Friday, December 01, 2006

Sleigh Ride Down Main Street

Sunglow, AZ - No sleigh ride of fantasy here. No literary escape into neverland. No shortcut between dream and waking state. We couldn't wish it away, like my daughter in her childhood make-believe world would say, 'Magical, magical,' turning an invisible key. 'Poof!' It's real. 'Lock 'em in the Caser.'

And suddenly here they came down the small town Main Street, lined with flag-waving tight-knit locals, balloons, young mothers pushing baby strollers, older folks toting folding chairs.

First came a half dozen WWII vets, decrepid shrunken attic relics in their musty antiquated dress uniforms, rows of medals suspended from their left breasts, trudging along in lockstep, chins forward, rifles at the ready, serving as the honor guard, hoisting the flag and their unit colors.

They were the remnants of Omaha and Normandy, the liberators of France, all but forgotten, entrenched in their daily routine of gathering each morning at Ted's coffee shop, swapping tales and lies the way old men do, but never returning to their war.

The old warriors stopped before the reviewing stand, turned smartly on a barely audible command, and flashed a proud sharp salute to the mayor and dignitaries on the flatbed truck that served as a makeshift stage for the day, decorated with red, white and blue banners.

They placed the Stars and Stripes at the review stand, and on command, hoisted their rifles skyward and fired off a volley that echoed off the downtown buildings and windows, sending a jolt through the crowd and a flock a pidgeons from their roosts.

The old boys then shouldered their weapons, turned left-face, and marched on down the street, satisfied in their capability of once again having completed their mission.

They were followed by the vets of Korea, a decade younger bunch with a slightly livelier step, American flags on their lapels, their pins and decorations on their caps. They were gray and wrinkled and crippled and mostly alcoholic, in their late 60s and 70s, wearing blue American Legion Post windbreakers and marching in practiced unison in a proud solid block of two dozen men.

Then came the vets of Vietnam, almost comically out of step, some of whom had shaved for the occasion. Most were wearing faded jungle fatigues, dog tags and frayed jackets with subdued name, rank, and insignia. Many were bearded, prematurely aged hollow-eyed zombies who'd experienced homelessness under bridges and cardboard box shelters, stood on street corners of nameless cities with shoppping carts and scrawled magic marker signs proclaiming their dysfunctional state and need, resigned to a remaining desolate lifetime of medication.

Behind them came the younger vets of Gulf War I, the war of Bush the Elder, no senator's son among them. There weren't as many of them, wearing clean and pressed khaki uniforms and looking proud and almost normal.

Although several of them were currently engaged in locked battle with the VA, they had made a commendable near-adjustment back into society, and the crowd showed their appreciation by applauding politely as they passed by in disciplined ranks; their leader, in a hushed ball of breath, ordered, 'Eyesss RIGHT. Haaaand SALUTE.'

Bringing up the rear were the vets of Afghanistan and Iraq, indistinctively lumped together and blurred, reflecting the nature and rationale of those conflicts. Unlike the other groups of soldiers, there were several women in the ranks, wearing boots and desert uniforms.

And there was Sheila. Just a few years earlier, she had been in the parade route as a court member of the homecoming queen, riding atop a pink convertible in a pink dress, smiling, waving at the crowd.

She got married right out of high school, had two kids, and had been working second shift at the mini-mart, joined the national guard with her husband, mostly for the educational benefits, planning to take classes at the regional campus when the kids got older, maybe major in criminal justice, maybe become a legal secretary or something, she said. Her husband never returned home after his second compulsory tour, still listed as MIA.

Now here she came down the street in a wheelchair pushed by a fellow soldier, the aluminum and steel rod legs protruding from her uniform. The crowd waved tiny American flags. A child's ice cream dropped onto it's lap, the mother inattentive, her worried eyes riveted on the woman warrior. How would Sheila raise those two children, she wondered, without real hands, and from a wheelchair.

Two sets of grandparents stood at the curb, holding Sheila's toddlers, the crowd nearby stealing sympathetic glances at them as Sheila rolled by. 'There's Mommy!' cried out the older of her two children, pointing.

Sheila's face was disfigured as well, mouth and cheekbone misshappened and scarred from a horrific blast that sent her and her humvee into a spin, and the other occupants to the hereafter.

The crowd applauded as she passed by, just as they had for her as the pretty homecoming queen runner-up, and then grew deathly silent when they stopped her before the reviewing stand, Sheila rising shakily from her chair on new computerized prosthetic legs, lifting a steel claw to salute.

They had all watched her grow up in that small town. The mayor and those on the flatbed truck cried as they returned her dignified salute, ashamed they had passively let it happen, without a protest, without a whimper.

Magical magical. Turn the invisible key. Undo it all. Poof! Lock it all up in the Caser.

- end

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Homecoming For Hernando

LYONS, CO - When he returned home from Baghdad, he was amazed and appalled at how everything had changed in such a short time. Behind their caring, no one seemed aware. Everyone seemed accustomed to the bustle, oblivion, and fog of their everyday lives.

Went searching for familiar connections through old friends and history teachers, their lives sanitized, insulated and encapsulated cocoons of apathy. The sky had long since fallen on ground zero, the ashes run to storm sewer then out to hostile sea; the line blurred and fragmented between friend and foe; paved streets of greed, graft, and gratuitous corruption in the city of righteous lights.

No sign or recognition behind those masks. Alone and isolated in volcanic percolation, worn of despised trepidation and fictitious smiles. They were a busy people, a galaxy away from the sorrow they'd sown, a tragedy spawned, his confused role of tormented incarnate evil wrestled into a corner, stuffed into a crevice, convinced it was good.

Try to penetrate the mummified warrior's world, his unfortunate survivor's sheath of anesthetized guilt. No light nor hope in those distant hollow eyes of abbreviated and aborted dreams. Their phrases awkward and inane, their praise muffled and incoherent, their laughter hideous and repugnant, their joy obscene.

They had attended his convoluted drama on scalped tickets, dismissing their compromised values with incongruencies, faulty logic and repressed truth. They had reconciled his steely stare and cold, shiny, automated metallic claws for hands.

They grew accustomed to the cool chrome wheels guiding him down the parade route and 50-yard line at halftime. They cheered, whistled, and waved as he sat in an embarrassed and cheated lava lump of humiliated despair, knowing what he represented, and in the end, they didn't want to be reminded. They didn't want him around at all.

- end

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bad Week For Dogs

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - Looked like a fairly good week for humans this week, but a bad week for dogs. Don't really know why.

Lupe' and I took the long way to Pine Ridge, up to Oglala first to the PO where there was need to notify the postmaster of an expected prolonged absence; a box from our Sun Dance cook in Indiana containing coffee, tobacco, a tape recorder and a couple of tapes, letting me know she was serious; and a terrifying letter from a government agency aprising me and 1.2 million other could-be victims of identity theft that their data base had been compromised.

After ripping the letter open and scanning the content in a palpitating flash, I breathed a sigh of relief, picked up the box and turned to Lupe'.

"I know what's in here! Rachelle sent us cookies! You got a blade?"

No cookies. We gassed up, ten bucks worth, "Four and a half gallons," Lupe' shouted, over at Cubby's, where the young cashier was pregnant with her third child; she already had a little girl and boy, she said, and I told her she was lucky, got a newspaper, a bag of spicy Doritos, a couple of juices and headed into Pine Ridge village.

Didn't think much other than to notice that black and white dog on it's back, stiff legged, laying off to the side. On down the road a hundred yards lay another, a yellow dog, further down in the ditch. Shit. 'How can a dog live that long...a full-grown adult...and not know...'.

We drove on in silence, Lupe' checking the gas again and again, devouring the Doritos. As we neared Calico, there was another road-kill dog. Said to Lupe', "You noticing all these dogs on the side of the road?"

"Yeah," he replied, backing off the accelerator, holding the speed down to about 45, checking the gas gauge.

"JESUS! There's another!" I said as we passed a small, wirey-haired dog.

Another hundred yards down the road was another. "Man. What's going on with the dogs?" I asked Lupe'. How many is that? Five? Six?"

Up by Red Cloud school there were two more, and as we came over the hill up by the hospital and down into Pine Ridge, there was another. Was it just that stretch of road? Highway 18?

We gassed up at Big Bats, another ten bucks for what Nita calls 'a real Gus Gazzler', went over to Sioux Nation for chili fixins for after lodge and ran into Uncle Joe over there, saying his brother Scottie fell out during peyote ceremony with a heart attack and they had to carry him out of there and give him angioplasty.

Ran into Misty and Olowan outside, saying she was too scared to go inside, just then, and Loren Black Elk in the parking lot, and another guy who only asked for thirty-five cents.

We headed out. Out past the tribal building where everything is currently in an uproar, limbo, hiatus, conflicted, antagonistic, conspiratorial and confused over the recent general elections that weren't supposed to happen, the sitting council, the sitting president, seized ballot boxes, who and who wasn't supposed to be on the ballot, the election board, and the board of election appeals. And the secretary.

Out past the rodeo grounds on our way home, there was another dog laying in the ditch. After that one, we didn't see no more.


It's quiet here now. Was for awhile. Tom B. is in town with the tribal council. "Everything's going to be okay," he said here last night before we went into lodge. "Everything is going to work out for the best of the people."

Went into lodge with thirteen last night. Nephew Adam was there, over from Casper, Wyoming where he'd been beaten up and had his nose broken by a group of white boys. It was cold last night. Tom B. loaded his pipe and prayed for council. Bo and Misty fed everyone afterward. Chili. Everyone's fixing chili these days.

No sign of Lupe'. His son just came in, looking for him. He got jumped out by Cheyenne Creek last week and ended up in the hospital emergency room with thirteen stitches. Sat here, telling the story, gingerly patting his head.

- end

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Chop Wood, Carry Water

PINE RIDGE Indian Reservation - Someday when I'm famous, you'll say to people, "Awwww, that guy used to send me his stuff allllll da time."

You can tell how importantly people regard your email messages by how quickly they respond, or if they blow you off completely. Sent directly to 'trash'. The electronic compost pile. Turn it back to worms. Maybe later it can sustain an intelligent life form.

On a diminishing scale from 'urgent', to 'delete', where do you suppose your communiques fall?

I joined up to 'MySpace', and after a month, checked it out. Brovic has ZERO messages, ZERO voice mails, and ZERO friends. Great. Made my day. I'm envious of Kim.

Kim has 13,186 friends.

No respect. Didn't just happen recently. I came off the bench in a home basketball game in which the score was tied. My job was to pass the ball inbounds. Somebody else would take the shot. If I couldn't get the ball into the back court, I was to hit Bruce on the sideline, in the corner. He'd be there.

Okay, so the defender was all over the inbounds pass, right?...jumping up and down and waving his arms around, so I faked the ball to the back court and heaved it with all my might, down the sideline to Bruce, except that other guy stuck his head in the way and took it flush in the face from about five feet away.


