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.”
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.
“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 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
"BE FOREWARNED! TRAILER BOOBY-TRAPPED. NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENTS OR INJURIES. Go Ahead, Fuckhead, Make My Day!"
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 stuff...it all comes and goes anyway. Don't expect any apologies, confessions, or compensation. Laugh it off, write if off for living in Indian Country.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
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.