Friday, February 27, 2015

Maasai, Marley or What?

Steve, Marc and I were standing near my office door discussing Twin Rocks Cafe when an interesting character walked through the Kokopelli doors and into the trading post. Since I am fond of meeting new people, I moved away from the casual conference, intending to intercept our visitor. The guest was quite tall, 6'3" at least, and was bundled in winter garb, which consisted of slate colored jeans tucked into ebony snow boots and a deep blue woven sweater overlaid by a coal colored goose down vest. His hair was a mass of dark snakelike dreadlocks, which extended to his broad shoulders and poked out in every direction. A bundle of braids at the back of his neck were encased in a charcoal colored woven pouch that made his head appear elongated. The mystery man's eyes were completely obscured by clouded wrap-around sunglasses. He was a long and well built individual, with a strong face and giant hands. He looked like a snow bound out of place Maasai warrior with a Bob Marley doo.
Navajo Eternity Face Basket - Elsie Holiday (#389)

Sliding behind the counter, I moved in the direction of our new guest. When I passed Priscilla she gave me a warning glance, she and Steve think I all too often speak inappropriately, driving people away with my astute commentary. I believe they are jealous and rather obtuse. The melanoid man saw me coming and turned away as if he did not want to be addressed, but I was having none of that. I wanted to meet him and get to know his story. Coming up from behind, I asked, "Are you doing some traveling today? Having a good trip?" He nodded in the affirmative and said, "I am, thank you. I am on my way to Texas and . . .” His answer began with a high note, but quickly trailed-off into a low mumble. I squinted; focusing on his words, but in the end could not decipher what he had said. I detected a trace of accent, but nothing that might make him difficult to understand.

Looking to Priscilla for interpretation, I received no help. She just shook her head in the negative and shrugged nonchalantly. I glanced at Marc and Steve, but they were locked in conversation about dishpans, dishwashers or something like that. Turning back to the misplaced Maasai, I tried again, "Have you driven far?" "I have", he said, "I have driven for seven . . .” Again his answer tapered-off into that low rumble. I was now suspecting the guy was doing it on purpose, just to throw me off track. Not to be put off, I asked, "How far are you going today?" He turned to me and smiled with his brilliant white teeth. As he headed for the door, he said, "To Albuquerque, and I bett . . .” With a flip of his big right hand, he waved goodbye and passed through the heavy wooden doors, dreadlocks flowing.

Staring after the man, I wondered just what his story really was, and why he spoke the way he did. "Humph!" I said to myself after a short spell. Once again looking to Priscilla for guidance, I started to question her about what had just occurred. Priscilla put-up her hand to stop me and said, "I don't know, with your Bluffoon accents, I can barely understand you and Steve most of the time. How the heck am I supposed to . . . " "Cute", I said, "real cute." Just then Marc headed for the door, on his way back to the cafe. As he too went through the door he said; "All right, I am off to see . . ." At the same time Steve turned and headed for his office, saying, "Me too, I have to wor . . . " "Smooth", I called out to them, "I work with a group of real smart a . . !"

With warm rega Barry Simp and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Hole Knew Strategy

“Of course, I new”, I disingenuously said to Barry while reading an e-mail message from one of our most avid and supportive followers. The missive took Barry and me to task for failing to identify a glaring mistake in our most recent mailing. That was the last straw for Bevan, who had found more than a few absurdities in our weekly musings and marketings. He frankly had had it, and decided he could no longer sit idly by while Barry and I to sent out unedited rubbish. As a result he typed the note and punched the send butten.

Although our friend is an esteamed business professor at an esteamed educational institution in Arizona, he apparently had not caught on to my latest commercial scheme.  As I explained to Barry, embedding errors into our writing ensures readers carefully consider the concepts we are attempting to convey. “It makes them think about us more,” I assured him. “Hasn’t this guy ever heard the saying, ‘Any publicity is good publicity,’” I inquired. “Apparently he is not as sophisticated as you thought”, Barry said, giving me a supportive slap on the back. I, however, suspected, Barry might be on to me.
No Bull Simpson

At Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe and Gift Shop, we are forever studying and testing innovative policys we believe will improve our operations, provide increased revenue and give us a reasonable shot at retirement. Retirement is a concept not wwell understood by the vast majority of Indian traders, but Barry and I hope to change that situation, at least on a personal basis. Jana’s dad was trying to put together deals when he passed from this earthly realm at the age of 102, and, at the age of 82, our pop, Duke, is still scheming to make a million or two before his lights go out. That has Barry and me running, well maybe jogging, scared, since we are confident we will not last that long, and since we are also aware Indian traders are a dyeing breed.

Lately I have been absorbing the information contained in two recently published texts, one entitled Dataclysm and the other dubbed What Stays in Vegas. These books describe the collection of big data in contemporary society and the use of that information in marketing and advertising. Having begun to comprehend just how complex life is in the Internet age, I have concluded the only viable tool I have for distinguishing myself is ignorance, and the outward manifestation of this underutilized attribute. At Twin Rocks Trading Post, when it comes to that particular characteristic, you don’t have to ask, “Where’s the beef?”, you just know.

