BETTER BACK THAT UP*
My Robot Can Kick Your Robot’s Ass
Slim Buttes – We were sitting around at the base farm with the nephews, Marcus and Ted Red Cloud, engaged in our ‘Lord of The Flies’, Warsaw ghetto ‘sweep and clear’ attempts to exterminate them.
“I’m allll in their heads,” I told the boys. “I know which way they plan to escape, you know, sixth sense, and…NO…bam, I closes the back doe’,” I said, slapping table. “Never miss a shot.”
We were discussing the billion-year evolutionary development of the extraordinary escape and avoidance mechanisms of the common housefly, and how the sophisticated capabilities of such a lowly, shit-eating creature inspired aviation-minded men and led to the development of the helicopter, from da Vinci, 1461 (never got off the drawing board), to Benjamin Whittaker and Jacques Birieu (never got off the ground) to Igor Sikorsky, 1939 (solved the problem of instability by introducing counter-rotational force with a tail rotor), to today’s machines, not unlike the homemade cardboard ‘Black Ops’ UH-1H hovering over the table. That’s why they say Leonardo was 500 years ahead of his time.
The boys (late teens) listened attentively, understanding the problems of the early developers when encountering the toilet bowl physics of rotational force, nodding their heads. There wasn’t anything else to do. It was hot outside. Tom napped on the couch.
If you’ve ever seen footage of those early comic attempts in France to replicate the fly, everything went helter skelter and catawampus, disintegrating, and the pilot went to the hospital. Back to the drawing board.
There for just a moment, it looked like they had it, with big smiles, handshakes, and back-slapping. Then it went horribly awry with the craft hopping and shuddering, pieces flying everywhere, flopping around like a decapitated chicken in its death throes, wooden rotor blades chopping into the earth, splintering and sending razor shards through the air, people running for their lives. Can’t you just see it?
Eventually, wouldn’t ya know, a Russian worked it out (Russian-American, actually, but he just immigrated to the U.S. and didn’t hardly know no English, so technically, he was a U.S. citizen, but really, he was a Russian). Just like all the other shit they make, it looked ‘boxy’. But it worked.
The helicopter, introduced in it’s first combat role in the Ia Drang Valley of the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1965 as a troop transport and aerial assault weapons platform, represented the ‘Vietnam Era’ in a line of aircraft for each war; the bi-plane in WWI, the B17s and B24 ‘Superfortress’ bombers of WWII, the advent of the ‘supersonic’ jet of the Korean War, the U2 during the cold war, and so on, for the Slim Buttes wing of the museum of sub-orbital aviation history.
We’ve already been here, done that, as they say, so I’ll refrain from explaining details of the enterprise, other than to say the project became fixated on the WWI bi-plane after completion of the SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ spy plane, expanding into six squadrons in three editions.
To get to the point***, what would be the representative aircraft of today’s war? The hellfire-armed predator drone would be a strong contender, launched from some sensitive undisclosed location in the mountains of Afghanistan, and controlled by someone with pimples in Nevada.
No more John McCains getting shot down over hostile territory and ending up shivering in a rat cage. The curtain is closing on the 100-year era of the pilot. Kitty Hawk in 1909. Those’ll be VA hospital and rocking chair stories. ‘Son, we used to haaaave what was once known as a…‘Pilot’.”
Aerial reconnaissance and combat has been outsourced to a techie’s dream. Pilot, gunner, bombardier, and navigator all set up on a computer screen. The future is now. Un-manned Missions to Mars. Robots to the Ort Belt. Robots to the sun.
As many past scientific advances in military technology have spun off civilian purposes, like GPS, the Humvee, and the roadside bomb, it’s a small step from robotic military aircraft to practical civilian applications.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, your flight today is being commanded and controlled by…let’s see…Timmy…from his couch in Des Moines.
‘Please turn off your laptops, gameboys, ipods, and personal communication devices and place your seats into their upright position. Enjoy your flight.’