The crowd gasped, then laughed, then went, "Ooooooooh."

They had to call an official's time-out to check the kid out, all hunched over and holding his face, from which arose a hot circular reddening mass of welts from the raised pimples of basketball's surface, with the unforgettable NOSLIW etched into his face, his coach and the whole team, their fans, and even the officials glaring at me.

I was glad we were playing at home. I forget the score or who won.

Then once at the collegiate level, when we played St. Joseph's, who kicked our asses, the team bus left without me, and the janitor put me out of the building, where I sat on the stone steps until Coach came back in his car and got me, some four hours later.

And in baseball I set the school pitching record for Most-Runs-Scored-Against-In-A-Single-Inning, when the opposition, a team from Huntington, scored 17 runs in the first inning, and the coach just left me in there. After about nine runs I went over to the duguout and asked the coach to take me out. He said, "Hang in there. We'll get the other two outs."

It wasn't all my fault. There were a few fielding errors as well. We sucked.

By my senior year, they HAD to give me something, some kind of award, so they did, but it wasn't performance-based. I forget what it was. Somewhere in the bottom of a cardboard box that ended up among yard sale leftovers. Something like, 'Coaches Award'.

Why am I telling you this?


A history of comedy, I suppose. Even in the classroom, first as a clown, and later as a professor. Even the journalism was comedic, there toward the end, although it wasn't me who took off the micro-wave transmitter antenna from the mobile unit when it passed under the St. Mary's St. bridge. That was Charles.

And so, there was this comedy/tragedy thing going, a consistent modulating thread of trauma and carefree gaeity, horror to hilarity, a house of mirrors reflecting scars and laughter, and Bo sat here, oblivious to all the conversation going on around him, looked up blankly from the crossword puzzle at a spot on the wall, saying to no one, "I don't know shit about Shakespeare," then turned back down to the puzzle.

Every class needs a clown, and every ward needs a medic. Sometimes it's the same person. It could be in a helicopter, or maybe among amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical hospital. Maybe they'll laugh, if only for a little while.


"Outlaws!" Manuel shouted out into space as he stood inside the door, as if they were riding up on horses.

He got my attention up from the keyboard. "What's that?" I asked.

"Prisoners of war. Concentration camp 344," he said without looking over, still talking to that space in the distance upon which he always seems to be focused.

"Concentration camp 344? Where's that?" I asked.

"You're sittin' on it." he replied.

Manuel, who had ancestors die at Wounded Knee, and says he received his education in downtown Denver, skid row, is a fixture in the neighborhood and does some mechanical work. He'll typically enter and stand just inside the door like a Sergeant-At-Arms until someone says, "Sit down, Manuel. You're making me nervous."

Like a man who spends time alone and thirsts for listening company, in the span of fifteen minutes, Manuel covered history, philosophy, tribal government, the truck he's got to fix, a description of its transmission, the water lines to his house, and his ailments.

He was excited about rural water finally connecting him to the water line after five years of paperwork and waiting.

"I'm the first one in my family to get running water," he said. "Out of all the generations."

Manuel has an appreciation for water. He had a reason to be happy.

When living without running water or electricity, burning candles and carrying water jugs, one can gain an enormous gratitude for water. Chopping wood and carrying water. Hot water pot on the wood stove and simplistic living.

After sweat lodge purification ceremony a couple of weeks ago when there was but four of us who went in, there was still water left in the bottom of the bucket, and later I bottled it in a thermos and shared it around the next day, remembering what Kurt Fool Bull, from over on Rosebud (Cicangu Reservation, next door), had said one morning after a peyote ceremony when he noticed there was water remaining in the Morning Water pail as the people were about to leave.

"Let's not waste this water, relatives," he said. "It's been prayed over."

It was still cool. Cool and good.


Like the imperceptible impressions carried by water, some things are simply elusive and beyond our grasp, like the infinite, or Wakan Tanka, our faults, or that last house fly. Or that mouse, the husband/partner/companion of the she-mouse, her teats evidencing a nursing litter, her neck snapped in the trap, her eyes bulging with surprise.

Elusive like the writhing body of the rattler slithering back toward its decapitated head. There must have been a flash of recognition, or insight, when it realized its death was upon it, that the supreme moment had arrived, but if it could only reconnect, if only it could undo the trajectory of the flat shovel that pinned it against the elm.

It knew, and I knew then what it was thinking. Magnified by the moment of death like a bullhorn, the snake thought, "I don't think I'm going to make it through this one."


Manny, my trainer and mentor, used to say, "You think you know more than me, don't you?"

And I did, at times, think I knew more than Manny. I thought I was smart enough to make the perceptive cocktail party comment that spoke more of the author than the poem penned, in which nobody in the assembly, absorbed in self-importance, was the least bit interested.


Have you heard enough of the word, 'transparency', yet? How about 'traction', as in, a story 'getting traction'? I have. And what about 'went missing'? Pleeease. We're Americans, here. We don't talk like that. So why do American journalists have to talk like they're addressing a British audience? Next time you hear 'went missing' used, please shoot them, for me.

It was Manny who always used to say, "You gotta know your audience."

Captain Idiotic on the local air waves. Coming to you from the Nebraska panhandle, the capital of idiotic commercial radio advertising. Don't take my word for it. Come within the broadcasting radius and listen for yourself.

Up here, we get the Indian station, KILI, which is off the air, and two stations of redneck country music, singing about their cheatin' ol' lady, their no-good ol' man, their momma or their daddy.

At night, on the AM band, they've got guys on there who've got ALL the answers. You need answers? Tune in to AM talk radio.

So, for my work, material is harvested from the radio, since there's no tv or I'd actually have a tv if I had electricity. Not since '91. And my work, officially the 'Policy Analyst for the Office of Applied Methodolgy', requires input.

Some have asked what a policy analyst does. Well, we analyze policy. They don't ask me what I think when they're formulating policy. Only afterward. What it comes down to in real, everyday, 3-D world terms is, I'm the fourth or fifth guy in the pipe line. Like I said, no respect.

And that sort of flows over into Veteran's Day and my conversation in the van headed east with Tom, Milo, and Monique, who asked what the wings on my cap were for. I live for people to ask me that.

"Helicopters," I said sharply. "Eight-hundred and fifty combat hours."

"Vietnam?" she asked.

Tom interjected, laughing, "Yeah, we were winning when he got there."

Speaking for me hypothetically, Monique laughed, "'I'm just here to help,' huh?"


Do writers need to keep doing shit, or can they just sit around and make stuff up?

At the reunion, Bev, who is now practicing medicine in Maine, asked me what I'd been doing. I told her I was practicing medicine, too. Some landscaping consulting, some English teaching, some TOEFL tutoring, some out-patient roadside medical assistance, some beach restoration, some program consulting, and full-time stand up comedy. And, of course, there's the shower caddies. And...yeah, the Lord's work.

Maybe she thought that was all in the past decade, but actually, within the last six months. May sound busy, but when spread out, part-time, there's a lot of days I ain't doing JACK.

That's largely because on this reservation, there's many days that pass when nobody's doing jack. That's because there ain't jack to do.

Tom B's girlfriend from Rome said, "It looks like all those guys do is sit around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes."

So maybe that's why we're so big on ceremony. Something to do. Something to do for our spirits. Ain't nobody I know who's holy. Return to beginner's mind. Let the leader take out the garbage. Haul the stones, chop the wood, carry the water.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Job To Make Him Laugh

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD -

Lupe's lower lip hung down like a banana as he snoozed on the trip from town, back onto the reservation at dusk, his chin heavy on his chest, his belly full of Angela's bean & cheese burritos, his after-dinner smoke semi-dream backgrounded by hypnotic gravel road rumble under Chevy truck tires up Slim Buttes Road.

Just for its sheer shock value, and to demonstate to Lupe' that you don't have to be intoxicated to do something crazy, I swung far to the right as we rattled across the cattle guard demarking the Nebraska line from the rez, smacking with a loud metallic WHANGGG the red, bullet-ridden 'Use Your Seat Belts - It's The Law' sign with my passenger-side door mirror.

Lupe' leapt awake like electric shock, instinctively grabbing the dashboard with one hand and the seat with the other. "WHAT THE FUCK, HECTOR??!!"

Dull, grey clouds hung low over the hills and ridges, talking snow. It was brisk, the cottonwood leaves yellow, the daylight compressed and growing short. No visitors, and no new news. It was suddenly quiet and depressingly lonely on the rez, where everything, even joy, comes in from the outside. Lupe' had been talking of El Paso.

I looked over nonchalantly and asked, "Could you adjust that mirror, Lupe'?"


Lupe' sat here at the kitchen table in the timber-frame, twisting up a hand-rolled Bugler, while Manuel Martin sat rotating his shoulder, following a yoga stretch shown him by Tom Ballanco, tribal attorney and local Counsel-in-Residence, who had just gone out the door, headed for the airport. He could take off. Oglala Sioux Tribal Council was in lame duck, he said.

We were talking about some postures, or asanas, that are particularly beneficial to the interior muscle group beneath the scapula that was the apparent source of Manuel's discomfort. Lupe wasn't interested in the yoga conversation. He was still pissed.

During the day, you might hear someone say something like, 'Are you still bitchin' and moanin' around about yesterday?' Such comments, spoken in the company of others, often elicits a laugh for its general application to those ensnarled in, driven by, or re-invented from the past.

"I'm still mad about yesterday," Lupe' began. "I'm mad about today, and I'm mad about tomorrow."

"Mad at God, too, right?" I asked, laughing. "Can I quote you on that?"

Lupe' just frowned. "I got up arly this morning and went walking, down by the river, walking some kinda FAST," he said in animated demonstration from his seat. "Swinging my arms...sun is shining...I'm feeling good, talking to Tunkashila...telling him, 'Thank you, Tunkashila for this day of life.' "

"That's good, Lupe'," I said.

(Tunkashila is the Lakota name for God).

Lupe' continued. "Then ten minutes later, I'm startin' thinkin', and I'm pissed. I'm pissed off about yesterday, pissed about todaaaay, and pissed off about tomorrow."

"Can I quote you on that, Lupe'?" I asked.

Lupe' lit his cigarette and puffed on it, frowning, glancing sideways then gazing at the opposite wall, absorbed by a thought.

After a protracted silence, as if he hadn't heard a word of what Lupe' had said, Manuel, who usually doesn't say much, reached back and grabbed his neck, saying, "Yeah...that's good for the vertebrae."


In the effort to humor my despondent Mexican friend, I drew from the bottom of the barrel. "It's my job to make you laugh," I told him. "That's what I do!"

Lupe' ignored me and continued staring at the far wall, the smoke curling up from his fat fingers that bespoke a lifetime of hard work. "Tell Manuel about my out-patient, minor surgery on your head."

He glanced at me, then looked over at Manuel, then back at the wall. He didn't feel like it.

After another long silence, I looked across the table at Lupe' and asked, "Have you ever choked on a fart under the covers?"

