Saturday, July 30, 2005

Plane To Stay Aloft/Chilis To Come Down

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -

If you've ever been in this cabin, you undoubtedly noticed the 'old-school' balsa wood airplane suspended from the ceiling, climbing and diving in the draft of the blades of the perpetual motion ceiling fan. Back forty, fifty years ago, you could get one of those planes for free inside a box of Crackerjacks.

Some assembly required. Took about twenty, thirty seconds. No instructions in three languages, and no child-proof packaging that required your mom and scissors to open. Larry and Rachelle, from Indiana, sent it in here, along with the complimentary 2 lb. can of coffee for 'the boys', and a batch of Rachelle's giant meal-in-themselves cookies.

The plane was set in place with a thread and a thumbtack, and after two or three minor adjustments to the delicate balance of the wings by remote engineers in mission control, she's flying straight and true, just like the shuttle. No foam is going to bring her down. No burnup upon re-entry.

The plane is one of the few things that will stay on here after my departure. The plane, and of course, the pond. The fish are going, the pond pump's going, the carpet's going, the kitchen table is going, and...what the the words of the furniture warehouse salesman, 'Everything must go.'

"What about the fridge?" asked Bo.

"Yep. It's going."

Chili lights? You bet. They're coming down.

Buffalo robe? Don't even ask.

The Chilis, sent in here by Susan down in Arizona, where they have LOTS of chilis, and Mexicans, but not as many as Mexico, are, I've concluded, one of the primary causes and attractions of people to these crossroads. Amost everyone, upon their first visit will comment, "Hey. It's like Christmas in here." Nearly everyone says that.

I've run tiny lights year-round since I've been here ('Cabin With Tiny Lights' 4/12/01), installing them around the framing of the deck, as well as encircling the kitchen, and later covered them with the plastic chili covers they find so appealing down in Arizona and New Mexico, where EVERYBODY runs chili lights, and where I first saw and envied them.

There's no question about it. They brighten up the atmosphere of an otherwise dismal, despairing, depressing, dysfunctional, alcoholic, suicidal, homocidal, diabetes-stricken, methamphetamine-mindbog, 'commod-bod' (commodity food wide-body, jumbo jet XXXL), poverty-stricken environment known as Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Some people call it a concentration camp, because everything here is concentrated. The food, the disease, the life-span, everything.

Here at the table last week, someone said the life-expectancy was 47 years-old. "Hey. We'd better get the hell outta here," Tom said. "We're a decade over!"

So, if it's that bad, then why do all these people keep coming around? I had to ask myself that, and the only thing I could come up with, was, 'to marvel.'

I think, right behind Yellowstone, The Rocky Mountain National Park, and Disneyworld, we're right up there at the top as one of the most twisted places in the USA. Oops. Did I say, 'twisted'? I meant to say vis...well...never mind. It can stand.

Among foreigners, we're right behind the south of France, and among Germans, we're the top tourist destination. There's about six or seven hundr...hell, I don't know how many, really...Germans on the rez right now, the height of Sun Dance, pow-wow, and tourist season.

Gudrun, on her fourth annual visit, down over the hill working in the garden, says they've got whole societies over in Germany composed of sympathetic wannabes who 'costume up' for regular pow-wows and all kinds of other celebratory reasons to dress up in skins like an American Indian of the 1800s. Feathers, fans, beaded moccasins, and the whole nine yards.

Besides Germany, there were three Austrians who were here in the kitchen just the other day, a woman from Brazil day before yesterday, a guy from California, and another first-timer guy from New York who just arrived last night. Next week, we expect people from Tennessee and Connecticut. Yeah. Tony. Tony from Connecticut.

Tony's the guy who brought the five brothers in here from Ghana, 'The African Show Boyz,' who made a sensation with their drums and impromptu performance over at Pine Ridge High School, and took in ceremony with us, one of them saying about the glowing rocks in the sweat lodge, "Dat's da firs time I have been dat close to God, and I couldn't touch Him."

Then there's the film crews and documentarians from France and Japan (Yes, Japan, where, incidentally, they too, have their own Japanese-Indian thing going, like the wild wild west, or somebody's compelling imagination about who somebody used to be), and the writers and the nutritionists, and the straw-bale people, and the wind and solar people, and all those other folks who aren't here as tourists, but rather, on a mission.

Now, I'm not saying all these people, like the Governor of Kentucky (that's 'Ex-Gov', actually, but Craig, who brought him up here, always liked to keep saying, 'The Governor, The Governor, The Governor this, The Governor that'), the Beverly Hillbillies, rez dogs, hemp heads and other Don Quixotic dignitaries and luminaries come here for the chili lights. That would be illusory, wouldn't it?

