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The black eye of the Month club

Junior was a fourteen-year-old Spokane Indian, who lived on the Reservation with his family and was born “with water on the brain”, so he had to have a surgery when he was six months old. Due to this problem, he had suffered from other health problems: he had had ten teeth more than normal, but they were pulled out; his eyesight was poor, so he had to wear glasses; he had seizures and also stutter and lips. For all these reasons, he was considered a retard and retards got beaten up, so Junior belonged to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club. The only way to be safe was to stay at home to read and draw cartoons. Drawing made him feel important, it was also the only way he could maybe become rich and escape the reservation.

 

Why chicken means so much to me

There was one thing that his cartoons couldn’t do: alleviate his family’s poverty. His family often missed a meal, but Junior always hoped that, sooner or later, his parents would come through the door with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. But hunger was not the worst thing of being poor, because the worst thing was not being able to help those he loved. His best friend Oscar, the family’s dog, got sick and for Junior he was better than any human he had known. To the question, if it was possible to carry him to the vet, his mum said, that they couldn’t afford to spend money. He wanted to hate his parents for this reason, but he also knew that he couldn’t blame them, because they had always been poor. He was sure, that if someone had paid attention to their dreams, his mum would have gone to college, while his father would have become a musician: but the reservation Indians didn’t allow them to make their dreams come true.

Junior had to say goodbye to Oscar, before his dad would shoot him, in fact a bullet only cost about two cents and everybody could afford that.

 

Revenge is my middle name

After Oscar had died, Junior wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear forever. Rowdy, his best human friend, talked him out. He spent most of his time with Junior, because his father was often drunk and punched him and his mother, but Rowdy never tried to hide his wounds. Also Junior’s parents were drunkards, but they were never mean and hit him. One night, there was a party called powwow and Rowdy wanted to go there. Junior not, he was afraid someone would pick him for being a retard, but at the end Rowdy convinced him to go. During the party, Rowdy bumped his face against a window and Junior began to laugh; for this reason Rowdy got mad and almost kicked him. Rowdy began to smash windows, dent doors and knock off mirrors: Junior, who was scared of his vandalism, ran away. But he ran into one of the cruelest triplets of the world and they punched him. When Rowdy found this out, he wanted to revenge on them and cut off their braids: this was the worst thing you could do to an Indian guy.

On the other side, Rowdy was not only good for revenge, but he loved comic books like Junior. Almost every day they met to read these comics and to make him laugh Junior drew many of them. They told each other everything, they were inseparable. 

Because Geometry is not a country somewhere near France

On the first day of high school, Junior was happy, but he was especially excited about his first geometry class. His sister was the opposite: after high school she didn’t go to college, she didn’t do anything. She wasn’t excited about life, like Junior. Even if she was beautiful, strong and funny, she spent her days alone in a basement.

The geometry teacher, Mr. P, was a ‘weird-looking dude’, who sometimes fell asleep during the lessons or even forgot to come to school. He passed out the books and on Junior’s book there was written: This book belonged to Agnes Adams, Junior’s mother. In that moment he realized, that the book was at least thirty years older than him and became horrified. Instinctively, he threw the book in Mr.P’s face.

HOPE AGAINST HOPE

After he had smashed Mr.P in the face, he was suspended and his family was very disappointed in him. During his suspension, Mr.P came to visit him. At first, he asked the reason for throwing a book on him, but then he started to talk about Mary Runs Away, Junior’s sister. He said that she wanted to be a writer, but then something happened to her and she just stopped writing. Mr.P wanted something better for Junior, in fact the only thing that the reservation children were being taught was how to give up. All the rez people had given up, because they didn’t have hope. Mr. P didn’t want him to give up, so he told him, he had to leave the reservation and then he would find hope.

Go means go

After Mr.P had left, Junior thought for a long time about his life and when his parents got back home from work, he told them he wanted to change school. His parents suggested some schools, but he wanted to go to Reardan, located in a rich and white town exactly twenty-miles away from the rez. This was one of the best small schools in the state. They agreed very quickly, because they had always wanted a better to leave the rez.

Rowdy sings the blues

The day after he had decided to transfer, he wanted to tell Rowdy his plans. He knew that his comrade would get mad, in fact at first Rowdy didn’t take him seriously. Junior wanted Rowdy to come with him, but the latter hated that town. The reservation school had always lost the baseball games against Reardan and this made Rowdy furious.

When Junior it made clear that he was not joking, Rowdy began to cry and blinded by rage, he punched him in the face. At this moment, Junior realized that his best friend had become his worst enemy.

