Tag Archives: Montana

We’ve Been Outed!

Shhhhh!
Shhhhh!

Shhhhh! I have a revelation, but don’t tell anyone, it’s our secret. Everybody knows that the Ashley Madison Scandal is the gift that keeps on giving. Aside of the big name outings like reality star Josh Duggar, newspapers across the country have been exposing the number of locals involved. In our neck of the woods – ‘lil ole Missoula, Montana (Missoulian Article) – it isn’t any different. Those with .gov email are currently on the firing line. I’m sure the attention will soon shift to the private sector.  In that spirit, Tammy and I agree that it’s best to be upfront.

Outside of our careers, my wife and I give the impression of being reclusive. In reality we’re adventurous souls who are continually looking for ways to sate our wanderlust – or any other of lustful impulses. Everybody knows the allure of fresh meat – the pursuit of fresh meat landed us in our current predicament.

We first met the muse of this behavior in Costco. The allure was immediate and Tammy commented about the twinkle in my eyes. It started with a casual conversation at the meat-counter. Soon I held her in my hands. It didn’t take long to see she was the complete package. With a giggle we rushed through the cashiers on the way to a one-night-stand. But one night wasn’t enough. An obsession developed. Complete packages have a way of casting their spell upon the enchanted. Tammy and I were compelled to do her bidding.

After a dinner of pork-tenderloins, we found ourselves hand in hand, walking under starlight in Missoula’s Caras Park.  Between us, our muse smelled alluring – enough to inspire ravenous desires of the celibate. Our Little Pork Chop was indeed diabolical, especially when it came to the homeless. Many drooled as they stumbled by. One was brazen enough to stop before us and gaze upon her. Unable to help herself, she worked the bum under her spell.

“Yo!” I barked as he moved for her. “She doesn’t give away her affection, you have to earn it.”

“How,” he mumbled.

I looked to our Femme–fatale and then back to the bum.  “You have to fight another bum.”

“Huh?” he garbled.

“You heard me.”

Gazing from our Pork Chop to a vagrant stumbling along the path behind us, blood rose in the bum’s face. With something akin

Homeless Cockfighting
Homeless Cockfighting

to a rebel yell, he charged the other, and half-cursing, half-snarling, and won Pork Chop’s Endearment. Standing over the vanquished, our bum grinned at us. It filled both Tammy and me with voyeuristic pleasure handing our Pork Chop to the victor. Ecstasy reigned upon all of us as the bum ate our Pork Chop in public.

Throughout the next week Tammy and I spoke nothing of our foray. The following Friday we wondered if we should again seek our muse. Exercising restraint – after all, we both have reputations to uphold – we decided to forget about our Pork Chop and  let her exist in the realm of pleasant memory.

The remainder of the weekend our muse managed to seep into our thoughts. Throughout the week she occupied them, making our daily tasks unmanageable. Those around me that week would comment to how suddenly forgetful I’d become. That next Friday, Tammy and I looked at each other, and without a word, walked out the door and traveled to Missoula to fulfill our desire.

Black eyes and jumpsuits always come after Pork Chop.
Black eyes and jumpsuits always come after Pork Chop.

Fridays  soon fell into a routine: A trip to the Costco Meat Counter and then to a public park to grill pork chops – dozens of them. When we finished we headed for the river and to the tent city where Missoula’s vagrants called home. To play, Tammy made the bums dress in chicken outfits. Friday night cockfights were on. It was a win-win-win proposition. Tammy fulfilled her need to dress the tattered, I fulfilled my need to organize sporting events, and the bums got a pork chop – at least the victorious bums.

Like all affairs, this one came crashing down among the participants – all because one uppity bum got carried away and stole a pork chop. It turned into a melee. Tammy and I grabbed the remaining pork chops and scadattled. We’re lucky we did, cause the cops came and we learned our champion was hauled off in cuffs.

Tammy and I were beside ourselves. So much that we sought advice from our minister. Despite his advice to immediately come clean and ask our friends, family, and god for forgiveness, we never said a word. We internalized the lesson that a little piece of tender-loin was more trouble than it’s worth.  Then today this article appeared in the newspaper. And if that wasn’t enough, we also learned today that our minister – Mr. Ask-For-Forgiveness – was outed on Ashely Madison.  But that’s between us, and remember this our little secret, if you don’t I’m going to tell your spouse.

Disclaimer:   No, we haven’t been outed in the Ashley Madison scandal – never went to the site – nor do we promote homeless76526721 cockfights, though I would consider it if my insurance company gave me its blessing. The bum cockfight story might be true in an alternative universe. There was a bum that inspired this story, he was recently given a fifteen year prison sentence for assaulting another bum for stealing his pork chop.  No real bums were hurt in the fabrication of this post.

Coffins

Thought we were kidding?
Thought we were kidding?

It’s a foggy night, you’ve been traveling and maybe your eyes are heavy. You pull off the freeway in the hope of finding a cup of coffee. After rounding a corner you find yourself in a small town. Nothing moves – even the fog seems asleep under the tungsten glow of streetlights. The sidewalks are pulled up so tight that even stray dogs feel unwelcomed. Distractions could be dangerous in a place like this, you think. You turn off the radio, grip the steering wheel a bit harder, and focus on the road  The hum of tires your only company.

Ahead a red glow pierces the night like a puddle of blood in virgin snow. Maybe you squint to bring it into

Deputy Zach bagging the bad guys.
Deputy Zach bagging the bad guys.

focus. The glow turns ominous and you fear you’ve made a wrong turn. You consider turning around and finding the freeway, but instead press forward. The light brightens in the dense fog like the eye of a demonic Cyclops. Exhaling, you convince yourself it’s just your imagination playing tricks.

Germans getting in on the fun.
Germans getting in on the fun.

What’s that? Something moved under the light. Eight legs saunter into your headlights. Is it? What the ….? Is it some sort of reptilian octopod?  Maybe you tap the brakes; maybe you punch the accelerator.  No, it’s four guys carrying a coffin. What? You slam the brakes. As if you’re not there, they slide the coffin into the back of pickup truck and close the tailgate. They wipe their hands on their pants and cross the road in front of you. Your eyes follow them under the glowing red light and into a Tavern.

What do you do?

A) Punch the gas pedal and get out of town.
B) Park your car. You found your coffee or maybe a spirit.
C) Circle around the block before parking nearby and investigating what’s in the coffin.
D) Realize you’re in rural Montana and this is par for the course.

The preceding event may or may not have happened. The participants are bound to secrecy. If you drive by our humble establishment under better lighting conditions, you can’t miss the caskets leaning against the fence. They’re like our welcome

Even coffins lose their cherry.
Even coffins lose their cherry.
Saloon girls enjoying two stiffs.
Saloon girls enjoying two stiffs.

mat. Okay, maybe we have a morbid sense of humor – or maybe they serve a more utilitarian purpose, if you know what I mean.

The real story is they came about as props for our Railroad Day Shootouts. Like a case of herpes, they showed up and never left. For locals, they’re luggage that have faded into invisibility in plain sight, until an occasional car pulls over, the occupants hop out and take turns posing for pictures in or alongside our ambassadors of the macabre. Or maybe it’s our way of saying stay awhile – until we tire of you and slide you into the back of a truck on a foggy night.