Momma Rose, who worked hard to raise us right, always advised, “Patience is a virtue.” Despite Rose’s earnest attempts to guide us along the correct path, I have decided ignorance, not patience, is likely the best chance we have to get noticed. In fact, I am currently working on an autobiography titled, What I Don’t Know Can Hurt You. I asked Barry if he wanted to assist, telling him we could write under the nom de plume, The BS Brothers. The reason for my proposal should be obvious to anyone who knows Barry and me. Between the two of us, we have almost 100 years experience, so I thought we would be uniquely positioned to elaborate on the intricacies of trading posts specifically and the business of giving people the business generally. He declined my invitation, saying he was busy researching the techniques described in Fifty Shades of Grey. I was unsure what that had to do with turquoise and silver; Navajo artists; and rugs and baskets, but resigned myself to the conclusion I was on my own in this endeavor.

While Barry was embarrassed by Bevan’s critique, I assured him it was convincing evidence the initiative was in fact working. To drive home the point, I asked, “Just how many comments do we get on a weekly basis?” “Almost none”, he said, somewhat downcast. “There you have it”, I pressed, “that’s about a 100% increase!” “You apparently did not pay attention in math or grammar”, he replied.

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Traveling the Rez or Point of Reference

I had an opportunity to travel across Dinetah this weekend. I wanted to attend a trade show in Phoenix so I talked my wife into going with me. There are those that do not enjoy traveling the reservation, but I do. For me it brings the myth and legend to life. Here at the Trading Post we hear the cultural tales, as represented through the art. It is a special treat to see that which inspires the artists in person. Trips such as this allow me the opportunity to take in the high desert scenery and consider the People's interpretation of mountains, mesas and monuments.

On Friday we left the house before dawn. Before departing we said a little prayer to the Great Spirit, geared-up and sped on down the highway. As we traveled across the upper mesa, the Moon was full and bright which lit-up outstanding elements of the countryside with a blue/white fluorescence that charmed us with its winsome elegance. Surfaces perpendicular to the night sky, such as stubble fields and stock ponds, radiated in the magic of moon glow. On the other hand elements back-lit by the orb of night, such as upright Cedar pole fences, lone Juniper trees, out buildings and even a crooked windmill, took on darker, shadowed tones. The bearer of the Moon is considered to be a man of age and wisdom. The Man of the Moon is someone who is calm, collected and compassionate; someone we should all endeavor to emulate.
Navajo Monument Valley or Bust Basket - Lorraine Black (#232)

Before long we passed through Bluff and over the bridge spanning the San Juan river. The San Juan is also considered to be a male, a long and lean antiquarian individual with hair of white foam, who guards and protects Navajoland from hostile invaders. As we thumped and bumped our way across the bridge, I prodded Laurie, "It's a good thing you are not in a contentious mood this morning ", I paused a moment to test her reaction. Seeing none, I trespassed further; "or we would have never made it across the bridge." She inhaled noisily, paused, breathed-out easily and said, "Be a Man like the Moon, be not sarcastic!" She is getting much more difficult to provoke these days, no fair, no fun.

As we gained ground on reservation lands the monuments there offered- up strange and cumbersome shapes. We knew them to be representations of strength and power where supernatural spirits dwell. Navajo people often leave medicine bundles or gifts of precious stones at the base of some of the most unique of these monoliths. They strive to gain blessings similar to those attributed to the deities upon the rocks. I contemplated stopping and contributing some offering of my own, after all remittances of might and magic could prove beneficial. I opted out though because, after that last comment, I thought Laurie might take advantage of any short absence and leave me behind. And truly, as our good friend Kent said, speaking of spirituality and/or cultural beliefs: "You are either in, I mean all the way in or it does you no good--you must believe." So, since I am but a spectator in the ceremonial ritual of the Navajo, I decided against it.

Laurie and I traveled along the southern or backside of Monument Valley, through Kayenta, Tsegi Canyon and Long Squaw Valley. To me the landscape is impressive and varied, to look into those magnificent canyons reminded me of a conversation I had with Robert S. McPherson. Bob is a scholar of Navajo history and The People themselves. He has written several books on these subjects, give him a Google and read his books, you will learn much. Anyway, Bob and I were speaking of how Kit Carson impacted the Navajo and, more specifically, how the U.S. Army motivated the Ute people to impact the Navajo. Much of Bob's interpretation of history was gathered from interviews with individuals with close personal ties to the subject matter. His commentary concerning campaign's and skirmishes rattled around in my head as we passed through the country near where the interactions occurred. Looking at the landscape, I doubt it has changed much.

