Friday, August 22, 2008

Keep Your Head In The Game

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD –


Correction

As a writer, it’s embarrassing to print retractions and corrections. It demonstrates to the reader that you screwed up, and you’re admitting it. That’s ok. That’s part of journalistic integrity, and yes, there is such a thing.

Clarifications are of another order. The need to clarify arises from not being clear in the first place, or not explaining thoroughly enough for the reader’s benefit and understanding, unless the sketchy nature of the material is intentional.

A couple of entries back (‘Is That You, John Wayne’ 8/01/08), I wrote about ‘being dead in the water until the cavalry arrives.’

That’s a figure of speech requiring correction. Out here, the cavalry doesn’t arrive. The Indians do.




The Indians do eventually arrive. Of course, they’re runnin’ late, on ‘Indian Time’. Until they do, it’s good to try to knock out 300-500 words a day.

‘Cavalry Arrives! Indians, Too Late.’

____

I used to work with common themes, but that’s not always possible when one’s notes cover a six-month period, written on the backs of envelopes and train tickets. Sometimes, I can’t even remember what they were made in reference to, like this note here, ‘Zip-Lock Body Bags w/ Handles.’

Now, that could be a story idea, or it could be a manufacturing concept, an improvement over what is being used now, black rubber. Why not put some color on those bags, anyway? Make ‘em red, white, brown, and black, like the guys inside. You could color-code them that way. Christ, paint THE FLAG on ‘em. That’s what they died for.


Came back home in a fucking garbage bag.



“Can I see him?” she asked, apprehensively.

“No, ma’am,” replied the chaplain, directly. “You wouldn’t want to see him.”



A guy on the radio just gave me the title, ‘Keep Your Head In The Game’. Now, all I need to do is build a story around it, even if it doesn’t make sense.


Here’s one, to the tune of ‘The Peppermint Twist’:

“Wellll, they gotta new deal, and it goes like this…”
Boppa do ba, boppa boppa do ba,
Put a flag on the casket so it all makes sense…”

Can’t help myself, folks. We have a couple of wars going on, and we shouldn’t forget it. Those guys, and women, are pulling three and four tours, routinely, because of the manpower stretch of two wars. Makes a one-year tour in the ‘Nam look like a walk in the park.


I don’t have too many bad war dreams, but one of my worst nightmares is…I’m still in uniform, just got back to the States, and a Sergeant comes up to me and says,

“You’ve got to go back.”


My worst nightmare is the reality for your sons and daughters.

____

Liars All

The tale-telling began in the gym bleachers during lunch in high school, when I would entertain my classmates with musings spun from partial facts and woven into cheerful, breathtakingly tales that evolved into sordid, twisted, nailbiting horror stories involving our teachers, Deans, and Principal, earning me the title, ‘Story Bear’.

This tendency to fabricate, rooted in repression and denial, which I learned much later in an intro to psychology class, continued throughout reform school, a term in the Pythagorean Institute For Unrepentant Youth, the Job Corps, a short stretch in the state penitentiary, a tour in the ‘Nam, and thereafter, worked its way into print and broadcast journalism.

My editors always said, “This didn’t happen. They didn’t say that. You made this shit up.”


After journalism, it was a short ethical slide into the practice of law, where I continued lying as an art form at Keogh, McAllister & Nabb. They might bristle at the use of their names, and that of the firm, but they well know defamation won’t hold up in court if it’s the truth.

What I discovered was a capacity to fabricate ANY story, not only to avoid punishment as a child, but to later further my own career, like Pulaski, making up names, dates, quotes, scenery, setting, and all kinds of shit, with enough exacting detail to make the story true. Think, ‘Yellow Cake’.


Or, ‘WMDs’, the stuff of folklore, a of couple new ones for our 21st century lexicon, thank you Gen. Haig, thank you Mr. Buckley. ‘I.E.D.s’. Thank you. Thank alll you guys, sooo mush.




What I also learned, is that for a comedian or a reservation entertainer, it’s important that your audience knows you’re lying. It’s vital.

For academics, historians, car salesmen, statisticians, politicians, journalists, talk show hosts, White House and Pentagon spokesmen, diplomats…just about everybody else…your insurance adjuster…tax accountant…home equity loan agent…the plant, the mole, the stooge, the snitch…it’s quite the contrary, where deception is the rule.

Deception and manipulation of everything within one’s universe, one’s sphere, one’s psychic bubble of whatever we perceive reality to be, until everything shape-shifts and conforms to that lie, right?

You and I can do it. Whole nations can do it. We can go kill for the lie. We can die for the lie.



Everybody lies. It’s true. Never mind a stack of Bibles. They did a survey, and the results said we’re all a bunch of fucking liars.

Manny is about the only one who’d talk straight. One day with Manny at the house, my dad told me, ‘Son, I’ve done for you about all I can do. I’m gonna turn your training over to Manny, here.’

As soon as my dad left, Manny was direct. He told me, ‘Bic, you gonna have to strive for mediocrity.’

“Don’t bullshit me, Manny,” I said. “I’m in the bottom 20 percentile.”

“No,” he said. “You can do it. You can work yourself up to mediocrity, but it’s going to take a lot of effort.”

“You just gotta keep your head in the game,” he said.


Thunderclap will talk straight, refusing to purchase a collective lie, and that’s what pisses everyone off. But what many in the listening and viewing audience fail to understand is that America looks different from a pair of moccasins. That’s a radical view from anybody else. Black people, too. And Latinos.

America looks different through pimp glasses. All through being raised, I heard, ‘You gonna have to be twice as good as the white man to get anywhere.’ And that was white folks telling me that.


Like the lady said, talking about McCain accusing Obama of playing the Race Card. ‘Race Card? He’s been playing the Race Card all his life. Annapolis is the Race Card. The Country Club is the Race Card. Naval fighter pilot is playing the race card. Marrying an heiress and sliding into the U.S. Senate is playing your Race Card.’

A syndicated talk show host on the radio said, “‘Elitist’. That’s just a code-word for ‘Uppity’, isn’t it? And you know what goes with ‘Uppity’.”


Raised by a single-parent mom? Is that elitist? Going to Harvard Law School. Now, THAT’S UPPITY.

A caller in to my show said, “What’s wrong with having somebody smart in office? We’ve seen what electing dumbfucks can do.” We had to bleep that last part on the air, but I can print it here.


‘Political Correctness’? That’s a way of saying, ‘not saying what’s on your mind’. When you’re the only one in a whole group of ‘others’, it’s surprising how honest and politically incorrect people can be.



So, why would any American say they were ‘happy to see those towers come down’?

Thunderclap didn’t say that. He wouldn’t say that. Another Oglala Indian did, now deceased, a leader, a racist, a veteran of Vietnam, Wounded Knee II, and Yellow Thunder Camp, whose ancestors were at Wounded Knee I, an all-American butchering job that the people here haven’t forgotten. Their names are on the monument that’s out there now.


Anyway, I learned if I told a lie often enough, I not only deluded the give-it-to-me-in-a-simple-sound bite unsuspecting public, but myself as well, re-mapping brain circuitry and re-creating history as we would have it. You can see how this issues not only from grandpa’s rocking chair, but also at the highest levels of government.


All of this sudden realization truth-be-told unfolded during a weekly scripture-study and prayer group in the basement of the…I probably shouldn’t SAY what denomination…church.

For illumination, it’s odd that we were always working in the dark. We were all seated in the dark around a candle, holding hands in a circle, eyes closed, and our group facilitator, Everett Dundy, began with something that sounded like, “Lard, lettuce be like sheeps in the fold…’ At least, that’s what I heard.

And then we went around the circle, each person contributing a line to the prayer;

“…Give up the silver, give up the gold…”

“…wheat from the chaff, thy will be done…”

“…chance a getting in be a million to one…”

You might be thinking it was a black church, right? But no, that’s just the way they ran it out, in the spirit. In fact, everyone there was white, but me and Meek Jefferson, who was black as a skillet…‘Roach in yo’ bathtub, make you wanna killit.’

Meek was a pretty good poet, all free-form, and so black he sucked up all the light, and you couldn’t see him when they turned the lights back on. More like a shadow. Ha. Ha. No offense, Meek.

Anyway, to me, it sounded a lot like modern day rap, and this was many years ago, before Buddha, and long before rap became popular on the stoops and street and recording labels. But rap started with black people, with its roots in cotton fields and the banks of the Congo.

Remember the Black Poets rapping about ‘Niggas Are ‘Fraid of Revolution’? Remember that? Album came out in the late ‘60s. Chambers Brothers, too, were rapping, and it all came out of the church.


So, okay. Rap started with black people. Nobody’s going to argue that. And it came out of the church, so what’s the point?




I can’t remember. I can’t remember where I was going with this, but anyway, it wasn’t a black church, and when the prayer came around to my turn, I had to think for a while, and when the silence became unbearable, I had to spit something out, and I said something really stupid and inappropriate…I can’t recall exactly, because of what happened before they turned the lights back on…something like… “yo’ mamma sed jus’ ‘cause you be ‘fraid…” I remember was the first line, and then I went on with six or seventeen more lines…couldn’t stop myself from bustin’ out into rhyme…broke loose the hand-hold and come up out of my seat, ‘free-stylin’ strong…steppin’, steppin’, steppin’ ‘round the circle, but what came out shocked everyone, and one of the elderly women there stopped me and said “a person shouldn’t use language like that in a church basement*,” and I said something about the circle that resulted in some sort of folding-chair tussle in the dark, and shit, before they got to the light switch, all kinds of hell broke loose.

____


1576 - An important date in history? No. That’s the word count. They said to be an important American writer, you’ve got to crank at least 500 words per day. If you’re striving for mediocrity, then 300 will do. The 1500 may appear impressive, until you divide it by seven days.

Martin Frobisher, an English navigator, discovered ‘Frobisher’s Bay’ in Canada in 1576.
Don’t ever forget.



end




*I gotta tell you this. At a peyote meeting once, NAC, Native American Church, a guy got up to speak in the morning, and being ‘all peyotied up’, sort of lost his bearings and began using profanity during his talk. Some of the bros sitting there said, ‘Hey, somebody go straighten that guy out.’

One of those Indians, being peyotied up himself, got up and confronted the speaker. “Hey!” he said. “We don’t use that kind of fucking language in our church.”


8.08

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vetting For Veep

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – “He’s a danger to himself. The best thing for your friend to do is, stop writing his own material, and have you do it,” said George, my advisor and sounding board.

But George thinks all my stuff is funny, which I know isn’t true, because some of it is supposed to be serious, so I know he’s just being kind, since that big on-stage fiasco in Milwaukee several years ago during a promotional tour that didn’t pan out.



Clarification

Before we proceed any further, uh, there uh, is something I need to clear up right away in case they tap me for the VP slot in the upcoming election.

I’ve been advised to get this out of the way to free up my delegate support, and so there won’t be any ‘Swift-Boating’ by the opposition, or, like John Edwards, be faced with embarrassing lies during the vetting process. On down the line, I don’t want someone later asking, ‘What qualifies him to be horseshoe champ?’


Those ‘fell-on-a-grenade’, ‘got shot down five times’, ‘shivering in a rat cage’, ‘got shot out of a helicopter and fell 500 feet through triple-canopy jungle’, ‘division horseshoe champ’ stories simply aren’t true.

Okay? I was a clerk’s assistant, pay grade E-3. 1200 air combat hours? Horseshit. That was Wayne Marshall who did all that stuff.

That photo of Brig. General Davis shaking my hand? That was a ‘cut and paste’ job of my head on the body of another guy, with magic marker touch-up. Gen. Westmoreland and me in Saigon? Same same. Cut and paste.