The Process

The set
The set

For some reason I like to creatively torment myself, or more accurately torment myself with creativity – you know, honor the masochist within. Such is the case with the story behind Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts: a murder-mystery concocted for a dinner-theater/fundraiser done for the Peak Foundation. Warning: this non-profit peddles the crack-cocaine of theater to neophytes, and they do it well. The idea for BB & B arose after my first visit to the corner of Stage and Script. I was told it was a dangerous neighborhood; I didn’t heed the warning.

That first visit occurred last summer during Briar Rose. I must have hit my head on a rock after

In the Green Room
In the Green Room

diving head first into that project, because I got the idea to write and direct a creation of my own. After consulting with Laura, the head-mistress at Peak, the green light was given. A date and venue was set.

And then I waited. The clock ticked, the calendar turned. The general idea slipped through my brain folds, but the details eluded me. I didn’t panic, I procrastinated. I told myself I could start the script around Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving came, the ideas didn’t. It’s part of the process. The subconscious needs to percolate, I reminded myself. I’ve been there before, but experience does not alleviate the terror of trying to think and nothing happening.

One of the surprises, Kristi Thissle as Silent Sam.
One of the surprises, Kristi Thissle as Silent Sam.

In early December the water’s muddied when Tammy and I brainstormed and idea for a completely random

Tristan and Jayman, our techies.
Tristan and Jayman, our techies.

ending where even the actors wouldn’t know who was the perpetrator. Great idea, if cast members were masters of improv. Considering there wasn’t a cast, the idea was shelved. Or was it? It led to an important plot device.  I glowed in the false confidence of direction, but I still couldn’t put pen to paper.

Days turned to weeks. When questioned about the progress of the script, I lied. I didn’t want anyone else sharing the angst. In my darkest moments, I almost called Laura to beg for cancellation. As far as I knew, only her, my wife, and a handful of potential cast members knew of the planned show and audition dates. It wasn’t too late to wiggle out of the obligation without much humiliation.

As Christmas approached my to resistance to writing the script continued, until Monday December 22nd at 10:16 PM when I created a word document. A minute later magic happened. I would be remiss not admitting I had characters in mind. Madam Marcy, Lottie the Librarian (Who’s original name was Linda), Dudley Do-nothing, Winston Haigstrom (Haigstrom’s original first name was Walter – it may have been changed to obscure the character’s inspiration), and Reverend Righteous were written with local talent in mind. Silent Sam was a gift from the muse, in the original matrix of characters, he didn’t exist. Silent Sam snuck into the script much as he did onto the stage – his laugh announcing his presence. After two weeks of burning midnight oil a workable script was in hand.

The Station Agent... aka The Narrator
The Station Agent… aka The Narrator

You can read the first act here. Please heed the Script Nazi’s admonition: “No second act for you!” You wouldn’t want to know

Final Preparations on Opening Day.
Final Preparations on Opening Day.

who the murderer was anyway.

With a deep breath, I hid my insecurities and stepped into a role in which I had zero experience – directing. Yes, I’ve done the gunfights, but that’s street theater – street theater doesn’t count. Years of hockey and firefighting coaching gave me the confidence, while osmosis and pilfering the toolboxes of Briar Rose’s brain-trust provided the distinctions.

safe_imageAs audition night approached I was plagued with new worries. What if no one showed up? What if too many people tried out? It turned out that an expected body took a powder and two unexpected souls materialized. The arrival of the expected was accompanied with relief, in the absentees’ place stomach knots arose, and the unforeseen brought possibility. After auditions there was one role to fill, and though I didn’t want to act, I was prepared to step into the narrator role. After a barrage of emails and phone calls, Dudley Do-nothing’s real life wife stepped up. The cast was complete. I could concentrate on directing… and concocting a title. Notice the audition poster? No title. When I was grilled, Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts flew out of my mouth, 10937465_833140336742148_1251811676_nbut I digress.

Dudley and Reverend Righteous
Dudley and Reverend Righteous

With the arrival of the first rehearsal came the first surprise. No Reverend Righteous. Facebook messages flew trying to track down the slippery seminarian. Where could he be? His alter-ego Matt Sibert is a dependable fellow. A picture of a nearly severed thumb arrived in my inbox. It appeared the reverend suffered an industrial accident. Not one to be sidelined by a ‘flesh wound’, Matt served double duty as the show’s special effects wizard. That he made an old railroad depot shake with the rumble of an approaching train and lit up a dark room with the lights of locomotives past was testament of his ability to bring words to life.

From the second rehearsal forward the production enjoyed cast integrity. With each passing rehearsal the bond between cast members deepened as they worked through blocking and script tweaks. Soon they were no longer seven people learning places and lines, but channels for characters struggling to emerge. Practice after practice character traits emerged. Though it was happening, their transformation was a work-in-progress.

Kris Gregory transforming into Madam Marcy.
Kris Gregory transforming into Madam Marcy.

Then a week before opening night, on a Thursday night, we hit our biggest bump. A

The next viral T-shirt?
The next viral T-shirt? Insult your friends with Lottie’s scandalous line; “Shut your cock holster!”

scheduling conflict with the venue left us high and dry mid-rehearsal. We were getting there, put I wasn’t comfortable where we were stood, especially loosing a run-through and an after-action review. After coarse venting on my part towards the powers-that-be, the cast agreed to an additional sacrifice – an extra night of rehearsals. We piggy-backed a Sunday night rehearsal onto the scheduled Monday night rehearsal to make up for lost time, and that’s when the real magic happened. Four run-throughs in a twenty-four hour period transformed their performance from gritty to artistry.

I’m sure some of that had to do with costuming. That’s where my wife stepped in, created her little shop of horrors, waved her

Tammy the artist.
Tammy the artist.

magic wand, and exercised the remainder of the characters from their hosts. The pictures reveal the mastery of her art. Tammy was also instrumental in transforming the normally sterile confines of the Alberton Community Center into cozy-confines for dinner theater.

Lottie the Librarian
Lottie the Librarian

Brooke Barnett, who played Lottie, doubled as the photographer. As you can see, she is a renascence woman. Actress, photographer, and the writer of our town’s coming summer production.

The PEAK Foundation can’t be thanked enough for their will, talents, and vision to bring the arts to a small mountain town in Montana. Without the organization the memories

Cast and crew
Cast and crew

created for the cast, crew, and most importantly, the supporters and fans who sold-out two shows, wouldn’t be possible. I had the easiest job, all I had to do was spin words and share a vision, the rest was up to the wizards who conjured them into reality. It’s the greatest thrill and honor a writer can have.

.

Slaying Dragons

14183_10204305721786323_5142934658518605392_n (2)“I’m trying out for a play.”

“You’re doing what?” my wife asked.

“You heard me.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Why not?” I answered. So the odyssey began. Mind you I wasn’t trying out for anything Broadway-esque, not even Missoula-esque, just our small town’s attempt at doing community theater. No big deal, right? That’s what I thought. Yes, the play was a musical, but I was playing it safe. I was going out for a bit part that didn’t have any singing. No sweat.

