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.