How to fight monsters

On the first day, Junior’s dad drove him to school. He gave him some money and they greeted each other. When Junior arrived, nobody was there. After a while, the white kids finally came and they just stared at him. There was also another Indian in town: the Reardan’s mascot. Junior entered the school and made his way to the front office. Then he got assigned to Mr.Grant for homeroom. He sat down and a girl named Penelope asked him his name. The teacher called him with his ‘name name’: Arnold Spirit. Penelope became angry, because Junior had introduced himself as Junior and he hadn’t told her his full name. Most of the white boys ignored him, but the big jocks paid special attention to him, they called him names. One day, after Roger had told him a racist joke, Junior punched him in the face. Roger felt insulted and all his friends were shocked. In accordance with the Spokane Indian rules he had acted correctly.

Grandmother gives me some advice

That day, Junior went home completely confused. Since he had punched Roger in the face, he expected revenge, like every Indian would have done, if he had been punched. Roger, however, walked just away. Junior wished Rowdy would still be his friend, so he could have sent him after Roger. Because his parents weren’t at home, Junior went to his grandmother. He told her what had happened that school day and after a while of thinking, she said that he had earned his respect after he punched him. Junior thought, that this idea was crazy.

The next day, his father didn’t have enough gas, so he had to go to school on foot. Fortunately Eugene, dad’s best friend, was heading to Spokane, so he gave Junior a ride to school. He arrived at school and he saw Roger walking out of the front door. Junior was prepared to get a fight, but instead Roger talked to him with respect and he was nice. Junior thought that his grandma was right. After this, he felt better and walked into the school. He greeted Penelope, who at first ignored him and then made fun of him. At this point he realized that he might have impressed the king, but the queen still hated him.

Tears of a clown

Junior remembered that he had fallen in love with an Indian girl, named Dawn, when he was twelve. She was the best traditional powwow dancer on the reservation, but she ignored him and mostly made fun of him. He knew that he was one of those guys who fell in love with the unreachable. One night, when Rowdy slept in Junior’s house, Junior made a full confession. He told him about his feelings for Dawn and Rowdy responded him, that he was just stupid, because she would never return his love. These words made Junior cry. Rowdy told him to stop crying and promised him to tell nobody that he had cried for a girl.

Halloweeen

On Halloween, Junior went to school dressed as a homeless dude; also Penelope went dressed as a homeless woman. She wore these ‘clothes’ to protest the treatment of homeless people in that country and she was going to ask spare change, that she would give all to the homeless. Because he wanted to impress her too, he told her that he was wearing these clothes to protest the treatment of homeless Native Americans and he added that he was also going to ask spare change instead of candies. They decided to pool the money and send it together. So that night, Junior went out trick-or-treating and plenty of people gave him spare change. But when he was walking home, three guys dressed as Frankenstein shoved him to the ground and stole the money from him. The day after, when he went to school, he told Penelope what had happened to him and she answered that she would still put both their names on the donation. After that moment, Junior hoped that they would become closer, but nothing changed. He understood that he had to change everything about himself, to make her fall in love with him.

 

Slouching toward thanksgiving

The white kids didn’t talk to him, he was always alone, but during that time in Reardan he had learned that he was smarter than most of those white kids. One day, when the geology teacher was talking about petrified wood, Junior dared to correct him.

The teacher couldn’t believe that an Indian could correct him and when the class genius, Gordy, confirmed that Junior was telling the truth, the teacher became dangerously angry.

One day, when he got home, Junior found his mother crying. Junior’s sister had married a flathead Indian, whom she had met at the casino and had moved to Montana. His parents were devastated, but Junior admired her courage, he was happy, that her spirit hadn’t been killed and that she was trying to live out her dream. Junior felt inspired by his sister, so the next day he approached Gordy and asked him to be his friend. And they became friends, but not like Rowdy and him. Gordy was one weird dude, but he was the smartest person Junior had ever known. Both were always lonely before they became friends. They studied together: Gordy did not only tutor and challenge him, but he made him realize that hard work was joyous.

My sister sends me an E-mail

Shortly for Thanksgiving, Junior received an email from his sister. She wrote that she had ridden a horse for the first time in her life and that she was looking for a job.

Mary wrote also that the people there were nice, Indians as well as whites. She spent her honeymoon together with her husband in a great hotel on Flathead Lake. Their suite was wonderful and on the room service menu, there was Indian fry bread. It was almost as good as grandma’s. She concluded with the sentence, that that honeymoon was a dream come true and that she loved her life, her husband and Montana.

