Do I Know You?
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD- I gotta be driving the oldest truck on the reservation. For sure. A lot of people wave at me, thinking they should probably know someone who drives an old farm truck like that.
So, my favorite line to use on a man in his 70s or 80s is, ‘You’re probably too young to remember when Chevy came out with this truck,’ just for openers, just to see what kind of response the question can elicit.
Usually, I have to repeat it, since a lot of those old fellows are hard of hearing, then they always chuckle, draw closer, and tell me in a strained whisper what models they bought, and how long they drove them.
This conversation usually takes place at a gas pump, a parking lot, or some other place where they can see ‘Betsy’, my 1960 hunk of iron with wired-on plates expired in April of 2006. The model had an ashtray but no seat belts. Has defrost, but no place to set a drink. Cab designed for a guy with short legs. The cigarette lighter, if you wanted one, would be an ‘add-on’.
With Jesus, Buddha, Rong Po Thuot, and an eagle feather all riding along together on a bed of sage, you could say it’s a multi-denominational dashboard. I don’t know about other places, but over here, they ride together okay.
Of course, Betsy’s got some idiosyncrasies that come with her age, like the headlights just going off for no apparent reason in the ‘high beam’ mode. And when you’re going down the road, straight and level, there’s this loud ‘Clank’, like some kinda adjustment, from somewhere down in the chassis or drive train or rear axel, I can’t determine.
And then there’s no brakes, I had to tell Bo the other day after his tire went flat here and his spare wasn’t any good. He and Misty borrowed the truck to take their tires for air. Reckless maniac behind the wheel that he is, Bo’s one of the few people who I’d let drive her. When he hopped in behind the wheel, Betsy asked, ‘Do you know what you’re doing here? Are you chu-ah?’
“Sure I’m sure. You’ll be okay,” I told her. “Misty will keep him in check.”
“You’ve got to pump them six, seven, eight, nine times, downshift, and then you’ve got some brakes,” I told him.
The oil pressure and temperature gauges work. All the others; fuel, carry a gas can with five extra Gs; speedometer, listen to engine RPMs and watch the fence posts; dome light, use a flashlight; instrument panel light, what for? battery voltage, either cranks or it doesn’t; turn signals, use your hands; floating horizon indicators, there’s two, I don’t know why – it isn’t an aircraft. All that stuff, you don’t really need. Just the basics. The wipers work. On. Off.
Just the basics, like under the hood. You pop the hood (basic, easy-to-find latch), and you see a straight-six engine block, an air cleaner, and an alternator. That’s it. There’s enough extra space in the engine compartment to put a picnic basket, cooler, floor jack, and small child.
At the automotive shop where I was purchasing my third gas cap,** the kid behind the counter looked out the window at my truck and said, laughing, ‘Me and my buddy took one (a 235 Chevy engine) out and tried to blow it, just for the hell of it, and couldn’t do it.’
That’s about all you need to know. How would I describe her character? Reliable. Dependable. Can do a day’s work today and tomorrow.*** Same same woman from Montana. Don’t overload her. Don’t run her hard or fast. Check her vital fluids. If something major’s wrong, get it fixed. Let the minor shit slide. Treat her good. Keep her running straight. Keep her on the road.
Hey, almost forgot to tell you. Thunderclap’s IN!
I started leaning on him about having time to take culinary classes and go to the gym, but he didn’t have time for the troops, and how Hope always made time for the troops, even if Ann Margaret wasn’t with the troupe…only comedian to span five wars, count ‘em…a historical feat…got a sandwich, an aircraft carrier, and a desert golf classic named after him, co-starred with Judy Garland…brought Nancy Sinatra to Camp Rio, and he finally said, ‘Okay, okay, okay. I’ll do it. Depends on the time frame.’
Great, huh? Big surprise. Yeah, me, too. I thought he’d say no, especially after his last experience there. I don’t know if you heard. Despite his stockade experience and what people say, he’s a true patriot at heart. I know the guy.
