The Authentic West
by C. Schaberg (Email tragically misplaced)
Sitting on the floor, listening to Madonna’s Greatest Hits volume 2 and the trickling decompressing stage of the air conditioner outside, I wondered what it was about The West that made it so intriguing. I had been sent out on assignment by the New Yorker to do a participatory case study of the Western experience. Now, here I was in Bozeman, Montana, living the real thing: the Western life.
I had rented a posh, Main Street studio apartment with spectacular views of dramatic clouds rolling over some mountains the way clumpy things roll over sharp edges. I spent my first evening in Bozeman watching Zoolander on my Toshiba notebook. (The Times had bought me the little unit when they sent me to Kabul last fall—it was great for these sorts of assignments.) I had been to Safeway to experience a Western supermarket and was amazed by the availability of Ben & Jerry’s and DiGorno pizzas. This was no mere frontier.
I bought several six packs of Western beers: Full Sail, Black Dog, Gear Jammer, Fat Tire and Head Slammed In. The West was known for its beer; I knew that I would have to sample these drinks before being able to say I had experienced The West. I set up my Safeway Club Card account and saved $1.67 on my first purchase—apparently, it was easy to be thrifty in The West. Not that I had to worry about my budget, no: the New Yorker had given me a corporate American Express and advised me not to hold back. But I had learned economics from a humble man at Harvard who taught me that saving money is the first step to superiority. I was saving money in Montana. I noticed a respectable selection of new release movies on DVD and rented three for $7.99 for three days—what a deal! Brooklyn this was not.
Since I had decided to go for the real Western wilderness experience, I had not bought a TV for the apartment in Bozeman. I would make do with my Toshiba and its ten-inch screen. Back at the apartment, I flipped through the phonebook and discovered an intriguing add for West Coast Gourmet Pizza. Ah ha! Now I would taste what I had come for, what makes the West a different place, an unexplored periphery of possibility and desire. I called up and spoke to an extremely attractive sounding young woman who took my order of a large cheese pizza. I was going to live simply out here in The West—no extra toppings on my pizza.
The pizza arrived and I ate it while laughing at Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson hamming it up. There was a fresh breeze coming through the open window, so I closed it because I was getting chilled. Everything was so Western here: the pizza delivery guy was wearing dark green cargo shorts, the town below me was buzzing with nightly activity, bass thumped from a distant car…I was truly in The West. Tomorrow I would go for a “hike” in the mountains and find out what it was like to be a Western Outdoorsman.
The next morning it was rainy so I decided screw hiking. I sauntered down Main Street clad in Gore-Tex to a cute little theatre called the Ellen and bought a ticket for the one o’clock showing of Star Wars Episode Two – Attack of the Clones. I felt wild and good standing in the rain in my bright orange Gore-Tex. I noticed that everyone else had on Gore-Tex, too. It was like a Gore-Tex party. Everyone had on colorful $400 jackets—this was fun! There was one person who stumbled down the block in a gray rubber slicker. I watched as a rainbow of Gore-Tex jackets converged on the outsider and threw him down into a gutter. They kicked him. I was glad to be wearing Gore-Tex; The West can be a strange and wild place!
During the movie I ate Milk Duds and sipped a Pepsi. As I watched Ewan McGregor fighting Jango Fett, I realized something: The West was true, it was no mere myth. These people around me, their Gore-Tex jackets drying slowly in the darkness of the theatre, they were Westerners. This was a very real place, and I had come all this way for this exact feeling of authenticity. I sat there and thoroughly enjoyed Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen falling in love. I was slightly turned on when Natalie Portman got her midriff exposed by the digital beast, but I quickly shunned those feelings. I, Neal Pollack, had vowed against feeling horny, as it was part of the Western experience to live without sexuality and confront instead the bare facts of life. It was hard, but if anyone could do it in this day and age it would have to be me. Later, as I masturbated in the bathroom of my studio apartment, I realized that being a real Westerner was not an easy thing—no, it took commitment and concentration.
I, Neal Pollack, felt torn by the tug of two distinct landscapes: the mountainous air pulled me one way, Natalie Portman’s stomach pulled me the other way, especially in the crotch area. Oh! I can only imagine the anguish and inner-torture of Edward Abbey! I understand what it is to be a frontiersman! I will not give up though! I will not give up! From Nine-Day Trek in the Bridger Range 2002