Lupe' looked over and stared at me briefly, then the recollection of the event was reflected in his eyes.

"Yeah," he said. "One time I woke up coughing. I can't breathe," he says. "I get out of bed, I can't catch my breath. I tried to smoke a cigarette, and I can't. My hands are chaking. I'm sweating. I almost DIE!"

"Almost die?" I asked, using whaddyacallit?...Rogerian technique to elicit further disclosure and revelation.

"Yeah. I canna catch my breath. My heart's racing. I almost die."

"What was it you ate?" I asked.

"Something BAD!" he said.

"What about your old lady? Did it wake her up?"

"No," said Lupe'. She sleep through it."


So we watch some DVD movies now and then for a change of pace when Lupe' says he's about to 'Go Bananas'. Ever see 'Troy'? Could Helen look that good first thing in the morning, and were her teeth in that good of shape?

Took Lupe' into Pine Ridge Village for commodities, which he received and in turn gave to his son-in-law out east of town. I'd been dropped out of the system and didn't feel like making the trip over to the food stamp office to get re-qualified, so I skipped it, wondering, 'how do you get 'dropped out of the system' in a welfare state?

I mean, isn't the commod system the bottom link of the food chain to begin with? Isn't death the next lowest level?

There was an old man outside the commod warehouse, asking $20 for his entire monthly share. I offered him five bucks for his fruit, which he gladly took, then another two bucks for a can of juice. He wanted to give me the whole lot for the seven bucks, but I refused. Lupe' gave him another two bucks for nothing.

From the commod warehouse, we went down to the local phone outlet for a free 'commod phone', given to all tribal members. The lady there, who wore a pleasant social face that masked a tired resignation to Indian working mother, asked if I was an enrolled tribal member. I told her, no. She politely informed me that I needed to be a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

"Well, okay," I told her. "But since they're free, why can't I just have one?" I asked, trying to try her patience.

"You have to be a tribal member," she repeated calmly.

"Yeah, I know," I told her. "But why can't I just have one?"

Over at Sioux Nation shopping center, I ran into old friend Loren Black Elk, and Mike, a Vietnam Vet bro who needed enough for a gallon of gas, he said. Inside, they wanted $3.98 for a cantalope. No favor for Indians at Sioux Nation, everyone knows. No break. Cheaper at Wally World.

Right outside the door, a woman with a bunch of groceries and kids in the car had her hood up, getting a jump-start from another rez ride, a battery that surely wouldn't make it through the winter if it couldn't do it now.

Out on the highway, we gave cold Pepsis to the commod-bod flag girls on the road crew who took them appreciatively. Later, after returning home, I realized somewhere along the way, someone had lifted the five Gs of gas I carry as reserve since my gauge don't work.

I've grown used to the thievery.

As James says, 'People like that disturb the pond.'


The morning of my birthday I took the long round-about route to my Oglala PO box, via Pine Ridge. Out past Calico flats a long lanky hound of a dog sniffed at a carcass then made his move to cross the highway in front of me. I slowed down as he crossed, and the black SUV behind me zoomed around me in the oncoming lane.

The dog stopped and looked up blankly before being whacked by the SUV bumper, flipping out from underneath, stiff-legged and still as I passed by three seconds later.


They say the inversion postures are good for your whole being. Everything, inside out. Good for balance and all the internal organs. Good for the vertebrae. Everything, upside down. Somewhere in there, there's a forgiveness muscle. Turn upside down, sideways and horizontal. Give it a good workout. A massage. Let it go.

- end

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Based Upon Actual Events

Based Upon Actual Events

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - You said something about artistic freedom. We've got that here. The reservation is full of artists. I'm one myself, 'artist' being the lowest common denominator of what I am. But Bro Tom came up with a new appealing title just last night as we sat here with Tom Ballanco, who was flipping through the Omaha Herald.

'Policy Analyst for the Office of Applied Systems Methodology.' Good, huh? What would you like to be?

Quilt-makers, beaders, porcupine quill-workers, drum-makers, pipe-makers, sculptors, ceremonial items-makers, dancers, singers, actors, painters, illustrators, ledger-sheet artists, recording artists and con artists. Some have taken their craft to a whole new level.*

Take Boo Boo for instance. Boo Boo is one of the best con artists I know, among many on the rez who'll prey upon the German tourist, Colorado visitor, or other naive and unsuspecting soul. Take you for a head-spinning ride. When he leaves, you'll ask yourself, 'What the fuck just happened?'

Aloysius does amazingly beautiful quill work, and has one of the best voices for singing peyote songs, sun dance songs, and inipi songs, drawing from a vast inventory of memorized ceremonial songs handed down from men long since gone. Al will frequently 'reach deep down into his song bag' and pull one out we've never heard before. Later he'll tell us what grandpa it came from.

And Bo and Misty always have bead projects going over at their house, beads strewn out all over the place in little plastic containers, Misty cranking out low-end chokers, earrings and bracelets, while Bo creates the long-term, labor-intensive high-end items like moccasins, arrow quivers, knife sheaths, and vests, working for months on a single project.

Nathan Blind Man, just up the hill, does beautiful paintings, and across the road, Sandy was making hemp this and that two years ago, spinning her own fibers, and last year, gourd rattles that she and Lupe' accumulated during harvest, worked throughout the winter, and marketed this summer at Chadron's Fur Trade Days.

And last night, James Underbaggage, indisputably one of the best pipestone carvers on the reservation, if not the best, stopped by with an inventory of exquisitely carved pipes, coup sticks, whisks, knifes, and an assortment of other detailed and refined works depicting buffalo, bear, eagles and horses, each with a story behind it or into it, reflecting cultural or historical events and facts.

All these Indian artists are underpaid, taking 'anything I can get' for their undervalued work. Gas money to get home. And then the gallery will turn around and jack up the price 100%. That's just the way it is.

Across the rez, there's artists known for their expertise in what they do. People have time here to produce artwork. There's time for yoga, time for ceremony, time for writing, time for kids, time for attending to the needs of elders, and time for getting together and bullshitting with your friends and support group, because that's what we do. We just can't tell you what time it is.

A guy from Belgium, Mario, who arrived here with James, asked me last night, 'What time is it?'

Strange. Strange, indeed.

And last Wednesday, Gudrun, a return visitor from Germany for the past four or five years, asked what time we were going into inipi, the sweat lodge. "When everyone is ready," I answered her honestly. "Probably after dark, about 8:30 or nine or ten or ten-thirty."

Ended up going in about 11 p.m., coming out in the early hours, heading straight for the watermelon.

With the new moon and the power outtage from everyone running their AC, you couldn't see a thing out here. Maybe you've seen 'Earth At Night' from the space station? There's Rio! There's Paris! There's San Francisco!

We're somewhere in that big patch of blackness between Omaha and Salt Lake City. The 'Dead Zone'. Point the camera the other way, toward the Ort belt, and you'll have more light. The closest light there is to us, is Denver.

We're a low-priority terrorist target. "We didn't get no funds from Homeland Security," says Misty.


*a whole new. usage of 'a whole 'nuther' is discontinued because of it's widespread popularity and overuse, along with 'transparency', and 'gone missing'. Pleeease. When Wolf Blitzer and your hometown columnist start using it, it's time to lay it aside. Let's try 'Talibanized'.

A new lead, for instance, could go something like..."While distracted by the war in Iraq and Lebanon, areas of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan have re-Talibanized...'


Watch What You Think

Some readers wrote to inquire about the absence of the Dali Lama, the Earth Goddess, and other reverent figures at the Power Pie Conference held in early August here on the reservation.

Simple. There's only so many seats at the table. Dali Lama’s interests were already represented by Buddha, right? And the Earth Goddess finally got recognized only after she began to mumble and grumble. Everyone there could see her getting hot, her face flushed crimson, until even Jesus and Mohammed, at that time engaged in a bitter quarrel, noted her discomfort and yielded the floor.

“Better let her talk before she explodes,” said the God of Science & Technology, nudging the Lord of Recovered Youth, who moderated the conference.

Earth Goddess got up, and you can guess what SHE had to say.

Over here, we turned off the volume and just watched the close-ups of the eyes, just like on Championship Poker. Their eyes, and the lips of the Earth Goddess. She was giving them all a Black Chicago Street Ho tongue-lashing, and in the end, all them eyes were glancing up sheepishly and then back down at their hands.

As anyone in the intelligence community will tell you, you can get only so much info from wire-tapping and satellite surveillance. The best and most reliable information comes from human intel and the resources on the ground.

One of our succesful implants somehow convinced someone that he needed to be there, and provided us a rundown on the conference, giving us his take on the proceedings.

“Well…Jesus and Mohammed got into it again,” he began. “You got Jesus, who says, ‘turn the other cheek’, and Mohammed, who’s insistent on revenge, and right there you’ve got a fundamental problem.”

High security at the gate, he said. Everyone here was surprised he got in. “God of Fear tried to hold me back physically,” he laughed. “Then he didn’t want me to have my laptop. Told me, ‘You’re not even supposed to be here!’ I told them I represented everyone’s interests. They all had equal protection under the law.”

“What law? Who’s law?”

“Yeah, that’s what they said. ‘Law of the Jungle,’ I told them.”


Travel lite

Been on any trips lately? Trip out west? East? Road trip? Acid trip? Ego trip? Head trip? I been through a few head trips lately, some at the hands of others, some from collective karma, and some inevitably by my own unknowing self-design.

“Just scan your hand, Sir,”

“Why do I need to scan my hand?”

“Routine procedure, Sir.”

“Somebody’s data base? Can I see that screen? What’ve you got there, my whole life?”

The guy looked up from the screen. “Just scan your hand, please,” he repeated.

“Why don’t you use racial profiling? Don’t you know who you’re looking for by now? I’m a red, white, and black home-grown boy, an All-American decorated war vet. Mahatma Ghandi was my hero, for Christ’s sake. Don’t it say so on your screen?”

“Says here you’ve got a conviction,” said the uniformed man, looking up from the screen.

“Manny said that would be erased if I went to the ‘Nam. That was thirty-five years ago.”

“Well, Manny was wrong, wasn’t he?” he said. “Just scan your hand.”

Two or three or four big guys appeared from out of the mist, looking like they did time in San Quentin or the Oakland Raiders offensive line before joining the ranks of Homeland Security.
I did a double-take on the guy over my right shoulder. “Better do as he says,” he said.

“I can see you guys bought into all that ‘Code Red’ hype,” I said to the guy behind the screen. “Why you so tight-assed about outgoing? Shouldn’t you be more concerned about incoming?”

“Scan your hand, Sir!” he said.

“Must I?”

“Help him,” he said to Sasquatch.

“Okay, okay, okay,” I said. “Here. I’ll scan my hand.”

Placed my hand on the plate. One of those guys held my arm in place for me as the laser passed back and forth. A beep sounded and the eyes of the guy at the screen flitted across the lines that appeared. He looked up directly at me with a shocked expression, then said nervously to the sumo team, “Take him away.”

