Lies and Memoirs
1976 – Misfit
“Everyone who lives here is a misfit,” Charlie said. He was standing in front of the dryer at Charlie’s Hotel, cupping his blotchy hands around a cigarette that he was about to light.
He was the closest thing to a father figure that I had in Gardiner. He had a calming voice, was witty and was pretty good at making me laugh. Sometimes he even got me thinking. I never saw him dressed in anything but jeans, button down shirts with rolled up sleeves and cowboy boots. Whenever he left the premises he wore a cowboy hat over his faded silver and strawberry woven hair and his knees were always bent to nearly ninety degrees whether he was sitting or standing. He was my boss and he was my friend.
His wife Jean had hired first me and then Louisa as maids. Every day we took a mid-morning break. Jean would signal to one of us that it was break time and then that maid would pass the news on to the other maids and then we‘d all gather in the little kitchen next to the office and drink fresh hot coffee and munch on cookies, brownies or coffee cake.
While we were piling on calories, Jean would sit back and sip on a cold protein shake through a straw swinging her free leg that was draped over the one that was crossed underneath her. I liked to study the intricate pattern of the day on her expensive boot as we swapped jokes and stories for those coveted fifteen minutes. None of us maids were in any rush to get back to scrubbing out toilets. Our breaks often stretched beyond fifteen minutes and into twenty.
The week that Charlie and Jean went on vacation, they left the business in the hands of their daughter, Ellie. That week our breaks ran especially long. Ellie was a good friend of blue and brown eyed Lucy, of the Corner Café. So, during our mid morning breaks Lucy would join us in the little kitchen. She of course never ate any food, saving her all of her Weight Watcher points for light beer and Ellie was following in her mother’s footsteps of sipping on protein shakes. So there were always seconds and thirds for us maids to eat while listening to the wild tales of the older girls who were in charge of the place. That was a fun week and Charlie’s Hotel was still standing when Charlie and Jean returned and then our fifteen minute breaks returned to twenty minutes.
Each day after the rooms were cleaned, I would join Charlie in the laundry room. Due to my exquisite work performance and just plain showing up every day, I’d been promoted to head maid and helping out in the laundry room was part of my responsibilities. It was the first promotion I’d ever gotten in my young life and along with the prestigious title came more money.
“Why do you say that everyone in Gardiner is a misfit?” I remember asking him as I pulled an easy to fold, warm pillow case, out of the cart.
“Do you see anyone in this town who you would call normal?”
“Well, if what you say is true,” I smirked. “Then that means that you are a misfit too.”
“That, I am.”
“Do you really think you are?”
“Of course I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
“Then you must think I’m a misfit too.”
“Well, you are here.”
While I was pondering his accusation he said, “Millie, being a misfit isn’t a bad thing. It just means that you’re different; that you listen to a different drum. I would rather be a happy misfit than an unhappy fish out there swimming up a stream with a bunch of other unhappy fish who think they know where they’re going.”
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Sure I do. Nowhere. I like it right here, in the land of misfits.”
I thought about what he’d said. The fresh smell of bleached air, the washer window filled with white suds and white towels, the steady beat of the dryer clinking and clanking, the warmth of the pillowcase in may hand and Charlie’s voice were all very calming to me. I decided that I liked it here too. I was never going to leave. I guessed he was right. I was a misfit. I was a proud misfit.
I dug around in the cart for another warm pillow case and pulled it out.
Charlie exhaled smoke and said, “You know you’re going to run out of the easy stuff at some point, right?”
The Yellowstone River was in the back of the hotel, down a steep bank. The rushing of it drowned out the noise we made as we traipsed along the sidewalk day to day, from room to room pulling the cleaning carts and vacuums along behind us. More than once Louisa and I were trapped inside a room and had to wait out a big horn sheep that had come a grazing in the yard.
“You take the high road and I’ll take the low road,” Louisa used to say to me on our way in the first room of the morning.
The high road was what we’d named, making up or stripping the beds and dusting the living area. The low road is what we’d named, cleaning the bathroom. God, we hated the low road and the pubic hairs that came with it.