Despite the widely-circulated story that launched my undeserved heralded vet status, I never went down behind enemy lines, and never organized the escape from VC rat cages deep in the jungle near the Cambodian border. That was Rambo. John Rambo. I never even got close to Cambodia.

Besides saving the officer’s mess hall from those two rampaging monkeys* and retrieving Yogi’s I.D. from a Vietnamese whore,** the most noteworthy thing I did in Vietnam, as an assistant to the company clerk, was to illicitly promote every enlisted man in the company by one pay grade.


This was possible because of a number of interwoven and ironically circumstantial factors; first, the slots were available. Next, our company commander had received an emergency leave back to the U.S. for treatment of a rare tropical rash on the backs of his hands, so before his replacement arrived, we were commanded by a Captain who liked to fly and didn’t care for administrative work.

He shortly thereafter rotated back to the States, and before an official commander, a major or above, arrived, we were in the hands of a lowly 1st Lieutenant Webster who didn’t know shit from shine-ola, administratively speaking.

He was however, a gifted and accomplished, but dangerous pilot. Greedy for flight hours, and having a reputation for ‘a magnet-ass’, he too, preferred flying over office work, and kept his name up on the flight duty roster.

Thus, Rosie and I simply took all forms and documents in for a sign-off, which we eventually stopped doing altogether, when we began forging the necessary signatures.

With an absentee commander, rule of the company then fell to our ranking sergeant, who somehow got an emergency reassignment to Saigon, quite a feat to begin with, and then to Belgium, even more astonishing. Not bad. We never knew the hows or whys. One day, he was just gone. They said he knew somebody.


So there was a period of several weeks, between the departure of our ranking officers and NCOs, none of which was combat-related, mind you, and the arrival of their replacements, where we experienced a command power vacuum, which really isn’t all that unusual in a combat zone, where for one reason or another,*** lesser beings are suddenly thrust into positions of responsibility. You can probably see how that could happen.

Accordingly, the operations of our 12-helicopter Company, fell into the hands of Rosie, a short-timer E-5, and me, a lowly Private First Class, a PFC. Sad Sack.


The war churned on of its own inertia with people talking about ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’, and everybody continued doing what they were supposed to do, flying medevac missions day in, day out, except me and Rosie.

We got right to work right away and sent off the necessary paperwork on up the line to guys like us working the other end at battalion headquarters, and a couple months later, after the arrival of a new company commander and a new 1st Sergeant, who, fresh from the States, didn’t know squat, we had an enormous awards and promotions ceremony, which made everyone extremely happy that day.**** BIG-ass party in the compound that night.


I got a set of wings, a DFC, a CMB, a Vietnamese Cross and a promotion to Specialist 4th Class, ‘Spec 4’. A couple months later, a Purple Heart and some air medals and a Presidential Citation rolled out of the pipeline. All of the new people didn’t know shit. They just sort of looked at you in awe.

For their gratitude, people gave Rosie several bottles of Johnny Walker Red, oscillating fans, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a pair of Converse All Stars, a Nikon FTN, an AK-47, a Swedish 9mm pistol, and two new ping pong paddles. I gave him a 40 ft. parachute.


In the absence of any authority, it was a fantastic idea, a great move. Everybody went up a rank. A bunch of us got decorations. All the Warrant Officer pilots got medals. The ‘newbee’ commander and first sergeant must’ve thought they’d just joined a unit of for-real, gung-ho, John Wayne-in-the-sky guys.

They must have also wondered about our motto above the HQ entry: ‘We Fly The Shit, Every Day’.



“I can make you E-4, no higher,” said Rosie, looking up over the old Remington typewriter***** on which he was hammering out an original with three carbons from the First Sergeant’s desk. “You’ll need four months time-in-grade to make E-5. You want some awards?”

“Sure,” I said. “They’ll look good later in a run for congress or any judge I might have to face. Make me a hero.”


I never knew Rosie’s first name. His last name was Rose, and he had four big roses on his chest, and a huge heart with ‘Linda’ under it, tattooed on his forearm, with some slinky babe over the heart, who I presumed, must have been a representation of Linda.

Besides me, he was the only one in the company who knew how to type. Rosie was a ‘short-timer’, with only a few weeks remaining on his tour, and as such, he didn’t give a damn about anything anymore, ‘cept going home, like any short-timer. I was there in training, to act as company clerk until Rosie’s replacement arrived from the States, an acting job.


All the time, throughout the war, there were guys coming and going like that as their 12-month tours expired, and probably more often than not, there were gaps of manpower in various capacities. I don’t think our unit was an exception.

If you were to ask, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ everyone would have said, “Lt. Webster, I guess.” If they asked, ‘Who knows what’s going on around here?’ they would say, “Rosie”.



“What do you want?” he asked.

“How about a Congressional Medal of Honor?” I suggested.

“No way,” he said. “You’ve got to fall on a grenade or charge a machine gun nest. You know what ‘CMH’ stands for don’t you?” he asked. “ ‘Casket with Metal Handles’. You have to die.”


“Screw that, then. How about some Silver Stars?”

“No can do,” he said. “Those go to pilots.”

“Then, what have you got?” I asked. “Make me a medic. Everybody loves medics. Fabricate some missions under hostile fire. Hot LZs (Landing Zones). Juice it up.”


“That, I can do,” he said, making notes. “I can get you a DFC, a Distinguished Flying Cross…easy…a top award for an aviator…‘for demonstrating complete disregard for his personal safety, urged the pilots to proceed through concentrated enemy fire to evacuate the seriously wounded U.S. troops on the ground.’

“Hey. That sounds fucking great!” I said, imagining myself in a parade with a chest full of ribbons and decorations, people applauding my run for the senate. My head started to swim.


Rosie continued, “That’ll be automatic promotion to E-4, and we can toss in a Purple Heart, a Vietnamese Cross, a Combat Medic’s Badge, some routine air medals, and a set of wings.”

“All from one mission?”

“No,” Rosie replied. “We’ll have it spread out over six or seven months, back-dated. We can cook up some shit. It’ll look good.”


“Don’t I have to get hit for a Purple Heart?” I asked.

“We can make it something small,” he said. “like frags…‘while attending to the wounded , the corpsman then suffered wounds from an exploding B-40 rocket’…or an incoming mortar round…something along those lines. Out-patient. Ambulatory. We can doctor your personnel records to reflect anything…get Harrington to sign off… Nobody’ll ever know. This is the fucking ‘Nam.”


“I like the idea of falling through triple-canopy jungle after being shot out of the helicopter on a dangerous hoist mission into Laos or Cambodia,” I said. “You know, some really phenomenal shit that stretches the limits of credulity. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” said Rosie. “We fly the shit. We fly the shit, every, every day.”


“And how about some dramatic story of escaping?” I continued. “No…directing an escape…from enemy rat cages, deep in the jungle, near…near…the DMZ…no…The Plain of Jars…no, the Ho Chi Minh Trail...everybody knows the Ho Chi Minh Trail…after being shot down.

“And toss in some believable shit for face validity,” I added, “…like…‘division horseshoe champ’.”


“You’re not that good,” said Rosie. “That would be too easy to uncover.”

“Ok. Skip that,” I said. “but have me doing all that other stuff. Make it look good.”


“Sure,” said Rosie. “Give me an outline of what you want, with all the important elements, and I’ll work with it.”





- end


*“What the hell’s going on in here?” I said, stumbling onto them ransacking the officer’s mess. It was wholly circumstantial, not heroic. Anybody in the same situation would’ve done the same thing. One of those ‘place and time’ coincidence kinda things. I didn’t think it deserved an award, but it got me a special commendation.


**Yogi was trying to use his I.D. as barter in a transaction. As interpreter, I said to the girl, “G.I. I.D. same same money on payday,” thereby spontaneously and quite unintentionally inventing a fractured English euphemism, ‘same same’, that caught on like wildfire first in the Central Highlands, then Saigon, then throughout all of Southeast Asia.

***Guys were dropping like flies.


****That was that day. Several weeks later, a Colonel Haskell from battalion HQ came up-country with an aide, conducting an inquiry into the inexplicable sudden spike…‘rash’, he called it… in promotions and awards from our unit that wasn’t reflected in correlative enemy activity in our AO (Area of Operation).

Our commanding officer and first sergeant weren’t even in-country at the time under investigation, and like I said earlier, didn’t know squat. Rosie had long since gone back to the States, on the street in civvies, and I guess I was the only one, wearing those big, thick, black-frame, geeky, army-issue glasses, who they called up from the horseshoe pit and grilled on the spot one afternoon in the commander’s office.

I was praying they wouldn’t ask me how I got all those combat awards as an assistant company clerk. Had they looked at my records, I’d’ve been dead meat. Fortunately, they were looking at our unit records collectively and didn’t examine too closely any particular individual. My knees were shaking when I left there.

“What do you do here?” asked Col. Haskell.

“Pay strict attention, Sir,” I said honestly.

They all laughed except the Colonel, who looked at me quizzically like he wasn’t certain if I was an imbecile or a wiseass. “No, Specialist,” said Haskell. “I mean, what is your duty?”

I wasn’t sure. My brain raced for an answer while they waited. Finally, I said, “To fight communism, Sir…defend America’s freedom…uphold the code, Sir?.”

“No. No. No, son,” said Haskell, shooting a glance at his aide that said, ‘Can you believe this fucking bottom-of-the-barrel idiot draftee? No wonder we’re losing the war.’

“It’s not a multiple choice question, son,” he said. “What is your job here, at the company?” he asked.

It was paramount to act like a befuddled interim trainee company clerk moron, which was fairly easy with those glasses, steamed up and sweaty from the run up from the horseshoe pit. I told them I didn’t know anything, that I was pretty much a gopher, and that during the time in question, Rosie had handled all the paperwork.



*****the very machine from which you received those early tales from the ‘Nam.


8.08

Friday, August 15, 2008

Every Dog's Day

Reuters – 8/15/08

Reuters reporter Peter Dieter recently held an interview with Gen. Hubert R. Creager (Ret.), former chief military tribunal judge at Guantanamo, Cuba, holding facility for many Taliban and other enemy combatants of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dieter found the general at his home in Gaithersburg, MD. Excerpts of that interview:



PHD: “Uh, General. You don’t need your uniform. There’s no camera crew. This is for newspapers.”

HRC: “I still like wearing it, if that’s okay with you, Mr. Dieter. I wear it every chance I get. I’m proud of my uniform, and I’m proud of my country.”

PHD: “SURE. Sure thing, Sir.”

HRC: “Is it on? Is it running? I don’t want to get caught like Jesse Jackson, saying some stupid shit while the tape was rolling that later ends up in print, ha ha. How’s your coffee? Ok?”

PHD: “Yes, it’s fine…ready?…uh, General, could you get your dog, please?”

HRC: “ROY! STOP! GIT YER ASS ON OVER THERE…ya good for nothin’…LLLAY DOWN!

“He used to do that to everybody who came over here, then we had him fixed after he went after the wife of the Chairman of the JCS, but sometimes he still…Iiiiiiiii don’t know. We thought, ‘take him to the country, let him run,’ but hell, this IS the country.

“He’s a good dog, don’t get me wrong.”

PHD: “Yes,Sir. I’m sure he is. If we could move on to other things…I have an interest in the trial of Thunderclap, you may remember, the Sioux Indian comedian who was sent to Gitmo after an incident aboard a United Airlines flight in 2003.”

HRC: “Mr. Dieter, we don’t say, ‘Gitmo’…that’s something you journalists came up with. For the record, it’s ‘Camp Delta’. And yes, I remember Mr. Thun…”

PHD: “But wasn’t it Camp X-Ray before that? And wasn’t it the troopers stationed there who named it ‘Gitmo’?”

