It was midnight, and I decided to sacrifice some virgins.
“Why not?” I shouted. “What’s the point of being found guilty of a crime if you don’t even get to enjoy committing the thing?”
“What’d you say?” he said.
“Never mind,” I blistered. “Keep looking.”
It was late, and I was at the corner of 22nd St. and 5th Ave. in Brooklyn, New York, scouring the area for any wood I could find.
“We need to build the pyramid first,” I said. “Like Chichén Itzá.”
Trash pick up was scheduled for the morning, and I found a few beat-up desks in front of several ramshackle buildings. I started to kick and elbow a few to loosen the planks. Cats and rats, raccoons and even a few white hipsters shrieked and zipped off in every direction. Lights flicked on in windows above my head. Frightened elderly poked their wrinkled skulls out from behind blinds and peered down to the street and eyed the beast brutalizing desks and bedbug-ridden things. Suddenly, a nail ripped into my skin and I began to bleed all over the sidewalk.
“The Hell with you!” I shouted. I kicked the desk and moved on to the next 7-foot stack of city trash.
“Where are we going to build it?” he asked.
“Greenwood,” I said. “We’ll go to the far end of the cemetery and do it all there.”
“Have you ever built one of these things before?”
“Yes! Of course,” I said. “At least once every few weeks, but never in the same place. This’ll be my first build in Brooklyn.”
“When are the girls coming?” he asked.
“Patience,” I said. “We have to go get them. They’re going to meet us at the bar and then we’ll bring them back here for the ceremony.”
“I don’t think virgins hang at bars, man,” he said.
“Nonsense! There are many types of virgins in this world and tonight we’re going to get intimately acquainted with a few of them – and then we’ll get this damn thing rolling!”
“OK …” he said.
I could hear the fear welling up in his gut. His spine began to warp and wilt like a dying flower. Yes. His tail was definitely tucking between his legs. The wiggy bastard, who’d earlier been full of life and confidence and nasty hubris, was now buckling under the pressure of a very real situation. … I’d met him, the drunk, earlier that night at the Sea Witch on 5th Ave. He’d been there with a girl who, later, boomed out of the bar after she accused him of screwing the neighbor. “Don’t come home!” she yelled. “See if that bitch will let you sleep at her place!” She slapped the back of his head, whipping his hair, and then stormed out of the joint. Even as she publicly flogged him he never said a word. He appeared unflappable; he just sat there and merely echoed a laugh into his glass as he took another deep quaff of drink. Everyone in the place went back to their conversations and the bartender bought the man a shot.
“Here you go,” he said with a half grin.
“Did you really screw the neighbor?” I blurted.
“No,” he said. “She’s just a crazy bitch.”
He breathed in his free shot, laughed again and then said she’s a “drunk, dramatic-type chick” who’s sleeping with some other guy anyway. “A hypocrite!” he called her.
A silence hung between us before he said, “I like your tattoo. Are you Native American?”
I’d been wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt on a unseasonably warm night and my tattoo, which reads, “NATIVE AMERICAN PRIDE” faced him, and I told the drunk I was not only Native American, “I’m an AKC Native.”
“What does that mean?” he asked. This is when he staggered from his stool and sat next to me.
“It means I’m enrolled. It means I’m a proven Native American – not like that Elizabeth Warren. I’ve got a goddamn number that states I’m bona fide, Jack. Yeah … We’re the only people in this country – our country – who have to prove our bloodline like dogs.”
“Oh, no shit? I didn’t even know you had to have one of those,” he said.
“You don’t really need to, but it’s good to have if you’re going to claim you’re Native – and especially if you plan to run for office.”
“So I’m guessing you’re from the reservation?” he croaked.
I eyed the asshole and said, “Well … what are you?”
“I don’t know. I’m white. I think I’m French and Russian and a bunch of shit.”
“Well if you’re French it doesn’t exactly mean you’re from France, now does it?”
“You don’t have to take offense,” he said. “I get it.”
“Do you? …”
The drunk then claimed he’s also Native American. Someone in his family “way back” was “one-eighth or something.”
“Well, fuck, man,” I said. “We’re brothers then!”
He smiled from ear to ear as if he’d just been adopted by a real Indian, and I knew at that moment he’d live the rest of his crooked life telling people that one day, years ago, a Native American shaman had adopted him into the tribe, into the fold, and that he had all he needed to start his own trading post … or a resort boasting a sweat lodge … or maybe he’d chime in to the caustic Native American mascot debate. “I’m Native American,” he’d say. “And I’m not offended by Indian mascots. Hell, I’m honored, actually.” Jesus, I thought. What have I done? Not another one. …
The bar began to crowd with Brooklyn yuppies and hipsters and all manner of new comers – myself included. … Indeed. I’m not from these parts. I am, in fact, a “City Indian” born in a relocation city – Denver. And we’ll get into that muck soon enough, Indian relocation v. removal, but right now we’re talking assholes and virgins and savage Native American stereotypes.
