Thursday, October 30, 2008

There Could Be Modifications

There Could Be Modifications

I could be that guy you see in the supermarket, or the parade, with the pins all over his hat.

Not the Wal-Mart Guy, or the NASCAR or Sturgis Motorcycle Rally devotees who wear pins all over their vests. Veterans wear all their shit on their hat. Maybe you’ve seen the guy with the aircraft carrier, the ‘USS Something Or Other’.

Let’s see here. First of all, the appropriate headgear, the standard baseball cap, but this one, a gift from Bro Tom from an Iowa casino gift shop*, boldly emblazoned in yellow letters with ‘Vietnam Veteran’ like a billboard, with a row of service ribbons underneath it, even without the pins, should get you through the first-level security at most U.S. airports. As a standard practice, I wear it into Pine Ridge Village, where it gets enormous respect, and since the rectal examinations by Denver and Seattle security, at any U.S. airport.

Above the vet declaration, I’ve got a set of wings that go right proudly in the middle of the billboard, and only once in twenty or thirty years elicited a comment, when a young man in…where was it…outside a convenience store in Chadron…flashed me a salute and held the door open and said his dad was an aviator.

Then there’s this little purple heart pin for being in the wrong place at the wrong time is pretty much what that says. But people recognize it. It’s purple, in the shape of a heart, with a profile of some guy…lemme check…George Washington…so, many people, expecially U.S. citizens, know that one when they see it.

Annnnnd I gotta little combat medic’s badge I can pin on there somewhere, even though most people wouldn’t know what it looks like or care enough to ask, like, ‘Excuse me Sir, but could you tell me what that pin means?’ Or, like asking that biker about his patch. People don’t do it.

You can be standing right behind him in line at the checkout, staring at the patch ‘STURGIS 2002 - Rockymore, MT Harley Davidson Motorcycle Club’, and you could ask him about the patch, or Rockymore, but you won’t.

And somewhere, at the memorial wall in D.C. back in the 80s when I took Mike Shoemaker up there to see it in the dead of February at seventeen below zero, and Mike hadn’t been out of the state of Indiana for twenty years, dropped everything, left a note under the door of his boss, filled the coffee thermos and headed out around midnight.

They were selling bumper stickers and little trinkets under a tent, a navy seal under a tent. Him and another guy, freezing and stomping their feet, and they had all the names there in big volumes and you could look up your friends and find them on the wall. I bought a pin that day, a ‘Vietnam / Laos / Cambodia War Games Participant’ pin with a peace sign, and our tears froze on our faces.

Up in Rapid City at Prairie Edge you can get those cool little rectangular pins with an eagle feather and the green and red stripes on a yellow field, representing the flag of Vietnam, and I’ve got one of those, stuck up there on the wall.

And what else? Let me have a look around here once.

They should give you pins for degrees.

Ahhhhh, here’s a miniature DFC, a distinguished flying cross, like McCain got for getting shot down, and a rare Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for…for…for being gallant, I guess, during a sticky nighttime mission under fire, ours or theirs, I never found out which, because it was, like I said, dark, and everything was whooshing around in the sky every whichaway and the helicopter was going all haywire. It was inappropriately awarded. There was nothing gallant about my fear.

Yeah, well, all this is war shit. There’s an Order of the Eagle Feather, and the Red Feather Society that Uncle Joe got me inducted into out at an Oglala pow wow a few years back, and some other stuff, but I never wear any of that shit. It hangs on the wall over my desk, not the least dissuasive to the thieves who twice broke in and ransacked the place.

Well, they didn’t exactly ransack the place. They merely stole everything of value. I sat beside the guy in lodge recently, and second round, he asked to use my drum. Yeah, so in case I had gotten to the place where I could let it go and forget about it, here’s a reminder FOR YA. Yeah, enormous respect out here on the rez.

They should give you pins for your degrees, and that way, you could wear your education on your hat, or your sleeve. A paralegal associate, an OCD truck driver, a BA in philosophy, an MA from the Harvard Business School, a PhD. from Ivy Tech, Doctor of Neurosurgery, University Online.

Nobody cares about a pin unless it’s the flag on your lapel.

It’s too heavy. All that metal hanging from your hat is too heavy. Besides a delirious old veteran in a parade, who would want to wear it around on their head? It’s bad enough to carry it around on the inside.

- end

*Indians can’t just blow through a state without at least one stop. Even with a tailwind, it can take several days for an Indian to cross Nevada.

Flip Your World

Flip Your World

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – I’ve been waiting all summer for two things; water, and, to get my hands on this bobcat.

The bobcat, in its third or fourth year in the neighborhood, has been in constant use since its acquisition, a gift from a donor. Henry Red Cloud kept it for over a year, digging out Lake Red Cloud and telling folks it was his, and since its retrieval, has had a whole shitload of guys in line for excavation, post-hole drilling, dam-building, and all manner of things a bobcat can do.

Milo delivered it here yesterday with five Gs of diesel, and after a couple hours of driveway work and the excavation of my planned pond, the right front tire went flat.

Wouldn’t ya know it, I have a 15/16, a 1 and 1/16, a 1 and 1/8 inch socket in a half-inch drive, but no one-inch, which is the size of the nuts on the wheel. I had a one-inch 3/8 drive socket, but after bending the shit out of one ratchet and stripping another, I gave up and came in here to wait for Jesus to show up with the necessary tools.

The tire needs to go to Hills Tire in Chadron. You need big-ass tractor tools, which I don’t have, and have never purchased in my life, valuing my fingers more for adaptation to a keyboard than a handyman jack or things hydraulic. I tried my portable air tank, but the wheel is off the rim, and unless you’ve got starting fluid, which I don’t, to ignite and pop that baby back it back into place, it needs professional attention.

Jesus told me I needed to stop writing about him because some people might get the wrong idea. “You can’t write about me, or politics,” he advised. Steer clear. Stay with the humor and social commentary, and I’ll be all right, he said. And also, don’t try using starting fluid on the tire, he said. It could be dangerously explosive.

Can’t write about politics, Jesus, or Allah. All three will get you in hot water, instigating the wrath of the Really Serious. Thunderclap is ok, he said, because he’s a comedian, and comedians can get away with shit onstage with a microphone that will never float past more than half the people in an editorial column, radio talk show, or blog rant.

And the clone can do stupid shit because self-deprecation is found to be a successful and admirable quality in comedians that the public will accept. Charlie Chaplin, Joey Bishop, Dick Cavett, Bob Hope, Foghorn Leghorn, Jack Benny, Catfish, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor, Chris Farley, Chevy Chase, Sienfeld, Jim Carrey, a whole raft of new comics, and to the extreme, Richard Lewis, Wiley Coyote, and Jerry Lewis, all employed the dunce to appeal to their audience and rake in the big bucks, on stage and in film.

So, that’s one of the keys to advancement. Average people can use it, or variations, at work. There, your colleagues will call it ‘brown-nosing’, or having your nose up the boss’s ass.



It was too windy, too cold to go outside. Better to remain indoors and feed the fire, drink coffee, wait for the necessary tool for the job for the bobcat.

Milo rolled in, then Tom and Virgil and Lupe’. Just for asking, Lupe’ went out and removed the tire with a big cross-wrench tire tool for Big Dog wheels. He needed the exercise, Tom said, since his extended stay in the ‘pree-son’. “I don’t need no gloves,” he said.

Later, at some point, Lupe’ explained his entire case; the wrong turn, the firing of his court-appointed lawyer, his conversation with the judge, his explanation that this was his second DWI, and not his third – “the other time was DWS” - and the judge wanting to snatch his license for fifteen years, and how the ‘whole ting’ had already cost him 1500 dollars and the sale of his truck, and how ‘that judge really don’t like me,’ but nobody was listening. Two weeks ago, he told the same story, right here, from the same spot.

