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True stories at the Top Hat

Top Hat Grand Opening

The Top Hat's neon sign sits above the new mini-bar on the remodeled venue's west wall. Friday marks the grand reopening with a free bluegrass concert.

The Top Hat was quiet, save for the whisper of cocktail waitresses, the clink of forks on plates and the distant sounds of the kitchen. Blue lights back lit a lone figure clinging to the microphone on stage. Some 250 people sat in near silence. 

"Then he opened his eyes, he looked around at us. We're all crying, our faces are red, there's snot everywhere. And he says, "Jesus Christ, you faggots can't do anything right." 

The crowd erupts into relieved laughter and a steady roll of conversations drowns out the performer's thank you and the MC's introduction of the next storyteller. Tell Us Something, Missoula's version of New York City's The Moth is an event for story tellers to share true tales following a theme. The last theme was 'What are you waiting for?' Eleven storytellers had 10 minutes to share their experiences from memory. 

The stories stretched from sad to silly. One man's boyhood struggle to accept a family friend's choice to end his long battle with HIV to another man's first encounter with his future mother-in-law, which involved a punk rock band van and a posse of local cops.

The stories ranged over time and space.

An 80-year-old man who recounted a series tales from the 1940s about silly disasters on the Antarctic Seas, and from a 20-year-old gay man who struggles to find, define and accept love today despite archaic, yet changing social norms in Montana.

An eye-opening car wreck, a quadriplegic's attempt at an Ironman, the death of a childhood friend, a near-fatal honeymoon, a veteran's final fuck-you to the U.S. Army in his last week's of service and starting a new life in a foreign country only to fall in and out of love.

What are you waiting for? 

"Luckily my eyebrows grew back."

"Sometimes you have to ask yourself, 'What are you waiting for?' and then wait a little while and find out."

"At that moment, that last moment of your life, what do you think about? Are you OK with your life?"

"If you're young and you decide to do sketchy shit, No. 1, don't get caught; and number two, if you do, don't wait to pay your ticket."

"Some people are damn tough despite big problems."

"When I first heard the theme - what are you waiting for - I thought to myself, 'I'm a Quaker; that's what we do best.'"

"When the doctors can't do anything for you, they send you home with enough morphine to drop a horse." 

"And like Benedict Arnold, we rowed over to the British." 

"It's a really weird concept to discover love." 

Tell Us Something has a story-telling session every couple of months, but the next one won't be until August, said the show's organizer Marc Moss.

"We usually do one every four months or so... but we have a long break between this one and the next," he said. 

To stave off your storytelling itch, Tell Us Something will host a story jam May 5. Potential story tellers can send pitches for the next Tell Us Something or show up to the story jam.

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If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus, has been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or has recently been in an area with ongoing spread of the virus, call your medical provider or the Curry Health Center hotline at (406) 243-4330 to discuss your treatment options. 

  • 7 min to read

Balancing two cardboard boxes against his knee, Yueyang Hu carefully closed the door of his truck. The boxes proved to be a cumbersome load for the 23-year-old University of Montana grad student as he joined the end of the long line at the Post Office and set the boxes on the counter. 

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