Friday, August 22, 2008

Keep Your Head In The Game

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD –


As a writer, it’s embarrassing to print retractions and corrections. It demonstrates to the reader that you screwed up, and you’re admitting it. That’s ok. That’s part of journalistic integrity, and yes, there is such a thing.

Clarifications are of another order. The need to clarify arises from not being clear in the first place, or not explaining thoroughly enough for the reader’s benefit and understanding, unless the sketchy nature of the material is intentional.

A couple of entries back (‘Is That You, John Wayne’ 8/01/08), I wrote about ‘being dead in the water until the cavalry arrives.’

That’s a figure of speech requiring correction. Out here, the cavalry doesn’t arrive. The Indians do.

The Indians do eventually arrive. Of course, they’re runnin’ late, on ‘Indian Time’. Until they do, it’s good to try to knock out 300-500 words a day.

‘Cavalry Arrives! Indians, Too Late.’


I used to work with common themes, but that’s not always possible when one’s notes cover a six-month period, written on the backs of envelopes and train tickets. Sometimes, I can’t even remember what they were made in reference to, like this note here, ‘Zip-Lock Body Bags w/ Handles.’

Now, that could be a story idea, or it could be a manufacturing concept, an improvement over what is being used now, black rubber. Why not put some color on those bags, anyway? Make ‘em red, white, brown, and black, like the guys inside. You could color-code them that way. Christ, paint THE FLAG on ‘em. That’s what they died for.

Came back home in a fucking garbage bag.

“Can I see him?” she asked, apprehensively.

“No, ma’am,” replied the chaplain, directly. “You wouldn’t want to see him.”

A guy on the radio just gave me the title, ‘Keep Your Head In The Game’. Now, all I need to do is build a story around it, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Here’s one, to the tune of ‘The Peppermint Twist’:

“Wellll, they gotta new deal, and it goes like this…”
Boppa do ba, boppa boppa do ba,
Put a flag on the casket so it all makes sense…”

Can’t help myself, folks. We have a couple of wars going on, and we shouldn’t forget it. Those guys, and women, are pulling three and four tours, routinely, because of the manpower stretch of two wars. Makes a one-year tour in the ‘Nam look like a walk in the park.

I don’t have too many bad war dreams, but one of my worst nightmares is…I’m still in uniform, just got back to the States, and a Sergeant comes up to me and says,

“You’ve got to go back.”

My worst nightmare is the reality for your sons and daughters.


Liars All

The tale-telling began in the gym bleachers during lunch in high school, when I would entertain my classmates with musings spun from partial facts and woven into cheerful, breathtakingly tales that evolved into sordid, twisted, nailbiting horror stories involving our teachers, Deans, and Principal, earning me the title, ‘Story Bear’.

This tendency to fabricate, rooted in repression and denial, which I learned much later in an intro to psychology class, continued throughout reform school, a term in the Pythagorean Institute For Unrepentant Youth, the Job Corps, a short stretch in the state penitentiary, a tour in the ‘Nam, and thereafter, worked its way into print and broadcast journalism.

My editors always said, “This didn’t happen. They didn’t say that. You made this shit up.”

After journalism, it was a short ethical slide into the practice of law, where I continued lying as an art form at Keogh, McAllister & Nabb. They might bristle at the use of their names, and that of the firm, but they well know defamation won’t hold up in court if it’s the truth.

What I discovered was a capacity to fabricate ANY story, not only to avoid punishment as a child, but to later further my own career, like Pulaski, making up names, dates, quotes, scenery, setting, and all kinds of shit, with enough exacting detail to make the story true. Think, ‘Yellow Cake’.

Or, ‘WMDs’, the stuff of folklore, a of couple new ones for our 21st century lexicon, thank you Gen. Haig, thank you Mr. Buckley. ‘I.E.D.s’. Thank you. Thank alll you guys, sooo mush.

What I also learned, is that for a comedian or a reservation entertainer, it’s important that your audience knows you’re lying. It’s vital.

For academics, historians, car salesmen, statisticians, politicians, journalists, talk show hosts, White House and Pentagon spokesmen, diplomats…just about everybody else…your insurance adjuster…tax accountant…home equity loan agent…the plant, the mole, the stooge, the snitch…it’s quite the contrary, where deception is the rule.

Deception and manipulation of everything within one’s universe, one’s sphere, one’s psychic bubble of whatever we perceive reality to be, until everything shape-shifts and conforms to that lie, right?

You and I can do it. Whole nations can do it. We can go kill for the lie. We can die for the lie.

Everybody lies. It’s true. Never mind a stack of Bibles. They did a survey, and the results said we’re all a bunch of fucking liars.

Manny is about the only one who’d talk straight. One day with Manny at the house, my dad told me, ‘Son, I’ve done for you about all I can do. I’m gonna turn your training over to Manny, here.’

As soon as my dad left, Manny was direct. He told me, ‘Bic, you gonna have to strive for mediocrity.’

“Don’t bullshit me, Manny,” I said. “I’m in the bottom 20 percentile.”

“No,” he said. “You can do it. You can work yourself up to mediocrity, but it’s going to take a lot of effort.”

“You just gotta keep your head in the game,” he said.

