Talking Sticks

Back in the day when we were called hippies, not homeless, I lived with an Apache named Bill Dixon for a summer. We slept nights outside on the ground next to a small river deep enough to swim in. Our days were spent in a couple different bars and restaurants in and around Winslow, Arizona. 

Bill made money by drawing portraits of people in his large sketchbook. In the time it took a family or couple to order and eat a meal Bill would sketch a portrait of one or more of them.  After they had left the restaurant and were walking back to their car Bill gave them the portrait as a gift. I would watch this commerce as pantomime from inside the restaurant. Bill Dixon’s drawings always translated into the only tangible token we have. From watching the transaction I was usually able to predict the value of the investment. Longer exchanges with smiles and handshakes meant Bill and I would be able to move over to the bar a bit earlier that particular day. 

At the bar Bill continued drawing but I became the breadwinner at the backroom pool table. The bar allowed small stakes gambling. For the restaurant and bar owners, Bill Dixon’s sketches and my three-cushion bank shots became almost like added entertainment. Bill and I would catch a ride home to the riverbank at night usually only with enough money for breakfast the next morning.

One night by the river Bill told me his Apache name, the name that was used at his home by his family, his people. He asserted that his name was untranslatable into English. The power of the name was inextricably intertwined within the language. Leaving its native language the name would lose its power and disappear.

Bill also told me the story of his English surname. At the time when his grandfather was a young boy the government had forced all the Apache children into schools whose goal was to assimilate the tribe into the larger culture outside the reservations. Children were instructed to choose both first and last English names. Bill’s grandfather found his surname right there among the items on his school desk. Bill finished this story by holding his portrait sketching tool up in the light of our campfire. A yellow DIXON pencil.

Shortly after this time with Bill Dixon I enrolled in school. I had learned how to shoot pool as a high school dropout and delinquent but I had gotten my GED in the Army and eventually would go through graduate school on the GI bill. During that time in school I became a writer. I wrote longhand on yellow legal pads in pencil, a Dixon pencil. I was accepted into graduate writing programs on the basis of a short story I wrote. “A Cue Stick” is about a teenager in search of his masculinity and identity in a largely predestined world of jail and prison.

Bill never told me why he didn’t live with his family on the reservation. What I do know is that home can be both a refuge and a prison.

The child alone in a cage will try to make it his home. He searches for his mother tongue. She is not there. Was she ever there? But he holds the talking stick right at the border of our humanity and cries out his name in the language of angels.

Re: Hearse

If I were a musician or singer I would simply cover the song over and over. But as writer and performer I need to find another entrance into the quintessential secular hymn. A meditation, a rehearsal. Solitary, yet linked, signature actions in one’s life toward the final breath.

WOMB TOMB BOMBoom

Concrete Poem

“You have to pull your stomach up high to turn your solar plexus into a terrorist.” –Hijikata

FULL PERFORMANCE 4/6/2019 at Sideshow by the Seashore, Coney Island USA

3rd Proposal for Ritual Cabaret

This is not a pipe bomb

I design a one-of-a-kind t-shirt for a one-off performance that I do once a year. I put an iron-on transfer of Rene Magritte’s famous “This is a not pipe” painting on the front of a white t-shirt. The image of the pipe’s bowl is also really a sewed-on little pocket. A red lettered word is added at the end of the French phrase.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe bomb

The firecracker in the pocket (pipe bowl) has an extended fuse. The end of the fuse is an imaginary cigarette. I hold the make-believe cigarette between two forefingers in V-sign (Peace sign or Victory sign?). I alternately hold the fuse/cigarette in a grotesque lip grip.

I go out among the audience like that, asking each and everyone “You got a light?” There is a definite sense of apprehension in their chuckles and smiles. “Please, someone, give me a light. I am dying here.”  Eventually I get a light.

The fuse on the firecracker, my dance, lasts about three minutes. “You have to pull your stomach up high in order to turn your solar plexus into a terrorist.” –Hijikata. The explosion ruins the t-shirt and flesh near tattoo just enough to make it art.  The innocent bystanders survive the experience unscathed. Their ticket stub directs them to the Ebay listing where they can bid on the ruined t-shirt, no reserve.

As the old carnie saying goes, “It’s a hard way to make an easy living.”

this is not a pipe
Self-portrait with Temporary Tattoo & Fading Bruise Near Pipe Bowl

2nd Proposal for Ritual Cabaret

Oedipus Muhfuhkuh

FAKE BLIND MAN, dark sunglasses, naked under clear plastic raincoat and hat, white cane (chalk,light pole), FAKE SEEING EYE DOG (invisible dog bouncing leash).

