Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: Cowgirl Coiffure

All it took was one night of impartial observation while sitting alone at the bar in the Great Northern for me to put it all together. The signs had always been there, all around me. Until that night though, I’d been unable to wrap my mind with any semblance of clarity around the nudge that had regularly gnawed at the back of my consciousness. Like something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Apparently it took an hour of disconnection for me to finally make the connection.

The Great Northern Bar and Grill was a popular establishment and a happy hour hot spot (I assume it still is), and I was supposed to meet Chef there for dinner on this particular Friday night. Since I’d arrived an hour early, I opted to wait on a stool at the bar and soon became distracted with watching how hard the happy hour crowd was working to unwind from a hard week of working.

Each passing minute saw the crowds multiply, and as the music became increasingly louder to counterbalance the conversation, the deafening din rose exponentially. While I casually watched the patron revelers grow predictably relaxed and animated, thanks in part to the flow of liquid courage as many prepared for the “will I get lucky tonight?” mating ritual, it hit me like an epiphany.

In that instant I became acutely aware of just how slim the female pickins were in Boy’s Town. The odds easily saw ten Jeremiah Johnson’s wrangling for the affections of one Calamity Jane. This was contrary to anything I’d ever known, except perhaps during that ski season I spent in Vail, Colorado back in the early 80’s.

Chef and I had both grown up in “The OC” community of Huntington Beach - A/K/A “The Land of the Beautiful People” … and one of the “beautiful people” I was not. My adolescent self esteem had sustained plenty of bruises while growing up in the shadow of those “beautiful people”, where the only spotlight I ever saw was the one shining on all of my flaws. The irony was that once I moved to Whitefish, my face soon became highly recognized by the local population, yet very few actually knew me by name. I was eventually told by a friend that many of the townsfolk simply knew me as “the woman with the title company who wore the lipstick”.

That being said, I was naturally fascinated by the plain-Jane mountain mamas at the Great Northern that night who freely flirted with confidence and deflected rutting suitors as if they were Venus incarnate; when, according to the standards of my formative years in “The Land of the Beautiful People”, the embodiment of Venus they definitely were not.

I sat on that barstool as a city girl who’d unwittingly managed to snag herself one of those wannabe mountain men, and wondered if the “beautiful people” city standards I’d known all my life could ever make the translation into my big sky life.

What I knew for certain was that I was no mama grizzly, and no matter how the local townsfolk perceived me on the street, I was no Bulldog with lipstick either. I also knew that I had some well-established grooming standards of my own, which included shaving my legs and armpits, waxing my eyebrows and bikini line, and regularly scheduled visits to the hair salon. And I wasn’t about to compromise my standards simply because I was living in the wild west.

Now that I was living in a cow town, however, it seemed a cowgirl hair stylist would have to be the one to do the do. Finding her was no easy task, and a true find she was. Janine and I couldn’t have been more different on the outside, but when it came to my hair, we were of one mind.

I had made it very clear to Chef from the beginning that I would not give up my hair appointments for any reason. I even went so far as to say on one occasion that he wouldn’t eat before I wouldn’t get my hair done because I wanted to make sure he understood just how serious and non-negotiable the issue was. And still is, by the way.

Women everywhere know what it’s like to feel guilted into sacrificing their personal needs, wants, and desires for the greater good of their families, and I was no exception. There came a time pre-Montana when I had to finally draw a line in the sand which no man (or child) could ever cross, and mine was a hairline. Anyone who knows me has probably heard my mantra at least once, “change your hair, change your life”. A motto I continue to live by.

No matter how many times I warned him in advance, Chef either didn’t believe me or thought he was the exception to the rule, for he became furious one night when he learned that I’d used money that he assumed would be spent at the grocery store on my hair appointment instead. As annoyingly clichéd as “I told you so” may sound, I had to remind him that I had indeed told him so. This occurred during the honeymoon period in marriage month number two, and rankled Chef’s sensibilities for the duration of our four year marriage. He never got over it, and it was invariably thrown back in my face every time we had a serious, yet completely unrelated argument.

Chef wasn’t the only one who came to learn that there were no exceptions to this commitment I’d made to myself many years before. My escrow assistant immediately understood the priorities, and knew better than to schedule a closing during the hair appointment times I’d blocked off the closing calendar.

Chef grudgingly came to passive-aggressive terms with my hard line stance on hair, and tried another approach down the road when he suggested I go “au naturel”. You know, without makeup. Are you kidding me? He defended his audacious suggestion by trying to tell me how much better I looked without makeup. Not because it was true, but because he was cheap and apparently without pride when it came to his partner's appearance. The truth was he didn’t want money that he could use for his own pursuits to be spent on something he deemed frivolous. Evidently any investment in my appearance was considered frivolous spending and a prime target for reallocation. As if I didn't produce my own hard earned income, let alone ever expect him to pay for the cost of my upkeep and maintenance.

Whoever said “When money goes out the door, love flies out the window” knew what they were talking about. In all of this, I've come to appreciate that I am my best investment, and it's up to me to preserve and protect that investment.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: Dr. Jekyll Is Detained For Questioning

Within six months of NAFTA‘s 1994 new year implementation, my father finally decided to make his first trip to Montana. Chef and I had left the Unabomber bungalow behind fifteen months earlier, and were now living in a large ranch house on 10 acres located three miles southeast of downtown Whitefish.

My father didn’t rent a car when he arrived that August. It wasn’t really necessary. As far as I was concerned, it was just as easy for him to drop me off at the office every morning, and pick me up at the end of the work day. I was going nowhere fast and usually chained to my desk all day anyway. He and his granddaughter would then be free to spend the summer weekdays doing all of the local sightseeing they wanted; and after living in big sky country for over two years, my young daughter had become a pretty good tour guide.