Thanksgiving

It was a snowless Thanksgiving, although it was a feast. Junior’s mother made a lot to eat, like turkey, many vegetables and pumpkin pie. But he couldn’t understand why Indians and Pilgrims had celebrated the first Thanksgiving together and then, a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians. His father told him, Indians should be happy they didn’t kill them all. It was a good day, but Junior missed Rowdy. For the last ten years, Rowdy had always come over to his house. So he drew a cartoon of them like they used to be, walked over to Rowdy’s house and Rowdy’s father opened. The latter answered that Rowdy wasn’t at home, so he gave the cartoon to Rowdy’s father, who promised to give it to his son. Junior was going home, when he saw Rowdy through the window, who was holding his cartoon. He could see his sadness in his face. He realized, that Rowdy hadn’t torn up his cartoon .which meant that Rowdy still respected his cartoon. And so maybe he still respected him a little bit.

Hunger Pains

The lesson on the Civil War was so boring, so Junior went to the bathroom. From the other side of the wall he heard a weird noise. It was the girls’ bathroom and someone was throwing up there.

So he knocked on the door and the girl inside told him to go away. He walked away, but something pulled him back and so he waited. After a while, this girl came out: it was Penelope. She told him, that she was bulimic, but only when she was throwing up. Junior encouraged her, not to give up. At this point she started crying, she felt lonely, even if everybody thought she had a perfect life, just because she was beautiful. Over the next few weeks, they became friends with a potential. Nobody had ever thought Penelope would choose him as new friend, also her father, a racist, didn’t want them to be friends. Junior didn’t know what he really meant to her, but they enjoyed being together. Thanks to Penelope, he became popular: also other girls defined him cute, the other boys decided that he was a major student and even the teachers paid more attention to him. One day, Penelope told Junior, that she wanted to leave Readan, she wanted to become an architect, so she could build something and be remembered. They shared the same dream; both wanted to fly.

Rowdy gives me advice about love

Junior went to watch Penelope play volleyball. He was enchanted by her beauty and he wanted to know what do to with his feeling, so he went to the computer lab and wrote Rowdy an email, who had had the same address for five years. After a short time Rowdy wrote back, that he was sick of Indian guys who treated white women like bowling trophies and added Junior should get a life. Because this wasn’t what Junior hoped to hear, he decided to ask also Gordy’s opinion about that. Gordy answered, that he would go to make some research. He came back with an article and concluded that the attraction for Penelope meant he was racist as everybody else. In this way, Gordy was as tough as Rowdy.

Dance, dance, dance

Traveling between Reardan and the reservation made him feel like a stranger, because he was ‘half Indian in one place and half white in the other’. Nobody knew about Junior’s poverty in Reardan, but he knew it would be impossible to hide it forever. In December, he took Penelope to the Winter Formal. Because he had no money for gas, he told her to meet at the gym for dance. He put on his father polyester suit and Penelope liked him a lot. They had a great time dancing together and after that, Roger and some other dude invited him to go out for breakfast. Penelope was ecstatic about this idea, but Junior was worried because he had just five dollars. He ordered many things; he figured it was his last meal before his execution. Then he went to the bathroom, and after a short time, Roger went too. As an excuse, Junior told him, that he had forgotten his pocket with the money at home, so he gave him forty dollars. When they were about to go home, Penelope asked Junior if he was poor; he couldn’t lie to her anymore and so he told her the truth. She didn’t become mad and Roger, who was a little racist, but also a generous person, drove him home that night and many other nights, too. Junior concluded the day with the thought that if you let people into your life, they can be pretty damn amazing.

Don’t trust your computer

One day at school, Junior was missing Rowdy really much, so he went to the computer lab, took a photo of his face and sent it to him. Rowdy sent a photo of his bare behind. That made him laugh, but at the same time depressed. Also Gordy saw the picture and asked why Rowdy hated him.

Junior told him, that he hated him, because he had left the rez and he tried to imagine the three of them together: maybe Rowdy would beat Gordy up or they would become a superhero trio. Junior told him also, that many called him ‘apple’, because he was red on the outside and white on the inside. Gordy commented that ‘life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community’. He added that weird people would still get banished, like he and Junior. They had now a tribe of two.

My sister sends me a letter

One day, Junior received a letter from his sister. She wrote she was still looking for a job, because they kept telling her she didn’t have enough experience. She had a lot of free time, so in the meantime she had started to write her life story and was going to call it: ‘How to run away from your house and find your home’. She wrote also, that she loved and missed everybody, and that she and her husband had moved into a new house.

