Despite having the quintessential grit of any Montana Highline saloon, the place gives “dive bar” a whole new meaning. It’s called the Sip ‘n’ Dip Lounge and has resided within the O’Haire Motor Inn since 1962. Designed in a stereotypical Polynesian manner, the building is adorned with straw matting, tiki torches, and fake orchids. But what makes the place iconic, however, is what’s happening behind the bar. Beyond the beer taps and bottles of myriad liquor is a glass wall—a wall acting as a makeshift porthole. Through the glass is an underwater view of the motel’s swimming pool; on the busy nights, mermaids swim in and out of sight.
The only thing trumping the aquatic entertainment is the live music—music which has been performed by the same woman and her organ for the past 39 years, Pat Spoonheim. Due to her age (64) and the years of smoking that have come with it, her voice is nothing more than a raspy croak. It is quite enduring though. She sings ballads and classic hits, but you would never know it; deciphering her performances takes work. Being the first one to solve the musical mystery creates exciting drinking games amongst the patrons.
This place, the Sip ‘n’ Dip, is possibly the closest to a miracle I have ever been. And that is why, during my Thanksgiving vacation in the town of Great Falls, I spent one of my nights drinking out of a fish bowl, gazing at mythical mermaids, and listening to the strangest rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl” I have ever heard.
Montana is getting cold, with the high of the day rarely exceeding a negative degree. Staying warm is a constant struggle (perpetual layers are a necessity) and being outside is simply out of the question. My feet ache with the nostalgia of warmth as I write this, and I often fear my flesh is becoming translucent with each passing day, like that of a strange cave animal. For me, however, the greatest challenge is mental; I need the sun and I need long outdoor walks. I need my bike. The winter entombs everything in its dark tunnel here. Seasonal depression is a real thing. This is the Montana I remember.
I awake to snow, to an immaculate valley. I scrape my car window each morning and wonder how I was raised in this and at what point it became something other than my annual rhythm. I feel like my personality goes dormant when I come back here, much like the seeds hiding under the permafrost. Cycles, I think, are good.
But this is my home and this permafrost will never fully thaw from my bone marrow. I was made for the seasons, even the ones set to remind the world what loss is, what death is, and what being cold really means. Books and shitty television are becoming my best friends.
I am currently reading a book called The Drifters by James A. Michener. It is a lavish narrative set in the ‘60s discussing the effects of social, racial, and political issues. I feel at home with the characters, as they are an earnest and afflicted bunch. I linger in each sentence and yearn for a generation of purpose, like that of my fictional drifters. I am feeling the heavy weight of apathy and indifference these days; sometimes I’m afraid this indifference will last forever, frozen in the wiring of my synapses.
Despite this, my spirit is thriving.
I will be doing a bit of my own drifting come February and March. I will be heading to the islands of New Zealand and Samoa and could not be more excited about the prospect. The days will be dedicated to camping and multi-day hikes. There are 14 national parks I hope to explore. And, most importantly, it will be summer there (email me if you have any suggestions for this adventure).
In the meantime, however, I will be finishing up my remaining graduate school applications, working on my storytelling, and daydreaming of the land of Montana mermaids.
[In other news, I've had my first articles published by Active.com. Check them out here and here.]