Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Guitar Pick

One of my earliest memories is of seeing the world from the tabletop. My eyes must have been even with the kitchen table back then. I remember the overflowing ashtray, the empty beer cans that didn't make it to the trash can, the ring made from the cans were crusted black because the more the adults talked and forgot to ash their cigarettes, the ashes would either fall on the table or little embers of it would fall into the wet beer rings.

Country music would play loudly, adults screamed at each other just to be heard. It was always the same crew. My grandma, her niece and nephew(who were older than her because she was the youngest of twelve children), and her twin brother, that was the core of the group. There were friends and other cousins that came and went. My grandpa, when he was around, usually sat outside in the shade of snakeberry tree or the shade of his squaw cooler which is a lean to built of tall posts and covered with pine boughs. That's where he drank his muscatel wine and sang old standards. Inside the house you were guaranteed either Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, and so on. Still the same music I listen to today.

I remember on one of these occasions, my grandma was hosting all day. I don't remember who was there but my grandpa wasn't. There was a lady there. She was bigger and light complected. I don't think she was white, but I think she was an iyeska (half White – half Indian). Most of the people that hung out there were iyeskas.
Anyway, this lady had a guitar and was able to sit and drink as long as she played the guitar and sang. She even took requests. Which tickled my gram, she requested her ass off. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, the works. I stood by my grandma and listened to the lady sing. She had a pretty voice and every time she finished a song people would war hoop and clap. She would try to guzzle as much beer as she could before the next request came in. Soon her voice was giving. To this day, I now know it took on a Janis Joplin sound to it. It still sounded pretty, but gravelly.

She begged for a break. Even in my youth, I knew she didn't have to beg. They played country music for awhile. After awhile, my grandma had a request. I don't remember the name of the song but it was about rain and love and such. It was beautiful. Everyone was quiet while she sang.

When she finished, she grabbed her beer. I think just to wet her throat.
“Sing it again!” My grandma barked.

She sang the song over and over and then finally took a bathroom break. When she sat down my grandma had evil eyes. “Sing it again.”, she said.

“I can't”, she said. I lost my pick here somewhere and my fingers are bleeding.

“Bullshit.”, my grandma said, “You wanna stay, you play. You're hiding your pick.”

“For reals, I'm not lying. Look at my fingers.”

I looked, they were indeed bloody.

“Then you're out the door.”, my grandma said.

Instead of letting her just leave, because my grandma had her mean eyes on, she beat her up all the way down the stairs and out the front door. Throwing her guitar out after her as if to say, “There!”.

I was not too shocked. I had seen my grandma beat people up before. But never for anything like that. Even though I was 4 or 5, I knew it was wrong. I knew enough to know that my grandma was drunk and felt sorry for the singing lady with bloody fingers.

My grandma still had mean eyes and I didn't want to see anymore fighting. My brother was in his usual spot under the coffee table, drinking his bottle and watching T.V. I scooted him over, it felt safe under there, and Grizzly Adams was on.

That's when I noticed in his hand that wasn't holding a bottle, he held a guitar pick.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I looked up at the Federal building through a blur. Not only was my eyesight fucked without glasses or contacts, I was drunk. Drunker than I'd been in a long time. Tore to the floor, sorority girl drunk. Plus, I think was crying. That's how drunk I was, I think I was crying, maybe not. My brother walked me inside to turn myself in. Thank god he did or I would have turned right around and looked for a grassy knoll somewhere. I vaguely remember being cuffed and escorted in the cargo elevator that comes out right outside of the marshal's office. I think I fell asleep in the holding cell. I remember a lady giving me a PBT test. I blew in it like a professional PBT-er. I wanted to say “Take that!”. I passed out again and woke up again in the dingy holding cell. It was dark and scary. I wanted to go to the jail ASAP. I hollered for someone, nobody came. I kicked the chain link fence and three of them came running out. “Can you take me to jail?”, I begged. I don't know how much longer it took. Next thing I know they are interviewing me. The Marshal tells me he was already in Pine Ridge that day looking for me. I told him I was up here at a restaurant having my “last supper” and “last drunk”.