Always More Than What You Thought
There are sun dances going on all over the place, so we’ve been running here and there setting up tipis, which are very much in demand, and which gives a sun dance grounds instant credibility. Dancers would much rather reside in a large tipi than in two-person pup tents.
So when Tom Cook showed up asking if I wanted to go out to Wakpamni, way east of Pine Ridge, almost to the western fringe of Rosebud (Reservation) to set up a tipi, I should’ve known it would be more than that. It always is. Minimally, you can expect to work beyond darkness, and you can expect to drive home.
“Can we use your tipi?” he asked.
“Sure thing,” I said, without the least reluctance, for I knew Mike would be pleased. Much to my surprise, Mike Albin, one of the ‘New York Boys’, gifted me a $600 22 ft. tipi this summer at our dance, in exchange for a T-shirt and a nine-inch cardboard airplane.
“For your many years of unflagging support of the dance, and work at the tree as Chief Medical Officer,” they said.
Two weeks ago, after serving as ‘spillover’ lodging for seven of us dancers the previous week at our dance in ‘The Canyon’, the tipi was used at the funeral home for the bones of Chief American Horse during the repatriation of his remains to the family grounds on American Horse Creek, way out on the eastern end of the rez, past Allen.
The T-shirt, a Khao Lak Land Discovery shirt from Thailand with an elephant logo and the wording, ‘Nature is Home / Water is Life’, was my favorite, but not worth $600. I don’t know what the airplanes are worth. A lot, but I’ve never placed a dollar figure on them. They’ve all been free. Takes about four hours to knock one out. The Myanmar can take one from scratch to final assembly in half my time if I pay them by the hour.
Anyways, it’s better for that tipi to be in use than rolled up in storage, right?
“You can’t count the blessings that’ll come out of this,” said Tom after we’d set up the third tipi, in a 30 mph wind, I might add, and one of those grandmas asked us to take down and re-set the women’s 24 ft. tipi as darkness was setting in and rain began splattering the dance grounds at Wakpamni, reminding me that I’d left the windows open at my place, and that all my shit would probably be wet. It was, including my bed. That must’ve been the blessings that Tom was talking about.
It takes much practice to get a tipi exactly right, so when you’re done, it’s stretched nice and tight, like a teenager or a Pine Ridge meth head, and when you thump the canvas with your finger, it sounds like a drum.
Done incorrectly, the tipi can look all saggy and flappy like those commod-bod (commodity body) Indians you see everywhere, and like the women’s tipi looked before we pulled the stakes, pulled the pins, removed the flap poles, rolled up the canvas, took it down with about five guys, removed the stack, did the measurements, re-tied the stack, set it up, re-tied the main pole, unfurled the canvas in the wind, set the pins, set the flap poles, and staked it down. It took about an hour.
“Looks good,” Tom said from the truck cab as rain splashed down on the windshield. “Tons of blessings. Tons of blessings.”
It was dark by the time we finished, and as we were leaving, those ladies sang out, “Thank youuuu.”
And they gave us the standard fare of any Indian gathering – bologna sandwiches between two slices of white bread. No cheese. No mayo. No mustard. I ate two of them.
Here, Hand Me That Swatter
As previously noted, the war against flies is a lot like the war on terrorism; it’s a war that goes on forever, maybe decades, and it’s a war you must win, just like the leaders of the civilized world have repeatedly told us.
Flies are the only creature on earth that will follow you from the outhouse, where they’ve been snacking on shit, slide in through that crack in the door, and want to land on your salad.
They’re really quite amazing. They can take a hit the equivalent of you or me being slammed by a construction site dumpster, and shake it off, wipe off their wings, rub their hands together, and pooff, back into the air. Even in death, they can jump eight feet, eyes closed, wings tied behind their backs.
They can even arise from the dead, back to life, fluttering in the ashtray…then, wow! Ignition and liftoff! I’ve seen it many times, and I only know of one people who can do that.