HRC: “Don’t interrupt me, Dieter. Yes. It was……Mr. Thundercloud was delivered to us in May of 2003 in the custody of a U.S. air marshall, and was then in-processed just li…”

PHD: “Why did they change the name?”

HRC: “What? Goddammit, don’t interrupt me. You asked me a question. Let me answer it. Where was I? Turn that thing off.”

PHD: “They changed the name because it reminded people of skeletons, right? Were you in on the name-change?”

HRC: “Where did you hear that? That’s preposterous. We deny it. I thought you wanted to know about Mr. Thundercloud’s trial.”

PHD: “That’s ‘ThunderCLAP.”

HRC: “Yes, I know. That’s what I said…I remember his showing up for court in a Hawaiian print shirt and his breezy, cocky, I-don’t-give-a-shit civilian attitude. He tried to turn the whole proceedings into a kang…into a farce. Had all those Muslims in an uproar by the time he left.

“Generals Harlan (US Army, Ret.) Hatchet (Gen. USMC, Ret.), and I pressed for execution before Gonzales (fmr. US Atty. Gen.) left office, but Moorehead (Gen. USAF) and Davis (Col., US Army) blocked our motion.

“Don’t use those names. Don’t use ANY of those names. That’s just the way the vote went…for your info…off the record…just so you know the patriots from the pansies on the panel. They’ve got a whole new crew, now. We all got swept out with Gonzales.”

PRH: “You wanted him executed for telling jokes on an airplane?”

HRC: “Do you think that bringing down a U.S. airliner with 268 passengers on board is a laughing matter? You can’t fuck around in the air anymore, son. They say he once brought down a house…a walking time bomb.

“That flight was over NEVADA for Christssake. Don’t you realize the implications of that, Boy? Stella Burnheart was on that flight!”

PHD: “Excuse me, General, but do you think you could refer to me as ‘Mr. Dieter’. I’m a grown man. Who is Stella Burnheart?

HRC: “The only thing that saved your boy’s ass was his status as a Vietnam war hero…now there’s an oxymoron for you…”

PHD: “My Boy? He’s not my ‘boy’. I don’t even…”

HRC: “Don’t interrupt me, Dieter…and some left-wing ACLU who-de-do lawyers in Washington. We held him for as long as we could, but we had to let him go. Our hands were tied. We tried our best.”

PHD: “He’s NOT my ‘boy’. I don’t even like the guy. His humor is sick. It’s not even humor. I just wondered if you actually thought you could execute a U.S. citizen without due process of law…”

HRC: “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Why are you carrying those ‘Get Out Of Gitmo Free’ cards?”
You think that’s funny?”

PHD: “Mr. Thunderclap had them made up and asked me if I would give them to you for distribution to the inmates…look, there’s an attorney contact on the back…specializes in wrongful suits…and again here, in Arabic…if you could…y’know…someway…”

HRC: “You think that’s funny?”

PHD: “No. No. No. I’m just…he said you might still…

“They say you retired under a clou…that you and the others retired under pressure. Is that true?”

HRC: “NO! That’s a barn load of horse hockey. I retired to spend more time with my family, after giving 40 distinguished years in uniform to this great country…which you wouldn’t know anything about, because you’re a Nazi, aren’t you, Dieter?”

PHD: “Sir, I am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I work for a respectable news agency.”

HRC: “I’ll bet your daddy was SS. Dieter? SURE. Why is it you still talk with a thick German accent? I fought the Nazis in the Big One, Dubya Dubya Two. Battle of the Bulge.

“So cold out your balls…DON’T interrupt me, boy…that was a good war, when you could shoot a prisoner right on the spot and no questions asked. He dies, or you die. Simple. None of this hide-among-the-civilians ‘enemy combatant’ shit. A prisoner of war is a prisoner of war, regardless of what else you might want to call them.”

PHD: “Excuse me, General. I’m not a Nazi. And, isn’t that exactly the point the Supreme Court was trying to make? Prisoners have rights?”

HRC: “Whaddaya trying to say? We don’t need no goddamn supreme court in this terror business. A prisoner gives up his rights when he picks up a gun. You Nazis weren’t soft on the Jews and they weren’t even blowing anything up.”

PHD: “Sir, I’m not a Nazi. And, prisoners don’t have guns.”

HRC: “What’d your daddy do? We have expediencies to handle the enemies of our great country, fully in accordance with the, uh…with…our practices…our legal judicial parameters…to effectually achieve our maximum desired outcomes...in the larger interest of our national security. I did what they asked me to do.”

PHD: “That sounded scripted, General. Don’t they call that ‘extra-judicial’ practices? You can’t just hold people and torture them indefinitely.”

HRC: “Why not? Hell, boy, it’s all judicial. Every one of them dogs gets their day in court, juuuust like your boy Thunderbolt.”




-end

8.08

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Going For The Gatorade

Going For the Gatorade

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - I don’t want to say too much about the sun dance, other than it’s four days of prayer, sacrifice and exertion, with people making extreme personal offerings. Even if you aren’t doing anything extraordinary beyond the four-day food and water fast, and dancing in the sun for four days, that’s enough.

Many sun dances are strict and disciplined (‘Uncle Rick [Two Dogs] don’t give us no water or NOTHING,’ said Misty, her face all sun burnt and happy after four days), whereas others are more sympathetic toward the dancers, like, after a particularly hot and hard day, they might give you some juice at night…or overlook the cooler of sport drink those guys had over there in their tipi. On ice.

We laughed about running an extension cord to the back of the tipi, off of a generator, so we could hook up a fridge, a fan, maybe a television set, a sofa. Roll out a nice carpet.


But technically, you’re not supposed to have water during the day, or at all. THEY SAY. But, it’s up to you, you and your god (here, ‘Tunkashila’), and whatever discipline one follows is self-imposed.

We observe general propriety in respect to our elders, along with many traditional formalities, but we don’t have a lot of shoulds and shouldn’ts at our dance. A ‘kinder, gentler’ dance, they say.

If it’s the third day and 105 degrees in the middle of the afternoon, and there’s a bottle of warm Gatorade going around, usually people won’t refuse a swallow or two. And after listening to those Mohawks relate their legendary stories about the sacredness and restorative power of the water, the strawberry, and the maple syrup, you don’t feel bad at all about having a cup full of that mixture at the end of the day.

It’s all good, man. Talk about bringing people Back To Life! We joke around about, “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m in it for the strawberry water.” You can refuse it if you like, but nobody does. Gotta love those Mohawks.


As chief medical officer, I give out lemon drops on the afternoon of day three, maybe day two, and nobody has ever refused those, either. Head honcho said, ‘Gimmie two.’


Despite all the hardship and seriousness attendant with the dance, there’s a lot of humor floating around, too, both intentional and inadvertent, like a few years ago when one of the ‘first timers’, there on a vision he’d gotten earlier in the year, was laying at the tree on the buffalo robe, and when he saw the scalpel in Tom’s hands, his eyes got big and he said, “I’ve changed my mind!” and tried to raise up.

Loretta, on her knees at the tree, praying with the sun dance pipe throughout the entirety of the piercing rounds, budged from her sphinx-like pose and turned her head slightly, looking down at the young man, a full-blood Indian. I’m not sure if one of her eyebrows lifted slightly or not, but the look on her face said, ‘Oh? That’s a first.’

We pushed his shoulders back down on the robe, and Tom told him, “It’s too late.”

The kid was twisting and squirming and kicking his legs when he got stuck, and Tom had to tell him, ‘Hey, hey now. Be still.’

Tom pierced him, we stood him up, and hooked him up to his rope, with him pale in the face, weak at the knees, and foam at the corners of his mouth...good to go. Just like in Vietnam, I lied and said to him, ‘Everything’s going to be okay. Blow your whistle.’

I don’t know how it is for others. Seems like, what the boss man say in ‘Cool Hand Luke’?...‘You got to get your mind right.’…if you can remember that it’s an offering, and you don’t want to give a gift grudgingly, now do you?

And you’re giving it in exchange for all those prayers you’ve been making, then, Holy Smokes, hey, if you want it to hurt, that’s gotta be okay, and if it don’t then, that’s okay too, and…Hereiyam…I’m yours, and I’m smilin’.

Yeah, maybe. Until they stand you up, hook you up, and you find yourself out there on the end of that rope trying to get loose three, four, five, six, seven, eight times. Well, that’s a different story.

Flip on your face, flip on your ass, break your pins, break your rigging, break your rope, break everything but your flesh...hook back up again…make your best prayer, make your best magic, make your best plea…make you feel like some kinda puppet.

Well, there are easy years, and there are hard years.


In our first dance together at Devil’s Tower, my bro, the late Mike Afraid Of Bear, asked our sun dance leader there, the late Gerald Clifford, whaddaya do when you’re getting pierced?


Gerald said, ‘Don’t fight it.’


Just about any kind of surrender can be a very difficult thing.




One of the veterans, been dancing about ten years, along with his father and his son, came to the tree to be pierced…I won’t say his name, but his initials begin with Robb Reddeman. He wanted to be pierced standing, with his back to the tree. I looked down at the scars on his chest and asked him, “Do you know what the judge said?”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Haven’t I seen you up here before?”

It’s not a comedy show, for sure, but sometimes the humor helps take the edge off the suffering, and brings us back to human. Life, death, hunger, disease, cripples, refugees, and orphans…that’s serious. The rest is a walk in the park.


Jesus was hanging on the cross and asked Peter to come closer. Peter approached and said, “Yes. What is it, Master?”

Jesus said, “I can see your house from here.”


See what I mean? The old Buddhist monks and the old Indian men are the same way. Nobody’s taking themselves or what they’re carrying around in their heads too seriously. It’s the young guys who seem to be the over-zealous. You ever hear of an old man strapping on a suicide vest?


He (Jesus) stopped by here a few weeks after the dance to thank everybody, and I told that joke right in His presence while a bunch of the bros were sitting around the table having coffee.

Everybody laughed but Jesus, but his lips curled at the corners there just for a second, like, maybe he’d already heard it, but it was still a pretty good one. Then, he looked over at me and gave me this look that said, ‘I feel so sorry for you, you pathetic maggot.’

I sloughed off his telepathic comment and said straight-faced, ‘You probably know…over in Africa, they paint you black.’

Everyone laughed out loud except Jesus, and he opened his mouth to say something, thought otherwise, then gave me that same look.

“Little black baby Jesus…black Jesus on a donkey…black Jesus on the cross.”


Before he could say anything, I said, “Just kidding, man. Everybody knows you’re white.”


Everybody was laughing until they looked over at Jesus, then they all chilled like you do when you see the boss ain’t laughing. He just stared at me like he didn’t think it was funny, but we’re okay.

He knows. He knows how we are around here, how we'll tell a joke on someone with 'em sitting right there, and how we only tease the ones we love.

He was dressed like a 'Big Indian', with black wide-brimmed hat, hair pulled back into a pony tail, red neckerchief, black cowboy shirt with white mother-of-pearl buttons, hot-looking tight-ass blue jeans, and pointy cowboy boots. 'Why you dressed like that?' I asked.

'Only way I can get a ride up here,' he said.


_____


We were laying around the ‘spill-over’ tipi between rounds, seven of us in there; Bo D., Sonny Bass, Dave Frankel, Ted Ebert, Steve Hall, and a new guy to our dance, Terry Richards. All veteran dancers, having danced at least five years. Many had danced a decade. It was good.

