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کتاب: هیچی نیس، آرام باش / فصل 16

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PART IV

Powwow

A man must dream a long time in order to act with grandeur, and dreaming is nursed in darkness.

—JEAN GENET

Orvil Red Feather

INSIDE THE COLISEUM, the field is already packed with people, with dancers, tables, and canopies. Packed to the stands. Camping chairs and lawn chairs are scattered across the field, with and without people sitting in them—saved spots. On top of the tables and hung on the backs and sides of canopy walls are powwow hats and T-shirts with slogans like Native Pride written in capital block letters gripped by eagle talons; there are dream catchers, flutes, tomahawks, and bows and arrows. Indian jewelry of every kind is splayed and hung everywhere, crazy amounts of turquoise and silver. Orvil and his brothers stop for a minute at the table with beaded A’s and Raiders beanies, but they really want to check out the line of food tables in the outfield.

They spend their fountain money and go up to the second deck to eat. The fry bread is wide and the meat and grease are deep.

“Man. That’s goot,” Orvil says.

“Pffft,” Loother says. “Quit trying to talk Indian.”

“Shut up. What am I supposed to sound like, a white boy?” Orvil says.

“Sometimes you sound like you wanna be Mexican,” Lony says. “Like when we’re at school.”

“Shut up,” Orvil says.

Loother elbows Lony and they both crack up at Orvil. Orvil takes off his hat and hits them both on the back of the head with it. Then Orvil takes the taco and steps over the row to sit behind them. After sitting in silence for a while, he hands the taco to Lony.

“How much you say you could win if you win?” Loother asks Orvil.

“I don’t wanna talk about it. It’s bad luck,” Orvil says.

“Yeah but you said it was like, five thou—” Loother says.

“I said I don’t wanna talk about it,” Orvil says.

“ ’Cuz you think it’ll jinx it, huh?”

“Loother, shut the fu@k up.”

“All right,” Loother says.

“All right then,” Orvil says.

“But imagine how much cool sh@t we could get with that kinda money,” Loother says.

“Yeah,” Lony says, “we could get a PS4, a big TV, some J’s—”

“We would give it all to Grandma,” Orvil says.

“Aw man, that’s weak,” Loother says.

“C’mon, you know she likes to work,” Lony says, still chewing the last of the taco.

“There’s probably other stuff she’d rather do if she could,” Orvil says.

“Yeah, but we could just keep some of it,” Loother says.

“sh@t,” Orvil says, looking down at the time on his phone. “I gotta get down to the locker room!”

“What you want us to do?” Loother asks.

“Stay up here,” Orvil says. “I’ll come get you after.”

“What? C’mon,” Lony says.

“I’ll come get you after, it won’t take that long,” Orvil says.

“But we can’t barely see sh@t from up here,” Loother says.

“Yeah,” Lony says.

Orvil walks away. He knows the more he argues, the more rebellious they’ll get.

The men’s locker room is loud with laughter. At first Orvil thinks they’re laughing at him, but then realizes someone had told a joke just before he got in, because more jokes come as he sits down. Mostly it’s older guys, but there are a few young men in there too. He puts his regalia on slow, carefully, and puts his earphones in, but before he can put a song on he sees a guy across from him gesturing for him to take them out. It’s this huge Indian guy. He stands up, he’s in full regalia, and he picks his feet up one at a time, which makes his feathers shake, which sort of scares Orvil. The guy clears his throat.

“Now you young men in here, listen up. Don’t get too excited out there. That dance is your prayer. So don’t rush it, and don’t dance how you practice. There’s only one way for an Indian man to express himself. It’s that dance that comes from all the way back there. All the way over there. You learn that dance to keep it, to use it. Whatever you got going on in your life, you don’t leave it all in here, like them players do when they go out on that field, you bring it with you, you dance it. Any other way you try to say what you really mean, it’s just gonna make you cry. Don’t act like you don’t cry. That’s what we do. Indian men. We’re crybabies. You know it. But not out there,” he says, and points to the door of the locker room.