The production was an original, all-age rendition of Sleeping Beauty entitled Briar Rose. Less than two weeks prior to opening, auditions were held. I walked in thinking I would snag the King role. After all, I procured a script and spent time perusing it and, being cocky and brash, knew that the role wasn’t too much of a reach. Safe territory. Did I mention that I practiced the lines?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this wasn’t an ordinary small-town production. The creator of the script, the composer of

The Briar Rose Brain Trust   L to R   Brenda, Brad, Ann
The Briar Rose Brain Trust L to R: Brenda, Brad, Ann

the original score, and a professional director would be overseeing the process. I thought it was cool until at auditions, I was told Brad Hagen, the composer, was going to interview each potential cast member. The interview consisted of going into the ‘music’ room and singing Happy Birthday.

No big deal, right?

Maybe for you. When I first started talking with Tammy in the early days of our long-distance relationship, she asked me to sing to her. I warned her against the idea. She said I couldn’t be that bad. After three notes, she said that I was right. I was that bad. It was the only time in fourteen years she ever admits to me being right. Henceforth she requested that I not sing in her presence. That last bit may or may not be an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

The man who gave me the tools to slay a dragon.
The man who gave me the tools to slay a dragon.

Anyway, waiting for my turn to step into the music room butterflies took residence in my gut. I looked for any excuse to delay my audition. I felt like a kid waiting his turn in the dentist chair. When the time came, I was greeted by a gentle, silver haired giant sitting behind the piano. He immediately engaged in witchcraft, a nasty trick: He started a conversation and put me at ease. We talked music. In the snap of a finger, I was disarmed and he asked me to sing. A voice came out of my mouth I never heard before. Steady, unwavering, deeper than I imagined. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but the best I’ve heard come from me.

Rumor proceeded Brad. It was said that he could teach anyone to sing. I figured people were pumping sunshine up his nether parts because there was no way he could teach this creature. In short, I’m a frustrated musician with no sense of rhythm, and a high-pitch voice which still cracks at fifty. My only foray into playing an instrument led to personal tragedy. I got my fingers caught in guitar strings which led to near amputation and the death of said acoustic guitar. I’m content to know my art is storytelling. 

Next came dancing. Now, as bad at singing as I am, there’s no hope for me with dance. Even crazy frog dances that were

The first runt through
The first run through

designed for kids were beyond my scope of practice. Though it was humorous being in the room and going through the paces with townsfolk that one would never imagine in such situations.  I struck out on two pitches and was glad. Acting came next. Some may know that I consider myself an actor in the consummation of my day job. I’ve never met an improv situation I didn’t like. Our gunfights are the epitome of improvisation. In short, as much as I was sucking at the first two, I was confident I could act up a storm. And act I did, right into a roll I didn’t want.

After auditions we were told to sit tight. Casting was happening right then and there. I sat back sure that I secured my spot as monarch. When the cast list was hung on the wall, I distinctly felt my scrotum crawl inside my intestines. I was assigned the Prince role. I was Prince Fucking Charming! And I had to sing! Like I said I was familiar with the script. What I thought was going to be fun turned into a nightmare.

Wendlyn the Witch, Prince, and Old Man
Wendlyn the Witch, Prince, and Old Man

I had the impulse to pack it in and quit. But, I know quitting is like stepping out of a rollercoaster line. It feels good for about ten minutes and then one’s left wondering why everybody coming off the ride is laughing and smiling. I didn’t want to regret not doing this. I took a deep breath and committed myself to being artist’s clay. I would let the professionals mold me. If I shit the bed, I took the attitude it was their problem. So began eight days of being apt pupil.

My hockey experience kicked in and I committed myself to being the first to rehearsals and last to leave. I even shaved my beard. What I learned is that during such an intensive process most people hit the wall and have a meltdown. Mine occurred away from the action. Tammy and I had plans to take Anamae and her mommy to Glacier Park the Friday after auditions. Every time I hold my granddaughter,  I sing her Joe Cocker’s version of You’re so Beautiful. Even though it’s a great song, it’s hard to sing it worse than Joe Cocker. It’s a piece of art that is so good because it is so bad. After recording it and teasing me that she would post it to Youtube, I had my meltdown. What little confidence I had wavered. Resolute,  I planned on walking into rehearsals the next day and quit. Again hockey kicked in. This was a team effort. I wasn’t going to be the one to derail the process. I sucked it up and tucked in my skirt.

With dread I pushed forward. Away from cast action, I squirreled myself away in the music room for remedial singing lessons,

The three ladies in my life: Tammy the costuming genius, Tiffany, and the only lady who didn't cringe when I sing, Anamae.
The three ladies in my life: Tammy the costuming genius, Tiffany, and the only lady who didn’t cringe when I sang, Anamae.

or in the gayest moment of the experience, hiding in the room with my duet partner and belting out a rendition that had all the stray cats in the neighborhood running for refuge as if Yellowstone had erupted.

The next moment of despair came when director Brenda Kane announced that Monday we would go off book. Which meant we had to know our lines, without referring to the script. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it was a butt-clenching experience. I had over a hundred lines and up to that point I had problems memorizing my wife’s last name. Fear kicked in and I cut up a script, taped my lines to plastic container lids and carried them with me everywhere. When I drove I would look at the lines, when I went to the bathroom I studied them. Then something Tammy said kicked in. Two magic words. Voice recorder.

Sunday evening I read every scene that I appeared into the recorder. Every part. I learned my lines, other’s lines, my cues. I played it while I slept, I played it to and from work. During independent study time at rehearsal, I squirreled myself into a classroom and interacted with the recorder.  It didn’t stop me from bombing Monday night. I only nailed half my lines. I left Monday night in despair. After a stopping for a beer, I settled in for a miserable ride home. 

The King and Queen. I thought I would get the King role. Silly me.
The King and Queen. I thought I would get the King role. Silly me.

Then an omen appeared. As I rounded a corner a mountain lion sat in the middle of the road, its eyes glistened in my headlights. Not until I was yards away did it scamper off the road and bound up a hill. The grace and power from which it acted brought a smile to my face. In that moment, I knew everything would be okay. It didn’t mean I didn’t have a ton of work, but I knew I would do it.  

The next hurdle was memorizing the lyrics to the song I had to perform. For two hours after Tuesday’s practice I put on headphones and listened to the song’s melody while mumbling the lyrics. Measure after measure I put into a loop, which meant I repeated each measure dozens if not hundreds of times. The process worked. The curse is that I doomed to forever remember the lyrics.

With each day captured more of my lines. Even though I was mastering a great majority of them, I

The Croakies: The Frogs that stole the show.
The Croakies: The Frogs that stole the show.

still had a half-dozen hurdles. Lines that if I missed would cause a domino effect of blunders. One such line was: “I’ve never seen anything like them.”  Pretty simple, straightforward. It was my personal hell. In one rehearsal it caused me to forget the rest of a scene. I took to writing it on my palm.

During the last rehearsal, Thursday night, a mere twenty-four hours before the opening, after being complimented on knowing my lines, I forgot another line in the same scene. I did as we were instructed. I asked: “Line.”