Our tipi was a gift from dancer Mike Albin, a very nice gift. People do stuff like that at dance, preparing all year long for giveaway and getting ready, working on their stuff. I gave away two squadron of aircraft this year, till I ran out. John had T-shirts made. People give Pendletons, star quilts, flesh, blood, all kinds of things.


The big 30 ft. tipi was full, as it has been since about the third year in ‘The Canyon’, when our numbers went from seven dancers that first year, to a dozen, then twenty, then twenty-seven, and finally leveling off at about 40 dancers, a full arbor.

That’s why we need a ‘spill-over’ tipi to accommodate all the extra dancers. Up top this year, we had two big 30-footers for the men and women, and a couple extra smaller tipis for the women, and two or three extras for the men.

Anyway, just to give you a picture. Our tipi was 24 feet at the base, and tied at 20 ft., a nice solid stack against the wind. Some of the guys have staffs, a long shepherd’s kind of instrument bent into a medicine wheel circle at the top, and usually adorned with eagle feathers, otter or rabbit, and maybe bells or ermine.

Steve gave one to David this year, a very nice gift, and both he and Terry had one, all of which they planted in holes in the middle of our tipi, just off the foot of my cot. Terry also had a cool owl and hawk bonnet covered with feathers that had belonged to his father, and he placed it atop the middle staff. I think he only wore it one or two rounds. “It’s too hot,” he said.


So anyway, we’re all laying there resting in between rounds, and I sat up on my cot and said, ‘Eeeeeeee, you guys. I woke up early this morning and saw those staffs first thing when I opened my eyes, and it looked like three…BEINGS…standing over me.”


“There was three of ‘em, you guys,” I continued, like I was relating a story of the phenomenal. “The guy in the middle was wearing a bonnet full of feathers.”

They all laughed, because in dim light, it sort of looked like three thin figures…like, spirit beings…standing there, and Terry started wildly swinging his fists and shouted, “GET BACK, YOU FUCKERS!”

Everybody exploded in laughter, and Terry continued, “Feathers all over the place…staffs all broken up and scattered around…fur all over the place…You guys was lucky I was awake.”

Everybody was laughing so hard our sides hurt, and Terry was relentless, saying, “You guys was lucky I was awake…they was going for our Gatorade!”




end

8.08

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do I Know You?

Do I Know You?


Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD- I gotta be driving the oldest truck on the reservation. For sure. A lot of people wave at me, thinking they should probably know someone who drives an old farm truck like that.

So, my favorite line to use on a man in his 70s or 80s is, ‘You’re probably too young to remember when Chevy came out with this truck,’ just for openers, just to see what kind of response the question can elicit.

Usually, I have to repeat it, since a lot of those old fellows are hard of hearing, then they always chuckle, draw closer, and tell me in a strained whisper what models they bought, and how long they drove them.

This conversation usually takes place at a gas pump, a parking lot, or some other place where they can see ‘Betsy’, my 1960 hunk of iron with wired-on plates expired in April of 2006. The model had an ashtray but no seat belts. Has defrost, but no place to set a drink. Cab designed for a guy with short legs. The cigarette lighter, if you wanted one, would be an ‘add-on’.


With Jesus, Buddha, Rong Po Thuot, and an eagle feather all riding along together on a bed of sage, you could say it’s a multi-denominational dashboard. I don’t know about other places, but over here, they ride together okay.

Of course, Betsy’s got some idiosyncrasies that come with her age, like the headlights just going off for no apparent reason in the ‘high beam’ mode. And when you’re going down the road, straight and level, there’s this loud ‘Clank’, like some kinda adjustment, from somewhere down in the chassis or drive train or rear axel, I can’t determine.


And then there’s no brakes, I had to tell Bo the other day after his tire went flat here and his spare wasn’t any good. He and Misty borrowed the truck to take their tires for air. Reckless maniac behind the wheel that he is, Bo’s one of the few people who I’d let drive her. When he hopped in behind the wheel, Betsy asked, ‘Do you know what you’re doing here? Are you chu-ah?’

“Sure I’m sure. You’ll be okay,” I told her. “Misty will keep him in check.”

“You’ve got to pump them six, seven, eight, nine times, downshift, and then you’ve got some brakes,” I told him.




The oil pressure and temperature gauges work. All the others; fuel, carry a gas can with five extra Gs; speedometer, listen to engine RPMs and watch the fence posts; dome light, use a flashlight; instrument panel light, what for? battery voltage, either cranks or it doesn’t; turn signals, use your hands; floating horizon indicators, there’s two, I don’t know why – it isn’t an aircraft. All that stuff, you don’t really need. Just the basics. The wipers work. On. Off.

Just the basics, like under the hood. You pop the hood (basic, easy-to-find latch), and you see a straight-six engine block, an air cleaner, and an alternator. That’s it. There’s enough extra space in the engine compartment to put a picnic basket, cooler, floor jack, and small child.

At the automotive shop where I was purchasing my third gas cap,** the kid behind the counter looked out the window at my truck and said, laughing, ‘Me and my buddy took one (a 235 Chevy engine) out and tried to blow it, just for the hell of it, and couldn’t do it.’


That’s about all you need to know. How would I describe her character? Reliable. Dependable. Can do a day’s work today and tomorrow.*** Same same woman from Montana. Don’t overload her. Don’t run her hard or fast. Check her vital fluids. If something major’s wrong, get it fixed. Let the minor shit slide. Treat her good. Keep her running straight. Keep her on the road.

____


Thunderclap In

Hey, almost forgot to tell you. Thunderclap’s IN!

I started leaning on him about having time to take culinary classes and go to the gym, but he didn’t have time for the troops, and how Hope always made time for the troops, even if Ann Margaret wasn’t with the troupe…only comedian to span five wars, count ‘em…a historical feat…got a sandwich, an aircraft carrier, and a desert golf classic named after him, co-starred with Judy Garland…brought Nancy Sinatra to Camp Rio, and he finally said, ‘Okay, okay, okay. I’ll do it. Depends on the time frame.’

Great, huh? Big surprise. Yeah, me, too. I thought he’d say no, especially after his last experience there. I don’t know if you heard. Despite his stockade experience and what people say, he’s a true patriot at heart. I know the guy.

It’s the administration, not his country. Paul’s in it more for his guilt trip and resurrecting his career, and Lee would just like to escape his country for a while, whereas Thunderclap would do it strictly for the benefit of the troops (I’ll bet you thought, ‘In Harm’s Way’ was coming, didn’t you? Sorry. Not gonna use it.).

Thunderclap was a trooper himself. He’ll do it for the troops and Hope’s memory, and all the laughs he gathered for troops on foreign soil. For all the soldiers away from home and their loved ones whom he made laugh for a little while, and forget where they were. Wow. What a mission. Makes me…gulp…some kinda way.

Even if they get everything organized in Iraq to the point American forces are withdrawn, there’ll still be a lot of work in places like Kabul and other heavily concentrated, heavily fortified areas.

That’s six of us, one Mexican, two Asians, if we can pull Su away from her tour work, one Brit, if we can work around Paul’s bowling league schedule; two Indians if Milo commits, and Thunderclap is still free, as in, not in jail; and me, enough to put the act on the road.

If we could get the Right Reverend Dr. Harold Johnson, a really funny, really black man from Indianapolis, that’d be great. Like the multi-cultural reach? With six people, we could cut the individual performance times to ten minutes each, and I wouldn’t have to go up at all, although I’d sure like to someday say that I got run off a stage in Baghdad.

Everybody is dealing with the same kind of time-frame obstacles, like inflexible commitments to their full-time jobs (Manny used to say, ‘You’ve got to be good enough to give up your day job.’) in the Real 3D World.****

As opposed to your computer screen or a figment of your imagination, which is to say, the screen could very well be one’s real, 3-D world, but before, before the Berries, before the desktop screen, before tv, before the 500-channel sleaze merchants, and even before radio got here, to the rez, a figment of one’s imagination was a true and valuable traditional cultural entertainment exercise that people practiced publicly as an art form. Oratory, or rhetoric, I think they called it. Guys like Thunderclap, he came more out of the Lenny Bruce mold.*****

Although he could prove a liability when it comes to dealing with the military and the government, especially after getting…nobody gets ‘thrown off’ a flight…(‘Comic Bothers Mary, Other Passengers On Flight’, AP 5//07/03) those passenger complaints and the flight attendant and the marshall involved.

It wasn’t what you’d call ‘a tussle’, but the incident got him removed from coach, ‘an upgrade to first class,’ he called it, even though he spent the remainder of the flight in cuffs.

The net result after a controversial round-about trip through Cuba, was his being barred from all domestic carriers within the continental U.S. So now he must depart the U.S. from Canada as a foreign national and fly back in on somebody else’s airline, effecting at least a delay or temporary detainment at any U.S. international airport (‘Comic Protests Detainment at LAX’, AP 12/26/04).

All for shooting off his mouth and pissing off everyone, just like Manny said you should never do, but which he always seems to be incapable of avoiding, even on an airplane. It’s happened twice.


Those people didn’t pay for no comedy club. All they wanted to do was get into Los Angeles, through customs, and to wherever they were going. They didn’t want some unwelcome, in-flight, low-life, coach class, no-talent, no-name wannabe comic going through his ‘Nigga UP in the White House?’ routine.

Sure, I thought it was pretty funny. Not his best stuff, but pretty funny, especially the response from around the world…people in Zimbawe and France all happy…till you got to England and Alabama…just the silent, sullen facial expressions were priceless…like people eating lemons or non-Indians reacting to tanega soup…while repeatedly asking the question with exaggerated incredulity, ‘a nigga up in the White House…? followed by no comment, just the expressions…pretty good stuff, but you can’t win over a mixed-bag captive audience like that.

Somebody’s gonna get pissed off. Somebody’s gonna get offended. You got too many races, too many ages, too many sensitivities, too many nationalities going on, too many kids…you can’t do an airplane.


A tube full of people fastened in at 30,000 feet is totally different than sitting around coffee with the boys on the rez, or a Southside Chicago comedy club.

You’re always going to get some kid asking, ‘Mommy, why is that man talking to everybody?’ or some baby crying, or some jerk in the back yelling something like, ‘Hey Fuckhead. Get back in your seat.’


Turns hostile too quick. Everything too quick. Mr. No-Neck in the back stands up, determined to personally handle the situation. Attendant eyes full of fear and concern, talking fast and sideways into a phone. Everybody’s looking. A mortified old lady shrieks hysterically as her back-from-the-tomb husband tries to calm her.


Everybody’s talking now. People in first class wonder what’s going on back in coach. Beefy hands take hold from the back, and before you know it, poof, anonymous in a chain link Guantanamo kennel cage, praying along with everybody else for Allah to smile upon the U.S. Supreme Court. Poof. Lock ‘em in the caser. Rendition. Vanish. Just like all them buffalo, huh, Mr. T. Clap? Holy Smokes, Catfish, tell me it ain’t so.


After they removed him from coach, the marshall told him if he started any shit up in first class, he’d put a muzzle on him. Thunderclap said first class or no first class, he wasn’t going to be treated like no DOG, and the guy said, ‘Up to you, Mr. Thundercloud,’ so he had a couple glasses of wine, ordered the cordon bleu and kept his mouth shut until the post-flight interrogation (‘Comic Paints Ugly Gitmo Picture’, Reuters 7/21/03). Better menu, better everything up there, anyway, he said.


So, I don’t know if we should still headline with the guy, or just go with some kind of clever idea for the whole show. Best thing for us is probably some hot all-girl Philipino band with lots of hot chicks with their asses hanging out of canary yellow patent leather short shorts, you know, like, where everybody would show up to see them, and we’d be the, whaddayacallit?...we’d be the warm-up act…the preliminary act.


