Sunday, August 20, 2006
Not Everybody Does A Lot Of Things
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – Sometimes it seems that love might be found encapsulated in the nose cone payload atop a Saturn V booster rocket, outbound beyond Neptune, en route to the Ort Belt or perhaps another star system. What a ride! Life there could be no less desolate, lonely, or robotic. Earth was such a hateful place, with such holes and vacuums, and at night the stars got in the way.
Lupe’, in the dog house, out, and back in again after pay day, spends his days sipping coffee, telling tales, swatting flies, and manufacturing his own hand-rolled cigarettes from a large 1 lb. bulk ‘Bonanza’ bag of ‘Gambler’, American Blend, Premium Cigarette Tobacco, made in the USA. A couple of months ago, over in Pine Ridge Village, someone burned down his trailer home. But that's not what had him sad. It was the dog house.
Heartbroken and facing a bleak and empty future, he lamented, "We're not supposed to live like this, Bro."
"What’s that?” not looking up from the chessboard and Bo at the kitchen table.
“Alone,” said Lupe’, eyes full of desperation.
“You mean to shape and balance our one-sided universes? You’re never alone, Lupe’. That’s what the Good Book said.”
“Ask and ye shall receive,” I said, handing Misty a freezer pop. “Good Book said that, too.”
Yeah, well, that may be. Lupe’ wasn’t alone too long. He had to move over for the sixty Israeli and Palestinian kids who rolled in from the Middle East on a charter tour bus and took up rat pack residence over in the timber-frame house, declining any of the three big tipis set up for them at the last minute by Tom and Lupe’, the last one in the dark, by headlights, about nine o’clock..
“They’re afraid,” someone said.
“Afraid of what?”
Sixty of ‘em standing in line for the bathroom in the morning, none of ‘em using the outhouse or sleeping in the tipis.
This was after Tom had gone up to Manderson earlier that afternoon to retrieve the 30-footer that Alex White Plume had brought back from Bear Butte, where Tom, Bo, and I had set it up the previous week for the Bear Butte Indian Protest against the bars in the vicinity, selling to the motorcycle crowd assembled for the annual Sturgis biker rally.
Bear Butte sits about five miles out of Sturgis, and within the past couple of years, developers have encroached upon this most sacred site of many Northwest Native American tribes. People go there, like the pilgrimage to Mecca. Hanblecheya, the vision quest, purification, and other sacred events are performed there by a half-dozen tribes, maybe more.
They’ve put a biker bar right at the base of the mountain, and the Indians didn’t have to torch it, like some suggested, but after the peaceful demonstration through town, a rain came down the mountain and washed it out.
Down on Main Street Sturgis, everyone was same same, but different. All the beefy self-styled outcasts cast from a common mold, wearing the same dew rag skull cloth, same wrap-around sunglasses, same cut-off T-shirts, same leather vest, same Harley Davidson patches, same tattoos, same wallets-on-a-chain, same worn blue jeans, and same heavy-ass leather boots. Don’t show up out of uniform or on a Suzuki. Gotta have the uniform, or you can’t belong to the club.
Tom and I sat eating our $29 sandwich lunch at one of a thousand vendors while filling the Indian protestors camp’s two 450-gallon water tanks, clearly out of place in our tennis shoes and sandals as the bikers slow-crawled, gurgling down the street, demonstrating their tailpipes and unique personal independence, their women on the back, all looking like someone you’d want on your side in a barroom fight.
Peaceful event, all around, if you don’t count the murder at one of the camping grounds and the subsequent arrest of the Hells Angels. In the end, everybody went home, wearing the same commemorative T-shirt or patch of Sturgis 2006. Best bet for the Indians, someone suggested, was to buy the land.
Along with those sixty kids from the Jerusalem Project, Jesus stopped through the other day for a cup of coffee, asking, “You guys seen Buddha lately?”
“Nah. Not for a couple of years. You guys still friends?”
Jesus just smiled. He left after two cups, laughing over his shoulder as he went out the door, “Don’t bother me. Can’t you see I’m a busy man? I’m a VERY busy man.”
“Don’t let in the flies!”
What a character. He knows just what to say to make our day. Even got Lupe to lighten up.
“I used to know that guy before he was a nobody,” said Al, indignantly. Everybody laughed.
Then Jesus suddenly reappeared in the doorway. "I heard that!" he said sternly, looking directly at Al. We all quickly straightened up, everyone afraid to crack a smile, all our eyes darting back and forth between Jesus and Al. Then he burst out laughing, pointed his finger at us and said, "Gotcha!" then left for good.
