Summer of 1993
Yellowstone is a region of fast dynamics.
The town you grew up in probably looks different than when you were born,
but Yellowstone in all likelihood changes much faster than your hometown.
Geysers appear out of nowhere. Other thermal features collapse into
inactivity. Earthquakes create large new lakes. The saying,
"If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes" actually means ten minutes
in Yellowstone. Hailstorms in the summer create a land of white ice
only to be melted by sunshine within the half hour. Sudden storms
wreak havoc on a backcountry hiker who had only had to worry about sunburns
and mosquitoes minutes before. Fire destroys a forest giving birth
to a new forest, new wildlife, and a very different life cycle. In
Yellowstone, the stability of the concept involves the attribute of great
change. The Yellowstone you see today may not look like the Yellowstone
you see tomorrow.
This is perhaps most true in considering the
human Yellowstone. Tourists come and go almost as quickly as the
weather. Seasonal employees change the face of a locality not nearly
as fast but regularly. Permanent employees are almost never permanent
employees for life. What stays the same in the human Yellowstone
is as rare as the regularity of Old Faithful. The history of Yellowstone
is composed mostly of people who came to Yellowstone from somewhere else
and went from Yellowstone after they had played their role. The human
Yellowstone, like the nonhuman Yellowstone, is mostly a concept of a changing
landscape. The only constant is the beauty. As the face changes,
Yellowstone remains beautiful. It remains something that we can identify
as a single concept, something we can cherish and love as one being.
Yet, it never has the same face.
In Grant Village in the summer of 1993, we were
yet another unique face that said "Yellowstone." Of us, some stood
out as more unique, at least more a symbol of dynamism and beauty all at
the same time. Our co-worker Ben was fired within two weeks of my
employment at Hamilton Stores. Yet, he had made his mark on me.
Although on one hand he was known as a party animal, I knew Ben as a quiet
and peaceful soul. He used to come into our room and listen to me
play Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. One song in particular,
called America, used to move him the most. The song is about
a trip across the country taken by hitchhiking and bussing--"it took us
four days to hitchhike from Saginaw." In doing so, a man and a woman
get a sense of what it is "to look for America." Ben told me that
he had made that trip with a girlfriend of his. He was peaceful and
extraordinarily kind. Yet, he was fired all the same. Apparently,
he had been fired the year before from TW for an alcohol offense.
The manager who fired him noticed that he was working for Ham's this year.
The manager told our manager Tom Lambert about Ben. Whereas, Tom
promptly fired Ben. This move angered most of us who were Ben's co-workers.
He had been fired based on past mistakes and not about anything he had
done while working for Hamilton Stores. Somehow, this will to punish
people for their past forever, a rather popular concept in today's America,
did not sit well with us. He was a good guy whom Tom did not know.
If only he explored Ben rather than dismissing him out of hand like that,
maybe Ben would have still been around. As it was, Ben made a couple
visits before the summer was over as he continued to drift around the country.
Another co-worker who exemplified this restless
spirit was Rick. Originally from Ohio, Rick had seemingly been everywhere
and done everything, but I do not think the guy was thirty. Rick
had been in the military, worked a million jobs, and now found himself
working a million jobs for Hamilton Stores from cook to janitor.
Rick had a great amount of experience hiking and climbing, standing atop
the Grand Teton before the summer was over. He also had an excellent
wit about him. He began dating a girl at TW, one of our few contacts
with TW that summer, and spent much of her time with her. As Rick
was a mover ,however, he took a job in Jackson before the summer was out.
He even suggested that he might make a permanent home of it there.
Afterall, all he wanted to do was climb mountains. For him, nothing
else was quite as meaningful.
Because people move on, others can move in.
Because people move in, the face of a summer working in Yellowstone always
changes. Sometimes, angels move in where people have left.
This was Reuben.
I think that Reuben might have been an angel.
