body was in refrigeration, as must be done. I told them I wanted to see her anyway, one last time, and they said to come back later in the day. We did. The bastards took my little request as permission to do their thing. They embalmed her. Then they told me that there would be maybe $600 going to Medicaid from the trust.

No hearse, ushers, and we bought the cheapest coffin they had. There were no coffee and cakes and professional sad-looking men standing around, and they still managed to embalm the funeral trust, taking all but $600 out of it!

Billings, I have not mentioned your best side, I know. You have Kemmick writing for the Outpost, you have the Outpost. You have the rims and Schoenthal Island and the Yellowstone River, the Mustangs and Pioneer Park and that strangely attractive monstrosity in that intersection downtown. You have many, many wonderful things going for you. I’ve not mentioned your best and here I go insulting you for being just like every other place.

Good bye, and please don’t be offended. It is not you. Really. It’s me.

20 thoughts on “It’s over, Billings, and really, it’s not you. It’s me.

  1. For you Mark it’s going to get worse. XL will happen, Tongue Rive RR will get built, the govt. has just approved another port for shipping natural gas on the west coast, the Bakken continues to produce and coal trains will get longer and more frequent.

    Here’s what I’m thinking. The GF base closes, with no powerful Max left the town dries up. Puppy Jon just can’t piss with the big dogs. Which in my estimation causes Billings to grow exponentially with some southern migration. !00,000 peps is the key, several growing businesses use that as a prerequisite in establishing satellite offices. Just look what happened to Boise when they achieved that mark.

    My only regret is that I didn’t experience a more innocent Billings in the 60’s.


    1. For the life of me I cannot figure why Montana has not had two Republican senators since 1990. Here is a question for your astute political mind: Why could Republicans not put up credible opposition in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008? How on earth did Tester manage to pull that rabbit trick on Rehberg? Are Republicans that dumb? Answer that question correctly, and your political IQ takes a 40 point jump.

      The rest of what you write – Kelly has a good handle on that, I think. Montana is a resource colony. When the resources are gone, when it is gutted, they move on. Any attempt to keep a portion of the wealth there for future generations is considered a form of communism, I suppose. You know, Like the coal trust fund tax? How dare they?


      1. Three reasons, mostly to do with intelligence and generational tunnel vision.

        Butte MT and the coal miner mentality.
        Indian Reservations, enough said.
        Higher than normal percentage of federal workers.


          1. Then let me further astound you.

            Eastern states were once great “resource colonies” and guess what? They’re fracking in Pennsylvania and they could frack in NY if only Cuomo let ’em.

            Harvested natural resources have what effect on communities? Did Butte survive? Eastern states have miniscule percentages of public land and no wilderness and yet they thrive. How could that possibly be? They robbed from their future generations and yet their grand children have flush toilets and flat screens.


          2. There is always the risk of oversimplification, Swede, but generally speaking, those places that broke free of or resisted colonization, like the Japanese or the US, prospered. Colonies are expensive to maintain, but those costs are borne by the general taxpayers of the mother country, while the benefits are enjoyed by the upper crust, the 1%. This is why we have situations like Iraq where the US has spent tens of billions to subdue the place, more than the value of the oil taken back. But remember that Exxon will spend any amount of your money to protect their oil.

            George Washington insisted that for his inaugural address he wear American-made clothes. There were none to be found, as the British did not allow domestic manufacturing in their colonies. The Indians were not allow to manufacture cotton, which is why Ghandi used a spinning wheel as his symbol. India suffered millions of deaths due to famine under British rule, more than China under Mao, and the famines ended when the Indians took over their own rule. We hear about what a monster Mao was, not a word about His and Her Majesty, equally barbaric. Bertrand Russell said that the British aristocracy was as bad as Stalin, and I agree.

            I’m just saying it is not black and white as you like to make all things. There have been benefits from colonization, but generally the vast majority of benefits go to a very few. The billions in wealth mined in Butte left the state, and all that is left is a remnant town and a whole lot of environmental problems and poor people. Right now American soldiers are protecting the poppy fields in Afghanistan – that money eventually makes its way to Wall Street and London banks, while the American taxpayer pays the soldiers’ salaries.


  2. I do not mean to single out Montana as a “resource colony.” The entire U.S. is in the same boat. Global capital respects no soverign, state or personal — none except perhaps global-corporate. Even then they eat their own when two nickles hit the floor. Even Vietnam ultimately succumbed to McDonalds; and Ecuador to Chinese oil companies.


    1. I fail to see how who is buying the oil matters. It is who controls the oil. The US having control gives it leverage over China. It was never about US domestic supplies. If it was, we could buy it for less money than it cost to destroy the place.

      Also critical: oil sales must be denominated in dollars. That’s what props it up even as the Fed keeps pumping them out. Qaddafi was threatening to jump ship, sell oil in a different currency – basket. That’s why Wall Street and London ordered Libya to be bombed, Qaddafi murdered. These are your thugs, not mine.


          1. OPEC still controls the market by setting production limits.

            Even tho they’re not as strong as they were in the seventies.


  3. Swede,
    Ever hear of oil futures? Speculators? Short sellers? Global capital is in control of oil and everything else, I’m afraid.


    1. Same as gambling.

      No one including Exxon, BP,…etc has as much power over the oil markets as OPEC.

      They have there fingers on the valves. One turn and production skyrockets and the price craters. EC101, regardless of the moneychangers.


      1. Those embargoes of the 70’s were contrived, and there were no shortages. It was designed merely to boost the price of oil, and the ultimate destination of the money was Wall Street and London. These guys are so powerful that they make reality for the rest of us. Saudi Arabia is an American protectorate. No way does it go rogue. The sum of OPEC’s power can be seen in Saudi Arabia flooding the world oil market in 1985, driving the price down below $10, and starving the oil producers. The result: the oil market had a shakeout, and the Soviet a union lost a huge portion of foreign exchange, a large part of its collapse.


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