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In the capitol of Indian country, on the murals of Aztec Avenue, and down the street at Ford Motors, it was payday. A perfect storm greeted the Navajo, the Hopi, the Zuni; even as far away as Arizona, the huge Pima had gathered. Pick-up trucks and ever gleeful children rode in the open air. It didn’t matter the highway. Route 666, though having its name changed due to superstition, still was known as the highway of death. This year it claimed a dedicated physician who treated her patients with dignity, but she had died because she hadn’t been able to cure the Indian affliction. On payday, it didn’t matter their dimming eyesight; in the land where optometry makes a killing, the road is bespattered by broken lenses, and of course, the white’s man’s promise, that forked tongue that had “fixed” the problem, but not the affliction.
Everyone knows what that affliction is, especially on payday. If they are not at Wal-Marts, they converge on MacDonalds, which is guarded by private patrols. Not even the banks get that reverence. Once, Wal-Marts had a cynical ploy to bring a hundred thousand natives from the hills on payday. Paula Abdul, they said, was going to put on a free concert. The natives converged with great anticipation. But nobody told Paula she was supposed to sing. As she waved and said, "good-bye,' the Natives began to riot.
Mother Teresa once described the Gallup she visited as one of the ten most depressed areas on the earth. On the earth. She came with gentle hands and started a mission there. There are a lot of missionaries around Gallup. Mormons set up shop outside the reservations. They sell wholesome bread and pies on street corners and at fairs. They are there as volunteers to help fix the affliction.
Nowadays, the disease that travels the same pathway, makes the Pima obese and causes 75% of their population to be diseased. It disturbs the gentle ambiance on Nizhoni Boulevard at the Gallup Indian Medical Center. Recently, there was a shooting there in the parking lot, high above the road where coyotes cross and Natives hobble. Hobbling is also a problem. And the U.S. Public Health Service team does the best it can. They save lives and work doggedly--long shifts, standing beside Natives. Don't tell them they are heroes. They would be embarrassed, but, oh, they are in combat against a silent terror. I know at least one officer who cried when he could not save an Indian life lost to the affliction. It is a harrowing patchwork, a road that needs repair. There is not enough insulin to go around, and too much fire water—the alcohol that is the affliction. It also maims and cripples the footsteps that are too timid to walk on Gallup streets. The affliction takes limbs and the eyes and the heart of the Dine and, yes, it is carried in the culture and the blood of these beautiful people.
A perfect storm last summer gathered—Social Security, Welfare, and paychecks, and the Dine(The Navajo) drove in their pick-up trucks and went to Wal-mart. Wal-mart once siphoned the cash out of Gallup, but the fat children or the hobbled people played with the bicycles they cannot afford in the inviting aisles, where blasted in is the music piped in to entice their brains to explode into a buying frenzy.
The stores in Gallup defies description, except to say it contains a Toy's r Us, clothing store, electronics, food, everything humans think they need. For the children of the people, it is a good hearth and home to remember. In that store, I saw real America. Not only are the Native Americans suffering from the affliction. I saw a beautiful white man with a prosthetic limb, wheeling a shopping cart deftly along the aisle. I saw Navy Veteran hats on older men, both Indian and white. I heard Jimmy Hendrix piping Sweet Melissa through the megaphones outside the Ford pavilion. There, with baby blue '55 T-Birds, the Navajo strolled with their beautiful girls. Some seemed an amalgum of Mexican, Chinese, and Indian. Their kids listen to their own radios. They like Rolling Stones and Rock & Roll. They also like John Wayne.
In Cowboys & Indian games, guess what they want to be? Yes, the Cowboy! They are not stupid, you know.As I got closer to Gallup, I saw our Natives as being a lot like us--consumers. Maybe,even more so. During the summer, the codetalkers walked through the town and during the August pow-wows, were given reverential treatment. Who were they? You must read your history for they had created a code untranslatable to the wily Japanese that was said to help win the battle of Iwo Jima.
Natives never have to prove they are American. Yet they serve proudly in every war and wear their service caps. And the children are happy despite the affliction. I can't explain that more. But in the dichotomy of short-haired long haired diverse appearances...their laughter lifts into the enchanted air. They have increased their population greatly, there. And I am so happy about that. Somehow, through suffering I cannot imagine, they feel an earthy kinship with all who inhabit the land, who love the mountains, and the sky. My hope is to walk these streets, this nation, and see no difference, no shade of false color, no notion of separation; to be at peace with our land. Forgiveness and gentle, poetic speech is always on their tongue. One said to me when he found I was from New York.
“You live in a concrete world.”
I hope the Dine did not think I was spying. I wanted to tell them I was only a writer on the way to the highway toward Albuquerque near the railroad tracks,by old route 66, on the overpass, leading to I40, trying to find a place my character, Joshua, would settle down. In Ghost Runners, my first novel, this red clay earth, and limestone mountain range would be his home.
I am always the stranger there, but so happy for this solitude that lets me take that journey, often once more through the grandeur and misery, I sense the people's eternal love for America, and know, it is not they, never was in their soul to really ever cause affliction.