Sunday, March 11, 2007

BUS STORY # 25, Part 1 (Indians And Dodo Brains)

The Indian studies the schedule. It’s posted on the bus stop sign on the eastbound side of the street at Lomas past Wyoming. There have always been some bus stops with the schedules attached, but recently the city has been putting new ones on the Lomas route, presumably because a lot of riders are confused about which buses go past Tramway and which don’t. Even better, the schedules are now readable.

“I think we missed it,” he says, turning to me. “It should have been here 10 minutes ago.”

“We didn’t miss it,” I reply. “I’ve been here since five ten. It didn’t come.”

The Indian studies the street. “Maybe this is why,” he says, pointing to a repeating pattern of fluid leakage exiting from the bus pull-in lane. Indian scouts trail, I hear myself think. He says, “I hope that isn’t brake fluid,” and laughs. It will turn out it isn’t brake fluid, it is fuel, and he will be right: that’s why the bus didn’t come. It will turn out I will hike up the hill again after waiting an extra 30 minutes for the opportunity.

The Indian is a classic: short, stocky, with a square face and ‘80s-style plastic-frame glasses, a Denver Broncos baseball cap, and a long, unadorned braid. He’s got a blue plaid flannel shirt on over a sweatshirt, jeans – always jeans – and boots. Two different boots: the one on his right is an orthopedic boot. He’s got a metal cane.

“Native American.” It comes to me I should be referring to him as “Native American.” I recall that “Indian” is neither geographically accurate nor politically correct. I could sidestep the issue if I knew his tribe. I wonder if he is Navajo. But then I’d have to worry about whether to call him “Navajo” or “Diné.” I’m pretty sure “Diné” is what we’re supposed to be using now. Although I think I’ve also heard only the Navajo are supposed to use “Diné.” He could be Puebloan. I’ve got nineteen different choices here, but I can’t recall any injunctions against using “Puebloan.” I remember my kids telling me how, in Seattle, the Asian population does not take kindly to being lumped together as “Asian.” They are Vietnamese or Cambodian or Thai or Laotian or Korean and they know the differences if we don’t. I wonder if the local Pueblo people feel the same way about being called “Puebloan.” I know from personal experience never to ask a Zuni if he’s Navajo. But then the Navajo are not Puebloan. Actually, white people look alike to me, too. I can’t tell an Iowan from an Ohioan to save my life, never mind guessing the country of origin of their progenitors. Of course, you can often guess the Texans. Unless they come from somewhere else – Ohio or Iowa, for example. Which reminds me of stories of how Santa Clara refugees from the Pueblo Revolt are said to have become Hopi over on First
Mesa . . .

This monkey-mind riffing is mercifully terminated by the arrival of a father and his boy. The father is a sight. He’s tall, with a big belly. He has long hair graying at the temples and combed straight back, and an unruly gray goatee. He’s got an eye-catching overbite. He wears his glasses up high on the top of his head. He’s wearing a plaid polo shirt and jeans. The kid looks like a 10-year-old Tom Petty with a runny nose. Blue, long-sleeved polo shirt with a yellow collar and yellow stripes on the sleeves. Jeans, athletic shoes. He’s carrying two McDonald’s sacks.

Dad steps to the curb, his hands in his pockets, looks westward and rocks back and forth. The kid collapses on the bench, then lets go with a seriously croupy cough. He’s sitting sideways at the end of the bench and after the cough, sags against the back rest. “I’m cold,” he says. He wipes his nose with his sleeve.

“It’s your own damn fault,” his father barks. “I told you to take your coat.”

“You didn’t take your coat,” the kid whines.

“I made a mistake, and now I’m paying for it, just like you.”

I recognize the kid’s expression. He can’t begin to explain to himself or his father all the things that are wrong with this answer, but he knows. “You’re a dodo brain,” he says quietly. I wonder if maybe I’ve underestimated the kid’s ability to understand. Meanwhile, the Indian has moved over to the kid and put his flannel shirt around him.

“Thanks,” says the kid.

“Thanks,” says the dad.

“I got kids myself,” says the Indian.

It’s a noble and compassionate gesture, and all I can think of is how infected his shirt is gonna be when he gets it back, and how he’s gonna take it home to his own kids. “No good deed goes unpunished,” says the voice in my head. A few minutes later, the kid looks like he’s fallen asleep, still sitting up and leaning sideways against the backrest. We adults stand silently, watching and waiting for the No. 11.


Blogger Heather said...

Pacific Northwesterners share the skill of knowing which country an Asian-American is from by their facial features or accent. It never occured to me that others couldn't. But then, don't ask me to distinguish one tribe of Native Americans from another.

4:01 PM  

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