Oh to be an Indian
Indian Dick has watched these events from above as he and Randy installed the fascia at the entry arch. Normally Wilson would have taken notice said something, made a reference or gestured upward. “My two Gargoyles” something like that. But Wilson has been busy, occupied. Too bad it is always about the money. It is one reason Dick often thinks his patch of land his aging trailer is alright. It’s good to be an Indian. No expectations. At home he is content (except for woman) with wild about him. Poor Wilson always manages to find the Tims, the Daphnes of the world. People as far from his great-grandfather’s ‘great spirit’ as Dick can imagine.
Dick takes the long view. His whole life has been an observation of such people: his connection to them, different, more distant than Wilson's. In school, at work, in stores, when fishing, he has always been the Indian, a heathen to their brand of Christianity an odd and perhaps wild man to their form of organization...An unlicensed fisherman and hunter...A despoiler of their righteous take on nature.
Experience has made him accepting. Clearly Indian, he has always been different, ignored, pitied, resented, at the bottom, outside but observant. So it does not shock Dick when he looks up to see the white man’s dirty underwear. He knows. His mother knew, his father knew, his grandfather told him stories. Still, viewing this latest meeting and the encounter with Potts has been fulfilling. Mr. Big—Potts, who also disdains the Indians, thinking he sits higher on the totem pole...beneath the Tims and Daphnes, beneath the Wilsons, but above the lowly Dick. Potts who Indian Dick cannot stand.
Dick has enjoyed the incident with the deer head. Of course to Indian Dick it was just another old dead head. He has a couple of flea-bitten wrecks with larger racks lying in the snow behind the second shed... left over from his grandfather’s day as a guide ... Probably some rich fellow rushing off to Cincinnati on the train and forgetting his head. Dick kills the deer, he eats them, washes them down with Dicks beer, but he does not mount them. They are food not trophy.
He puts the tools away and closes up. He is the last one on-site and for entertainment he decides to reeve up his new siren, and turn on his knew light. He pauses at the stop then floors the cruiser, racing down Boyne City road past MacGuilties. An Indian free and almost spinning out as he makes the turn. Randy and Wilson hear the noise and see the flash from the bar, Randy commenting “Dick sure likes his new job”. A couple of others asking Wilson. “Is that...that Indian who works for you?”
“Officer Dick”, says Wilson. “He’s multitasking”
“Did you see that”, says another patron?
“That crazy Indian threw out a bottle, right in the road... Out front.”
“He makes it”, says Randy. “Dick’s beer. Joanie you should carry it. Wilson, we could start a brewery. Dick could be like colonel Sanders”
Wilson begins to laugh. The image before him a beaming Dick complete with a headdress and below that in bright red... Indian Dick...Genuine Firewater Flavor.
“You never know, that might sell”, he says to Randy.
“Right”, says Randy. “We could have him do appearances. Dick would like that.”
“Sure, he would,” says Wilson.
And without question Dick is celebrating, not sure exactly what, but celebrating, just feeling good as he uncaps another Dicks Beer and makes the turn onto Johnson Ridge road. He takes the back way home, the engine of his Detroit motor throbbing...Siren screaming, the small creatures who live at the edge of the road, a rabbit, skunk, and winter white weasel dashing for cover at the onslaught of this crazy Indian. Not bad he thinks as he stomps the accelerator farther to the floor, watching the speedometer climb to sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety; seeing if he can get some air with this thing, just like the crackers in the movies. And for a moment Dick and cruiser release their bonds, tires spinning at air alone, to sail just six inches above the payment over the hills steep summit... and then an abrupt inglorious bounce or two as he reaches the other side. Then...Speeding faster, faster, across the ridge until he senses company, an atonal crash of sound, dissonance, another siren, another flashing light in pursuit, but far behind him.
