by William Skink
Re-acquainting myself with downtown Missoula has been an interesting process, considering I was one of those people who moved outside of city limits precisely to get FURTHER AWAY from the urban core of Zootown.
My reasons for wanting distance from urban Missoula weren’t your typical reasons, unless having letters sent to your home from a schizophrenic woman who thinks you are her son is typical.
It’s a sad transformation the more I think about, especially when I juxtapose it with all the great memories of enjoying downtown during the good old college days of the early aughts.
I strolled around Missoula last Saturday night at 10pm, the new curfew for watering holes. It was eerie how quiet the streets were.
On Monday of this week I was walking around, seeing what I could see, when I heard a disturbance near the intersection of Broadway and Higgins. As I got closer I could see that Missoula’s friendly Pakistani jewelry peddler was caught up in a verbal altercation with a middle-aged woman. Both parties were angry and hurling obscenities at each other.
Since I knew both parties I just stood and watched to see what other bystanders might do. There was only two other people around, and they just walked away. The woman finally turned around in the middle of the street, then locked eyes on me.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, since it had probably been at least 6 or 7 years since I had interacted with her. I certainly didn’t expect her to quickly down shift from yelling about cocks and Madeline Albright to speaking to me in an almost normal and casual way, but that’s what happened.
Not only did she recognize me, but she asked if I was still writing. I said I was. She kind of nodded, looked me up and down, then went back onto the disjointed tracks her brain chemistry keeps her running on like a caged hamster.
I crossed the street and chatted with the other party to this disturbance about his part. He said every day she comes by and says awful, obscene stuff, and he is tired of it. When I mentioned mental illness he dismissed it, saying “No, they just use that as an excuse.”
Once upon a time it was my job to navigate these petty street conflicts in order to protect shoppers and tourists from the consequences of late-stage capitalism and its indifference to the proliferating pathologies of mental anguish it creates.
Not anymore, I reminded myself, and bid the Pakistani a more peaceful morning in ZOOM TOWN.