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.)
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.