Dick takes note of the distant siren. It is not a state cop, nor an officer from Beauville. This leaves only three possibilities. The screeching vehicle behind him is either another Indian or the Sheriff or his deputy. He floors the cruiser flying across the farmland ridge. One more turn and he will be out of sight, able to take the dirt path higher still, eventually entering his acreage from the backside. Good thing he has kept the road open. But wait who gives a shit; he is forgetting his new role. He is as much an officer, as much a legal scalawag as the car pursuing. So instead he slows to seventy, only twenty-five over the limit. The mortal’s limit, but he no longer must obey. Dick lets the cruiser close until he sees that it is a deputy. He slows more until he can make out the man. Rufus, of course, Rufus Smathers, Dick has known him through his childhood... fought with him on many playgrounds
Smathers has had it out for Dick since Dick pinned him, causing Rufus’s demotion to second position as Dick took on the label best one hundred forty-five pounder in Beauville High...Rufus the goat, Rufus who had lost out to an Indian. And ever after, Rufus, when he gets the chance, has been fucking with him. At parties, at the beach, over woman, hassled him for fishing, hassled him for hunting, smirked at him when he would see him lonely at the market. Rufus Smathers who use to try to annoy him by thrusting his nose in Dick’s face while singing that stupid Dylan song, Drunken Ira Hayes. Smathers, who Dick had thought he was rid of years ago. Smathers, who had gone off to college downstate, flunked out, and then returned to attend the Average Institute and get a two-year degree in sheriffing.... This official position resulting in a stack of questionable tickets, four speeding, two driving without a license (Dick had left it home) and one driving while impaired. Indian Dick has no love for Rufus, and Rufus would be surprised to know that Dick perceives, not an officer, but a buffoon behind him.
He waits till Smathers is almost on his bumper, and swerving from side to side, a fist in the rear window. Then Dick slows and stops to watch Rufus get out of the car and swagger forward, hitching up his policeman’s heavy pants, straightening his belt and gun, cocking his cap and fiddling with his radio. Dick waits until he is staring out the window direct into Rufus’s watery eyes, his hollow pocked cheeks, gaped teeth and bobbing Adams apple.
“Oh, I thought so...Dick!....Indian Dick!.... What are you doing? Borrow this thing? Your speeding.”
Rufus spits on the door’s tribal logo a drool of freezing spittle travels downward. “License and registration.”
Dick looks down at the wheel scratches his temple then returns Smather’s smirk with a glare. He almost starts to shoot the shit, a try at conversation. But then, for reasons that must be the same as those that caused him to pin the asshole years ago, Dick floors the cruiser, breaking loose the rear tires and spraying Rufus with a coating of gravel, snow, and muck. A mile later he turns right and takes the back way through his property until he reaches the last field where he parks the cruiser and starts his snowmobile, riding it the rest of the way in. He hears Smather’s siren, distant, circling from the other direction. Before going inside he grabs the chain he has to keep out the anthropologists from the camp, stretching it from a post on his left to a steel drum with a welded hook on his right. Twenty feet from this sits an old backhoe adjacent to a pit where Dick has been burying his garbage. Leaving Rufus twenty feet to park by the road he tromps inside the trailer, throws down his jacket and opens another beer, extends his limbs, and sits at the table to wait.
The view from his table is dark and bleak except for the Christmas lights he has installed on the juniper hedge and entry conifers. The land is snow covered, windswept drifted fields and distant barren maple, oak, and ash forest. His neighbor’s lights sparkle, red and yellow...blue, across the road a few hundred yards to the East, only marginally brighter than the few stars beginning to show at the edge of the horizon. Otherwise, clouds obscure the early evening sky.
It is not long before Smather's siren rises in intensity, and his lights invade this rural mid December scene. Rufus Smathers, the spoiler, thinks Dick. What a jerk. And sure enough being Rufus, Smathers disdains to park at the road. And, annoyed by the chain and sign, he aims for the gap between the backhoe and the barrel, skidding to a stop as he dumps the front end of his patrol car into Indian Dick’s small snow filled garbage pit.
Dick, smiles. The white man is so predictable. From his table, out its window he sees the light still flashing, every half second casting a red shadow across the trailer’s wall. The siren continues to howl, even as Rufus Smathers tries to open the cruiser’s door...A door that is blocked at the hinges by the nested angle of vehicle and snow. It is as if the land has come up to grab the patrol car, opened up in front of it to leave the headlights half buried in the snow, the vehicle sufficiently inclined that the rear wheels spin free and useless as Rufus tries reverse.
