ME AND THE COWBOY
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – That would be, ‘The Cowboy and Me.’ I’m always correcting his English, telling him, ‘If you were in my class, you’d be getting ‘D’s.”
Five, six, seventeen times a day, I tell him, “That’s, ‘I saw,’ not, ‘I seen’. See, saw, have seen. Don’t even use the word, ‘seen’.” Drives me crazy.
“I tell you this for two reasons,” I tell him. “First, I’m an English teacher and I can’t help myself; and second, when you’re talking to someone about, say, a job…or a bank loan…you don’t want to sound like a dumbfuck.”
That’s from growing up in Hemmingford, NE, where he was a football star running back who slept in English class. Cowboy. Someone asked him what he does. ‘Cowboy’, he replied. Like, ridin’ bulls and broncs? Used to; not professionally; just for kicks, he said, but not anymore.
There is nothing about a stockyard that he doesn’t know, and he’s full of animal stories.
Animal stories, stockyard tales, horses, bulls, and stupid, corny jokes that nobody laughs at when he tells them with great delight.
He stopped by here today to see if I wanted to ride shotgun with him to Pine Ridge in pursuit of his drug of choice, a Pine Ridge ‘dimer’, a ten-dollar corner-of-a-baggie bag.
(“Ask so-and-so if she’ll sell me a dime bag of her low-grade shit,” I once told a friend. He came back telling me, “She said with great indignation,‘Tell Vic I AIN’T GOT NO LOW-GRADE SHIT!”)
Anyway, there were cops all over Pine Ridge Village, cruising through the housing areas, checking out the dealer’s houses and any suspicious activity, which, in Pine Ridge, is any activity.
When my place got ripped off and I went to see a criminal investigator, he told me 85% of the Pine Ridge population is involved in drugs. Ironically, or perhaps, highly correlative, the figure parallels that of unemployment. I couldn’t believe the stat, but he said it was accurate.
Well, count me in, I guess. Me and the cowboy, out sniffing around for a Pine Ridge dime bag, which happens to be one of the lousiest deals in the entire country, if not the entire North American continent. A notorious ‘Pine Ridge Pinner’, or ‘pin joint’, is about the size of a toothpick, and mostly paper.
So there’s this whole underground economy going on, since 85% of the population is officially unemployed. Same same Shanty-town, Soweto, S. Africa; people gotta do something. You’ve seen the price of gas. Here, a person can step on their stash three, four, five times, turn their money over, and there you have it, a step up on everyone in the race for the American Dream.
“What do you want?” asked the Cowboy’s connection, an extremely thin, relaxed man in a hooded sweatshirt and plastic Adidas sweat pants, from the back seat, where he had jumped in. He didn’t seem bothered by my presence, although he’d never seen me before in his life. By virtue of being with the cowboy, I was cool, apparently. In any case, he didn’t appear to be concerned or suspicious.
What did we want? He had everything, he said, or could get it, and suggested we hide the shotgun in the trunk or something, with all the cops running around, you know, instead of like it was, in plain sight.
We took the dealer to three or four houses, and then to the post office where he needed to purchase a money order to keep his cable on, then back to his house, a typical run-down Pine Ridge home, with trash, broken cars, and mangy dogs hanging around the door, happily wagging their tails whenever anyone would exit the house, ignoring them in the extreme.
I had forgotten just how bad it was. Not just the dealer’s house. Every other house in the village looked the same.
“They cleaned up everything, and ran the drunks off the streets when Clinton came,” said the Cowboy as we headed to White Clay for shotgun shells. “They should have left it be so he coulda seen it the way it really is.”
“That’s great, Cowboy,” I said. “Could have seen. You’re making progress.”
White Clay, Nebraska, the watering hole for the Indians of Pine Ridge, and just across the S. Dakota State line, is worse than Pine Ridge, if that is conceivable. A choir of drunks stumbled back and forth across the street, talking to carloads of other Indians, and two men loaded three cases of beer into the back of their car while I sat waiting for the cowboy. All this activity was in plain view of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) patrol car, sitting parked just across the line.
Officially, the rez is dry. No alcohol allowed. All drugs are prohibited. Whatever they’re doing, it isn’t working.