That's all I remember of the interview except for being hauled to the jail. I had never been to any other jail except for the one on the reservation. It was different. I changed into black and white stripes immediately. I went through my booking interview in my drunk polite, “Miss Manners” mode. I remember the lady laughing at me as she was booking me, so it was “Miss Manners / Comedian” mode. She gave me two blankets and sent me to my holding cell. They brought me a tray, I don't remember what it was, but I ate everything on it. Everything. When I tried to pass out with my two wonderfully warm blankets, they told me to go watch T.V.. I sat in a waiting room-area and couldn't focus. I finally asked if I could go lay down. I slept soundly in the bright fluorescent lights. The county jail, which was the first white man's jail I had ever been to, was okay. In my drunken slumber, I remember being thankful for having 2 blankets, a mat on concrete slab, food, and I was warm. It wasn't like the tribal jail that throws you into a dirty ass – cold ass drunk tank with homeless drunks who cry, who sing, who snore, and fart. I was the drunk in there, who couldn't sleep, and that eight hours they hold you feels like forever when you are sobering up.

I awoke, I think in the middle of the night. The girls I was in there with were all asleep. There were six beds in there and all but the last one was occupied. I was rum dumb and staggered to the toilet. I peed and then drank water from the sink. I was hungover thirsty. I realized then when I lay down that I turned myself in. My time was in someone else hands. The governments. I now belonged to the government. I knew for over a year this time was coming. I knew I spent much of the last 18 months drinking to try and deny and avoid this day. I was now on my way to being institutionalized. Big surprise for an Indian, right?

The whole next day was sleeping, reading, trying to eat, and sleeping again. In the short time I was in holding I met a lady who was the namesake for one of my friends. Two young girls who had minor charges and were to get out in two days. A chick who was on her way back to the state prison. She had a different blanket because she was on suicide watch. She told us she took a bottle of sleeping pills and gulped them down with a fifth of whiskey. She told her man in Texas what she did. He told her he was calling the cops. They found her in a snowbank. She spent 3 days in the hospital before she was healthy enough to go to jail. She showed us all her frostbite on her foot. They brought in a new girl. She was 35, she said, and had some unpaid fines. She talked with us and seemed okay. Her slab and mat was furthest from the door and windows and in the corner by the cinder block walls. She moved her mat towards the front of the cell. We were all talking about the different reasons why we were in there when the new girl started crying. Then she hyperventilated to the point where it scared all of us. We pounded on the glass until a C.O. came in running over. They took her out of the cell and sent her back in with a paper bag to breathe into.

I never really believed in that paper bag theory. When I was 12, I rode in a six seated plane that had me freaked out at the landing. I tried breathing in the bag while the pilot swooped and swirled to find a good spot to land at the airport(twas a hayfield). By the time we landed, I staggered out delirious, dry heaving, ready to faint, and thanking god. The paper bag did nothing.

So anyway they take this chick for like an hour. She comes back all serene. I knew the bag didn't calm her down. They gave her some pill. She started telling us she had to sit out a 700 and something dollar fine. That is why she was freaking out. I wanted to say that's only about 18 to 20 days. My future is uncertain!!

In the holding cell, the night before when I was passed out, there was a girl in her own cell, about in her 40's. She was singing, hollering redrum, over and over. She asked for tampons and stuffed them in her ears. She plugged her sink up and flooded her cell. She knocked her head off the wall to bleed. They put her in a “suicide dress” which makes it impossible to move. I never seen one, but yeah I heard. I guess when the C.O.'s looked up, she got out of the dress and was standing there naked. Nuts! For the duration I was in booking. I felt like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. All day it was like someone put a quarter in her and and you'd hear “Redrum! Redrum!” I silently thanked my brain for not being weak. I can't imagine what It would be like to totally lose control of your mind like that. That's a scary thought. I returned to my book. The book was about a lawyer whose client was suing the mob. It was cheesy but I got into it. Right when the story was unfolding a C.O. came in the holding cell and called out 4 last names. We were to go upstairs, where it was better for us. I wasn't allowed to take my book. It actually took them about 2 hours to move us upstairs. We sat in the same area I sat in the night before and watched T.V.. In these 2 hours, I watched other inmates and trustees move about life behind bars. Their actions and thee way they moved around was so normal. All I could think when I watched them get on and off the elevator with ease, wait at the doors until they were buzzed through, and casually stroll to the next door and wait, it was like watching lab rats go through a maze. It was expected. Sad. Not that I felt sorry for anyone, it was just that that particular lifestyle was normal? I can't explain it, but wondered if it would ever feel normal to me, someday. I prayed and hoped not.