Used Phone Numbers

I think we’re past the time of new phone numbers. We had a new phone number back when Interbel put in the rural party-lines in the sixties – 882-4678. If anyone else has it, it’s a second-hand phone number.

My first memorable second-hand phone number was in Chinook, Montana. I don’t remember the number, but I do remember that it was only one digit away from the bar’s number. Drunks really shouldn’t let their fingers do the walking for them. Usually after midnight, on a weekend, while I was sleeping.

Generally, I have “shouldasaids.” 15 or 20 minutes after the conversation, I come up with the brilliant comment that I should have said. Unfortunately for the second or third callers, I often was prepared with the right answer. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

1:00 am – Mike blearily answers – Hello.
Female Caller – Is Jack Smith still there?
Mike – now awake – Let me check – has anybody seen Jack Smith lately? Oh, that’s it – He left about an hour ago with that long-legged blonde.
Caller – That no good SOB . . . this woman was really creative.

8:00 pm – Mike is awake and answers – Hello
Caller – Is Kirby Prescott in? He owes me 40 bucks.
Mike – You’d better get here fast, he’s losing money at the poker table.
Caller – Thanks Dude, you new here?
Mike – You called it friend – see you when you get here.

11:30 pm Mike wakes up, and answers – Hello
Male Caller – Is Diane Tennyson there?
Mike – Let me check. Has anyone seen Diane Tennyson here this evening? Oh, I see. Guy says she left with 3 railroad gandys to check out the rail car they live in.
Male Caller – What?
Mike – Guy says she left with 3 railroad gandys to check out the rail car they live in. You know, the guys that are changing crossties – the railroad parks their home car at the siding by the grain elevator.
Caller – click

It went on, nearly every weekend. If I had stayed there, instead of taking the job to teach at Trinidad State, I would have probably doubled or tripled the community’s divorce rate. Still, when I arrived at Trinidad, I got another second-hand phone number. That number had belonged to Dominic Quintero, and I was to learn more and more details about his financial status and credit rating. The first glimpse of Dominic’s credit rating was prophetic.
Mike – Hello
Caller – Dominic, you owe me money.
Mike – I’m not Dominic.
Caller – Dominic, don’t give me that s***.
Mike – Do I sound like Dominic?
Caller – You sound like a gringo.
Mike – That’s because I am a gringo and not a Dominic.
Caller – Do you know where Dominic is?
Mike – No, but am I right in guessing the phone company gave me his old number?
Caller – Yeah. You’re probably going to be getting a lot of calls. Sorry, dude.

This led to developing the game of where in Colorado is Dominic Quintero. Now I never met Dominic, but as time went on, I kept developing conjectures about where he had gone. Sometimes he had moved to Raton, sometimes Aguilar or Denver. After a year or two, the calls for Dominic fell off.

Later, when the phone directory came out, it listed two numbers for me. The first one was wrong, and a colleague told me that he had called it, and the guy who answered was unhappy about all the calls he was getting for me. I did call the phone company to see about getting the book corrected, but thousands of books were in circulation. It couldn’t happen until next year. With more friends and acquaintances telling me about Mr. Ortega’s rage, I gave in to an impulse and dialed him up, just to ask if he had any messages for me. He did, and it wasn’t very nice. I think he’s the guy who called the phone company in Pueblo and had my phone service cut off.

Our last strange repetitive phone caller was just before we retired and left South Dakota. The problem wasn’t the woman who moved in and got a phone number one digit different from ours. The problem was her sister – a woman of outstanding rudeness, an afternoon drunk and further proof that drunks shouldn’t let their fingers do the walking for them. Her usual style was to get about half smashed on a nice afternoon, and let the phone ring and ring until Renata came inside to answer it. Then she would reply with “Took you long enough. Were you on the pot?” or some similar greeting. We moved before we could condition her to quit calling. But I feel sorry for whoever got our used phone number.


Supporting our Local School

I’ve watched the support for a high school that fields a state championship football team.  It’s a pleasant support to watch.  I see conflict about a teacher showing an R-rated movie about the life of Frida Kahlo in class – some want punishment for the teacher, others write of the teacher’s quality.  I have to admit – if I wanted to pick a painter with more controversial components, Kahlo gives a lot more options to get excited than most.  Bisexual, Communist, an easy topic for disagreement – yet the disagreement demonstrates that we care about our schools and students. 

I guess the question boils down to what we want taught and what we would rather keep concealed from our community’s adolescents.  It looks like pride in the football team gets great support, and a film about a bisexual, communist Mexican artist gets folks picking sides.  I’m challenged in understanding high school football – but I’ve watched men who were fifty years old reliving a game they played against each other 35 years earlier.  Eureka’s high school football players get something out of the sport.  It has value.  Likewise, there is value to learning tolerance.  Whether we’re part of a large group enjoying the school’s success in football, or picking a side in favor of showing or suppressing a movie about Frida Kahlo, we’re taking an interest in the school.  But we may be on the wrong topic – a good, even a great athletic team doesn’t correlate with good or great academics.  And showing a controversial film doesn’t correlate with good academics. 

