Tag Archives: Missoula

The Jesus Bum The Barroom Chronicles… Episode 16

imagesCAOGENV6The door swung open, nobody paid any  attention. All eyes were glued to the television and the tenth rerun of A Christmas Story.  It was Christmas night and the bar was crowded enough to put a smile on my face. Until that night, I had never worked the holiday, and being my first year at the helm, I penciled my name on the work schedule. I was pleasantly surprised both at the amount of business and the relaxed mood. I didn’t know what to expect, whatever I was expecting wasn’t the softball of a night I was enjoying. Heck, I was so naïve about Montana culture, that three years after moving here, I thought all bars were closed like in my home town. A more cynical explanation was given that by 4:00 PM Christmas afternoon most people were sick of their families and needed an escape.

Cold air swooshed through the open door and accompanied him as he walked towards the bar. His hair was wild and dirty, his face haggard and rife with stubble. Above worn boots were ragged jeans, a ripped flannel and a down vest; he wore nothing else to combat the cold winter air. In his hand was a paper bag, which he set on the bar with a thump.

Could this be The Jesus Bum?
Could this be The Jesus Bum?

“What can I get ya?” I asked.

“Do you know a Blankety Blank?”

“Nope, never heard of her,” I answered.

Cold air radiated from his frown. “How ’bout you?” he asked the patrons closest to him.

“Nope,”  was the resounding answer.

The air seemed to escape his lungs. His head suddenly seemed too heavy for his neck. When he looked back up, sadness swam across the deep pools that were his eyes. “I rode the bus to Missoula, and I walked the rest of the way. I wanted to give her this, but I dropped it and busted it.”  He slid a wolf figurine from the bag. It was a dusty ceramic that looked like it hunted the back shelves of Goodwill, quietly earning a living preying on ceramic dear and elk, until snatched from its den and dropped on some roadside. The damage wasn’t horrible, a front leg had been amputated, but the bum managed to save the dismembered leg.

A crowd started to gather.

“Do you got anything to fix it?” he asked. His voice was quiet, but his gaze shouted. His eyes pierced my recently developing bullshit detector and I had the feeling this wasn’t some ordinary run-of-the-mill drifter.

il_fullxfull.244824797“Nope,” I said before turning to the crowd. “Anyone got any epoxy at home? Any glue?”

Most either ignored me or rumbled no. Someone said yeah, let me run home and check. While we waited the bum asked, “Got a beer? Don’t got no money, but I could use one.”

On a normal night, or if I didn’t have that feeling, I would have been on the verge of saying something like I’m not a soup kitchen for drifters, but I didn’t and instead I quietly poured him a pint of draft. Maybe it was simply Christmas spirit.

Others around him again asked the lady’s name.  He repeated it, everybody shrugged. He gave the address, it was a legitimate address in town.  Time passed, people returned to their crowd or watching the movie. The bum sat quietly, sipping his beer and watching those around him. From behind a cloak of ramshackle desperation a calmness emerged. It bathed him, it gave him presence;  a serene disposition. He waited patiently speaking very little until the door opened again and our local hero walked in with epoxy.  The crowd again gathered and a committee of ceramic veterinarians went about reattaching the wolf’s amputated leg. The bum simply watched.

When the operation was finished he moved for the wolf.

“Whoa, it’s gotta set,”  the lead veterinarian said.

“It’s gettin’ late, she’s probably in bed already,” the Bum said, his calmness slipping a tad.

“Have another beer,” I said. He didn’t refuse.  As he drank he didn’t have much to say. It was obvious he didn’t relish being the center of attention. People flittered away from him and went

The Bar Nazi and the Jesus Bum enjoying the moment
The Bar Nazi and the Jesus Bum enjoying the moment

about doing their things.  Soon he was just another loner sitting at the edge of the bar.  At some point while doing what I do, he slipped out the door unnoticed. Only his empty mug sat at the end of the bar.

“That wasn’t an ordinary drifter,” I said.

“Phffft. Don’t count on it,” one person said.

“You got a lot to learn,” another commented.

“Smelled horrible,” another complained.

