She awoke in the middle of the night in panic. Startled by something she couldn’t exactly pinpoint at that moment. Her heart beating fast. Like it was about to jump out of her chest. She sat down in the bed. Her head resting on the fake mahogany headboard. She placed the sweaty palm of her right hand firmly over her chest. That seemed to calm her down a little. She was sweating as much from whatever had suddenly awoken her from her sleep as from the A/C she had left turned on to medium hot before going to bed. She pulled back the cheap fabric comforter and sat in silence looking at her chipped red toenails. She thought to herself, how can her head be of a sound mind if she doesn’t take care of her body first. She had a notion of painting her toenails a different bright shade of red but decided she was too jumpy to attempt such a task. She stood up from the bed and took a deep breath, curling her toenails in the Scottish plaid carpet. She looked at the drawn caramel pinstriped drapes and at the subtle sign of neon light emanating from the motel sign outside her room by the small gap between the two drapes. She went to the powder room adjacent to the bathroom and turned the cold water faucet on. She listened to the sound of the running water hitting the marble sink and looked closely in the mirror at herself. “What are you doing here”, she asked herself out loud in a heavy mid-western accent and starred at herself in the mirror looking for an answer from the other side of the mirror. She poured a splash of cold water in her face saying “Wake up” to herself in the mirror. She went and switched off the A/C completely and sat in the brown leather recliner curling her legs in a lotus position. She looked at the sun-bleached color photos of some tropical beach mounted above the double bed. She wondered what was the idea behind having those photos framed in a motel room in the middle of winter in Montana. She became intrigued by it. Maybe they were vacation souvenirs from the motel owners. But then she remembered the owners being a family from India. Or maybe they just bought the motel from some wholesome American old couple who had decided to retire from their family business and sell the motel. Maybe they had no other family heirs or their kids didn’t want any part of the business anyway. Maybe the old couple decided it was time to start living after giving so much of their life to keep the motel running. Maybe they took the money from the motel sale without telling their kids and moved to some tropical paradise for their twilight years. She began to picture this old couple, grey hairs, sitting on beach lounge chairs, sipping Mai Tais, watching the sunset together. Maybe the photos were a way for them to leave their imprint on this place. They worked so hard for this dream of theirs. Maybe they thought it would also serve as an inspiration for somebody one day at the end of their rope in the middle of another Montana winter. She began to cry. But she would not let the tears roll down her face. She jumped off the recliner and began to pack. The sun had begun to peek just slightly through the drapes. She opened them up to let the rising sun start filling the room. Outside, the Mexican cleaning ladies were ready to start another workday. Each with their own cleaning cart full of cleaning supplies, toilet paper, clean towels, mint sugar drops for the pillows. The kidney-shaped swimming pool was still covered with the polyethylene winter pool cover. She exited the room carrying a black 4-wheeled travel bag, her skirt hiked up, wearing high heeled sandals showing her toenails freshly painted with a bright red nail polish. She put her bag in the trunk of her red 2006 Chevy Monte Carlo parked outside, closed the trunk and went inside the room. She came out of the room with a black cloth Walton duffle bag and carrying a picture frame under her left arm. She left the duffle bag on top of the custom logo welcome mat outside the motel room door and got into her car. Leaving the motel parking lot her mood started shifting. She stopped just before leaving the motel behind. She looked at one of the framed photos from the motel room resting in the passenger seat. She looked in the rear view and saw the Mexican cleaning ladies fake modeling some of the clothes they found in the duffle bag for one another and sharing them amongst themselves. She began to smile. She looked right and left before leaving the motel. The road was clear. She pressed on the gas. And never looked back.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