Whenever I hear that word, every time, I hear the echo of Manny’s encouragement before my first tournament; ‘You make it past the preliminaries, Bic, you can advance to maybe the finals.’ he told me, unconvincingly, looking away when I looked up so our eyes didn’t meet.

As if I didn’t already know that. “Yeah, but I’ve got to wade through the quarter-finals and the semis first, Manny,” I told him. Sometimes that guy’s advice was absolutely worthless. That year, I got my ass kicked in the first preliminary round. But what the hell, I got invited.

____

Whaddaya get when you cross a right-wing talk show host and a poodle?

HA! I knew you’d get it. Not that hard to figure out.

____

Before sweat lodge I approached those two new guys from Seattle standing off to the side, and asked in an anxious voice, ‘You guys done this before?’

‘No,’ they both said, uneasiness in their voices. One of them muttered something about a sauna, but not a real, Native American sweat lodge ceremony.

They waited for me to say something, but I let the silence draw in on us, gathering fear. The older of the two was uncertain, waiting for me to tell them something about the ceremony. The younger guy was getting ready to ask me if it was my first time, too. I positioned myself so the fire could reflect the fear in my eyes when I glanced over at the lodge and whispered, ‘Is it gon’ be dark?’

The older guy started to laugh, but didn’t. ‘Yes,’ the young fella said.

____


Pimp-Out On Sanam Luang


Did I tell you about that kid and the kite?...the make-believe kite I was flying?...did I tell you about that already?...walking across the Phanang Luang, Sanam Luang or whatever it is, that great big-ass parade grounds adjacent to royal palace in Bangkok.


There’s maybe a thousand or so people hanging out, picnicking, vendors selling chicken on a stick and Pepsi and Fanta orange in sacks of crushed ice, a couple hundred flying kites, right?...stop me if you’ve already heard this…and so I’m crossing the grounds and enjoying the event or festival or whatever it was, since I like kites already…and there’s these two teenage boys coming the other way, walking right toward me, so before they notice me, I began flying my imaginary kite, tugging gently on the string and holding the ball in my other hand, my head turned up toward the sky, and watching them approach out of the corner of my eye, slowly walking right at them.


They started moving over to the right, and I moved in their path, and when they moved back to the left, I went over to the right, and just when they were a few feet away, I turned quickly and handed my string to one of the guys.

He started to reach out, then looked at my empty hands, and then looked up into the sky, no kite, and then back down at my hands while his friend pointed at him and laughed out loud, covering his mouth, while I stood there grinning.

“Mai talok,” the kid said, ‘not funny,’ as they walked away. His friend thought so. I thought so, too.

Pretty good, huh? I’d like to work it into the act some way.

____


Digger said some other comic stole my slo-mo replay routine. Said he saw a guy do it on cable tv. A slight variation, but you could tell he stole it, he said.

I could provide the details, which are pretty damned funny done live…stop and go pattern, slo-mo, got the guy beat, big-ass smile, reception, TD, spiking the ball, end zone celebration with the wavy knees, high-five-ing the fans on the way back to the bench…then the whole thing all in herky-jerky reverse, all the way back to the huddle…just like those old practice films…put Harold Johnson in stitches.

Yeah, you can’t put anything out over the internet these days without somebody stealing your idea, and then you’ve got a big court battle over somebody taking credit for something you’ve done. Like, Scarface, for instance.

Or those science lab credits for your bachelor’s degree. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

____

I suppose you’d like some reservation news. As you know, we’ve always got some kind of drama going on. Or trauma. Besides the teenage suicide in Oglala last week, just last week end, the girl down here on the corner hung herself. Yeah. And last year, her sister did. Too much.


People ain’t got no money, ain’t got no gas. Daily drama. Dalai Lama.


And then, here today, Lupe’s truck caught on fire on the way back from Oglala. Bad carburetor, we supposed. Leaky. Ninety-seven degrees out. Poof. That’s trauma.

Now, some will no doubt say, ‘That’s because…’, trying to attribute causal factors, like, ‘He didn’t put out tobacco’, or ‘He didn’t smudge his truck’, or ‘His old lady must’ve been pissed…’…actually, I’ve witnessed a really pissed off woman fry an entire ignition system by sheer force of psychic negativity…‘It’s totally fried,’ the mechanic said. ‘What happened?’ he asked…but, Indians are superstitious, like Misty sitting in front of a machine at the casino, having really good luck, she said, when this lady she knows came up to her and started to put her hand on her shoulder.

Aiiiiiieeeeee! Misty recoiled back, nearly coming out of the seat, hollering, “DON’T TOUCH ME!”


____


Lupe and I passed each other on the highway, waved, hit the brakes, turned off, backed up and sat talking from our truck cabs without getting out, the way we do out here.

“Where you been, Man?” I asked. “I no see you too long. You forget your bro?”

“I been with my woman,” he said. “You know how it is.”

“Yeah. You no show at sweat lodge. Last year you tell me, ‘You my best bro’ for ever and ever, amen.’ What’s the matter? You don’t know where I live? You got a truck...you got gas.”

“You know how it is,” he said again.

We met again over at Louie’s, drank coffee, and left after about an hour. On the way home his truck caught fire.

____


Toilet Paper, Over the Back


At some sun dances the dancers are treated like gods. Aiiiieeeee; they won’t let you doing anything, and helpers wait on you hand and foot. Really nice. First in line, and all that. Pretty cool. You feel special until someone brings you back down to earth. It’s not the same everywhere.

After the dance was over, I was down in main camp, feeling special and probably looking for some watermelon and a chance to talk with some supporter friends before they broke camp and headed home.

I found a couple of women friends who’d been working in the kitchen, and were sitting on lawn chairs outside their camp.

Compounded by just finishing up the dance and having recently returned from Asia, where the women leap up and wait on a man like a servant, I was struck by the difference in our liberated American women when I approached and said to those women, “Hi, Girls. Got anything to drink around here?”

One of them replied, “Yeah. There’s some water in one of those coolers over there, nodding to coolers sitting outside her rig, some thirty feet away. As I turned and walked over to her truck, she hollered, “Bring us one.”


It was Bryan and I sitting having coffee at a cafĂ© with Su, our interpreter, when one of us asked what Thai men want from a woman. Illustrative of the clarity and simplicity of the thinking, Su said, “Good sa-peak, good sa-mi, good take care…fami-ly…you need for mair-lee…dtong lub ma-ma and pa-pa.”

“What’d she just say?” asked Bryan. I was the interpreter for the interpreter.

“Good speak, good smile. Take care of family. Must love mama and papa to get married,” I said to Bryan. “What else?” I asked.

“Food. Launly…clean hou…make beauti-ful. Mah-sa.”

“What’d she just say?” asked Bryan.

“Laundry…clean house…massage. Is that it?” I asked.

“Pancake. Evey woman IN the world hab pancake.”

We laughed, and she added, “No buttafly! Don’t hab too much IN the world.”

“That’s pretty much what American men want, too,” I said. Bryan asked, “Okay, now. What do Thai women want?”

“Lub only one. No chain (‘change’),” she said.

“What else?” asked Bryan.

“Cannot do man work,” she said.

“What else?”

“Sa-weet talk evey day,” she said. “Numba one make lub.”

“Is that it?”

“Money to me. Take care. No butta-fly.”

We laughed again and said, “Do you know what American women want?” Bryan and I alternated;

“Money, big. House, big. Maid, ugly. Work, same as man. Husband, good. Sensitive, very. Listener, good. Freedom, her. Father, good. Clean up after self, socks. Educated. Motivated. Drive a certain car. Help around house. Help with kids. Mow the yard. Cook. Feed the dog. In touch with feminine side. Car, hers. Bank account, hers. No back talk. Get it yourself. Up to you. Toilet seat, down.”


Su held her hands out, palms down, bent 90 degrees at the wrists, fingertips pointing together, level, then slowly lowered one hand and raised the other. “In Thailand,” she said, “not same.”

____


Milo was sitting here at the kitchen table when I finally remembered to ask him about his interest in participating in the Bob Hope Memorial Comedy Tour to Iraq and Afghanistan.

He cocked his head slightly, squinted his eyes slightly, and softly said, ‘What?’

I gave him a hyper-enthusiastic run-down of the project, the people involved , and that Thunderclap might headline our act. Milo asked, “When? What kind of time-frame are you looking at? 2008? 2009?”

“Oh, the war’s gonna be going on for some time,” I told him gleefully. “Even if they kick us out of Iraq, we’ll still have work in Afghanistan regardless of who wins.”

“Then, after the election?” Milo asked.

“Oh, yeah. After the election. We can’t pull this off with Bush in office. Of course, you’ll have to do your own writing, produce your own material, y’know, not off-the-cuff. Stuff for the troops.”

Milo pursed his lips but didn’t give a definitive answer, but to ask if it was for charity or Iraqi children’s hospitals, or something, which I hadn’t thought of, but considered a good idea. Another Indian guy from Yankton, I think it was, had done a similar thing, he said, with puppets.
“I thought we’d do it for travel, drinks and a place to stay,” I said. “But we could charge…I haven’t thought about the financing…we’re just putting it together right now."

Milo kind of nodded his head. Ask while he’s still nodding, right? “Then you’re in?” I asked. “Or should I tell them, you’ll consider it?”

Milo nodded, which for me, is as good as a definite YES, which is what I’ll tell all the others. “All depends on the time-frame,” he said.


We went on talking about other things, like a wind turbine or something. I thought it was odd that he didn’t ask me about going into a combat zone and the Department of Defense, or Thunderclap, or Paul, or Lee.



- end


*There ain’t no first footnote

**In my absence, exceedingly desperate Indians pried off my locking gas cap and drained the contents of my gas tank, in the process, screwing up the neck and lip of the tank so that replacement caps rattle loose and off, usually somewhere along Slim Buttes Road.

***that was yesterday. Today, Betsy towed Lupe back some dozen miles from the Oglala turnoff, after Lupe’s truck caught fire. Fortunately, I looked back in my mirror and saw him emerge from the truck and wave his arms frantically. We put it out with water I had on board. ‘Always carry water,’ I told him.

On the way home, I gave Betsy a pat on the dash, and told her, ‘Good job, Old Girl. You pulled a truck ten, twenty years younger than you. Hardly raised your temperature two degrees. Nice job. Tomorrow, you can rest.’

Yeah, I talk to her. You bet. Don’t you?

****seen the T-shirt?

*****More of a social critic than a comedian, wouldn’t you say? He just used comedy clubs as a truth serum platform. Although unlike Thunderclap, he didn’t go ‘over the top’ with his audience. He usually heard, ‘Right on, Man,’ as opposed to, ‘Get the hell off the stage.’



8.08

Friday, August 01, 2008

Is That You, John Wayne?

IS THAT YOU, JOHN WAYNE?*


Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - Given the choice of installing a ceiling fan, and talking to you, I’ve chosen the latter. The fan can wait until later, like two o’clock, when Pine Ridge Dog Days sun turns this trailer into an oven.

The fan is possible now for two reasons; for one, the ceiling is high enough; two, I’ve got the motivation; and three, the solar panel is secured and operational, feeding the batteries that run this machine, the lights, and music, up to now. If I run any high-amp shit, like the coffee pot or a vacuum cleaner or anything that draws a lot of current, then…this is not possible.

Still working on it, you know, sort of feeling my way through a low-cost, do-it-yourself approach to energy self-sufficiency. Once I get water, then I can have indoor plumbing, do some landscaping, and turn this space into the oasis it was always meant to be.

And once the fan gets installed, the air in here can move and set the aircraft into perpetual motion, and then it’s on to bigger things, like a home-unit turbine generator, and just on the horizon, a 20 mega-watt wind farm.

