Archive for May, 2010

I bought a ceramic napkin holder in the shape of a tiny pair of jeans.  The belt is unbuckled and the fly unzipped, revealing white boxer shorts. The butt, with its mass of wrinkles that I guess are supposed to mimic the way incredibly tight denim tends to bunch, looks stricken with cellulite and way too shiny.

I named the pants Eugene. I carry him around with me.

I’m moving to Laramie so I can start a Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Wyoming. I’ve been looking for an object to personify everything Billings meant to me, and when I saw Eugene for $1.99 at the Montana Rescue Mission, I felt he conveyed what I wanted.

For the past month, Eugene, “King of Jeans,” and I traversed Billings together, not even really forcing my boyfriend to capture our touching farewells to various sites (hilariously, Eugene’s napkin slot works great for holding Kleenex):

Carter’s Brewery



Outside the Student Union Building at Rocky Mountain College, my old stomping grounds

In our backyard. I think Eugene looks a little like James Dean in this picture, and I look like someone who sifts flour because it’s totally worth it.

After bidding Billings farewell in our own way, Eugene and I hit the highway, following a trailer (pulled by Ryan’s mighty truck) full of ridiculous things that I own.

Coffee break in Wind River Canyon

I’ve been officially living in Laramie for the past two days, and Eugene’s service as prop and conversation piece has ended. Stripped of his persona (Cat Fancy subscriber, accomplished water-skier in his day, a brief stint as manager of Red Robin), Eugene is now just a napkin holder. An ugly one.

Still, I can’t throw him away. I won’t be in Laramie forever. With any luck, I’ll have more goodbyes to say, and when I do, Eugene will be there to make them weird.


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We have a California King mattress. We have a wooden Sasquatch cut-out that Ryan’s cub scout club painted when he was little and made a real igloo in Colorado and slept in it. We have three acoustic guitars, one bass, and one electric. We have the door off an abandoned 1950s Ford truck that a tree had grown around in a pasture my parents lease (I painted animals on it). We have both our grandmothers’ things.

I’m taking the oriental rug in the kitchen. The ferrets don’t chew on it. I’m also taking our two ferrets. I am moving into a very, very small apartment practically under an overpass in Laramie. This worries me. Not the overpass — I’m getting used to that idea — but the ferrets, in a small space like that. I will no doubt experiment with ventilation techniques and deodorizing sprays.

I am also bringing Ryan’s grandmother’s two yellow armchairs. They’re not as comfortable as the others, but they’re small, and I like their dense floral print. I think they will look good with the oriental rug.

I think I should feel more upset about leaving. Maybe I will, after. I think people are probably too busy to feel sad until they’ve left and have settled in their new place, or until they’re old, and remember the things they liked more than the things they didn’t, which is good, and makes me happy to think that maybe one day I will be like that.

It does seem remarkable that a person can spend almost seven years somewhere and not really miss it that much. Maybe because so many places out here feel exactly alike. The buildings are the same color. They have the same chain restaurants and the same distant mountains. The people dress the same and speak the same way, and level accusations at out-of-state drivers the same way. Everyone is wary of people who move here from California.

They always make the same argument. “They’re taking over,” people say. “It was too crowded where they were, so they came out here, and pretty soon it’s going to be so you can’t go anywhere on this planet without elbowing for room.” Sometimes, they’ll add, “And they’re snobby.”

I understand that space out here is disappearing with every mansion erected on too-small lots west of town, but I think current residents might be equally afraid that a large enough influx of people from the same place could change a fundamental aspect of their day-to-day lives, like how future citizens will order coffee or what their bumper stickers will say. Plus, “Californian” has become a euphemism for the very people responsible for those turreted eyesores sprouting up on formally scenic stretches of prairie. You know, rich people.

Ryan and I had an exhibit at the Billings Art Walk last week. A man asked about my paintings. He had a plastic glass of wine in his hand and remarked that “this wasn’t his first gallery.”

“I’m a transplant,” he said, “from California.” He designed log homes in Red Lodge. These, I imagined, were not replicas of original homesteads, but towering log mansions complete with hot tubs and decorated in that nauseating “Western” style that they must have used for John Wayne’s viking burial ship when they launched it out to sea in flames.

He asked me where I was from. “You’re from Wyoming and you do this?” He was speaking in a staged whisper, as if he didn’t want to offend anyone, but no one was around. Ryan had planted himself by the turntable and was pretending to adjust the knobs. The Californian recommended a gallery in town that, in his words, was “the most cosmopolitan” in the Art Walk. “Except for you guys,” he added. “Love your stuff.”

This guy seemed to be playing the part of “affluent Californian” for our benefit. It was over-the-top. I was flattered, though. I probably should have been insulted about the Wyoming remark, but wasn’t.

In less than a month, I’ll be in Laramie. Two years from now, there’s no telling. I have a wealth of cumbersome, but beloved, charges: heirlooms, pets, my own unsold paintings. I don’t know if I have an accent. Maybe I’ll develop my own, just for fun. I’ll call it “Mountainese” – a term my friend, Caitlin, came up with. No one will question its authenticity.

If I do show my paintings again, in, say, Seattle, people will only remark, privately, on their profound mediocrity.

“She’s trying to hard.”

“Well, she is Mountainese. Cut her some slack.”

Then, they’ll pretend to admire a picture of an elk walking through a frozen field witha hole in its side and assure me that they “get it,” moreover, they “dig it,” but they really have to be moving on now, they’ll just grab a slice of this — what is it?– “Monterey Jack! wonderful!” and a stick of celery, thinking, “We welcomed her, didn’t we? We welcomed her to our fair city.” Then they’ll feel a chill. “Maybe she and her wildlife paintings are just passing through. If you don’t mind my saying so, we don’t need anymore of them around. You know, ferret people.”

"The Fox"

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