Friday, March 18, 2016

Of Hats, Saddles and the Boot

A businessman walked into the trading post and said to me, "Can you help me out friend? I have been on the road longer than expected and am worried my wife may be angry and have the door barred when I get home." Looking at him suspiciously and transitioning into my bartender routine, I asked, "Does she have reason to bar the door? Have you misbehaved?" Vigorously shaking his head from side to side, he replied, "Other than being a less than adequate communicator, I am a good and faithful husband. I love my wife, but often forget to keep her updated and informed." "Sounds familiar," I replied. "Step over here. I will show you our line of spousal appeasement merchandise and relate a story or two."

I told him that in the good old days, when communication was fairly simple and straightforward, Navajo men had an uncomplicated way of discovering if they were in the soup or not. If there were any question, a man would walk up to the Hogan, remove his hat and toss it in the door. If his companion were not upset, the hat would return unmolested. The gentleman would pick up his topper, dust it off and step into his home with a feeling of peace and security. On the other hand if his derby came back in a state of disrepair, he would have time to consider the implications and evaluate his options. The more damage done on his headgear, the more dire the state of affairs. It was a great way to divine one's domestic circumstance.

When Steve and I first heard of this solution to comprehending the mood of our spouses we adopted it posthaste. We informed our wives of this system and presented them with hats we had chosen for initiating the process. Since I am well balanced and adept at expressing myself, I figured there would not be much abuse in my future. I therefore chose a hat of straw. When I presented it to Laurie, she accepted it, contemplated the implications of my actions and promptly swatted me with it. I began to question whether I had made the right choice.

Steve, on the other hand . . . well, has a way of arguing a point with what he considers to be rational thinking. It is my opinion Jana and Laurie base their actions on equal parts, rational thought and emotional response. Steve has earned two law degrees and is great at negotiating business deals. Let's just be honest, however, the boy rates poorly when it comes to communicating effectively with Jana. That woman deserves a medal of valor when it comes to debating marital issues with him. I suggested he choose a German pith helmet for his headgear, one of steel that could survive a panzer attack. He foolishly selected a stark white Resistol 10X premium fur felt hat. When he presented it to his significant other, she stomped it flat, tore the edges and sent it sailing out the back door. Based upon historical interaction, Steve rightly considered that was a negative reaction.

While we were on the subject of Navajo life ways, I shared a story of a medicine man that seduced a fair maiden of the high desert. He won over this svelte Native princess by proving to be well versed in the language of love. Although he was an overly large and not so handsome man, the hatathle was wise and worldly. The older man realized the young woman desired to learn and grow in knowledge and understanding. Through persuasive speech and extensive deed he convinced the young woman he loved her beyond measure and would always treat her like the rare and beautiful yucca flower she truly was. Thoroughly convinced, she fell for the conniving suitor.

All was well for a short time, but soon the medicine man began to take the maiden for granted and treat her as a prize mare to be paraded about and managed as if she were his personal property. The woman grew frustrated with her powerful husband because he no longer doted over her and never did anything to help around the house. His new bride came to loathe him and resent the union. In all respects she was nothing more than a slave. The maiden, however, was both bright and beautiful, unwilling to spend her life at the feet of a deceitful and demanding husband.

The little lady was well aware she had the right to divorce her lowly mate. Hers was a matriarchal society, and it was her privilege to expel this worthless cur from her life. One day when the medicine man departed for a traditional ceremony, the beauty placed his prize saddle outside their Hogan. The statement had been made, there was no question, and a split was imminent. Upon his return, his eminence simply picked-up the saddle, strode into their home and returned his property to its usual place. Immediately demanding drink and dinner, he would not concede to an interruption of the relationship.

The Navajo princess was not, however, dissuaded. The next time her spouse departed to practice his craft, the lonesome dove asked her brothers for assistance. The three siblings did a fast and furious, but altogether serviceable, remodel on her abode, one they hoped would repel the beast. Once again, the healer discovered his prize saddle resting in the dust. As before, he picked it up and headed for the door. This time, however, the entryway was but a narrow slit, slim enough to allow his new ex- wife ingress and egress, but far to small to allow his bulky frame to enter the Hogan. He had been resoundingly rebuffed and finally admitted defeat. Packing up, he remounted his fine steed and left the country in search of a more submissive mate.