Ten years ago, we were trying to establish a wind farm in Slim Buttes. The only thing that was holding us back was the 12 million dollars we needed up front to get it off the ground.

All this green revolution at the personal, community, corporate and global level is something Manny was waaaaaay ahead of the curve on. Everybody else is just now playing catch-up. Like, up here, I’ve been three years trying to get water. Misty said it took her seven. Manuel waited for five. Tribal, y’know.

I asked Uncle Joe and Milo and Misty to intervene on my behalf this summer, and Uncle Joe said at sweat lodge the other night that he’d made some moves. I thanked him. We’ll see what happens. Everybody says, ‘you’ve got to know somebody.’

Well, I know somebody. Sure. I know a lot of people. How many people do you know? Maybe I could just walk in and run the comedy routine by him. Never hurts to try.


I keep forgetting to ask Milo about his availability for the tour. I don’t know if you know him, but if you do, then you know Milo is a natural comedian and a really funny guy, even in tragic circumstances, so he’d be good in a combat zone or under fire.

However, on at least one occasion, Milo failed one of the fundamentals of ‘knowing your audience’ that Manny always used to speak of, when speaking before an entire female audience, he asked, ‘What do you say to a woman with two black eyes?’


‘Nothing. She’s already been told twice,’ he said.

Recounting the experience, Milo said, ‘None of those women laughed.’

Well, you know what Manny would say.

That’s as bad as Thunderclap for turning off an audience, who, by the way, indicated through an intermediary, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, that he might be available for the tour after the election, but didn’t have any audition tapes that would pass the DOD terrorist watch list.

The spokesman, Mr. ‘X’, said the comedian was engaged in culinary classes, hanging out with the troops, and working a small enlisted man’s nightclub ‘for drinks and a place to stay’ at some remote, undisclosed location in northern Pakistan.

So, his participation is iffy, at best. I don’t know about Milo. We haven’t set any firm dates yet, since everyone in the act says we should wait until after the election, not because we’re leaving Iraq or Afghanistan anytime soon, not like the scare we got earlier when the democrats, and then candidate Obama said they were going to bring the troops home…jesus……there for a minute…..but because the whole nature of the jokes could change by then, and Bush, Cheney and Halliburton material would be irrelevant.

That was the great thing about the late, great, master of irony, Bob Hope. He always worked with current material and had great timing, a great lesson for any comic or anyone going up with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

Right now, they’re saying we’ll still be there for years to come, so we can breathe easier knowing we’ve still got a lot of time to put it together. And Thunderclap was too paranoid to do anything further in public until Bush was out of office, after getting run out of Iraq, and the incident aboard the plane. The last thing he said to me was, “I’m laying low. This is one of the best places in the world to be if you don’t want to be found.”

____

Never No Hero To Me

A person can shape world events in a big way, can’t they? Look how things have changed in the last eight years. Most of us have smaller effects within our communities and homes, hoping to leave them with a smile on their faces and feeling good about themselves. Everybody leaves some kind of legacy, some kind of trail. What would your work speak of you? Eagle scout? Slime trail? Carnegie fellow? Civil Servant? Toxic residue? 400 tons of plastic? Is that you, John Wayne?

Let’s see about that fan.


SURE! Sure, I can install a ceiling fan. What’s the matter? You think maybe I need some help, like from a pro, right? Professional help. It’s not the first time it’s been suggested. ‘Maybe you should seek professional help.’

I get tired of hearing that. Nah. I can do this on my own. Done it before. I remember the last time, one of the kids asked, “Dad, are you supposed to have all these parts left over?”


Huh? “Oh…oh, those are probably…those are extras.”

“I don’t know,” they said. “Maybe they’re for the fan or something.”


Rather than be made a fool in front of my children, especially at that age, when they thought I was invincible, I told them, “You’ll understand when you’re grown.”

____


Got it. Two and a half hours, including undoing everything again to re-secure the mounting bracket to the ceiling, which I wondered about when I neglected putting in the extra screws in the first place. Even worked when I plugged it in. Manned mission to Mars? Chemical sniffer through the Ort Belt? Sorry, can’t help you there. Ceiling fan? With instructions? How many pages? Six? Sshuuhhh, I’m all over it.


Yeah, had a whole bunch of screws, washers, and bolts left over.

____

The weatherman on the radio keeps saying, ‘…when the sun sets…in the sky.’

every time he says it, during each newscast on the hour throughout the day, I keep thinking, ‘where else? Dipshit.’

____

You might be thinking that I’m probably sitting here listening to the radio and enjoying the breeze from my newly installed fan. But, no. It works, but it’s off. It’s pulling MAJOR amps and draining my batteries, sending the whole program into systemic shock. Still working on it.

You can catch a nice draft if you stand directly under it, and twirl the blades manually, with your hands.


What’s The Stupidest Shit You’ve Ever Pulled?


I needed to get out of here yesterday - had two tires leaking air and a flat spare, which went flat one mile from home during the return trip from Chadron the previous day. This was something that needed immediate attention, or I could be dead in the water until the cavalry arrives.

Drove down to the base farm, five miles south, on two breaths of air in the left front tire, praying all the way it wouldn’t go completely flat, or roll off the rim when I turned into the driveway.

To my immense relief, there was a small air compressor down at the base farm. The big one got stolen. There was coffee on, and they had cleaned up the big mess we’d left there from the feed after sweat lodge the night before, like six hours ago.

From the farm, I left buoyant and confident I could make it the fifteen miles to Roger Garcia’s tire shop in Oglala, check for books from the publisher at the Og (‘Ohg’, Oglala) post office, grab a gallon of gas at ‘Cubbies’, and drop by on Louie at his place on Lakeside.

Driving without a spare on Slim Buttes Road is like a double-dare, walking a razor edge of chance, eyes fastened assiduously to the road surface for any of the rife, sharp, tire-puncturing pyramidal stones for which Slim Buttes Road is notoriously reputed.

“Ahhh, Betsy. We made it,” I always say as we finally arrive at the blacktop highway east of Chadron, with an expulsion of breath held for 30 miles.


So it’s wise to run with one, maybe two spare tires. You don’t want to get stranded out there any kind of way, but running on Slim Buttes Road without a spare is sheer lunacy.

The road is in about the same extremely poor condition as always. You learn where the really bad holes are, and try to avoid them. Last week I hit a rim-crunching crater and my rear-view mirror snapped off the windshield and crashed down on the dash.

“Oooooooh. Sorry, Betsy. I know that hurt.”

After one trip down Slim Buttes Road, your car experiences what hell would be like, and the motorized equivalent of shell-shock or PTSD from which it will never completely recover.



There was a typical small compact car full of typically drunken Indians just at the turn into the base farm. They were typically trying to make it back to Oglala, still another fifteen miles north, after a typical trip into Chadron Wal-Mart and the liquor store. They typically had a flat and were crippling along at a typical two miles per hour with their emergency blinkers on. I pulled up alongside.

“Y…y…you got a donut we can use?” asked the lady behind the wheel.

“No,” I said, glancing down at their five-hole rims. “I’ve got six-hole rims.”

“Ah…ah…all’s we need is a donut. I can pay you for it,” she said, forcing the words out with great effort. “We’re trying to get to Oglala.”

“I’ve got six-hole truck rims,” I repeated. “It won’t fit your car. You’ve got five-hole rims.”

“All we need it for is to get home,” she said, almost pleading. “I can give it back to you tomorrow,” she added, trying to sound convincing.

“My spare won’t fit on your hubs,” I said, slowing down the delivery, enunciating each word.

The guy in the passenger’s seat grabbed her arm and mumbled an interpretation to her neck, without making eye contact. She turned back to me with a semi-vacant look and opened her mouth, but no words came out.

“You guys got a cell phone?” I asked.

They said they did, and someone’s brother was coming to meet them. I apologized, they said thanks for stopping anyway, offered me some Jack Daniels, which I declined with a smile, and turned into the driveway as they slowly clunked northward on their rim, the tire kaflop, kaflop, kaflopping on every revolution.



_____



Two of the three guys who ripped me off were out on Slim Buttes road in the hot sun, hitchhiking the 30 miles into town. They saw my truck coming and stuck out their thumbs, grinning broadly.

“I would’ve gone right by them,” said Nita, shaking her head, as I told the story in Loretta’s kitchen in Chadron. Downstairs, Tom, three lawyers and their ‘observer to make sure they do everything right’, were hammering out water fight affidavits on laptops, trying to make a deadline.


I was in the way, a distraction. Tom asked for me to stick around for editing, but this was all legal shit, I told him, the experts were on it, and they didn’t have time for stand up comedy, or so I thought. Actually, they did. I returned to the kitchen after the break.


“I would’ve let them walk,” Nita said again as she prepared lunch for the eleven people in the house. “I would’ve driven right by them.”

I had let the two hitchhikers out in the Safeway parking lot, and they headed directly across the street to Lariat Liquors.

Nelson Mandela says you should know your enemies. Keep your friends close, he said, but keep your enemies closer. Those two were my best buddies. One of them hopped in the passenger’s seat, and the other jumped in the back, up on the toolbox behind the cab.


The guy in the passenger’s seat began telling me what I’d already heard. He’d just gotten out of the Hot Springs hospital, he said, after a severe beating at the hands of the two nephews, one of whom was sitting in the back of the truck.

They’d gotten some money, gotten some booze, gotten drunk, gotten into a big fight, gotten arrested, gotten hospitalized and just this morning gotten out. He had a long, freshly-sutured, deep knife wound from his left ear to above his left eye, cotton gauze still packed in the ear. His eyes were red from hemorrhaging, and his whole face was bruised, black, and blue.

He was limping badly on a leg he couldn’t straighten. That was the good leg. The other one, the one that was oozing pus, was from the steel rod, he said, that had been implanted in his broken leg the last time he was hospitalized after he’d been beaten senseless after they’d been drinking. “They used a baseball bat,” he said.

As pissed off as I was at those guys for violating me the way they did, I couldn’t help but feel pity for them as they stumbled toward the liquor store. After the break-in and robbery two years ago, during which they removed everything of material value from my home, I really wanted to hurt those guys for awhile, but in the end, I kept thinking about my good friends Jesus and the Dalai Lama, and let the universe go ahead and work things out. I didn’t have to do a thing but give them a ride.




Besides this ‘What’s-New-In-The-Neighborhood’ case, there was talk around the fire the night before of a teenage suicide hanging in Oglala, a gang murder in White Clay, a fourteen-year old crackhead pregnant neice, and within the extended family, another domestic violence jail term and wacko post-release drama involving the spouse, the kids, and yeah, everybody. They arrested her. She beat him up.


And all this is just on the surface. No wonder this year why the medicine men are being strict on the dancers. No wonder why the dancers are making greater offerings.

We returned to Wakpamni for my tipi. Sixty dancers, they said. They were just wrapping things up with some post-sun dance ceremonial honorings, and had taken the tipi down, rolled up with the poles laid off to the side. Thaaaank you. A lot of people had already packed up and gone home.

They said our tipi had withstood the big storm that rolled through the dance grounds two nights earlier. The other two tipis we set up stood as well. Only one went over.


“The only one that didn’t stand is the one we didn’t touch,” laughed Tom, being generous with the ‘we’ credit. He did all the work, layout, measurements, ties, pins and poles. That’s okay, because he’s the one with the resources, the connections, the agenda for the day, and the one who gets called. The rest of us are just worker bees.

Today, this tipi goes to the Looking Horse sun dance at Green Grass, the home of the sacred buffalo pipe. Tell Mike it’s making the rounds.