According to Aloysius, who was present, seated far in the back of the room, Jesus and the rest were here to get everyone together for the semi-annual Major and Lesser Gods slicing up the Power Pie Conference, the mind-control project, held this year in the Oglala Sioux tribal council building on the rez.
All the heavy hitters were there, with the extinct Gods of Greece and Valhalla watching from the perimeter in the balcony. Odin and Loki, Zeus, Osiris, and Elvis sidelined with injuries and obsolescence.
After taking care of old business, rules of conduct and general areas of agreement, they proceeded directly to more sensitive dogma issues and contemporary topics, Mohammed and Jesus got into it again, pushing each other’s buttons with their zeal for exclusivity, virgin birth claims, Jerusalem land disputes, vengeance and afterlife promises, raising eyebrows around the table.
The Spirit of Water was despondent, as usual. “I support all life on the planet, but nobody says thank you. They take me for granted,” he said. “I get no respect. Look what they do to me. Elvis gets more adoration.”
Of course, you know what Elvis said. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Lesser, but no less divine deities, such as the local White Buffalo Calf Woman, made simple requests with her fractional time allotment; “I want my believers to pray with tobacco and a pipe,” she said.
Though representing a mere one thousandth of one percent of the earth’s population, her believers in the western hemisphere still address her, and partly because she was hosting the event, everybody said, ‘Cool. No problem.’ She was nice. No opposition.
Same with motorcycle worship. ‘They’ve all got to look alike, and put me before anything else,’ said the God of Four-Stroke Engines. Again, thumbs up, all the way around. Lots of rubber stamp action prior to lunch.
The Pope, however, was another story. After a fiery and impassioned speech on relevance and his continued insistence upon recognition of Jesus’ mom as his believers’ primary object of devotion, he accused Buddha of sleeping throughout his entire presentation, and reiterated his previously disputed stance on abortion and DNA strand implant.
‘Cheat, Steal, Deceit, and Lies,’ cried the Pope, “Take what comes to you…something crawlin’ out of the Amazon,” to which Buddha had interjected, smiling, ‘Karmic retribution. Sutras, mudras, prayers and poses,’ his only utterance during the proceedings.
The Pope stood pale, stunned and confused. God of Oil and Natural Gas nearly choked on his water, and God of Obscene Consumption spoke out of hand, commanding the Pope to sit down, resulting in a hot and undiplomatic exchange among the inner ring, joined by Kali, Satan, and the Bodhisattva of Refugees and Orphans, rife with charges of decline and ascendancy. In short order, the tribal council chamber was reduced to chaos, a familiarity within those walls.
“How did we get here, from there?” asked Carl, sitting here at the kitchen table with Lupe’.
“Were we talking about a line of thought, relationships, or life circumstances?”
We were talking about a line of thought, an elusive, evaporating, hypnogogic dream, a blueberry-induced rant, a short-term memory retrace of the political history of Southeast Asia, French Indochina, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, UXOs (unexploded ordinance), motorbike down the trail, a vacation.
Lupe’ was thinking about relationships, the dog house, and the rez, his eyes staring vacantly at the tabletop grain. How did he get here from there? From where he was, across the road, from where they were?
How did they get to where they are now from where they used to be? How did you?
Aloysius laughed at Lupe’s distress and teased him, speaking to God for him, “Oh, Tunkashila. I’m here for my present!”
“NO! NOW YOU MUST BE PUNISHED!” growled Aloysius’ angry God of Vodka.
Lupe’ picked up the ‘Iroquois’ hat that Tom had left on the table in the timber-frame house and slowly read the lettering. “Irrrr…aqis. Iraqis.”
He’d heard the word on the news. Almost laughed out loud, had I not been checked by my own ignorance, smiling down at the keyboard. Clone, however, couldn’t help himself, blurting out, “That’s ‘Iro-quois,’ you dumb fuck.”
Earlier he had said he saw the spirits dancing in the lodge. “‘When you suffer, we suffer,’ they told me,” Lupe said. “ ‘Don’t cry,’ they said. ‘Let’s Dance!’ ”
We were trying to retrace a line of thought. “What was it, Carl?”
“It’s not for everybody. What were we talking about? What was the lead-in? How did we get here from there? It’s not for everybody. The sweat lodge? The peyote ceremony? The Catholic Church? Sturgis?”
“A lot of things aren’t for everybody. The Pentecostals, the snake handlers. Not everybody does a lot of things.”
We have some idea of how strong we’re doing by how many people show up for sweat on Wednesday nights. We often don’t go in until ten o’clock, coming out after midnight. That’s tough for the little kids.