Most, if not all of the people who come through here are here because of Bro Tom and his programs, or ceremony out back here, which Tom runs as well, since the Old Man's incapacitation. The dogs come through for handouts.

But despite being here on a personal misson, they've already been here on at least one prior occasion to marvel. It's only after marvelling that they return home and wonder what can be done to help alleviate the third-world conditions alluded to earlier.


Just reached an impasse, a mind-lock, so I went out and took a dip in the pond (it's 98 degrees today), twisted up a roll-yer-own and hopped in the truck, rumbling down to that magical idea spot on Slim Buttes Road I was telling you about ('Only One Time', 7/24/05), and returning.

On the way back, I ran into Sandy & Lupe, headed into Wal-Mart, and mentioned taking the German, Gudrun, into town tomorrow for the Sunday morning breakfast buffet, where one can marvel at the sheer size and girth of the buffet and those Nebraskans who eat there, because Gudrun seemed in need of company, a good meal, and getting away from the rez for awhile.

Sandy said it was the same thing with that lady from New Jersey. "They come here to help, and you end up baby-sitting and chauffeuring them around, and..."

"Well. She don't have no transportation."

"Yeah, that's another thing," said Sandy.

I asked her immediately if I could quote her on that, and she said, "Sure. Go ahead."

Well, we try to be as accomodating as possible with those who come through here, just like you do at your place, whether people come to visit, help, or just to marvel.


So, where was I? Something about crackerjacks...

No, the theme was chili lights, what to take and what to leave behind, like karma or someone fleeing a threatening wildfire. Most people snatch the family photo album and some other things if they have the time, and I wondered how many people lost their lives in the tsunami, when instead of listening to people screaming at them to flee for their lives, they tarried to get the passport or some curio recently purchased at a local shop. Or her purse.

The dead would have a tale to tell of their last seconds in this realm of physical existence, of going through a windshield, of being swept up in a 300 mph wave, of incredibly crashing into a skyscraper aboard a jetliner, of being instantly incinerated in a vaporized atomic mist...a million ways to leave Mother Earth.

So there's this guy who's trying to get into heaven...did I tell you this one? Have you heard it?

And St. Pete asks him, 'What have you done to merit entry into heaven?'

The guy says, 'Well, once I saved this poor girl from a motorcycle gang who was hassling her.'

"What did you do?" asked St. Peter.

"I went up to the biggest, baddest guy there with the most tatoos, kicked over his bike, snatched his nose ring out, and told 'em, 'If any of you want to harass this girl, you'll have to go through me first," said the man.

"When did this happen?" asked St. Peter.

"Just a few minutes ago," said the man.


Ok, then. 'Bout time to wrap it up.

Which brings me to fabrication, since one of the readers took too seriously the remarks of one of the characters, who, for purpose of providing a persona behind a real 3-D world verbal exchange and telling a complete tale, just happened to be a pure fiction, like charging two five-star hotel buffet dinners to an anonymous guest. Although we sneaked into the pool, we did indeed, pay for all our food and drink.

Except for the times when 'Rick Larsen' signed. You couldn't make out the chicken-scrawled room number. With sheer delight, we watched without directly looking up, the confusion among the Thai restaurant staff at the desk, trying to figure out whose room to charge the meal to.

So, what the hell. Did he go to Thailand, after all, or was he just sitting up there in that cabin on the reservation, junction of the crossroads, making it all up?

- end

Friday, July 29, 2005

He Just Sat There, Watching The Sea

He Just Sat There, Watching The Sea

Growing tired of the culinary monotony of fish heads and rice served up three times a day at the volunteer center, I invited a friend from Sweden to the Friday night dinner buffet at the Marlin, a five-star resort hotel where you could excessively indulge yourself on several entrees of premier Thai cusine for 400 baht, about ten bucks.

The Marlin was situated on the south side of the mountain, about halfway between our primitive gecko-jungalow-bungalow and the volunteer center up on top at the Khao Lak Nature Preserve.

Several of us volunteers had been using the Marlin's six swimming pools, enjoying the facilities as if we were staying there, being turned away only during the stay of the Prince of Denmark, whose entourage occupied the entire resort for the four or five days during the memorial service for the hundreds of Danish victims of the tsunami, over which he presided.

"These guys look like they're ready for a day at the beach," Digger had said when we went for the modestly-priced Sunday morning all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, nodding at the dozen uniformed Danish security men standing around in the lobby waiting to see what the Prince wanted to do next, all wearing tan summer shorts and towels around their necks, laughing easily like they had the day off. For a security force, they all seemed extremely relaxed. Assignment to accompany the Prince to Thailand? Not baaaaad. Not bad at all. Pack the fins and snorkel.

