January 14, 2004

The Crystal Lounge in Billings, Montana is a narrow room, smoky and dim, with pink, orange, and yellow lighting. It is sparse with cowboys, ranchers, drunken teenagers, women with intense bangs, and us.

I cannot keep my eyes off of the man who sings a country ballad and then sits alone drinking his beer. He wears a brown and orange plaid shirt, a Nascar baseball cap, and blue jeans. I think I recognize him from the novelty store, where he was returning a video in a green plastic bag (but that’s a different story all together). We learn later that his name is Bob when he sings Lonestar’s “I’m Already There.” He is a tremulous tenor, singing with his hand in his pocket and his eyes closed. Everyone else in the bar knows the words and quietly sings along. “I’m the sunshine in your hair/I’m the shadow on the ground/I’m the whisper in the wind…” When Bob finishes his performance he says “this old man thanks you“ and then he puts on his coat, shakes some hands, and leaves the Crystal Lounge.

Jaime rocks out with Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and gets one drunk and toothless rancher seriously grooving. Before she gets back to her seat she is offered drinks by two different people. Later she sings Blondie’s “Call Me” and a few guys shout when she gets up to sing.

Jeff’s up next with R.E.M. and we all sing along. Sam reaches into the depths of his soul to sing “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies, and I realize that, though I may have a boyfriend who doesn’t like to dance or to swim, he rocks the karaoke mic.

I order a 7-Up and tip the barkeep the price of the drink (a whole dollar), which gets me free pop for the rest of the night. Woo-hoo! (Did you notice how I just used the word pop? Quite a few folks use it in Portland, and out here it’s what soda is called. And I like it. No more soda. Pop from now on.)

Kyle sings Weezer and shows off a few sharp dance moves, and he is followed by a woman named Pam who croons an Orbison tune to one of the real live cowboys at the bar, who grins shyly into his drink. His name is Rex Martin (for real), and his hat, moustache, and belt are unparalleled. Sam congratulates Pam on a job well done and she winks and says, “Thanks, Hon” before returning to the waiting arms of Rex Martin.

Rex Martin is more of a cowboy than any other cowboy I’ve met. Dark tousled hair under a large western hat. Dark, leathery skin. Great smile. Moustache. Cowboy shirt. Cowboy boots. Honkin’ belt buckle.

I am totally in love with Rex Martin.

Jaime sings “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and then Jeff ends the evening with “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival” and, according to the VJ, “gets all weird on us.” It is a rousing end to a highly entertaining night. We leave tipsy and smoky, humming “the day the squirrel went berserk/in the first self-righteous church…”

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