And so on and on the comments reigned.  Maybe it was my idealism,  for I hadn’t yet earned my doctorate  in cynicism; I had yet been exposed to the general wretchedness of humankind. That night, I felt like there was something more than met the eye.  The simple events of that Christmas night still give me hope in humankind. Every Christmas since, I’ve wondered about the Jesus Bum and thank him for the lesson.

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What Comes Around Goes Around… The Barroom Chronicles, Episode 6

It was bound to happen, the prankster got pranked.  Yes, I was the biggest fool this April 1st… actually, on the 2nd. Here is my story of  Just Deserts.

(Que Keith Morrison of Dateline) The morning began as so many others, with a trip down the creek and a stop at the local coffee shop.  It was a beautiful spring morning, if not brisk. Birds where busy dining while the dogs patrolled the streets.

(Cut to me, sweating, sitting in the interview chair)  When I first pulled up, I noticed something was wrong.  Sheriff’s department tape was strung across the deck. “Crime Scene – Do Not Cross,” it ordered.   A chalk outline of a body lay strewn across the deck.  Blood dried in the sun.

“What the… ” I mumbled. My mind raced. Ah shit, what happened? Wait, the date. It’s a joke. It’s an April  Fool’s joke. Hell, if something really happened, I would have gotten a call at home, I thought.  Relieved, I got out of my truck, stepped over the tape, and tromped across the deck and opened the door.

Crime Scene

The bar was trashed!  All the lights were left on; The TV’s were on; all the neons were glowing – even in the window; A couple of bar stools were laying on the floor.  Peanut shells littered the floor like dead soldiers.  Behind the bar, the contents of the Shake-a-day boot were scattered across the ground. Water was left in the sink. Dishes were unwashed. The tray to the till was upside down on the bar top. Half drank bottles of beer lingered here and there.

The scene was perfectly staged and I was standing in the middle of it thinking: Aw Shit, there was a fight, an attempted robbery, somebody got killed and I just contaminated the crime scene.  Yes, I know, I watch too much Investigative Discovery. Not thinking that I own the place and my DNA and fingerprints are everywhere, I realized I couldn’t use the phone.  I can’t use a cell phone, hell, I don’t have one.  This is rural Montana folks, and the town’s nickname is the vortex – in part because there’s no cell service.

In a moment of panic, I bolt from the bar and race next door to the Fat Belly Deli.  Doors are locked… It’s closed.  I run down the street to Ghost Rails Inn – the local bed and breakfast.  It’s locked up. No one’s around.  I look across the street at the town hall. I hate to do it, but I have to.

Disregard the Crucifixion in the background.

I compose myself and step inside. The clerk asked. “What happened at the bar?”

“I think someone got killed. But, I don’t know, I think it’s a joke, but it looks like a robbery. Do you have the Sheriff’s Department number?”

She hands me the phone and gives me the number.

I dial, dreading what I would learn.

“Sheriff’s Department,” the cheerful voice answered.

“Aw… ” I begin and tell her who I am. “I think there was a murder at my business last night, but it could be a joke. Did you have any calls?”

“What do you mean you there could have been a murder?”

“Was there any calls last night?” I insist.

“No,”

“Can you check CAD?” I ask…  my wife used to be a 911 dispatcher, so I know the lingo, it makes me sound smart.

“Nothing happened,” the voice answered.

“I think I’ve been had. Sorry to bother you.”   I hand the phone back to the town clerk and do the walk of shame out of the town hall and across the street.

Inside the bar, away from the gawking eyes – I heard there was a buzz generated amongst the town’s senior citizens over the tape and chalked body – I learned that my detective skills need a little sharpening.   As I popped open the till to replace the tray, there was a big note proclaiming: “April Fools!”  And the chalk next to the till, looked suspiciously like the chalk used  to outline the body.I’m awaiting confirmation from the forensic’s lab if this was indeed the same chalk.

Laughing, I set about to cleaning up the crime scene. Hey, I appreciate the effort that went into the set up.

Did I mention that I have a phobia of rats and mice. They scare the living shit out of me, when I think of them, I get creeped out.  As I write this, I’m picturing a bunch of mice running across a floor and I’m skived out.  Knowing this, imagine my reaction when I bent down and was met with the grin of a big ole plastic rat.  I screamed like a little girl and managed a record for the over 40 high jump.