Just like this rascal right now, like a mosquito, they know just where to land. This one keeps hitting me on the head, shoulders and back, where I can’t get to him. “I see. It’s a game of tag.” And then every time, and I mean, EVERY Single time I pick up the swatter, he’s a Houdini, an Osama, ‘a fucking magician’, to borrow George’s phrase.
We seem surprised when they vanish after we pick up the swatter. That’s no psychic miracle. Christ, they can see you. They’ve got a thousand eyes.
Dad is probably responsible. Pops was no friend to a fly. I wouldn’t call it outright hatred, for he was a genuinely peaceful man, but you couldn’t say ‘he wouldn’t harm a fly.’ Like the monk, breaking the first vow, killing flies in the kitchen, and asked by the novice the contradiction. ‘I HATE flies,’ the monk replied.
Once you declare war on them, it’s a no-holds-barred Gitmo affair, and they know it. You’re slaughtering their relatives. ANYthing is fair game. Like your nostril or upper lip that has you waking up swinging out of a dead sleep.
“ALL RIGHT, YOU SON…OF A BITCH. I’M AWAKE!” I found myself crying out earlier in the week, leaping out of bed in the middle of a dream and heading straight for the swatter in a waking fog. They know just how to get your day off to a bad start. For that, I’ll put water on the swatter, so even if I don’t kill them, I’ll sting the hell out them.
Dad used to talk to them, and I’d think he was half-crazy, talking to a fly, rising out of his Lazy-Boy recliner, saying, “Well, Old Fly, you’ve done made me get up.”
And he wasn’t talking to me, or just saying things to the fly for my benefit. He was actually addressing the fly.
He used to say things like, ‘Get outta my hair with your business,’ and, ‘Okay, now I’m ready for you,” holding the swatter on the arm of his chair as he watched the Cubs in the bottom of the fifth.
Dad used to tickle me with what I thought was his fly nonsense, but now that I’m a grown man in my own right, I’ve come to see that my liberal, Dr. Seuss, love-bead, flower-child, peacenik, look-the-other-way, Nixonian ignore-them-and-they’ll-go-away politics of the past have been supplanted by far less tolerant attitudes. Just like the war on terror. And like dad used to say about a lot of things in life, ‘You’ll understand what I’m talking about when you’re a man.’
And so, now I’m like, KILL!
What Happened? You’re All Aglow
We’re doing more than swatting flies around here. I say, ‘we’, but I’m not involved in the uranium fight. Our sun dance bro Dave Frankel has taken the lead dog role in the court battle, including some big league legal heavy hitters, outraged farmers, glow-in-the-dark ranchers, and local Indians, like Tom Cook and Deb White Plume, the long-term crusader and most knowledgeable person on the contamination of our water sources by uranium mining.
We owe a lot to Deb, who has been clanging the alarm bells for several years, delivering her water wake-up message two years ago to the assembly at Bear Butte, who were protesting the intrusion of Sturgis Harley motorcycle rally riders into the heart of Lakota spirituality.
On the radio, ‘Our water, our water. Protect our water.’
The mining company happens to be a Canadian billionaire, running a fuzzy operation**** with three aliases, a fictional New York answering machine address and buffer zone attorneys, sells uranium to the Chi…who knows…it goes to Canada, and from there…? and is quietly killing everyone downstream from Crow Butte, which you can see from Tom and Loretta’s kitchen window on south Maple Street, Chadron.
Now, all of that may not be technically correct, but that’s the gist of it, and like I said, I haven’t been involved. I get it all second-hand. They haven’t asked me to do anything, probably because I never finished law school and ain’t here half the time. Not exactly ‘up to speed’ on the issue. For accurate horse’s mouth info, you’d have to talk to David or Deb or Tom.
Like the mission to mars, there are experts on the case who don’t need technical or tactical advice from you and me. And you’d be right in thinking there are some cantankerous old Nebraska cowboys who have known for years what’s going on, and have been raising hell and looking for help up and down the line, but they won’t find it from the EPA.