It didn’t matter if you had the high road or the low road in the first room, because we alternated. It made it seem like we were going faster by working together, although I don’t think we actually were. We didn’t spend as much time per room, since we had two bodies working them, but there were still the same amount of rooms and the same amount of bodies no matter how you added them up. Whether one of you started on one end of the hotel and one started on the other and you worked your way to the middle, or if one of you took the high road and one took the low road in each room and you went from one end to the other, it still took the same amount of time. We were paid by the hour anyway, so it made no sense to see how fast we could finish, but that is exactly what we did, every day.
Charlie was very specific about how the rooms were to be cleaned. “This is a triple A place you know. Inspectors could show up anytime,” he’d say. “We always have to be ready.”
No toilet brushes for the maids. We used bleach cleaned rags and our rubber gloved hands. Charlie was certain that a person could clean more deeply with their hands than with any brush swishing around in there.
“Always wipe the faucets dry after washing them. Make them sparkle. Never leave a drop of water in the sink or on the counter. Dust everything in the room, even if there is no dust. Spray the Lysol Disinfectant into the air in an S-like motion, like this, all the way to the door before leaving.”
He was having a hell of a time with the newly developed waterproof mascara and the deep red shades of lipstick the guests were wiping off on his whiter than pristine snow washcloths and towels. He usually got them back to a crispy bright white by the time he was through with them. If he couldn’t, they became our new toilet cleaning cloths.
The week that we had to deep clean and spit shine the place because inspection time was approaching, we washed every window inside and out. We vacuumed and scrubbed every wall. We took apart every light fixture and dusted all the grates on all the heaters. We wiped out each drawer and dusted off every Gideon’s Bible. We were there all day long, every day that week and we made lots of money, but boy, did we work for it. The most awful job that still gives me the heebie jeebies was taking each mattress off each bed and vacuuming out the springs underneath. And that, my friends is where the term spring cleaning originated. It was at Charlie’s Hotel in Gardiner, Montana, in 1976.
“What happened to your sister?” Charlie asked me one afternoon. He’d seen me going from room to room without my side kick.
“Oh, Louisa? Yeah, she went home. She wasn’t feeling the best.”
“Uh , yeah, I think so,” I lied, remembering her slithering down the wall and sliding under the bed in slow motion, her golden blonde hair and freckles disappearing from sight and then her feet were sticking out on my side like the bad witches. We’d been taking the high roads together that day, each of us on either side of the bed stripping off the sheets. Louisa was sitting out the low roads completely. She thought if she had to deal with any pubic hair she would puke for sure.
After I’d pulled her out from under the bed she went home. Then I had to remake the thing. We’d been rolling around on top of it in total hysterics, laughing about her ridiculous condition. I was mimicking her. “I won’t be late Millie!”
I’d seen her at the K-Bar the night before. She was dancing in front of the juke box. Louisa wasn’t an in front of the juke box dancing kind of a girl. I’d said, “Louisa, don’t forget you have to work tomorrow. You can’t be late.”
“Oh Millie, don’t worry about me,” she’d snapped. “I won’t be late.”
She was right, she had not been late.
2010 – Steve McQueen
Mom and I decided to check out the Two Bit Saloon. The stone wall on the outside looked the same as it had, but the upstairs had been converted to a bar with a restaurant and a rafting business. The upstairs was in business, but the whole downstairs was no longer in use.
The girl in the restaurant let us pay the downstairs a visit. I’d explained to her that I’d lived in Gardiner thirty years ago, when the lower level had been the main hang out and a magnificent dance hall.
We descended the old wooden stairs and walked right into a time capsule after passing a bright red painted door leaning against the wall.
2010 – Making the Rounds
After lunch when I stepped out of the K-Bar Café and into the sunshine, Mom was there waiting for me.
“Well?” I said.
“Well?” she teased. “Are you talking about a hole in the wall?”
“Oh for the love of God,” I said, “Let’s go find the bakery.”
Highway 89 comes into the north end of Gardiner from Livingston. It becomes the bridge that expands over the Yellowstone River which cuts the town in half, then it turns right at the stop sign at the top of the road by the Sinclair Gas Station. Across the street from the Sinclair Gas Station are rolling hills and then mountains and Yellowstone Park. This section of Highway 89 is lined on the right with businesses and the left with mountains. If you were to continue on this road, it would veer back to the left and then it would lead you to The Roosevelt Arch, which is the gateway into Yellowstone Park. Electric Peak is part of this scene and it’s a mountain I remember well, after staring at it daily, sitting at a table in the front room of the bakery, which had been located in that very row of businesses.