And you thought you had a tough Monday Morning.

A note to the perps:  Remember boys, what comes around goes around.  You’re fired!

 

The Midgets are Coming, The Midgets are Coming – The Barroom Chronicles… Episode 5

You’re going to have a what?  Really? We can throw midgets? Where did you find the midgets? You sure this isn’t another April Fool’s joke?

No doubt about it, the previous year’s prank was going to be a hard act to follow, truthfully, I didn’t think it could be done. You may remember The Name Change Party.  If you’re new to The Barroom Chronicles, check out Episode 2,  The Prank That Keeps On Giving.

I had serious reservations that the latest idea would fail miserably. The reactions to the previous year’s stunt were such that I thought everybody would know I was up to shenanigans. My level of resignation was such that on the day of the ‘Midget Toss’, I was going to write April Fools across the Midget Toss banner and call it good.

But thanks to the enthusiasm of an employee,  the event created memories, spawned a tradition, and relegated The Name Change Party to ‘opening act’ status.

“What do you mean write April Fools across the banner? Don’t be a putz,”  Wendy Rae scolded  “I’ve been getting phone calls all week. We’re going to pull this off.”

To the rescue!

The problem was, I didn’t have a clue how, and as far as I knew there wasn’t a midget cavalry coming to the rescue.  The joke was on me.  That afternoon, I learned that well laid plans are great, but sometimes it’s better to improvise.  As the hour approached, I left home armed with the two dolls that would serve as midgets, my computer (for DJing), and a reinvigorated imagination.

Anyone who has ever organized an event will attest, the biggest fear is that it will bomb.  Despite all the good intentions, planning and advertising, people will find other things to do that night.  When that happens, it’s hard not to take the failure personally.  Whatever I was expecting driving into town that night  wasn’t what greeted me.  The bar was packed. There wasn’t a parking place within blocks.  The pressure was on; for me, pressure is motivation.

Eric the Midget

During the weeks leading up to the event, I spun a beautiful web of bullshit.  When questioned if this was an April Fool’s joke, I swore that it wasn’t, saying that the date was the only time the midget troupe was available. Then I deflected the questions by saying not only were we going to have a contest for longest throw, but we were going to put Velcro on the courtyard’s fence and hold a contest for highest toss.  I took it a step further and said that Eric the Midget from the Howard Stern show was the headliner.   I later learned the greatest skeptics were won over by this info.  The chief skeptic admitted buying my line after googling Eric the Midget and  seeing that he was a real person.

Up to this point my only real plan was to drop the dolls off at the Fat Belly Deli and asking Guido to hold them until they were needed.

Outside the bar I took a deep breath before stepping inside. The crowd welcomed me like a conquering hero.  As I set up my computer and got the music going I was swamped with questions:  “When are they gonna get here? Where are they now?”

My answer: “They’re coming from Seattle on a short bus. They’re suppose to be here by midnight. In the meantime take a ticket, we’re having a drawing, the winner gets to tase a midget.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Tonight we’re tasing a midget.”

Not quite a midget tasing, but you get the picture?

Now, that was an interesting sociological experiment. Some people were revolted and refused a ticket, others were fascinated, others were excited. One gentleman followed me around and asked for the tickets that others refused.

The buzz generated was as loud as the music. And then, as fate would have it, I received a phone call. Truthfully, I don’t remember who it was or what it was about, but the timing couldn’t have been better.  I got off the phone, went to the DJ booth,  interrupted the song and made the announcement that the midgets had just entered Montana and that they were about an hour out.  A rousing cheer filled the bar.

Fate conspired in our favor that night, the Ghost Rails Inn – our local bed and breakfast – was holding a murder mystery.  A costume murder mystery.  The group was dressed in 1920’s attire and had come to the bar for an ‘after action review.’  Little did I know they were employees of a Missoula newspaper and our stunt got an article.

As the minutes ticked down, I organized my elves.

Number One:  The ‘winner’ of the tase a midget raffle would announce April Fools over the PA.

Number two:  The man who would deliver the ‘midgets.’

Number three:  Two girls from the murder-mystery who  would climb up on the bar and unveil the “April Fools” banner.

