Woody Allen Rides a Buffalo

“Thomas,
to keep your stitches in stitches –

P.S.
Come with me to California
and we will be rich tacky and tan. So far, one down, two to go. We can stomp
grapes and live in caves or Beverly Hills or Adventure Land. Pack. Love Debbie.”

So
that is what she wrote to him, confusing I am sure, but very heartfelt and
witty if I do say so myself. I can see from the driver’s seat that he is fairly
distraught at his situation – to love or not to love – but that is what makes
life interesting, change. Life is full of these moments, always throwing curve
balls way over our heads and us just swatting away like clowns.

We
are driving home, well I am driving home and he is getting on the train. Home
is Whitefish, Montana
– Stumptown. They call it that because it used to be a logging town, but now
the trees have been leveled and shopping malls are springing up like those
Jack-in-the-box toys that scare the hell out of little children. These shopping
malls are sort of like the adult version, except with concrete and permanent
consequence.

Debbie
wrote Thomas this letter on the inside of a book called Without Feathers by
Woody Allen. I suppose she figured he would like it, because he is Jewish, but
he seemed more offended by the idea than amused as she had expected. “I mean, I
mean, I mean, Beverly Hills
can you imagine what the rent must be out there? I could join the circus and do
something really honest for a living like shovel elephant shit. I mean, it’s
insane you don’t just pack up and run off to California for what might be the biggest
mistake of your life, but who knows maybe I need it?”

Maybe
he would be happier, I don’t know, maybe he’d love shoveling manure at a circus
rather than pushing papers around a desk. The truck got silent after that and
sometimes silence in these types of situations is the loudest thing you will
ever hear. Just two people breathing and thinking. I turned the radio on, after
all, we still had miles of mental treachery ahead. I flip through the channels
listening closely to the notes and hearing the first few of “Our House” by who cares,
turn it as and catch the first few lines of “Stuck in the Middle with You” by
Steelers Wheel and turn the car into a disco.

I
haven’t been home in months, maybe a year, if you can still call it home. It gets
more and more alien every time I come back and the people have seem to take on
these same alien type features. The people look like they dress themselves in
the dark now, putting on moon boots, leotards, oversized expensive glasses,
flannels with the sleeves torn off “for effect” and hats that look like car
wash rags. They buy these things at the malls we talked about earlier, going
into the stores where there are three or four fine young ladies and at least
one homosexual young man waiting on you. These sales people are all draped in
the same garbage, they look more like hobos than the fashion enthusiasts that
they bill themselves to be. I guess I’m just not “hip”, anymore, or I probably
never was.

When
I look over at Thomas, I see he is flipping through the Woody Allen book,
contemplating stomping grapes. “Stuck in the Middle with You” has long since
passed and the car has turned from a disco into a saloon as I noticed he has
pulled a flask from his bag. “You want a drink?” he says. “No thanks I don’t like
rot gut” I say as I shift my eyes out the window and towards the mountains of
home. I don’t blame him for drinking though, he is in a pretty sticky
situation. My problems almost seem trivial comparatively. If Debbie were in
love with me, I suppose I would have slammed the hell out of that rot gut whiskey
and moved on to Adventure
Land after three or four
fifths. I don’t know what she looks like, but I imagine her having a nose like
Annie Hall herself or Diane Keaton maybe. I don’t think I could pull off Woody
Allen though, but maybe Billy Crystal or Jerry Seinfeld.

As
the miles pass beneath us on Highway 93, I try to imagine what Flathead Valley must have looked back before the
white boys showed up flailing pistols and fire water. Probably much happier, no
trailer parks or dogs running up and down the streets of Pablo or Polson.
Nowadays, Native Americans are known for their free roaming dogs and searching
for grease traps and fry bread in the night. Before the white boys showed up
this valley was pristine, Flathead is the biggest fresh water lake west of the
Mississippi River and as we drove its shores I pictured canoes bobbing in the
water and Indian villages dotting the tree line.