Those guys, Tom, Virgil, and Lupe’, took off to Pine Ridge village with the bobcat tire, and Milo and I went down to the timber-frame to clean the pit, prep the fire and the lodge. Earlier in the day, I thought maybe it was too cold.

We lit it just at dark, and put the lodge covers back on in the wind. Guys started showing up. Gooksie Red Bear and his friend John from the Mission of Love, James Underbaggage, Owen Warrior, Uncle Joe, Dewayne and Stewart Blind Man, Tom, Virgil, and Lupe.’ Just as the rocks came in, Louie showed up. Make room.

Lupe and I sat in the back, in the ‘Sinner’s Seats’, or seats of honor, whichever might apply. It had been a year or so since he’d been back with the bros, after a stint here and there, with Ms. Vodka, Mr. Sham Master, neither of whom would post the magistrate’s declared bail. He sat in the back there with me, singing strong.

It was a Wednesday night. A dozen guys getting together to sweat. It was freezing-ass cold when we came out.


1500 hours on that bobcats’ engine, and after six hours it quits on me. Throughout the summer, every Indian and his brother has had his ass in the saddle of that bobcat, and when it comes my turn, first the tire’s flat, and now, she’s sitting dead-in-the-water, atop the rim of my new pond.

“Was that tire flat when you dropped it off?” I asked Milo. “No,” he said. It was good.

And now what? Yesterday, I had a sixth sense of seeing Tom on the road, and sure enough, out on Slim Buttes Road, here he come, flashing his lights so I’d stop. We pulled up alongside each other.

“I got good news, and I got bad news,” I said. “Good news is, I didn’t flip the bobcat.”*


Every once in a while, our worlds get turned upside down.

Before leaving Virgil’s house, Virgil snapped up his seat belt and said to Tom, ‘Better buckle up.’

Five miles out of Chadron on Slim Buttes Road, a tie rod broke, they went off into the ditch, and rolled, ending up, upside down. Good news is, they were buckled up.

Sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally, our world gets turned upside down. Ever happen to you?

The Right Rev. Gregg Jones of the Union Community Church used to talk about ‘drama’ going on all the time, all the time in people’s lives, what Mr. Ferguson would call ‘front-burner-on-a-boil issues’. We usually create all this sort of bullshit for ourselves, whereas, trauma often occurs from the outside, if there is such a thing, he said.

Trauma can generate transformation, both positive and paralyzing, requiring deep processing and/or a shift in perception, but drama usually moves about within the parameters of everyday shit, and tends to reinforce previously held attitudes, well within the comfort zone, he said.

A walk-away from an accident can make you stop and think. Tom sat on a log at the fire before sweat, quiet and looking at the ground, apparently absorbed in his thoughts. Saka hung around the fire and watched the door for us, wanting to be around her dad.

The Cowboy’s mother died a week ago, suddenly, at 54. I talked about hanging around another month to spend Thanksgiving with my kids. “That would be good,” said the Cowboy.

- end

*Several people have flipped the bobcat. Milo, Bo, Holton, to name just a few. You can flip it by going forward up a steep incline with a loaded bucket, instead of backwards; by having a loaded bucket too high in the air; or sideways, off an incline, like Milo did.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hard To Be You

Hard To Be You

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - Up here, you will often hear, ‘It’s hard to be Indian.’ It’s true, it’s hard to be an Indian, despite the inexplicable fascination held by Germans and claimants as descendants of the Cherokee Princess.

It looks different up close. “It’s beyond dysfunction,” said Deb Cook at her kitchen table near Oglala. "It's beyond Prozac."

On the back way over to the internet cafe shop through the speed-bump-regulated streets of Crazy Horse housing, I studied the homes. No, they all weren’t run-down and trashed out. You could see some of the people were trying with trees and bushes. But the overall impression was run-down and trashed out, reflective of the village as a hole, the districts, and the overall reservation.

These were the hard-core, steeped in poverty, these Indians. Dead-end streets for their kids.

And then, it would be hard to be Mexican, too. Lupe’ can tell you all about it. He just did a 39-day stretch at the local facility. And it’s hard to live as a black man, all over the world, even at home, in Africa, and Chinese experience low-grade antagonism wherever they go, and white folks say it’s hard to be them, too.

So, so what?

Is it hard to be you, locked inside a color, locked inside a race? There’s nothing special about it. It’s hard to be anybody.


Saddam Heard Headed For Rehab

Saddam Heard Headed For Rehab

Breaking News – In a surprising statement to U.S. and Iraqi government officials in Baghdad today, Saddam Hussein apologized for the treatment of Iraqi citizens, and indicated he was willing to enter rehabilitation for ‘whatever you guys say.’


Loretta's Kitchen

Loretta’s Kitchen

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – Sometimes, because of the capability of wifi access at 1705 S. Maple St., I work from Loretta’s kitchen table. There will be an Omaha Daily Herald lying there, a jug of orange juice, coffee cups, a platter of eggs and bacon, a stack of toast, and usually four or five people moving around.

It’s an extremely difficult work environment, with regard to focused pre-frontal cortical activity. The TV set is usually on in the adjoining open living room, the phone rings about once every five minutes, Loretta is in with a bag of groceries and back out, someone is fixing coffee, a niece and her baby are over on the couch, a Lakota artist is at the door looking for Loretta, someone is pulling into the driveway, two-year old Ravi Frankel is here, there, everywhere, a lawyer suddenly emerges from the basement, a sun dance brother emerges from the upstairs bathroom, Tom comes up from his basement office with the handset phone, asking for Loretta, someone is at the sink, two people are working from laptops at the kitchen table, the UPS guy is at the door, the phone rings again, Silver, the cat, wants to go out.

In this environment, Manuel and Tom came upstairs and handed me one long half-page paragraph of copy, a personal statement from Manuel for his scholarship application for continuation of his vocational rehab jobs training program. “Here,” said Tom. “Take a look at this, would you?”

It was a horribly composed, disorganized mishmash of disconnected statements. I suggested a paragraph break, a comma insertion, and, handing it back as they stood there, said, “Looks good.”

Yeah, sure. Manuel’s was an honest Indian statement by an Indian to another Indian. Let ‘er fly. If it gets rejected, we’ll work on it again. I asked Manual what he thought his chances were, and he appeared surprisingly confident. He was making good grades, he said.

I suggested for any piece of important communication, to let it lay overnight and come back to it the next day. You will always improve it by taking it through two, three, four, five, six drafts.

“That was a horrible piece of writing,” I told him. “All yesterday you never said a word about it, and today, you’re saying it needs to be post-marked by 5 p.m. today. What’s up with that, Man? When did you write it?”

“On the bench at Wal-Mart while I was waiting for you,” he replied with a laugh.


Monday, October 13, 2008

To Get To Talk To You

To Get To Talk To You

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – To get to talk to you, I must drive sixty miles round-trip, to Chadron, NE, where there are four internet access points; McDonald’s, but you must eat some of their food to justify asking for a connection and being there for over an hour. Two coffee shops, and the public library. And Loretta’s kitchen table. That would be five.

The Business Connection is the only place in town I can get a hard copy printout. And Tom’s basement office printer.

So, going online isn’t an easy task. In gallons, it’s four.

Before desktops, laptops, and blogs, for several years I would hammer out one or more stories up to thirty-five pages, take them down to the gas station printer, print out, collate, and send them off to you in manila envelopes.