Finally the time had come, I made the announcement that the short bus had arrived. A cheer went up.  We held the ‘tase the midget’ drawing. Our ringer was called to the DJ Booth. Guido kicks open the door and throws the two dolls across the barroom floor and yells:  “Here’s your F#$#ing  midgets!” Our ringer cries “April Fools” and the girls unveil the banner.

A moment of stunned silence fell over the bar.  Then pandemonium broke out:  Some people laughed, some clapped; others booed, some called me nasty names. A very large man from the murder-mystery group who was dressed in knickers and armed with a golf club, beat on a doll until he decapitated it.

Me: I was laughing so hard I escaped to a bench outside the front door. Soon I was greeted by a parade of the humorless.  I was called many nasty names, told I would lose many customers and that they would see to that my name was drug through the mud. I laugh even harder, pointed to another banner that read ‘Free beer tomorrow’  and said: “See you tomorrow.”  As you may have surmised, I subscribe to the idea that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Six months ago, the leader of the group stopped in for a beer. We talked about that night. He asked: “Do you know why I was so pissed?”

I shrugged. “Don’t know.”

“I can’t believe I fell for your crap two years in a row.”

To his credit, the midget toss was two years ago and he hasn’t fallen for another prank. But then again, we haven’t tried.  My dream, to find a big name musician who would play our humble dive on the first weekend in April.  Of course everybody would think it was a prank.  When word got out that it really happened, I would have a permanent prank license.  One can dream.

Part 2:  The Day After

It may seem that the poor midgets got lost in the shuffle. Nonsense, they both have earned their place in infamy. The poor decapitated doll’s head currently rests on the bison’s left horn. The surviving doll didn’t survive much longer. The next day, Easter Sunday,  we pushed the line further and created a new tradition.

A longtime regular, who was a ringleader in the wheelchair episode,  stopped by the get the midget toss story.  Somehow or another the idea came up to tie a noose and hang the doll from the road sign.  Is it obvious we have a macabre streak?  I believe it stems from a misspent youth watching too many reruns of the Aadams Family.

Imagine the scene, a beautiful Easter Sunday, a dozen or so  people of all ages standing on the front deck with hands over their hearts as the noose is set and tied off.  The  ‘midget’ swaying to the rhythm of Jimi Hendrix’s  Star Spangled Banner.  I still chuckle from the looks we garnered from passing motorists, not -to-mention that poor young family, dressed in their Easter best, who just happened to be walking past.

Much like the lighting of the Olympic flame, the hanging of the midget has become tradition.  Almost every special event is kicked off by a similar opening ceremony. For the midget, it’s Groundhog Day.  At least she gets to hang out in front of  a cool bar.

A Vowel Movement with the High Colonics

The first and third Wednesday of the month arrives with anticipation. A group of us, unofficially called the High Colonics, get together and have Vowel Movements. During these meetings one of our esteemed group is charged with a writing exercise. The results are scattered as a shotgun blast.

Tonight’s exercise was challenging, thanks to Brooke, the unofficial leader. Our assignment:  Make up a word and in a brief story use the word without defining it. The reader must get the gist of the word.  You have ten minutes, go!

The following drivel is my attempt:

We waited hours before another rig came along. We were stuck on the Road of Bones. It stopped, the occupants staring us down. I had a bad feeling. The Russians stepped out. The driver swaggered towards us, a Tomakov hanging from his belt. My buddy, drunk on vodka crossed his arms at shoulder level and said “Hi, how are you, Hi how are you.” The driver grabbed the Tomakov and threw it, wedging it into his forehead.

My Russian is shitty, but I think he said: “How’s your splitting headache you rat bastard.”  I shook the Russian’s hand. My buddy was a pain in the ass. For two bottles of Vodka he pulled me from the mud and helped me bury my friend.

It is fascinating where inspiration and subsequent words come from.  I immediately spliced known words and wasted time with chestnuts unmentionable here. A couple of minutes in, an image of a documentary about the Road of Bones followed by an Indian brave flashed in my head and then I connected the dots.  Someone very close to me jokes: Pressure is good, insertion is bad.  That idiom proved true in this case. The pressure forced the muse’s hand, the insertion caused a fatal headache.

One wonders what the next Vowel Movement will bring?