It’s the administration, not his country. Paul’s in it more for his guilt trip and resurrecting his career, and Lee would just like to escape his country for a while, whereas Thunderclap would do it strictly for the benefit of the troops (I’ll bet you thought, ‘In Harm’s Way’ was coming, didn’t you? Sorry. Not gonna use it.).
Thunderclap was a trooper himself. He’ll do it for the troops and Hope’s memory, and all the laughs he gathered for troops on foreign soil. For all the soldiers away from home and their loved ones whom he made laugh for a little while, and forget where they were. Wow. What a mission. Makes me…gulp…some kinda way.
Even if they get everything organized in Iraq to the point American forces are withdrawn, there’ll still be a lot of work in places like Kabul and other heavily concentrated, heavily fortified areas.
That’s six of us, one Mexican, two Asians, if we can pull Su away from her tour work, one Brit, if we can work around Paul’s bowling league schedule; two Indians if Milo commits, and Thunderclap is still free, as in, not in jail; and me, enough to put the act on the road.
If we could get the Right Reverend Dr. Harold Johnson, a really funny, really black man from Indianapolis, that’d be great. Like the multi-cultural reach? With six people, we could cut the individual performance times to ten minutes each, and I wouldn’t have to go up at all, although I’d sure like to someday say that I got run off a stage in Baghdad.
Everybody is dealing with the same kind of time-frame obstacles, like inflexible commitments to their full-time jobs (Manny used to say, ‘You’ve got to be good enough to give up your day job.’) in the Real 3D World.****
As opposed to your computer screen or a figment of your imagination, which is to say, the screen could very well be one’s real, 3-D world, but before, before the Berries, before the desktop screen, before tv, before the 500-channel sleaze merchants, and even before radio got here, to the rez, a figment of one’s imagination was a true and valuable traditional cultural entertainment exercise that people practiced publicly as an art form. Oratory, or rhetoric, I think they called it. Guys like Thunderclap, he came more out of the Lenny Bruce mold.*****
Although he could prove a liability when it comes to dealing with the military and the government, especially after getting…nobody gets ‘thrown off’ a flight…(‘Comic Bothers Mary, Other Passengers On Flight’, AP 5//07/03) those passenger complaints and the flight attendant and the marshall involved.
It wasn’t what you’d call ‘a tussle’, but the incident got him removed from coach, ‘an upgrade to first class,’ he called it, even though he spent the remainder of the flight in cuffs.
The net result after a controversial round-about trip through Cuba, was his being barred from all domestic carriers within the continental U.S. So now he must depart the U.S. from Canada as a foreign national and fly back in on somebody else’s airline, effecting at least a delay or temporary detainment at any U.S. international airport (‘Comic Protests Detainment at LAX’, AP 12/26/04).
All for shooting off his mouth and pissing off everyone, just like Manny said you should never do, but which he always seems to be incapable of avoiding, even on an airplane. It’s happened twice.
Those people didn’t pay for no comedy club. All they wanted to do was get into Los Angeles, through customs, and to wherever they were going. They didn’t want some unwelcome, in-flight, low-life, coach class, no-talent, no-name wannabe comic going through his ‘Nigga UP in the White House?’ routine.
Sure, I thought it was pretty funny. Not his best stuff, but pretty funny, especially the response from around the world…people in Zimbawe and France all happy…till you got to England and Alabama…just the silent, sullen facial expressions were priceless…like people eating lemons or non-Indians reacting to tanega soup…while repeatedly asking the question with exaggerated incredulity, ‘a nigga up in the White House…? followed by no comment, just the expressions…pretty good stuff, but you can’t win over a mixed-bag captive audience like that.
Somebody’s gonna get pissed off. Somebody’s gonna get offended. You got too many races, too many ages, too many sensitivities, too many nationalities going on, too many kids…you can’t do an airplane.
A tube full of people fastened in at 30,000 feet is totally different than sitting around coffee with the boys on the rez, or a Southside Chicago comedy club.
You’re always going to get some kid asking, ‘Mommy, why is that man talking to everybody?’ or some baby crying, or some jerk in the back yelling something like, ‘Hey Fuckhead. Get back in your seat.’
