Friday, May 20, 2016

Makin’ History

Grange is just finishing his sophomore year in high school and, thinking he can do everything at once, competes in both tennis and track during spring semester. Since Barry and Priscilla are good sports, I am able to attend all Grange’s matches and meets, which are scattered from one end of the state to the other. As a consequence, I am often absent from the trading post for days at a time. Recently, as I sat in the bleachers of Carbon High School awaiting the start of Grange's 1600-meter race, shivering in the blustery wind, I received a text from Barry. He was working with a videographer who wanted to film Navajo basket weavers for a project commissioned by the Utah Office of Tourism. Since Twin Rocks Trading Post is central to the contemporary Navajo basketry movement, Barry was asked to arrange a meeting with Mary Black and her daughter Lorraine, which he had done.

Having completed her interviews with those Navajo basket-making legends, the filmmaker suggested Barry contact Joann Johnson to see if she would come in as well. Since Barry had already spent a considerable sum securing Mary and Lorraine’s cooperation, he was reluctant to allocate additional resources towards Joann’s participation. Consequently he wanted my input. “Bring her in”, I replied, “we’re not makin’ money, we’re makin’ history!” He wryly retorted, “Why am I not surprised by that response?”

Barry is the fiscal conservative in this trading partnership and I am the spendthrift. My motto has always been, “Have bucks will spend! Have no bucks, . . . will still spend.” Surely that is why the trading post is in a constant cash flow crisis, and why Barry is forever fretting about our economic future. When Elsie Holiday brings in a basket, we buy it. When Gabriel Benally arrives with a large Navajo rug, we make the deal. When Alice Cling delivers a batch of Navajo pottery, we shell out the cash. Our outgo universally exceeds our income. We are like a reverse black hole, a unique scientific anomaly. “We can always make more money”, I argue. Barry believes my logic is unsound, and probably dangerous. It breaks my heart to turn away an artist, and Barry does not like to see me cry. As a result, despite his predictions of impending doom, when it comes to this issue I generally prevail. I long ago concluded Twin Rocks Trading Post is destined to be nothing more than a conduit, a pass-through. At this location money never sticks. If it did, our business model would break down and Barry and I would come undone, or at least I would. I often counsel Barry that during the Great Recession of 2008, we were likely the only things keeping the economy from total collapse. He thinks I may be right.
Gabriel Benally

Barry often applies Navajo ideals to explain unusual situations arising at the trading post. For example, he is extremely fond of the Navajo phrase “hozho,” which is said to illustrate one of the most important principles in Navajo culture. The term is loosely translated as peace, balance, beauty and harmony. To be in hozho is to be at one with the world around you. I have often heard Barry explain to our customers that hozho is a consideration of natural laws, the world, man, the universe, time, space, creation, growth, motion, order, control and the eternal cycle of life. He typically follows up by saying, “The word is so far-reaching it is virtually impossible to translate into English.” Knowing his weakness for all things Navajo, I shamelessly use his knowledge against him, contending his business conservatism and my financial liberalism balance each other out, placing us in perfect equilibrium, in hozho. “Why then is our bank account always in the red”, he asks. “RED”, I respond, “Is the color of rebirth, life, faith and happiness.” Pressing the point, I insist, "We are in a constant cycle of death and resurrection, with all the corresponding ups and downs. We are like born again Christians, financially reborn every week.” "You have to have faith”, I tell him, hoping to illicit a “hallelujah” or “amen”. They never come. Priscilla disregards our conversations unless they commence close to payday, then she gets worried.

Barry suggested the last time we attempted to pay the mortgage with “history" the bank balked. As one might guess, my memory was foggy on that particular incident. I was, however, concerned the auditors and regulators might indeed be uncomfortable with that arrangement, so I telephoned our local banker to get his thoughts. He wasted no time advising me history was not a traditional form of payment and would, therefore, not be acceptable. I countered by advising him Bitcoin was also a nontraditional form of payment, but had become all the rage in the electronic world. He thanked me for my time and said he had things to do.

As anyone who knows us will tell you, money has never been the primary motivator at Twin Rocks. Sure, we need cash to buy milk for the babies and pay rent, tuition and taxes, but, as Ayn Rand was known to say, “Money is only a tool.” “Yes”, Barry agreed when I reminded him of that fact, “but our tool chest is empty. We can’t build this house on history alone.” Priscilla seemed to agree, so I figured some homework was in order. I therefore went to Barry’s bookshelf and got out books relating to Southwest Indian traders. In the process of testing my theory I reviewed several monographs, including The Indian Traders by Frank McNitt; Rugs & Posts: The Story of Navajo Weaving and the Role of the Indian Trader by H.L. James; Indian Trader: The Life and Times of J.L. Hubbell by Martha Blue; Thomas Varker Keam: Indian Trader by Laura Graves and David M. Bruggee; and Tall Sheep: Harry Goulding, Monument Valley Trader by Samuel Moon. Amazingly, there was not a single balance sheet, income statement or bank account mentioned in any of these treatises. There was, however, history galore, so I concluded Barry and Priscilla would be impressed with my findings. They were not.

As I laid out my hypothesis, Barry looked at Priscilla and said, “Well, that’s it, next time you get paid in history.” Priscilla wrinkled her forehead, scrunched her nose and replied sarcastically, “Just make sure it's history printed with portraits of dead presidents, or Harriet Tubman."

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team.

No comments: