Executive Chef

Gilligan’s Island and The Love Boat.
French fries and brown gravy from the Hilton Inn in Santa Fe.
Maraschino cherries and a tiny girl in a dark bar.
Waiting for Grandma to come out from the back, wearing an executive Chef’s uniform- the first female to do so at a Hilton Executive Inn in New Mexico.

Grandma’s bra always came off in the car.
Ten seconds after she sat down, Grandma would wiggle and pull until somehow, the bra would be coerced from a sleeve and deposited, lifeless, on the passenger seat beside her.
While Grandma drove home, she trilled along to her favorite spanish songs.

Watching the dusty desert terrain fly by in a blur, the girl always wished she knew what everyone seemed to be so excited about in those songs.
She didn’t understand the words but the drama played like a silent movie in her thoughts.
She imagined dashingly handsome heroes, tragically beautiful damsels and menacing villians.

Sweet Pea, the chihuahau sitting next to the little girl in the back seat, did no such imagining.
He just sat there looking out the window, smelling like old dog and throwing out a haphazard bark now and then.


Me & Jeni

It was hot.  Miserably hot.  So much so that I could barely keep focused on the blade of the knife as stinging sweat poured into my eyes. I kept having to stop and wipe my brow, blink tears away.  On top of the sweltering heat, my nerves were destroying me and I was shaking.  In view of the fact that I had never purposefully cut into another person before, the shaking was appropriate.  Rarely appropriate, on the other hand, was a perfect description of the person I was cutting into.  Jeni.  Jeni didn’t really have time for things like being appropriate or conforming to etiquette.

“Oh my Jesus Christ, would you stop jerking around?”  Jeni spoke into the wind as she sat hunched on the hood of her Datsun 210.  “For fuck’s sake, Amber, it’s only a tiny patch! Just cut it out and let’s go!”  We were hungry and this little patch of skin on the back of her shoulder had to be taken care of before she would allow us to do anything else.

I can honestly say that I’d have demanded the same had I found that there was a decapitated tick head just under a patch of skin on my own shoulder. Even now it makes me gag a little.  She’d picked up a tick somewhere in Missouri.  We hadn’t caught it for a couple of days; it was minute in comparison to the Montana ticks we were used to and by the time she found it, it had embedded itself on the back of her left shoulder.  Of course, she swiped at it immediately, which had dislodged it.  She’d made me look at it closely to see if I could determine whether it’s head had come with it. Apparently my affirmative answer had been wrong.  Now, we were pulled over in some desolate parking lot, and I was trying to focus on cutting a patch of her skin out.

Now, before you get all reasonable and start asking stuff like “Hey, why not a doctor or medical clinic?” or “Why, just why?” or “Do you have a dead heart?” I should fill you in on a thing or two:

1.     We were 19

2.     We had just left our home state of Montana

3.      Neither of us had really ever traveled

4.      We were driving across the United States in a less than safe vehicle

5.      We had very little money

6.      We were so, so dumb

7.      We did not care about how dumb we were; we didn’t have a clue

8.      We had begun with two missions and already suffered one failure

9.      We had gone too far to turn back, almost in every way possible

10.    There was no force on Earth that could keep me from him and she knew it.

I was surprised when the blade popped through the surface of her skin.  Immediately, blood welled up around the incision and she yelled out, “Holy shit!” while jerking her body forward.

“Jeni, dammit, I had just got the guts up.  Now you’re just bleeding everywhere.”  Jeni had jumped off the hood of the car and was running in small circles, droplets of blood oozing through her fingers and splattering the ground in a swirl.

“Fuck, fuck fuckfuckfuck!” She was bending over while she screamed now. The blood droplets were finding their way into her mess of black hair, a few splashed against the white tips of her Converse shoes.  “Fuck!” She stood up straight as a board, threw her head back and started laughing like a maniac, tears streaming down the sides of her face.  Luckily, I was used to this action on her part.  It was her way of facing circumstances that were scary to her.  She chose to laugh like a crazy person and push through.

“Shit, we better do this,” she said “We’ve used up all the time we have for a brown person to be standing on the side of road with a knife. Fucking Feds will be rolling along any second now.  You’re ass is grass if we don’t hurry.” She turned her back on me and bit her lip.  I made two more cuts and scooped a triangle shaped chunk of her shoulder out.  Then we drove to the roadside diner down the road and ordered chicken fried steaks.

My memory of that diner is that everything seemed to be trapped in a time warp, cast under an orange glow and languishing under a thick layer of cigarette smoke.  The entries on the menu were numbered and foreign sounding, but there were some old familiars.  Jeni and I smoked our cigarettes boldly and drank coffee amidst tables full of elderly people who must have wondered a lot about the two of us.  We were not concerned with them at all.  I’d be willing to bet any of the biddies who eavesdropped on our conversation went home and blessed their own ears for having listened to the way Jeni and I used words.



I can still see you.

Standing on your porch,

finishing a cig and watching the sun drop.

I am made of the distance in your eyes

as you carefully search the painted skies

looking for a promise that

she’ll never say goodbye.

I am built of the pain

that comes with knowing

that, in fact, she didn’t

and she never will.

I am frozen with the silence

that is her voice, forever still.

Those nights we should have been there

wrapped up and stamped with “don’t care”

are what she left behind.

You stare into the sunset

and pray for the bombs in your mind

to stop

to drop

but they don’t

and I can still see you.

Amber Glows of a Slow Burn

Shopping at the local Spirit Halloween Store this weekend was frightful.  Not only because it was rife with wild children, bloody body parts and zombies. Not just because it was loud, expensive and highly commercial. It was also frightening because of this:


Everybody meet Pocahottie.  I turned the corner at the store and found myself face to face with her the other day, all packaged up and ready to turn anyone into a sexy Indian.  She stopped me in my tracks, all three of my children bumping into each other in a pile-up behind me.  Don’t worry, all tribes condone push up bras and stiletto boots.  They are good for trapping and killing prey.

While it isn’t anything new to see what has been termed as native appropriation (the use of Native images or cultural elements to market or sell products that are not produced by Natives), this particular costume is revolting…

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