"We're with the Prince," Digger told the manager when he stopped us in our traverse across the lobby, but when I realized he knew I knew he knew who we were...we had far too advanced tans, compared to the recently-arrived pale white Danes, and didn't resemble the resort's primarily German and Swede clientelle, and besides that, he'd seen us frequenting the pool for weeks...that I relinquished the ruse and told him we were there for his modestly-priced breakfast buffet.

"You should have said something in German," Digger said.

Although the main reception facility, restaurant, bar, and several of the resort's 4,000 room occupancy were on high ground and undamaged by The Wave, many of the rooms below 30 ft. sea level and beachfront bungalows had been swept off their foundations and were in the process of being rebuilt by dozens of Thai workers who smiled and used whatever English they knew in greeting me whenever I sneaked into the pool.


You know how dogs can talk. They've got the standard expressions they use for 'friend', 'glad to see you', 'wary distrust', 'get back', and so forth, but if you watch them closely, they can tell you much, much more.

It was late and dark by the time we had finished a sampling of the half-dozen inspired buffet desserts the chef proudly encouraged us to try. After signing off the bill to a Mr. Hendricksen in room 309, we walked down the concrete walkway to the beach, illuminated by small yellow lights, accomplanied by a generic short-haired brown Thai dog with the customary arched tail up over his back.

I'd seen him around before in the lower level of the resort where the Thai military had set up headquarters for their massive tsunami relief effort, with their huge tent encampment adjacent to the grounds of the Marlin.

When he appeared at our heels, nuzzling my hand in a wet-nose greeting that demanded recognition, I wondered whose dog he might be, there on the grounds and all. His confidence and air of unchallenged authority said, 'This place is mine. It's all mine. I own it. Come. I'll show you around. Please follow me.'

We walked down to the beach and stood under coconut palms looking out at the blackness. Tiny lights of fishing vessels were far out on the Andaman, her waves crashing in methodical thunder.

My dinner companion said six thousand Swedes died in Khao Lak, some of them right here, where the day after Christmas, on their winter holiday, they were having breakfast, walking along the beach, or maybe just sleeping in a little longer from the previous night's festivities when the water, as the Thai strangely put it, 'went away'.

Everyone attests no animals died when the water 'came back'. Just human beings. There were still more than 2,000, they said, still 'out there', somewhere in the sea.

Our escort had gone to high ground, as well, but he had returned immediately in the first wave of stunned survivors to help with the aftermath. He had seen incredibly sad things that his ancestors never knew, and he experienced some truly horrible smells, but these days were pretty much back to normal, with his job to oversee all the reconstruction work that was going on there at the Marlin, and to coordinate things with the military.

He wouldn't let us go near the water that late at night, and gently suggested we stay on the walkway, up under the coconuts, walking between us and the beach and leaning into our legs to direct our stroll.

When a young couple, walking hand-in-hand, came up the beach, he leaped up and ran out to the water, staying with them until they returned to the Marlin's grounds and their bungalow, then he returned and found us, and on the sand, he just sat there, watching the sea.

- end

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Only One Time

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -

Sometimes, especially at night, when driving home on Slim Buttes road, lulled into an anesthetized mind-numbing semi-coma by the rumble of studded snow tires on rough gravel, and the numerous idiosyncratic rattles of a '62 Chevy tank of a truck, I'll wonder, "Have I crossed the White River yet?"

Until a familiar stretch of road opens up before the tank's fan of light, there'll remain a disquieting uncertainty. "Is it still up ahead, or behind?"

It's happened more than once.

The White River, flowing under a short two-lane country bridge, marks the halfway point to the reservation border town of Chadron, NE, and heading north, you can take the 'S' curve leading down to the bridge at 60, 65 mph if the road conditions are just right, and if you can get a good clean look through those branches of that bush on the north side to see if there's anybody coming the other way, which happened only one time.

If not, you can hug the inside of the curve and accelerate across the bridge into a three-mile climbing straightaway, churning up a massive cloud of dust that forces anyone behind you to fall back a mile or so. Bo Davis knows what I'm talking about. So does Tom Cook.

If the first of the cattle-gates appears in the headlights, then I've already crossed the river. It's behind me. If I come up on the Rod and Connie Sandoz property, where Connie's name is crossed out on the archway sign over their drive, then the river is still up ahead a couple of miles.

And so, I'll have to ask Tom or Bo, or maybe Beatrice...anyone who regularly travels that road, if they have the same experience, especially at night. In the daytime you can tell where the hell you are.

