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Drooling on the Pillow

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Oro y Plata 

In my middle twenties I washed up in Montana. That's not too dramatic a way to put it, I don't think. Various troubles and woes left me feeling drubbed and defeated by New York City and a friend of mine (a show girl who wound up marrying a NY State senator) suggested an out. She was from Helena and knew the owners of a summer theatre and said she would fix it up for me. I was through the Lincoln Tunnel in a heartbeat.

There are some places that ping something in you the instant you're there. I could live in Italy. I knew that the moment I set foot in it. But Montana is the place I belong. When I got married I wanted to move there and the Goddess wanted to stay in New York. We compromised and moved half a mile out of the city.

My friend's father even put me up for a couple weeks before the season started. He was the agent in charge for the FBI in Helena. I started seeing a young woman they had taken in. The first time we went out we were driving down a remote road when I decided to stop at a little store for cigarettes. As I walked up to the counter to pay the phone rang. The clerk answered it and handed it to me. "It's for you," he said. My friends father said "Maybe you can do me a favor and bring a quart of milk home." I don't know how he did it, but I got the message. And I hope they still have guys that good working for them.

I did two summers at the Old Brewery Theater of one-week stock. I stayed an extra year traveling around in Idaho and Eastern Washington. I worked in a logging camp and in a state facility for the mentally retarded. I was in charge of a ward of thirty-five adult non-ambulatory women. None of them could brush their teeth. When I say I was in charge, I was the only one on the ward for eight hours. I was a cab driver, a stage hand and a short order cook at a joint on Last Chance Gulch. I worked in a cabinet shop and even for a couple weeks for a private investigator.

I suppose I love Montana partly because of the shape I was in when I got there and the growing up I did there. But it's mostly the place itself. My sister had enough of the city eight years ago and moved out to Sante Fe. She feels the same way about New Mexico -- she belongs there. I'm telling you, the sky is big in Montana and that does something to you. Vermont is beautiful, West Virginia is beautiful. There are beautiful spots in New Jersey. It's probably the size that does it to me. The massiveness of perspective, the weight of silence and the presence of the far distant.

The Old Brewery was pretty much the last stop out of Helena on Last Chance Gulch. If you continued on the road for four or five miles and then trekked in about half a mile you get to what the locals call the Glory Hole. It's an abandoned silver mine. The mouth of it was like an amphitheatre, a hundred yards wide with an orchestra filled with scree. To get into the mine you had to climb up onto a flat shelf just under the canopy. It looked just like a prehistoric proscenium. You could safely clamber back quite a ways, but I'm from western Pennsylvania and leery of shafts. Mostly I would go there to sit on the shelf, imagining the biggest audience in the world while working on my lines.

I can't imagine that it's still there, at least with such free access. That's not the way we do things today. The Old Brewery went down the year after I came back east. Somebody told me they tore it down for an entry ramp, but the highway it was entering must have been built after I left as well.

As much of a man as I am, Montana made me.


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