Before that, from a Remington on a clerk’s desk in the headquarters building of a helicopter company in Qui Nhon, and later, Chu Lai, in what was then the Republic of South Vietnam.

Before that, you received work produced on a manual Sears Corona, paid for by installments of two dollars a month for thirty-six months.

Now I’ve got a writer’s dream machine with microphone, camera, fingerprint reader, Duo Core 2, Wifi, Bluetooth, and all the cool shit, extended battery life…French and Spanish dictionaries…voice reader...all the cool shit…stuff on here I don’t even know what it does.

It’s wonderful as a writer to have these tools, isn’t it? The only problem is, I’ve got to give it back.

Ahhhh, it’s sort of a sticky problem, ‘cause I got it in an agreement in exchange for work, and then the people at the front end, the uh, people who actually sent the machine, had not intended it to end up in my hands.

Ha. So there you have it, without my having to mention Tom’s name or that of the organization’s.

Obviously, I haven’t given it back yet. I love this thing, and after having two stolen last year, I carry it with me everywhere. Out here on the rez, it’s my link to the world and to you, despite going to Chadron, or closer, to Pine Ridge, where there’s (thank God) one coffee shop with internet access (Can you believe it? An internet cafĂ© on Pine Ridge?), and public access at OLC (Oglala Lakota College) library.

So I envy those of you who can sit comfortably at home or your workplace and check your mail and download and do what you do. But not much. There is something…I don’t know…something…appealing isn’t the word…about effort involved in getting to talk to you.

Valuable. There’s a value involved in the effort. By not having it be too easy gives the effort a quality that it wouldn’t otherwise have, at least for me.

You might ask, ‘why not dial-up?’ (are you kidding?), or high-speed Direct TV? They’ve got both of those on the rez now. Hey, I’m still working on getting water. Three years now.

- end

Schwinn From The Fifties

Schwinn From The Fifties

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - Jesus stopped by here again on his way to Dixon’s funeral wake Friday night, caught a ride with Tom and me, and forgot his wallet, which was still in Tom’s blue truck.

“Dixon knew he was going to die,” he said. “That’s why he offered you his boots.”

We got into a conversation about water, and the ongoing legal battle with the uranium mine people out at Crow Butte that is threatening the water…I should say, contaminating the water source and threatening the lives of the Indians of Pine Ridge and the population of the Nebraska panhandle.

New studies have linked diabetes with arsenic, the by-product of uranium extraction, but the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board judges of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are requiring water sample lab results before allowing establishment of a causal link as evidence beyond conjecture in the cases against permit renewal and expansion, respectively.

I got this all from the horse’s mouth, and was giving Jesus an update before he stopped me, saying, “I know what’s going on.”

“Yeah, yeah, I forgot,” I said, feeling extremely uncomfortable all of a sudden.

His eyes kept bothering me. His eyes are brown, and so is his skin. Contrary to popular belief and depictions, Jesus isn’t white. But, no worry. He’s the most forgiving person I know.

“I see you got a new bike,” I said, changing the subject and nodding toward the red Schwinn sitting outside. It had fat tires and one of those comet-shaped tanks in the frame, with a button for a horn. “I thought you were going to get a motorbike.”

“Garage sale in Hemmingford,” he said. “Thirty-five bucks. Couldn’t pass it up. 1957. Not a scratch on it.”

“I see you’ve got streamers, mirrors, headlight, reflectors, mud flaps, and all the extras,” I said. Looks like a showroom model.”

“It got stolen four times in six hours in Pine Ridge last Friday,” he said. “Two drunks, one meth head, and one crack fiend. Each time I tracked it down, the thieves kept lying and saying they didn’t believe I was me…same as the Pharisees and a lot of other people…they wanted me to prove it.”

“What did you do?” I asked. “Work some magic?”

“I just looked at them until they started squirming, like you did just a minute ago.”

I wanted to change the subject again, to philosophy, or what the Dali Lama said about forgiveness, or anything, but he read my mind already.

“Forgiveness is rooted in love and compassion,” he said. “It’s impossible not to help yourself by forgiving. You could call it selfishness, depending on how you define ‘self’.”
Once you surrender, you realize you’ve surrendered only an illusion, like Abraham, or Steve this year at the sun dance.”*

Sometimes his stuff is waaaaaaay over my head, far far beyond the 200 level philosophy, linguistics and semantics courses I thought could make me clever. You had to major in those studies to enable yourself to blow away everyone with your lofty cocktail party bullshit, including department chairs and demi-gods.

“You ever come on to chicks with some of that stuff?” I asked. “Like, in a bar?”

Ignoring my question with his telepathic ‘you poor, pathetic, smartass’, he went on with his train of thought. “Take our friend, the Dali Lama,” he began. “He lost his country. People take offense at what they perceive to be their loss. Loss of this, loss of that…but mostly pride and an affront to sense of self. So what have you lost, relatively speaking?”

I sat there, unable to speak, numb, a ringing in my ears, then pounding. I felt frozen, and experienced an extraordinary flash of recognition, something buried in an astral pre-neo-natal womb world. How long were we sitting there? How long between breaths? How long between heartbeats?

“I read your blog,” he said, snapping me out of my coma. “I wish you’d stop putting words into my mouth.” he said, sounding irritated. “You misquoted me at least four different times.”

“That happens all the time in journalism,” I quipped. “It made for a good tale. A lot of people wrote to me after those entries. I didn’t know you had so many friends.”

“Hey,” I continued. “A friend of mine, George, the hockey player from Chicago, told me he saw ‘JESUS SAVES’ written above a urinal in the city, and someone else had scrawled underneath, ‘But Esposito scores on the rebound!’ Pretty good one, huh?”

A slight smile cracked at the sides of his mouth. “Yeah. I saw that,” he said. “A Blackhawks fan.”

“There’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” I said.

“Is this about that two-on-two pick-up game between those Jehovah’s Witnesses and you and your clone?” he asked.

“No,” I replied, wondering why that incident was still a matter of concern. Sure, there were some hard fouls down in the paint, like any tough game, but those guys shouldn’t have challenged us, especially in their door-to-door church clothes.

“No matter how salty or thick a soup was,” I said, “dad always salted it and added a fistful of crushed up crackers. Is there anything wrong with that?” I asked.

Sounding more like a doctor than a messiah, Jesus said, “Other than the chance of offending the cook, presumably, your mother, he should watch the salt, but the crackers…there’s nothing wrong with that.”


*Steve, a New York Mohawk, wanted to hang from the tree for the health of someone near to him. After hanging suspended for just a short time, he broke loose and dropped to the ground. “I wanted to go higher and hang longer,” he said later in his tipi, disappointed with his effort and fighting back tears.

“Looked like Creator didn’t ask as much as you were willing to give,” I told him.

For That Moving Violation

For That Moving Violation

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD -

Want to beat your next traffic ticket? Here’s how.

“Officer, before you write that citation, you may wish to consider what I have to tell you.

“Once, when I was working as a journalist, coming home late from second shift after the paper had gone to press, I happened upon a one-car rollover in a cornfield on a dark country curve.

“The driver, the lone occupant, had been thrown from the car and was unconscious. I stopped the bleeding and treated his injuries with a kit I carried, covered him with a blanket, and waited for the ambulance to arrive.

“While checking for injuries, I discovered a snub-nose .38 in an ankle holster, and his wallet, lying nearby, indicated he was a police officer. He had been drinking.

“Before I left the scene, I was surrounded by sheriffs, deputies, and local and State cops who asked me if I worked for such and such newspaper. I said I did. They said thanks for saving his life and shook my hand; then they said he was off-duty, a twenty-year veteran of the force, had two kids in college, and could I keep his name out of the paper. They sure would appreciate it. He’d be ruined, they said.