Turns hostile too quick. Everything too quick. Mr. No-Neck in the back stands up, determined to personally handle the situation. Attendant eyes full of fear and concern, talking fast and sideways into a phone. Everybody’s looking. A mortified old lady shrieks hysterically as her back-from-the-tomb husband tries to calm her.
Everybody’s talking now. People in first class wonder what’s going on back in coach. Beefy hands take hold from the back, and before you know it, poof, anonymous in a chain link Guantanamo kennel cage, praying along with everybody else for Allah to smile upon the U.S. Supreme Court. Poof. Lock ‘em in the caser. Rendition. Vanish. Just like all them buffalo, huh, Mr. T. Clap? Holy Smokes, Catfish, tell me it ain’t so.
After they removed him from coach, the marshall told him if he started any shit up in first class, he’d put a muzzle on him. Thunderclap said first class or no first class, he wasn’t going to be treated like no DOG, and the guy said, ‘Up to you, Mr. Thundercloud,’ so he had a couple glasses of wine, ordered the cordon bleu and kept his mouth shut until the post-flight interrogation (‘Comic Paints Ugly Gitmo Picture’, Reuters 7/21/03). Better menu, better everything up there, anyway, he said.
So, I don’t know if we should still headline with the guy, or just go with some kind of clever idea for the whole show. Best thing for us is probably some hot all-girl Philipino band with lots of hot chicks with their asses hanging out of canary yellow patent leather short shorts, you know, like, where everybody would show up to see them, and we’d be the, whaddayacallit?...we’d be the warm-up act…the preliminary act.
Whenever I hear that word, every time, I hear the echo of Manny’s encouragement before my first tournament; ‘You make it past the preliminaries, Bic, you can advance to maybe the finals.’ he told me, unconvincingly, looking away when I looked up so our eyes didn’t meet.
As if I didn’t already know that. “Yeah, but I’ve got to wade through the quarter-finals and the semis first, Manny,” I told him. Sometimes that guy’s advice was absolutely worthless. That year, I got my ass kicked in the first preliminary round. But what the hell, I got invited.
Whaddaya get when you cross a right-wing talk show host and a poodle?
HA! I knew you’d get it. Not that hard to figure out.
Before sweat lodge I approached those two new guys from Seattle standing off to the side, and asked in an anxious voice, ‘You guys done this before?’
‘No,’ they both said, uneasiness in their voices. One of them muttered something about a sauna, but not a real, Native American sweat lodge ceremony.
They waited for me to say something, but I let the silence draw in on us, gathering fear. The older of the two was uncertain, waiting for me to tell them something about the ceremony. The younger guy was getting ready to ask me if it was my first time, too. I positioned myself so the fire could reflect the fear in my eyes when I glanced over at the lodge and whispered, ‘Is it gon’ be dark?’
The older guy started to laugh, but didn’t. ‘Yes,’ the young fella said.
Pimp-Out On Sanam Luang
Did I tell you about that kid and the kite?...the make-believe kite I was flying?...did I tell you about that already?...walking across the Phanang Luang, Sanam Luang or whatever it is, that great big-ass parade grounds adjacent to royal palace in Bangkok.
There’s maybe a thousand or so people hanging out, picnicking, vendors selling chicken on a stick and Pepsi and Fanta orange in sacks of crushed ice, a couple hundred flying kites, right?...stop me if you’ve already heard this…and so I’m crossing the grounds and enjoying the event or festival or whatever it was, since I like kites already…and there’s these two teenage boys coming the other way, walking right toward me, so before they notice me, I began flying my imaginary kite, tugging gently on the string and holding the ball in my other hand, my head turned up toward the sky, and watching them approach out of the corner of my eye, slowly walking right at them.
They started moving over to the right, and I moved in their path, and when they moved back to the left, I went over to the right, and just when they were a few feet away, I turned quickly and handed my string to one of the guys.
He started to reach out, then looked at my empty hands, and then looked up into the sky, no kite, and then back down at my hands while his friend pointed at him and laughed out loud, covering his mouth, while I stood there grinning.
“Mai talok,” the kid said, ‘not funny,’ as they walked away. His friend thought so. I thought so, too.