A Wednesday ago there was six of ‘em in there, along with fourteen adults. Old-time ‘Aim-ster’ (A.I.M. American Indian Movement) Gangster Melvin Lee came down from the Bear Butte protest minus one foot recently from diabetes, talking words of encouragement to the younger generation, reminding us how each generation has lost more and more, and how important it is to retain Bear Butte as a sacred site, not only for Indians, but for our country’s health, and that of the world.
Everybody said, “Aho,” when he finished.
It’s been sobering lately. Ernest’s one-year memorial was just last week, with 37 taking in peyote meeting through the night, and another 150 turning up for the main feed and giveaway, including the legion post honor guard.
It was a huge giveaway for which Loretta had prepared a year, and the meeting details put together on short notice in Tom’s free time. An incredible effort, taken for granted by those N.A.C. (Native American Church) members to whom it is custom, but bewildering to Denise Albin from New York, here with her husband Mike, both attending their first peyote meeting. Mike had a bit of a rough time, but toughed it out. Well, it’s not for everybody.
And Christine Red Cloud’s been in the hospital, scaring everyone. And those guys went off the road over by the Mormon church west of Pine Ridge Village last Friday and T-boned a tree, killing three of four, pitched through the windshield. High speed & alcohol. What else?
The phone rang in the Big House as six of us sat around, awaiting the arrival of Bo and Misty from Pine Ridge. “That’s Misty,” I said. “I just sent her a mental message to call.”
Lupe answered the phone, listened for a moment, squinted his eyes and handed it to me. Misty said they were running late. Traffic was backed up all over town. There was a big wreck. Ambulances, fire trucks, and helicopters, she said.
So, we were untying knots earlier in the day and praying for peace that night. A kid’s shoe laces, tipi ropes, relationships, muscles, and our rosary of life. Patience is required. Yoga helps.
This dog here, B.G., Bee Gee, or Beege, daughter of White Girl, niece of Watecha, requires patience. She just had five pups and has never let anyone pet her. “You ever pet that dog?” I’ve asked several people. They all say no.
Mia got close, but even she couldn’t touch her. I’ve been feeding her since she was a pup, and she’s never let me pet her or remove ticks from her face in the height of tick season. She trusts no one, man, woman, or child. Same gunman that shot her in the ass, killed her mother. There’s something admirable, but sadly pathetic in her independence, kind of like those bikers.
Reason is, Lupe’ traumatized her when she was a pup.
Patience required. We can’t become too discouraged in our struggle with and against hopelessness. There’s the Mission.
“Is this part of the mission?” I asked Tom as we loaded four dozen chairs into the back of his truck.
“Tangentially,” he replied.
Just like those six cars with kids and flats on Slim Buttes Road in the last three weeks, its current state in the worst condition in recorded memory. It’s part of the mission. You’ve gotta stop if there ain’t a man already there. Why is it there’s always babies on board? And why is it that they always ain’t got no jack?
So it’s a trade-in, I told Lupe’. The Mission. How did you get here from where you were? A Rocky Mountain log cabin on a stream for a shitty little place on the rez. A Volvo wagon for a shitty 1962 Chevy truck. A Ph.D. for a G.E.D. Trade stress and clocks and schedules for…whatever we’ve got here…artistic freedom…a place to work up a comedy routine.
“Behind SCHEDULE?” asked Bo, incredulously as he whipped his pickup truck through a curve on Slim Buttes Road on our way to Chadron, two hours later than when we said we’d be there. “What schedule?”
“There ain’t no schedules,” added Misty.
The chief asked the treaty negotiator what all the Indians would do once they were put onto the reservation.
“You can work on your artistic freedom.”
Put Me In, Coach
“No way,” said Tom. “No way.”
“Why not?” I asked. “I’ve got enough material to take it on the road. A good, solid twenty minutes…The Tightrope Walker…you’ve seen it…pretty good, huh?...the African-American Bowhunter…the Minister Louis Farrakhan Homophobic Sermon…ha ha…the Burmese God… Jesus and Diablo in Guadalajara…it needs some fine-tuning in some areas, but…”
“Yeah, like, make it funny? No way,” he repeated. “No way they’re going to let you up on a stage in front of a thousand G.I.s in Baghdad. They’d throw you out on your ass. How you gonna get there?” he asked.
“They buy your ticket...The Plantation Slave afraid of runnin’ off to the woods…Lord of the Flyswatter…the Slow-mo Replay…ain’t nobody’s ever done that on stage before, man. THAT’S some original shit.”
“How you gonna pull it off?” Tom asked.