Dick watches for a few minutes, Rufus trying to force the door, Rufus revving, Rufus rolling down the window and climbing out. Then he turns on the outside light and grabs his snow shovel walking towards the cruiser. Forgetting something he goes back inside as Rufus begins to shout. Moments later Dick heads back towards Rufus and hands him one of his gift bottles of beer, the one with the smiling Indian. “Turn off the siren. Turn off the lights. Here.” He shoves the beer towards him. “Quit it with that flasher. Drink this.”
At first Dick is tempted not to help but then, wisdom or the season or maybe in an attempt to see if Rufus will get it, he changes his mind. Might Rufus feel the greater fool? In a similar situation he knows Rufus would have told Dick to call a tow-truck. Can Dick shame him with help? Unlikely, but it is Christmas.
He hands Rufus the shovel. “Here lean on this, use it if you want. I’ll pull you out”. Dick steps to the backhoe and hits the glow plug, letting the diesel warm. He has the heater plugged in; otherwise in the cold it might not start. Within minutes the engine clanks and belches, compressing and exploding the diesel fuel. He checks the gauge. There is enough to let her run for hours. Then he shouts to Rufus, “might as well get back in your vehicle. Drink the beer. I’m gona let her warm up.”
Twenty minutes later Rufus sits free from the ditch watching Dick return the backhoe to its parking place and then come back to the window.
“Happy trails, Rufus”
“Just because you’ve got that car, Dick. Don’t mean you can drive like that. You better watch it. Thanks for pulling me out, but I’m going to need to give you a citation.”
“Sure you are”, says Dick turning his back on Rufus and walking back towards the trailer’s deck and steps. Turning once again, “Merry Christmas, Rufus.”
Dick heads inside to watch Rufus fume, skid a bit, then swerve as his tires catch sending Rufus back down the road. “Amazing”, he mumbles to himself, then he uncorks another Dicks Beer and clicks on the television. A Wounderful life is playing. He always wants to toss that banister ball too. He wonders if Rufus will ever find his Clarence.
Saturday, and Indian Dick has risen late. It is almost noon before he completes filling in the garbage pit, the Rufus hole, dusting it off with snow, nice and even for the next idiot who wants to invade his privacy. He thinks he will change its name, insert it in his vocabulary, a Rufus Trap. What you need boys is a Rufus Trap, just dig a hole and fill it up with a little garbage and four feet of snow then wait, like his ancestors trapped game. Maybe he should dig a hole in the road and charge admission, build some bleachers, get all the Indians drinking his beer and waiting for the next Rufus. He could send out scouts, crazed Indians driving like lunatics, right past the Anthropologist camp, past the Sheriffs department. Tribal officers unite. Let’s build a Rufus trap. Maybe in February or during Brown’s first annual Camp Hope Ice Fishing Tournament. Crackers in a barrel. Idle thoughts as he descends from the backhoe.
He needs to check with Wilson. He will get a kick out of the story...Probably caution him not to do it again. Dick wants advise, he has decided that in the spring he will build his new house, and Wilson has always promised that plan. The checks from the tribe, the Indian Casino’s, keep getting bigger, and he owns the land outright. As Wilson has pointed out often over the years. “Don’t worry what they think of you Dick, of all these guys who work for me. You own the most, with your junk cars and your frugal ways, your homemade beer and wine.”
This was true before, and over the last few years the Indian dollars have continued to arrive first in small amounts and lately much larger... check after check, four times a year in a steady rising arithmetic progression. Not exactly Indian dollars, but social security from the old white pasty losers, the trashier whites who have moved up north to fish and hunt, and eat and gamble. A beautiful blue day and even in the summer there they are in the dark and dismal... gambling, drinking. Dick wouldn’t spend an hour in those places. Their flat roofed big box factory architecture full of smoke and lacking windows...No natural light so the rows of flashing slots stand out against the dark...no light so one cannot see the burns, the stains, the slobber on the carpet. Rumpled fat gray-white women with their equally fat or sometimes scrawny cadaverous husbands, their coughs one step away from cancer, with cups of silver dollars, cups of quarters, pulling tugging on the levers, waiting for that sound, three of something and the fulfillment of a jackpot winner. Sad, but justice too, and all it takes is white man’s greed, white man’s hope and diminished expectations. And given the countries current predicament, Michigan’s fleeing jobs, the failing pensions he hears of on the nightly news. No doubt the checks will keep on coming.