Pretty good, huh? I’d like to work it into the act some way.
Digger said some other comic stole my slo-mo replay routine. Said he saw a guy do it on cable tv. A slight variation, but you could tell he stole it, he said.
I could provide the details, which are pretty damned funny done live…stop and go pattern, slo-mo, got the guy beat, big-ass smile, reception, TD, spiking the ball, end zone celebration with the wavy knees, high-five-ing the fans on the way back to the bench…then the whole thing all in herky-jerky reverse, all the way back to the huddle…just like those old practice films…put Harold Johnson in stitches.
Yeah, you can’t put anything out over the internet these days without somebody stealing your idea, and then you’ve got a big court battle over somebody taking credit for something you’ve done. Like, Scarface, for instance.
Or those science lab credits for your bachelor’s degree. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.
I suppose you’d like some reservation news. As you know, we’ve always got some kind of drama going on. Or trauma. Besides the teenage suicide in Oglala last week, just last week end, the girl down here on the corner hung herself. Yeah. And last year, her sister did. Too much.
People ain’t got no money, ain’t got no gas. Daily drama. Dalai Lama.
And then, here today, Lupe’s truck caught on fire on the way back from Oglala. Bad carburetor, we supposed. Leaky. Ninety-seven degrees out. Poof. That’s trauma.
Now, some will no doubt say, ‘That’s because…’, trying to attribute causal factors, like, ‘He didn’t put out tobacco’, or ‘He didn’t smudge his truck’, or ‘His old lady must’ve been pissed…’…actually, I’ve witnessed a really pissed off woman fry an entire ignition system by sheer force of psychic negativity…‘It’s totally fried,’ the mechanic said. ‘What happened?’ he asked…but, Indians are superstitious, like Misty sitting in front of a machine at the casino, having really good luck, she said, when this lady she knows came up to her and started to put her hand on her shoulder.
Aiiiiiieeeeee! Misty recoiled back, nearly coming out of the seat, hollering, “DON’T TOUCH ME!”
Lupe and I passed each other on the highway, waved, hit the brakes, turned off, backed up and sat talking from our truck cabs without getting out, the way we do out here.
“Where you been, Man?” I asked. “I no see you too long. You forget your bro?”
“I been with my woman,” he said. “You know how it is.”
“Yeah. You no show at sweat lodge. Last year you tell me, ‘You my best bro’ for ever and ever, amen.’ What’s the matter? You don’t know where I live? You got a truck...you got gas.”
“You know how it is,” he said again.
We met again over at Louie’s, drank coffee, and left after about an hour. On the way home his truck caught fire.
Toilet Paper, Over the Back
At some sun dances the dancers are treated like gods. Aiiiieeeee; they won’t let you doing anything, and helpers wait on you hand and foot. Really nice. First in line, and all that. Pretty cool. You feel special until someone brings you back down to earth. It’s not the same everywhere.
After the dance was over, I was down in main camp, feeling special and probably looking for some watermelon and a chance to talk with some supporter friends before they broke camp and headed home.
I found a couple of women friends who’d been working in the kitchen, and were sitting on lawn chairs outside their camp.
Compounded by just finishing up the dance and having recently returned from Asia, where the women leap up and wait on a man like a servant, I was struck by the difference in our liberated American women when I approached and said to those women, “Hi, Girls. Got anything to drink around here?”
One of them replied, “Yeah. There’s some water in one of those coolers over there, nodding to coolers sitting outside her rig, some thirty feet away. As I turned and walked over to her truck, she hollered, “Bring us one.”
It was Bryan and I sitting having coffee at a café with Su, our interpreter, when one of us asked what Thai men want from a woman. Illustrative of the clarity and simplicity of the thinking, Su said, “Good sa-peak, good sa-mi, good take care…fami-ly…you need for mair-lee…dtong lub ma-ma and pa-pa.”
“What’d she just say?” asked Bryan. I was the interpreter for the interpreter.
“Good speak, good smile. Take care of family. Must love mama and papa to get married,” I said to Bryan. “What else?” I asked.
“Food. Launly…clean hou…make beauti-ful. Mah-sa.”