A couple of the older guys make this low huh sound, then another couple of guys say aho in unison. Orvil looks around the room, and he see all these men dressed up like him. They all needed to dress up to look Indian too. There’s something like the shaking of feathers he felt somewhere between his heart and his stomach. He knows what the guy said is true. To cry is to waste the feeling. He needs to dance with it. Crying is for when there’s nothing else left to do. This is a good day, this is a good feeling, something he needs, to dance the way he needs to dance to win the prize. But no. Not the money. To dance for the first time like he learned, from the screen but also from practice. From the dancing came the dancing.

There are hundreds of dancers in front of him. Behind him. To his left and right. He’s surrounded by the variegation of color and pattern specific to Indianness, gradients from one color to the next, geometrically sequenced sequined shapes on shiny and leathered fabrics, the quill, bead, ribbon, plume, feathers from magpies, hawks, crows, eagles. There are crowns and gourds and bells and drumsticks, metal cones, sticked and arrowed flickers, shag anklets, and hairpipe bandoliers, barrettes and bracelets, and bustles that fan out in perfect circles. He watches people point out each other’s regalia. He is an old station wagon at a car show. He is a fraud. He tries to shake off the feeling of feeling like a fraud. He can’t allow himself to feel like a fraud because then he’ll probably act like one. To get to that feeling, to get to that prayer, you have to trick yourself out of thinking altogether. Out of acting. Out of everything. To dance as if time only mattered insofar as you could keep a beat to it, in order to dance in such a way that time itself discontinued, disappeared, ran out, or into the feeling of nothingness under your feet when you jumped, when you dipped your shoulders like you were trying to dodge the very air you were suspended in, your feathers a flutter of echoes centuries old, your whole being a kind of flight. To perform and win you have to dance true. But this is just Grand Entry. No judges. Orvil hops a little and dips his arms. He puts his arms out and tries to keep light on his feet. When he starts to feel embarrassed, he closes his eyes. He tells himself not to think. He thinks the thought Don’t think over and over. He opens his eyes and sees everyone around him. They’re all feathers and movement. They’re all one dance.

When Grand Entry is over, the dancers disperse, moving out in every direction in a ripple of chatter and bells, headed for the vendors, or to find family, or to walk around, giving and accepting compliments, acting normal, like they don’t look like what they look like. Indians dressed up as Indians.

Orvil’s stomach rumbles and shudders. He looks up to see if he can find his brothers.

Tony Loneman

TO GET TO THE POWWOW Tony Loneman catches a train. He gets dressed at home and wears his regalia all the way there. He’s used to being stared at, but this is different. He wants to laugh at them staring at him. It’s his joke to himself about them. Everyone has been staring at him his whole life. Never for any other reason than the Drome. Never for any other reason than that his face told you something bad happened to him—a car wreck you should but can’t look away from.

No one on the train knows about the powwow. Tony’s just an Indian dressed like an Indian on the train for no apparent reason. But people love to see the pretty history.

Tony’s regalia is blue, red, orange, yellow, and black. The colors of a fire at night. Another image people love to think about. Indians around a fire. But this isn’t that. Tony is the fire and the dance and the night.

He’s standing in front of a BART map. An older white woman sitting across from him points to the map and asks him where to get off if she’s going to the airport. She knows the answer to this question. She would have already looked it up on her phone numerous times to be sure. She wants to see if the Indian speaks. It’s the next question she means to get to. The face behind the face she makes says it all. Tony doesn’t answer about the airport right away. He stares at her and waits for what she’ll say next.

“So you’re…a Native American?”

“We get off at the same exit,” Tony says. “Coliseum. There’s a powwow. You should come.” Tony walks to the door to look out the window.

“I would, but…”

Tony hears that she’s responding, but he doesn’t listen. People don’t want any more than a little story they can bring back home with them, to tell their friends and family around the dinner table, to talk about how they saw a real Native American boy on a train, that they still exist.

Tony looks down and watches the tracks fly by. He feels the train pull him back as it slows. He grips the metal handle, shifts his weight to the left, then rocks back to his right when the train comes to a complete stop. The woman behind him is saying something, but it can’t matter what. He steps off the train and when he gets to the stairs he takes off, skipping two steps the whole way down.

