Imagine a restaurant that you can’t wear waders into, they don’t serve dixie cup roadies, and there are items on the menu that would require travel beyond Montana to pronounce correctly. I didn’t expect to see Snangler in a collared shirt sitting at the end of this bar sipping a colored martini sporting unstained civilian clothes.
To an observer who knew what sunburn raccoon eyes mean Snangler stuck out like a portly fishing guide at a Bitterroot boat ramp with a Lousiana accent to match his out of state license plate on a Rav4. No one here had the experience to notice these cues of displacement. Their education and financial success prevented it. To the regular patrons he appeared as just another half-a-hippie with a wallet that could handle cocktails vastly more expensive than those plastic cup bullets fired at drunks and river people in the Oasis Bar in Wolf Creek Montana. There are more beards in Missoula than fifteen years ago, so this interloper only seemed out of place to me. I shouldn’t have been here either, but a free dinner from an old friend had forced me to clean up on a Friday night.
Snangler was staring into the mirror and a martini as if it they were 1000 yards way. My friend was leaving, but rather than going home I hid myself at the other end of the bar and ordered two drinks; mine and a pinkish martini for the big guy at the end of the bar with a beard. When the bartender told him about the free drink he didn’t scan the crowd for a donor, rather he kept his head down, scribbled on a napkin, and directed the server to deliver it to me: “Nice Raccoon eyes, you don’t belong here either.”
I laughed and moved down to a high-backed cushioned bar chair next to him. He smiled when I sat down and said, “Thanks for the overpriced drink. I hate these fruity sombitches, but they make em strong.”
I asked, “What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?”
Snangler smiled, “You trying to pick me up?”
I fired back, “Shit, I would need a fork lift, luck, and friends with good backs. Really, what the hell are you doing here?”
Snangler looked in the mirror, paused, and said, “I’m looking into the future. I am going spend more time in places like this. I am trying to figure out to make it happen.”
I said, “As like a dishwasher? I heard they were hiring.”
Snangler snarled as if I hit a nerve, “Screw you Cummings. No, not as damn dishwasher. I am going to be a regular customer here.”
I said “Why would you? This isn’t our water.”
Snangler said, “Why do you say that? We’re not just dirt bag fishing guides.”
I knocked on his shoulder like a door, “How many of those off color martini’s have you had? Snangler, are you in there? Please come back to us. Someone has washed your clothes, hair, and hijacked your mind.”
Snangler cut me off, “Don’t be intimidated by a better dressed clearer thinking man. Geez, you don’t clean up well at all.”
I kept it going, “Get back on your on meds and quit buying $12 drinks. Go home, sober up, gather some of your Tupperware fly boxes, and go fishing. You are disturbing me.”
Snangler stared into the mirror, then back to his pink drink, paused, calmly turned, and directly addressed me in a tone I hadn’t heard from him before, “I am out. I can’t do it anymore. I am tired. The fly game has lathed me to a wafer.”
I acted surprised, but I wasn’t. Snangler hadn’t been the same since the floods of 2011 viciously followed by the drought of 2013. Those wicked summers had left deep scars. They had taught us grim lasting lessons about humans and bank accounts that were emptied by cancellations. Somehow we were held directly responsible for a system out of control and no one trusted us. The spray of jading was dodged by some and never rinsed off by others. Snangler had taken a direct hit and had held onto the distrust of water and man. The ensuing good years had healed most of us, but apparently Snangler had dodged the cure. He was never same, but had kept his barbs sharp.
I knew better than to argue so I asked “What are you going to do? Its sounds as if the dishwasher career change has been eliminated as a viable option. They probably wouldn’t hire you anyway. Too short on the skill set I would say.”
Snangler laughed and launched into a well thought out plan that included an inventory of the skills he had gathered over the last 26 years of outfitting fly fisherman in Montana. He imagined himself as a successful manager of data and humans with a high capacity to sell his experience laden product into a market of high earning individuals. He spoke with deep confidence in himself and his abilities. I was surprised at the show of intelligence, because I knew him only as a sarcastic curmudgeon whose vocabulary marked him as the intellectually unwashed. After hearing him out I decided his ability to self evaluate was impressive.
As he went on I started to stare into my drink and the mirror on the back of the bar. I drifted in and out of his plan to explore future career possibilities that ran the gambit from absurd to sound. His most fantastical plan culminated with him becoming wealthy quickly and buying this very restaurant. He planned to charge me extra for my drinks, that is if he would even let me through the door. He was going to hire large meat head bouncers who only showed up when wayward flat brim fishing guides tried to enter his establishment.
After listening to his nascent dreams, I snapped back to my cushioned chair in a nice bar in Missoula, Montana and asked, “What are you going to do about the sunrises?”
He smiled and dropped his head “Yeah, I know. That’s what I keep coming back to as well. How do I give up the quiet of rigging flies in the morning about to launch the first boat into a blue river with only my wits as tools? That firm game-on handshake with the trout gods is a tough one to turn my back on. Then again what about all those windy cold wet mornings when the water is up and I am going to have to gut myself to scrape together a few trout for anglers that can’t cast, don’t trust me, and are going to give me a skinny tip as if it’s a favor. You remember 2011 don’t you?”
I stared into the mirror and then finished my drink, “What are you going to do when one of those flat brims you can’t stand is your new boss trying to get you to understand office work, a sales quota, and a financial statement.”
Snangler smiled bigger than I had ever seen an in a low tone whispered “I have been beating those lazy sombitches for years. I’ll be just fine. I will miss the sunrises, but this chair sure beats the hell out of a cracked bar stool in Wolf Creek Montana eating microwave meth pizza while arguing with you about which stupid bead head fly works better eight feet under a bobber and a split shot when it’s blowing thirty out of the north and the snow slices melting knives down the back of your neck. I don’t need another day of my guy driving that awful rig into the tip of his fly rod only to shake the shit out it. Yet, his frenetic attempt to loose his rig only creates a leader cutting re-rig rebuild that requires I take off the gloves that were keeping my cold cracked hands barely frost free to dig through. I am getting a job in a dry warm office with air conditioning.”
I kept staring into my my empty glass. He wasn’t going to listen and I didn’t have an answer.
Snangler tried to order another cocktail to extend our one sided conversation but it was comped by what turned out to be an eaves dropping lawyer sitting next to us. The lawyer was shaking his head and laughing like a parent does as they foil a child’s attempt to sled off a roofline into a pile of expensive house pillows on the lawn. He passed a written a note on a bar napkin to Snangler. The note read “You don’t belong here.”
I looked at my watch, the situation, and knew I had to get home. When I left the lawyer and Snangler were deep in an animated conversation that by tone seemed to swing equally from the joyous to the dark.
That July I ran into Snangler guiding again with that same lawyer as the client. They were catching fish and engaged in a running battle of a conversation exactly like the one from the restaurant with comfy bar chairs and menu I couldn’t pronounce.
Snangler was mostly smiling when I rowed by.
He flipped me off and said, “Damn the sunrises brother.”