As
we approached home I wondered why Thomas was so quiet, he hadn’t spoken for
hours. Was I being neglectful? Maybe he needed to talk to someone, or he just
wanted to drown his sorrows in his rot gut and Woody Allen anecdotes. Either
way, I was worried that I was about to witness a breakdown of major
proportions. I decided maybe to tell him a joke to ease the tension a little,
or maybe enough at least to get a smile. “Why do blondes have one more brain
cell than horses?” I say smiling and looking over at his furled visage.

“Debbie’s
a blonde, schmuck.”

“Yeah,
I know but this is a good one.” I say trying to keep the situation from boiling
over.

“I
think I need to eat something, I am starting to get a bit drunk.” He says
trying to change the subject.

“So
they won’t shit during the parade.” Surprisingly his mood changes, apparently
the rot gut was beginning to take effect. “I knew I could a get a laugh out of
you, ya’ damn ornery Jew. I got a place we can stop at up here.” He smiles, the
mood is changing and the clouds are shifting.

We
stop at the Drift Wood Caf�©, right on there on Highway 93 just a few blocks
from downtown Polson, Montana. Polson has changed quite a bit, it
has become the icon of white culture imposing on Native American heritage. The
Driftwood however, hasn’t changed save for the fact that they accept plastic.
The Driftwood is one of those joints that you can sit down and order breakfast
at any time of the day or night. They have six, maybe eight tables and not one
Indian waitress. I wonder where all the Natives work? Probably at Wal-Mart, or at
the hardware store. In the distance Hank Williams yodels “Montana CafÃ?©” through
a clock radio and I think about the knife fight I witnessed at “The Wolf” bar,
two blocks down. The people of this town have seen more change than I could
ever imagine, they don’t take kindly to people like us here – the transplants.

“So
this is where you grew up? Around here?” he says over a steaming plate of soggy
hashbrowns smothered in ketchup. “Well, my parents moved here to Polson when I
graduated but we still have the house in Whitefish. They are trying to sell
it.”

“I
can see why they moved here, this place is really beautiful.”

“Hey
man but you should have seen it when I was little. This place was like heaven,
like a dream almost. Half the shit in this valley wasn’t even here, now they
just pack everything together and try to make everybody the same.”

“Yeah,
they did that same shit where I lived. But it is not all that bad.”

“Progress,
what the hell can you do?”

There
really isn’t anything you can do either, just complain I guess. But the
atmosphere in the truck was better now, at least we had some sort of dialogue
established. We continue our conversation about the changes in the valley and
he seems surprised by all the details I point out.

“There
used to be a Indian
Village, really?”

“No
shit! Horses, Teepees, the whole works. But hell that must have been a thousand
years ago, I haven’t seen a teepee in this area, ever. They did have a place
called Y-ribs that was sort of in the shape of a teepee, and Indians shooting
Buffaloes on the menu and shit, but they tore that out with the Wal-mart, about
three four years back.”

“They
like their buffaloes don’t they?”

“Yeah,
we passed the Bison
Range a few miles back,
it is the tribe’s main attraction. Sort of like Adventure Land for white
suburban soccer moms. I doubt most of the Indian kids have ever even bothered
to go see them. Pop and I used to stop there on the way up to Whitefish so I
could pretend I was Roy Rogers or something, while he got high and listened to
Fleetwood Mac.”

“Stevie
Nicks!”

“Yeah,
the state controls everything these people do; there is no freedom here just a
bunch of white boy red tape.”

“What
about Whitefish was it an Indian town too?”

“No,
It was a logging town originally and the railroad too. But hell they have cut
down all the trees and all the hippies have moved in to try and save what’s
left. They didn’t save my backyard though; they bulldozed every square inch of
it and subdivided the whole lot.”

“That
sucks.”

“Yeah,
but what can you do? Just complain. But nobody hears anyway. If they can wipe
out a whole culture what the hell are a few trees?”

I
was tired of talking by this point and I hoped I could switch the subject and
get a little more of the scoop on him and Debbie.

“So
what is Debbie doing down there?”

“I
don’t know, she just got there a week ago and is staying with some yuppies in a
high rise near Sacramento.”

“Sounds
peachy.”

“Yeah
being broke out of her mind, but I guess the weather is great. Maybe I will
just go and take a vacation and bring her back when she gets tired of playing
California Barbie.” We both laugh.

“How
long you been seeing this broad anyway?”