1976 – Sissy
Sissy was on some sort of a pilgrimage that summer. She was on her way through Gardiner when she decided to stay for a week or so and then was going to return after she left in a few weeks and then would be back again on her way back through. I never could follow her plans but she always had them, and was, and still is, one of my most beloved friends.
During this particular visit she was helping me make a birthday cake for our landlord, Gale. Gale and her skeleton of a husband Francis owned the hotel, the little brown cabin and our blue house apartment.
I often coffee-clutched with Gale in her miniature kitchen next to the hotel office, where she chain smoked cigarettes and couldn’t resist blowing smoke rings with her creased lips. I never saw her without coffee at her side or without a juicy story to tell. She loved to gossip about people I never knew; mostly her family. She had some bad ass relatives, who, according to her, liked to sleep around and duke it out.
One day she mentioned that she and Francis had never consummated their marriage of fifteen years.
2010 – Livingston
Mom and I didn’t have far to drive that Sunday morning but a lot happened in the short distance. It started when an asshole came up behind us in a Hummer and rode my bumper like we were hooked together. I couldn’t move over to the slow lane just then. I had my cruise control set at eighty miles an hour and there was a car in the right lane that I was in the process of passing. All of a sudden the jerk behind me did the classic asshole move and weaved into the very narrow opening that only he could see and he sped past us on the right, right past Mom’s window before slipping in front of us by inches. In that split second Mom made eye contact with the man and flipped him off.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
2010 – Billings
Mma Grace Makutsi had the two of us in tears. She’s one of the main characters in, The Number One Lady Detective, series and is always bringing up her ninety eight percentile score in typing at her secretarial college.
Signs for Billings Montana were popping up, so Mom turned the CD off and began messing with ‘The Lady’ and typing in a search for a hotel.
“We should look for a place with a nice restaurant right there, don’t you think? I don’t think we’re going to want to drive anymore once we stop,” she said.
“There’s a Best Western listed. They might be a full service hotel. I hate those express things. All you get is free wireless internet, like I give a crap, a couple of donut holes and a weak cup of coffee in the morning. I suppose that‘s better than a sharp stick up the nose.”
I rolled my eyes at her.
“Take a right in .2 miles,” The Lady was saying from her little box.
“Turn there,” Mom said to me.
“I can’t. I’m in the wrong lane. I have to go straight.”
“Okay, turn at the next street and go back a block,” Mom said.
“Take a right and then the next right,” The Lady was saying, “recalculating.”
“Here!” yelled Mom. “Turn here!”
2010 – The Detour
“The L is silent, like in fish,” my mother was saying.
“What are you talking about?” I said trying not to sound annoyed. I wasn’t annoyed, but I have to pay close attention not to sound annoyed so that my mom won’t take my tone as annoyed, even though I’m not annoyed, which is annoying.
“Turn here,” she pointed.
She was riding shot gun and the rain drops had just begun. We were inside Minnesota somewhere. The wipers were intermittently smearing the windshield.
We were on our way to Montana and planning to spend two nights in hotels along the way. I hoped to write a book about my days in Gardiner. My plan was to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, to refresh memories that wouldn’t stop teasing me and I’d convinced my mother who’d been in mourning for two years over the loss of my father, to help me with the project. On our trip out west we didn’t have an Irish setter in the back seat and we weren’t driving a little red convertible with a black rag and top listening to the Eagles. We were traveling in my mother’s midsized Pontiac. Her trunk was not loaded with camping equipment and a Betty Crocker Cook Book, but with clothes for every kind of weather, packed neatly in suitcases that came with handles and rollers for easy toting, a cooler stocked with beer and several hard Lemonade Drinks that came in beautiful pastel colors. We also had in our possession, charge cards, debit cards, cell phones, a Garmin, an Atlas, a map that was printed off Google with step by step directions to Chico Hot Springs Montana, which was where we’d be staying, including line number seven that read, drive seven hundred ninety miles west and turn left. Oh, and we had On Star, just in case we got lost.
1976 – Rose Colored Glasses
There are three things in life that scare the crap out of me. The first is heights. I am scared to death of heights. The second are those legs that sprout out of potatoes if you don’t eat them fast enough. And the third is public speaking.