SchoolDigger provides rankings of all of Montana’s schools – well, most of Montana’s schools.  When I got on the school board at Trego, the school wasn’t ranked . . . but it was also down to 4 or 5 students, depending on when you did the count.  Last year, with Covid, the testing didn’t occur.  Still, we have some data available.

When I searched Lincoln County High School, I read “SchoolDigger: Rank 113th of 137 Montana districts.”  The chart below that statement shows that, back in 2013, Lincoln County High School rose into the top half of high schools. 

If the average is 50%, the chart shows that Montana is not making the average, and LCHS performed dramatically below average.  Staying with the percentages makes the scores easy to understand – and remember, the performance of all students has been compiled and averaged.

ACT Composite32.4%20.7%52.0%33.3%

The numbers are extreme.  Only in English do LCHS students approach the state average.  Go back up and look at them.  These kids are my neighbors.  They aren’t morons.  Our schools are allowing them to be left behind.  I’m not looking at national norms – just comparing LCHS with the state average.  When I began teaching at Trinidad State Junior College, I learned a vocational education mantra: “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.”  For some reason, our students haven’t learned.

We take pride in a state high school football championship.  It feels pretty lonely to be in the group that reads of the LCHS rank on academics – nobody has mentioned it to me.   Still, I would much prefer to see LCHS ranked number 1 of 137 Montana districts on the SchoolDigger page. 

I’m not asking folks to petition the superintendent to punish or exonerate a teacher for showing an R-rated movie.  Not when the high school rank is 25th from the bottom.   The lowest fifth.  I am suggesting we press the board, the superintendent, the principal, the teachers, the guidance guy, to take a first step – LCHS needs to rise from the gutter to the curb.  The step after that can be reaching the state average.  After all, they have surpassed that goal 50 miles to the south.

I don’t know how long it will take before LCHS can rise to showing even mediocre performance on SchoolDigger.   The past couple of rankings are based on how students perform on the ACT in their junior year.  Every student takes the test.  A half-century ago, it was like the football team – the students taking the ACT were self-selecting.  Now, regardless of your beliefs about college placement exams every student in the state takes the same exam,

SchoolDigger shows that we pay $9,347 per student to achieve this ranking.  Whitefish pays $10,756 to be ranked third.  If LCHS could miraculously jump to third place just by raising the budget by 15%, I’d say “DO IT NOW.”  It is probably a part of the solution – we have to go down the list to 58th place Billings’ Skyview high school to find a lower $9,158 in per pupil expenditures.  Still, I believe that the first change is attitude – and a state athletic championship doesn’t offset this level of tested academic performance. 

A Science for Everyone, Community

Welcome Back Carter

It’s time to watch the Consumer Price Index again.  The CPI is published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) and the recent release shows an inflation level that hasn’t been seen since Obama was a president.

“The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.6 percent in May on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.8 percent in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 5.0 percent before seasonal adjustment; this was the largest 12-month increase since a 5.4-percent increase for the period ending August 2008.”

Well, the inflation rate isn’t up to where it was in the Carter years – but it looks to me like the BLS website is going to be worth watching.

Community, Wildlife

On the Road and Around the Pond

Oh the Road & Around the Pond

This is an exciting time of year as we await the appearance of babies. We have does with rounded bellies. We have yet to see a fawn.  The fall burning of tree stumps around the yard resulted in holes and burrows that were not always filled before winter set in.  An opportunistic skunk moved into a burrow created by the removal of a tree root. Looking out the kitchen window we spotted 4 baby skunks. The babies are really cute but not particularly welcome.

He goslings are starting to color.  The ducks paused to finally get their portraits. We have spotted only a handful of tadpoles. Those tadpoles are steadily growing. The turtles are on the move and on the road. We noticed a neighbor stopping to carefully remove a turtle on the road to the safety of a grassed area.

A pair of whopping cranes are occasionally stopping to hunt in the field. The coyote is hunting in the field and along the road. The feral cats are making regular treks along the road. -Patches

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Community, Recipes

Mexican Cornbread

In the mid-eighties, I taught at Trinidad State Junior College, where I learned that the names Carson, Bowman and Simpson belonged to Hispanic students.  I recollect one beginning student hanging back at the end of class, to ask “Mr. McCurry, did you notice that we were the only white people in this class?”  I hadn’t noticed – I’ve known my students as individuals rather than by race.  Anyway, this recipe comes from Trinidad, Colorado – the notes say it was from Mary DeKleva, and I can’t say if it’s cultural appropriation of not.

1 cube melted oleo
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup white flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 can hot diced green chili
1 cup american cheese grated and melted

Mix ingredients together.  Bake in 350 degree oven in a 9 x 9 pan, for forty minutes.

A suggestion for lightweights might be to start with a can of mild diced green chili – southern Colorado and northern New Mexico have a tendency for some downright hot peppers in the food.  I learned to enjoy it, but I was never sure the delicacies weren’t a test my students gave me.  “Try this, Mr. McCurry – my grandmother made it.”


My first days in Trego

This past week held the anniversary of my moving up to Trego to join my wife, Sam… As such, it also held the anniversary of my meeting the best firearm evangelists I’ve yet encountered.