Walks slowly across stage. FAKE SEEING EYE DOG gets a mind of its own. Bouncing leash is pulling FAKE BLIND MAN or left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing until FAKE BLIND MAN beats FAKE SEEING EYE DOG into submission with his cane and words. ” Muhfuhkuh. Where you going, muhfuhkuh? Where you taking me? Muhfuhkuh. Straighten up and fly right. muhfuhkuh.”

The right hand with cane has slapped the bouncing leash out of the left hand. Is it dead or playing possum? FAKE BLIND MAN is concerned.

—-BLACKIE. You alright? Speak to me, BLACKIE. Speak. Speak. Attaboy. Attaboy. I mean, attagirl. Attagirl. ( FAKE BLIND MAN starts to speak to the audience as BLACKIE at some point. When he takes off his sunglasses, his white blind colored contact lenses obscures his pupils and he transforms into a REAL FAKE BLIND MAN.) The scent of a woman. The scent of an oscar. Oscar Meyer all meat wiener. Nathan’s Famous Actors. Speak. Speak to me, BLACKIE. That’s it. Sit. Sit. Now, beg. Beg. Sit up and beg. Alright now BLACKIE. Show the people at home the trick that has made you famous the world over. Rollover and play dead.

BLACKOUT

In the darkness only the bouncing leash is seen. It is the only light in the universe. REAL FAKE BLIND MAN is under the bleachers as the bouncing leash slow dances.

—-Attaboy. Attagirl. You’re a star now. More, a constellation. More famous than the Big Dipper or Air Jordan. (REAL FAKE BLIND MAN leading a chorus of the blind cheerleaders.) “Put-her-in. Put-her-in. Put her in that basket rim. Sink her BLACKIE, sinker.” (Bouncing leash disappears. Total darkness again.) That’s it, BLACKIE. Rollover and play dead. It’s just me and you now. If I was an actor or a performer there would be more than just you and me right now. There might be bleachers full of people. Plus millions of other muhfuhkuhs sitting at home on their ass in front of their various boxes live streaming and sucking the muhfuhking life right out of me. But it’s just you and me, BLACKIE. I never signed no muhfuhking contract with no muhfuhking audience. Just because this gun is introduced now doesn’t necessarily mean it has to go off in the third act. This ain’t no stage gun and I ain’t no Al muhfuhking Pacino. I am real. The gun is real. BLACKIE is real. You can’t see, but hopefully you can hear. Speak. Come on BLACKIE. Speak. Maybe they’ll hear and exit stage right before we finish laughing. (BLACK LAUGHTER)

Scene is that cliche of the hostage situation except there are two bodies and only one head,i.e., the perp or the hostage is missing his head. A single gun held to a single head. It would be that cliche of the suicide scene except there are two bodies. Better yet, Siamese Twins joined at the head and one holds the other hostage.

(Voice over the speakers)

—-Put the gun down, Blackie. We got the place surrounded.

The two bodies take a couple of staggering steps. This is no trick. There are two bodies, well, four legs anyway. Voice over speakers, but the head with two bodies is in perfect lip-ync.
—– Fuck you, coppers. If I go, she goes. I mean. (Voice over speakers changes to falsetto
and then back again. Barrel of gun goes from on temple into the mouth. Lip-sync is not quite as perfect now.) Fuck you, coppers. If he goes, I go. Or something like that. You get the picture.

—-Put the cigar down, Freud. We got you surrounded.

( The barrel of the gun goes back to the temple of the head. The head with two bodies speaks now, doesn’t lip-sync. It addresses a scale model of the bleachers that’s on stage. REAL FAKE BLIND MAN must be smoking a cigar under the bleachers because the audience is quite uncomfortable with the smell by now.)

———– Come out from under there, Blackie. (The barrel of the gun goes back and forth between the mouth and temple before it settles on the scale model of the bleachers.) I got you covered.

Much confusion. Much duress. The four legs, the two bodies start to separate. Voice over the speakers “Don’t shoot. I’m coming out.” The barrel of the gun goes back and forth–mouth, temple, scale of bleachers–until the bodies are completely separate and the hostage is clearly now a dwarf. The dwarf walks behind the scale model of the bleachers. Cigar smoke rises. Dwarf peeks over the scale model and laughs. Speakers pick it up and then BLACK LAUGHTER from behind and above the audience. As the audience turns, the barrel of the gun searches the audience for its target.

BLACKOUT          Gun report under bleachers.