Dick would not phrase it so, but he senses that hope can be malevolent, that dreams of riches in the white man’s case will continue to be both a cause for and a barricade to despair. Gambling will remain the recreation and soporific it has always been. So, he will build his new home as the money flows in. And for this he again needs Wilson’s advice for his new house, a Wilson house, with Rufus traps as landscaping.
When Dick reaches Wilson’s he sees no sign of any activity. There are no tracks in the few inches of snow covering the drive, and no footprints in the snow drifted by the door. He descends two steeps and then thirty feet along the staggered walkway, then down two more. Pulled forward by this entry until he peers through the glass-oak door. No Wilson, no anyone, but this is not unusual. Because, except for a view of open oak stairs, glass and windows, the entry gives no insight to the home’s inside. It does provide a view from West to East. Even on the backside of the building Dick can look through the entry and see the white frozen meadow of the bay in the distance. The booming organ chords rattling the door tell him Wilson must be home.
It is possible that this moment Wilson stands just out of view, around the corner, conducting as Dick has seen him do before, waving his arms to the notes and beat, conducting music, lake, and treetops, to notes from the best sound system Dick has ever heard. Judging by the volume he suspects that Wilson may be high...pot, booze, who knows? If it were summer and the windows open, the music would be loud enough to be heard across the small bay. He knows: he has sat on Wilson’s sloop with the volume set so high they could hear it way out there...they and the neighbors too.
But now in mid December the shallow water of the bay has already frozen. There is no one about, and no one to annoy but the deer or fox, a bird or two, a couple of raccoons. Wilson lives in privacy all the seasons, but in the winter he is the only one who regularly travels up and down his road. The four neighboring homes are summer places, and almost never used throughout the winter. A great place to be a hermit thinks Dick, as the organ music switches to soaring trumpets accompanied by the percussion of Indian Dick’s banging on the door.
Eventually he sees first a head and then a nose, an unshaven face, eyes peering over the edge of the floor then emerging coming slowly up the stairs to see whom it may be. Someone else... and Dick imagines, Wilson on a Saturday might just dash back down below again, but seeing Dick he continues up the stair. Still, he looks annoyed, however not too annoyed to open the door.
“Dick, you’re invading, but welcome anyway. Want a whisky? Some pot”
Yep Wilson is high alright, and also generous in sharing as he gestures to a half smoked joint sitting on the counter.
“What can I say, it’s Christmas time, and I’m toasted and listening to music. Trying to wash the stupidity of existence out of my head, grab hold of some of that Christmas joy.”
He frowns. “Here, I’ll turn it down.” He moves to the stereo and turns the knob “What do you need? Help yourself to whatever, I think I even have a couple of Indian Dicks still sitting in the fridge downstairs.”
Wilson is clad in stained pajamas, his hair uncombed, the spots of dinner or breakfast on his shirt.
“Help yourself, eggs, breakfast, a sandwich, lean cuisine. I recommend the whiskey.” He pours some in a glass and drinks it half down. “What’s Up?”
Dick pauses, first saying nothing. “Maybe now is not the time”.
“Sure it is. Your here aren’t you. What”?
“Well you remember how we’ve been talking about a house plan. I think I want to build, this spring. By the way can I count on this job what’s up with that”?
“I think so. I hope so. I’m screwed if you can’t, but if it is money from the house you’re pledging? We can do a plan sure, but I’d hold your horses.”
“It’s not”, says Dick. “Casino’s. The checks just keep getting bigger.”
“I love it”, says Wilson. “Get some of that property... money... back. After all once you were here where I am standing. Your grea-grea- great-great-great, who knows how many greats, grandfather might have owned this land. I was, well I mean my ancestors were...They were in wattled huts with no teeth, somewhere in England, Ireland. Who knows? A plan eh?”
“Indians didn’t own the land”.
“Right, right” says Wilson. “That’s how we got it from you. You didn’t know it was yours to sell.”
“I suppose, says Dick. The way I heard it the white man just took it.”
“That too”, says Wilson, “Well, anyway, I’m glad you’re getting some of it, something back even if you didn’t own it. Do you know what you want, what it should look like. How big, how small, how much do you want to spend?”
