We should all throw our hands up in the air, of course, and curse the name of Christopher Newton if, as the AP says, he folded fiction into the dry facts that the AP dispenses to the 15,200 newspapers and broadcasters around the world. If Newton violated the journalist's credo to tell the truth, we should strip him naked, drag him into the Chihuahuan Desert, smear him with honey, and feed him to the fire ants.
-- Jack Shafer, in Fib Newton: The lesson behind the AP's sacking of reporter Christopher Newton (it's not what you think). Posted Tuesday, October 29, 2002, at 3:19 PM PT
As the night grows too dark for painting, the subdued fire circle reflects sore muscles from moving, washing and painting. Paul Peter taps the ground beside him, so Despina, carefully leaving a space, sits. As she pages through to her spot, Paul Peter suddenly grabs the journal, tipping it toward the light.
“What did you say about me? I spotted my name.” Paul Peter turns back a page to the start of an entry, then reads:
- Day’s Stupidest Tourist Question
“Catchy title, Pina.” He reads again:
- Sunday morning, as I stood watching Cu head my way from a hovel I later learned belonged to Adriana Happy Dog, the caretaker of his two children, a tourist drove up, stopping in front of me, rolling down the window and sticking a video camera in my face. "Are you an Indian? May I take your picture? I've never talked to a squaw in person before."
Cu arrived before I could answer, looked me over critically, then said, "Es una de nuestras maestras." (She's one of our teachers.)
I'd LOVE to see that video! There I stood in a stained t-shirt and sweated through jeans that hug my slender form, as I'd been cleaning the adobe hovel. My short auburn hair had kinked into tight curls around my oval face. My hazel eyes and fair skin had to stand out in sharp contrast from Cu's light eyes surrounded by his golden cast reddish skin, framed by his long, black, totally straight hair in braids fastened in thongs. Coming up slightly behind me, he towered over me at least a head.
"Sonríe," (Smile) he commanded, draping an arm casually across my shoulders, mugging it up for the camera. Juan came up, standing in front of us, looking up, smiling as though he were our son, then held out his hand, saying, "Cinco dólares."
Instead of the requested $5.00, he was handed a ten dollar bill. The thrilled tourist drove off, probably to tell his friends about this Indian family he talked to.
I feel totally insulted by the whole incident. I have to admit to a bit of the same reaction that Francisco, the Hildalgo of Spanish descent, showed when I mistook him for an Indian. Like him, I felt it was OBVIOUS that I could not have been an Indian.
This unpleasant parallel makes me feel like a hypocrite in retrospect, as in MY mind, I judged him quite harshly for his reaction Saturday night. How can I then excuse my similar response, even suppressed? This is just the FIRST time I have encountered it, not a lifelong battle I've had to fight.
Paul Peter, who was watching from the shade of his doorway, laughing, said, "Tourists are a pain, but they provide such a high proportion of the ready cash the reservation receives that everyone panders to them. You CAN avoid that unpleasantness and the need to be nice, however. Just keep off the road in prime hours. If you have to be there, be "busy" with your back to the road."
"I'll remember that, " I huffed.
“Maybe I ought to write a rebuttal.”
“This is not an entry in a debating society performance. It's my private journal, where I have total freedom of expression. If that bugs you, don’t read it!” Grabbing her journal, Despina stomps off to the opposite side of the fire, plopping down across from Paul Peter, her paint smeared fingers splayed on her paint smeared jeans.
Fire ants, scorpions and deserts go together, but not like love and marriage, in Despina's opinion. When the wind shifts and begins blowing the smoke from the fire into her eyes, Despina rolls her log to a new location up wind. Soon she feels something on her leg, but unthinkingly brushes it aside.
"I'd be careful doing that if I were you," Paul Peter warns. "Getting stung on the leg is painful, but on your hand, you could end up crippled for a while."
"That was probably a scorpion, or a fire ant."
"Right. You can see that from over there in the dark."
"Well, when I was standing over there the other afternoon watching the fire ants carry food into and out of their nest, the light was JUST FINE. Somewhere in that same vicinity, not more than a foot away, I also saw a mother scorpion with her little pikers riding along on her back. Personally, I'd prefer the scorpion. Hordes of fire ants can kill a person."
"Ja," says Bruno. "Is truth. I see."
Despina feels creepy crawly things all over her legs. Power of suggestion?
Cu, who has been in and out of the campfire all evening, moves into the light, peering closely at her legs. Suddenly, he swoops down on her, unsnaps her jeans, yanks the zipper down, and, grabbing both pant legs from the bottom, tugs fiercely. Frantically clutching her flowered panties to keep them from following the jeans, Despina feels her body tugged toward the fire a bit before the fabric clears her legs. Dangling the jeans over the fire from a belt loop attached to his walking stick, Cu watches an incredible number of bodies succumb to smoke inhalation, plopping into the fire with intermittent sizzlings. After several minutes with no further exodus, he hands them back to her without glancing at her legs or panties, unlike Horst or Paul Peter, both of whom take a good gawk before watching the jeans, still impaled on the end of Cu’s stick, pass to her as he leaves the campfire without a word.
Totally unnerved, Despina looks at the walking stick, shrugs the pants off the end of them, then uses the stick to stir around in the fire ant nest, trying to root out the offending creatures, flinging them wildly into the fire, shouting frenziedly, until Cu returns.
Catching her by the arms, he makes her drop the stick to the ground, saying in English, "Not hoort. Is home."
Furious, Despina shouts, "I suppose it's just FINE with you if they hurt me!"
Grabbing her offending jeans, Despina holds them gingerly at arm's length as she stalks to her hovel, where she flips them into the bed of the truck and roars off to the river. I won't be satisfied that they're wearable until I've also washed and dried them in a laundromat!
Last updated 3/27/10 “Happy Indian Family” journal entry. Rewrote scorpions on the jeans scene... Switched to contraction in thought in last line. 1/8/10 added start about painting and sore muscles. 9/19/04. (Smoothed end into the bar scene where she vamps the Hell's Angel & changed last sentence of first paragraph.) (Now missing...)
Word Count: 1170