Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Pueblo

Christmas Morning....

The sun has broken through and, although God has decided that the deep snowy sunscape beneath should stay awhile (it's below zero out there), it is nice to have a break. And the presents are under the tree and waiting, which I am delaying going at with my bare hands until I have everything else in the house just right. A few minutes from now. I found a place to make a fifty out of two twenties and a ten, so I have the paper person's tip ready to post. Hopefully, that person will not take 'Halloween' type action against me for a few days, or so I hope.

I have placed a couple of stories inside the body of my posts over the past few days. They have related to Christmas, or the poignancy of it all, in some way or another. Here is one from the mid-nineties when I was not yet 'all that I could be.'

Christmas Pueblo

I found myself inside the confines of the Santa Fe County jail on some vague trumped-up charge. I was in the 'drunk tank,' which is what the cells they use for new prisoner intake are called there. No bars, no windows, just concrete and steel. No way to see out of the ten by twelve box and no ability to hear. Thankfully I was alone for the first few hours, as I had to come to terms with being inside an American institution for the first time (I had already been in a few abroad, so I was not exactly a 'new fish'), and this was not much fun. It was Christmas Eve. Late into the afternoon. The heartless Santa Fe 'Gestapo' had shown no mercy, in spite of the impending holiday. The way I saw it, I was a gringo and they were anything but. They probably saw it in a more 'Harry Callahan' kind of way. The tank did not remain empty for too long. The riff-raff of evening Santa Fe, New Mexico, began to flow in, dredged from a pristine city that prides itself on not having any homeless people. No, they don't, as all of the potentials get combed off the streets and into that heartless modern version of the Bastille, conveniently located five miles South of even the most outer edge of the town.

The cell became so crowded that the entry of one more body meant that there was just no floor space left. And then they opened the door and forced a huge American Indian through. They slammed it shut again, immediately. He stood there for a few seconds, then stared at the man laying next to me on the bare concrete floor. The man moved, finally settling atop the rim of the stainless steel john located in the corner. The Indian took his place, and glared over at me, inches away, when I happened to look into his eyes. This was no Little Big Man Indian of great good cheer and ancient wisdom, like Chief Dan George. No, this was an Indian from hell, more like that one who killed the girl in the Mohican's film a few years back. I showed no fear, but did look away. I was already an old hand at the predation game. You do not show fear to a predator. That is what the predator is looking and waiting for, because it identifies you as prey. No, you meet predation by impassive and emotionless presentation. The predator then takes you for a predator, as well, and there is no point in attacking another predator unless territory is an issue, or survival. You will only likely get hurt, and predators are deathly afraid of injury, as then they become prey.

There was no trouble from the Indian, as the hours passed, nor from any of the usual suspects. Just prisoners inconveniencing the poor guy who's only spot was the on top of the john. He had to move so the drunks could be sick, and worse. Some head of corrections guy must have known a modicum of mercy that night, or, more likely, there were just too many prisoner's for the place to hold, because they came for me. The guards called my name and told me that I was being 'rolled out,' which is prison slang for being released. I went with enthusiasm, but somehow kicked the foot of the snoozing Indian as I departed. "Excuse me White Eyes!" he hissed up, already into a sitting position as I turned. I held together against the pure ferocity of his expression and the penetration of his hawk-like eyes. "My apologies, I was careless," I stated, flatly. Then I moved slowly to join the corrections officer at the door. The Indian's eyes followed me out the door and remained embedded in my mind as I went through the many steps of processing out. Finally, the guards took me to the big door of intake, opened the steel slab with a key about the size of a Waring blender, and shoved me through it. Merry Christmas, the guard said with a laugh, then slammed the door. My relief was immense, until I looked about me. The sodium yellow of the parking lot lamps allowed the driving snow to appear as if I was standing adjacent to Niagra Falls. And it was cold. I wore an old Sheepskin Company coat so I knew I was not likey to freeze, the torso of my body anyway. But I did not know how I was going to make it the many miles to town, much less a few more miles to anywhere I could get a ride. I turned to see if there was a pay phone on the wall to call a cab, but there was nothing. Only the pitiless concrete.

For an instant I felt relief, as the steel door opened again and I saw the warmth that had been prevalent inside. But that was extinguished in an instant, as the big Indian was pushed through the door, before it slammed again. There we were, and I knew fear. He looked down at me with no expression on his face. I tried to look impassive once more, but I knew I was not doing well because I saw a slow cruel smile begin to form around the edges of his mouth. Then he spoke. "Where you going?"

I was surprised. Not that he would talk but that this time he did so in clear unaccented English, not like he had sounded inside. "To town," I murmured, motioning back with my right shoulder. "Never make it. Not on a night like this," he mused, more to himself than to me. He looked out at the scene I had first encountered. The snow was coming down heavier. Then he shrugged. "You can come with me to the pueblo. It's down the way," he gestured south with his own shoulder. I looked off toward the darkness, then looked to the parking lot. But it was Christmas, and i could not stay there, and I knew I could not make it to town. I shrugged with deep resignation. "Okay," I said aloud, then whispered to myself, "let it be Quick." I followed the Indian into the night. There was no trail, there was no moonlight or any other way to establish bearings. So I just followed the huge man closely. We moved downhill, through the La Bajada Canyon, finally trudging under an overpass which held up the four lanes of Interstate forty.

A yellow glow in the distance became the pueblo. The Indian wormed his way between the densely packed mud buildings. Lights glared out, to assure us that the snow had not abated in it's attack. We came around a corner to a wooden door. The upper floor of the adobe structure jutted out above, so we stood and beat the snow from our clothing and boots as best we could. The door opened without anybody knocking. An old woman stuck her head out, then motioned us both inside. I stepped into a different world. The room was filled with people of all ages. They were all sitting at the many tables, seemingly strew about without order. The big Indian motioned me to an empty seat between two young boys. He said nothing. They said nothing. I sat, more in shock and wonder than because I was willingly following rational directions. The two boys reached for bowls and started scooping stuff onto my plate. Tortillas and burritos. I did not even know what Indians ate until then. Corn things, with lots of hot sauces. Everyone went back to eating. They did not look at me, so I started eating as well. I ate the whole plate, so the boys refilled it without any request on my part. When I finished the second plate, they refilled it again. I looked over at the old woman, whom the big Indian had seated himself next to. I saw here smile very briefly. Then the big Indian smiled for the first time, and I understood without any words being necessary. The old woman liked the fact that I loved her food. And the big Indian appreciated that.

"This is my family," he said, gesturing around at all the people at all of the tables. They smiled, as if on cue. "Welcome to the Reservation and my family. I'll drive you back to town tomorrow. But its Christmas, so maybe you want to stay longer for the ceremony." I nodded, only briefly wondering if the 'ceremony' had anything to do with a White Man being cooked in a pot over a roaring fire. "Merry Christmas," I said, as I nodded with enthusiasm, a genuine smile creasing my face for the first time in months. "Merry Christmas," they all yelled back in unison, then began talking, laughing and carrying on, just as if I was an Indian returning to his home.

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