“A hundred thousand says Dick, maybe one fifty.”
“Ok. That can work if you’re tight, and if you build it yourself. We can get you some deals on materials, as long as this Stevens thing doesn’t fall apart. Do you want it like the ones we have been building, do you want a Daphne mansion, or something more rustic, Indian, what...a teepee”?
“We didn’t live in Teepees, lodges, we lived in lodges.”
“So you want a bark house, like that thing on Mackinac.”
“No”, says Dick, I don’t want a bark house”
“Not even siding”, says Wilson.
“Stop it”, says Dick... “No wickyups, no teepees... that simpler design you keep talking about, that one and a half story with the long shed dormer, the steep roof, two wings of that and a garage, and lots of glass facing my fields and forest. And airy, light like this.”
Dick points about the room toward the ceiling beams, the white walls, the kitchen and the modern furniture. "This look in that simpler building.”
“Listen to that Dick. Lieutenant Kije. You know that movie, Woody Allen, where he’s dancing with death. This is the music."
Wilson takes another sip from his glass and starts to spin about, pointing at the ceiling.
"Ok, Ok, I can do that for you. Now... You should try that pot, Dick. Da dedee dedee dee dee da da da. Ok Well common will draw it up."
Wilson goes spinning down the stairs with Dick following.
“ Bring that pot will you, I have that plan at least the simple rectangular one already on the computer. I’ll print it out then you can think about it.”
With in minutes Wilson has the sample plan on the screen, printed and in Dick’s hand. They have spun the building and looked at it from all the elevations not to mention a perspective from above as God or a seagull might see it. Wilson has suggested where the other wing might go.
“Let’s go for an angle Dick, what do you think, only a little more money. Oblique maybe? With an entry... So”
Dick looks at this new representation on the screen.
“ Tough to tell without the windows. Can you put some in.”
“In time, in time", says Wilson, "why don’t you think about it, we have plenty of days till spring. Make some sketches yourself, and take these magazines."
Wilson loads Dick’s arms with magazines.
“Here this one, and this one, take this one”... Dicks arms becoming full as Wilson stacks the magazines first up to his chest and then his chin.
“Look at these, get some more ideas, look at the plan, then we can talk about it. Next week or after the Holidays.”
Dick moves up the stairs with Wilson following. A few magazines fall off the pile and Wilson picks them up. Then Dick pauses, setting the magazines on the kitchen counter, where the slippery things perch for a moment and then half of them tumble to the floor. He begins to pick them up. Wilson selects a couple more from the adjacent table and balances them beneath Dicks chin. “Sure you don’t want a shot, one of your beers”
“No,” says Dick. “I need to go, but thanks.”
“Here let me help you out with those. Wilson takes back half the stack. Then sets them down and puts on his boots. “Here”
Reaching Dick’s truck, today Dick has left the cruiser home, they dump the magazines inside the passenger door.
“Holiday’s”? questions Dick. “You’re not going skiing this year”?
“Don’t think I can.” Says Wilson. “Daphne and that Courtland... they owe me decisions, not to mention some money. I’m staying around to make sure that you, that we, can keep working. I have a ticket, but....”
“Yeah”, says Dick. “Been better if that Steven’s hadn’t died wouldn’t it?”
“Seems that way”, says Wilson. But at least we won’t need to see him in a Santa Suit.
“Right, says Dick, “And he would probably have had one, an elf hat anyway.”
“I’ll see you Monday, says Wilson. “Oh, and on the job, let’s not talk about your house. It will just make the others jealous. Send them off on Indian rants."
“I figured that”, says Dick. “See Ya”
As Dick leaves he glances sideways at the plan. Nice of Wilson, but he has always said he would. Dick is worried though. Wilson was going to be a mess by nightfall...two weeks of Holidays, and no skiing. He almost always goes away for these two weeks. Christmas, and what if the people don’t show up? He remembers last time that happened, ten years ago. When Wilson cancelled his plans and waited and waited... That Kutcher house... Wilson was ready to burn the dam thing down....He wonders if Grace will be around this winter, this Christmas, or will Wilson just be here alone in that big cool house, drinking and conducting trees.
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