Night At The Rez
by Flynn Washburne, April 26, 2017
What began as a routine mission out to Pinoleville — well, you know, routine mission, peril-fraught incursion behind enemy lines, six of one, half-dozen of the other — had become an all-night affair, as evidenced by the light breaching yonder window. I looked up from the appliance I was disemboweling, having sensed a disturbance in the ambiance. Some folk may not notice the arrival of something so small and insignificant as the sun, but that’s just me being my usual alert and attentive self.
The flood of natural light over my project gave me a new, hopeless perspective on it and I realized that yet again, a potentially salvageable appliance had gone on to a new career as garbage. I didn't even know what the thing had been before I'd reduced it to its current exploded view, but I'd damn sure done a fine job taking it apart. I was only about two steps away from reaching the molecular level. Funny thing is, given a clear head and the proper tools, I am perfectly capable of making electrical and mechanical repairs, but in the absence of some kind of gross obstruction, like a dead rat gumming up the works, in that condition (spun) I'm extremely unlikely to do anything but make it worse.
I swept all the pieces into the plastic casing and set it under a table, making an empty promise to myself to return to it later.
"Leonard," I said to the gentleman occupying the room with me, and the reason I was aimlessly tweaking around and not staked to an anthill out back, "what's it look like outside?"
Leonard opened the door and stood there for a moment. "Blurry," he said, closing the door and lighting a cigarette.
"Blurry? Blurry's not a weather. I'm asking about the weather," I said. "What can I say, man? It looks… out of focus," Leonard said.
"Are you sure it's not your eyes or your brain that's out of focus? Although that does raise some interesting questions about visual perception and objective reality. But is it going to rain? is what I was wondering," I said.
"Maybe. Hard to say," Leonard said enigmatically.
I went to the door to look for myself. Huh. It did look a little blurry. "Well, either we're sharing similar ophthalmic dysfunction or there is a definite blur on the landscape," I said.
"Told you so. What did you do to that humidifier?"
"Oh, humidifier? I thought it was a de-humidifier." Actually, I thought it was a radio. "No wonder I couldn't fix it."
"It wasn’t broken," Leonard pointed out .
"Well, it is now," I said.
Leonard frowned at the deconstructed unit and said, "Flynn, I hate to lecture you…"
"That works out great, because I hate to be lectured to," I interrupted, "or was there a 'but' coming?"
"…but, I feel like we should maybe review and analyze some aspects of your behavior."
"Is this about the humidifier? Because I can fix it," I optimistically claimed.
"Forget about the humidifier. What do you know about history?" Leonard asked .
"I'm not completely ignorant of the subject, I guess. I’m pretty good on Restoration England, you know, Jacobites, Hanoverians, all that," I said.
"I'm talking about American history. Like about the plight of the Red Man and his treatment at the hands of the European invaders."
Leonard had a pretty serious look on his face as he said this, and I was suddenly struck with the fear that I was about to be held accountable for a lot of very bad shit that happened a very long time ago. "Well, I know you guys pretty much got the short end of the stick," I said.
Leonard frowned accusingly at me. What was the deal with reservations, anyhow? Was I still in the United States? Was I protected under the Constitution, or were these guys free to just summarily execute any whites that might stumble onto their land, as reparations or revenge?
"You could say that. You could also say that we were fucked over mightily by the white man."
"Not me personally, though," I pointed out .
"No, not you personally. What you have to understand, though, is that white people in general remain symbolic of that unhappy time, and to many of us, until you prove yourself otherwise, you're still the enemy. Not me. I'm open-minded, but there are some people, like for instance my cousin Rocky, who are extra sensitive about any perceived slights on the character of Indians. And when you did what you did, well, it became not just a matter of you taking advantage in a drug deal, it was a case of the white man — yet again — fucking over the Indian. You took on the burden of all the injustice and became a symbol, and a target for symbolic revenge."
"That hardly seems fair. Besides, I had no idea who Rocky was or of his ethnicity. I never even saw him."
"That is what we call a distinction without a difference. Ignorance or colorblindness, or your claim of it, is no defense. However, your transgression was pretty minor and would've netted you at worst a mild ass-whipping. I intervened because I like you. But know that it still goes down as a strike, and in this crowd, second offenses — regardless of severity — are dealt with pretty harshly. Understood?" Leonard said.
I understood, all right. I understood that any more time I spent on the rez would be like unto the unfortunate Damocles and his tenuously pendant sword, simply for delivering the wrong, smaller bag, maybe accidentally, to someone when acting as go-between. Even if my actions were deliberate, and this is not an admission of guilt, Rocky's refusal to even consider the possibility of an honest mistake flew in the face of logic and probability, not to mention trust and good will. Clearly there was more than one victim here, but I thought I might keep that view to myself, in the interest of Anglo-Pomo relations in general and the condition of my own hide specifically.
Different types of people deal with pressure in different ways. Some steely, stalwart folk thrive on it, relishing the prospect of looming deadlines or impending danger as opportunities to educe from one's depths strength and capability sufficient to slay such dragons as require dispatching. Others, manufactured of less stern material, collapse into a blubbering heap of utterly ineffectual candy-floss. Then there is a third category who rashly and perversely force the issue, choosing to snip the thread holding the sword, pop the balloon, break the silence, or otherwise bring the situation to a hasty conculusion and damn the consequences. These are the sort of people you might find occupying prison cells and cemetery plots. We (yes, I include myself in this category), in thrall to the Imp of the Perverse, consider a swift resolution the best response to pressure situations, which is why I, in a rare moment of situational discernment, elected to absent myself from the scene before I did something incredibly stupid and found myself scalped, or whatever the modern equivalent of scalping is. Probably just beaten into jelly. And as I am allergic to severe thrashings and tend to break out in contusions and lacerations when receiving them, I made a suggestion to Leonard.
"Yo, El!" I said. "El-Dopa! Elementary, my dear watson! Let's you and me shake the spot before I accidentally piss someone off and wind up flayed or something."
"We're not savages, you know," Leonard said. "Although, Rocky, yeah, maybe a little."
"What say we go to Coyote Valley, drink Arnold Palmers, and play nickel slots all day? On me. It's not much, but as a small gesture of goodwill to Pomo Nation, it's the least I can do and I'm happy to do it," I said.
"Mighty white of you,” Leonard said. "Alright, let's do it. Throw away that humidifier."
As we strapped into Leonard's pickup, he looked at me and said, "I probably don't have to tell you this, but if I were you, I'd stay away from Covelo.”
“Waaay ahead of you, Elemenopee,” I chuckled. "No way I'm going anywhere near that nest of vipers. They don't really get my sense of humor out there in the Round Valley."
"I don't think your sense of humor has much to do with it,” said Leonard.
"Agree to disagree. Their rustic sensibilities are confounded by by urbane wit."
"I think it's more a case of your sticky fingers getting you stabbed."
"How about you just drive, and we'll leave Covelo for the CSI team, okay, El Debarge?"
That trip to the casino ended predictably, with me donating all of my hardearned, or at least riskily acquired, dough to the tribe, thereby ameliorating in a tiny way my, and our, transgressions both recent and historical . But I'm no hero. Just an Arnold Palmer-sippin' sportsman, watching the reels go 'round.