“I ran a poor-quality photo of the upside down car, with the caption as ‘unidentified occupant’, and one day I got a thank you note on my desk.

“Those police officers all told me if I ever got stopped, to tell this story.”*

*This will work every time for a moving violation if no alcohol is involved. You’ve got to tell it with an absolutely straight face. It is essential. This story will not work for any other infraction. Don’t even try.


The Right Look

The Right Look

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. SD -


Holiday Inn and a lot of other hotels and motels serve up a free breakfast, and I have discovered a foolproof, hassle-free scheme to eat for free if you’re hungry and broke.

Park around to the side, as if you’re actually staying there, wet your hair, affect the air of a well-rested person on vacation who needs to check out soon and get back on the road, and go eat.

You will look like you just got out of the shower, and in all cases, the people who do the evening check-in aren’t the same staff behind the counter in the morning, so they haven’t the vaguest idea of who you are or what room you’re not in. After a quick glance at your wet head, they will automatically assume you are a guest.

If possible, enter so you pass an elevator or down a hallway so your transit past the desk will appear normal. Don’t make eye contact. Keep focused on the bagels and orange juice. A newspaper or cell phone are excellent props.

The VA

When visiting the VA hospital, especially for a psychiatric appointment, it is important to stop shaving about three or four days in advance. Louie agrees.

Wear the same clothes you wore yesterday, and if permeated by the smoke of a sweat lodge fire, all the better. Brush your teeth, but don’t shower. And if you have the lingering scent of sweat lodge and cedar on your skin, that’s great.

Don’t appear too upbeat, coherent, or functional. They may become suspicious. Act nervous about the visit, and disoriented in the hallways, asking directions frequently. There should be no confusion between you and the staff. At the canteen, eat alone.

Shake hands or greet all the old WWII and Korea vets if they look at you. Many will not, and may seem closed off to the outside world. Do not be offended if all the other patients seem withdrawn.

Tell the guys from Vietnam, ‘Welcome Home. I’m glad you made it.’ Say the same thing to the young guys from Iraq and Afghanistan.

At some point during the talk with the doctor, ask if it’s all right to ‘smoke in here’, which he will say it is not, and ask for the strongest meds they’ve got. The other stuff they gave you isn’t working, and makes everything too lucid.

Maybe you won’t have to act. Maybe it’s the real you.

- end

All Black Cast

All Black Cast

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - I’ve come up with the names of the Chinese Premiere and Russian President for my screenplay, ‘Niggas In Charge’, where all the actors are black*, and all named either Washington and/or Jefferson.

‘Wa-Shin-Chin’ and ‘Djef Ershzan’. Both, black men. Wa Shin Chin, a short, roly-poly guy, Asian eyes, 100% Chinese, black as the ace of spades. Djef Ershzan, a big, beefy, walrus/bear-of-a-man, straight greasy hair, bushy eyebrows, black as a mine shaft.

They each make ass-reaming calls to U.S. President Jefferson after two ignorant brothers down in the bottom of a U.S. Air Force missile silo south of Gillett, WY inadvertently set off DEFCOM V and bring the world to the brink of a nuclear exchange between all the major players, all of whom are black.

As you may suspect, there are hilarious ass-chewings all up and down the line, where the Sec. of Defense, Jermaine Washington, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, Delray Jefferson, and everybody in the chain of command doesn’t have any ass left in the seat of their pants; and another memorable line of dialogue from Lt. Washington who screams at the two in the silo, “YOU NIGGAS DONE SET OFF A DEFCOM FIVE LERT!”

Most of the work on the body of the script is complete, but I still need to come up with a conclusion. Either the world blows up, or the whole thing gets resolved, right?

I’ve been working on it for six years, but, not steady. Frankel says the offices of all the heads of State should be ‘pimped out’. Good idea, huh? All the presidents looking like pimps. Chinese pimp, Russian pimp, French pimp. Messieur Francoise Je Verrsohn.

*with the exception of Sgt. Martinez, and the Iranian clerk behind the counter at 7/11.


The Casket Brigade

The Casket Brigade

The casket detail
wasn’t so bad
for a soldier in a war zone
there were worse jobs to be had

Closed off his feelings
to be numb to the bone
boxed those boys up
and sent them all home.

Thirty years later
after all he denied
he took medications
right up till he died.

Betsy In The Wind


Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD –


Betsy was all over the road, swaying in the wind, handling like a bucking bronc or a rear-tine roto-tiller as we headed north to the Hot Springs VA hospital. All of the rez and western South Dakota was encased in a cold drizzle, with grey, low-hanging clouds, out of which everything appeared as a ghostly mist, appropriate for this time of year of pumpkins, yellowing cottonwood leaves, and approaching Halloween. A half foot of snow is predicted tonight in the Black Hills.

As I sat in the reclining chair in the dental office, Marcia, a hygienist of twenty years, sounding like she could have originally been from Minnesota, rambled off quick, perky, routine, automatic lines in a cheery sing-song as she cleaned my teeth, with every sentence she produced ending with, ‘for ya’, as in, ‘Ok. Let’s get some more water in there for ya’, and, ‘Ok. Let’s get a little more of that plaque off those molars for ya.’

Three Teddy Bears sat atop a high shelf, looking out the window at chimneys, exhaust vents, and the roof of an adjacent wing of the hospital. Stick-on monarch butterflies adorned the plastic panel of one the six florescent ceiling fixtures. There was nothing else to look at for three quarters of an hour but the inside of my eyelids as Marcia scraped and chiseled a year’s worth of cigarette and marijuana stain from my teeth.

“Do you smoke cigars?” she asked.

Marcia wouldn’t allow me to keep the mood-altering amber splash goggles that made the grey day look pleasant and brighter, saying, “We haven’t got those to give away, but I’ve got some other things for ya.” She gave me free dental floss, plastic picks, ‘and a new toothbrush for ya.’

I left there with gratitude to Marcia, the VA staff, and my country, feeling satisfied with the work and level of veteran care, but in no way felt special, even though everything was ‘for me’, fully knowing she runs the same dialogue with every patient, never deviating from the script. As a test, I asked her what her day goes like, and what was the most annoying thing about her patients.

Lab Work Ups

It was okay with the techs for me to enter through the green ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ door into the lab to observe exactly what they do with the blood samples Marissa had just professionally extracted from my vein, but as she explained, the VA policy on confidentiality prevented my access. The lab results were copasetic, with everything settled comfortably within the parameters of what they should be for a guy like me.

Intake Nurse Screening

Carla was pretty cool, and very relaxed, especially after I asked her about her Akwesasne T-shirt, which led to an extended ‘small world, isn’t it?’ conversation about her Mohawk in-laws, her iron-working husband, and who knew who.

We talked about Dr. Phillips, the great psychiatrist who had taken a medical retirement, went east, then died. I didn’t know he had died. He was truly terrific. During one appointment, he spent half my allotted time excitedly talking about the Shania Twain concert he had attended in Rapid City the previous evening, and how hot she was. When he left the VA, all of us head cases suffered a tremendous loss and setbacks.

‘Dr. Dave’ gave me some memorable quotes: A practical, “Everyone ends up on meds if they live long enough,” and, “Whatever floats your boat,” in response to the use of self-administered medical marijuana, and, “The guy before you sat up all night with a .357 magnum on the coffee table,” when I asked him, relatively speaking, how I was doing.
I always left there feeling better than when I came in.

As Carla took my blood pressure, I told her, “I practice medicine, too.”

“What are you?” she asked with intrigue. “A medicine man?”

“No,” I told her, after pausing a moment. I didn’t want to ‘go there’.