"A few lessons we might learn from this mishmash of information", I said to the man, "are that: (a) communication is key to successful relationships, (b) a good and durable hat may be an fair indicator of your marital status, and (c) finding your saddle outside may demonstrate you are not paying close enough attention to your spouse's desires. Hopefully you do not learn these lessons too late to repair a bad situation. Be advised, narrow doors banish narrow minds, and being outwitted by an intelligent woman is all too common."

The businessman absorbed the metaphor admirably, purchasing a pair of earrings to validate his marital love and buying himself a woven palm cowboy hat from the gift shop next door to reopen the lines of communication. I hoped it would be enough to mitigate her frustration. As for Steve's attempts . . . well, that is a work in progress!

With warm regards Barry Simpson.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Compared to the Bicycle

My friend and internist, Dr. Roy, has promised to take me on his annual cycling tour if I get in shape. I am sure he thinks it’s good motivation for me to shed a few unhealthy pounds. What he doesn’t realize is that I long ago discovered I can eat and cycle at the same time.

Based upon Roy’s commitment, I dusted off the bike and went to work. Last Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed, strapped on my shoes and hit the road. Thinking of my early cycling career, when every ounce added precious time, I left the socks in the drawer and put the shoes directly on my bare feet. I briefly thought about shaving my legs to make myself more aerodynamic, but decided that would take too long. Shaving a few cookies from my diet would surely be more effective.

It was about 7:00 a.m. when I finally got things in order, the sun was climbing but the air was cool. I rode west from Bluff, towards Monument Valley. As I turned to make the return trip, the sunlit cliffs reminded me why I love this naturally walled village nestled in the San Juan River drainage. The sandstone bluffs, for which the community is named, were glowing a misty pink, and the various formations faded into shades of gray as they receded into the distance. I searched the eastern horizon for Sleeping Ute Mountain and finally noticed his nose protruding just above the southeastern cliffs. The valley was coming alive.
Bluff Utah

My bicycle is about 8 years old, which makes it a dinosaur in terms of modern bicycling technology. In its time it was a marvel of cycling engineering, but times have changed. The tires are worn and the tubes tend to lose a little air. I carefully watched the wheels to ensure they were remaining inflated and began to consider the parallels between the old bicycle and me. That started me thinking about how I tend to lose a little air myself, which is, at times, embarrassing.

When I first moved back to San Juan County, the trading post was still under construction so I lived in Blanding. Every day I rode to Bluff with a bicycle in back of the truck. After working all day with the building contractor, digging trenches and pounding nails, I climbed on the bike and ride to Blanding. The bike and I worked in tandem, like a well oiled machine. We would make the 25-mile trip in just over an hour. The bicycle was tuned to perfection, and my legs like pistons.

The business, family and a daughter distracted me over the next few years. Then one day I was diagnosed with a terrible illness - the dreaded furniture disease. The tire around my waist began to inflate, and Duke, who is a renowned expert in this field, pointed it out to me. Of course I knew all along I was manifesting symptoms. I attempted to hide it and slow the effects with protein concoctions and low-cal foods, but nothing worked. For a time I considered wearing moo moos, but couldn’t find patterns or tones to compliment my skin.

In the more progressive medical texts, furniture disease is described as the condition where, “One’s chest falls into one’s drawers”. As in my case, onset generally begins in the early to mid thirties, and serious disfigurement can occur. Once trim bodies begin to sag, and physical performance declines in direct proportion to the droop. Cycling efficiency declines, and it becomes hard to work the pedals. Actually, the down stroke is fairly easy; it’s the upstroke, which requires lifting all those extra pounds that can be difficult. Balance is greatly affected, accumulating cellulite results in a less aerodynamic configuration and airflow is interrupted.

So there I was, wrestling the old bike back into our small community. A slight grinding of the gears reminded me how I often wear on the residents of this town. A little lubricant may be in order. As I pedaled up to the house, I realized the bike and I were lucky to be functioning at current levels. Neither the tires nor I had lost any air. This was a relief, because the pump doesn’t perform the way it once did either.

With warm regards Steve Simpson.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Natives for Sale!

There I sat, staring into the alarmingly narrow hazel colored eyes of an attractive young woman who wore closely cropped hair dyed jet black. Standing stridently across the sales counter from me, she was clad in an oversized, wrinkled and stained khaki outfit overlaid with a tan photographer's vest that had about 101 pockets. On her feet was a huge pair of "waffle-stompers", and on her face a look of disdain.

Chewing my lip, I seriously contemplated a statement she had just made and wondered what had caused her to display such a strong emotional reaction. Her inquiry and obvious anger confused me. Nevertheless, there she stood, hands on hips, returning my gaze and anticipating a hostile reaction. I was confident this little fireball was prepared to do battle.

