The Beat Goes On
"We didn't play cowboys and Indians as kids," explains my pal Sean, a hulking, six-foot-two-inch Navajo who weighs upward of 290 pounds.
"Really?" I ask him, as we both stand together at the Mesa Pow Wow on a sunny Saturday afternoon -- both extremely tired, and both hung over from the night before.
"Yeah," says Sean from behind his dark black sunglasses, wearing his blank black tee shirt and blue skater shorts with chain wallet and all. "We usually just stole Dad's cigarettes and found a place to smoke 'em."
But what else should I have expected from this really nice guy I met at The Rogue when I first moved to Phoenix? After only being in town for literally hours, this guy actually talked to me when everyone else just gave me quiet stares, and actually went and got me a beer. For free.
He stole my heart.
Him, and Brian, whom I also saw that night at The Rogue, whom you can find most any night at the Emerald Lounge.
I like to call him Emerald Brian.
But he's another story.
Anyway, what drew me to Sean, and has kept us friends, is his quick wit, his like of great punk bands, and his thirst for knowledge.
Which can be a problem.
That both of us talked a lot about on that sunny day in Mesa.
The morning started easily enough, with me promising my nine-pound Yorkshire Terrorist, P.J., that we'd go to some doggie party called "Barktoberfest." Of course, I broke that promise by sleeping late, and truthfully, who the hell has parties that start before midnight, anyway?
Eventually, P.J. and I make our way to Mesa, which we can't believe is so fucking huge.
It's got more exits than a colonoscopy doctor probably sees in a day.
Once we arrive and find a place to park, we check out the local Jack in the Box, with its fine Southwestern architecture, and P.J. wants in.
That is, until he sees the park.
A big and beautiful park, with drumbeats and chanting noises in surround sound.
And with a sign that clearly says, "No Domestic Animals."
P.J. first glances at the thing, then just gives me a look.
A look that says, "Domestic? I'm from fuckin' New York!" And with that, we enter the park.
Of course, under the rough exterior of my punk-rock utility vest with the U.S. pins, women's black stretch jeans, and bleached-blond hair, I'm a pussy.
I start wondering to myself what would happen if they nabbed me and P.J.
We'd be sent to those awful tents I've heard so much about.
And forced to wear pink underwear.
And P.J. does not like pink.
Beige, perhaps, but pink is so over like Paris Hilton.
But we chance it, and nothing happens.
When we finally take a good look around us, we see things that are amazing. Adults, children, and even senior citizens dressed like the Village People. Well, the Indian guy, Felipe, anyway.
And they're beautiful. Not just their glowing faces and warm smiles, but their clothes are so colorful I feel like we are watching a Technicolor movie.
We see headdresses of all sizes, with feathers of all colors.
And we hear drums. Lots of drums.
But something surprising happens.
Well, DOESN'T happen.
P.J. doesn't start barking like a lunatic.
While people around us are dancing, beating drums, and displaying their long and proud culture, P.J. is, well, interested. His ears slant sideways, and he seems to be in tune with everything going on around him.
And I'm amazed.
If this had been his old home in New York City, he'd be barking his little head off, and screaming for the blood of the homeless people.
But here he was like the others.
One with everything.
And it felt nice.
When we finally find Sean near the announcer's stand, through many thick groups of people, P.J. happily licks my pal and wags his tail.
If I were him, seeing Sean's size and weight and all, my tail would be between my legs, and my teeth would be, well, not really that exposed. I had a bad dentist.
"Looks like P.J. is doing fine," says Sean as he pets my beast, whom he last saw at my book-reading in Tempe for my memoir, Playing Right Field: A Jew Grows in Greenwich.
We talk a bit about what's going on, about the "princess contests," and about Sean's culture in general. Then we get to what's really going on in our heads.
"It was rough to get in the right head," he says to me, about the night before. I tell him I've had the same problem lately. I can drink a lot sometimes, but can't get drunk. So I end up antisocial.
We're both the same in that way. Kind of shy, I guess.
Maybe we should invest in that little blue pill with the smiley face we see on TV. He's always happy -- why shouldn't we be?
Our conversation finally turns to the Pow Wow at hand. Sean tells me he's a Navajo, and others around us are from tribes like the Hidatsa/Arikira. Then I have to ask.
"Did you play cowboys and Indians as kids?"
He just laughs, and asks me if I did.
I admit to the cowboys and Indians, but make no mention of the hot construction worker or motorcycle cop.
Anyway, Sean tells me that from 1997 to 2002, he went on the road with a drum group, and we both agree that touring, whether it be with a group of Native Americans or smelly punk rockers, has its advantages in that you get to make friends all over the country. He explains that Pow Wows are organized events nationwide, and there is a whole circuit for them.
Living in New York City, of course, I've never heard of such a thing, but then again, out here you'll never taste real pizza or smell the fine aroma of the East River.
When the talk gets to hierarchy -- like there seems to be in punk rock -- Sean's eyes light up from behind his dark glasses.
"There are big-name dancers," he explains, "big-name drum groups, and, of course, all the political bullshit that goes along with any type of large institution."
I nod my head in agreement, thinking it really is a shame that all this beauty and spiritual kindness has power struggles.
But what else is new?
We talk a bit longer about what Sean wants for Christmas: an electric guitar or bass, and an amp, so he can play the punk-rock circuit as well as the Pow Wow one. Then we exchange hugs, and P.J. and I head over to where the Native American food stands are set up.
After waiting for about a half-hour, then eating some REALLY bad food, I look at P.J., who has actually snubbed the grub I tried giving him.
I ask him what his problem is, and he just looks at the Jack in the Box across the street.
I guess he really does know his native American food.
On the way out, P.J. walks in time with the beating drums, and if I didn't know any better, I would swear that barking sound he was making at a Mesa cop with a big gun was more of a meditative chant.
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