Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Christmas and New Year I Love You

Now that the holidays are over, several pounds of body mass have been accumulated and the kids have independently processed boatloads of refined sugar, it is time to reflect on the lessons of the season. Long ago, I realized the best gifts do not fit under the tree, are free and come at the most unexpected times. So it was for me this Christmas season.

I Love you Card made by Kira & Grange Simpson

As the holidays approached, Barry was being extremely patient with me, so early one Saturday morning I telephoned to tell him not to come in; it was time to repay the favor. Although he protested, I think he was relieved. As our spouses will readily affirm, holidays or not, a full weekend away from the Twin Rocks trading post is a rare occurrence. Whether this is the result of poor planning, bad habits, fear of renewed poverty or workaholism, I have never been able to properly determine.

That particular Saturday, the store was bustling with people smiling, shopping and humming Christmas tunes. Just before noon, two ladies came in, looked at beaded earrings and said they would be back after lunch. An hour later, the telephone began ringing just as they returned.

Things at the family business had been a little frustrating, so I was somewhat abrupt when I picked up the telephone only to hear dead air. “Hello,” I said for a second time, in an impatient tone. The fragile voice on the other end of the line asked for “Barry-Steve.” “This is Steve Simpson,” I responded as the earring ladies impatiently waved their hands in the air, signaling me they needed help; right now.

“Steve Simpson, this is Harley Spitler,” the voice said. Although it usually takes at least one rendition of Jingle Bell Rock, by Bobby Helms; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Sarah McLachlan and the Barenaked Ladies; and Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, by Dr. Elmo to put me in a holiday mood, Harley’s voice instantly did the trick. My disposition greatly improved and I felt Christmas surge through my veins. Although my feelings may have been nothing more than the sugar rush from a half dozen recently consumed cookies, I think it was genuine red and green emotion.

Asking if he would hold for a minute, I walked around the counter to service the two ladies. As I circumnavigated the display cases, I worried I might lose him; Harley is notoriously intolerant, and his lack of patience is compounded by frontal lobe dementia.

In a minute I was back on the telephone and relieved to find Harley still there. He acknowledged me with his customary greeting, “How are you my old friend?” “Much better now that I hear your voice. How are you?,” I responded, explaining that I could not express my happiness at receiving his telephone call. He was happy, I was happier. Santa had sent me a truly superb gift.

At our house, we have several degrees of Santa conviction: Dacia thinks she knows the truth; Kira seems to know, but has determined it is in her best interest to play along; Grange is a true believer; Jana is a mystery; and I understand that Santa is only one small part of the overall drama.

As Harley and I began to wind down our conversation, he said, “Merry Christmas, I love you.” Now, Harley being Harley and Steve being Steve, this was a truly extraordinary moment. In our family, men have an enormously difficult time expressing love for one another, so I swallowed hard and said, “Merry Christmas, I love you too.” The words flowed much easier than expected, and again the Christmas spirit gushed through me, informing me that Harley, and life in general, was teaching me an important lesson and giving me a great gift.

With a little help from Santa and Harley, this year I may find it easier to tell the people in my life how much I love and appreciate them. So, here goes, Happy New Year, I . . . , well you know.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Well Deserved Christmas Gift

It was late Wednesday afternoon, the twentieth of December, and I had bailed out of the Twin Rocks trading post early again to go climb a rock; an early Christmas present to myself. Spending the entire year working in such close quarters has caused Steve to become rather amiable when it comes to my leaving work a little early. All I have to say is, "There's this place just off the highway I noticed . . . ." I don't even have to finish the thought, he just waves his hand and off I go.

Old Perkins Coral
The Old Perkins Corral

This time I was headed to the "Nipple", an up-thrusting protrusion of upright sandstone, scattered, broken rock and sage green earth just north of Bluff on U.S. Highway 191, near the old Perkins corral. This natural monument is Bluff's answer to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. I have always been intrigued by this wonder of nature, and was now intent on conquering its summit. I also figured that the last, and as yet undiscovered, renegade of the murderous threesome that shut down Bluff a few years back posthumously resided there. I envisioned him propped against a lichen encrusted boulder, haunting our local landscape in bone-white splendor, through hollow, sightless eye sockets. I felt these were two excellent, if presumptuous reasons to attempt the ascent.