I ordered another Jack & Coke, and told the tart that it’s a dangerous thing these days to claim Native American parentage and not have anything but speculation to back it up.
“The late Native American comedian Charlie Hill would call your kind ‘Gener-okees’ because of all the white people who claim to be Cherokee,” I said.
The drunk nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders, eyed the bar and fixed the back of his hair, which was still in disarray from his girlfriend’s earlier open-handed smack. It was obvious he cared little for what I was saying about wannabe Indians, so I laid into him with the ugliness to bring him back.
“I ate the flesh off the last guy who claimed to be Indian and wasn’t!” I bellowed. “I gnawed through his eyeballs down to the socket. … And that’s the thing about shape shifting,” I continued. “You can do things in the body of an animal that you can’t do as a human – or at least without the law on your ass even before you can lick the blood from your fangs.”
“Shape shifting?” the drunk muttered.
“Don’t believe me!” I shouted. “But you’ve been warned.”
Suddenly, the fiend grabbed a full bottle of Corona, downed the thing in a tick, and then began to rip into me with good ol’ fashioned American ignorance.
“Well, I mean you guys weren’t all that great,” he said. “I know you’re supposed to be all spiritual and shit and talk to animals; live with the earth, but you guys did some shit, too, you know?”
I whipped my head toward the drunk, ignoring the gorgeous woman to my left, and asked what he meant.
“Well, you guys sacrificed virgins and shit,” he said laughing.
“What? … Like in volcanoes? Are you serious?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Everyone knows that. … Long before we got here you guys were beheading people and throwing them off cliffs.”
“Look around, asshole. Do you see any volcanoes?”
“Well maybe not around here,” he said.
“How do you know? How can you be so sure?” I responded.
“I just know. We all do.”
“Have you ever been to a real Native American ceremony? … Would you like to?”
The drunk said he’d gone to a pow wow one summer and watched Indians dance in the middle of an arena and then he hooked up with a Native American girl afterward. He recalled that the Native American woman wore moccasins and a long skirt covered in tin cones and bopped around like she were crossing a bed of hot coal. She made a racket, he said, but it was worth it because her tits were all over the place that day.
I got off my stool and said we could perform a ceremony tonight if he had the stomach for it. He said he was fine, that he was ready, and that nothing scared him. “Good!” I shouted. “Stay here. I’ll be back.”
But he wasn’t ready – at least not for this.
There are many people in America and France and Germany, for that matter, who refer to themselves as “Indianists” – Indian hobbyists. They dress up in faux Native American garb, poorly paint their faces and claim to have the spirit of a real Indian inside them, and they run bare-assed about the countryside whooping it up, spearing anything with four legs. Sometimes I meet these wannabes, and they ask me: “Do you speak Indian?” and “How many Gods do your people worship?” Their interest is genuine, but these geeks wish to take and not give, to learn and flee with the wisdom and, if they can, maybe make a few bucks along the way. Look at Arizona, Colorado – anywhere in the West, really. There, blond haired, blue-eyed leeches package and sell Native America like a drug, and the users are mostly whiteheads who say Grandma was a Cherokee princess.
And, well, the drunk at the Sea Witch was not one of these seedy grifters, but he was a very dangerous person. Not dangerous in that he’d pull you into an alley, bullwhip you and leave you naked, bloody, with no money and a broken spirit. No, or at least he didn’t come off that way. It’s his ownership of Indian identity that’s seriously foreboding, I thought – the high jacking of a culture from an entire race of people who continue to struggle to regain ownership of their voice in this, our Old Country.
That night, I wanted to make sure that the drunk would never become an Indianist, that he’d never chime into a serious conversation about Native Americans as sports mascots with smug entitlement, thereby silencing an indigenous voice because he felt he’s Indian enough to comment from the perspective of a true blue Native.
And the drunk wasn’t the first person to accuse my people, the Oglala Lakota, of sacrificing virgins. One foul day, a Christian apologist asked me why we “savagely sacrificed God’s children” – virgins, women & rug rats. I told him, “Shit. I was just about to ask you the same thing. Remember Wounded Knee?” … But he didn’t. That’s a day in American history that flag suckers wish to forget, and they do so, willingly. It’s un-American to address the brutality the settlers afflicted upon the indigenous people of the American continents. How can one comfortably celebrate the Fourth of July if some revisionist history inkhead like myself incessantly reminds them of the carnage of December 29, 1890, when U.S. troops of the 7th Cavalry brutality and indiscriminately murdered an estimated 300 Native American men, women and children? A few days after that crime, a group of white men buried the frozen bodies in a trench. They were paid $2 for every dead Indian dumped there. Sometime later, 20 of the soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. And you can bet your ass that that kind of story ruins the fine flavor of pork sausage on the Fourth and dulls the shine of a twilight last gleaming.
No. The drunk, the serpentine, wasn’t ready. I planned to rattle him that night. If he was going to mindlessly accuse my people of sacrificing virgins, then I was going to respond to his ignorance with a very real lesson – one I could only hope he’d share later with other hippies, wannabes and know-it-alls.