“Chiropractor?” she guessed.

“No,” I replied. “I practice traditional western medicine.”

“You’re a doctor?”

“No,” I said. “I practice without a license. Thirty years.”

She laughed, and then began a series of questions, most of which I answered ‘no’.

“Do you smoke?”

“Yes,” I said. “Heavily.”

“Do you take any drugs?” she asked.

“I smoke marijuana, but no hard drugs,” I answered, adding, “No beer. A glass of wine every three or four months, and a half a marguerita about every six months. I like tequila.”

“So do I,” she said, taking notes. “I see where you were prescribed some antidepressants a few years ago, but discontinued their use.”

“Yeah, I didn’t like the side-effects,” I replied. “Now I just smoke pot, do yoga, and go to sweat lodge twice a week. And a Caesar salad every six months.”

“How does a Caesar salad work for depression?” she asked.

“I go to Chiang Mai, Thailand to get it.”

After the initial screening by Carla, I went on to see Dr. Rios, who had been on the job for just three days.

Dr. Rios was a friendly, slight, clean, and intelligent-looking man originally from Brooklyn, from a family of ten kids. He was the one to go off to med school, with the support of the entire family. After medical school, he began practice in San Francisco, and had three kids. He missed the west coast and the ocean, he said, and his wife was depressed in S. Dakota. The kids, the oldest who was 38, were still living in California in the Bay area.

I suggested he tell his wife to allow herself six months to form new relationships and social networks. Then she’ll be happier.

He turned the conversation around to me, and began his exam. Heart, ok. Lungs, two. Blood pressure, yes. White blood count, ok. “Do you have any objections to a rectal exam?” he asked.

“No,” I said without hesitation. I wanted to know about my prostate and colon health, you know, for a guy my age. They say you should have it checked.

“Whoaaaa, Doc,” I said in surprise. “Wow!”

“Prostate is good,” he said. “Everything is ok.”

That was comforting. He had me take off my shirt, and said, “You’re in good shape. What do you do?”

“Yoga,” I said. “What do you do?”

“I used to run,” he said. “But I’d like to learn yoga.” He asked about the scars on my chest. “These are from a childhood acne?” he queried, pointing.

“No,” I said. “Those are sun dance scars…offerings. I’m a sun dancer.” It had been several years since I had to explain those. I had arrived at the point where I didn’t want to show them off, or even care if people would ask me to explain.

I asked about the skin discolorations and small bumps. “We’re like trees,” he said, smiling. “As we age, we’re going to get some lumps and growths. It’s all normal. No malignancies.”

Carla knocked on the door, then entered and explained the computer filing system to Dr. Rios. “I see you gave him the rectal,” she said, looking over his shoulder at the computer screen. “We were going to give him the scope.”

Dr. Rios laughed. “I don’t think Mr. Glover cared too much for it,” he said.

“What did you do?” asked Carla. “stick your whole arm up there?”

“I’m from San Francisco,” said Dr. Rios, laughing. “Usually they don’t mind.”

Heyyyyyy! I’m not supposed to do this. Is there anything more boring than listening to old people talk about their ailments and doctor’s appointments? Is this all we’ve got to talk about? Is this all that is on our minds? Sorry. It won’t happen again.

- end

Me And The Cowboy


Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – That would be, ‘The Cowboy and Me.’ I’m always correcting his English, telling him, ‘If you were in my class, you’d be getting ‘D’s.”

Five, six, seventeen times a day, I tell him, “That’s, ‘I saw,’ not, ‘I seen’. See, saw, have seen. Don’t even use the word, ‘seen’.” Drives me crazy.

“I tell you this for two reasons,” I tell him. “First, I’m an English teacher and I can’t help myself; and second, when you’re talking to someone about, say, a job…or a bank loan…you don’t want to sound like a dumbfuck.”

That’s from growing up in Hemmingford, NE, where he was a football star running back who slept in English class. Cowboy. Someone asked him what he does. ‘Cowboy’, he replied. Like, ridin’ bulls and broncs? Used to; not professionally; just for kicks, he said, but not anymore.

There is nothing about a stockyard that he doesn’t know, and he’s full of animal stories.
Animal stories, stockyard tales, horses, bulls, and stupid, corny jokes that nobody laughs at when he tells them with great delight.

He stopped by here today to see if I wanted to ride shotgun with him to Pine Ridge in pursuit of his drug of choice, a Pine Ridge ‘dimer’, a ten-dollar corner-of-a-baggie bag.

(“Ask so-and-so if she’ll sell me a dime bag of her low-grade shit,” I once told a friend. He came back telling me, “She said with great indignation,‘Tell Vic I AIN’T GOT NO LOW-GRADE SHIT!”)

Anyway, there were cops all over Pine Ridge Village, cruising through the housing areas, checking out the dealer’s houses and any suspicious activity, which, in Pine Ridge, is any activity.

When my place got ripped off and I went to see a criminal investigator, he told me 85% of the Pine Ridge population is involved in drugs. Ironically, or perhaps, highly correlative, the figure parallels that of unemployment. I couldn’t believe the stat, but he said it was accurate.

Well, count me in, I guess. Me and the cowboy, out sniffing around for a Pine Ridge dime bag, which happens to be one of the lousiest deals in the entire country, if not the entire North American continent. A notorious ‘Pine Ridge Pinner’, or ‘pin joint’, is about the size of a toothpick, and mostly paper.

So there’s this whole underground economy going on, since 85% of the population is officially unemployed. Same same Shanty-town, Soweto, S. Africa; people gotta do something. You’ve seen the price of gas. Here, a person can step on their stash three, four, five times, turn their money over, and there you have it, a step up on everyone in the race for the American Dream.

“What do you want?” asked the Cowboy’s connection, an extremely thin, relaxed man in a hooded sweatshirt and plastic Adidas sweat pants, from the back seat, where he had jumped in. He didn’t seem bothered by my presence, although he’d never seen me before in his life. By virtue of being with the cowboy, I was cool, apparently. In any case, he didn’t appear to be concerned or suspicious.

What did we want? He had everything, he said, or could get it, and suggested we hide the shotgun in the trunk or something, with all the cops running around, you know, instead of like it was, in plain sight.

We took the dealer to three or four houses, and then to the post office where he needed to purchase a money order to keep his cable on, then back to his house, a typical run-down Pine Ridge home, with trash, broken cars, and mangy dogs hanging around the door, happily wagging their tails whenever anyone would exit the house, ignoring them in the extreme.

I had forgotten just how bad it was. Not just the dealer’s house. Every other house in the village looked the same.

“They cleaned up everything, and ran the drunks off the streets when Clinton came,” said the Cowboy as we headed to White Clay for shotgun shells. “They should have left it be so he coulda seen it the way it really is.”

“That’s great, Cowboy,” I said. “Could have seen. You’re making progress.”

White Clay, Nebraska, the watering hole for the Indians of Pine Ridge, and just across the S. Dakota State line, is worse than Pine Ridge, if that is conceivable. A choir of drunks stumbled back and forth across the street, talking to carloads of other Indians, and two men loaded three cases of beer into the back of their car while I sat waiting for the cowboy. All this activity was in plain view of the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) patrol car, sitting parked just across the line.

Officially, the rez is dry. No alcohol allowed. All drugs are prohibited. Whatever they’re doing, it isn’t working.


Reader Correspondence

For personal correspondence, particularly you mystery readers. I have no idea who some of you are:


U.S. Post

Vic Glover
PO Box 434
Oglala, SD

Thai Address

P’ Yai Vic Glover
42/24 Moo 3
Tambon Khuk Khak
Amber Takuapa
Prov. Phang Nga, Thailand

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Me And Chief Peyote

Me And Chief Peyote

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - Brother Aloysius Weasel Bear likes to tell this tale about me and peyote, usually in a crowd of people.

