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.