Blue

BLUE IS DRIVING to pick up Edwin. It’s that weird night-morning color, that deep blue-orange-white. The day she’s been anticipating for almost a year is just starting.

It feels good to be back in Oakland. All the way back. She’s been back a year. On a regular paycheck now, in her own studio apartment, with her own car again for the first time in five years. Blue tilts the rearview down and looks at herself. She sees a version of herself she thought was long gone, someone she’d left behind, ditched for her real Indian life on the rez. Crystal. From Oakland. She’s not gone. She’s somewhere behind Blue’s eyes in the rearview.

Blue’s favorite place to smoke a cigarette is in the car. She likes how the smoke escapes when all the windows are down. She lights one. She tries to at least say a little prayer every time she smokes. It makes her feel less guilty for smoking. She takes in a deep drag and holds it. She says thank you as she blows out the smoke.

She’d gone all that way to Oklahoma to find out where she came from and all she’d gotten for it was a color for a name. No one had heard of any Red Feather family. She’d asked around plenty. She wonders if maybe her birth mom made it up—maybe she didn’t know her own tribe either. Maybe she had been adopted too. Maybe Blue would end up having to make up her own name and tribe too, pass that on to her possible children.

Blue throws her cigarette out the window as she passes the Grand Lake Theatre. The theater meant many things to her over the years. Right now she’s thinking of the awkward, clearly stated non-date date she recently went on with Edwin. Edwin’s her intern, her assistant for the powwow event coordination for this past year. The movie was sold out so they walked around the lake instead. The awkward silence that was the entire walk was intense. They both kept starting sentences and stopping them short, then saying “Never mind.” She liked Edwin. She likes him. There’s something about him that feels like family. Maybe because he has a similar background. In Edwin’s case, he hadn’t known his dad, who is Native, who happens to be the emcee at the powwow. So they had that in common, sort of, but not much else. She definitely does not like Edwin as anything more than a co-worker and possible future friend. She’d told him a thousand times with her eyes that there’s no way—in what her eyes didn’t do, in how they looked away when his tried to stay.

When Blue pulls up to his house, she calls him from her car. He doesn’t answer. She walks up and knocks on his door. She should have texted that she was outside the minute she left her house. The drive to West Oakland took about fifteen minutes without traffic. Why didn’t she make him take BART? Right, it’s too early. But the bus? No, he had a bad experience on the bus he won’t even tell her about. Does she baby him? Poor Edwin. He really does try. He really doesn’t know how he comes off to other people. He’s so painfully aware of his physical size. And he makes too many comments about himself, his weight. It makes people as uncomfortable as he appears to be most of the time.

Blue knocks again, hard to the point that it would have been rude except that Edwin was making her wait outside his door on this day they’d both been planning and working hard toward for so many months.

Blue looks at her phone for the time, then checks her email and texts. When nothing of interest comes up, she checks her Facebook. It’s a tired feed she’d read last night before going to bed. No new activity. Old comments and posts she’d already seen. She presses the Home button and for a second, just for a small moment, thinks she should open her other Facebook feed. On that other Facebook, she’d find the information and media she’d always been looking for. On that other Facebook feed, she’d find true connection. That is where she’d always wanted to be. Is what she’d always hoped Facebook would turn out to be. But there is nothing else to check, there is no other Facebook, so she clicks the screen off and puts the phone back in her pocket. Just as she’s about to knock again, Edwin’s big face appears before her. He’s holding two mugs.

“Coffee?” he says.

Dene Oxendene

DENE IS IN a makeshift storytelling booth he built to record stories. He aims the camera at his face and presses Record. He doesn’t smile or speak. He’s recording his face as if the image, the pattern of light and dark arranged there, might mean something on the other side of that lens. He’s using the camera his uncle gave to him before he died. The Bolex. One of Dene’s favorite directors, Darren Aronofsky, used a Bolex in his movies Pi and Requiem for a Dream—which Dene would say is one of his favorite movies, though it’s hard to call such a fu@ked-up movie a favorite. But that for Dene is what is so good about the movie, aesthetically it’s rich, so you enjoy the experience, but you don’t exactly come away from the film glad that you watched it, and yet you wouldn’t have it any other way. Dene believes this kind of realness is something his uncle would have appreciated. This unflinching stare into the void of addiction and depravity, this is the kind of thing only a camera can keep its eye wide open for.