It's really strange, that, 'Where the hell am I?' thought, to be occurring in a normal, or did I say 'semi-coma' state, to be differentiated from say, a sharp blow to the head, or any other physical impairment.

Maybe you've experienced it. 'Where the hell am I?' Maybe you've thought it.

It's on this same road, where a few miles out of Chadron the way inclines north to the crest of a butte, and with the town of Chadron over one's shoulder in the mirror, the land opens up in a great yawn for miles, yielding an expansive view of chalky white buttes emerging from rolling yellow ochre hills, and brown, parched sunburnt grasslands.

Perhaps its the liberating sensation of leaving civilization behind to enter another universe of reservation life, or maybe it's just the emergence of that spectacular vista that engenders a volcanic spew of literary ideas, almost as if the washboard road was rumbling out prose. This happens all the time. Tom, and others, say they haven't experienced it, but I'm sure there are other roads where the same phenomema occurs.

On past that special place atop the butte, just before Rod and what used to be Connie's place, there's a sharp left-hand turn that can be taken at 50 mph on the inside of the blind uphill curve, where a number of people I know have gone off the road, coming downhill from the opposite direction.

Only one time did I meet someone coming the other way as, out of habit, I hugged the inside of the road. It was snowing, I had the whole family with me, and we were returning to Slim Buttes from Chadron in Loretta's old Ford SUV on some kinda fry bread gopher mission after sitting up all night in peyote meeting, which, under the influence thereof and circumstances, I already felt someone approaching from the opposite direction.

Whipped the car to the right, shot across the road, barely being missed by the other guy, a couple of Indians in a low-slung rez ride. Spun the wheel back to the left, knowing we were already going into the ditch. I saw a roll-over in my mind.

We didn't. We spun out, stopping right in the middle of an access to a pasture, probably Rod's, the kids in the back seat wide-eyed and silent at first, then freaking when what had happened caught up to them.

A mysterious stretch of road, almost as if Rod's direct ancestor, the famous writer of the West and author of 'Crazy Horse', Mari Sandoz, was beckoning for attention.

- end

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Like A Duck, Smooth on the Suface, Paddling Like Hell Underneath

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -

Long time since last entry. As they would say in the land of a billion buddhas, 'Long ti, you no wry.' Returned to US for Sun Dance in the Black Hills of South Dakota, leaving Digger behind in Thailand, where he is teaching English and happy not to be living here, 'here', being Denver, the rez, the USA, or western hemisphere.

Back here, same same as before, if you're absent for more than a couple of hours from your home, the liklihood of being a victim of theft increases dramatically in exponential proportion to a thieve's anticipation and calculation of one's time away, and all sorts of haywire things can occur, for instance, the least of which is the witch switch being forcibly yanked from its pull-chain socket, rendering the ceiling fan on-off switch inoperable and permanently set at 'low', which during these sweltering dog days of July, is disconcerting, but glad we're not out there dancing right now.

Yeah, I got ripped off, but not too bad this time, because during the second break-in, Poncho (my landlord who just happens to be a uniformed member of the local Oglala Sioux Tribe Dept. of Public Safety, read, 'Pine Ridge Cop') just happened to be checking on the place and apprehended the two adolescent thieves before their departure, a crime in-progress, with a shit-load of my belongings piled high on a Pendleton blanket in the middle of the floor.

"I asked them," said Poncho, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Learning this upon my return, and fresh from one-room simplistic living of the Thai, my first impression when entering the cabin was, 'Gee, this place smells like mice.' My second impression was, 'Gee, I've got wayyyyy too much STUFF.

Better to give it away to a smiling recipient friend than to have it stolen, so I began trying to give away as much as possible for two reasons; the first, theft; and the second, before I die; and the third, I've got to move, making a permanent departure from these here crossroads and this little mouse-nest of a cabin, the smell of which I haven't yet been able to eradicate with Lysol, bleach, incense sticks that Jamie or Kathy or somebody sent in here, and the introduction of a pregnant cat.


Here in the family, two nephews died just weeks before the Dance. Same-o stuff as always. More hardship and more heartache, setting a pall over this year's Dance. Many visitors here on the rez, with three Germans presently in camp, going into sweat lodge with us last night. Four or five rez dogs coming around each day, looking for handouts, tongues hanging way out the sides of their mouths, trying to beat the heat.

Many thunderstorms at night, with temps over 100 F. in the day. One of those electrical storms knocked out my screen for three weeks, predisposing me to silence for about that much time.


