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In the Bars of Bozeman

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

March 2022, Issue 4 "Transparency doesn't mean sharing every detail. Transparency means providing the context for the decisions we make.”

- Simon Sinek


The Smelling Red Series is the neuroscience component of Shonkinite Sketches.

​Headquartered in Montana, our brand emphasizes the scope of story from conspiracy theory and propaganda, to capacious points of view that synchronize. In addition to developing a multi-media slate of our own stories, we study the potency and power of story and how the brain functions in relation to story.

In the Bars of Bozeman

By Harper Klay, Shonkinite Founder

7 minute read

Smelling Red Series is birthed from the Founder’s personal journey recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury.

Click on the video to listen to this sketch in the author's voice

Year after year my brain injury worsened.

My conditioned cowboy approach of getting back on my horse after falling off wasn’t working. In 2011, I was destitute, homeless, and the seizures were upwards of thirty per day.

I applied for Social Security Disability, and was approved within weeks. Consumed by shame, I felt worthless for receiving financial help without working. In the evaluation the psychologist provided information, education, and knowledge on my condition. Prior to the evaluation I was struggling to connect with medical professionals, peers, or anyone who could relate or help. Unfortunately, I was on the receiving end of a great deal of cruelty and judgment. I couldn’t figure out the map of living, earning, working, and rehabilitation. I was barely holding on.

Amongst assessments on coding and sequencing, linear time, procedural memory, stimulation management, speech impulsivity and losing inhibitions, the doctor provided a lasting take away. He made a remark about genius, and then said “One of the most challenging things for you will be relationships.”

Until recently that has been true, but thanks to working weekly with a business coach, I can now approach this challenge as an opportunity. Owning an entertainment and technology company requires me to meet a lot of people. The practice of filtering all the encompassing data encased in one single human is a mental work-out.

Being at the mercy of others taught me a lot about people. I am often confused by people’s words, actions, inactions, and contradictions. But a great place to filter and learn about people is the bar. The bar is a place where people will say anything. People are the most honest, even if they are not being honest.

Middle Eastern Alchemists were the first to master the distillation of alcohol for medicine, tonics, and elixirs. They would distill liquid, collect the vapor, and gather the “spirit” that came off the material. There are metaphysical theories that alcohol opens one up to the spirit world. Whatever the science or opinion, alcohol consumption has a forbidden charge in some cultures, and is socially accepted in others.

A good bartender is a street psychologist. A frequent patron can articulate human suffering better than any novelist I’ve read. Fellowship is the primary reason people go to bars. Alcohol is the excuse to breathe, to be a little bit more you, or the you that you would like to be. Its an acceptable place to be seen and heard. Its a place to get your needs met. And you just never know who you might meet.

Bars can be the barometer in which to measure the state of humanity. People reveal pain and pride, let their guard down or puff up their chest all depending on the need for connection and whom they connect to. I’m getting a sense of the zeitgeist of Bozeman, Montana as I meet people in bars. Ten plus years after that psychologist told me relationships would be difficult, socializing in bars gives me a sense of the current human condition. The struggles I had a decade ago prepare me for the current state.

To this day I overthink every interaction, analyze every conversation, and constantly feel like I have done or said something wrong. I’m told this is a common characteristic for those living with neurological conditions. But as I socialize in bars, I listen from my heart. I hear below the surface. And, I conclude that to be human is to struggle. Everyone is trying to do their best.

Below are a collection of quotes I’ve heard in a variety of bars in the winter of 2022. Nice bars, dive bars, cowboy bars, and main street bars. Whatever the comment, the undertone of the collective is unsettling.


“Ugh, whenever I have to go work at the Yellowstone Club I spit on their roads. I hate them so much.”

- Born and raised Montana

“Obama killed babies with robots. Drones. I guess he’s the most hippest President, I’d smoke weed with him.”

- Born and raised Bozeman

“F$#” Governor Gianforte, killing wolves illegally. He can go f himself.” - Both out of state and local

“Kamala Harris put the most black people in Prison. I didn’t vote for Biden, how can they even call themselves Democrats.”

- Born and raised Bozeman

“I drink too much, I’d like to cut back.” They order another. - Born and raised Montana

“Bozeman is so cheap, my apartment is $3300 per month and I have amazing access to everything”

- East Coast lawyer

“California, Washington, and Oregon are moving here. I make $22 an hour and I’m getting priced out” - Born and raised Bozeman

“The goddamn TV series....” - Born and raised Montana

“I’m lonely. I’m depressed.”

- On repeat

“First time I saw hard drugs in my life was in Big Sky, there is a whole scene there, and it’s not even hidden. They even ask for escorts as if they are ordering room service” - Recently relocated Midwest professional “I grew up fundamental Christian and homeschooled. I’m not anymore though."- Born and raised Montana “I no longer bid on projects at the YC, they nickel and dime everything. When I do an invoice break down they inquire about everything - Why 4 boxes of screws, I didn’t approve this. I’m not paying for it.” - Local business owner “I dated a wino, I haven’t drank red wine since. I still drop acid though." - Born and raised Bozeman “Things are a mess and it’s getting really bad.” - Born and raised Bozeman

“Bozeman is gentrifying at warp speed. It’s jarring.” - New Montana resident

There are three Montanas: old, new, and Covid. Old Montana is where I come from, the descendants of homesteaders and Native Americans. The new Montana is folks who moved here within the last 20-30 years. And Covid Montana is an interesting bunch I’m still trying to figure out.

Bars reveal this mixture in real time. And it takes me time to process all of these relationships.

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