Gone with the Wind

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We are currently experiencing “False Spring” here in Missoula, Montana. The stretch of warm days, mud puddles, and melting ice inspire optimism, but they aren’t fooling anyone who’s been around long enough to see the rogue snowstorms that sometimes hit as late as June.

For months, my typewriter mailbox has sat dormant, a layer of snow and ice making it impossible to slide a message into its slot. A few months back on the morning of January 1,  I considered a hairdryer on a long extension cord to help start the new year on the right foot, but settled on a butter knife instead, chipping ice away in order to insert the message:

“2022 is a book with 365 blank pages. You’re writing it. Make it a good one.”

A few mornings later, the message was gone. I found a small portion of it at the end of the block, the laminated page torn in such a way that all that remained was the upper left-hand corner, which read like an eye chart. 

202 

is a 

wi. 

For a second, I worried that the message had offended a passerby, someone stumbling home, hungover, after a disappointing New Year’s Eve. 

But then I remembered the wind. Oh, the wind. The wind here in East Missoula comes barreling down the aptly named Hellgate Canyon with an agenda. We were warned of this when we moved in, the same way we were warned that neighbors would expect the typewriter mailbox message to be changed with regularity.

Which we’ve failed to do, lately.

When I returned home recently after being away for a few weeks on a travel nurse assignment, the typewriter was conspicuously empty once again.

“It’s been too windy,” Chris rationalized, “and that typewriter has been covered in ice since January.” 

Precisely the reason why we need puns: To break the ice. 

I reminded him how we agreed to resuscitate the typewriter message program in 2022, motioning to the laminated sheets staged in a basket by the front door. “The rotation of the Earth really makes my day” sat at the top of the stack

It’s March now, and even though it’s a time for battening down the hatches to keep the wind from stealing trash can lids and ripping screen doors from their hinges, I still feel guilty seeing the message-less typewriter every morning. Worrying about it, however, takes more energy than actually figuring out a way to windproof the sharing of puns with my neighbors.

The other morning at the dog park, I noticed the wind had blown all of winter’s litter against a chain link fence as if to say, “Look what you’ve done, you careless humans.” There were bottles and cans, candy wrappers, receipts, spent fireworks, school papers, hair scrunchies, and blue surgical masks. What is the wind’s favorite color? Blew!

Sigh.

With the snow melted, it was apparent that thousands of deer and rabbits had visited the dog park over the winter with the express purpose of using it as a toilet. Instead of the usual, scattered piles of glossy brown pellets, it looked like a semi truck hauling milk duds had exploded.

While the deposits by the deer and rabbits held their shape as they thawed, the same was not true of the dog variety, spreading out into brown blobs between the ankle deep puddles. Apparently, a number of dog owners misconstrued winter’s blanket of snow as absolution of their pick-up duties.

In an effort to channel my disgust into something useful, I decided to go after the trash, since picking up after the dogs was no longer a viable option without a spatula. With gloved hands, I bent down to pick up a crumpled fast food bag that felt disturbingly heavy, a few plastic straws, dental floss picks, a paper cup, and a handful of ATM receipts. For some reason, I couldn’t resist checking the account balances. 

I walked to the entrance gate and deposited the haul into the trash can, and, with two newly freed hands, started to pick up aluminum cans to bring home to my recycling bin. I recalled an essay David Sedaris wrote about picking up trash. Apparently, he is such a trash vigilante that he has a garbage truck named after him in the county where he lives in England. Besides the fact that he is hilarious, David Sedaris and I also share a birthday, so it seemed the least I could do. 

As I walked toward my driveway, a woman I didn’t recognize approached with an old, brown dog I knew.  

“Excuse me, do you live here?” I noticed her looking at my hands, one of which held two empty cans of Busch Light, the other holding five Mike’s Hard Lemonade cans, smashed into flat aluminum discs. 

I knew the dog from the dog park, but he was out of context, accompanied by a different human than usual. He nuzzled my leg with his gentle, graying face that seemed a contradiction to his name—which, if I remember right, was either Titan or Hercules.

She introduced herself while the wind whipped her hair into her mouth, and pointed out her house, three doors down. Then she gestured to the empty typewriter which, all of a sudden, looked even more sad and neglected.

“I love it when you put those messages up,” her eyes smiled above her scarf. “Thank you.”

She framed it in the way you thank someone ahead of time for doing something you hope they’ll do, the way I often say to Chirs, “Thanks for picking up the loose change and guitar picks on every surface in our house!” 

I apologized. “It’s been so hard with the wind,” I said, pulling my hat down tighter over my ears.

She nodded with acknowledgment but continued, “I think the person who used to live here used those clips,” she said, nodding toward two, heavy-duty black paper clips gripping the carriage return lever of the typewriter. 

She tipped her head up and said over the top of her scarf, “I really look forward to those messages!” then walked off with Titan, or Hercules.

I had no excuse but to get to work. Inside, I thumbed through the messages I’d made in preparation for 2022, The Year of the Pun. 

“What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.” Funny, but not very neighborly. “I don’t hate the wind, I’m just not a fan.” Timely, but I wanted something with a touch of local flavor. 

I looked out my kitchen window and watched a trash can roll down the alley like a tumbleweed, followed by an angry, fluttering mob of ads from the Sunday paper.

“What color should you paint your trash can? Garbeige.” That might just look like a typo for someone driving by.

Though I am ever grateful for the generous wits who selflessly make puns, jokes, and one-liners public domain on the World Wide Web, I really wanted to come up with my own for once, so I did. 

“What’s the most popular movie in East Missoula?”

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