Sunday, October 11, 2009

Is It Worth It?

Slim Buttes
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Ever think, ‘Is he talking to everybody… or just me?’ The minister, the swami, the shaman, the medicine man, the public address at the train station, the airport. Yes and no.

What are they worth?

Is it worth it? I don’t know. It’s all relative, I suppose, entirely dependent upon the eye of the beholder, like everything.

Four ninety-nine ninety-nine might at first appear to be a bit exorbitant until you reflect upon the ways you’ve pissed away five hundred bucks in the past.

Yeah, just think about it for a moment.

Ok? Given that light, by comparison, a gift that’s going to keep on giving, down through the generations perhaps, each recipient automatically becoming a pilot and enrolled member of the Slim Buttes 335th Aviation Detachment, seems to be well worth my asking price of fourninetynineninetynine.

Suddenly, the trailer was full the other night, people pulling up left and right, with Digger and Devin* up from Colorado, bringing the truck I’ve been awaiting all summer, and Bo and Misty and Kassel and Manuel around the table, the conversation turning to SitReps, Situation Reports, conditions of aircraft and props and wing struts and landing gear and promotions.

It was confusing, with several excited conversations going on at once, and we went over the four reasons again that justify the asking price.

“Made in America, that’s one,” I said, holding up one finger, Misty looking up from her scissor-carving, the only one who seemed to be paying attention.

“Limited edition,” I said, flashing two fingers. “That makes it a collector’s item.”

“Uh…what’s the third?” I asked.

Misty just looked up, didn’t say anything. “One-of-a-kind,” said Digger.

“Right. One-of-a-kind, each individually unique. What’s the fourth, Bo?”

We couldn’t think of a fourth reason right then, because too many other thoughts were flying through the air and the conversation went five, six other places, but there is one, a fourth. I’ll come up with it later.

Slim Buttes, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Six, Seven Days Later

How long can you play out an airplane story?

I don’t know, but really, other than landscaping, the Lord’s Work, and the L.A. Times crossword puzzle, it’s the only thing going on. If you’ve been here in October, you know what I’m talking about. Snowed last night, artic hawk pushing down our necks, mice coming inside.

Didn’t bother going to bi-weekly sweat lodge, even right after six of ‘the boys’ stopped in here for coffee, asking me if I was coming. I told them I was, a lie. Too cold. Too windy. Too dark. Stayed here and fed the stove.

It’s all coming back to me now. ‘You’ve gotta do more than just clock in, clock out. You can’t be just sittin’ around, waiting for slots to open up.’ Like that? If you see it in a movie script, you’ll know where it came from. Like, five years after it’s creation, people in mainstream media, print, televised, and live, are using ‘a whole ‘nuther’ as an acceptable usage of grammar, as in, ‘that’s a whole ‘nuther ball game.’ Notice? The phrase ‘went viral’ after Nina Tottenburg used it on NPR. Maybe I already told you.

You heard enough of ‘uptick’ and ‘ratchet up’ yet? Those aren’t mine…some other yoyo’s…economic forecasters. We’ll all be sick of it soon enough. ‘Outside the box’? When they say that…‘think outside the box’, are they talking about, ‘beyond your tv set’?


Made in America (except for those made in Thailand, of course), One-of-a-kind, Limited Edition, uh…there’s a fourth reason.

There’s a fourth reason why fourninetynineninetynine is a good asking price. You gotta think of more than just cardboard cutout and toothpicks. You gotta remember those girls. Each one of ‘em has a family. Each one of them has kids. All of them have momma go to hospital, papa sick.

They closed up shop on me, the Myanmar crew, stopping the production at eighty-six. Apparently, they all up and walked out, leaving me with a lot of explaining to do. You got the gist of Li An’s letter. Li An, Li An Song Nu Kyi, the crew boss. Maybe you met her. A communication breakdown, a language barrier. We’ll get things up and running when I get back.

Anyway, with two planes going out to N. Carolina last week to Rick and Pat, the folks from the permaculture workshop, one yesterday to aviation enthusiast Gene at ‘Gene’s Machine’ shop in Chadron, and two more last night to Stanley Good Voice Elk and his 12 yr. old son, Garrett, the on-location, in-the-field squadron strength has dropped precariously to eight, our lowest number of active duty in four years.

You can do the math. Eight from eighty-six is what? Seventy-five? That’s how many pilots are out there, my friends. Active pilots, most of them still flying.

“You know anybody else who’s doing this?”** I asked, looking at Stan and Lupe’. They shook their heads no. Matthew, Warren, Garrett, whatever his name was, was the perfect target candidate for rookie/cadet when he came in here last night with his dad and six of ‘the boys’, shaking off the shivers and huddling around the wood stove.

Twelve years old, the perfect age. All the men sat down over coffee, but he stood, wandering around and staring at all the aircraft.

“You want to join?” I asked him. “You become a pilot in the Slim Buttes 335th Aviation Squadron. Take your pick.”

I explained to him all the ins and outs of rank and pay grade and combat missions and everything…the rookie pilot orientation, y’know, but I don’t think he caught any of it, being absorbed in first one plane, then another, and finally settling on a green tri-wing with guns.

Stanley took one, too, for his younger boy, four years old. “Remember, it’s not a toy,” I told them. “Keep it up, flying. If you don’t, next thing, you’ll be in the maintenance hanger, talking about needing new landing gear, new tail, new prop.”

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Chachee Esparza, a sumo-size 14 shoe, here with his dad, Lupe’, sat here and asked me if I assembled the planes from a kit. “You make these from a kit?” he asked. Tom and Jack Red Cloud laughed at his question as I recoiled in disbelief.

“What, from Wal-Mart?” I asked. “No, man. These are all hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind,” I told him.

“Cut’s ‘em out of cardboard,” said Tom, making a scissor-cutting motion with his fingers. “Made in America,” he added. “Fourninetynineninetynine.”

He went on to explain to how we, er, the Germans, figured out how to shoot through the propeller, and everybody understood triggers and camshafts, here on the rez. After that, they left, saying see ya later.

The 335th. That’s a poor man’s reservation-version Skull & Bones Society. You don’t have to be a Yale grad to become a member. A twelve-year old could be your wing man. A six-year old could be your flight leader.



*Devin, stopped in CO one night by a cop who inquired about the four-foot bong in the back seat. Devin told him it was a dijeridu. “I know a bong when I see one,” said the cop. “No. It’s a dijeridu,” Devin insisted.

“Ok,” said the cop. “If it’s a dijeridu, then play it for me.”

Devin took the bong and proceeded to WA WAAAA, WOO WOO, WA WAAAAA, and the cop let him go.

**the 4th reason.