Dene turns the camera off and sets it up on a tripod to point at the stool he has placed in the corner for the storytellers. He flips one switch on his cheap lighting gear for soft light behind the stool, then the other switch for the harder lighting he has behind him. He’ll ask everyone who comes into his booth why they’ve come to the powwow, what powwows mean to them. Where do they live? What does being Indian mean to them? He doesn’t need more stories for his project. He doesn’t even need to show a product at the end of the year for the grant money he’s received. This is about the powwow, the committee. It’s about documentation. For posterity. It might end up in his final production, whatever that might be—he still doesn’t know. He’s still letting the content direct the vision. Which is not just another way of saying he’s making it up as he goes along. Dene walks through the black curtains out into the powwow.

Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield

OPAL IS SITTING alone in plaza infield, second deck. She’s watching from up there so as to not be seen by her grandsons. By Orvil especially. It would mess with him if he saw her there.

She hasn’t been to an A’s game in years. Why did they stop going to games? Time only seems to have skipped, or to have sped by without you when you looked the other way. That’s what Opal had been doing. Closing her eyes and ears to the closing of her eyes and ears.

Lony was just starting to walk on his own the last time they were here. Opal is listening to the drum. She hasn’t heard a big drum like that since she was young. She scans the field for the boys. It’s a blur. She should probably get glasses. Probably should have gotten glasses a long time ago. She would never tell anyone this, but she enjoys the distance being a blur. She can’t tell how crowded it is. Certainly not the same crowd as at a baseball game.

She looks up at the sky, then at the empty third deck. That’s where they’d watched the game from with the boys. She sees something fly over the edge of the rim of the coliseum. Not a bird. Its movement is unnatural. She squints to try to see it better.

Edwin Black

EDWIN HANDS BLUE a coffee he made for her just minutes before she came and knocked at his door. French-pressed organic dark roast. He’d guessed a moderate dose of sugar and milk. He doesn’t smile or make small talk as they walk to her car together. Today means everything for them. The countless hours they put in. All the different drum groups and vendors and dancers they had to call and convince to come, that there was prize money to be had, money to be made. Edwin’s made more phone calls this year than he has in his whole life. People didn’t really want to sign on for a new powwow. Especially one in Oakland. If it doesn’t go well, the powwow won’t happen again next year. And they’ll be out of a job. But this means more than a job for Edwin at this point. This is a new life. Plus his dad will be there today. It’s almost too much to think about. Or maybe Edwin just drank too much coffee this morning.

The drive to the coliseum feels slow and tense. Every time he thinks to say something he takes a sip of coffee instead. This is only the second time they’re spending time together outside of work. She has NPR on so low it’s unintelligible.

“I started writing a story the other day,” Edwin says.

“Oh yeah?” Blue says.

“It’s about a Native guy, I’ll call him Victor—”

“Victor? Really?” Blue says, with comically half-closed eyelids.

“Fine, his name is Phil. You wanna hear it?”

“Sure.”