Thunderclap will talk straight, refusing to purchase a collective lie, and that’s what pisses everyone off. But what many in the listening and viewing audience fail to understand is that America looks different from a pair of moccasins. That’s a radical view from anybody else. Black people, too. And Latinos.

America looks different through pimp glasses. All through being raised, I heard, ‘You gonna have to be twice as good as the white man to get anywhere.’ And that was white folks telling me that.

Like the lady said, talking about McCain accusing Obama of playing the Race Card. ‘Race Card? He’s been playing the Race Card all his life. Annapolis is the Race Card. The Country Club is the Race Card. Naval fighter pilot is playing the race card. Marrying an heiress and sliding into the U.S. Senate is playing your Race Card.’

A syndicated talk show host on the radio said, “‘Elitist’. That’s just a code-word for ‘Uppity’, isn’t it? And you know what goes with ‘Uppity’.”

Raised by a single-parent mom? Is that elitist? Going to Harvard Law School. Now, THAT’S UPPITY.

A caller in to my show said, “What’s wrong with having somebody smart in office? We’ve seen what electing dumbfucks can do.” We had to bleep that last part on the air, but I can print it here.

‘Political Correctness’? That’s a way of saying, ‘not saying what’s on your mind’. When you’re the only one in a whole group of ‘others’, it’s surprising how honest and politically incorrect people can be.

So, why would any American say they were ‘happy to see those towers come down’?

Thunderclap didn’t say that. He wouldn’t say that. Another Oglala Indian did, now deceased, a leader, a racist, a veteran of Vietnam, Wounded Knee II, and Yellow Thunder Camp, whose ancestors were at Wounded Knee I, an all-American butchering job that the people here haven’t forgotten. Their names are on the monument that’s out there now.

Anyway, I learned if I told a lie often enough, I not only deluded the give-it-to-me-in-a-simple-sound bite unsuspecting public, but myself as well, re-mapping brain circuitry and re-creating history as we would have it. You can see how this issues not only from grandpa’s rocking chair, but also at the highest levels of government.

All of this sudden realization truth-be-told unfolded during a weekly scripture-study and prayer group in the basement of the…I probably shouldn’t SAY what denomination…church.

For illumination, it’s odd that we were always working in the dark. We were all seated in the dark around a candle, holding hands in a circle, eyes closed, and our group facilitator, Everett Dundy, began with something that sounded like, “Lard, lettuce be like sheeps in the fold…’ At least, that’s what I heard.

And then we went around the circle, each person contributing a line to the prayer;

“…Give up the silver, give up the gold…”

“…wheat from the chaff, thy will be done…”

“…chance a getting in be a million to one…”

You might be thinking it was a black church, right? But no, that’s just the way they ran it out, in the spirit. In fact, everyone there was white, but me and Meek Jefferson, who was black as a skillet…‘Roach in yo’ bathtub, make you wanna killit.’

Meek was a pretty good poet, all free-form, and so black he sucked up all the light, and you couldn’t see him when they turned the lights back on. More like a shadow. Ha. Ha. No offense, Meek.

Anyway, to me, it sounded a lot like modern day rap, and this was many years ago, before Buddha, and long before rap became popular on the stoops and street and recording labels. But rap started with black people, with its roots in cotton fields and the banks of the Congo.

Remember the Black Poets rapping about ‘Niggas Are ‘Fraid of Revolution’? Remember that? Album came out in the late ‘60s. Chambers Brothers, too, were rapping, and it all came out of the church.

So, okay. Rap started with black people. Nobody’s going to argue that. And it came out of the church, so what’s the point?

I can’t remember. I can’t remember where I was going with this, but anyway, it wasn’t a black church, and when the prayer came around to my turn, I had to think for a while, and when the silence became unbearable, I had to spit something out, and I said something really stupid and inappropriate…I can’t recall exactly, because of what happened before they turned the lights back on…something like… “yo’ mamma sed jus’ ‘cause you be ‘fraid…” I remember was the first line, and then I went on with six or seventeen more lines…couldn’t stop myself from bustin’ out into rhyme…broke loose the hand-hold and come up out of my seat, ‘free-stylin’ strong…steppin’, steppin’, steppin’ ‘round the circle, but what came out shocked everyone, and one of the elderly women there stopped me and said “a person shouldn’t use language like that in a church basement*,” and I said something about the circle that resulted in some sort of folding-chair tussle in the dark, and shit, before they got to the light switch, all kinds of hell broke loose.


1576 - An important date in history? No. That’s the word count. They said to be an important American writer, you’ve got to crank at least 500 words per day. If you’re striving for mediocrity, then 300 will do. The 1500 may appear impressive, until you divide it by seven days.

Martin Frobisher, an English navigator, discovered ‘Frobisher’s Bay’ in Canada in 1576.
Don’t ever forget.


*I gotta tell you this. At a peyote meeting once, NAC, Native American Church, a guy got up to speak in the morning, and being ‘all peyotied up’, sort of lost his bearings and began using profanity during his talk. Some of the bros sitting there said, ‘Hey, somebody go straighten that guy out.’

One of those Indians, being peyotied up himself, got up and confronted the speaker. “Hey!” he said. “We don’t use that kind of fucking language in our church.”