“Brother was sitting there after the medicine had gone around a couple of times and got all peyotied up, and he looked at the fire and the medicine spoke to him, ‘What are you doing here? Take a look around. You haven’t got any relatives in here. These aren’t your waaaaaays. This is all ALIEN to you.’ ”

“Bro looked up at the fire, and looking left and right, pointed at his chest and asked, ‘Who?
Me?’ ”

“Medicine said, ‘YEAH, YOU. I’m talking to YOU! I want you to get up and get out of here and never come back. What are you doing here, anyway? You aren’t even supposed to BE here.’ ”

“Bro said, ‘They told me if I came in here and sat up all night, in the morning they’d feed me and give me a present.’ ”

“Medicine said, “NO! Get up and…no, don’t touch the drum. Just pass it. Pass the instruments. You aren’t going to sing. Get up right now and GET OUT!’ ”

“So Brother got up and went outside and was gone a long time, and somebody said go get him, so Brother Tom went out there and found him in a pup tent, trying to sleep, his foot keeping beat with that peyote drum, du du du du du du du du du.

“Tom tells him he’s gotta come back in for main smoke, and bro tells him to go away, leave him alone, but Tom says he can’t do that – a person has to sit up in there with everyone once they’ve taken in, so Bro comes back in and everybody is staring at him and he takes his seat and sits there for the longest time, looking down at the ground.

“Finally, with his hand shading his eyes, Bro looks up at the fire, and the medicine is staring right at him. Eeeeeeeeeeeeee. Medicine said, ‘I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE AND NEVER COME BACK!’ ”

“Bro says, ‘Sorry,’ and the medicine says, ‘IT’S TOO LATE! It’s too late for sorry. Now you must be punished! Sit there. Don’t sing. Don’t pray. Just sit there. And stop bothering me. Don’t ask me for ANYTHING!’ ”

Al is usually beside himself with laughter at the end of this tale, saying, “Bro never came back after that. I been going to peyote ceremony all my life and have never had the medicine speak to me, and brother goes in there ONCE, and peyote talks to him right away.”

Some of it’s true, some of it isn’t, like any good tale, and I’ve got to sit through his telling it time and again, watching people enjoy the joke, and watching Al enjoy telling it.

As for the medicine, it’s good. But it’s not for me. I’ve got my hands full already with a pipe, a drum, and a chainsaw. I don’t need to pick up anything else. And they should let you go and hang out under the stars if you like. You’ve got to sit there for sixteen hours, and man, it’s hard on your back.

Pt. 2

Sitting in the dark in sweat lodge the other night between rounds while the dipper was going around, with everybody catching their breath and getting a drink, Mike Red Cloud says, “Jack run peyote meeting last weekend.”

Everybody said, “Aho,” in affirmation.

Jack Red Cloud is young, in his mid-twenties. I don’t know if it was the first meeting he ever ran, but I think it was.

Then Mike says, “He was wearing sunglasses,” and everybody laughed.

“Everybody in there was wearing sunglasses,” he went on. “They should have give me a little notice..a couple days…and I would have been there…could’ve stopped by the gas station and got me some sunglasses.”

Everybody laughed again, and Mike didn’t stop.

“Everybody was wearing sunglasses. Water woman came in the morning…wearing sunglasses.”

- end

Indians Feeling Crunch Already

Indians Feeling Crunch Already

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD –

“What size shoe do you wear?” asked Dixon Tall Bear, my Korean War vet friend, lying on his bed at midday, his tiny 12 x 12 ft. shack filled with garbage, soiled clothing, fly-covered macaroni and cheese, dirty gauze bandages, dozens of cigarette butts burned into the floor, and take-your-breath-away stench. ‘Squalid’ is the word.

“These are too big for me,” he added.

I wear a size 13, but didn’t tell him. “What size do you wear?” I asked, standing in the doorway.

“I wear elevens,” he said. “These are thirteens.”

I wasn’t going to take his boots, a good work boot, although I could have used them, and was cutting wood in moccasins. He asked me to open up his windows. It was stuffy in his house, way out on ‘the flats’ northwest of Oglala, a good two miles off the blacktop across open, tire-rutted prairie. It smelled like hospital or nursing home death.

“You’re going to need those boots,” I told him, wondering what he’d wear if he gave them away, and wondering why he’d offer me his boots. Did he think he wouldn’t make it through the winter?

I had brought another load of stove wood since Gina, behind the counter at Cubby’s store in Oglala, told me that Dixon had just gotten out of the hospital, and was burning newspapers for heat.

“He don’t look good,” she said. “He’s not taking care of himself.”

For the past couple of years, Dixon, who owns several hundred acres on Pine Ridge, has allowed us to cut wood on his land in Slim Buttes, and whenever he stops by, about once a month, I usually give him twenty bucks for a half load, although he normally only asks for ten. I hadn’t seen him for a year, and wondered why he hadn’t stopped by for a cup of coffee and a cigarette, sitting on a chair just inside the door with those oversized boots on his feet.

He’d lost some weight, which he acknowledged, and gave a half-smile when I joked that he needed to get back to his fighting weight, to ‘get your strength back’, I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

It was clear he wouldn’t be splitting any wood, although he had an axe lying on the floor beside his portable toilet, which I was thankful that he didn’t ask me to empty. He did however, ask me to fill his plastic water pail from the pump, just outside.

Backing up to his woodpile, I negotiated Betsy between piles of trash, glass, and who knows what lying around his house, stacking the wood and buzzing up some other longer pieces that he would never get to with the axe.

“You sure you can make it through the winter on one cord?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied. “It doesn’t take much.”

Somebody had recently painted his house yellow. It used to be white, the girl at Cubby’s said, who had given me directions to his place.

“We got rid of his dogs and cats while he was in the hospital,” she had said, shaking her head. “And we tossed out his furniture. It was all infested,” she said, adding, “He’s going to need assisted care.”

After seeing his place and his condition, I could believe it. Who was going to look after a 73-year old man? Gina said he was her uncle, and they were taking him his meals.

Before I left, he thanked me twice. “Nobody has ever done anything like this for me,” he said.

I thanked him back, told him to get back on his feet, and left. He said he wanted to move back down in Slim Buttes.

As I drove away, with Dixon’s little yellow house shrinking and vanishing in the rear-view mirror, I told Betsy that she’d done a good job. “Mission accomplished,” I told her. We drove between the cows that didn’t want to move, and passed a small, ancient abandoned homestead that appeared to have been occupied twenty years ago, then on further, another place as small as Dixon’s.

Parked outside was a mud-caked fairly new car, by rez standards. People were living there, a young couple outside the place with a small child. No wood pile. I thought to stop and ask them what they were doing for heat, slowed down, but kept on going.


p.s. I wrote this last week as Americans fixated on a fiscal crisis, thus the title. By odd timing and circumstance, I went to Oglala today about noon, and got flagged down by Dixon’s relatives, who recognized my truck. He told me Dixon died on Monday. Would I be a pallbearer and help dig the grave. They’re going to burn everything. Those were his wishes. Wake Friday night. Burial Saturday. Gina, over at Cubby’s, gave me the details.

Honor of Mike

Honor of Mike

Glazier, Glover, Gouvan. Ever since Jr. High school, we sat in that alphabetical order, either beside each other or in line like that, depending on how the teachers laid it out. Ignored by most of our teachers, we fulfilled their low expectations and lived up to our own, pulling Cs and Ds.

