The head of a 15,000-pound elephant, its trunk raised in full trumpet, jutted from the wood paneling above an upright piano. The elephant appeared to be stampeding through the wall, as in a beer commercial. Its tusks were over by the fireplace, five feet of ivory on either side.
"Sometimes people complain," bartender Brent Gries said when I asked what visitors made of the place. "Animal-rights people. Someone will ask, 'What did the fawn think when her mother was shot?' The one we get the most complaints about is the American eagle." Above a row of Bacardi bottles behind the bar soared a golden eagle that Ole bagged in 1940. "That's probably the worst," Gries said, thinking aloud. "We probably shouldn't have that up there." He paused. "We should put that away," he said again, leaving the eagle right where it was.
Gries's friend Tim Holzfaster bought the bar 10 years ago from Ole, who died in 1996. Knute-Rockne was a regular at Ole's, and so was Jack Dempsey. USC football coach John McKay and Dodgers great Don Drysdale made it to this no-man's-land. Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey tended bar one night. Gries tended bar today. "When someone asks if we have any local mounts," Gries said, "I always point up there." Above the bar were six 1940s pinups of naked women.
On my way out the door, I signed Ole's guest book. I leafed back through page after page looking for expressions of outrage, but found none. In fact, most every visitor had written the same sentiment in the comments column: Great food. I'm stuffed!
Rock Creek, Montana
It isn't true that you can blink and miss Idaho while driving across the state's panhandle, though I strongly recommend that you try. Regardless, you are very quickly in Montana, where a highway sign advertises the ROCK CREEK TESTICLE FESTIVAL-HAVE A BALL! (Sadly, it was not for another five months.) Up the road a piece is another billboard: WELCOME TO DRUMMOND—WORLD FAMOUS BULLSHIPPERS! You don't see these crude punning signs outside most of the world's municipalities (ENTERING GENEVA—KISS OUR ALPS!), and I say that's too bad. The world would be a better place if it were a little more like Montana, for Montanans have the good sense not to take themselves seriously. After one 49ers Super Bowl victory a town changed its name for a year to Joe: Joe, Montana. I had half a mind to go there, to find an apartment where I might live out my days in exile: a grown man, hopelessly obsessed with sports, avoiding adulthood in Joe, Montana.
But already, for the better part of a year, I had lived a life of epic irresponsibility. I had neglected to pay bills, neglected to call friends, neglected to tell the office where I was going to be, in large measure because I had seldom known my destination more than 10 minutes before arriving there. I had drunk too much, slept too little and eaten exclusively those things that cause swift, painful deaths in laboratory mice. I had watched a fat man in a minor league ballpark in Colorado Springs spoon chopped onions and pickle relish onto his jumbo frank, then turn to me, a complete stranger, and say, "Vegetables." And scarier still, I had shared his pride, for I too had come to view the stadium condiment bar as a veritable vegetable garden.
In short, all my year had been a playing holiday. And I could now say, with absolute certainty, that Shakespeare should have been so lucky.