- end




*from ‘Joker’, in ‘Full Metal Jacket’

Better Back That Up

BETTER BACK THAT UP*


My Robot Can Kick Your Robot’s Ass

Slim Buttes – We were sitting around at the base farm with the nephews, Marcus and Ted Red Cloud, engaged in our ‘Lord of The Flies’, Warsaw ghetto ‘sweep and clear’ attempts to exterminate them.

“I’m allll in their heads,” I told the boys. “I know which way they plan to escape, you know, sixth sense, and…NO…bam, I closes the back doe’,” I said, slapping table. “Never miss a shot.”

We were discussing the billion-year evolutionary development of the extraordinary escape and avoidance mechanisms of the common housefly, and how the sophisticated capabilities of such a lowly, shit-eating creature inspired aviation-minded men and led to the development of the helicopter, from da Vinci, 1461 (never got off the drawing board), to Benjamin Whittaker and Jacques Birieu (never got off the ground) to Igor Sikorsky, 1939 (solved the problem of instability by introducing counter-rotational force with a tail rotor), to today’s machines, not unlike the homemade cardboard ‘Black Ops’ UH-1H hovering over the table. That’s why they say Leonardo was 500 years ahead of his time.

The boys (late teens) listened attentively, understanding the problems of the early developers when encountering the toilet bowl physics of rotational force, nodding their heads. There wasn’t anything else to do. It was hot outside. Tom napped on the couch.

If you’ve ever seen footage of those early comic attempts in France to replicate the fly, everything went helter skelter and catawampus, disintegrating, and the pilot went to the hospital. Back to the drawing board.

There for just a moment, it looked like they had it, with big smiles, handshakes, and back-slapping. Then it went horribly awry with the craft hopping and shuddering, pieces flying everywhere, flopping around like a decapitated chicken in its death throes, wooden rotor blades chopping into the earth, splintering and sending razor shards through the air, people running for their lives. Can’t you just see it?

Eventually, wouldn’t ya know, a Russian worked it out (Russian-American, actually, but he just immigrated to the U.S. and didn’t hardly know no English, so technically, he was a U.S. citizen, but really, he was a Russian). Just like all the other shit they make, it looked ‘boxy’. But it worked.





The helicopter, introduced in it’s first combat role in the Ia Drang Valley of the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1965 as a troop transport and aerial assault weapons platform, represented the ‘Vietnam Era’ in a line of aircraft for each war; the bi-plane in WWI, the B17s and B24 ‘Superfortress’ bombers of WWII, the advent of the ‘supersonic’ jet of the Korean War, the U2 during the cold war, and so on, for the Slim Buttes wing of the museum of sub-orbital aviation history.

We’ve already been here, done that, as they say, so I’ll refrain from explaining details of the enterprise, other than to say the project became fixated on the WWI bi-plane after completion of the SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ spy plane, expanding into six squadrons in three editions.


To get to the point***, what would be the representative aircraft of today’s war? The hellfire-armed predator drone would be a strong contender, launched from some sensitive undisclosed location in the mountains of Afghanistan, and controlled by someone with pimples in Nevada.

No more John McCains getting shot down over hostile territory and ending up shivering in a rat cage. The curtain is closing on the 100-year era of the pilot. Kitty Hawk in 1909. Those’ll be VA hospital and rocking chair stories. ‘Son, we used to haaaave what was once known as a…‘Pilot’.”

Aerial reconnaissance and combat has been outsourced to a techie’s dream. Pilot, gunner, bombardier, and navigator all set up on a computer screen. The future is now. Un-manned Missions to Mars. Robots to the Ort Belt. Robots to the sun.



As many past scientific advances in military technology have spun off civilian purposes, like GPS, the Humvee, and the roadside bomb, it’s a small step from robotic military aircraft to practical civilian applications.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, your flight today is being commanded and controlled by…let’s see…Timmy…from his couch in Des Moines.


‘Please turn off your laptops, gameboys, ipods, and personal communication devices and place your seats into their upright position. Enjoy your flight.’

____








Always More Than What You Thought


There are sun dances going on all over the place, so we’ve been running here and there setting up tipis, which are very much in demand, and which gives a sun dance grounds instant credibility. Dancers would much rather reside in a large tipi than in two-person pup tents.

So when Tom Cook showed up asking if I wanted to go out to Wakpamni, way east of Pine Ridge, almost to the western fringe of Rosebud (Reservation) to set up a tipi, I should’ve known it would be more than that. It always is. Minimally, you can expect to work beyond darkness, and you can expect to drive home.

“Can we use your tipi?” he asked.

“Sure thing,” I said, without the least reluctance, for I knew Mike would be pleased. Much to my surprise, Mike Albin, one of the ‘New York Boys’, gifted me a $600 22 ft. tipi this summer at our dance, in exchange for a T-shirt and a nine-inch cardboard airplane.

“For your many years of unflagging support of the dance, and work at the tree as Chief Medical Officer,” they said.

Two weeks ago, after serving as ‘spillover’ lodging for seven of us dancers the previous week at our dance in ‘The Canyon’, the tipi was used at the funeral home for the bones of Chief American Horse during the repatriation of his remains to the family grounds on American Horse Creek, way out on the eastern end of the rez, past Allen.

The T-shirt, a Khao Lak Land Discovery shirt from Thailand with an elephant logo and the wording, ‘Nature is Home / Water is Life’, was my favorite, but not worth $600. I don’t know what the airplanes are worth. A lot, but I’ve never placed a dollar figure on them. They’ve all been free. Takes about four hours to knock one out. The Myanmar can take one from scratch to final assembly in half my time if I pay them by the hour.

Anyways, it’s better for that tipi to be in use than rolled up in storage, right?

“You can’t count the blessings that’ll come out of this,” said Tom after we’d set up the third tipi, in a 30 mph wind, I might add, and one of those grandmas asked us to take down and re-set the women’s 24 ft. tipi as darkness was setting in and rain began splattering the dance grounds at Wakpamni, reminding me that I’d left the windows open at my place, and that all my shit would probably be wet. It was, including my bed. That must’ve been the blessings that Tom was talking about.

It takes much practice to get a tipi exactly right, so when you’re done, it’s stretched nice and tight, like a teenager or a Pine Ridge meth head, and when you thump the canvas with your finger, it sounds like a drum.

Done incorrectly, the tipi can look all saggy and flappy like those commod-bod (commodity body) Indians you see everywhere, and like the women’s tipi looked before we pulled the stakes, pulled the pins, removed the flap poles, rolled up the canvas, took it down with about five guys, removed the stack, did the measurements, re-tied the stack, set it up, re-tied the main pole, unfurled the canvas in the wind, set the pins, set the flap poles, and staked it down. It took about an hour.

“Looks good,” Tom said from the truck cab as rain splashed down on the windshield. “Tons of blessings. Tons of blessings.”

It was dark by the time we finished, and as we were leaving, those ladies sang out, “Thank youuuu.”

And they gave us the standard fare of any Indian gathering – bologna sandwiches between two slices of white bread. No cheese. No mayo. No mustard. I ate two of them.


____



Here, Hand Me That Swatter

As previously noted, the war against flies is a lot like the war on terrorism; it’s a war that goes on forever, maybe decades, and it’s a war you must win, just like the leaders of the civilized world have repeatedly told us.

Flies are the only creature on earth that will follow you from the outhouse, where they’ve been snacking on shit, slide in through that crack in the door, and want to land on your salad.

They’re really quite amazing. They can take a hit the equivalent of you or me being slammed by a construction site dumpster, and shake it off, wipe off their wings, rub their hands together, and pooff, back into the air. Even in death, they can jump eight feet, eyes closed, wings tied behind their backs.

They can even arise from the dead, back to life, fluttering in the ashtray…then, wow! Ignition and liftoff! I’ve seen it many times, and I only know of one people who can do that.



Just like this rascal right now, like a mosquito, they know just where to land. This one keeps hitting me on the head, shoulders and back, where I can’t get to him. “I see. It’s a game of tag.” And then every time, and I mean, EVERY Single time I pick up the swatter, he’s a Houdini, an Osama, ‘a fucking magician’, to borrow George’s phrase.

We seem surprised when they vanish after we pick up the swatter. That’s no psychic miracle. Christ, they can see you. They’ve got a thousand eyes.


Dad is probably responsible. Pops was no friend to a fly. I wouldn’t call it outright hatred, for he was a genuinely peaceful man, but you couldn’t say ‘he wouldn’t harm a fly.’ Like the monk, breaking the first vow, killing flies in the kitchen, and asked by the novice the contradiction. ‘I HATE flies,’ the monk replied.

Once you declare war on them, it’s a no-holds-barred Gitmo affair, and they know it. You’re slaughtering their relatives. ANYthing is fair game. Like your nostril or upper lip that has you waking up swinging out of a dead sleep.

“ALL RIGHT, YOU SON…OF A BITCH. I’M AWAKE!” I found myself crying out earlier in the week, leaping out of bed in the middle of a dream and heading straight for the swatter in a waking fog. They know just how to get your day off to a bad start. For that, I’ll put water on the swatter, so even if I don’t kill them, I’ll sting the hell out them.

Dad used to talk to them, and I’d think he was half-crazy, talking to a fly, rising out of his Lazy-Boy recliner, saying, “Well, Old Fly, you’ve done made me get up.”
And he wasn’t talking to me, or just saying things to the fly for my benefit. He was actually addressing the fly.

He used to say things like, ‘Get outta my hair with your business,’ and, ‘Okay, now I’m ready for you,” holding the swatter on the arm of his chair as he watched the Cubs in the bottom of the fifth.

Dad used to tickle me with what I thought was his fly nonsense, but now that I’m a grown man in my own right, I’ve come to see that my liberal, Dr. Seuss, love-bead, flower-child, peacenik, look-the-other-way, Nixonian ignore-them-and-they’ll-go-away politics of the past have been supplanted by far less tolerant attitudes. Just like the war on terror. And like dad used to say about a lot of things in life, ‘You’ll understand what I’m talking about when you’re a man.’


And so, now I’m like, KILL!




What Happened? You’re All Aglow


We’re doing more than swatting flies around here. I say, ‘we’, but I’m not involved in the uranium fight. Our sun dance bro Dave Frankel has taken the lead dog role in the court battle, including some big league legal heavy hitters, outraged farmers, glow-in-the-dark ranchers, and local Indians, like Tom Cook and Deb White Plume, the long-term crusader and most knowledgeable person on the contamination of our water sources by uranium mining.

We owe a lot to Deb, who has been clanging the alarm bells for several years, delivering her water wake-up message two years ago to the assembly at Bear Butte, who were protesting the intrusion of Sturgis Harley motorcycle rally riders into the heart of Lakota spirituality.

On the radio, ‘Our water, our water. Protect our water.’

The mining company happens to be a Canadian billionaire, running a fuzzy operation**** with three aliases, a fictional New York answering machine address and buffer zone attorneys, sells uranium to the Chi…who knows…it goes to Canada, and from there…? and is quietly killing everyone downstream from Crow Butte, which you can see from Tom and Loretta’s kitchen window on south Maple Street, Chadron.

Now, all of that may not be technically correct, but that’s the gist of it, and like I said, I haven’t been involved. I get it all second-hand. They haven’t asked me to do anything, probably because I never finished law school and ain’t here half the time. Not exactly ‘up to speed’ on the issue. For accurate horse’s mouth info, you’d have to talk to David or Deb or Tom.

Like the mission to mars, there are experts on the case who don’t need technical or tactical advice from you and me. And you’d be right in thinking there are some cantankerous old Nebraska cowboys who have known for years what’s going on, and have been raising hell and looking for help up and down the line, but they won’t find it from the EPA.