“I just want to know,” I told the inquisitor in the holding cell, “how you can tell from a DNA sample, what my intention is.”

“We’re way beyond that,” he said. “We’re living in a whole nuther world. No. It’s not for a crime you haven’t committed yet. You’ve got to watch what you think”

And then, there it was on the front page of the Sunday paper.

"See?" I said. "You thought I was bullshittin' you? I told you they'd start with prisoners."

The story covered monitoring and management of the State's pedophiles and parolees through ankle bracelets and GPS satellite tracking. A Google search showed us their state-of-the-art implant transmitter the size of a grain of rice. Smaller.

"First prisoners and pets. Then your kids, and then you. All for convenience or fear, whichever comes first. People love it!"


I wrote, ‘Kiss Of Def’ in black magic marker on my flyswatter, and after showing it to Bo, Misty, Lupe’, Manuel, and Al, nobody laughed. Nobody got it. I realized nobody here on Pine Ridge could relate to BET (Black Entertainment TV) or Black humor, as in African American.

Gotta know your audience, Manny always used to say. But when the whole world’s your stage, and you're living in the Age of Advanced Televised Horror, Smut & Slime, you should be able to float anything by anybody.

But when you get into dicey areas like race, religion, nationalism, and body bags, there’ll always be someone out there nudging the guy next to him, saying, “What the fuck did he just say? That shit’s not funny, Man!”

That's the kind of stuff that can get you tossed out on your ear, or worse, in places like Texas and Wyoming, where they'll drag you behind their trucks. And those guys weren't even comedians. They were just black, and in Wyoming, gay. In some humorless places, people must really be afraid.

Accordingly, I realize the entries dealing with Mr. Monroe’s Used Car Lot & All Station, Niggas In Charge, the Louis Farrakhan Homophobic Sermon, and Cash Jackson’s Murder of Leroi Levers might have limited appeal.

So then, you've got to watch what you say about the Honorable Louis Farrakhan and the Prophet Mohammed. They've got followers who'll git ya! Jesus...he's a lot more tolerant. Believes in free will, free speech, and forgiveness. Can appreciate a good joke. Just have to watch what you think.


We were sitting around the table under the air conditioning in the Big House, fumbling through newspapers and magazines and listening to the news on NPR. Outside it was 103. Misty announced she was going to bring food for tonight after sweat.

“Chicken?” I asked. “I’ll eat chicken aaaaaaaany way you want to fix it. Fried chicken…baked chicken…chicken and riiiiiiiice…chicken and…dumplings…”

“Barbeque Chicken,” added Bo. "Chicken nuggets."

“Chicken wings…”

“Chicken Tettrazini,” shouted Carl from the sidelines. “Chicken Caciattori.”

“Chicken and vegetables,” I continued. “Chicken cordon bluuuuuu. KFC chicken...Popeye chicken...chicken soup…chicken bullion cubes.”

Misty and Olowan chuckled.

“Deep fried chicken,” added Tom. “My favorite. Chicken pot pie. Chicken with cranberries. Chicken with crackers...chicken gizzards.”

Just when it seemed we had played it out, I added, “Chicken of the Sea.”

That one sat there for a moment, then I think it was Bo who finally said, “That’s fucking TUNA, man!”

Lupe’ rose and went to the kitchen, fumbling around in the cupboards, slamming the doors, looking to stir up a snack.

Got any chicken, Lupe’?”

From the kitchen, Lupe’ responded, “No. Only turrrkey.”


Praying With Your Enemies


I left the note posted on my door before leaving for the sundance, which would have me gone for four or five days. This was back in June, when I came home for the first time in six months to learn someone during my absence had cleaned me out. Already told you. Most everything but the books. Even the shaving kit, for Christ'ssake.

They knew I was a Vietnam vet, so anything could happen, right? That note just might be true. I was hoping it would work, causing just enough wonder to prevent them from coming back for the cordless screwdriver, .22 calibre rifle, and anything else of value they'd missed in their prior break-in.

The note worked for at least one person, a sun dance sister who stopped there before proceeding to the sun dance grounds.

"I saw your note," she said.

"Did you go in?"


And then, donchaknow, one of the alleged thieves, in his 'sober mode' as Tom put it, showed up on the drum at the dance. As James says, laughing, 'You might be holy, but I'm holier than YOU!' The thief went ahead and sang, and I went ahead and danced.

And then again, last week, two of the three alleged thieves (the Main Perp and his psychologically- challenged brother) showed up for sweat, coming around shaking hands like nothing ever happened, or that I don't know that they know I know who they are and what they did. As Lupe' says, 'That's some kinda tough!'

We went ahead and prayed.

"In there (in that circle, around those stones), you've got to pray for everybody," Lupe' said.

So I've been thinking about what some of you said about forgiveness and praying for your enemies. We can forgive people, but that doesn't mean we have to like or hang out with them, does it? When driving by their house the other night, I was swept over by a wave of sorrow and compassion for their miserable state, no more miserable than yours or mine, and I thought, "May God Bless You."

That's progress, huh?

And those things they took? My late father's hand-me-down tools, my drums and all that other all comes and goes anyway. Don't expect any apologies, confessions, or compensation. Laugh it off, write if off for living in Indian Country.

- end

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Not Everybody Does A Lot Of Things

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – Sometimes it seems that love might be found encapsulated in the nose cone payload atop a Saturn V booster rocket, outbound beyond Neptune, en route to the Ort Belt or perhaps another star system. What a ride! Life there could be no less desolate, lonely, or robotic. Earth was such a hateful place, with such holes and vacuums, and at night the stars got in the way.

Lupe’, in the dog house, out, and back in again after pay day, spends his days sipping coffee, telling tales, swatting flies, and manufacturing his own hand-rolled cigarettes from a large 1 lb. bulk ‘Bonanza’ bag of ‘Gambler’, American Blend, Premium Cigarette Tobacco, made in the USA. A couple of months ago, over in Pine Ridge Village, someone burned down his trailer home. But that's not what had him sad. It was the dog house.

Heartbroken and facing a bleak and empty future, he lamented, "We're not supposed to live like this, Bro."

"What’s that?” not looking up from the chessboard and Bo at the kitchen table.

“Alone,” said Lupe’, eyes full of desperation.

“You mean to shape and balance our one-sided universes? You’re never alone, Lupe’. That’s what the Good Book said.”

“Ask and ye shall receive,” I said, handing Misty a freezer pop. “Good Book said that, too.”


Yeah, well, that may be. Lupe’ wasn’t alone too long. He had to move over for the sixty Israeli and Palestinian kids who rolled in from the Middle East on a charter tour bus and took up rat pack residence over in the timber-frame house, declining any of the three big tipis set up for them at the last minute by Tom and Lupe’, the last one in the dark, by headlights, about nine o’clock..

“They’re afraid,” someone said.

“Afraid of what?”


Sixty of ‘em standing in line for the bathroom in the morning, none of ‘em using the outhouse or sleeping in the tipis.

This was after Tom had gone up to Manderson earlier that afternoon to retrieve the 30-footer that Alex White Plume had brought back from Bear Butte, where Tom, Bo, and I had set it up the previous week for the Bear Butte Indian Protest against the bars in the vicinity, selling to the motorcycle crowd assembled for the annual Sturgis biker rally.

Bear Butte sits about five miles out of Sturgis, and within the past couple of years, developers have encroached upon this most sacred site of many Northwest Native American tribes. People go there, like the pilgrimage to Mecca. Hanblecheya, the vision quest, purification, and other sacred events are performed there by a half-dozen tribes, maybe more.

They’ve put a biker bar right at the base of the mountain, and the Indians didn’t have to torch it, like some suggested, but after the peaceful demonstration through town, a rain came down the mountain and washed it out.

Down on Main Street Sturgis, everyone was same same, but different. All the beefy self-styled outcasts cast from a common mold, wearing the same dew rag skull cloth, same wrap-around sunglasses, same cut-off T-shirts, same leather vest, same Harley Davidson patches, same tattoos, same wallets-on-a-chain, same worn blue jeans, and same heavy-ass leather boots. Don’t show up out of uniform or on a Suzuki. Gotta have the uniform, or you can’t belong to the club.

Tom and I sat eating our $29 sandwich lunch at one of a thousand vendors while filling the Indian protestors camp’s two 450-gallon water tanks, clearly out of place in our tennis shoes and sandals as the bikers slow-crawled, gurgling down the street, demonstrating their tailpipes and unique personal independence, their women on the back, all looking like someone you’d want on your side in a barroom fight.

Peaceful event, all around, if you don’t count the murder at one of the camping grounds and the subsequent arrest of the Hells Angels. In the end, everybody went home, wearing the same commemorative T-shirt or patch of Sturgis 2006. Best bet for the Indians, someone suggested, was to buy the land.


Along with those sixty kids from the Jerusalem Project, Jesus stopped through the other day for a cup of coffee, asking, “You guys seen Buddha lately?”

“Nah. Not for a couple of years. You guys still friends?”

Jesus just smiled. He left after two cups, laughing over his shoulder as he went out the door, “Don’t bother me. Can’t you see I’m a busy man? I’m a VERY busy man.”

“Don’t let in the flies!”

What a character. He knows just what to say to make our day. Even got Lupe to lighten up.

“I used to know that guy before he was a nobody,” said Al, indignantly. Everybody laughed.

Then Jesus suddenly reappeared in the doorway. "I heard that!" he said sternly, looking directly at Al. We all quickly straightened up, everyone afraid to crack a smile, all our eyes darting back and forth between Jesus and Al. Then he burst out laughing, pointed his finger at us and said, "Gotcha!" then left for good.

According to Aloysius, who was present, seated far in the back of the room, Jesus and the rest were here to get everyone together for the semi-annual Major and Lesser Gods slicing up the Power Pie Conference, the mind-control project, held this year in the Oglala Sioux tribal council building on the rez.

All the heavy hitters were there, with the extinct Gods of Greece and Valhalla watching from the perimeter in the balcony. Odin and Loki, Zeus, Osiris, and Elvis sidelined with injuries and obsolescence.

After taking care of old business, rules of conduct and general areas of agreement, they proceeded directly to more sensitive dogma issues and contemporary topics, Mohammed and Jesus got into it again, pushing each other’s buttons with their zeal for exclusivity, virgin birth claims, Jerusalem land disputes, vengeance and afterlife promises, raising eyebrows around the table.

The Spirit of Water was despondent, as usual. “I support all life on the planet, but nobody says thank you. They take me for granted,” he said. “I get no respect. Look what they do to me. Elvis gets more adoration.”

Of course, you know what Elvis said. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Lesser, but no less divine deities, such as the local White Buffalo Calf Woman, made simple requests with her fractional time allotment; “I want my believers to pray with tobacco and a pipe,” she said.