He arrived late at night under a hailing rainstorm. He parked his beat-up pickup truck on the motel gravel parking lot. He stood there waiting for the rainstorm to wither. Listening to the song on the radio. Waiting for it to finish. Windshield wipers still at maximum speed. For a moment he forgot what exactly he was doing there. Got so enthralled in listening to the heavy metallic sound of the rain falling on the roof of his cab. He watched as the icy rain fell and how the windshield wipers moved back and forth with such precision and purpose. He wondered if his life at that moment had a purpose as definite as that. He remembered another time when that same question had come up. How she had questioned him on that exact subject. He cut off the engine stopping the windshield wipers completely. He lowered the driver’s side sun visor to reveal a photo of her. He looked at the photo for what it seemed to him for a long time. He suddenly remembered what he was there for. He wondered if that had become the sole purpose of his life. If that was a good enough reason to give up so much for so… He regretted that thought as soon as he realized what would be at the end of it. I will not be deterred, he half mumbled to himself. The rain had quiet down, only a few scattered drops here and there. He turned off the radio, looked at the photo one more time and closed the sun visor. He picked up the duffle bag from the passenger’s side floorboard and headed to room 212. The lights were off but he knew she was inside. He could almost feel her breathing through the solid core wood door. He could smell her lavender and pomegranate scented perfume. He closed his eyes and tried to picture her wearing the one-piece Victoria’s Secret negligee he got her for last Valentine’s day. He was about to knock on the door when her startled voice calling out “Honey?!” made him open his eyes in panic. He stood there in silence frozen by his own self-doubt. He heard a commotion from inside the room. Somebody had knocked down a lamp. The lights went up from inside the room. A loud ring from the motel room telephone. Two more rings and then it stopped. Silence after that. And a deeper silence when the rain stopped falling altogether. Like in a heartbeat he was gone. Back on the cab of his truck. Back on the road. Driving for the sake of driving. Trying to numb the pain. In the morning she found the duffle bag outside her motel room door. All her possessions inside. Their memories together reduced to a black cloth Walton duffle bag. The morning sun had chased down the rain. Pushing to try to find something, a reason, he kept on driving. At a stop sign on a country road he turned on the blinkers to signal a left turn. By accident he turned on the windshield wipers. He kept them on as he waited for another pickup truck to pass him going on the opposite direction. He kept looking at the windshield wipers. Even after the truck had passed. Marveling at their fascinating precision. And how they had lost all their purpose without the rain to wipe from the window. He stood in silence as the sun shined bright directly into his eyes blinding him temporarily. He lowered the driver’s side sun visor to block the sun. The photo of her confronting him. Windshield wipers still on. He stood there. Apparently undisturbed. Waiting for the rain.
Monday, February 13, 2017
On the north side of town, past the railroad tracks you can still feel the pulse of old Livingston, railroad town. The Northern Pacific Railroad shops are a statement to that as are the 100-year old vernacular styled cottages and unadorned homes. The old school which was built out of concrete block was converted not long ago into a community museum. This is where I meet Robert, a 90-year old railroad aficionado as he’s leaving the building. Wearing overalls and a brakeman’s hat, he sports a wide and generous grin to anyone who crosses his path. He’s here to teach anyone who wants to hear it, about how Livingston was once a thriving railroad town. With a railroad pocket watch that he keeps looking at impulsively and then putting it away every time he hears a distant freight train moan, he tells me he arrived here in the late 1940’s after serving in World War II. He worked as a drummer for awhile before settling in here. Images of a slicked back haired Gene Kupra comes to mind. But he explains he was a different kind of drummer. They were traveling businessmen, who were constantly riding the rails, stopping in towns large and small, to drum up business for their companies, hence the name “drummer”. His liquored-up eyes shine when he starts telling me the tales of yesteryear. How he found a job working for the railroad as a watchman. How he fell in love in the spring of 1955 to a first grade teacher that taught in the old