The director pitched the curve ball. “What? There’s no one on book. What are you going to do tomorrow night? Ask the crowd?” Brad’s voice played in my head. He had mentioned productions in which actors nailed rehearsals but when something unexpected happened in the show, they didn’t have the muscle to overcome and the wheels came off. It was the medicine I needed. I felt a defiant smile come over me. The improv license was granted. 

During the same practice I belted out the song. Of course there was a cheer, it was the three directors job and the lingering

The Croakies making fun of the Prince's clothes.
The Croakies making fun of the Prince’s clothes.

cast members to applaud. At this point, reassurance in any manner is needed and taken. The comment that stuck was from Summer Drey, the actress who played Wendy the Wicked Witch. “That song will be your eulogy.” I’m still not sure what she meant, but I think it had something to do with the eardrums I would be forever known for bursting.

Opening day arrived like every other day. I completed my outside world obligations and was at the school by noon-thirty. Six and a half hours to show time. I ran through the script three times and worked on the song. During that process a curious mental block sprung up. I forgot the melody to the song. Since my laptop had crashed, I hadn’t a means to replay it. I wandered around the rest of the day in a semi-panic. I contemplated asking Brad to play it for me, but he was busy with other technical details. I did what anyone else would do, I tortured myself trying to remember it. I had the chorus, but for the life of me couldn’t recall the rest. Luckily I remembered the lyrics.

The Green Room.
The Green Room.

The clock ticked. There comes a point when you have to put everything down. Another Brad quote rang in my head: “If you try too hard, you can cause irreparable damage. Trust yourself. It’s muscle memory, Trust it.” The picture was taken in the Green Room before a dress rehearsal, but my expression is still: “Oh shit, I hope Brad’s right.”

Places, five minutes before show time. I’m alone in the school’s kitchen. The hum of refrigerators blocking my thoughts. I tried remembering random lines. Nothing popped up. I heard Brad again. “Self-defeating behavior. It tries to get you.” I focused on my breathing. The lights dropped. I took a deep breath and stepped before a full house.  Without much thought, muscle memory did kick in. Lines came from my mouth like in practice. Nerves fell aside. Especially when I took a seat on the log behind a ‘campfire’ and looked into the crowd. Many familiar and friendly faces caught my attention. James Hetfield of Metallica speaks of looking into the crowd and finding a person and looking into their eyes and if needed, wordlessly asking them for help. Whenever crazy thoughts rose I took Hetfield’s advice. It worked.  

Me taking myself way too seriously belting out "Where my True Love Sleeps."
Me taking myself way too seriously belting out “Where my True Love Sleeps.”

Luckily for me, my favorite scene to portray was the one leading up to my act of dismemberment by vocals in front of one hundred-fifty people. The Prince muses about destiny and love. It’s a scene that I can relate to, and in acting it I felt as if I was tapping into Tammy and my story. So, despite my anxiety, it mentally prepared me for song.  I spoke my lines, took my cue, moved to center stage and the lights came up. Immediately the melody flooded my mind and I heard my voice. One word gave the next and not much thought went into recalling lyrics. Before I knew it the lights dropped, I opened my eyes and heard applause.

The rest of the show was downhill. Including a moment of pure improvisational gold. In a scene which I was interacting with

Me in 2000, collecting a National Dekhockey Title -  a dragon on a similar scale.
Me in 2000, collecting a National Dekhockey Title – a dragon of a similar scale.

the audience, I had to ask what the symbol the witch had cast to open and close the Briar Patch. Without boring you with details, the shadow of a little boy appears in the spotlight, I can hear his voice say you take your left hand, make a L and put it next to your nose and say: “Weavers wobble but they don’t fall down.”   The line was a joke in the play, but the little guy was listening and wove together the joke and the witch’s curse. For me it was the highlight of the entire experience.

Of the dragons, two lay dead on the floor – one was memorization, two was singing in front of people – but there’s a third lurking in my neurotic mind. I’m not ready to hear a recording. I’m still convinced everybody is playing nice. Maybe  I’ll give it a listen when I stop waking up in the middle of the night repeating my lines. They’re a ghost I don’t want to give up, yet.

The Day my Life Changed

The year was 2000, but this shot still brings back memories
The year was 2000, but this shot still brings back memories

Many moons ago, on a summer’s night, I stumbled across her profile in an AOL chatroom. Does anybody remember AOL chatrooms? If you don’t, you missed out on a cultural phenomenon. Anyway, I read and re-read her profile; something really stuck out, though the only thing I remember it saying was: “I say what I mean, I mean what I say, I mean it!” Sensing that I had one chance to make an impression, I played with words and composed a line of two parts quip and one part schmaltz. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it read, though what I do recall was pausing and thinking: Are you ready for you life to change? I sent the message… but this isn’t the day I’m talking about.

Nor was a it couple of weeks earlier, when during my first visit to Missoula – in the throes of a hangover –  I sat up in the backseat of the car in which I was riding, looked out over the Reserve Street bridge towards Squaw Peak and the Nine Mile Valley and thought: I can’t imagine being in a relationship this far west and this far north.  Pretty heady stuff for the worldly Philly boy that I was at the time.

In the second tidbit, I’m convinced that I was sensing her presence in some weird ethereal plane. In the first, I think I had identified her. Nevertheless, the day that I’m talking about was roughly six months later, when I was going to meet the girl who had become ‘The Voice in the Night.’

For hours on end, night after night, we ‘chatted’ online. Soon we were talking on the phone. I couldn’t believe it, here I was relating to this voice, this person, better than anyone in my life. For months our nightly ritual continued, building an unspoken relationship. If one of us would have mentioned the ‘R’ word I think we both would have ran the other way. We were so open with each other precisely because there was no expectations or pressure. There was definitely no hurry to meet. We used to joke that we would get around to that in 2029. We were constantly in the moment with each other. But a funny thing happens when you strike gold like this. Certain emotions creep in.

Tammy and me at the beach before we met.
Tammy and me at the beach before we met.

For months I was walking around like I had a girlfriend that nobody knew about. I’m sure I exhibited all the outward signs of falling in love, but to those around me, there was nobody on my arm. With the exception of a select few, nobody knew what I was up to. There were times, when I was playing hockey, I would look up from the crease and gaze at the spectators and imagine her being there, watching. A bittersweet loneliness crept into my existence. The sweet part was to have this connection with this human being, the bitter part was being separated by thousands of miles.  At some point the conversation got around to meeting. Despite the 2029 jokes, we agreed that December would be as good as any. I suggested the twenty-ninth. It was after Christmas, all the family obligations would be over with, and it would be the perfect time to hang out for a few days – five to be precise. Who was I kidding? I wanted to see if this magic conducted itself to real life.