Though representing a mere one thousandth of one percent of the earth’s population, her believers in the western hemisphere still address her, and partly because she was hosting the event, everybody said, ‘Cool. No problem.’ She was nice. No opposition.

Same with motorcycle worship. ‘They’ve all got to look alike, and put me before anything else,’ said the God of Four-Stroke Engines. Again, thumbs up, all the way around. Lots of rubber stamp action prior to lunch.

The Pope, however, was another story. After a fiery and impassioned speech on relevance and his continued insistence upon recognition of Jesus’ mom as his believers’ primary object of devotion, he accused Buddha of sleeping throughout his entire presentation, and reiterated his previously disputed stance on abortion and DNA strand implant.

‘Cheat, Steal, Deceit, and Lies,’ cried the Pope, “Take what comes to you…something crawlin’ out of the Amazon,” to which Buddha had interjected, smiling, ‘Karmic retribution. Sutras, mudras, prayers and poses,’ his only utterance during the proceedings.

The Pope stood pale, stunned and confused. God of Oil and Natural Gas nearly choked on his water, and God of Obscene Consumption spoke out of hand, commanding the Pope to sit down, resulting in a hot and undiplomatic exchange among the inner ring, joined by Kali, Satan, and the Bodhisattva of Refugees and Orphans, rife with charges of decline and ascendancy. In short order, the tribal council chamber was reduced to chaos, a familiarity within those walls.


“How did we get here, from there?” asked Carl, sitting here at the kitchen table with Lupe’.

“Were we talking about a line of thought, relationships, or life circumstances?”

We were talking about a line of thought, an elusive, evaporating, hypnogogic dream, a blueberry-induced rant, a short-term memory retrace of the political history of Southeast Asia, French Indochina, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, UXOs (unexploded ordinance), motorbike down the trail, a vacation.

Lupe’ was thinking about relationships, the dog house, and the rez, his eyes staring vacantly at the tabletop grain. How did he get here from there? From where he was, across the road, from where they were?

How did they get to where they are now from where they used to be? How did you?


Aloysius laughed at Lupe’s distress and teased him, speaking to God for him, “Oh, Tunkashila. I’m here for my present!”

“NO! NOW YOU MUST BE PUNISHED!” growled Aloysius’ angry God of Vodka.

Lupe’ picked up the ‘Iroquois’ hat that Tom had left on the table in the timber-frame house and slowly read the lettering. “Irrrr…aqis. Iraqis.”

He’d heard the word on the news. Almost laughed out loud, had I not been checked by my own ignorance, smiling down at the keyboard. Clone, however, couldn’t help himself, blurting out, “That’s ‘Iro-quois,’ you dumb fuck.”

Earlier he had said he saw the spirits dancing in the lodge. “‘When you suffer, we suffer,’ they told me,” Lupe said. “ ‘Don’t cry,’ they said. ‘Let’s Dance!’ ”

We were trying to retrace a line of thought. “What was it, Carl?”

“It’s not for everybody. What were we talking about? What was the lead-in? How did we get here from there? It’s not for everybody. The sweat lodge? The peyote ceremony? The Catholic Church? Sturgis?”

“A lot of things aren’t for everybody. The Pentecostals, the snake handlers. Not everybody does a lot of things.”


We have some idea of how strong we’re doing by how many people show up for sweat on Wednesday nights. We often don’t go in until ten o’clock, coming out after midnight. That’s tough for the little kids.

A Wednesday ago there was six of ‘em in there, along with fourteen adults. Old-time ‘Aim-ster’ (A.I.M. American Indian Movement) Gangster Melvin Lee came down from the Bear Butte protest minus one foot recently from diabetes, talking words of encouragement to the younger generation, reminding us how each generation has lost more and more, and how important it is to retain Bear Butte as a sacred site, not only for Indians, but for our country’s health, and that of the world.

Everybody said, “Aho,” when he finished.

It’s been sobering lately. Ernest’s one-year memorial was just last week, with 37 taking in peyote meeting through the night, and another 150 turning up for the main feed and giveaway, including the legion post honor guard.

It was a huge giveaway for which Loretta had prepared a year, and the meeting details put together on short notice in Tom’s free time. An incredible effort, taken for granted by those N.A.C. (Native American Church) members to whom it is custom, but bewildering to Denise Albin from New York, here with her husband Mike, both attending their first peyote meeting. Mike had a bit of a rough time, but toughed it out. Well, it’s not for everybody.

And Christine Red Cloud’s been in the hospital, scaring everyone. And those guys went off the road over by the Mormon church west of Pine Ridge Village last Friday and T-boned a tree, killing three of four, pitched through the windshield. High speed & alcohol. What else?

The phone rang in the Big House as six of us sat around, awaiting the arrival of Bo and Misty from Pine Ridge. “That’s Misty,” I said. “I just sent her a mental message to call.”

Lupe answered the phone, listened for a moment, squinted his eyes and handed it to me. Misty said they were running late. Traffic was backed up all over town. There was a big wreck. Ambulances, fire trucks, and helicopters, she said.

So, we were untying knots earlier in the day and praying for peace that night. A kid’s shoe laces, tipi ropes, relationships, muscles, and our rosary of life. Patience is required. Yoga helps.

This dog here, B.G., Bee Gee, or Beege, daughter of White Girl, niece of Watecha, requires patience. She just had five pups and has never let anyone pet her. “You ever pet that dog?” I’ve asked several people. They all say no.

Mia got close, but even she couldn’t touch her. I’ve been feeding her since she was a pup, and she’s never let me pet her or remove ticks from her face in the height of tick season. She trusts no one, man, woman, or child. Same gunman that shot her in the ass, killed her mother. There’s something admirable, but sadly pathetic in her independence, kind of like those bikers.

Reason is, Lupe’ traumatized her when she was a pup.


Patience required. We can’t become too discouraged in our struggle with and against hopelessness. There’s the Mission.

“Is this part of the mission?” I asked Tom as we loaded four dozen chairs into the back of his truck.

“Tangentially,” he replied.

Just like those six cars with kids and flats on Slim Buttes Road in the last three weeks, its current state in the worst condition in recorded memory. It’s part of the mission. You’ve gotta stop if there ain’t a man already there. Why is it there’s always babies on board? And why is it that they always ain’t got no jack?

So it’s a trade-in, I told Lupe’. The Mission. How did you get here from where you were? A Rocky Mountain log cabin on a stream for a shitty little place on the rez. A Volvo wagon for a shitty 1962 Chevy truck. A Ph.D. for a G.E.D. Trade stress and clocks and schedules for…whatever we’ve got here…artistic freedom…a place to work up a comedy routine.

“Behind SCHEDULE?” asked Bo, incredulously as he whipped his pickup truck through a curve on Slim Buttes Road on our way to Chadron, two hours later than when we said we’d be there. “What schedule?”

“There ain’t no schedules,” added Misty.

The chief asked the treaty negotiator what all the Indians would do once they were put onto the reservation.

“You can work on your artistic freedom.”


Put Me In, Coach

“No way,” said Tom. “No way.”

“Why not?” I asked. “I’ve got enough material to take it on the road. A good, solid twenty minutes…The Tightrope Walker…you’ve seen it…pretty good, huh?...the African-American Bowhunter…the Minister Louis Farrakhan Homophobic Sermon…ha ha…the Burmese God… Jesus and Diablo in Guadalajara…it needs some fine-tuning in some areas, but…”

“Yeah, like, make it funny? No way,” he repeated. “No way they’re going to let you up on a stage in front of a thousand G.I.s in Baghdad. They’d throw you out on your ass. How you gonna get there?” he asked.

“They buy your ticket...The Plantation Slave afraid of runnin’ off to the woods…Lord of the Flyswatter…the Slow-mo Replay…ain’t nobody’s ever done that on stage before, man. THAT’S some original shit.”

“How you gonna pull it off?” Tom asked.

“Well, you know…contact the Office of Special Services, whomever contracts comedians for foreign service…probably someone in the Pentagon…probably have to send an audition tape or perform for some kinda committee…I wouldn’t be the lead act...I’d be the uh, the warm-up, the uh, preliminary…someone who could come off the bench if somebody else cancelled…you know, like a short-notice kind of a thing…”

“No way. They’d throw your ass out. As soon as you start joking around about something like DU munitions, they’d…”

“No, no. I wouldn’t use VA hospital material or amputees or nothing…I’d keep it sanitized…I could be the ‘go-to’ guy. A preliminary for a big name act, you know, someone like…preliminary…preliminary…

“…I’ll never forget the day Manny came running into the gym, all excited, shouting, ‘Nosotros tenamos un grande preliminario peliar este Novembre que biene abentro del coliseo!’ ”

I had to stop him and tell him to slow it down and talk English. Manny said with the right people behind us, the right training and the right promotion, he could take me all the way to de top! If I stayed away from ‘that bad crowd,’ he said, I could be somebody. He’d just gotten us a major preliminary event at the coliseum, and if I listened to him and played my cards right, we could go all the way to the top, he said.

But did I listen to Manny?


Tom was either asleep or just not responding from his prone position on the couch.

“No. I didn’t listen. Couldn’t stay away from that bad crowd. And now, look at me. Judge says, ‘Fifteen years in the State Prisson, or take your chances in da ‘Nam.’ I told her, ‘That’s easy, Your Honors. I’ll take my chances in da fucking ‘Nam.’

She leap up, pointing her finger and hollered, ‘DON’T use language like that in my fucking courtroom! TWO TOURS! TWO TOURS!’ she hollered out as the military police were escorting me under the armpits out the door. Went to the ‘Nam…pulled two tours…and the rest is history.”

Tom didn’t stir on the couch, but Lupe’, Aloysius, and Manuel thought it was funny.

“…I’ve come off the bench before. I used to sit down there, thinking, ‘Put me in, Coach. Put me in.’ Starters got in foul trouble, ‘nuther guy busted his ankle and went to the locker room…we’re down by 18 points and the coach looks up at the clock and finally looks down the bench. I’m looking right back at him. Crowd’s yelling, ‘PUT HIM IN! PUT HIM IN!’ so coach comes down there and grabs the front of my jersey, which I had to turn around so the big number’s in the back, and yanks me to my feet, saying, “Get in there!”

Scored three straight times down the floor, got a steal, an assist, scored again, got fouled and took it to the line for a three-point play. Brought the game to within four points, coach called a time-out and pulled me out of the game.”

Tom woke up laughing, saying, “He put the good guys back in,” which everyone here in the kitchen laughed at, but what in fact, was true, even the guy with the busted ankle, all taped up. Another trade-in. Coming in off the bench for undergrad tuition.


Someone on the radio who dropped out of law school and became a journalist said something about IEDs (‘improvised explosive device’ – the military has acronyms for everything) being up from 1200-a-month, one year ago, to 2400 this year. A person could do the math. That’s all over Iraq, not just Baghdad, so it’s not as bad as it seems.

We got to wondering about the guy who did the story. He needed to talk to a general, and he needed to talk to someone keeping the stats. Who could say 70% of the deaths were coalition forces? How did they come up with that figure?