Glazier, a semi-midget with a build like a chimpanzee, distinguished himself as a likable athlete and son of one of our assistant coaches who directed his boy into baseball as a catcher, football as a linebacker, and wrestling.

I was a class clown, sit down, stand up, lunch line comic, least effort grades, working as a fountain jerk at a hamburger joint, and coming in off the bench when Pretorious got in foul trouble.

Gouvan was invisible. He didn’t play sports or stand out in any way. Like Glazier and Glover, he was from the east end of town, the poorer side. He was, in the grim, cruel estimation of a high school mind, a non-entity, with a vacancy beside his picture in the yearbook. When he received his degree in cap and gown, it was almost anonymously. Did anyone know Mike? After high school, there was only one place for him to go. Vietnam.

I didn’t know he’d gone to the ‘Nam, having lost touch with many classmates after the cohesion of small town high school identification lost its hold. It wasn’t until my tour was over that I even knew he was there.

One day in an enormous open-air pavilion at Bien Hua air base, two days before coming home, I passed a platoon of soldiers sitting in a cluster on the concrete floor with their weapons and gear, out-processing.

We were all going home. It was euphoria at having lived through that nightmare, and dread of going home, and how to act once we got there. We had plans.

We had plans, we all had plans of what we’d do if we lived through the war. It was horrible, the war. Coming home, terrifying.

Sitting cross-legged there at the head of that group of men was Sergeant Gouvan. I walked by and did a double-take. “Mike?” I said, staring, not sure that was the same person who had sat beside, behind, and in front of me since kindergarten.

He stared back and looked hard. “Vic?” he asked. “Is that you?”

Mike had earned himself some sergeant’s stripes, E-5 in the ‘Nam, a survivor, now a leader of men. Yeah, Mike, a leader of men.

As a grunt, he no doubt paid a price for his promotions, doing something heroic and extraordinary, I like to think. The experience had bleached his jungle fatigues white, and had carved itself into his face, the sorrow barely hidden in his eyes. He looked ‘hard core’.

Glazier went to the Nam, too. Came back whole physically, but drank some till he died a year or so ago. That’s an understatement. He was horrified by his experience, emotionally deranged, and drank himself to death.

Mike and I spent just a few moments together that day, talking about our tours. He’d been up north, out in the bush, the boonies. Say no more. I’d been up north, too, flying medevac. Say no more. We said we’d get together for a beer, back in the States.

We never had that beer, and Mike has never attended a class reunion.

- end

My Opponent

My Opponent

My opponent says he went to Washington to shake things up.

He went there to shake you down.

My opponent says he went to Washington to help you out.

He went there to rrrrip you off.

I’m Vic Glover, and I approve of this message.

In The Company of Others

In The Company of Others

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – When my sister died up here a dozen years ago, her daughter, Tracey, laid a red telephone inside the casket with her. After an initial surprise, people smiled, knowing Wasonna, and thought it appropriate, because she’d spend hours on the phone in a single call, your ear turning a burning red, and she left an outstanding bill of $650 for Nelson, her husband, who after tying up loose ends, followed her six months later to the spirit world.

The only time I had seen my father cry was that day, when upon seeing her laid out in the casket, he made an abrupt turn in the doorway of the viewing room, sputtering out in a quaking voice, “I can’t do this,” and returned to the foyer.

My mom was composed, slope-shouldered and vacant at the burial, standing off to the side, vulnerable and alone in her thoughts, and oddly not standing beside my dad. I put my arm around her and squeezed her, and my sister Marilyn, the one who thinks I’m a pagan, stood with dad. Tracey and Nelson stood together, everyone zoned out with sadness.

From Omaha and Pine Ridge, Indians and black people, our people, our family’s mixed heritage, were all gathered around a hill on Holy Rosary cemetery, and someone, a lone voice, sang a haunting spirit departing song that was incredibly beautiful. Wasonna danced through life, and several of her young Pine Ridge students were there, leaving tears and flowers on the grave of their dance teacher.

It was ironic that she preceded my father in death by two years, since she was always the one talking about ‘when daddy dies’, the way siblings do when talking amongst themselves about who’ll take care of mom.

Earlier that morning, twenty family members sat around a long banquet table for breakfast, cheering one another and laughing over eggs, pancakes and sausage, disconnecting from the sadness of the event.

Marilyn and her husband Gabriel, looking the part of a born-again Hassidic Jew with flowing white beard, proclaiming the Messiah on his sleeve and the twinkle in his eye, would often end his sentences with, ‘In The Name of the Lord.’

At one point in the adult conversation, his nine-year old son pestered his father with, ‘Dad, I gotta pee. Dad, I gotta pee,’ yanking on his dad’s sleeve, and the non-stop talking Gabriel, already engaged in a profound religious conversion with whomever was sitting beside him, turning and shouted with exasperation, “Well, go pee in the name of the lord!”

- end

Fill The Void

Fill The Void

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - Right now, the only bill I’ve got is a post office box in Oglala, twelve bucks, twice a year. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Sure, that could all change at any time, so I’m not boasting, but that’s one of the benefits of living simply. Ole Betsy, my truck, is 48 years old, and in the past two days, she’s delivered two loads of stove wood, and two loads of lodge wood without even breaking a sweat.

There’s no water bill, because there’s no water, a development I’ve been working on for three years, and they say I’m on the list. When it eventually arrives, the hookup to the line, it’ll be free.

There isn’t an electric bill because Lake Creek Electric won’t hook you up until you’ve got water, a Catch 22, but I don’t want their service anyway, since I’m generating my own power from the panel on the roof. The sun will run this computer, my string of tiny lights, a low-watt table lamp, and my coffee pot. What else do you need? Well, a refrigerator would be nice.

I don’t have a telephone, because I don’t like waking up to a ringing phone, and because I prefer telepathy (Not altogether reliable. People aren’t always in a receptive mode. And sometimes, when they are, they don’t act on it. “Are you guys picking up on my signals?” I ask the folks around here, and they say, “Yeah, it crossed my mind.”).

No TV since 1991 because there’s other things I’d rather be doing, except during the NCAA tournament, so I don’t have a cable or satellite bill.

There’s no loan or credit card bill, since I don’t own plastic. So, what’s the flip side? There’s got to be a downside to all this, right?

Well, the first is, it’s Pine Ridge. That takes a lot of appeal out of it already, doesn’t it?
You take friends, ceremonial life, and The Mission out of the equation, there’s no reason to be here.

Outdoor toilet? Yyyyyeah, that’s another factor. You can get by, but indoor plumbing would be nice. That can happen once the water arrives.

Heat? Wood stove. Hot water? On the wood stove. You need a truck and a chain saw.

Laundry? By hand, out of a bucket. Shower? Out of a bucket. Ain’t too many women who’d care to live under these conditions. Right away, I’d need to make a bathroom, and do something like install a solar shower. And mirrors. Well, yeah, everything would change. Curtains, furniture. Probably need to build her a house. Maybe in another state.

- end

Art Form

Art Form

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - I didn’t stop with those Tiki Gods. Those were produced in high school and given to friends, two-inch wooden carvings to be worn around the neck. My inspiration came from a magazine ad, and I thought at the time, ‘Hell, I can make my OWN DAMN Tiki Gods.’

With the enthusiastic encouragement of my art teacher, I tried a half dozen oil paintings, but the brush stroke on canvas fell far short of my concepts and ability. I did some sculpting, weavings, and a big-ass clay monkey that appeared in the yearbook, with me looking like a true, sure enough geek.

Was the art there all along, in hiding, waiting to come in off the bench, or was it strictly the encouragement of a teacher that guides us in a particular direction? I don’t know. If my physics teacher were just as nurturing, would I have become an atomic scientist?