So the countdown was on.  When I mentioned: “See you in eleven days,: Tammy had a reaction. It was thing like this: “AAAAAHHHH!” She felt the pressure. What ifs were creeping into our thoughts, like when a good friend asked, “only five days? That’s not a lot of time.” To which I responded: “It’s an eternity if we don’t hit it off.” I mean sure, we got along on the phone, but, what if she was nothing like her picture? What if she had rancid broccoli farts? What if…

Christmas came and went. The hours ticked away. The night before I was flying out, I got a phone call. It was the airline. You’re flight from Minneapolis to Missoula has been cancelled due to staffing concerns. What? Didn’t they know there was a Nor’ Easter coming up the coast and was forecast to hit Philly on the thirtieth. There was a real chance that the storm could take a huge chunk out of the plans and that our five days could be reduced to five hours. That wasn’t going to happen, so I got on the horn and said, “hey, I’m flying out on the twenty-ninth. If I have to spend a night in Minnesota, no big deal, but I’m not staying in Philly.” When I told Tammy, she thought I was joking. Then she felt relief. What was see you tomorrow was see you in two days. More time to stew in romancistential (yes, I just made that word up) angst.

untitled (28)And so, as of this writing, thirteen years ago to the minute, I was sitting in the Philadelphia airport watching the sun rise over a city rife with anticipation of approaching Armageddon. If you think I’m being overly dramatic, you haven’t lived on the east coast. There was an energy in the air, and as I waited for board my flight I fed off it knowing that I was about to meet this voice in the night. If you were in the Philadelphia or Minneapolis airports that day, I was the guy with the coy smile. Everything felt right.

Speaking of Minneapolis, with backup plans in place ( a hotel room and the idea to see a Wild game) I played the standby game. The experience gave me my love of airports. There’s just an energy about them. It could be that most people are out of their element and possess a certain vulnerability, or maybe I just relive the anticipation I felt that day. I even savored standing in line to get a cup of coffee.

My first chance to get to Missoula the standby route went up in flames. The fight was overbooked and there wasn’t a chance. It was decision time – do I fold and go to the hockey game and wait another day, or do I take a chance? Since I was having such a good time being an airport voyeur, I hung out for another three hours to give my quest a fighting chance. As the time neared, I approached the gate. The only other couple there were arguing with the Gate Nazi about this or that and were demanding to be placed on the flight. Me, I just enjoyed the show. When she finished with them, I told her my story: That I was on my way to Missoula to meet a girl, my voice in the night. She swooned. I know for a fact she bumped me up the list. “How?” you ask. Let me tell you.

Not the Gate Nazi that helped me, but thanks anyway.
Not the Gate Nazi that helped me, but thanks anyway.

As the time approached, I counted the bodies in the gate and compared it to the planes capacity. Yes, the Gate Nazi told me the plane’s capacity. She told me to sit nearby and count. I did. As the plane loaded I was feeling discouraged.  More passengers trickled on. I got a better grip on the numbers. There was a possibility. I felt a smile. I was going to make it. Then, my name was called. She smiled at me and wished me luck and handed me my boarding pass. The couple that was giving her grief was left out in the cold. On a side note, to the Northwest Airlines Gate Nazi on that last flight of the day from MSP to MSO on December 29th, 2000, thank you… You helped change my life.

But, things are never that easy. As the plane was ready to depart the captain comes over the intercom and says: “Sorry folks, this flight is experiencing a critical weight ratio, we will be asking for volunteers to give up their seats, if there are none, we will be forced to bump passengers.”

My favorite pic of Tammy. Taken on our third date way back in 2000. She was horrified when she learned it hung in entryway to my condo back east.
My favorite pic of Tammy. Taken on our third date way back in 2000. She was horrified when she learned it hung in entryway to my condo back east.

What? Oh shit, I thought. I was the last one to get a boarding pass, they will bump me off the flight. I held my breath and waited. And waited. Someone obviously took the bait, because I was still in my seat. It would be a matter of hours before I would be face to face with the voice in the night.  I smiled as the plane rumbled down the runway and took off into a cold Minnesota night. Somewhere over the plains, I looked from the window – where way below lonely lights bobbed in a sea of dark desolation – to the ‘air’ phone that made its home in the back of seat. Yes, this was in the days before everybody had smartphones. I got my wallet out, swiped my credit card, and called her.

“Guess what?” I said.

“What?”

“I’m on my way. Be there in two hours.”

“AAAAAAHHHHH!” She said.

When Tammy tells her side of the story, she claims that I don’t know how to tell time. Because, the flight wasn’t due for three hours, causing her an extra hour of that angst I mentioned earlier. Her story is, she went to the airport, saw that the flight wasn’t due for another hour, went home, did what nervous women do, and came back in time to meet me.

Since that night, I’ve flown into Missoula scores of times, but I can tell you that no approach seemed as long and as foreign as that night. The plane just didn’t seem like it wanted to land. On the approach I looked over the ground that in the following years would provide the fodder for many memories, and more importantly, many stories. But I wasn’t thinking of that then, especially

The Girl and the Place. Yep, I married her and we tied the knot near the icy creek.
The Girl and the Place. Yep, I married her and we tied the knot near the icy creek.

after the plane landed and taxied to the gate. I sat in my seat as I watched people scramble in the aisle. When it was my turn, I took a deep breath, stood, and followed the heard up the jetway. Through the crowd, I saw her flaxen hair. It’s rumored that the 80’s never left Montana, so it’s no surprise that her hair was the first attribute I spotted.  As I stepped into her sight, so began the most awkward ten minutes of our lives. I had so many images of what our meeting would be like, but nothing in my imagination could have prepared me for the dichotomy of reality. Here is this spirit that I knew so well, in this body that, well, that is in a body that was a complete stranger. Our minds knew each other, but our eyes were like seeing the person across a smoke-filled room for the first time. Do I ravage her? I wanted to. Do I kiss her cheek? I wouldn’t mind. Do I hug her?

The unspoken compromise was option three. We hugged. And then we struggled to talk, ironic considering our entire relationship was, and still is, predicated upon yapping. But what do you say when you’re in shock. I was too busy thinking that five days was going to fly by.

To make a long story short. on the very day, seven years later, I made an honest woman out of her. And that happened six years ago. December twenty-ninth changed my life forever! Happy Anniversary Tammy.

From the Toe (it’s an inside joke!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

which at the time, seemed like the edge of the world

The Essence

Cobalt Crisp
Cobalt Crisp

As these words find form, my heart is thumping. The heat of the woodstove is chipping away at the frost which is poking countless pinholes in my cheeks. Cold is radiating off my clothes. I’ve just come back inside, and the fresh air has stolen my breath. A look out the window reveals brilliant sunlight reflecting a healthy snowfall on the mountaintop across the way. Down low, there’s barely a skiff. The high today made it out of the negative numbers – barely: it’s zero degrees, Fahrenheit.  The low last night was -8, tonight the weatherman says -14. It’s cold, but not the coldest I’ve experienced – that was -30 a few years back – and let me tell you, that’s a different world.

Cold Creek
Cold Creek

On days like today, when the sun is shining, it is oh so deceiving. The sky is as brilliant a cobalt blue you’ll ever see. The mountains stand prouder, the trees taller.  The creeks seem to run a little faster. Okay, that last one is a bit of my imagination, but to keep from freezing I know I would. All in all, winter is Montana’s grandest season. For those who’ve only experienced Montana’s charms in the summer, you’re missing out, but I can’t say that I blame you, I can relate. When I first started dating Tammy, I was petrified of the idea of a Montana winter. It carries a mystique. Back then, the worldly east coast boy that I was knew of its reputation. What I didn’t know it is the season when Mother Nature reveals her most beautiful self, but like so many beings that possess alluring attributes, she harbors a harsh side. For the adventurous, she is a siren, her cry seducing you to frolic in the elements.