Who’s keeping score? A statistician! A person could go to Iraq, get stationed in Baghdad’s Green Zone, and keep stats on the war. A political appointee. A desk job. No house-to-house search missions like all those other poor, miserable, terrified sons and daughters of someone’s pact on America.

You’d have the figures on insurgent deaths, the civilian deaths, the US deaths, the accidental deaths, the friendly fire deaths, the percentages, how many guys pulled two tours, and all that other on and-off-the-record double-amputee post-humous stuff they never tell honestly and straightforward to the families or American public.

Like they say, you can get statistics to say anything you want them to say.

Senate Finance, Senate Armed Services Committee…Human Rights Watch...the UN...all other sorts of important people would be making evaluations and decisions, based upon your work. Elections could be swung, Saddam could be hung, nations could rise and fall…

And when he asked about the coffins, the general raised his finger to his lips and shook his head, mouthing the words, in a barely audible secret whisper, Oh no, Son. We don’t say anything about the coffins.”

The reporter looked up slowly from his notes, mouth hanging open for a second, staring at the general, his pencil falling from his hand unconsciously and dropping on the desk.

“Are we winning?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the General.

“How can you tell?”

The General gazed out the window. “You can tell,” he said.


As we headed north on Slim Buttes road toward Oglala, my passenger asked why I was driving on the left-hand side of the road.

“The road’s in better shape on this side.”

We drove in silence until we approached a small rise, and he asked, “What if there’s someone coming the other way?”

“There’s not,” I told him.

“How can you tell?” he asked.

I looked up the hill. Blue sky all around. “You can tell,” I told him.

- end

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Detainee Dysfunctional Descent

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation - Lupe' entered the house, saying, "Brrrro, I'm back in the dog's house, again."

"That's, 'Dog House', Lupe'," I replied.

"Dog house, dog's house, whatever, it don't matter. I'm in it," he said. "My ol' lady kicked me out."

"Welcome to da club," I said. "You can pay your membership me."

Move over, Rover. Let Luuuupe' take over. Tom Ballanco, a fellow sun dancer who's taken the position of tribal attourney and is staying in 'Da Big House' here at the base farm, will have to make room.

Me, myself, as they say around here, I'm 'close by', back in my trailer, serving as a focal gathering point and crossroads for coffee, conversation, current reading material, computer land-link, communications, collaboration, chess, and corruption.

Land of concentrated despair and desolation, refugees and desperados. The frustration of dysfunction. Prisoners of war. No. Detainees.

Speaking of dysfunction, over in the tribal council building, everything is in upheaval, or limbo, which isn't all that unusual, seeing as how we still seem to operate in the stone age in many respects, like...this computer, for instance, or our roads, or our health care. Why should tribal government be any different?

Since Tom B. is living right here on the grounds, we get the inside track every night, Tom telling us Cecelia Fire Thunder, the tribe's first woman President, got impeached, removed from office, Alex White Plume, Vice-President, takes over, 4th of July, procedural challenge, more fireworks, no quorum, can't accomplish squat, court upholds challenge, Cecelia reinstated, Israelis invade Lebanon, Tiger Woods wins British Open, more later, stay tuned.

When I say, 'we', that would be the usual crew in the neighborhood; Tom Cook, his brother Louie, Milo Yellow Hair, Bo & Misty, Aloysius Weasel Bear, who just returned from upstate NY, Lupe', Manuel Martin, and me.

On Wednesdays and Sunday nights when we sweat, a whole 'nuther crew shows up on a regular basis; Uncle Joe American Horse, Virgil Goode, Virgil Jr; one or two or three of Misty's kid's, J.R. Afraid Of Bear, Jason Blind Man, and sometimes Adam and Justine. Sometimes Sal Lame. Plus any visitors or transients coming through. Sometimes Cash Jackson and Leroi Levers. Sometimes the ghost of Crazy Horse.

It's watermelon season, Dog Days on the rez, and coming out of lodge after midnight, steam rolling off our bodies, toweling off and coming up to the big house for watermelon is one of the things we look forward to throughout the year, especially during the winter months.

Hot here like everywhere else, the temperatures hovering around a hundred and five degrees, give or take five. Too hot for rattlers. Living on freezer pops. Ceremonies going on all over, Sun Dancing across the rez, people going 'up on the hill', the Vision Quest ('Hanblecheya', like the Sun Dance, four days and nights, no food or water. Or maybe two. Or maybe just overnight. Depends), and Native American Church peyote ceremonies going on.

And besides the ceremonies for reasons to get together, you got pow-wows and the rodeo circuit where lots of people dance, and young bucks see how long they can stay aboard a bucking bronc or two tons of solid, pissed off bovine muscle. There's money in it, they say, but only for awhile, only a matter of time before one of those animals punches your ticket.

Ask any retired cowboy or Indian bull rider if they remember the name of the bull that made 'em hang it up.

"OH YEAH! He didn't have no name, but I remember him. See this here? See that?"

Underneath the grandstand in the bulls' holding pen, the bulls are tense, wide-eyed and anxious, like any athlete, going over their pre-game plans, talking shit about their moves and what they're going to do when their moment in the arena arrives. Talk more shit than the NBA.

"I'm gonna kick that cowboy's ass!" says Yo' Mama, talking about Cody Weismuller, who's name he drew in the draw. "All over the arena!"

The bull's have reputations and rankings, too, you know. Some of 'em, as the cowboys say, "ain't never been rode." Well, they've ALL been rode. They just haven't been rode for eight seconds."

Mr. Bill said, "I'm coming out with a giant leap, do a hind leg double-kick in the air, spin and go down 'into the well', plant my front legs, get him coming forward, then come back up and knock his ass OUT! Then I'm going to launch his ass into the grandstands."

Nervously flexing his rippling muscles, Dynamo said, "I'm gonna let that cowboy ride for two, maybe three seconds, then I'm going to make him retire!"

Last month out at Alex White Plume's annual horse races in Manderson, two riders retired after they collided head-on in a dusty spectacular crunch that awed the onlookers and resulted in the the death of one of the horses, the other being shot, and an ambulance ride for one of the riders, who messed up his neck and back, his brother said later.

As Milo says jokingly, "I gave up bull-riding when they cut the time back to eight seconds."

And so, despite nothing going on on the reservation, there's still a lot of daily activity at tribal council, in and around Big Bat's Gas Station, where the main intersection of Pine Ridge Village has been torn up for two months, and Sioux Nation shopping center, where Bo bought those ropes that some folks at the dance were convinced was the problem with my breaking free from the tree.

"It's the rope," they kept saying. "That's like a bungee rope," they said.

I wasn't so sure, and neither was Bo. It didn't feel like it stretched much when I hit the end of it. "Im still gonna use mine," Bo said.

Last thing I told him after we jerked him to his feet and hooked him up, was, "Nail it the first time, Bro."

He did. So did David. Maybe it wasn't the rope after all. Maybe Bro Tom just pierced me deep. Maybe God had something to do with it.

Don't God have something to do with everything? Christie went up on the hill this year to have a talk with God. Four days and nights, watching the world go by without food or water, seeking the major hi-speed, clear channel download.

Before she went up, we were talking in Carl and Rita's kitchen, and she was talking about taking things down from the shelf, taking a look at them, and then, 'throwing it all away', letting go of it all.

I don't know what was in her jars, but it seems that there are some things we don't want to throw away, not that we should be attached to things, but some things, it seems, we need to carry through life. Say, lessons. Sometimes, maybe we should wear our wounds. Our scars are part of our undeniable load that decades of yoga or your personal rolfer can't undo.

And that thread wove itself right into another conversation down on the corner in Lyons, Colorado, where the remarried widow in the art shop said, "If it doesn't kill you, it'll make you stronger."

"That's a popular myth," I replied. "Tell that to a rape victim, a PTSD vet, or anyone that has suffered a trauma. Maybe it didn't kill them, but it sure didn't make them stronger. There are times when people are crippled for life, physically, emotionally, or otherwise."

Call it Karmic circumstance, but when it became apparent that it wasn't personal, that's when they closed up the monastery, heading out for the New World, wondering if God ever got lonely.


As a believer in self-fulling prophesy and spinning your own universe, I tried acting 'as if', just to see how people would react. It's like the mask we put on every day, only a different one, and sure enough, there was a discernable if not remarkable difference in the manner in which people responded. In fact, I felt entirely different about myself as a result, and so I took off the mask, and the face underneath was the same. The mask was inside out.

'As if', what? Wall Street tycoon? A Chinese businessman? The Dali Lama's protege'? In love? Walking the change you want in the world?

After we leave that arbor, they say, you've got a 361-day walk. "Did you get mad last year?" I asked a fellow sun dancer. His sideways glance was his only answer. Is it ever possible to conquer judgement, anger, self-righteousness, and all forms of negativity and self-delusion?


"You need to get out more," said Misty Sioux, laughing. "You ain't gonna meet no one way out here in the boonies."

"I do get out," I told her. "Where is there to go? The casino? Bingo? Jesus, Misty. I went clear around to the other side of the planet!"

She just laughed.

Everywhere, people on the move. Israelis moving into Lebanon, weaving karmic quilt and fabric, our National Guard moving from house to house in Baghdad, the Taliban on the move, Ethiopians on the move, refugees, people moving to one area or another, one job to another, one house to another, one relationship or marriage to another, one investment to another. One stage in life to another. Weigh the options.

What did our President say? We don't want no 'Cut and run'? 'Stay the course'? Cut your losses and walk away?

Thought about cutting my losses and walking away from this rez. Before I came home, Bro Tom told me in an email, "I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is someone broke into your trailer and took all your stuff. The good news is, your pipe's still there."

They took all my tools, ceremonial drum, Raven shield, wall hangings, artwork, money, all the CDs, an African drum, a 4-way lug wrench, handyman bumper jack, leatherworking tools, a coyote pelt, and drank the rubbing alcohol from the medical supplies, returning the empty bottle to its shelf.

I know who the terrorists are, but can't prove it. One of 'em was sitting on the drum (in the drum circle, 'in a sober phase,' said Tom) at our Sun Dance, and while dancing out there, I began thinking about praying for your enemies and that line about, 'forgive us our trespassers'. And then, from that standpoint, Jesus' or Buddha's or the preacher man's, that puts the onus back upon the head of the victim, don't it?

What about the perps? What do THEY have to do?

Someone causes injury, and it's up to their prey, the aggrieved, to forgive them. If you can't, then that's YOUR problem. You get nailed twice; once by the act, and then again for the guilt of non-forgiveness. That's the way of the Good Book, I think. Allah said an eye for an eye. Around here, a person might look for tire iron justice.

But tire iron justice is what's prevailing in the world, isn't it? Forgiveness, said the Lady in Lyons, is for ourselves, not for others. You've heard that before. If that's so, shouldn't we as a nation be of a forgiving heart to those guys who flew them planes into our buildings? What about John Walker Lyndh? Ready to forgive him yet?