school since turned museum for which he volunteers. His wrinkled face saddens and his hands start trembling as he mentions his wife’s passing in 1999. He looks at his railroad pocket watch again for a few seconds and takes a deep breath before putting the pocket watch in his overall’s pocket. We start walking south in the direction of the tracks. The smell of burnt rubber, coal fire and diesel becomes more prominent. He takes to the top of a hill near the Northern Pacific Railroad shops and in silence directs me to look straight ahead. From where we stand we can see the Mountains capped with snow, the Yellowstone river flowing south, the outline of town with the railroad that built this town from the ground and we almost can hear the sound of semis whining by on the interstate. The sun is setting just to the west of the mountains and it gives the sky a blue and orange hue. A freight train moans in the distance. Robert looks at his railroad pocket watch one more time. From my vantage point next to him I can see why he keeps looking at the watch. A picture of his wife is engraved in the watch’s dial. This time he holds the watch in his hands. I don’t need more than this to know that this must be his daily end-of-the day ritual for a long time now. He squints his eyes at the Mountains, still holding the pocket watch in his right hand, almost squeezing it for dear life and I swear I can notice a glimpse of a single tear rolling down his right eye. Or maybe that’s just me.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
A Sunday morning drive south on US-89. An early morning fog hovering just above the Absarokas. Leaving Livingston and crossing the abandoned railroad tracks, the usual Sunday RV Yellowstone bound traffic has yet to clog the road. The fishing locals gather in the parking lot of Hatch Finders Fly Shop. Further down a small crowd of worshippers congregate outside the Adventist Church. I roll the windows down and take in the chilly winter air in my face and the sound of the sidewinding Yellowstone River which follows US-89 all the way to the north entrance of Yellowstone Park in Gardiner. The smell of breakfast food coming from the cluster of fast food joints reminds me that I only had coffee and a blueberry muffin on the way out of the hotel this morning. I roll the windows up and turn on the radio to KXLB out of Bozeman. I ride to the sound of Tom T.Hall’s “The Year Clayton Delaney Died” and start feeling comfortable in my skin again. Behind the wheel. The open road ahead. No other thoughts or worries in my mind other than to keep on driving. Or until I find a good enough reason to stop. Thirty minutes in, I catch a glimpse of the “Old Saloon” in a wide-spot off the road in Emigrant. A step back to another time. Serving Outlaws and Cowgirls since 1902 proclaims their motto. I cut off the engine and park in front of the horse rails. I step out of the car and turn on the alarm to the amusement of an old timer with tobacco stuffed cheeks sitting in a rocking chair and wearing a wide brimmed cowboy hat covered in dust. “There’s no need of that in here, pardner” and laughs at the notion adding: “You want me to water that here horse of yours?” and almost falls off the rocking chair laughing. Inside it looks like an old west saloon mixed with a small town dive bar atmosphere. A great pool table and a nice looking jukebox that’s playing Alan Jackson’s “Here In The Real World”. Two local cowboys are sitting at the bar talking, a Border Collie nestled at their feet. I sit at a table and look at the breakfast menu as the bartender acknowledges me with a slight tip of his well-worn “Montana Grizzlies” baseball hat. An older couple is playing slot machines each in turn pulling each other’s lever. I order the Huevos Rancheros on the recommendation of the bartender with just a spike of extra green chile sauce and extra pico de gallo. A huge amount of stuffed animal heads adorn the walls. I rejoice in a most welcome taste bud enhancing authentic rural farming breakfast. As I finish eating I can’t help but overhear the conversation between the two cowboys about the upcoming Custer Ranch Rodeo and an indecision about a bank loan to buy a new goose neck trailer. I stand up to leave and pay for my breakfast, leaving a five dollar tip under the coffee cup and tipping my baseball hat to the bartender and the two cowboys. Outside, the fog on the Absarokas has cleared and the sun is trying to peak through the emerging clouds. I turn the engine on and as I’m about to leave I take a glimpse of the old timer in the back yard playing corn hole with other old timers. He yells out to me: “Come back up again, pardner, and I will tend to your motorized horse again” and starts smiling. I tip my baseball hat at him and drive off north on US-89 back to Livingston. The southbound Yellowstone traffic has picked up. Drops of rain start falling smudging the windows. I roll my window down and smell the rain and the black dirt. In my rear view the “Old Saloon” is getting smaller. But I think I can still hear and see the old timer laughing and smiling. I keep driving and smile back at him.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