The Road to Sunset
The Road to Sunset

In this my eleventh Montana winter – a tenure in which the old-timers no longer consider one a rookie – I’ve seen my fair share of people wanting to test their mettle. I’ve seen success and I’ve seen people flee as fast as the first plane ride south. I can’t help but think of the thirty-something couple who ‘retired’ from the whirlwind of Washington D.C. to the refines of a remote cabin. In there weekly sojourns to the bar, the cost of their lifestyle decision echoed from their expressions to their posture. What was once a refreshed smile soon morphed into scowls and hunched shoulders. Soon they were gone, together a victim to one of Montana’s seductions – Quaintness. It’s understandable, especially coming from inside the Beltway. What could be so difficult about living the ‘simple life?’

The reality is it isn’t so simple. It takes preparation and a willingness to forego. It’s one thing to winter in a city like Missoula or Billings, it’s a different story in the hills, where high-culture very likely is a conversation held atop a barstool, and a quick trip to the C-store for a loaf of a bread or a gallon of milk is an impossibility. On a bitter night, a flat-tire could mean the difference between life and death. Especially if one’s not prepared. What’s that? I have AAA. Forget about it! You’ll most likely not have cell service.

“Screw that,” I hear you say. “I’m staying home.”

Cabin Fever
Cabin Fever

Oh my. Cabin Fever is a real thing. I’ve experienced it. It’s the closest I’ve come to literally jumping off a bridge. It explains why so many people go crazy in the mountains and it leads to the philosophy that there are only two types of people who live here: Those going crazy and those already there. Cabin Fever is like Chinese Water Torture without the water. Each hour another drip of frozen nothingness dinks off your forehead. Soon objects within the paintings on the walls start moving. Some of them have conversations. Some of them stare at you. You feel it and turn around only to find your dog giving you the evil eye. It’s so cold, that unless Fido is a Husky, it’s hunkering down in front of the fireplace cursing you for not having an indoor bathroom for your best friend.  “Will you stop looking at me,” you bark at the dog.

fireplaceWhen it’s time to throw another log on the fire, you realize more firewood is needed. With a deep breath, you turn to the dog and say: “I have to go outside, you’re coming too!” You open the door and step outside. You’re met by the Seductive Paw. No, it’s not a bear out of hibernation who suddenly looks like a good option to cuddle with, it’s the feeling you get when you step into the cold. It’s a brisk kiss on the cheek. It’s not so bad. Even in a hoody, zero doesn’t seem horrible. Maybe you fall for its allure and you take your shoes off and jump barefoot into the snow. Even if you’re not like me and would never do something so foolish, it’s only a matter of time before the paw slaps you across the head. It starts with realization that your cold and it quickly morphs into the shivers. Only the cold isn’t skin deep, it burrows deep, digging into the marrow of your bones. You can’t stop shivering, but you don’t want to go inside.

“Wait a minute John, why wouldn’t I want to go back inside?”

“The essence,” I answer.

The Essence
The Essence

Even in the light of a crescent moon, shadows from the trees reach out to embrace you. It’s so quiet that you can hear the shadows stretching for you. If the creek isn’t frozen, the tumbling water plays a soundtrack so sublime that mountaintops appear to be dancing with the stars. If it is in the deep of winter and even the creek is in slumber, the silence is such that you can almost hear the earth coasting in its orbit. But it’s the stars that are, well, the stars of the show. Thousands of them, shining brightly as they watch you catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. If you’re really lucky, the cry of a faraway wolf or the hoot of an owl will rattle your soul. In that moment, that fleeting moment, you’ve felt it. The essence of being alive; the essence of what a miraculous place we call home.

HooDoo VooDoo

untitled (24)Now that the firewood is split, stacked, and the last of the warm afternoon sun has been sucked from Indian Summer, it’s time for a story. A story that involves glimmering leaves, an insane sunset, fourteen moonrises and a road name from a Stephen King short story. So throw a log in the fire – or turn the thermostat up – and put your feet up. Hopefully by the time you’ve read this, you’ll understand the knot in my stomach or maybe even feel the chill that reverberated up and down my spine.

2013-10-04 Hoodoo 2012 011
The sky above Scurvy Creek.

Every October, my better half gets a hankering for us skip over HooDoo Pass and explore one of the many endless primitive roads that snake through the Clearwater Forest. She really has to twist my arm to cooperate. Can you sense the sarcasm? I too, enjoy seeing what’s around the next corner or over the next hill. This year’s pilgrimage had plenty of both. Not that I had a bad feeling about this trip, but my antenna raised a bit the morning we set off. Maybe it was because that week, the alternator went kaput on Tammy’s car and only the kindness of a nearby neighbor rescued her from a five mile hike home – in darkness, uphill, and in snow. Armed with a new alternator, topped off with fluids and a full gas tank we nosed the Subaru over the funny sounding pass and into the never-ending forest.

The previous year’s journey saw us travel a hundred miles off asphalt until we came across a town in the middle of nowhere. It was a two bar, one gas station kind of place, where the favorite color was camouflage. I immediately fell in love with the town, but my infatuation may have had more to do with 1970’s gas pumps than the personality of the town or its inhabitants. The girl at the gas station didn’t seem to know any of the town names I inquired about. And they didn’t even have a map.

“John, what about your GPS?” I can hear you ask.

“Really?”  If you know me, you know I don’t carry that kind of tech in my vehicles. Tammy and I like to dead reckon. Heck, we drove to the Oregon Coast without getting on any interstates. At one point during that trip in some remote ranching area of eastern Oregon we followed a truck and decided that whatever direction it turned we would go in the opposite direction. It’s just how we roll; the adventure is more important than the destination. But I digress.  It wasn’t until we got home – after this year’s trip – that I looked at a map and saw that we were merely thirty miles from our goal, and by paved roads to boot. But over a burger and without the luxury of hindsight we decided to call it and we retraced our steps through the Hundred Mile Forest. It was during this jaunt that we bantered away and came up with one of our most memorable sayings – Karmamyalgia. The term is a reference to a certain pain-in-the-ass that got what was coming to him/her – in the form of chronic pain. Used in a sentence, it would go something like this: Luther’s Irritable Bowl Syndrome metastasized into Karmamyalgia, what a shame. The term will make its debut in my upcoming novel Montana Rural, until then, it’s our secret.

2013-10-04 Hoodoo 2012 005Anyway, this year I decided that when we came to a certain fork in the road we would go in the opposite direction than the previous trip. When we passed a place called Scurvy Creek I had images of our car breaking down and us contracting scurvy and our asses falling off or something like that. Why would I have such visions? On a road trip similar to this – one much closer to home – we got stuck in a snow bank, had to sleep in our vehicle and hike out the next morning. Getting stranded is a common nagging fear, especially the more you take silly adventures, especially over roads where vampire rocks like to jump up and sink their fangs into oil pans. Because why my wife is the queen of preparation, I don’t fear bodily harm or even death – I’m certain we could weather just about any storm. No, what I fear of dealing with the inconvenience of hiking fifty or so miles and then returning to rescue the vehicle.