Heading north out of Chadron toward the rez on one of the worst roads in America, up the washboard slope of jagged, tire-gnawing stone with the rez ahead, on that stretch of 'Writer's Road', where phrases, leads, structure, ideas and composition come percolating, bubbling, flooding to the surface, right after the meds were taking effect, right around a blind curve in the White River, there sat two Indian girls from Allen, way out on the other end of the rez, flat tire, dead in the water, middle of the day, one hundred and seven degree heat.

Two young kids and a baby in a van packed with shit from Wal-Mart. They had unpacked their scissor-jack and donut spare, out on the road.

Asked the obvious. "Whazzup?"

Hair soaked in perspiration from loosening the lug nets, she looked up and spoke the obvious. "We got a flat."

Yeah, they could send those detainees, the 'Gitmo Perps' from Guantanamo over here. Have 'em drive the roads, eat the food, suffer the isolation and neglect, be forgotten, and watch the world go by without food or water, dance in the sun.

- end

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Back For The Dance

Back For The Dance

Slim Buttes, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation - Returned to the US for Sun Dance in 'The Canyon', the 'Holy Land', the Wild Horse Sanctuary south of Hot Springs, South Dakota. Hooked up with daughter Mia in Denver, Colorado and headed north, north to Slim Buttes, south of Oglala, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, USA.

Right now, out here in the middle of nowhere, ten o'clock at night, coyotes are yelping down at the river. Otherwise it's quiet. Stone quiet.

We're right in the middle of Sun Dance season, with dances going on all around the reservation. People and their spiritual families coming together from all over for the once-a-year celebration and sacred ceremony that stands at the center of our lives and Native American spirituality.

Big dances with over a hundred dancers, small tiospaye (extended family) dances with only three; dances starting up and dances ending up. People out there today, no food, no water for four days of abstinence and fasting, dancing in 100 + degree heat, continuing to practice the ways of their ancestors. Tomorrow it'll be down to 96, they said.

Ours, the 9th annual Afraid-Of-Bear/American Horse Dance, went well, with four beautiful days of dancing and pitter patter rain on two nights to settle the dust. Couldn't have asked for more perfect weather. My prayer from the beach in Khuk Khak a month earlier got answered.

A few days before the dance, a bunch of us were hanging out, and someone, I think it was Bo or Misty, said, "I sure hope we get good rain, and not too hot."

"I've already put in the request," I said. "Last month. No problem. It's covered. I asked Him again last night in sweat (purification ceremony. a regular, twice-a-week function here at the 'base farm') and he told me, "What's the matter? Don't you have no faith?* I heard you the first time! Don't bother me again! ......I'm a busy man."

And that got me to thinking about prayer, in general, and asking for the same thing, over and over. You know? Seeut ahm sayin'? You're out there for four days, all day long, praying, and... gee, I'm usually done with all my prayers after about the second round on the first day!

Like Tom, our lead dancer once joked on Day Two, "I've made all my prayers. Whaddaya say you and me go to town for some breakfast?"

I shared with our sun dancing Catholic priest, Father Paul, and disclosed to a few others that I'm not praying all the time out there in the arbor. I mean, there's a LOT of choreography to pay attention to...and sometimes, much of the time in fact, I'm just being quiet and let my dance be my prayer, mostly just a prayer of thanksgiving. Besides, I told him, God knew.

Sitting under the the shade at the end of the day, Father Paul quoted me something from scripture, and said something to the effect of, "That's okay. We've got to be quiet to receive the Lord's message," and something about an empty vessel and meditative state.

I can't remember what all he actually said, because my mind wandered and I was more or less distilling down his affirmation of my approach, you know, being a priest 'n all. Wanted to know what a priest thought. Spent his whole life, practically, in the church.

I also asked him about Christ's virgin birth.

"If you believe what Matthew said," he replied. "Matthew said that Mary was conceived by Spirit."

And then I asked him if he believed Christ died on the cross for his sins.

"Mine and everybody's," he said. "Christ died for my sins, personally, and everybody's."

"Do you think what we're doing out there makes a difference?" I asked.

"All prayer makes a difference," he replied.

"Do we need to do this voluntary suffering? Does voluntary suffering make a difference in the strength of one's prayer?"

I can't remember exactly what he said, but essentially, he said yes, concentrated prayer through voluntary suffering makes a difference in the world. Apart from all the personal prayers that we all brought to the dance this year, our Main Prayer and focus was upon world peace. So far, given what's going on in the world, it seems not to have taken effect.

"Do you believe in reincarnation?" I asked.

"What are you trying to do?" he said, laughing. "Shake my faith? No. We believe in purgatory."

"I'm just trying to find out where you come down on these issues," I said. "Can a person get to heaven just by being a good person without going through Christ?"

"Yes," he replied. "But the spiritual body of Christ is big. It encompasses everything. You can't help but pass through his body."

That might not be the exact quote. Forgive me, Paul, but I think that's what he said. Same same Buddha, right? As Bro Tom likes to say when making up quotes for official use in official documents, "That's what he would've said if he would've said it."

It was last year, Father Paul dancing between Lou and me, red and sun burnt, stepping sluggishly, spittle on his lips from the eagle bone whistle, the drum a distant pounding in his ears, I could tell. Maybe he was having a vision.

"Keep an eye on him," Basil, our intercessor, the medicine man, had cautioned Lou and I as we entered the arbor to begin the round (round of dancing. several throughout the day, after sweat in the morning, after the singers show up from breakfast, and after they return from lunch, throughout the afternoon. a round can be short, around 40 minutes, or long, for more than a couple of hours if there are people piercing).

I looked over at Paul, and then at Lou. Lou felt my gaze and slowly turned his head, caught my eyes, glanced at Paul, looked back at me, and we both moved in unison, taking him by his sage wristlets, telling him we were going to lead him out of the arbor.

He looked up dazed, and thanked us.

And we thanked him, too, as we are thankful for all our elders. Uncle Vern American Horse, our intercessor this year, who jokingly told Tom, "You go ahead and do everything. I'm just going to sit here under the shade. If you want me to run things, I'd change everything all around."

That kind of good-natured humor around the dance kept everything light and lively, and not heavy, restrictive, and oppressive, as can sometimes be the case.

And Uncle Joe American Horse, Vern's younger brother, running around all over camp, can't sit down. Besides the elders and our young people, the rest of us are all worker bees. That's one of the things I like about the culture. Kids running around playing, and the old folks sitting in the shade.


We started out with about 35 dancers, and ended up on day four with 43. Probably about two hundred people in camp. 'Supporters,' we call 'em. Can't dance without 'em.

There were lots of young people out there the the arbor with us this year; Devon, who started dancing with us when he was eight, was finishing up a four-year commitment, getting good grades, he said, out there dancing with his father and grandfather.

And Cory, also finishing up four years of dancing, joining us as a twelve-year old couch potato, and now, at sixteen, stretched out into a fine young man any coach would like to get ahold of. Cory, peach fuzz for a moustache, out there dancing alongside his dad and Inchamuk, who at 87 years old, was advised not to dance all four days this year. Just a couple of rounds. He was thrilled to be dancing with his daughter, his son, his son-in-law, and his grandson.

"I couldn't be happier," he told Tom gratefully. "These are some of the best days of my life."

And for the round he danced, out there alongside his family, all painted red to protect him from the sun, the old man was obviously enjoying himself, high-stepping to the drum, arms up in the air like a marionette, dancing with irrepressible exuberance that picked us all up.

There was Raymondo, now in high school, dancing with us all nine years, since he was seven. And Ohitika Red Cloud, a big barrel-chested, commod bod (commodities-constructed body)teenager, dancing his first year, going around camp loudly squawking his 'eagle call', his 'warrior's call', he called it, that sounded more like...I don't know...a loud squawk.

His mother, Germaine, had asked me to keep an eye on him. Didn't need to. He was one of the strongest dancers out there. Every time I checked, Ohi was doing fine. Even under the scalpel, he didn't flinch. I was fortunate to assist his uncle Tim, who Ohi wanted to do his piercing, and halfway through the first cutting, which was going badly for Tim, like he didn't want to cut his nephew, he extracted the knife and held it out to me, saying, "Here. You do it."

I'd never pierced anyone before, but for a number of years I'd helped Tom, who has good technique. It wasn't a time for vacillation. The drum was going, he was laying there on the buffalo robe with the whole Red Cloud clan gathered around, everyone in, under, and around the arbor praying for him. A rather suspenseful moment that was all his. His and the Creator's.

Took the knife, asked God for guidance, and went ahead and did it. Inserted his pins and yanked him to his feet. Everybody hollered out big war whoops, we hooked him up to his rope, and he went out and made the offering for his family as a first-time sun dancer. A teenager. Out of all the teenagers in the world, out of all the teenage Indians on the rez, out of all the men in his family, he was out there, doing this. He made us all proud.

His parent's gave him that name, Ohitika (Oh-hee-tee-ka). It means 'brave'. Brave, indeed.

Giving us encouragement for the future, there were lots of father/son dancers. In addition to those mentioned above, there was Kakwira, in from Hawaii, dancing with his father and mother, Bro Tom and Sister Loretta. And Norman Afraid Of Bear, teen grandson of our late spiritual leader, Ernest Afraid Of Bear, dancing with his father, Poncho.

Father Paul, who had danced with us for three or four years, sat out this year at 85, also being advised not to stress himself out like that. But he was with us, nonetheless, sleeping in the men's 28 ft. tipi, hanging out under the arbor, and sitting right outside the lodge during sweat each morning and evening, drinking the water right along with us.

"Is it okay if I just call you 'Paul'? I had asked him a few years ago. "I only have two fathers - our heavenly father, and the man who raised me up. I'm not a Catholic."

In a reply that began as a stutter, then spilled out rapidly, he said, "I...I...I'd rather be known as a Sun Dance Brother, than as a priest."

And Beatrice, Loretta's mom and the family matriarch medicine woman who I probably should've mentioned at the top, at 87-years old, out there dancing with us all four days.

Remembering what Jose' had mentioned to the men in sweat one morning about our elderly not thinking five years on down the road, but rather, just the next year in front of them, I shook her hand at the end of the dance, thanked her for being out there with us, and told her I sure hoped she be out there next year, too.

"Thank you," she said sincerely. "I hope so, too."

* The Lakota God, Tunkashila, uses double negatives.

- end

the following personal experience account of the dance was previously published as an emailing. Some readers may have already received it.

wow ! my hair is standing up and i was cringing when i read this...just took a deep breath.
-------------- Original message from victor glover : --------------

Like I said, the American Horse/Afraid Of Bear sun dance in the canyon went quite well, except for Day One when it appeared that everybody but me got the message to line up for entry. I didn't hear no eagle bird whistle, no drum, no 'Hoka Hey!', nuthin' until they started hitting the drum for entry.