Although I never heard about it in the news, a few years back, the EPA relaxed its standards by allowing the company a ten-fold increase in the amount of acceptable levels of contamination, if there is such a thing.
So many parts per million, or something like that, but that’s all just numbers, figures, fractions and decimal points, along with charts and graphs, which really don’t mean shit to those women coming up with lumps in their breasts.
The hydrology expert said underground is like a big sponge, with veins and capillaries, if you will, and all the water being sucked up by agriculture from all points east, creates a vacuum and pulls water from the contaminated aquifers that the mining companies contrarily say is staying put underneath Crow Butte. Everything is interconnected, something the Indians have known all along.
However, by being a butte, means that it stands high above all the surrounding topography for several hundred miles, and water always follows the principle of gravity, donut? Same same septic system.
From a great geological ridge in the Nebraska ‘panhandle’ and southwest S. Dakota, all the water north of the ridge flows to the Missouri, and all the water running south flows to the Platte. I could be misrepresenting the facts, but that’s my understanding, second-hand from Tom Cook.
In the extraction process, they use an astounding several thousand gallons of uncontaminated water PER MINUTE, then pump it back underground, where they say it stays until eternity, or until the four billion-year shelf life of the active elements expire. You might as well say eternity. We think it’s a problem. They say no. What do you think?
Familiar With The Mind-Set Already
“Yeah, I already knew you did it. Your relatives told me,” I said to the person who ripped me off for the contents of my home last fall while I was at sweat lodge, making my departure from Pine Ridge more immediate, and leaving a really nasty taste in my mouth about living here. I understood how Bryan felt, selling his parcel of land, severing his ties, and wanting ‘nothing more to do with Pine Ridge.’
He (the perpetraitor) sat here at my kitchen table, apologizing, and telling me that he’d gone off track with cocaine, and that he’d gone to treatment, was straight now, and wanted to come around to the sun dance and back to sweat lodge again without having to avoid me or some of the other people he had burned.
“I became another person,” he said. “That wasn’t the real me…you know. I became another person nobody knew,” he said, “even my own family. I hurt people who loved me, and I ruined a lot of close relationships. It was the coke.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know. I’ve seen what cocaine can do to a person, and the damage it can do.”
“Anybody can make a mistake,” I told him, adding that I appreciated his ‘manning up’ to me, face-to-face, and his honesty. “I accept your apology, but what are you going to do to compensate me for all that shit you took?”
We talked about how he could do it, and sat here talking for about an hour. He went through his story again, pretty much saying the same thing about three or four times, repeatedly apologizing and talking about getting his life back ‘on track’. Well, I’m still waiting for the restitution part so we can close that chapter.
Those other guys, the ones who ransacked my home while I was 8,000 miles away, have been coming around to sweat lodge, smiling, shaking hands, acting like nothing happened and everything is hunky-dory, haven’t let on in the least, but I know, and they know, and I know they know, and they know I know they know. It’s extremely awkward and uncomfortable, so much so that I must leave.
For the heart, forgiveness is a very good thing, but I also believe in the cleansing aspect of contrition for wrongdoing. Like children, they need instruction, and to know of consequences, but around here, people are extraordinarily tolerant of drunk Indians and the lame excuse intoxication offers for unacceptable behavior, like, it’s somebody else’s responsibility.
For some strange reason, while doing the forward bend in an inconsistent yoga practice, I began experiencing a sense of hanging on a rack in somebody’s dungeon. Maybe it was a past life, maybe not, but as the imagery persisted, I stretched out another several inches, the muscles in the neck relaxing, the head drooping, the arms and back muscles extended waaaaay out there, and the hips, lower back and all those internal abdominal muscles letting go.
Like someone hanging on a cross, except folded over at the waist, you know. Then the hamstrings and all that lower apparatus from my toes to my pelvis let go as I imagined my entire weight hanging from my wrists. It was wonderful.
