Friday, June 1, 2012

The Institution

Barry was out of town, it had been a long week of constant bus tours and meandering tourists and I was worn wafer thin.  According to Barry, bus tours are the worst.  I however, am not convinced.  Sure it is true they pull into our gravel parking lot in a cloud of dust and discharge hordes of mostly impatient individuals with enlarged bladders.  Yes it is true those individuals generally have only one purpose in mind.  It is also true that those same people, having overwhelmed our washrooms without ever saying “how do you do”, “please” or “thank you”, frequently complain loudly about our inventory.  And finally, it is most assuredly true they do all this with absolutely no intention of purchasing anything at all, not a turquoise ring, not a postcard, not an ice cream bar and not even a cup of coffee, with or without cream.
Twin Rocks Trading Post in Bluff Utah

Over my 22 years at Twin Rocks Trading Post, I have, however, had my share of even more frustrating experiences.  Indeed, it had only been a few hours earlier that a dusty man wearing dirty Levi’s, a Willie Nelson style headband and no shirt had stopped by to visit.  Having been in the post for less than ten seconds, he asked, “Where is your Mercedes?”  Taken aback by the question, I finally found my footing and informed him I do not own a Mercedes of any type.  “Then where is your BMW,” he interrogated.  When I assured him I had neither Mercedes nor BMW, and that I in fact drive a five year old Subaru, he scoffed, saying, “Well, with all this pricey stuff, I was sure you had one or the other, maybe both, parked in the back.”  Having fired his well aimed barb, he turned, shuffled out to his rusty 1980s Chevy van and drove away.

Following close on his heels was yet another disheveled gentleman who ambled into the trading post about 30 minutes before closing.  “This place is an institution,” said the unkempt man.  Apparently he had heard of us, and what he knew was what had me concerned.

Now, I have been around long enough to know that an institution can be defined in a variety of ways, some charitable, some not.  Of the options, I considered whether he meant an organization devoted to the promotion of a particular cause, a well established pattern of behavior accepted as a fundamental part of society or a public or private place dedicated to the care of mental patients.  I feared he meant the latter, which seemed most likely.

Did he know, I wondered, that we referred to those rampaging herds of bus tourists as “maywepees”?  Did he know of the insanity inherent in this family business.  Did he know that after so many years of working retail we all, Priscilla included, were qualified for admittance into the big white house on the grassy knoll?  Or, had he heard me rant madly about his predecessor in the dirty jeans and Willie Nelson headband.  Considering the possibilities, I began to perspire heavily and worry that I would break down before making it to the closed sign.

“Whaddaya mean,” I asked weakly, dreading the answer and thinking he might be a mental health professional with an interest in keeping society safe from people like Barry and me.  I considered Dick Nielson, a resident of Bluff from long ago, who, having spent a little time in the big white house himself, used to boast he was the only sane person in town and had the papers to prove it.

“Well, I have heard about these baskets” my guest said pointing to our display, “and have even seen your collection at the Natural History Museum of Utah.”  “You are a Navajo basket institution,” he reiterated.  “Little does he know,” I thought, quickly running through all we had experienced over the past two decades of working with local basket makers.  As the fear drained from my body, my extremities began to tingle with relief.  “Oh yes,” I said, a little too quickly, relieved he likely did not know the truth.

Just then a bus ground to a halt outside and its doors burst open.  I looked longingly at the closed sign, but it was too late.  “Yes, this is an institution,” I said to the gentleman, “an institution.”  Maybe Barry had been right about those buses.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team

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