The atomic scientist future dissipated in the face of my grades, so my guidance counselor suggested that I might have a promising future in the war that was raging at the time.

As a helicopter medic in Vietnam, I practiced my work as an art, though hurriedly, probably stopping some guys from bleeding to death, and making others laugh on their way to the hospital. I never administered morphine. The guys who asked for it didn’t need it, and the guys who needed it never asked. I told them all, ‘Everything is going to be okay,” even when it wasn’t.

Snagging cameras in the ‘Nam, I sunk from medicine to print journalism, opting for the Sunday feature section, as opposed to hard news, which seemed cruel, cutthroat, and satanic. In the end, I produced thousands of photos, some exhibits, some awards, and later in TV, some commercials, a few feeble, short bullshit films, and the nightly news.

Then there were about a half dozen colorful ‘box delta’ kites, including a gigantic twelve-foot wing-span ‘Bat’ that flew over Luken’s Lake, Lake Michigan, seven states, and could lift a small child off the ground.*

Along the way, there were gardens, landscaping, stone masonry, a 700 ft. Robert F. LaFollett Memorial River Walk on the S. St. Vrain in Colorado, ceramics, triple-deck tree houses, igloos, scary luge sled runs that sent at least one mother of a five year-old into hysterics, really fun but dangerous swings (ask Bob Luckett) over water and frightening ravines, and snow sculptures of crashed cars and an eleven-foot Bigfoot, the stuff that dads do.

When they became old enough to verbalize their thoughts, my kids demanded I quit the saxophone. Within the family, I was totally outnumbered, 6-1. Mack, our German Shepherd, didn’t care for it, and El Negro Frijole, ‘Black Bean’, our cat, didn’t appreciate my music either. When they saw me picking up that horn, they’d look at me sideways, lay their ears back, and leave.

Between Bigfoot and tenor sax, there was a dozen years in the classroom at three universities where I honed a stand up comedy act before captive audiences in three different disciplines. One spring, in a communications class with the windows wide open, we listened to a robin for 45 minutes.

On another occasion, I took a Black History class to the DuSable museum and a rib joint** in Chicago, and had a hard time creatively explaining the crumpled roof on the university van. The story involved a State Street underground parking garage with a low clearance.

There was a whole line of people behind us honking their horns, until all those Negroes, some of whom were interior linemen on the football team, piled out and told those folks hollering back there to shut up and back the fuck up, which they immediately did after locking their doors and rolling up their windows.

For a final exam in a creative writing class at a different institution, we all met at a Mexican restaurant, drank tequila and ate combo platters, laughing and drinking and enjoying ourselves since the administration demanded that classes meet for finals, even if there wasn’t one. It was an artistic expression, even if it wasn’t.

Then once during a meeting of the 40-member university senate, my position being secured by the need to have a representative ‘person-of-color’ on that policymaking and governing body, I really did fall asleep, my head on the desk, and by virtue of leaning too far forward on my chair, which was on rollers, the thing flipped out from under me, sending me to the floor in a great crash, momentarily stunning all of the assembly.

I had no recourse to recover from my embarrassment but to leap to my feet and shout, “I’M AGAINST IT,” then calmly reposition my chair and sit down. After their initial shock, everybody laughed, not sure of what had happened, except for the person just behind me who saw the whole thing, since everybody was already listening to one of the Deans, who was Chair of the meeting, and in an odd situation of uncanny circumstance, accepted my declaration as a motion, and announced, “So moved. Do we have a second?”

That’s about all I can remember of twelve years in higher ed, except that it had an unreal, boy-in-a-bubble quality to it. Apart from the robin’s song and the comedy, there was little art. It was more like a presumptuous, pretentious racket.

Up here on the rez, I produced mostly ceremonial items; staffs, cedar bags, drums, drumsticks, shields, several sweat lodges, six pipes, nearly a half million in grants, three squadrons of airplanes, and a book.

Of 88 drums, about four, maybe six of them were good enough to make it through all four rounds of a Lakota sweat lodge. The one I kept for myself got stolen. Of the 493 shields I produced over a decade, I was happy with two or three. The rest were just circular artwork with feathers and beads. The one I kept got stolen.

Sometimes I still make a drum if I can find a good cottonwood log and have a buffalo hide show up, but mostly it’s just tales now, the words magically appearing on a computer screen.


*The Bat’s life ended in Slim Buttes, across the White River in a tree in an ancient burial ground. I never retrieved it, leaving it’s color to be faded by the sun, it’s wings ripped and shredded by the wind.

**Maybe you can imagine a scenario of twenty-six African American university students trying to figure up how much they owed toward a shocking $450 food and drink bill with an automatic 15% gratuity, which nobody anticipated, leaving several of the students pale as the bill went from hand to hand, each one declaring aloud, “All I had was such and such, and a coke.”

They spent more time name-calling and arguing amongst themselves over the bill than they did eating the meal. It was really quite humorous. All I had was the baby back rib platter and a coke, and when they looked to me, that’s what I told them. The bill was eventually paid by one unfortunate plastic-carrying student, who angrily exclaimed as he signed off on the bill, “All y’all damn niggas better pay me back!”

As we spilled back onto the street, I recall almost everyone leaving the place angry and bitching. The sour mood was amplified on the two-hour trip home by the crushed roof of the van, repeatedly banging against the metal inner liner each time we hit a crack, bump, or pebble in the road, making it sound like we were traveling in a bass drum.

Who You Used To Be

Prepare To Guard Yourself

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD - It’s not just me; everybody is complaining about the flies. As cooler weather approaches, everyone has swatters handy for the annual onslaught of flies endeavoring to gain entry into our homes.

I’m allllll in their heads. I know their best moves, exit plan, and which way they’re going to take off. Your best bet is the ‘Overshot’, where you overshoot the target, kind of like a plane on a runway, or the topspin you need to bring the shot just inside the baseline.

It’s what I call, ‘Closing the Back Door’. And what’s going on in the fly’s mind? Probably, not much. Hardwired since the beginning of time, he’s like, ‘I’m outta here…OH FUCK!’ Sometimes there will be this last, fraction-of-a-second, moment-of-death confused hesitation that seals their fate.

And you bet it has occurred to me that the Creator can take any one of us just like that, like me and my swatter.

“Yeah, he/she dropped…just like that. I was just talking to him/her yesterday.”

And if are we playing God against the flies, then what about a carrot?

Louie Cook and I ambled in the heat on his father-in-law’s land, a spread of two homes, a cottage, a barn, and some rusty farm equipment laying about. Most everything had been sold off and the kids weren’t interested in the place. They had their own lives, their own stuff. The old man, 92, was in a rest home in Rapid City, I think.

“I don’t want to live that long,” said Louie.

“A guy works all his life and accumulates and gathers, and then, he un-accumulates, and then what?” I asked Louie.

He didn’t answer.

Each day is a blessing, isn’t it? Most of us might say yes, but I wonder about the infirm in nursing homes, and those who don’t recognize their sons and daughters, and when they go, the survivors say it was a blessing.

I know I must be hanging around old people when I hear them start in telling a story about who they used to be.

Brady, twenty-something, sitting there at Louie’s table, began telling us about what kind of shape he used to be in. I had to stop the boy.

“Who you used to be?” I asked. “Let me tell you about who I used to be. Louie, tell him about who YOU used to be.”

Louie, who is generously overweight and moves like a penguin, laughed and said, “I used to be able to KICK ASS.”

“I used to be somebody,” he added, laughing.

And who did you used to be? Who could you have been? It’s never too late, is it, to be somebody?