I'VE TOLD THIS STORY so many times—mostly to strangers at bars, or to people whom I badly wanted to think I was funny—but this story isn’t funny, so I’ve stopped telling it as something funny.
Jay and I were driving across the country in his pick-up truck, getting high and drunk in strange cities, sleeping in our tents or the occasional cheap motel. As soon as we rolled into Butte, Montana, an old copper boomtown high in the Rockies, we rented a room at a place where the guy at the front desk wore a cowboy hat and wouldn’t stop looking us in the eyes. So we dropped our bags off in the room and went to find some shit-kicker’s saloon or some place with a mechanical bull. We found a seedy tavern not far from the motel and pulled up stools at two p.m. The bartender, a woman in her thirties named Lucinda, spoke with the most beautiful cigarette voice and made her faded jeans sing with her curves.
As the light seeped from the bar, a group of stone-faced and unshaven shit-kickers with denim shirts and cowboy hats sat down across from us. Lucinda pulled us aside. “Whatever you boys do, don’t run your mouth. These guys like to fight, and you’re out-of-towners,” she said. “And do not call this place butt. Make sure you pronounce the hard U.”
Later, Jay introduced Lucinda to The Maple Leaf, a toxic concoction that combined Canadian Club with maple syrup. Jay claimed it was something they drank in Vermont, but I think he made it up. No one questioned it. So we drank a batch of those ghastly things, and at some point, I blacked out.
The next morning, as I was throwing up in the tiny motel bathroom, half my body in the shower stall, Jay told me how I nearly got us killed.
“You stood up at the end of the night and looked across the bar at those locals, who were itching for us to say something,” Jay told me. “And you said, ‘What do you Bum-fucks from Butt-ville do for a good time around here?’”
“Jesus Christ, man. I’m sorry. Did I get my ass kicked?” I ran my tongue over my teeth—all there.
“No, Lucinda saved us. We were lucky, man. But we need to get out of here. We can’t risk staying another night in town.”
I nodded and puked, and went to apologize again, and puked.
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