“Well, you know…contact the Office of Special Services, whomever contracts comedians for foreign service…probably someone in the Pentagon…probably have to send an audition tape or perform for some kinda committee…I wouldn’t be the lead act...I’d be the uh, the warm-up, the uh, preliminary…someone who could come off the bench if somebody else cancelled…you know, like a short-notice kind of a thing…”
“No way. They’d throw your ass out. As soon as you start joking around about something like DU munitions, they’d…”
“No, no. I wouldn’t use VA hospital material or amputees or nothing…I’d keep it sanitized…I could be the ‘go-to’ guy. A preliminary for a big name act, you know, someone like…preliminary…preliminary…
“…I’ll never forget the day Manny came running into the gym, all excited, shouting, ‘Nosotros tenamos un grande preliminario peliar este Novembre que biene abentro del coliseo!’ ”
I had to stop him and tell him to slow it down and talk English. Manny said with the right people behind us, the right training and the right promotion, he could take me all the way to de top! If I stayed away from ‘that bad crowd,’ he said, I could be somebody. He’d just gotten us a major preliminary event at the coliseum, and if I listened to him and played my cards right, we could go all the way to the top, he said.
But did I listen to Manny?
Tom was either asleep or just not responding from his prone position on the couch.
“No. I didn’t listen. Couldn’t stay away from that bad crowd. And now, look at me. Judge says, ‘Fifteen years in the State Prisson, or take your chances in da ‘Nam.’ I told her, ‘That’s easy, Your Honors. I’ll take my chances in da fucking ‘Nam.’
She leap up, pointing her finger and hollered, ‘DON’T use language like that in my fucking courtroom! TWO TOURS! TWO TOURS!’ she hollered out as the military police were escorting me under the armpits out the door. Went to the ‘Nam…pulled two tours…and the rest is history.”
Tom didn’t stir on the couch, but Lupe’, Aloysius, and Manuel thought it was funny.
“…I’ve come off the bench before. I used to sit down there, thinking, ‘Put me in, Coach. Put me in.’ Starters got in foul trouble, ‘nuther guy busted his ankle and went to the locker room…we’re down by 18 points and the coach looks up at the clock and finally looks down the bench. I’m looking right back at him. Crowd’s yelling, ‘PUT HIM IN! PUT HIM IN!’ so coach comes down there and grabs the front of my jersey, which I had to turn around so the big number’s in the back, and yanks me to my feet, saying, “Get in there!”
Scored three straight times down the floor, got a steal, an assist, scored again, got fouled and took it to the line for a three-point play. Brought the game to within four points, coach called a time-out and pulled me out of the game.”
Tom woke up laughing, saying, “He put the good guys back in,” which everyone here in the kitchen laughed at, but what in fact, was true, even the guy with the busted ankle, all taped up. Another trade-in. Coming in off the bench for undergrad tuition.
Someone on the radio who dropped out of law school and became a journalist said something about IEDs (‘improvised explosive device’ – the military has acronyms for everything) being up from 1200-a-month, one year ago, to 2400 this year. A person could do the math. That’s all over Iraq, not just Baghdad, so it’s not as bad as it seems.
We got to wondering about the guy who did the story. He needed to talk to a general, and he needed to talk to someone keeping the stats. Who could say 70% of the deaths were coalition forces? How did they come up with that figure?
Who’s keeping score? A statistician! A person could go to Iraq, get stationed in Baghdad’s Green Zone, and keep stats on the war. A political appointee. A desk job. No house-to-house search missions like all those other poor, miserable, terrified sons and daughters of someone’s pact on America.
You’d have the figures on insurgent deaths, the civilian deaths, the US deaths, the accidental deaths, the friendly fire deaths, the percentages, how many guys pulled two tours, and all that other on and-off-the-record double-amputee post-humous stuff they never tell honestly and straightforward to the families or American public.
Like they say, you can get statistics to say anything you want them to say.
Senate Finance, Senate Armed Services Committee…Human Rights Watch...the UN...all other sorts of important people would be making evaluations and decisions, based upon your work. Elections could be swung, Saddam could be hung, nations could rise and fall…
And when he asked about the coffins, the general raised his finger to his lips and shook his head, mouthing the words, in a barely audible secret whisper, “Oh no, Son. We don’t say anything about the coffins.”
The reporter looked up slowly from his notes, mouth hanging open for a second, staring at the general, his pencil falling from his hand unconsciously and dropping on the desk.
“Are we winning?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the General.
“How can you tell?”
The General gazed out the window. “You can tell,” he said.
As we headed north on Slim Buttes road toward Oglala, my passenger asked why I was driving on the left-hand side of the road.
“The road’s in better shape on this side.”
We drove in silence until we approached a small rise, and he asked, “What if there’s someone coming the other way?”
“There’s not,” I told him.
“How can you tell?” he asked.
I looked up the hill. Blue sky all around. “You can tell,” I told him.