“What’d she just say?” asked Bryan.
“Laundry…clean house…massage. Is that it?” I asked.
“Pancake. Evey woman IN the world hab pancake.”
We laughed, and she added, “No buttafly! Don’t hab too much IN the world.”
“That’s pretty much what American men want, too,” I said. Bryan asked, “Okay, now. What do Thai women want?”
“Lub only one. No chain (‘change’),” she said.
“What else?” asked Bryan.
“Cannot do man work,” she said.
“Sa-weet talk evey day,” she said. “Numba one make lub.”
“Is that it?”
“Money to me. Take care. No butta-fly.”
We laughed again and said, “Do you know what American women want?” Bryan and I alternated;
“Money, big. House, big. Maid, ugly. Work, same as man. Husband, good. Sensitive, very. Listener, good. Freedom, her. Father, good. Clean up after self, socks. Educated. Motivated. Drive a certain car. Help around house. Help with kids. Mow the yard. Cook. Feed the dog. In touch with feminine side. Car, hers. Bank account, hers. No back talk. Get it yourself. Up to you. Toilet seat, down.”
Su held her hands out, palms down, bent 90 degrees at the wrists, fingertips pointing together, level, then slowly lowered one hand and raised the other. “In Thailand,” she said, “not same.”
Milo was sitting here at the kitchen table when I finally remembered to ask him about his interest in participating in the Bob Hope Memorial Comedy Tour to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He cocked his head slightly, squinted his eyes slightly, and softly said, ‘What?’
I gave him a hyper-enthusiastic run-down of the project, the people involved , and that Thunderclap might headline our act. Milo asked, “When? What kind of time-frame are you looking at? 2008? 2009?”
“Oh, the war’s gonna be going on for some time,” I told him gleefully. “Even if they kick us out of Iraq, we’ll still have work in Afghanistan regardless of who wins.”
“Then, after the election?” Milo asked.
“Oh, yeah. After the election. We can’t pull this off with Bush in office. Of course, you’ll have to do your own writing, produce your own material, y’know, not off-the-cuff. Stuff for the troops.”
Milo pursed his lips but didn’t give a definitive answer, but to ask if it was for charity or Iraqi children’s hospitals, or something, which I hadn’t thought of, but considered a good idea. Another Indian guy from Yankton, I think it was, had done a similar thing, he said, with puppets.
“I thought we’d do it for travel, drinks and a place to stay,” I said. “But we could charge…I haven’t thought about the financing…we’re just putting it together right now."
Milo kind of nodded his head. Ask while he’s still nodding, right? “Then you’re in?” I asked. “Or should I tell them, you’ll consider it?”
Milo nodded, which for me, is as good as a definite YES, which is what I’ll tell all the others. “All depends on the time-frame,” he said.
We went on talking about other things, like a wind turbine or something. I thought it was odd that he didn’t ask me about going into a combat zone and the Department of Defense, or Thunderclap, or Paul, or Lee.
*There ain’t no first footnote
**In my absence, exceedingly desperate Indians pried off my locking gas cap and drained the contents of my gas tank, in the process, screwing up the neck and lip of the tank so that replacement caps rattle loose and off, usually somewhere along Slim Buttes Road.
***that was yesterday. Today, Betsy towed Lupe back some dozen miles from the Oglala turnoff, after Lupe’s truck caught fire. Fortunately, I looked back in my mirror and saw him emerge from the truck and wave his arms frantically. We put it out with water I had on board. ‘Always carry water,’ I told him.
On the way home, I gave Betsy a pat on the dash, and told her, ‘Good job, Old Girl. You pulled a truck ten, twenty years younger than you. Hardly raised your temperature two degrees. Nice job. Tomorrow, you can rest.’
Yeah, I talk to her. You bet. Don’t you?
****seen the T-shirt?
*****More of a social critic than a comedian, wouldn’t you say? He just used comedy clubs as a truth serum platform. Although unlike Thunderclap, he didn’t go ‘over the top’ with his audience. He usually heard, ‘Right on, Man,’ as opposed to, ‘Get the hell off the stage.’