LIVINGSTON IN THE RAIN
Dreams begin where memories end
I must be dreaming for way too long
The memories are starting to blend
Into the dreams I thought long gone
And I go back out to the same old streets
And I find myself daydreaming again
There’s nothing like the early morning mist
And the sound of Livingston in the rain
And it’s Livingston in the rain
One more day until my work is done
And if I can’t get through the pain
It's back to Livingston in the rain
That’s where one day my dreams came true
And that’s where I take my memories to die
Someday I’ll find there’s nothing else left to do
But to bid those dreams and memories goodbye
But until then I’ll keep writing these dreams down
And finding new ways to walk off the shame
For I know one day you’ll come back around
Yes, I’ll keep going back to Livingston in the rain
And it’s Livingston in the rain
One more night to do the best I can
And I’ll be looking for you again
Back to Livingston in the rain
Friday, February 10, 2017
Down Main between W. Lewis and W. Clark Streets stands an unassuming one-story brick building that now holds the Livingston chapter of the Loyal Order of the Moose and an antiques store that might hold the record for the most Barbie dolls assembled in the same room. Supposedly in the original location of Calamity Jane’s cabin it might be the only visible trace today of the time the legendary frontierswoman has spent in this town. The story goes that Martha Cannary a.k.a Calamity Jane had arrived in Livingston in May of 1901 after a stint at the Gallatin County poorhouse in Bozeman due to illness and other ailments related to her alcoholism and malnutrition. As she settled in town, after Buffalo Bill Cody had helped her financially to “escape” the poorhouse, she rented a room above a saloon and immediately proceeded in going to town and into one of her now legendary drinking binges, so bad in fact that it made her forget where she was staying and even losing her room keys. It was also the last time in Livingston before she was invited to travel to Buffalo, New York to take part in a humiliating experience at the Buffalo Exposition, and eventually drinking herself to death traveling back west for the following two years. There seems to be an evidently lack of any signs of her several visits to a town that she visited often and even had a small part in proclaiming it as a serious drinking town of the West. No commemorative plaques or prominent photos in the walls of the many bars in town today. An old porter at The Murray Hotel tells me a story about the time he was tending bar sometime in the 1940’s. Somebody had concocted a drink and named it “The Calamity Jane”. It was so strong, according to him, that it conjured visions of Calamity Jane herself to whoever drank it. The story, or the legend, goes that when you would go out the door after several “Calamity Janes”, she would appear and call out to you: “Hey Short Pants, can you show me the way home?”. Nobody really knows why or exactly when they stopped serving “Calamity Janes” in town but the old porter believes, in all probability, that it was because she had finally found a poor soul to take her home.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
INTERIOR – BAR – NIGHT
She: So, you think we can make it work this time?
He: I don’t know, we’ve been through this before.
She: Not like this we didn’t…
He: What are you talking about?
She: A leap of faith.
He: Is that what’s needed?
She: That’s a start.
He: What about them?
She: What about them?
He: Should we tell ‘em?
She: If you want.
He: So it’s up to me?
She: What is?
She: Not everything. I’ll be a part of it.
He: I don’t think we should try this again.
She: There’s no harm.
He: What about them?
She: You wanna tell ‘em.
He: If we’re gonna do this.
He: We should tell ‘em.
He: You wanna…
She: No! I think you should be the one to tell ‘em.
She: So, here we are. How do you wanna proceed?
He: I think we should start by putting it in writing.
She: Right. So we know what’s at stake.
He: And what’s at stake?
She: Our happiness.
He: And theirs?
She: Of course.
He: I’m not sure.
He: Is this the right thing to do at this point.
She: If not now, when?