North of Bluff, Utah

I wheeled the Tundra off the highway and onto the water-tortured dirt road that drifted off in the direction of the Nipple. The road was rough and twisted, but no real match for my pickup. Spenser loses patience with me when I call the Toyota a pickup. He gets all bent out of shape and spitefully says, "It's a truck Dad. Calling it anything else is an insult to those who built it and the real men who drive one." So naturally, just to aggravate my sassy and easily agitated male-child, I call it a pickup. I drove as close as I could to the base of the old girl and parked. Exiting the vehicle, I looked up, smirked and said, "Here I come, ready or not."

Before departing, I reached under the seat and brought out the Ruger single-six pistol I had placed there that morning before leaving for Bluff. I put in the magnum cylinder and dropped in five long boys, just in case I saw a ghost or had time for target practice. Sliding the holster on my belt and smoothly slipping the pistol into its leather casing gave me confidence; much as the cowboy lawman Wyatt Earp must have felt. The trick was to avoid shooting myself in the foot as my old high school buddy Jess did when we were kids. A .22 caliber bullet hole scar between my friends big and second toe on his right foot will prove at least that portion of this story. Armed and dangerous took on a whole new meaning when Jess picked up a firearm.

As I hurriedly made my way up the rock-strewn slope, I knew I did not have much time before the sun set and darkness began to fall. I estimate it took me 15 minutes to climb to the saddle between the mesa and monument. Another two minutes placed me at the top of the rock. I sat down, breathed in the clean, crisp, freshness of the evening air and looked around at the boulder-strewn promontory and then at the surrounding landscape. It was strikingly beautiful here; I could see Monument Valley to the west, Shiprock to the south and the mighty Blue Mountains springing forth from the high desert landscape to the north. Except for an arrhythmic , low heartbeat-like thumping sound coming from grasshopper-shaped oil and gas pumpers hidden by the eastern mesa it was almost totally silent.

As I sat there absorbing my surroundings, I was startled by a glimpse of dark gray movement to my left. There was a ghost here after all! I practically fell off my perch as I threw myself backwards trying to straighten my body and draw the pistol from its sheath. I finally got ahold of the grips, slid the barrel free, drew back the hammer and aimed the weapon in the direction of the specter. Squinting into the dusky twilight, I searched for movement. My heart was beating furiously. I was loaded for bear and ready for action.

From behind a rock about 20 feet away trotted a beautiful Kit fox with pin stripe accents of red and brown on his sleek and glowing fur. I was so startled I nearly dropped the hammer on the poor creature. Fortunately, I recognized it for what it was and relieved the pressure on the trigger. Speaking out loud, I told the beast it had scared me half to death and was nearly dispatched from this earth by a hurtling hollow point. The fox ignored my comment and continued to scratch around in the dirt, all the time moving closer to my position.

Now, any self respecting "wild thing" would have exited the scene as fast as its little, hairy legs could carry it when it recognized a human being; but not this courageous fellow. The fox kept sniffing around and moving in my direction, making me confused and then nervous. I figured the fox was either rabid or, because of the scarcity of mature mates in a local such as this, inbred to the point of idiocy. I spoke sharply to the fox and told it to act respectfully and hit the road. The creature totally ignored me and moved in a little. closer. Now I was really nervous, that is until I re-realized I had a gun in my hand.

The fox was barely six feet from me now. Something caught its attention and it turned away from me. I raised the pistol and sighted down the barrel at its back end. Holding the pistol steady, I dropped the sights to a flat rock just behind the fox and squeezed the trigger. The rock exploded and instantaneously peppered the poor creature's backside with shards of sandstone. The fox sprang straight into the air, accomplished a double reverse back flip, landed catlike on all four feet and vanished into the semi-darkness. The noise of the magnum echoed off the rocks and faded into the canyons.

I laughed out loud at the spectacle of the fox and how surprised it was at the insult of noise and hurtful debris. "Merry Christmas," I shouted to the fox, believing I had given it an early Christmas present by teaching it to be wary of humans. I was still chuckling to myself as I made my way down a talus slope towards the truck. All of a sudden I was startled by a rock tumbling down the slope above me. Realizing the danger, I quickly turned and looked uphill to see what was happening. That single rock started a small avalanche of rock, dirt and debris above me.

About ten feet to my right I spied a Volkswagen sized boulder that had dislodged itself from the cliff sometime in the distant past. I dove in the direction of the sheltering rock and huddled there until the slide passed. When the noise diminished and I figured the danger had abated, I stood up and brushed myself off, shaking from the near miss. Looking up to the top of the hill, I recognized a familiar shape sitting there. Wiping the dust from my bloodshot eyes, I looked closer and saw the image of a smiling fox at the place I assumed the first rock had been let loose.

