The truth is that Montana is a beautiful place, but it's difficult to construe this fact to strangers.
When talking to someone about my childhood, there are several falsehoods I have to debunk on a recurring basis.
"Yes, there is a speed limit in Montana."
"No, we don't eat bull testicles... that often."
And my favorite:
"No, I didn't ride a horse to school."
For better or worse, living in Montana wasn't all that different from what I saw on TV growing up (quelle surprise, we had television sets), although there were a few standout aspects of my childhood. For instance, some folks don't believe me when I tell them this, but on occasion I'd find myself running alongside herds of deer in gym class. My high school was on the outskirts of town, and if weather permitted, the gym teachers would have us run the mile outside. Wildlife doesn't just disappear in the face of expanding urban industrialization. They still gather and graze, and when confronted with a bevy of sprinting high school kids, their intuition was to join in, resulting in complete chaos.
Though Montana is generally business as normal, as I got older there were increasing exceptions. It can be a challenge to entertain yourself in the country, especially at night. On evenings when storms blew the power out, we'd sit in the basement and wrack our brains for ways to stay occupied. This is how The Eighteen Hundreds Game came to fruition.
The game is simple. You sit in the dark and imagine it's the 1800's. Simple, right? You get bonus points for wrapping yourself in a sheet and pretending to be a Brontë sister. And if you're thinking, "Hey Adam, they totally had electricity in the nineteenth century," well, then, you have a pretty good idea of how effective the Montana education system is.
Not everyone understood the appeal of the game, however.
After graduating I went to college in Boston, but I returned home to Montana during summer breaks. Like most kids under the legal age, I became all too familiar with that veritable quandry of where to drink at night. For kids in Big Sky Country, the solution usually involved lugging tallboys of Budweiser out into the wilderness and drinking under the stars. And for me, the favorite spot was on top of a giant rock just north of the airport, nestled away from the city lights (and those pesky cops).
As most agrestic youths know, drinking in the wild comes with a unique set of dangers. I can't count the number of times I huddled atop that rock with the resolve to finish my beer no matter what, come rain or shine or alien invasion.
The principle tenet when doing anything in the wild is to prolong breaking the seal as long as possible. Once those gates open, there's no turning back, and there's nothing worse than drunkenly stumbling around rugged terrain in the dark.
Because of course, danger lurks around every corner.
The first Montana summer where I was finally old enough to go to bars was a borderline religious experience. It wasn't long before I discover The Crystal Lounge, Montana's premiere karaoke bar. When it comes to small town dive bars, the fancier the name, the grosser the establishment. And The Crystal Lounge was a fabulous petrie dish of fail.
It wasn't the cheap drinks that appealed to me, or the nearly pitch black atmosphere, or even the soft "plink plink" of Rohypnol being dropped into bottles of Miller Lite. As with any scuzzy hole-in-the-wall, it's the clientele that makes the memories. And this is where The Crystal shines.
One of my favorite regulars is an older woman who comes in on Saturday nights, has a drink or twelve, and then submits her karaoke request. Every time she sings "I Will Always Love You," dedicates it to her son Darrell stationed in Iraq, and sings the entire song in a single high-pitched note barely audible to anyone of the non-canine variety.
Then there are the bros with backwards Nascar hats, and their girlfriends with over-processed Ramen Noodle hair, but my most revered client by far is a quiet guy who comes in on the weekends, always followed closely by the flashiest hooker I've ever seen. This is notable because while Montana certainly has hookers, they're generally of the bargain bin variety.
This fella must import his girls from out of state. I've never seen him with any of the budget hookers who meander the streets downtown at 7 PM on a Tuesday. His hookers are Gucci Mane music video type hookers. They strut around, giving off attitude and raising drinks to his lips, and when it's time for him to sing, they hold the microphone up for him, and he mutters quietly along to the throbbing beats of the loudspeakers, barely discernable to anyone in the building.
The Crystal Lounge has become tradition when I return home to visit, even if it's just for a weekend. I can only hope that someday I'll slowly degenerate into one of The Crystal's regulars, smelling of Newport Menthol 100's and nursing a Wild Turkey on the rocks while I wait for my turn to belt out Shampoo's "I Know What Boys Like," thinking I'm being ironic, but only succeeding in making everyone uncomfortable and confused.
...Maybe I should dream bigger.
UPDATE! The Crystal Lounge now has a YouTube channel, so now you can experience the horrors for yourself. I present you with Vera. You're welcome.