I cannot explain exactly why I think this. Reuben was usually an
obnoxious pest. He smelled so bad that he was not only notorious
among the young people but even with management. One night, his roommate
Brandon caught Reuben taking a "shower." What actually happened was
that the shower was on while Reuben was pacing through the bathroom with
his clothes on. Reuben was not especially brilliant, nor especially
talented at anything. He was a decent chef, but he had a tendency
to remind one of Dan Wesbrook's chronic incompetence.
Yet, all the same I think that Reuben might have
been an angel.
The reasons I think so cannot exactly stand out
on paper. Yet, those who shared the experience of Reuben with me
wondered the same thing. In particular, I had several conversations
with Jay Clayton on the matter. Jay is not a particularly religious
man, but he could agree that there were things about the very existence
of Reuben that smacked of something not quite human. Yet, what picture
is there that adequately portrays the subtlety?
For starters, there was a mystery about Reuben's
background and how he ended up in Yellowstone. He said that he grew
up in Clarkston, Washington, where he had been something of a juvenile
delinquent. He had been in trouble with the law, had been in juvenile
detention, and lived the rest of the time with his mother. If someone
from Clarkston reads this, maybe they can debunk this sense that Reuben's
story is something of a mythology, something not quite true. For,
I always had the sense in listening to Reuben's endless stories about his
life that he was making half of it up. There was something of a delusional
sense to Reuben that I knew from experience. He would exaggerate
events that I experienced with him and interpret them very differently
He came to Yellowstone without a pair of shoes
that were wearable. Elaine Thorman, that great woman, bought him
a pair of shoes to wear. No one knows quite how he got to Yellowstone.
No one knows what became of him after being fired from Yellowstone later
that summer, apparently for using a company phone to charge Dial-a-porn
to the tune of over $800.
He must sound like the devil, yet Reuben was
no fallen angel despite being one who was far from perfect.
Reuben had a heart of gold. Although he
annoyed me to no end, I could not tell him to stay out of my life.
He genuinely cared. Inspite of his endless diatribes about his life
(as I write an endless diatribe about mine), his tendency to turn every
conversation into one about himself, his horrible odor, and his lack of
meaningful thought, he cared about me and about others. He wanted
to belong. He wanted to experience. However, most of all, most
like me, he wanted someone to care for him. Price and I both realized
this about Reuben, and Price was the better of the two of us in including
Reuben into our family.
Reuben wanted to be a part of my life.
Had I not yearned to be wanted? So, I tolerated Reuben, and at times,
I could not stand Reuben, but at others I found myself in awe of a being
who was like no other, even at the age of eighteen. He had such a
good heart, hardly the stereotype of a juvenile delinquent. He inspired
absolutely no fear in any of us, young or old. Rather, he seemed
weird and silly and annoying and kind and smelly and entertaining and boring
and UNIQUE. He stood out. Everyone knew who he was. Old
people liked him because he did not discriminate and was as easy-going
in one person's company as another's. He even found time to do things
with Michelle Angel, whom he too soon disliked.
Within a couple weeks, Reuben was an unmistakable
pimple on the face of Yellowstone. Yet, he was a pimple that was
worthy of some admiration. And, yes, Reuben was also a boy with many
So, Reuben spent a lot of time with Price and
I in our room. Not a day could pass without a knock on our door.
We could barely eat a meal without Reuben sitting down with us. We
could hardly explore an ounce of Yellowstone without Reuben's presence.
Almost everything important I did the rest of that summer in some manner
involved Reuben whether it was as simple as playing a role-playing game
that he loved to play or hiking or viewing Yellowstone, there was Reuben
the Foul Fair Pimpled Angel.