I bled on the curb like a stuck pig from the nail on the broken desk, and I told the drunk that I should probably dress my wound or we’d never get to the ceremony. I was bleeding too much. The sidewalk looked like a murder scene and I, a mindless zombie. But to hell with that, I thought. We were too deep in the game now to mess around with collateral damage, so we grabbed the few planks of wood we could find and began to walk toward Greenwood Cemetery. I asked the drunk to continue telling me about the jingle dress dancer he hooked up with at the pow wow. He told me she was about 20 and he almost 30. There was a big to-do after the pow wow, he said, and that’s where they met, flirted and eventually fled the scene for a secluded place nearby – a friend’s house. It was a quickie and a one-night stand, and he said instead of panties, he wanted to take as a souvenir one of her aluminum cones to mark the occasion: his first lay with Native American. He said he’d been with white women and black women and even a Filipino once, and that he enjoyed bedding with various races. “The exotic ones,” he called them, but she refused to give him anything, so he left her there and that was the end of their time together. She didn’t moan enough, he said. So he never called her back.
And as he began to transmogrify into the beast that would, in fact, leave a person cold and bloody on the ground after a savage attack, I told the drunk we needed to hurry “because we’re going to be late to meet the women back at the bar.”
“Who are these girls?” he asked.
“Just good people like yourself who are eager to participate in a real Native American ceremony. I wouldn’t want any of you to miss the magic!”
With breath reeking of hard whiskey and cheap beer, he asked who’d taught me the ceremony we were going to execute.
“An old man with a good heart and no teeth. Don’t worry about it,” I said.
My wound – the blood began to congeal by this point, and I felt a bit lightheaded from the large amount lost. I was about to teach another spoiled white kid a lesson in the detriments of assumption, and I knew it was going to be cruel, but I didn’t care. I had enough of it – the generalizations, the arrogance, the belief that one Indian is like the next, that every tribe participated in slavery, that we all speak the same Indian tongue (that we’re ‘Indians’ at all!), that we can’t grow bushy beards, and, of course, the whole sacrificing virgin gig. … I was on the brink that day and this asshat was about to suffer for the actions of his fellow tomfools, of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and those privileged pricks in Cleveland who say their Indian “Chief Wahoo” is A-OK by them. It’s “Cleveland pride,” the fatheads say as they blunder into Progressive Field from nearby bars with guts full of meat and hearts full of hate. Oh well, I thought. The drunk will just have to pass this message along – the poor bastard.
“I just got a text from the girls, boy,” I said. “They can’t come. Something about the R train.”
“Shit, man!” he cried.
“NO, WE HAVE TO CONTINUE!” I yelled. “We can’t turn back now. Bad medicine there, and you don’t want bad medicine these days, slick. Not in this economy. Not in this city.”
I told the drunk to chuck his bundle of wood over the steel fence of the cemetery.
“I don’t know about this, man,” the drunk slurred. “Now that the girls aren’t coming what’s the point?”
“The point!?” I boomed. “The goddamn point is that you claim to be Native American and you’ve never participated in anything other than a pow wow – which is meant, today, mostly to milk your voyeuristic libertines.”
He paused, head down.
“Goddamnit, you sonofabitch,” I pierced. “I will leave you here, you piece of shit! You wannabe bastard! How dare you claim to be Native American. You’re not a damned Native. You’re a wannabe. You’re ethnically bankrupt like the rest of them.”
The drunk picked his head up, dropped the wood and charged at me like a bull. He swung a right hook and barely missed connecting a fine one on my jaw. I staggered and stumbled back. I was stunned, and I lost my balance for a second. But when I got it back I threw a few in return and landed only one, maybe two. He was bigger than me, but the sot was so blitzed that he couldn’t grip the ground with his heel and wobbled like a druggie on bath salts or ether.
He finally fell hard to the ground and moaned like a banshee. He sobbed and sniffled and wiped tears from his rheumy eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what I am.”
“I know what you are!” I said. “You’re a man who screws the neighbor and follows strangers to cemeteries at night.”
He pushed his face harder into the sidewalk and confessed sins I’d never understand.
“I once got a hand job in a church pew,” I reciprocated. “I was only 13.”
I picked the prick off the ground, beat the dust from his coat, and dragged him back to the Sea Witch and bought us a round. “So, how about that Gandhi?” I said. “Are all white people Buddhists now? It seems like it.”
And the epilogue to this story is that the drunk will probably never remember our intimate time together – it’ll be a blur, a bad memory he’ll one day remember under fever or on his death bed … but if he does soon remember this vicious saga, God help any Indians in his path. Because there are two types of wannabes in this country: the kind who think they’re Native American and do nothing, and the kind who believe they are and then commandeer our voice, our culture, our spirituality because yoga and veganism became just too much for them. Right. …
Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, has a Master of Arts degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in New York City.