He: I don’t think they’ll be happy.
She: Like last time.
She: That was a fluke. We know better now.
He: We do?
She: Of course we do.
He: How?... How do we know better?
She: Yes, we know better by experience… what not to do.
He: And what is that… we know not to do.
She: Last time we never even made it out of town.
He: That wasn’t my fault.
She: I’m not saying it was.
He: What are you saying?
She: We learn from experience… like never lead by example only be default.
He: That doesn’t make sense.
She: Look, it’s all taken care of this time.
He: What is?
She: I knew you’d try to back out of it… again.
He: There it is.
He: You’re laying blame.
She: That’s not what I’m doing.
He: What are you doing exactly?
She: It’s ready. Everything’s in place.
He: It is?
She: You just have to say the word.
He: What about them?
She: It’s all taken care of.
He: How? What did you do?
She: What we always planned we would do.
He: You didn’t…
She: Sure did.
He: Beyond my back.
She: For us.
He: I don’t know if we should do this.
She: I knew you would get cold feet, so I took take of everything for you.
He: I don’t like this.
She: Look at me. Look me in the eyes… Do you trust me?
He: I guess.
She: Don’t guess. Be truthful. Do. You. Trust. Me?
He: I do!
She: Do you believe this is the best thing for us to do?
He: I guess… I do!
She: So say it.
She: Just say the word and we’ll toast to new beginnings.
He: New beginnings.
He: What about them?
She: Forget about them. It’s all taken care off.
He: Tell me what you did.
She: Ok. Here it is. In the morning they’ll wake to find us gone. A goodbye letter over pancakes at the breakfast table. They will know we’re gone… but not forever… for better…
He: For better…
She: To chase our dreams. To enact our forbidden love.
He: Your parents will kill my parents for this. They’ll think this was all my idea.
She: No they won’t. If anything they’ll grow close together in their mutual loss. Forget all about the constant bickering.
He: They will?
She: They’ll find a common cataclysm to talk about… Besides the farm.
She: Look, in the morning we’ll be long gone.
She: You just have to say the word.
Train whistle blows.
She: It’s time… Freight train will be picking up speed soon.
He: I’m not sure…
She: It’s now or never.
He: Ok, ok, ok.
She: Just say the word.
Train whistle blows.
He: I love you!
She kisses him. They run out the door.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
It’s the kind of town you’ve been dreaming about. Barking dogs in the neighborhood echoing down Main Street at sundown. The wind carrying the sounds and the scent of crackling wood fireplaces. Yesterday’s classifieds covering snowy patches on park benches. Distant train whistles muffling the neon plastered rendezvous secrets. Twilight dreamers and used to be’s finding shelter on used bookstores and cheapjack bodegas. Bible students and flask enthusiasts lining up for end-of-the-day last service salvation. Grain elevator dust ups and water tower freeze downs. KPRK AM radio on old pick up trucks and snowplower grinning stare downs. Smoke rising on an edge-of-town lonely out-of-season fishing cabin. Sidewalk Ariat boots and Resistol hats by a marquee sign. Cowboy saloon at the end-of-another-workday welcome mat swinging door. Napkin kisses and wedding ring flesh marks on a waitress’ long nailed polished finger. Slight foreign accent on a blonde-eyed jukebox junkie belching Jessi Colter’s songs. Small talk and big white lies on a small town date night. Another bartender blues tale over another TV news fueled conversation. Hunting lodge memories and melancholic half smiles from a middle-aged couple on the mend. Forcefully open eyes and casting shadows from a corner booth troubled mind. Bourbon stained Jerry Jeff Walker sing-alongs and last call love pledges. Distant I-90 traffic hiss and lonesome 18-wheeler’s moans and snow tire screeching. Another night falling on dark and colder streets. Silent dogs in the neighborhood echoing as you find yourself alone again. Town’s asleep now. But you’re wide awake. Waiting. Reminiscing. Dreaming. Again.