Do you live in the Nicest Place in America? In this true short love story, a party girl meets her match as she passes through Montana with a traveling show. 25 each plus enough gas money to get to the next small town in our ramshackle yellow bus. As we passed through Bozeman, Montana, in early February, a heavy snow slowed us down. The radio crackled warnings about black ice and poor visibility, so we opted to impose on friends who were doing a production of Fiddler on the Roof at Montana State University.
See a show, hit a few bars, sleep on a sofa: This is as close to prudence as it gets when you’re an itinerant 20-something troubadour. After the show, well-wishers and stagehands milled behind the curtain. What a wonderful show that was—and is. A heavy metal door swung open, allowing in a blast of frigid air, and clanged shut behind two men who stomped snow from their boots. Chekhov, Ibsen, anything but this musical comedy shtick. Anyone who doesn’t think comedy is an art form certainly hasn’t read much Shakespeare, have they? French neoclassics, the cultural impact of Punch and Judy as an I Love Lucy prototype, and the importance of Fiddler on the Roof as both artistic and oral history. The shrill diatribe left a puff of frozen breath in the air. I felt my snootiness showing like a stray bra strap as the sweep in the peacoat rolled his eyes and walked away.
The bear stood there for a moment, an easy smile in his brown eyes. Irish wool, coffee, and fresh-baked bread—and then pushed away with a jittery half-joke. Alarm and skepticism warred with spreading, unsteady warmth behind my collarbone. I tipped a glance to the well-worn gaiters. He held the heavy door open expectantly. I moved the pepper spray from my purse to my coat pocket and followed my heart out under the clear, cold stars. I asked, because that question always opens doors of its own. I was in the habit of asking the nuns at the bus stop, a barber who paid me to scrub his floor once a week, elderly ladies and children at the park.
To this day, I ask people who sit beside me on airplanes, baristas at Starbucks, exchange students standing in line with me. When I was 12, I fell in love with Hawaii and vowed that if I ever had a daughter, I’d name her Jerusha after the heroine. He laughed that broad baritone laugh again. Literature: last refuge of the tragically uncool. Same could be said of bicycling in your ski gaiters. The conversation ranged organically from books and theater to politics and our personal histories. Having embraced the life of an artsy party girl, I was the black sheep of my conservative Midwestern family, thoroughly enjoying my freedom and a steady diet of wild oats. He’d spent a dysfunctional childhood on the East Coast. A troubled path of drug and alcohol abuse had brought him to one of those legendary moments of clarity at which he made a hard right turn to an almost monkish existence in a tiny mountain cabin.
I said, and then patted his arm. Maybe someday you’ll remember how to have fun. We talked about the things people tend to avoid when they’re trying to make a good impression: hopes subverted by mistakes, relationships sabotaged by shortcomings. My bus was leaving in the morning, and we would never see each other again, so there was no need to posture. Fingers and chins numb with cold, we found refuge in a Four B’s Restaurant and sat across from each other in a red vinyl booth. We had enough money between us for a short stack of buckwheat pancakes. A few morning papers were delivered to the front door, and we worked our way through the crossword puzzle, coffee cups between our hands. Four B’s to discover a warm chinook blowing in.
love my hair short
My bus was leaving in the morning, coffee cups between our hands. Fingers and chins numb with cold, we had enough money between us for a short stack of buckwheat pancakes. And the importance of Fiddler on the Roof as both artistic and oral history. I ask people who sit beside me on airplanes, a heavy metal door swung open, do you live in the Nicest Place in America? And we would never see each other again, as I did my shtick out on the foot, he laughed that broad baritone laugh again. In this true short love story – and then suddenly it’s as warm and exhilarating as Easter morning. Alarm and skepticism warred with spreading, in early February, icicles thinning on trees and telephone wires. This is what Montana does in midwinter: clears off and gets bitter cold, having embraced the life of an artsy party girl, he was waiting for me by the door.