Friday, June 21, 2013

“An introduction to my future collection of travel writing as a review of my hometown”

Billings, Montana, May 2007

My cousin's haircut makes him look like Kevin Nealon, a forgotten face of Saturday Night Live, but not the healthy Kevin Nealon.  It's a greasy, stringy mop-top that would include bangs, except he's balding, resulting in a conspicuous gap where the bangs should be.  Kind of like anti-bangs.  He has the physique of a father of five who spends too much time on the phone, driving, or running around managing three pawn shops, a real estate company, and a video distribution center.  His diet is horrible and eaten usually standing, driving, or on the phone.  His stress is contagious.  He's going to have a heart attack before he's forty-five.

It cost him ninety dollars to fill up his SUV, a figure that will only rise, but he still thinks nothing of driving around pointlessly, windows open, air con blasting, the radio alternating between car dealer advertisements and eighties crotch-rock.  We end up on the Rims two hundred feet above the city and walk along the edge to where the Mormons built their temple.  All the gossip we spread was about people two or three times removed from us personally.

My dad wimped out. I'm not upset, I took a calculated risk –buying the tickets a week beforehand and sprung them on him as a birthday surprise- and had a backup plan, but still, he predictably wimped out on Leon Redbone due to a vaguely sore back. It was the first concert I’d seen in my hometown since Def Leppard at the Metra in 1987. I want to tell him about the time I stepped on a nail in Thailand while recovering from Dengue fever, or fending off drunken Russian soldiers on trains to the edge of the earth, or wondering if I was molested while hitchhiking in Germany, or being held up at gunpoint in Baja and mugged like a puppy in Havana. Where the hell did my adventurous travel genes come from? The answer is my mother's side and I think this means for sure I'm going to Panama this summer.

I took his colleague Kurt –a fuzzy-faced guy from NoDak– to the show instead. Leon was fun, the place was a converted train depot. He does tiny tricks with his hat and slowly sips his brandy and never leaves his seat. He played for an hour and fifteen minutes. Afterwards, Kurt, whom I've known for over twenty years, took me to a bar across the street, Montana Avenue, infamous in my childhood for prostitutes and porn shops. Now they have art galleries and a semi-decent cafe. (Hell, for the hell of it I'm gonna google “Billings Swingers” right now.)  We went to the Rainbow, probably the only bar in America named “the Rainbow” that isn't gay. (Though I did notice one apparent homosexual.  You could tell he was a homo cause he was wearing a gold necklace instead of a baseball cap and was talking to a woman in complete sentences.)  

The bar was full of frat boys and ranked high in the BCR –Baseball Cap Ratio, my way of measuring a bar’s stature.  Like one would expect in a Montana bar, even a bar on a street full of galleries on art night with a high ratio of baseball caps, a fight broke out.  Several fights, in spurts and stops.  Kurt hypothesized it was a rugby team celebrating a victory, or two rugby teams disputing a victory, or a rugby camp practicing a scrum (isn’t that the thing they do in rugby?  It sounds too much like "scrotum", but then again it is a very homo-erotic sport, just as it is a very homo-erotic crowd in an old Montana bar selling Konakee for a buck twenty-five a pint).  I'm instantly spotted as a fag for ordering a rum and coke, and I have to think of the notorious sexual prowess of Cubans to reaffirm that I'm not; a thought that is immediately followed by recalling how Cubans, like their Montanan counterparts, are notoriously latent homosexuals. I suspect it's the root cause of all the anal sex that's ubiquitous in Latin America.

So there were some fights, which resembled a rugby scrum, and a guy in a baseball cap told us they were roughnecks –which isn't a derogatory term and an actual title for an oil worker– from Sidney, where my cousin's parents are from.  Then some big guys busted through the huddle –big, serious guys, as opposed to the big drunken guys who were able to initiate/quell the scrum/fight with one arm while balancing their dollar twenty-five beer in the other.  The big guys busted through the melee like a cattle-hand through a mulling herd. All the guys were huge, and I found myself feeling very effeminate and small, except that the big bouncer was very, very tall and very, very obese and not at all muscular. He resembled a bowling pin, though much larger and vastly softer with a tire-like ribbon of blubber protruding from underneath his belt. The bar had recently been re-done to match the deco of the neighboring art galleries, the acoustic-tile ceiling removed and the antique wood carved ceiling revealed, though the colors –evergreen and sandy brown– didn't help with the whole sexual identity issue thing. 

The night concluded with me back at my father's house, sneaking brandy from the back from the cabinet and constantly recalling my adolescence, before I ran away and circled the globe.

(The google of “Billings swingers” has resulted in a plethora of possibilities, all of them wielding moustaches or two.) 

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