Chapter 16 - "chewing fat to chewing steak"

We walked up the side of the driveway and climbed the steps on the back porch. Before our feet hit the top step he had opened the door and was inviting us to come on in. He was a man that I would guess was in his early 60’s, a little hunched over, with a noticeable limp. His smile was warm and it seemed like his face muscles kept him smiling even when there wasn’t a reason to be, almost like he’d smiled so much in his lifetime that his countenance got stuck there. I guess if your face is going to get stuck on an expression, that’s as good as any.

His jeans were tight (that seemed to be the custom in these parts) and pulled up as high as his crotch would allow. There’s something about growing old that appears to make men feel the need to yank their pants up over their lint-laden navels. I, for one, can’t stand even my underpants getting wedged up my butt let alone having thick, canvas-like denim materiel lodged up in there as well. He didn’t seem to mind it much, in fact, it seemed to be a comfort zone of sorts.

You could tell he had little daily rituals based on the local paper opened up on the table next to an old Bible with some Catholic mantras to recite to Mary in hopes that she gets the word to Jesus who, then, gets the word to God. There were some pamphlets about upcoming community events stacked on the countertop and all kinds of photographed pictures of local rodeos. As I made my way from photo to photo, he explained to me that they were, in fact, pictures of his son who happened to be one of the best bucking bronco riders in the state of Montana. It was through this conversation that I found out that the little town of Augusta was the host of the biggest rodeo in Montana every year. The population of the town grew from 500 to 10,000 over the course of that weekend and come to find out, David Lettermen paid for Willie Nelson to come last year to perform a concert for the locals during this yearly festival. Lettermen has a nearby ranch and that little kind gesture was his way of letting the community know that he’s not just some rich do-gooder swiping up the land for investment-sake alone, but that he respects the traditions of this territory and wants to honor the history of this humble little town. Needless to say, the community was much obliged to accept his charitable contribution.

I was trying to imagine this town busting at the seams with cowboys and cowgirls, little kids dressing up in their western garb, and vendors selling snake skin kicks and buckskin digs to gullible tourists. Streets blocked off and filled with families gnawing on Elk jerky and turkey legs. Booths set up with pelts and belts, straw hats and skinned cats, hunting ammo and camping cargo, baked beans and tight jeans. Stands filled with country folk looking for a good time, cheering and jeering with a country drawl with chewing tobacco bulging on the right side of their lower lip. The more I let my mind’s eye daydream, the more I wished I could come back and be a part of this annual hoedown.

We sat down at his dinning room table and he asked if we wanted some strong coffee. In the sleep-deprived state of was in, I would take any stimulant offered me be it a coffee or a stiff backhand across my morning mug. Speaking of mugs, he poured us a mug of brew and we sat there talking for who-knows-now-long. We conversed about everything from the Montana economy to the rising price of wheat per bushel to the latest stories about a guy named Guss (I’ll talk more about him later). Again, I need to emphasize how different it is to be sitting there sharing slow and simple conversation with another human being without the pressing need to do something breathing down your neck and whispering words of efficiency. I just kicked back and imagined myself as a part of the Walton family. We chewed the fat about absolute nonsense and it felt substantive. We ground axes, split hairs and beat around bushes. It felt so cool to hear stories of who died and who survived in the past two years. Who killed the trophy Elk and who had a near death experience. Who was carousing, womanizing, and generally speaking living a life of tomfoolery and rabblerousing. I didn’t even know these people, and yet I felt strangely woven into the fabric of these simple stories almost as if I had a history with these people. I didn’t say much, I just listened with bated breath. I couldn’t wait to get out there and meet some of these characters.

There would be points within the conversation where an extended period of silence would descend on our trialogue making us look at the windows and comment on the nice weather outside or something else trivial. Before long someone would pipe in about something that would trigger another line of logic that led to several more corridors of conversation…we would spelunk around together in those grottos until something else naturally emerged leading us elsewhere. I just leaned back in the oak chair I was sitting on and took it all in. I could have sipped coffee and asked questions all day long. I’m a sucker for good stories and it seemed like this guy was full of them.

We started talking about celebrating the sale of the ranch with a T-bone steak down at the saloon which gave us some incentive to wrap up the idle chit chat and move into our day. The talk of steak quickly moved me from a state of mindless relaxation to restless fixation. I don’t know if anyone else has those carnivorous instincts, but my body has primal passions that are evoked by the mention of meat that render me useless until they are tended to and appeased. As we left the house my fixation had morphed into an obsession. If I didn’t get a steak in my gullet post haste, I feared that I might become a danger to society. There’s no telling what kind of uncivilized caveman another “steak” disappointment would turn me into. I needed a T-bone steak, and I needed it now. No, I needed it yesterday, which made my need for it now all the more manic. I was bordering on maniacal, I tell you. Rabid. Crazed.


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