Being about the fifth person back, behind Uncle Vern American Horse, who led us, then Kakwira with the buffalo skull, then Tom, then Lou, I had to race past all the women and almost all of the men to my position. Caught up with the procession by the time they were praying to the north.

Nice way to start the dance, huh? Late for the first round, first day. Nice way for a veteran dancer to show everyone that any one of us human beings can fuck up.

Well, there's both advantages and disadvantages to camping in a pup tent by yourself.


Mia informed me that maybe nature would preclude her being able to attend the last three days of the dance, so if I wanted her there with me in the arbor, I'd better pierce on Day One.

"That's cool, Honey," I told her. "It's Father's Day, and I want to relieve the logjam on the last day, anyway."

No problem. Lou, Roy, a few other old-timers and I had routinely pierced on day two every year for the same reason; a half dozen people piercing on the same round on the last day makes for some terribly long rounds, and that's a long time for Loretta to be kneeling at the tree.

But this was the first time I'd ever pierced on the first day, and the first time I'd been the very first dancer to pierce. "Good," someone said. "Set the pace, Bro."

It was Pure Bliss on the buffalo robe. Father's Day. Mia was there, squeezing my hand. Didn't feel a thing.

Didn't feel a thing until I went to break and hit the end of that rope. WHANGGGG! Didn't get free.

Returned to the tree, coiling up my rope and thinking, 'I'll have to hit it harder,' when Tom looked over, saw my look of discouragement, and said matter-of-factly and almost apologetically, 'I had to go deep, Bro. Your pins were thick.'

The day prior to the dance, Bo and I were in Sioux Nation getting last-minute things we'd need for the dance. "Let's add some color to the tree this year," he said, selecting a blue, green, and yellow plastic-coated climbing rope for himself, me, and David Watters, it turned out.

While at the tree, I saw a close-up of their faces in my mind, dancing out there, serious lines of concern etched across their foreheads. They were using the same type of rope, instead of the usual hemp or cheap, Wally World 1/4 inch sissal twine that every other Indian in the world uses.

Snapping me out of it, Tom asked, "You want some help, Bro?"

"Nah," I said, shaking my head. "I'll do it this time."

Went up to the tree and told God whatever it was he had planned for me was okay with me, but I'd really like to get free this time. Went flying back again, really gonna get free.

Hit the end of the rope and came to a sudden jarring stop, the tree bending toward me, then springing back, pulling me with it, up onto my tiptoes. Tell Laura it's like having meathooks in her tits and free-falling off a bridge on a rope that's ten feet shorter than the ground.

Lou and Roy, who I'd earlier asked to stand behind me, grabbed me under the armpits and yanked me backwards, asking, "You want us to rip you free, Bro?"

The free part sounded good, but as they began to do so, the skin on my chest stretched out to where I could no longer ignore it in my field of vision, and I think I said, "NO! NO! NO! PUTMEDOWN! PUTMEDOWN!"

Like at any time in our perceptual world, there are things within our field of awareness, and much more outside. The drum got muffled and quite. The people got quiet, and it seemed like everybody quit singing and praying. Couldn't see anything in my blurred tunnel vision except the tree and that blue rope connecting me to it.

Everything inside my head...all those voices...became muffled and quiet, too. I distinctly remember having an intimate, focused, one-on-one conversation with God, asking, "This ain't going to be another one of those forty-minute, seven-trips-to-the-tree afternoons, is it? How long you gonna keep me out here on the end of this rope?'

"I'm sorry," I said. "I know I shouldn't talk to you like that, but you know how I feel. You know I'm your impatient pitiful servant. You know I love you. Could you pllllease let me go this time? That last one HURT!"

Went flying back again, this time growling and gritting my teeth, fighting back tears, I think. Hit the end of the rope and vaguely remember hands clutching at me, pulling, Brother Tom throwing what they said was a body block into me, a ripping at my chest, a snapping, the rope, harness and pins slingshotting into the upper branches of the tree, leaves scattering, all of us in a tumble, being caught by more hands, Lou and Roy around front, quicking looking at my chest, joy on their faces, laughing, telling me I was free, Mia at my side, taking my wristlet, leading me in a joyous lap around the arbor, sailing. Floating.

Father's Day. Pure Bliss.

Of course, there was much, much more to the dance, but that was how it went for me, personally. Thanks for asking.


- end

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Manat Nixes Marriage Designs

Manat Nixes Marriage Designs

Khuk Khak, Thailand - According to the fortune teller in Bangkok back in January, I was supposed to meet my new wife within the next few weeks, and get married. Digger and Mel were there. I got witnesses.

A Thai woman, he said, but not necessarily so, so I was really keeping my eyes peeled in understandable expectation and joyful anticipation. Staying on the lookout, keeping a 'heads up', staying on my toes, shaving every day, attending to nose hairs.

Well, it didn't happen. Had to go back and check my fortune teller notes for a clarification. When, did he say?

Among chiefs and sun dancers, widows and orphans first, they say, so maybe it could've been one of the widow ladies. Pen, who lost her husband last year, showed up at the dinner party with a new dude, so I figured it couldn't be her, nor P' Su*, who gave me my Thai name, 'P. Yai',** and whom I had befriended last year after she and her husband, P' Ton, were involved in a head-on traffic mishap with a truck while traveling down the mountain from the former Volunteer Center site.

P' Ton was trapped in the vehicle, pinned up under the steering wheel and dash, and I really didn't do much but give him water, check his pulse, check for injuries, and stay with him until real, practising, licensed medical personnel arrived on the scene.

With the help of a log chain, a pickup truck, and about thirty hollering Thai men, P' Ton was eventually freed from his smashed van, and the next day, he greeted me, showing me his bruised legs, and later that weekend at a cookout, he invited me to join his table, that was later disrupted by Eileen, the drunken Scottish woman who overturned the table and ended up in the hospital before being deported.

That was about the extent of it, until I learned upon my return to 'The Land Of Smiles' that P' Ton had died of a heart attack over the summer, and P' Su invited some of us old-timers from the TVC (the vol. ctr.) to attend his 100-day memorial at P' Ton's mother's house way out in the sticks.

Since then, I'd stop at the relocated, down-from-the-mountaintop Vol. Ctr. in Khao Lak to see P' Su, who operates a small Thai restaurant and speaks only Thai, and 'Canadian Karen', the English teacher (as opposed to 'Craftshop Karen' [from England]), the only two people I knew from the early post-tsunami days, besides Tilo, who finally went back home to Colorado after over a year of tsunami relief work and losing all his body fat.

So, I kept keeping my eyes peeled, expecting my new wife to surface at ANY TIME, NOW. There was this other lady...two of 'em, in fact, both Chinese, who were my girlfriends; one, the Bamboo Lady, in her mid-thirties, and the other twenty-nine; only thing was, they didn't know it.

And besides them not knowing it, one of 'em was married (I didn't have no designs on her, I just liked the way she said, like she was hurt, "Mr. Wic. I bring bamboo to your ban. Mr. Wic no hab," meaning, she brought a bamboo chair to my house and I wasn't home), and the other one had a boyfriend in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was too close for a serious plan, but far enough away for me and Choi, disguised as production assistants, to casually crash a British movie production company seaside dinner party at a five-star hotel on a Saturday night. Good wine, steamed vegetables, and smoked Salmon. Just look and act like you belong there; a little arrogant, a little pompous, a little annoyed with something.

So I kept going into Manat's Honda shop just to see the smile on the face of his receptionist. I never did get her name, but that girl's smile lit up the whole iridescent, beaming, irresistable, indescribable smile.

After about the third or fourth trip in there, I felt like I should buy something...a helmet? A decal? It was a Honda shop, right? Manat sold me a tsunami bike, fully broken down and restored, at a very reasonable price, free maintenance included, an offer I couldn't refuse, a better price and 25 CCs more than my monthly rental. Only thing I had to pay for was the oil and the 1,000 kilometer checkups.

After about the third checkup, I finally got up the gumption to ask her to marry me. Went right up to her desk, smiled, and when she recognized me and smiled back, I asked her.

'Will you marry me?'

Can you fall in love with just a smile? Never mind the insurmountable language, race, age and cultural crevasses. You can smile your way across those minor things.

She smiled and gave me a look of incomprehension, since she was from Takuapa and didn't speak a lick of English. I went on with my usual business with Manat, who always had one of his staff serve up coffee and cookies while we chatted for a half hour or so, about this and that and his daughter Toey's TOEFL scores, which should have improved after the English tutoring sessions, but didn't, leaving me feeling like a failure as a tutor and unworthy of the 1,000 Baht per lesson he paid, not to mention the free lunches and mangoes, nor the case of Singha and three bottles of wine he sent for the dinner party.

The third time I asked her...well, the second time I asked her, she gave me the same look of befuddlement, and the third time I asked her, Manat was standing right there, and someone must've told her what I was saying, because her face flushed red and she glanced away, shyly.

"She's got three kids," said Manat, laughing. "Her husband is a cop in Takuapa."

So, I guess that's that.


* P' Su, who always feeds me for free and gave me a special amulet of the King, right before my planned return to the U.S., asked me, and I don't know how she did, since neither of us knows the other's language, but she asked me to take her someplace on the bike...out to her mother-in-law's house, I think, about 25 kilometers to the south. At five o'clock. I told her I would. She said her boyfriend's mom told her son that she, P' Su wasn't good for him since she had two small children.

"Finished," she said, angrily, her eyes welling with tears. So I figured I wouldn't be intruding on anyone's toes when she hopped on the back of the bike and we headed out.

We needed to make a stop, she indicated by pointing, just south of Lam Kem, the next town south of Khao Lak, where we stopped to get her sister-in-law, it must've been, and after the two of them collected some greens for a tea for P' Ton's mother's arthritis, from what I could gather, there we went, with those two Thai girls (I'm not so sure that P' Su is Thai, with her sharp features and bracelets and bangles and all. The Thai are much more round and soft-featured. And those CDs she had were from India. She could be from India, maybe Nepal. I really don't know) on the back of my bike, about 25 k. per hour, the tire nearly flat, knees aching all the hell of the way south on an hour/plus ride to P. Ton's mother's house out in the sticks.

Fortunately, P' Su had her motorbike there, and after about an hour there on P' Ton's mother's porch, she and her sister-in-law rode together on the way back, their tire going flat after about five kilometers, delaying us for another hour in a small village. We dropped off her sister-in-law back in Lam Kem, and when we got back to P. Sue's shop in Khao Lak, her boyfriend was sitting there waiting.

So I guess that's that.


**'Mr. Big', literally, but after several months, I learned that culturally, it means, 'Big Brother'.

So I guess that's that.

The fortune tellers have a spot on the eastern end of the Pranam Phalong or whatever it is they call the big parade and ceremonial grounds adjacent to the Royal Palace in Bangkok. That's where I saw that guy two days in a row, and where he gave me my 'new wife in nine weeks' reading. I looked for him when I returned to the capital. He wasn't around.