“Few
months, but I have known her for years. Apparently she has had a crush on me
for along time.”

“Hard
to imagine, anyone having a crush on an ugly bastard like you.”

“Well,
its because of this supplement I am taking for fifty percent more girth and one
to four inches where it counts.” Laughter fills the truck cab.

“She
got sick of the changes too, I guess she figured with all the Californians
moving here that she might as well move there and find one of their old
apartments. Sex just changed everything for us, I mean I love her, but I didn’t
see why we had to go hopping in the sack. I mean, I mean, she is beautiful and
I have always thought so, but I never thought we would end up together. Funny
how life just seems to play itself out randomly with no cause or reason.”

“Yep,
no cause or reason.” I mumble.

We
continue to talk the rest of the way and hash out all the problems with change.
I point out the place that I used to take piano lessons has turned into a bed
and breakfast, that the big corporations are trying to put in “The Largest Mall
in Montana.”
I tell him about the ski hill, how there are houses right on the runs now and
you can look in and see people drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. He
tells me the whole story of how he and Debbie met and the eventual romantic
encounter in the backseat of his VW Rabbit. The rot gut lent more detail than I
wanted, but I let him vent his frustrations.

When
we got to Whitefish it was beginning to get dark. The streetlights had already
come on and the town was moving in a dizzy of excitement. It wasn’t like this
when I was a kid, much slower. There were more people wearing cowboy hats than
fur coats and much less traffic. We used to play baseball on the streets when
we were kids and no one bothered us much. It still looks like Whitefish, but
there are those little things that cut you down to the bone. The Denny’s is gone
now, no more $2.99 breakfast and coffee till 3:00 a.m. But we did have a
Domino’s Pizza now so I suppose things level out somehow. The amazing thing
about Whitefish was all the new banks, I wondered where they got all the damn
money from, I thought about asking Thomas but I didn’t.

“You
want to stop and have a drink?” he asks.

“Sure
I can show you what change is all about brother.”

“Brother
from another mother.”

“Oy
vey!”

I
take him downtown, because that is where all the changes started. When I was a
kid the bars downtown where pretty blue collar, you couldn’t find a Tom Collins
to save your ass. But as we sat down at the “Coaches Corner” I noticed more
people drinking Martinis than bourbon.

“What
do you think?” I ask him as we order a drink from a ditzy blonde waitress.

“Now
that’s the kind of Blonde that shits in the parade.” He speculates as she uses
well whiskey instead of Maker’s Mark. We chuckle at her idiocy.

“Stop
making me laugh so much these stitches from the wreck are killing me.” Tom had
been the victim of a good old fashioned mule deer encounter in his VW, but he
had enough money to get another car and take it to California if he wanted, although that was
his excuse – for now.

“Yeah,
you can’t even get a decent drink in this town anymore.”

“What’s
with all the sports memorabilia?” Referring to the gaudy jerseys, severed
basketball nets and helmets that wouldn’t comply with the standards today.

“Oh
the prick that owns this joint used to be my High School P.E. teacher and the
Basketball coach. I think he played at Stanford or something but anyway this
little beauty is his brainchild.”

“It
doesn’t fit in this town at all does it, all the logs and metal.”

“Yeah
it was supposed to look like the front of a train or some bullshit, but it just
looks like a footlocker threw up on

Main
Street .”

Thomas
sips his well whiskey and looks more and more content with the idea of Beverly Hills.

“What
time is your train leaving?”

“9:30”

“Where
you going?”

“Over
to Seattle for
a while to see some family for the Holidays.”

“What
do Jews celebrate? Chanukah?”

“Yeah,
let’s not try to tackle that one over whiskey.”

“Yeah
not over this well shit, you will probably go to Passover hell or something.”
Another laugh, another sip and I try to start wrapping the whole trip up as we
order one more for the road.

I
don’t know what he’s going to do about Debbie; I don’t know what I’m going to
do while I’m in town, but I’m sure it will be interesting for the both of us.
Maybe I envied him more than I realized earlier, his stitches would heal and
fade to a scar, but the stories of my youth and the youth of Whitefish would
never return and there would be no visible scars to remind the people here of
what used to be.

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