I first noticed her when she came stomping into the trading post in those big boots. Although I recognized a militant attitude in her, I consciously overlooked it, smiled and said, "hello." She only stared back. At the time I was working with a retired couple who were interested in a Ruby Coggeshell Red Mesa weaving, one based on stories about female energy. "How apropos", I thought to myself. The older folks were putting me through my paces, peppering me with questions regarding the, who, what, where, when, why and how of the rug's creation.

As we discussed the cultural significance of the weaving, the girl moved nearer and leaned against the counter. I could tell she was listening closely to the dialogue, and wondered at her interest. Since the couple was focused on tradition and ceremony, our conversation turned into a lengthily discussion on the richness of meaning associated with the pattern. The couple loved the rug and its significance and what I shared with them about the wonders of Ruby and her creativity.
Navajo Red Mesa Outline Rug - Ruby Coggeshell (#45)

The young woman emitted a soft but audible, "humph" when the couple said they wanted to purchase the rug. I figured the woman would have something to say about that development and hoped she would wait until the deal was done so she did not spoil the couple's experience. Because the young woman paced about the store nervously, I figured she was building up steam for a full frontal assault. I wrapped the rug, thanked the couple and waved as they exited the Kokopelli doors.

Turning toward her, I watched as she came my way. Calmly, I asked her if there was a problem. Breathing deeply, as if ramping up her courage, she placed her hands on her hips and in a slightly shaky voice said, "Do you realize you are in the business of packaging and selling Navajo culture! This land belongs to them, and you kicked them off their homeland!" This is where I found myself looking into a fiery, unsettled, set of hazel eyes and mulling over her statement.

I do not often seek confrontation. In fact, I do my best to avoid it whenever possible. My wife might disagree, but I hold to the principle. There are times, however, that, like accidentally stepping on an upturned rake, confrontation rises up and strikes you square in the face. At times, you simply have to deal with the issue, no matter how uncomfortable.

Finally I shrugged my shoulders and said, "You don't know me and I find your statement grossly unfair. I guess, however, if you strip away the personal, emotional attachment I have for this place and the positive things I believe it stands for; disregard my passion for the culture, the art and people; and harness me with the guilt of the past 200 years, then, yes, that is what we are doing here. Guilty as charged."

"You think it's that simple?" stammered the woman incredulously. "No indeed," I said, "I think it's overwhelmingly complicated. What I gave you was a simplistic answer to a simplistic statement you obviously haven't thoroughly considered." The young woman was livid, and she looked as if she might punch me in the honker. Just then a large, boisterous group of people flowed into the trading post and broke the tension. The girl shook her head, turned on her boot heel and left the building, leaving me to contemplate the seriousness of her accusation.
Navajo Monument Valley or Bust Basket - Lorraine Black (#232)

I have thought about that young woman's passionate statement a great deal since the incident and have shared it with a number of people, both Native American and Anglo, in an attempt to obtain open and honest opinions. After much conversation and contemplation, I have concluded there have certainly been indiscretions, but that I am not personally responsible. Additionally, one might easily defend our packaging and selling of a culture. I only hope history will show that Steve and I have done our best to treat everyone with respect and dignity.

The old days of, "Captive audience Indian trading" has long since disappeared. We deal with intelligent, educated individuals who are acutely aware of their options in the world of Native American arts and crafts. Discussing the young woman's comments with Navajo basket weaver Lorraine Black led her to comment, "This is my design, I wove it into this basket, not you. If I didn't feel you respected that and didn't treat me fairly, I wouldn't be here right now!"

The young woman with hazel eyes made me look closely at how we present the art of Twin Rocks Trading Post. Hopefully we will be more sensitive from now on. I believe the woman was well intentioned but poorly informed. That may be how she views me as well. What I know for sure concerning human relations and cultural issues is that nothing, and I repeat nothing is black and white. Being open-minded and objective regarding criticism is a must in any business.

I actually hope the young lady returns, because I would like to introduce her to my son Spenser. Recently, he informed me I know nothing about modern woman. Maybe not, but I do have experience dealing with women of attitude. I think it would do the boy good, educate him if you will, to meet such a spirited creature. Some things have to be personally experienced to be appreciated. The Nancy Sinatra song, later covered by Jessica Simpson, comes to mind, "These boots are made for walking!"

With warm regards from Barry Simpson.