Now my gut told me that Highway 12, the closest known paved road and what I deemed the Yellow Brick Road back home, had to lie somewhere over one of these mountains. And as long as we had over a half a tank of gas I was willing to press forward finding the elusive way out of the endless forest. Further we drove, passing waving fishermen and gawking hunters. Then we hit paydirt. A sign. Highway 12 55 miles.  Yes! Instincts had served me right. Little did I know, this is where the adventure began.

Math told me it would be at least a five hour trip.  When the going was good, top speed would be fifteen miles an hour. The car climbed this hill, rounded that corner. With each new scene, both of

An elusive Jackalope.
An elusive Jackalope.

us craned our necks to see an elusive Jackalope or maybe a bear or moose. Mile after mile, only rocks and ruts greeted us. To the side of the road, hillsides gave way to canyon walls and deep ravines. In the distance snow speckled mountaintops.  “There the one’s on the other side of Highway 12. That one’s in the Selway,” I said brashly, so sure of myself.

Soon the afternoon passed to early evening and we were climbing as the sun was sinking. We rounded this mountain and the next until we appeared to be hand in hand with the sun. Did I mention that we started to pass over snow on the road? Not much, but enough to let us know it was there.  Across ravines, more snow glowed pink in the dying light. We stopped the car. We got out. A chorus of wolf howls greeted us. Look at the sunset pictures and imagine the soundtrack. Unfortunately we didn’t see them, they were somewhere along the mountainside that we had just passed.

First hint of snow.
First hint of snow.

Refreshed and energized we set forward. Headlights on we eventually came to an unmarked intersection.  We had two choices, go to the left and head uphill, or go right and downhill. As far as I know, rivers and the roads that follow them don’t run on mountaintops, so off to the right we went. Soon the full moon peaked over the mountains. With the moonrise came the willies, and it’s not easy to admit being creeped out by one of my own creations.  I wrote a story about a ghost that feeds off the energy of the living, and he happened to stalk his prey under the light of the full moon. In a place where the nearest electric light was miles and miles away, maybe such demons really do lurk. Around each corner I prepared myself to see a dead three year boy waiting for us. The pitfalls of a creative mind, you know – we’re mostly our own boogeymen.

All that was well and good until we came to another intersection and were faced with a sign directly out of Stephen King’s  Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut. It’s a short story about

Magical Sunset
Magical Sunset

a lady who is so insistent on finding shortcuts that she starts finding roads that aren’t there. As she finds more and more they become stranger and stranger, more challenging and frightening, until she comes across Motorway B in the Maine woods. The payback was her adventures turned her mortal being into a goddess. We weren’t in Maine, but we did find a motorway – Lolo Motorway. Though it wasn’t paved. It was a glorified two-track road with ravenous vampire rocks. Again we were posed with another choice. And this time, I made the wrong choice. At least I thought I did. To the left was blankety-blank  saddle and to the right was so and so creek. Hmmm, creeks are lower than saddles so we again turned right. We started to climb. And climb. And climb. We climbed so far that we saw the moon rise two more times as we gained back all the elevation we dropped. At points the road got narrower and the limbs of trees snatched at our passing car. Snow began to line the road. I started looking at the gas gauge, sure that whatever was left in the tank wouldn’t be enough. An hour passed. Below us, deep canyons shimmered in moonlight. The road turned back into the forest and continued climbing.  My patience was growing thin. I just wanted to find Highway 12.

And then we came to an intersection and my wife, whose Indian name is One-who-doesn’t-read-signs cried out: “Highway 12, 10 miles.”

I slammed on the brakes. I looked to the left and smiled. I saw the sign. Then, I had a moment of panic. The road was blanketed with a foot of snow. Remember, we once got stuck in a snow bank on a remote mountain road.  I took a deep breath and turned the steering wheel. I pressed down the accelerator. We hit the snow and started to plow. The tires dug in and then they slipped, the front end of the car pointed towards the mountainside. Tammy barked orders from the passenger seat. I don’t remember what she said. I was too focused. We climbed further and plowed more snow. We sailed over the crest of the mountain and just like that the road was dry. I turned to her and said that we should be in a Subaru commercial.

Last light.
Last light.

Just when I thought we were out of the woods another fear arose. I turned to my wife and asked: “What if the gate is locked?” For those of you who don’t know, most mountain roads are gated and come October the Forest Service comes along and locks them for the winter. Primarily for wildland preservation, but another unspoken reason is to save people from themselves. With each passing milepost counted down to the moment of truth.  What would we do if the gate was locked? We didn’t have enough gas to turn around and go back where we came from, and I also knew I didn’t have the nerve.  Mile Marker 3, Mile Marker 2, Mile Marker 1… What would we find?

An open gate of course. It was hunting season after all.  After we hit pavement I realized Mrs. Todd was onto something. Each adventure seems to be a bit more unnerving, but in return we are paid back with incredible sights, wonderful memories, and a spirit that is fed and refreshed. At the start of a new journey one can’t predict what will be found, but one thing is for sure, I never imagined coming across a Motorway in an Idaho forest.

Somethings Just Go Right…

IMG_0333b…especially when you have the taste of gold in your mouth. Especially when you’ve been planning a heist for six months and it works out better than you ever expected. No, I haven’t gone over to the dark side. I haven’t traded my soul for the riches of an arch-criminal, though some in our town believe that I am the evil personified. No, I’m talking about the stage coach robbery my gang pulled off at our little Montana town’s annual celebration.

The planning for the heist started on a bitter January night when the only sound on the dark streets was falling snow. Back then the plan was to knock off a Pullman Car. Being that Alberton is an old railroad town and the celebration is named Railroad Day, building a train to rob made sense. As things go, sometimes ideas get garbled in communication, and what is intended isn’t what is delivered.

After months of procrastination, the knot in my stomach reminded me it was time to start working out the details, especially after the guy who was suppose to build a Pullman Car had a life event and his availability went kaput. As what happens so often in my life, my wife said why don’t you call this person or why don’t you call that person. Me being me, I internalized my angst and imagined worst case scenarios for weeks before listening to her advice. Then one night I called the person who always bails me out, my Mexifriend. His real identity is under lock and key but he may or may not be the security guard in the attached video.

Mexifriend said: “Of course brother, we can build that. It would be a lot of fun.”

Pullman Coach? I think not.
Pullman Coach? I think not.