Before long Laurie and I stopped at a large convenience store in Tuba City. Anyone recall Leroy Van Dyke's, 'Who's gonna run the Truck Stop in Tuba City when I'm gone ...?' Sorry, I digress. Most of you wouldn't remember it anyway, the song is ... old. We stopped-in for a refreshment break, it was Pepsi time! Just as we drove-up the Rez dogs appeared. If you have traveled the reservation you know of what I speak. Emaciated canines that hang around anyplace where they might be favored with a scrap of anything. It is a sad situation at best. As with the landscape, all things have their place in Navajo cultural tales, including animals.

The earliest ancestors of the poor mongrels we saw here are represented in a Navajo Chantway myth. This particular legend revolves around the creation of dogs by the Holy People. The animals were sent out among the Earth Surface People to test whether they could live with humans, or not. Some hounds were treated well and others were abused, which caused dogs, as a whole, to be highly skeptical of humans and in many cases altogether apathetic. "You know", said Laurie as we emerged from the rest stop, hesitating a step to toss a handful of Bugles in the direction of one of the cur's, "It often depends on how you treat others that decides your fate." "Uh-huh", I considered, "point made."

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team.
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, February 6, 2015

In a Hundred Years

The other day Elsie Holiday was in the trading post with her latest wonderment. The basket was, as always, a stunning work of art. Although Elsie, Barry and I have been collaborating almost 25 years, her work continues to dazzle us. Over that period we have come to know each other well, and frequently tease about things that might otherwise be uncomfortable. Our banter would certainly make many of the politically correct crowd howl and cause the conservative congregation to blush.
Elsie Holiday with her Feather Basket

Once Elsie has her greenbacks tucked safely in her trousers, we at times joke about going to K&C Store for a twelve, twenty-four of thirty-six pack and sitting under the Cottonwood Wash bridge for a binge. The size of the suggested haul being dependent on how trying the day has been so far. I always suggest we get Budweiser or other inexpensive brand, and that she pay the tab. With a loud “Bah” and a twisted face, she consistently informs me she does not drink the cheap stuff and that it’s my turn to pay anyway. We have a good laugh, she leaves with a smile and I am left wondering why we all cannot simply enjoy each other on our own terms. Why do we worry so much about what others think is right or wrong?

When we opened Twin Rocks Trading Post, there was a local Navajo folk artist whose work Barry and I enjoyed. It also sold well, so that made things even better. In the early stages of the business relationship, his severe alcoholism made our transactions tense. One of his favorite drinking locations was under the bridge, so that is why Elsie and I tease about going down to the wash.

On hot summer days our associate and his buddies would often be found beneath the abutments, enjoying an icy cold brew. With the ambition of missionaries, Barry and I tried to convince him he was on the wrong track. He, however, would not budge. Once we realized he was what he wanted to be and had no intention of changing, we were forced to accept him on his own terms. It was at that point Barry and I concluded we were not cut out to be saviors. It was also at that point we began to find the true beauty in him and his work. From that day forward we have stuck to selling turquoise, silver and fry bread, abstaining from evangelism.

At the trading post we are often asked or opinion on professional sports teams using Native themes as their mascots, what we think about using the term “Ancient Puebleon” instead of “Anasazi” to identify the ancient ones of this region and what should be done about white folks commandeering Native themes. Barry is a little more cautious, but for me, I think we think a too much. My friend Gerald always asks, “Will it make any difference in 100 years?” In all too many cases the answer is a resounding, “No!”

Several years ago, I received a call from an obviously agitated woman who informed me Bruce Eckhardt, an Anglo artist, had no right to make “Native American beads” and that it was an outrage he was doing so. I happened to be setting in front of my computer, so, using the magic of Google, it did not take long to discover that such beads have been made for thousands of years, long before there were Native Americans. “So”, I asked, “who are we to tell Bruce what he can and cannot make?” And, “Why”, I inquired, “did she feel beads were the exclusive jurisdiction of Native American artists?” As one might guess, she did not have a solid answer.

Recently, one of our best friends was at Twin Rocks expressing agitation about pop stars wearing, “Native” headdresses. “Cultural appropriation”, he called it, and indicated Native Americans should be compensated for such usage. “What about us”, I asked, “we sell Native art all day long. Isn’t that also cultural piracy?” “No”, he argued, “because you pay for it.” “Okay”, I said, taking the easy way out. I still, however, felt uncomfortable about his thesis. So, after he left I once again called upon my best friend Google, and ascertained that feather headdresses were in fact used by Myan, African, Aztec and, you guessed it, countless other cultures around the world.

Having lived more than half a century, I have concluded the best things in life are affected by a great many external factors. At Twin Rocks Trading Post we often see art incorporating Oriental Optical Art themes, Art Deco elements, Hopi motifs, Apache designs, Anglo ingredients and a variety of other influences. In fact, Barry and I view Twin Rocks Trading Post as a confluence of such diverse ideas.

Like the people who make it, we believe art is an amalgam of individual experience. Barry and I have, therefore, developed the opinion that we, whatever our color, should be free to express ourselves openly, with no concern for what is politically correct; without having to consider whether some other group claims an exclusive right to the idea’s origin. After all, in a hundred years will it really matter?

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.