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