My parents had been divorced for 25 years, and up to this point, I would’ve sworn they had absolutely nothing in common except their offspring. But when my father declared early one morning that he thought it would be a shame not to take a day trip into Canada given Whitefish’s close proximity to the Canadian border, the overpowering wave of déjà vu that ensued, caused me to choke and sputter on my coffee.

Let me preface this particular morning with a little history about my father, also known as Mr. Hyde on occasion, especially when behind the wheel of a car on any winding mountain road.

Like Dr. Jekyll, my father was a very intelligent man, sometimes too smart for his own good. So smart, in fact, that he could be dumb. He unwittingly showed me at an early age that there are those who exist in this world who are so intent upon cerebral expansion and scholarly pursuits that they somehow miss out on the common sense part, and the street savvy that comes with it. He also had an innate ability to get caught, even when everyone else around him was busy doing the same thing without repercussions.

When it came to play time though, my father could emotionally retrogress to the mentality of a 15-year old in an instant; and like any 15-year old adolescent boy, his better judgment could often become clouded, with little thought given to the long term consequences that may result from his actions in the heat of the moment.

Case in point took place in the mid-1980’s when he went out for a day of four-wheeling fun on the eastern plains of Colorado with my brother-in-law of the time. It wasn’t enough for them to whoop and holler with exhilaration as my brother-in-law raced his truck across a limitless landscape covered in sage brush and prairie dog holes. Or even to spin the occasional dirt donut at top speed. No, they had to go extreme when my father, at his son-in-law’s suggestion, pulled a shotgun off the cab’s back window rack. The man who was supposed to be my parent instantly turned into a 15-year old, then proceeded to hang out of the truck’s passenger window while it sped over the erratic terrain, and began to excitedly shoot at the prairie dogs popping up and down from their holes in the ground like prairie dogs do, as if he were a kid at a carnival shooting gallery trying to win a cheap prize.

Fortunately prairie dogs are quick critters, and to my knowledge, no prairie dogs were harmed in this reckless pursuit. We probably have the Colorado Game Warden patrolling the area to thank for that. My father was promptly arrested, and my brother-in-law appropriately shamed enough to bail him out. He ultimately ended up with a felony on his record for the incident, and had some serious ‘splainin’ to do many years later when he made a career change that required specialized licensing.

Now back to Montana and my father’s anticipated day trip into Canada. Since I expected him to be back in Whitefish in time to pick me up at the office after work, I understandably felt it necessary to advise him about the challenges I’d experienced two years earlier when taking that day trip into Canada with my mother. I never expected there to be any complications as long as he didn’t travel too far north.

Well, the old guy almost didn’t get past the Canadian border guard at Roosville, and I heard the distressing details of his interrogation when he picked me up that evening.

He’d left Whitefish that morning with my daughter who, at the last minute, decided to bring along a girlfriend from school. They picked up the girlfriend on their way out of town, and the two girls sat together in the back seat of my urban-mobile as the three of them leisurely cruised north along Highway 93 to Canada for a fine day of sightseeing.

When they stopped at the Roosville border crossing, the border guard took one look at my father innocently sitting in the driver’s seat and the two 5th grade girls sitting together in the backseat (neither of whom bore any physical resemblance to him), and began probing suspiciously. My father naïvely tried to explain what he thought was obvious, and the girls corroborated when asked directly, but the border guard would have none of it.

Unlike today, it’s important to remember that back when this event occurred, the girls had never been provided any form of photo identification, not even a school ID card. And with NAFTA, passports were not a requirement for Americans crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders, and vice versa. Neither were notarized permission slips when traveling out of the country with minor children sans both parents.

In this, my father had done nothing wrong or illegal, but the border guard wasn’t taking any chances. He instructed the car be parked at the guard house and took them all in for questioning – in separate rooms.

My father tried to explain to the leery border guard why none of the surnames matched. His granddaughter (in the other room being questioned) had the last name of her father. His daughter (me) had remarried and now had Chef’s last name which was reflected on the Montana licensing of the urban-mobile he was driving. And then there was his last name, my maiden name, which was fortunately reflected on the Montana vehicle registration as well.

Apparently the little girlfriend was a non-issue in that everyone understood she wasn’t related and simply along for the ride. What seemed to bother the guards the most was the fact that they couldn’t find anything to support what they were consistently being told during questioning, something that would connect my father to my daughter and me as her mother.

After hours of interrogation, my father was asked once again to pull out the envelope I kept in my glove box containing my vehicle registration and insurance information. When he started digging deeper into the contents, he soon realized my entire registration history was kept in that envelope, and once he could produce an old California registration showing me as “first name-maiden name-last name of ex-husband/my daughter’s father”, that was it. They were free to enter Canada to see whatever they could with what was left of the day.

As would be expected, my father was still a little shaken when he picked me up that night and began to recount his harrowing experience on our ride back to the house. Like I said, he’s a magnet for getting caught. Knowing how he is, it was impossible not to see the humor in the guileless predicament he'd driven straight into that day...long after it was over, of course. 

What I always wondered about afterward was why no one from the guard house had bothered to call me in Whitefish to verify their stories. If this had really been considered a serious situation, wouldn't someone have called me? My daughter had given them my phone numbers, and I would've welcomed, nay, expected a call under such a circumstance.

Thankfully, no house guest ever asked to take a day trip into Canada again. As far as I was concerned, been there, done that, and I was over it.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King