The bears.

The two delinquent bruins, about a month before I moved up to Trego.
Note the radio collar on the left bear – both have them.

A year ago, I wrapped up my Masters Degree project, describing several new species of Kentucky cave beetles, and began the long drive out to Trego, MT. I believe it was the evening of my second day here in Montana that they introduced themselves…

Just as Sam and I were settling in for the evening, we received a panicked phone call from her mother. She was sufficiently agitated for me to hear her some distance from the phone… As it turned out, Sam’s father, Mike, had stepped out onto the porch to shout at couple of gangly young grizzlies, encourage them to get a bit further from his house. But he had a little overweight Pomeranian who had other ideas – she sprinted out the door past him, intent on getting between him and the bears. Despite the size disparity, she startled those bears and made them run… And, as they were running, she pursued them, a good 300-some feet.

Mike couldn’t let her be alone out there with them, so he ducked back inside, grabbed some slippers & the nearest firearm, and headed out after his wee beastie. It’s at this point in time that Sam’s mother called. Sam hurriedly grabbed the keys and produced a couple of guns. She passed me one which I straightaway handed back to her.

At this point in my life, I’d never fired a gun before, and I’m somebody who believes in doing things well. I thought I’d have better combat utility with a walking stick, and took a promising one.

So, off the two of us flew, leaving our own irate wee beastie behind us. Sam at the wheel, bouncing the truck down the old road to her folks. As we arrived the two young delinquent grizzlies were reconsidering their flight from a certain overweight Pomeranian… but they backed off as we raced up in the truck.

Sam passed me her gun, and bailed out to catch the overweight Pomeranian (who refused to get behind Sam’s father), and we retreated back to her folks’ house. While Mike’s seven rounds of 22 weren’t great comfort with two bears at close range… it was a sight better than my walking stick.

The next day we could see the bears from our house, as they enjoyed a neighbor’s water feature. It took about a week for Fish & Game to trap them, and all the while I was waking up to nightmares of bear home invasion. As soon as they were captured and removed from the area, I began learning to shoot. One could scarce ask for better motivation, and I practiced devoutly.

Shortly after our first sighting of grizzlies this year, I had another dream about them staging a home invasion. This time, I was armed, and the dream ended much better for us. While I’d hate to have to shoot one, it’s nice to be capable of doing so, if need be.


Movies for the Faceblind

One of the aspects of modern life that is complicated by being faceblind is television.

There’s a rather small part of the brain dedicated to facial recognition (and to recognizing a number of other things, as it turns out). Without it doing that job, the faceblind are left unable to recognize faces.

There are a surprising number of films and television series that rely on facial recognition for plot purposes. Clones? Twins? Time travel? But even the ones that don’t rely on it for the plot are difficult. It really is very necessary to be able to recognize the different characters as they appear throughout the film.

I rely on subtitles and the people around me to help me follow the plot of the film. In day-to-day life, of course, I rely on the dog.

Since, every movie night is Prosopagnosia (Face blind) Movie Night for me…What makes a good selection for Prosopagnosia Movie night? (ie. one that I can watch without asking “who’s that?” too many times)

    There are a few criteria that can make a movie easier to follow.

  • Small Cast
  • Very distinctive characters (especially distinct body language)
  • No laundry (The clothes never change. They should be members of the cast in their own right)
  • Color Coding (Star trek does this quite well)
  • Frequent use of names
  • Subtitles
  • Cartoons/Animals

And these don’t just make it easier for me. Subtitles are helpful for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, or even just people with a lot of background noise. The color-coding that makes my life so easy is also an advantage for anyone with trouble making out the details on the screen.

Of course, much of modern television remains essentially inaccessible. In a world where communication relies increasingly on memes, youtube videos, and images, faceblindness presents a barrier to communication.

But for today at least, I remain simply one more person reluctant to fully adopt modern technology.


Game Cam: On the Road & Around the Pond

Although the deer still need brushed, the beginning of horns are evident on the bucks. A young bull elk  looked surprised to find a road/driveway. Domestic and feral cats along with skunks are traveling the road/driveway regularly. A grizzly passed through without stopping. On the pond the ducks refuse to stop for portraits The goslings are getting bigger but are still without much color. The adult geese are molting.


A Badger to Hunt with

In my teen years, I met a lactating female badger that was caught in a gopher trap.  She was a rather unhappy badger, so I went and shot a ground squirrel, found a stick, and as she inspected the dead gopher, managed to use the stick to depress the spring and release her from the trap.  My good deed for the day was done, and she hadn’t seemed nearly as aggressive as the stories about badgers had been. 

The next day, as I walked around the field with my single shot 22, she showed up again.  So I shot another ground squirrel, walked over, picked up the body and tossed it toward her.  We spent the summer hunting together – she was so low to the ground that I had to walk to the gopher hole.  On the other hand, just getting down the hole didn’t protect the wounded Columbia ground squirrel – she could smell the squirrel, the blood, and usually only took a few minutes to bring the squirrel out.  She wasn’t something to pet, like my Pomeranian, but the two-species hunting partnership took more rodents, and probably fed her offspring better.