While traveling, I passed a small spiral notebook to the passengers down in the smoking lounge car aboard Amtrak, asking them to write anything. Some of their entries:

- "We partied so hard, it'da made Jim Morrison throw up." - Barron, Denver, CO.

- "I'm like a duck, smoothe on the surface, and paddling like hell underneath." - Biloxi, Mississippi.

- "It's all good! Your lips are moving, but I can't hear what you're saying." - Portland, OR.

-"Life's funny, if you're lucky." - Osceola, Iowa.

-"Got three apples. Take two. How many you got?" - Toledo, Ohio.

-"Don't listen to..."(scratched out) "Working with the mentally ill is a lot like pissing in a dark suit. You get that warm feeling, but nobody notices." - Arkansas

-"Due unto others, then split." - California

-"Drink your milk all down and do well in school." - Lincoln, NE.

Regular American folks down in the smoking car. It got loud and boisterous at one point, with people disobeying the posted rules forbidding food or alcoholic beverages in the smoking lounge.

Barron, the guy from Colorado who was both high and drunk, gave the frowning black porter twenty bucks immediately upon his entry into the lounge, and the man smiled, took the twenty, spun on his patent leather heels, and departed, leaving us to our continued merriment and the shock of the apprehensive couple from the UK who were stunned to know that such things could be done, fully prepared to offer an explanation of their uninvolvement in the outrageous debauchery in the car, the introduction of alcohol therein, or the tearing down of the signs from the walls indicating the management's wishes for order, conformity, and compliance with railroad regulations.

Barron, incidentally, was partially blamed for the sudden heart attack death of the large man in the Rocky Mountain tunnel that had us waylaid for two hours with all the medical people scrambling aboard, and then the coroner, later departing with the sheet-covered corpse, because, they say, he, Barron, in his inebriated state, wouldn't remove his size 13 feet from the headrest of the man's seat after several appeals on the part of the beleaguered party, resulting in the man's quickly attaining a frothing state of outrage, and grumbling about the rights of passengers, just before entering the tunnel, they said.

That was before the age of terror, before Amtrak was beseiged with dogs, and exorbitant ticket prices, and while everyone, including homeland security, had their eyes fixed on the friendly skies.


Life before terror. Life before the computer. What was it like? Now you can get a laptop for $50 bucks. On the rez. It would be a pity to ask if it was stolen.

So, we've got thieves in the neighborhood. They hit Sandy and Lupe and Uncle Joe, too. So, you may wonder, why would anyone wish to stay there?

Spiritual Family and friends. And that crest in the road on the way back from town, where all those ideas percolate to the surface, like all the iron and nails in this driveway after a heavy rainfall. And the pond.

Despite my imminent departure from the premises and Tom's continued assertion that 'Poncho ain't gonna do JACK,' I persevered toward the completion of the pond begun last fall, sealing the concrete and installing a 600 gal. per minute pond pump that has created a collosal cascading waterfall, and introducing swordfish, marlin and Albacore tuna to the delight of nearly everyone except the smallish toddler Indian children who find the fish quite frightening and won't go near the water, notwithstanding life jackets or their parents' urging from the canoes.

That huge frog appeared and came in on his own volition and willfull accord, the largest I've ever beheld, about the size of a family reunion serving platter, except for the 100-pounder seized by Mike Shoemaker from the Wabash River some 40 years ago, a cause celebre that was deserving, according to the editors at the time, a photo and special recognition in the local paper.

So, it's a tossup who'll get the fish - the frog or the cat.

'Tuna fish salad,' said Misty.

'Swordfish steaks, grilled and blackened,' I replied.

We all laughed, gazing into the pond, reflecting the rising full moon and the strands of chili lights inside the cabin's kitchen, left up since wayyyyy long before Christmas and producing a Mexican hacienda effect that Lupe just loves and insists he'll replicate over at his place across the road once Wal-Mart stocks its shelves for the holidays and he gets a chance to slide down to Taos or Santa Fe.


Moving - Not Moving

Sometimes our movement is of our own volition and willfull accord, and sometimes we require a foot up our ass. In any case, whatever the prompting, a move can cause one to 'take stock'. We can take stock in all our amazing accumulation of belongings that must be either boxed up or given away; we can take stock of one's capacities and capabilities, as in, preparing a new and updated resume'; and we can take stock of our options and relative station in life, deciding whether or not we have achieved our objectives, or maybe take stock of our net worth. Stock options, I guess you could call it.

It could be another of life's crossroads, more definitive and less obscure than the emotional or economic vicissitudes of everyday life. It also presents the opportunity of being shaken from the ordinary, causing a need within the ensuing vacuum for the creation of a new universe in which to exist, and then going to live in it.

- end