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A Night with the Pashtuns of the American Kabul

Dillon, Montana, Called Me Home


What in the hell was I doing? Another night at the Sundowner Motel on Dillon, Montana’s main drag. It feels sometimes when I’m here as if I’ve spent a majority of my free time inside these strange walls, or at the very least a majority of the crazy moments. There was one time I spun across a bridge, pinballing from one guard rail to the next, my sporty convertible reduced to a heap of scrap metal by the elements, and I got trapped here. Another time, I sat in a room some nondescript summer night watching two blonde Lebanese exchange students have a speedball contest. This time, though, I had made it in one piece, and there were no crazed women of the Levant around, the blue shark battered and beaten after a wild trek through the Centennial Mountains, one of the most remote and isolated ranges in all of America.

This was a welcome oasis after a long sojourn across the Intermountain West. Earlier in the day, I had been in the Wyoming desert negotiating a deal with some Kyrgyz-lookalike rug merchants, and now, here I was, in the seat of Beaverhead County, Montana.

This wasn’t some ordinary stop, mind you; Dillon is the Kabul of the Rockies, a wild den of thievery and insanity, rife with crazy denizens and nary a moment of dullness.

After imbibing in a fierce concoction of pharmaceuticals that might tranquilize a fully grown elephant, I wandered down Montana Avenue toward the bars. The town is home to Western Montana College, and as the school was on a break of some kind, it was pretty dead. But pretty dead in Dillon is still pretty awesome in most places.

From the get-go, it was clear this was going to be a bizarre affair. Hearing a bunch of noise, I wandered over toward The Metlen, where there was a crowd of scantily clad cowgirls and a couple of local farmers downing Old Crow in the street in front. This chaotic scene became dead quiet upon my arrival, and they stared at me like I was some sort of space alien.

I didn’t look that different either, or so I thought. I had shorn my long Cobain-esque hair prior to the trip, and I looked fairly normal for a change. Sure, the sheepherder coat I had on looked odd, but not that odd.

Upon entering, a bespectacled, gin-soaked hillbilly dwark came up to me and said something like, “Y’all want to get wasted tonight?”

I did, but not with someone who looked like an extra from Deliverance. I ordered a Bloody Mary and sat at the end of the bar. The chicks were all staring at me, and their troglodyte cowboy boyfriends were, too; as I was sitting there, the cowboys started edging closer, and it was clear I was about to be thrown into a trunk and mutilated like a Hereford on a rural road near Twin Bridges.

So I got out quickly, before I ended up beaten or stabbed, and we wandered over to some dirty hole-in-the-wall that resembled the Hotel of the Legless Cowboys. The whole bar was filled with hacking cowpokes who looked like they’d staggered in from the Farm That Time Forgot. They were giving me evil eyes, so I bolted before I got jumped and went next door to The Office.

The bartender was a saucy little minx, and she was very affable even if I was still getting stares like we wandered into a Pashtun opium den. I ordered a Rainier and went to the shuffleboard table. In the middle of a three-point toss, I kept hearing murmurs in the background.

“That guy works for Microsoft!” one voice said.

“I heard he was an executive!” another rang out.

I looked around. Who could they be talking about?

“Are they talking about me?” I looked around.

“Yeah,” I thought to myself. “Yeah, they are.”

I kept playing by myself, ignoring the social critics in the background. Then, a large, friendly drunkard came over.

“You look lost, boah,” the fellow named al-Urduni said. “You want to play teams?” he asked, motioning toward the pool table, his shooting partner, who was barely able to stand up, and some sultry cowgirl. They’d apparently been drinking at The Office since around three that afternoon.

“Sure, why not?” I said.

So the game got underway.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Billings,” I said matter-of-factly, “but I’ve been in Beirut the last few months.”

“Beirut?” al-Urduni said. “What in the hell were you doing there?”

“Writing, buying and selling things.”

“Shit, sounds exciting,” he said. “Well, what in the hell are you doing here?”

“Writing a story.”

“A story? About what?”

Good question. There was probably a story to be written about something here, but what? A disgraced Microsoft Exec ripped on drugs in rural Montana? And if I wasn’t lucky, that was probably going to be the headline on the Dillon Tribune tomorrow. “Disgraced Microsoft Exec Terrorizes Town, Locked Up on $250,000 Bail.”

I looked around the room and shuddered. This was a very real possibility.

“Haven’t really figured that one out,” I said.

“Well shit,” he said, “hope you figure it out.”

So we continued playing. I finally got my sea legs and started knocking balls in the pockets in all sorts of crazy manners. I even landed a Divertito, a little trick I learned in the West Indies years ago.

“That fucker was playin’ us!” The near-incoherent drunkard who was playing along with this al-Urduni character started yelling while slamming his stick on the ground. He lined up for a shot and shot into the air, missing the ball over and over.

L.A. Woman” came on the jukebox, and he disappeared outside to throw up in a gutter.

Last call eventually came, and we all left to go drink and smoke in a skate park. As we wandered down the cold streets, I realized how I missed this place, even if it seemed death was around every corner.

We were sitting, perched on a cold, concrete ramp, drinking Olde English from a paper sack.

“Do you work for Microsoft?”

“No.”

“That’s what everyone’s been saying.”

“Well, they’re wrong. I work for Facebook.”

“No shit? Well if you work for Facebook, what’re you doing here?”

I didn’t really have an answer. My head was spinning, and the sun was starting to come up. Too many drugs. Too much booze. Too cold. I got up and left at that point, bidding my new compatriot adieu, and I staggered back down to the Sundowner. The whole Big Sky lay before me.

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