So much of the Reuben experience was an experience
of the senses that I have not begun to do justice to him. At first
sight, he was an incredibly ugly boy not only with pimples, but also with
filthy clothes in no particular order, uncombed hair, very nasty teeth,
and a million other things unpleasant even to a person who cares as little
for appearance as I do. He often wore a beat up black jacket, which
served as his only jacket in the frozen tundra of Yellowstone. He
was slightly overweight with a face that screamed not to be looked at even
if one looked past the acne field. His voice was high-pitched and
unusually annoying. That smell of his could move mountains from a
continent away. How did Reuben taste? I do not know, but I
doubt it was much better than "Reuben's Reubens" or what he called his
Reuben sandwiches that we sometimes had at the EDR. You will have
to forgive me, but I think a Reuben sandwich to be one of the more unpleasant
meals on the face of the planet. Whenever I think of the taste (and
I sometimes have been so hungry as to eat a few), I will forever think
of Reuben though I never indulged in the masochistic cannibalistic appetizer.
Reuben made an impact on the senses that is no less an exaggeration than
to say that Yellowstone is a beautiful national park. In other words,
it really is an understatement.
Yet, this boy was so remarkable to me that I
think he may have been an angel, that he is someone to be admired rather
than ridiculed, and adored rather than ignored. Nevertheless, I doubt
I would have given Reuben that chance if he had not had the will not to
be ignored. He made sure that he was in my life. All I can
say for myself is that I made sure that I did not shut him out of it.
The reader can rightly surmise that I have something of an angry prejudiced
cynicism that I am not exactly proud of. I do not particularly think
well of that many people. I do think well of Reuben, and I found
out that under that nasty superficial exterior, beyond a problematic interior,Reuben
was a man who knew something about practicing that most important thing
in my life. Reuben knew a little bit about love.
Reuben was charitable. Without hesitation,
he would have given the shirt off his back, wretched though it was, to
someone who needed it. If he had the opportunity to save another
life, I have know doubts that he would have given his for that other person.
I witnessed the way Reuben gave and offered to give. Rarely did anyone
want what he had to offer, and it is too bad. What Reuben gave was
evidence of his heart, his great desire to overcome his many flaws and
live a beautiful life. Not only did he do this as part of his nature,
but he openly spoke of these desires. He spoke of his will to give,
to take care of people. This is important. I have a little
more respect for the person who has to overcome his nature to do good than
for the person who does good without ever reflecting upon actions.
Reuben thought about his life, and what he wanted it to be. Considering
what it was and what it had been, I thought this remarkable.
I had many adventures with Reuben that summer,
and a great many of them were the products of the charity of Jay Clayton.
Since all of us had the same days off, and neither Reuben nor I had a car,
Jay took it as his mission to make sure that we saw the park. In
the next chapter, I will relate some of my explorations in the company
of Jay and Reuben. We both appreciated Jay's generosity very much,
although I sense Jay may have gotten more out of it. Jay loved to
show off his beloved land. It was important to him that we saw in
the Yellowstone region what he saw in it. There must have been some
satisfaction in our reception to what we were seeing. Reuben usually
spent his time in the car comparing what he was seeing to those things
he had seen in Washington and Idaho. So, as I explored Yellowstone
and Grand Teton National Parks, I explored them in light of Reuben's fond
memories of home, and ENDLESS memories of home.
So, that, in a nutshell was Reuben as I remember
him. As I read through the chapter, I get the sinking sense that
the reader must be wondering why I am spending so much time writing about
this eccentric character. What is so important about Reuben's connection
to my life in Yellowstone that he deserves a chapter all to himself?
The answer is simple. As I think about Yellowstone, I see Old Faithful
erupting a thousand times. I see the Bison roaming through the valleys.
I hear the Lower Falls spill into that canyon. I think about Grant
Village and my home on the lake. I think about Reuben, and what he
was, and what he meant to me. I still see that face and beneath that
face. I still see the being he was, the being society thought he
was, and the being I want to be. No, I hardly want to be most of
what Reuben was. I want to be the Reuben who loved and whose heart
was grander than the mighty Yellowstone. Or, is it better to say
that Reuben's heart is the mighty Yellowstone. The metaphor might
be meaningless, but somehow it makes me smile.
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