“Okay, so Phil lives in a nice apartment in downtown Oakland he got grandfathered into, it’s a big place with fixed rent. Phil works at Whole Foods. One day a white guy he works with, I’ll call him John, he asks Phil if he wants to hang out after work. They hang out, go to a bar, have a good time, then John ends up spending the night at Phil’s. The next day when Phil comes home from work, John’s still there, only he has a couple of friends over. They brought a bunch of their stuff too. Phil asks John what’s going on and John tells Phil he figured since there’s so much extra room that Phil wasn’t using, that it would be okay. Phil doesn’t like it, but he’s not one for confrontation so he lets it go. Over the next few weeks, and then months, the house fills up with squatters, hipsters, corporate tech nerds, and every kind of young white person imaginable. They’re either living in Phil’s apartment or just sort of hanging out indefinitely. Phil doesn’t understand how he let it get so out of control. Then just when he gets up the nerve to say something, to kick everyone out, he gets really sick. Someone had stolen his blanket, and when he asked John about it, John gave him a new blanket. Phil believes that blanket made him sick. He’s in bed for a week. By the time he comes out, things have changed. Progressed, you might say. Some of the rooms have been turned into offices. John’s running some kind of start-up out of Phil’s apartment. Phil tells John he has to go, everyone has to leave, and that Phil had never agreed to any of this. That’s when John provides some paperwork. Phil had signed something, apparently. Maybe in a fever dream. But John won’t show him the papers. Trust me, bro, John says. You don’t wanna go there. Oh and by the way, you know that spot under the stairs, John says. Spot? Phil says. That room? He means the closet under the stairs. Phil knows what’s coming next. Let me guess, you’re moving me to that spot under the stairs, that’s my new room, Phil says. You guessed it, John says. This is my apartment, my grandfather lived here, he passed it on to me to take care of, Phil says. It’s for my family, if anyone needs a place to stay, that’s what it’s supposed to be here for. And here John produces a gun. He points it at Phil’s face, then proceeds to walk Phil to the closet under the stairs. Told you, bro, John says. Told me what? Phil says. You should have just joined the company. We could have used someone like you, John says. You never asked me anything, you just came to my apartment and stayed here, then took over, Phil says. Whatever, bro, my record keepers have it going down differently, John says, and nods with his head at a couple of guys on a couch in the downstairs living room furiously typing on their Apple computers what Phil assumes is a different version of the events happening just then. Suddenly feeling very tired, and hungry, Phil retreats to his under-the-stairs closet-room. That’s it, that’s what I have so far.”“That’s funny,” Blue says. Like she doesn’t think it’s funny, but feels like that’s what he wants her to say.

“It’s stupid. Sounded a lot better in my head,” Edwin says.

“So much is like that, right?” Blue says. “I feel like something like that actually happened to a friend of mine. I mean, not exactly like that, but like a warehouse in West Oakland she inherited from her uncle got taken over by squatters.”“Really?”

“That’s their culture,” Blue says.

“What is?”

“Taking over.”

“I don’t know. My mom’s white—”

“You don’t have to defend all white people you think aren’t a part of the problem just because I said something negative about white culture,” Blue says. And Edwin’s heart rate goes up. He’d heard her get mad on the phone, at other people, but never at him.

“Sorry,” Edwin says.

“Don’t apologize,” Blue says.

“Sorry.”

Edwin and Blue set up the tables and canopies together in the early-morning light. They unpack folding tables and chairs. When everything is set, Blue looks at Edwin.

“Should we just leave the safe in the car until later?” she says.

It’s a small safe they got from Walmart. It wasn’t easy to convince the grantees to cut them a check they could cash. Cash was a problem when it came to grants and how nonprofits managed their money. But after the phone calls and emails, all the explanations and testimony about the people who come to powwows to compete, people who want to win cash because they prefer cash, sometimes don’t have bank accounts, and don’t want to lose the three percent cash-checking services take, they finally agreed on Visa gift cards. A whole mess of them.

“There’s no reason not to get it now,” Edwin says. “I’m sure it’ll get crazy later and we won’t wanna go all the way out to the parking lot when it’s time to hand out the prizes.”

“True,” Blue says.

They pull the safe out of her trunk, then walk with it together, not because it’s so heavy but because it’s so wide.

“I’ve never held this much money,” Blue says.

“I know it’s not that heavy, but it feels super heavy, right?” Edwin says.

“Maybe we should’ve gotten money orders,” Blue says.

“But we advertised cash. That’s one of the ways to draw people. You said that.”

“I guess.”

“No, but I mean, you said that. It was your idea.”

“Just seems a little flashy,” Blue says as they approach the table.

“Powwows are all about flash, aren’t they?”

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