Then I did another thing out of character, I posted on the internet that I was looking for used lumber. The idea was to go rustic. New stuff wouldn’t cut it, plus, it’s just

The ad campaign's slogan is "Do the Jew."
The ad campaign’s slogan is “Do the Jew.”

too expensive, especially for someone who is known as the Mountain Jew. Don’t take offence, I don’t. It’s a family secret that I was born 1/8 Jewish but my ancestors talked me down to 1/16th. I’m so proud of my heritage that I renamed the Mountain Dew Machine in front of the bar the Mountain Jew machine. Anyway, two weeks before the big day, Mexifriend Emailed me the first pictures and my jaw hit my desk. The picture didn’t look like a frame of a Pullman Coach, it was a stage coach. Now, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and my first impulse was to call and ask what the hell was that? But I paused, counted to ten and smiled.  Truth be told, potential was written all over it and it’s a lot easier to change a script that wasn’t written than change a prop that was half built. It was the moment that changed the energy of the entire project. Instead of pointing the finger and barking about the difference between a Pullman Coach and a Stage Coach, I accepted responsibility for not being specific and went with the flow. After all, there was only about a dozen people that knew what was up our sleeve and if it was a train or a stagecoach wasn’t going to make a bit of difference to anybody but me.

Paris De Smet!
Paris De Smet!

Other things went haywire too, I ordered wrong bullets for the blank guns, but quick thinking on the vendor’s side fixed the problem and got us the right ammo with time to spare. I wasn’t so lucky with the gold and silver coins. I ordered a half-ton of bubble gum wrapped to look like loot, but as of this writing, it still hasn’t arrived. I’m thinking someone is never getting my business again, but like the stage coach we just adapted and made good with penny candy. Even the day of, one of the gunfighters overslept and didn’t make the first gunfight. Again, a slight adjustment was made to the script and we ran with it. Short of a catastrophe like Yellowstone blowing up, nothing was going to derail the project. Such was my energy. The gal who played Sally Six-Shooter commented that during the week before the gunfight I was like a kid before Christmas. It was true, I was giddy with anticipation, which is unlike me. I usually anticipate what can go wrong.  Maybe approaching my fiftieth year has made me realize that it’s time to enjoy and stop worrying about things. Like a virus, the feeling was contagious, even over on the wardrobe side my wife hit a grand slam. Such was her energy that during a meeting of the High Colonics – my writer’s group – at our house the Wednesday before the big day, Tammy roped Paris and Nancy into  dressing up and within five minutes had them convinced to play. Lucky for us, because Parris, the exorcist looking priest to the left stole the show in the second gunfight.

Playing dress-up the week before.
Playing dress-up the week before.

What happened to the plan to knock off the Pullman Car. Oh my, you’re going to have to make plans to visit little ole Alberton, Montana next July to see what we have up our collective sleeve. If it’s half as good as what I’m picturing, it’ll be worth the trip. In the mean time, enjoy the video of the Dust Puddle Gang’s stage coach caper. I promise that it’ll make you chuckle.

PS… Just in case you’re interest, here’s the link to the gunfight page on Facebook.   Swing over and give it a like and you’ll be kept up to date what’s going on with the project throughout the year.

100 Days… More or Less

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Lately I’ve been pondering life’s imponderables, and recently found myself paying heed to an activity which the average person spends approximately one hundred to one hundred sixty odd days of their life engaged, and quite involuntarily as a matter-of-fact, there’s no choice in the matter. That’s more than enough time to slog through War and Peace or Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search in of  Lost Time’ or if you’re adventurous, maybe both. Hell, if you’re a warrior maybe you could throw in James Joyce, because in my opinion, Finnegans Wake is the cure for constipation. That’s right sports fans, while driving the other day I found myself doing the math and figuring out how long the average person spends answering the call of nature, and I’m talking about the Number Two Son.

You’re probably asking why would anyone be inclined to think of such subjects. My answer is that engineering firms are paid $Billions to make sure we don’t give poop a second

Me being a Turd in a Punch Bowl.
Me being a Turd in a Punch Bowl.

thought.  Not to mention that I don’t listen to a radio when I drive and that allows my mind to go into uncharted territory. Driving is my alone time, I often think of plots, characters, and events when I’m behind the wheel; it’s kind of like time travel, because when I get lost in thought the next thing I know I’m at my destination without remembering most of the drive. If you have ever driven past me, it explains my spaced out look. But I’m rambling, lets get back to the subject at hand.

So, how did I come up with such a number? I know there are theoretical physicists waiting with bated breath for my answer. Here is Zunstein’s theorem of Scatology:  A * BMY / H *HPA * ALS / 24 = DSP    I know it doesn’t look impressive to many of you, but for a mathematical retard such as myself this is a breakthrough accomplishment, especially considering I did it in my head and without the aid of a calculator. Long drives in the mountains certainly produce miracles. Heck, one drive produced the word Karmamyalgia – whose meaning will be explained in my upcoming work Montana Rural.

Shit Happens!
Are you a poser?

Here’s the formulaic primer:

A = Average Time Spent on Hopper.  For the sake of argument and simplicity, I will use five (5) minutes a session as a baseline.

BMY = Bowel Movements per Year.  Again a major variable, but, I have to start somewhere, so I chose four hundred (400).  It allows for both good and bad days and those in between.

H = sixty (60), for minutes to hours conversion.

HPA = Hours Per Annum spend pondering on throne.

ALS = Average Life Span. Another Variable, for this example I’m using 80 years.

Twenty-four (24) = A number between Twenty-three (23)  and  Twenty-five (25), used for the number of hours in a day.

DSP = The magic number: Days spent pooping.

Placing these assumptions into the formula, I will walk you through the process and allow you to see how much time you’re devoting to literature, posing like a Greek statue,  and/or other pursuits of pondering.5 * 400 = 2000    2000 minutes a year doing the act.   Divide 2000 by 60 to determine the hours a year you’re spending to keep air-freshener companies in business.  By my math the answer is 33.33 hours.

33.3 hours multiplied by 80 =2664 hours in a life time.  That a year’s worth of full-time labor plus a healthy dose of overtime.   Divide that total by twenty-four to convert hours into days.   Again by my math, and for this example, the person in question spent one hundred ten (110) days on the hopper. I know people who haven’t taken 110 days vacation in their life. I’ve also known people who haven’t worked that many days. If you’re looking to catch up on your reading and want or dive into the classics, just add two minutes a session and by ZTS (Zunstein’s Theorem of Scatology) you can increase your DSP to one hundred fifty-five.

The image I saw in my bathroom floor's linoleum.
The image I saw in my bathroom floor’s linoleum.

Don’t feel that time spent is limited to reading. Other skills are waiting to be developed. Just last month I improved my observational skills by noticing a face in the linoleum floor at the foot of my throne. (I really didn’t see Hitler in bunny ears, but as of this writing I misplaced my camera and the pictures of the coy phantasm.) When I told my wife this, she suggested that I see a psychiatrist. I almost took her up on the offer, but not for the reason you may think,  it was more of the creep out factor from not noticing a face staring at me for the better part of ten years. She still claims not to see it. I think she’s in denial. She says that a creative mind lingers on a precipice. I just shrug my shoulders; she’s taught me that arguments such as these are unwinnable.

By cutting just one minute a session, you could make time for an African Safari!
By cutting just one minute a session, you could make time for an African Safari!

On the other hand, if you’re stressed out and don’t think there’s enough time to do your honey-do list or whatever chore that is torturing your thoughts, just cut a minute from your bathroom time and add twenty-two days to your life. Just think of the possibilities! You could go to Hawaii, explore Alaska, or go on an African Safari just by eliminating one minute of elimination time. The world is your oyster, just be careful shucking.