Peering into the eyes of the Kit fox, I believe I saw a message. I was reminded of the first "Home Alone" movie where an eight year-old who is accidentally left behind while his family flies to France for Christmas has to defend his home against misfit burglars. In one scene, the less than defenseless and terribly creative Kevin used the sound track from a gangster movie to make a point. The verse that came to mind as the fox stared at me was, "Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animal!" I guess we both learned a valuable lesson.
(Click here to see additional images!)

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Spam and Other Trading Traditions

Every morning when I fire up my computer, click on the e-mail button and download hundreds of new missives, I am reminded of a significant component of my nutritional uprising. When Barry and I were running barefoot around Bluff, Spam, the bane of every e-mail user, had nothing to do with unsolicited electronic messages about erectable dysfunction, pornography, weight loss or on-line medication; Spam meant that agglomeration of leftover meat products in a rectangular blue and yellow can.

Spam,Smoked Oysters & Saltines, Yum!
The Trader's Lunch Kit

During the 1960s, Rose had convinced her naive saplings that Spam was actually the cuisine of kings. Grilled Spam, Spamburgers, fried Spam, Bar-B-Qued Spam, Spam casserole and even Spam in a blanket were frequent fare in the Simpson household; we loved it all. Even after we recognized that our inauspicious roots indicated not so much as a single drop of blue blood running through our veins, we imagined ourselves feasting at royal tables on every conceivable variation of those remnants of the butcher’s block.

My e-mail account had been seriously overextended as I downloaded the day’s messages, so Spam was on my mind as I trudged to the restaurant for my morning glass of iced tea with cranberry juice. As I sat down in a booth to talk with my best Bluff buddies, Art and Linda Moore, worthless electronic messages and jellied meat products were foremost on my mind.

When I mentioned what I was thinking, Art, who is always good for a funny story or a bit of useful advice, reminded Craig and me of other delicacies from our past. Potted meat product, tinned oysters and saltine crackers were all discussed with scrunched faces and not so generous comments. Having grown up in the Florida Panhandle, Art was extremely well versed in the consumption of these byproducts.

Jana, who is imminently proud of her trading lineage, often speaks of her father’s “survival kit,” and how it was responsible for saving their lives on more than one occasion. Kira and Grange have been advised that they would not be of this earth were it not for that package of crisis consumables.

The kit was created for those instances when trader John found himself stuck out on the Reservation with no prospects for immediate rescue from a too muddy road, a patch of sand that ensnared his vehicle or other similarly life threatening circumstances. Included in his survival package was, you guessed it, Vienna Sausages, Oysters in Mustard Sauce and Saltines.

It is common to find Indian traders with a special fondness for these prepared foods. In the trading business, tradition is an important factor, and maintaining one’s dietary habits is as important as sustaining one’s reputation. As a result, at any Reservation convenience store these products are prominently displayed on the shelves. I have even heard traders say that eating these things gave them the courage to enter into exceptionally difficult negotiations they were confident they would never win. Nothing could be as bad as consuming a can of gelled sausages they reasoned, so head long into the negotiations they charged, only to discover they were right; the dealmaking was easy by comparison.

Due to our consumption of what must have been metric tons of this stuff, years ago I had extracted a blood oath from Barry to never eat any of it while I was present. I was sure my stomach could not stand the strain, so I even got the commitment in writing. For years everything had gone well, then Barry scheduled a meeting with the most notoriously difficult turquoise trader in the business. Barry and I were no match for this guy, and we knew it.

Cheese and Peanut Butter Crackers
Peanut Butter Crackers

As we packed the Subaru for our meeting, I noticed Barry sneak a small, rectangular case resembling the lunch boxes we carried to school into the car. I really did not give the package much thought until we were about a half hour from our destination and Barry slyly reached into the back seat to extract his stash. As we cruised down U.S. Highway 98 toward Flagstaff, I was too entranced by the landscape, and my cheese and peanut butter crackers, to pay attention to what Barry was doing. Then I heard the sound that made my blood congeal; that click, schhhhhh I knew so well.

Trying to shake off my disbelief, I was horrified to see Barry stick his fingers into a newly minted can of Vienna Sausages and pull out a small dog dripping with gelatin. “No,” I shouted, almost running off the road, as he threw back his head and let the mini weenie slide down his throat. Gulping in satisfaction, “Courage,” was all he said. “Wouldn’t a shot of whisky suffice?” I demanded, reaching for the glove box. Barry reminded me that his wife had once advised him, “Lips that touch wine shall never touch mine.” “She didn’t say anything about Scotch did she?” I asked, knowing full well that I was canned.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post