Although I never heard about it in the news, a few years back, the EPA relaxed its standards by allowing the company a ten-fold increase in the amount of acceptable levels of contamination, if there is such a thing.

So many parts per million, or something like that, but that’s all just numbers, figures, fractions and decimal points, along with charts and graphs, which really don’t mean shit to those women coming up with lumps in their breasts.


The hydrology expert said underground is like a big sponge, with veins and capillaries, if you will, and all the water being sucked up by agriculture from all points east, creates a vacuum and pulls water from the contaminated aquifers that the mining companies contrarily say is staying put underneath Crow Butte. Everything is interconnected, something the Indians have known all along.


However, by being a butte, means that it stands high above all the surrounding topography for several hundred miles, and water always follows the principle of gravity, donut? Same same septic system.



From a great geological ridge in the Nebraska ‘panhandle’ and southwest S. Dakota, all the water north of the ridge flows to the Missouri, and all the water running south flows to the Platte. I could be misrepresenting the facts, but that’s my understanding, second-hand from Tom Cook.

In the extraction process, they use an astounding several thousand gallons of uncontaminated water PER MINUTE, then pump it back underground, where they say it stays until eternity, or until the four billion-year shelf life of the active elements expire. You might as well say eternity. We think it’s a problem. They say no. What do you think?

____


Familiar With The Mind-Set Already


“Yeah, I already knew you did it. Your relatives told me,” I said to the person who ripped me off for the contents of my home last fall while I was at sweat lodge, making my departure from Pine Ridge more immediate, and leaving a really nasty taste in my mouth about living here. I understood how Bryan felt, selling his parcel of land, severing his ties, and wanting ‘nothing more to do with Pine Ridge.’

He (the perpetraitor) sat here at my kitchen table, apologizing, and telling me that he’d gone off track with cocaine, and that he’d gone to treatment, was straight now, and wanted to come around to the sun dance and back to sweat lodge again without having to avoid me or some of the other people he had burned.

“I became another person,” he said. “That wasn’t the real me…you know. I became another person nobody knew,” he said, “even my own family. I hurt people who loved me, and I ruined a lot of close relationships. It was the coke.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know. I’ve seen what cocaine can do to a person, and the damage it can do.”

“Anybody can make a mistake,” I told him, adding that I appreciated his ‘manning up’ to me, face-to-face, and his honesty. “I accept your apology, but what are you going to do to compensate me for all that shit you took?”

We talked about how he could do it, and sat here talking for about an hour. He went through his story again, pretty much saying the same thing about three or four times, repeatedly apologizing and talking about getting his life back ‘on track’. Well, I’m still waiting for the restitution part so we can close that chapter.


Those other guys, the ones who ransacked my home while I was 8,000 miles away, have been coming around to sweat lodge, smiling, shaking hands, acting like nothing happened and everything is hunky-dory, haven’t let on in the least, but I know, and they know, and I know they know, and they know I know they know. It’s extremely awkward and uncomfortable, so much so that I must leave.

For the heart, forgiveness is a very good thing, but I also believe in the cleansing aspect of contrition for wrongdoing. Like children, they need instruction, and to know of consequences, but around here, people are extraordinarily tolerant of drunk Indians and the lame excuse intoxication offers for unacceptable behavior, like, it’s somebody else’s responsibility.

_____


For some strange reason, while doing the forward bend in an inconsistent yoga practice, I began experiencing a sense of hanging on a rack in somebody’s dungeon. Maybe it was a past life, maybe not, but as the imagery persisted, I stretched out another several inches, the muscles in the neck relaxing, the head drooping, the arms and back muscles extended waaaaay out there, and the hips, lower back and all those internal abdominal muscles letting go.

Like someone hanging on a cross, except folded over at the waist, you know. Then the hamstrings and all that lower apparatus from my toes to my pelvis let go as I imagined my entire weight hanging from my wrists. It was wonderful.

All that got me thinking about Jesus, and what he must’ve felt while hanging out there on Calvary.***** Not the wounds and all the sorrow, being forsaken and everything – just the muscles. Next time he comes through here, I’m going to ask him about that, what he thinks of killing flies, and about those thieves, since I’m in such a quandary about it, but I already know what he’s going to say.



Tastes Like Chicken


I’ve been thinking about killing and eating that rabbit that’s living under the trailer. Tastes a lot like chicken. I think perhaps I could put out some salad, you know, like lettuce and carrots and something he’d like, and devise some kind of a trap.

Maybe I won’t even need a trap, because he’ll come right up to me and eat out of my hand. Since I don’t own a gun, I’ll probably have to choke him to death, or give him a ‘rabbit chop’ to the back of the neck, thereby breaking his spine, but that prolongs the death, and would be considered cruel by many State legislatures, so the best thing to do for a rabbit, short of lethal injection, is to slug ‘em in the forehead with your fist, the way Mr. Malonzo did down in Georgia. I seen it happen.

Mr. Malonzo was Greek, or Corsican, or Armenian, or Mexican or something. Mexican. He had thick black frame glasses that made his eyes look a little unnaturally large, rich, thick black hair, a cropped Hitler-like mustache, spoke with a thick accent, walked like he’d injured a leg long ago, and was always wearing hospital whites with a black name tag.

He knew how to kill a rabbit, he said. He used to raise them, he said. He had some at home in his freezer. Tastes a lot like chicken.

Mr. Malonzo said he knew how to kill a rabbit, because he’d done it before, and I didn’t know what to do after Fifi, my neighbor’s giant Poodle, jumped the fence and wanted to play with Mr. Chips, my very large pet Rhode Island Red…no…that’s a chicken…what was it?

New Zealand Red. A big New Zealand Red with big, long-ass ears, the kind you see in blue-ribbon-bearing exhibit cages at the 4-H fair. He was domesticated, house-trained, and funny, and I’d had him about a year or so. He was big. I don’t know, maybe about twenty, thirty pounds. He was huge.

Mr. Chips would sit stretched out on your lap while you stroked his ears, run and hop up in mid-air and do a double hind-leg kick, and never shit in the house. Rabbit shit looks a lot like opium balls, and I sold some to a guy. “Don’t eat it,” I told him. “Smoke it.” I saw him later and asked him how it was, and he said it was good. Made him feel lighted-headed and some kinda way. This was back in reform school, back in the ‘60s, before Vietnam.

Anyway, their game of tag got out of hand, Fifi was always ‘It’, and in the end, after being manhandled like a rag doll, Mr. Chips suffered some cracked ribs and a punctured lung, Mr. Malonzo surmised, with dog slobber all over his neck, and it didn’t appear that he was going to ‘make it’.


Mr. Chips was big, even by big rabbit standards, but not big enough for Fifi, and a rabbit has few defenses other than evasion, and not nearly as good as, say, a fly. Like, he can’t turn on you like a cornered cat or badger or wolverine or porcupine and fuck you up if you proceed any further. So the dog pretty much just ran him down in the enclosed yard until Mr. Chips was exhausted.

We laid him out on the sidewalk, there was three of us there, the other guy just watched, and I said, ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips,’ and Mr. Malonzo hauled off and smacked the concrete with his fist, shattering two bones in his hand, you could clearly see it on the X-rays. Compound fractures of two metacarpals.

Having only received a glancing blow, Mr. Chips was still conscious, but breathing laboriously inextremis and apparent severe discomfort. Mr. Malonzo was walking around in small circles, shaking and holding his busted hand, and told me to hit the rabbit. “You do it,” he said.

I just couldn’t. I wanted to kill the dog. I wanted to kill the dog for mutilating my pet rabbit, right? I didn’t want to kill my rabbit, that’s why I asked you, I told him.

“Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” I said, and with his left hand, Mr. Malonzo gave Mr. Chips a ‘rabbit chop’ to the back of the neck, which didn’t kill him, because Mr. Malonzo was right-handed, and the chop wasn’t accurate.

“I could hold him by the back legs and smash his head on the sidewalk,” Mr. Malonzo said, and I think I must said something like, “Fuck no,” so, in pain and frustration, Mr. Malonzo, now in a sweat, removed his glasses and hauled off and smacked the rabbit again in the head, right-handed, killing him.

So, Mr. Chips met a violent end. Upon impact, Mr. Malonzo immediately recoiled, grabbed his hand and shouted, ‘MOTHER MARY!’ to the sky, which now, four decades later, leads me to believe that he was Catholic…and Mexican, for sure.

Mr. Chips went home and got buried in the back yard, and Mr. Malonzo went to the clinic, returning the next day with his hand and arm in a white plaster cast. I thanked him for his executioner’s role, and told him I was sorry about his hand.

I went over to see my neighbors, I don’t know why, to tell them that their dog jumped the fence and killed my rabbit. I don’t know what I expected. A couple hundred dollars or something. A short Asian lady, Chinese I think, opened the door, and when I communicated who I was and what had happened, I was certain that she only got part of the message when she replied, “Nooooo. Fifi home.”

“Yeah. He’s home NOW, because he jumped back over the fence. I SAW the dog killing Mr. Chips, shaking him like a rag doll. When I ran out, he dropped him and jumped back over the fence.”

“Fifi?” she asked.

“Yeah. Fifi.”

I don’t know how long she’d been in the country or how well she understood English. She was married to an Air Force colonel or something. “Mr. Chip?” she asked. “Mr. Chip die?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “Fifi kill Mr. Chips.”

“Oh. I solly,” she said with comprehension and lament in her eyes. “Velly solly.”


That was pretty much the end of it, but I recall being dejected by the experience, and eventually went on with life, you know. I mean, how many days work can you take off over a pet rabbit? People might say it’s not like a dog or a cat or something, but a pet is a pet, and Mr. Chips was pretty cool.

So I’ll probably NOT slug the rabbit, like Mr. Malonzo. I’ll probably have to choke it to death.

____

Say, if any of you are going to China for the Olympics this summer, I’ve got a friend who lives over there, I forget what city. If you see him, please tell him I said hi. What does he look like? Oh, he’s got black hair, about…this tall…up to about here on me…he’s got slanted eyes, and almost all the time, he’s wearing a white shirt with black slacks. Tell him ‘Blovic’ says hi. What’s his name? Lee. His name is Lee.






- end




*I sat here thinking and thinking about an appropriate title after going through the work several times, and just couldn’t come up with a title that reflected a common theme, because there isn’t one. Just a bunch of tales from notes. I’m open for suggestions for what I consider to be the most fun of the exercise – coming up with a title. I know, it’s weak. I honestly can’t remember what I was thinking when I came up with this one. Vista command? Files? Hard drive?

**I made up these two names, you know, just for the flow of the story, which the boys didn’t question, and appeared to accept as fact. da Vinci and Sikorksky were real. They’d probably heard of daVinci.

***‘To get to the point,’ we’re not supposed to say. Unneccesary words. What was the point, anyway? We’re just supposed to go on and get to it. They say it only serves to tell the reader we haven’t gotten to it yet. I don’t know. Here, it seems to work. Maybe not. They’re probably right.

****In addition to providing free bottled water at last year’s Oglala Nation pow-wow, that had many of us wondering who and why, they actually produced a proposal to the OST (Oglala Sioux Tribe) tribal council last summer that said we are sitting atop uranium, bad stuff. Let us come in and remove it for you.

*****Around here, people speak of ‘The Seventh Calvary’, or, ‘the calvary’, usually in regard to some big fight with the Indians. Mrs. Jones got me straight on that, much to my embarrassment in her high school English class, when she said, ‘the CAValry is who came in to rescue the surrounded stagecoach. CALvary is where Christ died.’ I’ve never forgotten that. She was terrific.