I am in a bar. I have come to test the 7:1 ratio theory. I want to experience, first hand, the legendary prowess, the outrageous displays, the bright feathers of the Alaskan mating ritual.
I see men. Lots of men. Most of them are wearing sensible heels and dresses.
Of the women, many, but not all, are dressed like men.
As the disco ball slowly spins, a gaggle of girls screaming girls gets plastered on jello-shots. I am on the edge of the middle of an orgy of equality. People are happy tonight. Alaska, it seems, is a come-as-you-are state.
Mad Myrna’s is a portal onto a level playing field. As these Alaskan drag kings and queens take the microphone, the joy in the room is palpable. Clear as the majestic mountains. Clean as the air weaving drunkenly down the streets. I feel giddy. My cocktail is in a pint glass. I suck it down through a straw.
This is the final frontier.
Or one of them.
I have learned an important lesson: even with the fabled seven to one ratio, there might not be one in the seven who will want me.
I collect myself in the refreshing night air. Not to be defeated, I walk down Fifth Avenue and slide into a restaurant and onto a bar stool. I hang my coat on knees, wriggle out of my sweater. Moments later, a man sitting caddy-corner glances past his drink and smiles.
“You just get into town?”
I am amazed. How does he know I’m not from there? Is it my city vibe? My shoes? The stupid smile plastered on my face? I trace the bar with my finger, looking down at the menu.
I am wearing my red ‘Arkansas’ shirt.
“Yesterday.” I answer, meeting his stare. I order a glass of wine.
He is a handsome man, rough around the edges, finely chiseled and tattooed, a bad boy type – straight out of the pages of a well-worn romance novel. He knows it, too.
In the next five seconds, a woman comes up to him. “You have such nice hair,” she says, giggling. She drops her business card and darts out the door. He handles the card, flips it over. Reads her name. Tosses it on the bar and sighs.
“I hate that shit.”
“Must happen to you all the time.”
“I don’t understand why people can’t just sit and talk. I just want someone to talk to.”
So we talk.
In the lower forty-eight, Alaskan men have a certain allure. They are exotic, mysterious, manly. Lonesome loners who have chosen a strange road. Rugged individuals. Strong, silent types.
Alaskan women, from what I’ve observed, have a different story.
It’s this: the odds are good, but the goods are odd.
Earlier in the week, when I step off the plane, I’m greeted by a polar bear, stuck at the airport in a saw-dust filled, snarling purgatory. My clothing doubled, tripled, and painfully stifling at O’Hare airport, smiles upon me as snow-covered Fairbanks lifts an eye-brow.
Another tourist from another one-horse-town touching down to look up at the night sky. Bears slumbering, humans barely out of hibernation, ice lining the streets, refusing to budge. My new-found obsession with hot springs, Santa Claus, and the Northern Lights distract me from my purpose, preventing me from venturing far off the beaten path.
I am very lucky, however, to witness a dating ritual at the coffee kiosk at the Fred Meyer’s on Airport Road.
He has unfortunate facial hair and a braided beard.
She’s a perky cashier with sensible shoes and an espresso habit.
He seductively pushes her coffee across the counter.
She shoots her espresso and sips her Frappucino back.
His hopeful innocence peers past his frizzled beard and gruff exterior, smiling.
She invites him to pop by her cash register sometime, ostensibly for a deep discount.
He watches her walk away. Maybe tomorrow, he thinks, maybe then I’ll ask her out.
Six things one should do when visiting Alaska:
Shoot a gun.
Drive on ice.
See a moose.
Drink at a gay bar.
Watch the world from the top of a mountain.
Anchorage. Thursday night.
I sit across from a clear-faced, open-minded, world-traveled, born-and-bred, fresh-scrubbed Alaskan. White shirt, black tie, straight out of the pages of Susie’s Alaskan Man magazine. We’re sitting at the bar at the brewery.
He’s a successful entrepreneur with an acting habit who lives life, delighted by the gifts that come his way – the perfect balance of old soul and young spirit.
I am impressed.
He knew I wasn’t from Alaska, too.
A friend of mine has a theory that environment shapes culture. And I agree with her to a point. The people in Fairbanks seem frigid, fragile, and tired, as if they’re just coming out of a deep freeze. A blanket of white encroaches on their lives, almost always covering their houses, narrowing the roadways. It’s not an easy place to live. But, when the sun shines, it shines long and hard. Hope comes from above, and the magic of the Northern Lights, with its scientifically simple explanation, is a constant reminder of all that we do not understand.
In Anchorage, surrounded by mountains and clean air, there is a purity of spirit. It seems to be a city of happy secrets. Even the people who want to leave love it.
My date and I talk about the lights, the verdant spring, the long days, and the long nights.
“It’s no wonder that people here believe in God,” he says. “Go to the top of a mountain. You’ll see. Sometimes it’s nice to feel so small.”
To quote one fine, bearded bachelor featured in Susie’s Alaska Man Magazine, “what you see is what you get. That’s the Alaskan way.”
I submit that this is mostly true anywhere you go.
I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for.