All that got me thinking about Jesus, and what he must’ve felt while hanging out there on Calvary.***** Not the wounds and all the sorrow, being forsaken and everything – just the muscles. Next time he comes through here, I’m going to ask him about that, what he thinks of killing flies, and about those thieves, since I’m in such a quandary about it, but I already know what he’s going to say.
Tastes Like Chicken
I’ve been thinking about killing and eating that rabbit that’s living under the trailer. Tastes a lot like chicken. I think perhaps I could put out some salad, you know, like lettuce and carrots and something he’d like, and devise some kind of a trap.
Maybe I won’t even need a trap, because he’ll come right up to me and eat out of my hand. Since I don’t own a gun, I’ll probably have to choke him to death, or give him a ‘rabbit chop’ to the back of the neck, thereby breaking his spine, but that prolongs the death, and would be considered cruel by many State legislatures, so the best thing to do for a rabbit, short of lethal injection, is to slug ‘em in the forehead with your fist, the way Mr. Malonzo did down in Georgia. I seen it happen.
Mr. Malonzo was Greek, or Corsican, or Armenian, or Mexican or something. Mexican. He had thick black frame glasses that made his eyes look a little unnaturally large, rich, thick black hair, a cropped Hitler-like mustache, spoke with a thick accent, walked like he’d injured a leg long ago, and was always wearing hospital whites with a black name tag.
He knew how to kill a rabbit, he said. He used to raise them, he said. He had some at home in his freezer. Tastes a lot like chicken.
Mr. Malonzo said he knew how to kill a rabbit, because he’d done it before, and I didn’t know what to do after Fifi, my neighbor’s giant Poodle, jumped the fence and wanted to play with Mr. Chips, my very large pet Rhode Island Red…no…that’s a chicken…what was it?
New Zealand Red. A big New Zealand Red with big, long-ass ears, the kind you see in blue-ribbon-bearing exhibit cages at the 4-H fair. He was domesticated, house-trained, and funny, and I’d had him about a year or so. He was big. I don’t know, maybe about twenty, thirty pounds. He was huge.
Mr. Chips would sit stretched out on your lap while you stroked his ears, run and hop up in mid-air and do a double hind-leg kick, and never shit in the house. Rabbit shit looks a lot like opium balls, and I sold some to a guy. “Don’t eat it,” I told him. “Smoke it.” I saw him later and asked him how it was, and he said it was good. Made him feel lighted-headed and some kinda way. This was back in reform school, back in the ‘60s, before Vietnam.
Anyway, their game of tag got out of hand, Fifi was always ‘It’, and in the end, after being manhandled like a rag doll, Mr. Chips suffered some cracked ribs and a punctured lung, Mr. Malonzo surmised, with dog slobber all over his neck, and it didn’t appear that he was going to ‘make it’.
Mr. Chips was big, even by big rabbit standards, but not big enough for Fifi, and a rabbit has few defenses other than evasion, and not nearly as good as, say, a fly. Like, he can’t turn on you like a cornered cat or badger or wolverine or porcupine and fuck you up if you proceed any further. So the dog pretty much just ran him down in the enclosed yard until Mr. Chips was exhausted.
We laid him out on the sidewalk, there was three of us there, the other guy just watched, and I said, ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips,’ and Mr. Malonzo hauled off and smacked the concrete with his fist, shattering two bones in his hand, you could clearly see it on the X-rays. Compound fractures of two metacarpals.
Having only received a glancing blow, Mr. Chips was still conscious, but breathing laboriously inextremis and apparent severe discomfort. Mr. Malonzo was walking around in small circles, shaking and holding his busted hand, and told me to hit the rabbit. “You do it,” he said.
I just couldn’t. I wanted to kill the dog. I wanted to kill the dog for mutilating my pet rabbit, right? I didn’t want to kill my rabbit, that’s why I asked you, I told him.
“Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” I said, and with his left hand, Mr. Malonzo gave Mr. Chips a ‘rabbit chop’ to the back of the neck, which didn’t kill him, because Mr. Malonzo was right-handed, and the chop wasn’t accurate.
“I could hold him by the back legs and smash his head on the sidewalk,” Mr. Malonzo said, and I think I must said something like, “Fuck no,” so, in pain and frustration, Mr. Malonzo, now in a sweat, removed his glasses and hauled off and smacked the rabbit again in the head, right-handed, killing him.
So, Mr. Chips met a violent end. Upon impact, Mr. Malonzo immediately recoiled, grabbed his hand and shouted, ‘MOTHER MARY!’ to the sky, which now, four decades later, leads me to believe that he was Catholic…and Mexican, for sure.
Mr. Chips went home and got buried in the back yard, and Mr. Malonzo went to the clinic, returning the next day with his hand and arm in a white plaster cast. I thanked him for his executioner’s role, and told him I was sorry about his hand.
I went over to see my neighbors, I don’t know why, to tell them that their dog jumped the fence and killed my rabbit. I don’t know what I expected. A couple hundred dollars or something. A short Asian lady, Chinese I think, opened the door, and when I communicated who I was and what had happened, I was certain that she only got part of the message when she replied, “Nooooo. Fifi home.”
“Yeah. He’s home NOW, because he jumped back over the fence. I SAW the dog killing Mr. Chips, shaking him like a rag doll. When I ran out, he dropped him and jumped back over the fence.”
“Fifi?” she asked.
I don’t know how long she’d been in the country or how well she understood English. She was married to an Air Force colonel or something. “Mr. Chip?” she asked. “Mr. Chip die?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Fifi kill Mr. Chips.”
“Oh. I solly,” she said with comprehension and lament in her eyes. “Velly solly.”
That was pretty much the end of it, but I recall being dejected by the experience, and eventually went on with life, you know. I mean, how many days work can you take off over a pet rabbit? People might say it’s not like a dog or a cat or something, but a pet is a pet, and Mr. Chips was pretty cool.
So I’ll probably NOT slug the rabbit, like Mr. Malonzo. I’ll probably have to choke it to death.
Say, if any of you are going to China for the Olympics this summer, I’ve got a friend who lives over there, I forget what city. If you see him, please tell him I said hi. What does he look like? Oh, he’s got black hair, about…this tall…up to about here on me…he’s got slanted eyes, and almost all the time, he’s wearing a white shirt with black slacks. Tell him ‘Blovic’ says hi. What’s his name? Lee. His name is Lee.
*I sat here thinking and thinking about an appropriate title after going through the work several times, and just couldn’t come up with a title that reflected a common theme, because there isn’t one. Just a bunch of tales from notes. I’m open for suggestions for what I consider to be the most fun of the exercise – coming up with a title. I know, it’s weak. I honestly can’t remember what I was thinking when I came up with this one. Vista command? Files? Hard drive?
**I made up these two names, you know, just for the flow of the story, which the boys didn’t question, and appeared to accept as fact. da Vinci and Sikorksky were real. They’d probably heard of daVinci.
***‘To get to the point,’ we’re not supposed to say. Unneccesary words. What was the point, anyway? We’re just supposed to go on and get to it. They say it only serves to tell the reader we haven’t gotten to it yet. I don’t know. Here, it seems to work. Maybe not. They’re probably right.
****In addition to providing free bottled water at last year’s Oglala Nation pow-wow, that had many of us wondering who and why, they actually produced a proposal to the OST (Oglala Sioux Tribe) tribal council last summer that said we are sitting atop uranium, bad stuff. Let us come in and remove it for you.
*****Around here, people speak of ‘The Seventh Calvary’, or, ‘the calvary’, usually in regard to some big fight with the Indians. Mrs. Jones got me straight on that, much to my embarrassment in her high school English class, when she said, ‘the CAValry is who came in to rescue the surrounded stagecoach. CALvary is where Christ died.’ I’ve never forgotten that. She was terrific.