Reindeer games

Junior’s dad encouraged him to try out the Reardan basketball team. There were forty boys, but only about sixteen would be cut. The first drill was a marathon and thirty-six of them finished. Immediately afterwards they had a second drill: one-on-one. Junior had to play against Roger, one of the best players. The Coach was very happy with his performance and so he could make the team. The first game was against Wellpinit, Junior’s old school. As he got off the bus, he could hear the crowd making fun of him and somebody in the crowd threw a sphere at him and so he was bleeding. Eugene stitched him up, so he could play in the third quarter. During the game, Rowdy smashed him with an elbow and knocked him unconscious. For this reason, they brought him to hospital. At night, the Coach visited him and told him that they had lost the match. He stayed with him awake all night, telling each other stories.

 

And a partridge in a pear tree

Junior’s family didn’t have money for presents, so his dad took the little money they did have and ran away to get drunk. He left on Christmas Eve and came back on January 2. After he came back home, he apologized for Christmas and Junior answered that it was okay, although it wasn’t. His dad told him, he should look in his boot and Junior found a five dollar note. He knew that dad must have really wanted to spend the last five dollars, but had saved them for Junior. It was a beautiful and ugly thing together and he kissed his father, who in the meantime had fallen asleep.

Red versus white

By staying in Reardan Junior had learned that there were plenty of white kids ignored by their parents and that people in Reardan tended to be strangers to each other; while on the rez everybody knew everybody. The best thing in Wellpinit, the rez, was his grandmother, who was also the most amazing person in the world, because she was tolerant. But one day, she was walking home from a mini powwow, when she was killed by a drunk driver. She died during the emergency surgery, but before dying she told the surgeons to forgive the murderer. The latter was taken to jail and after he got out, he moved and nobody ever saw him again. Junior’s grandma had never tasted alcohol, because she wanted to touch the world with all of her senses intact. 

Wake

They held Grandma’s wake three days later and almost two thousand Indians came to say good-bye. Junior was happy, that they let him grieve in peace, even if he had left the rez school. The ceremony took place on the football field and Mary couldn’t attend. About ten hours into the wake, a white guy stepped forward holding a big suitcase. He said, he loved the Indian people and that he collected Indian Art. In his suitcase, he had a beautiful powwow dance outfit. An Indian had sold this to him and had employed an anthropologist to determine the owner and after some researches, he said that it once belonged to Grandmother Spirit. She loved to go to powwow, but she never danced so she never owned a dance outfit. Consequently he packed the outfit back into the suitcase, hurried over to his car and sped away. Two thousand Indians laughed at the same time.

Valentine heart

A few days after Valentine’s Day, Eugene was shot by one of his good friends, Bobby. They were fighting for the last drink in a bottle of wine. A few weeks later, Bobby hung himself in jail. To get over the pain, Junior’s father went drinking, while his mother went to church every day. In a short time, they had lost their grandmother and Eugene. Junior wanted to find out everything about the word ‘grief’ and Gordy showed him a book written by Euripides, who knew the answer. In one of his plays, Medea said: ‘What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land?’ At this point, Junior realized that this had happend to the Indians, they had lost everything.

Then, after his fifteenth or twentieth missed school, he returned to Reardan. The social studies teacher mocked him for all the absences. Junior was too broken to stand up to her, but it was Gordy who defended him. He stood up to the teacher and inspired the others. As a consequence the classmates stood up one by one and walked out of the room. Before this event, Junior used to think that the world was divided by race, skin color or culture, but now he thought it was only divided into two groups: the people who are assholes and those who are not. This gave him a little bit of joy, so he made a list of the people, musicians, foods, books and basketball players who had given him the most joy in his life.

In like a lion

Junior had never guessed he would become a good basketball player, but he became one of the best players on the basketball team. He guessed it came down to the power of expectations. After they lost the first game to Wellpinit, they won twelve in a row. Then they had the rematch with Wellpinit, but this time at home. Wellpinit was the number one-ranked small school in the state, just because of Rowdy. Before the match, Junior got interviewed by the local news. The coach wanted him to guard Rowdy, although Junior thought he couldn’t do it. A few minutes after start, Junior could steal Rowdy the ball when he was about to dunk. Junior took the ball, raced across the court and scored; at the end Reardan beat them by forty points. Junior was the hero, but he was ashamed, because the Indians had nothing, while the Reardan boys had everything. He cried also because he had hurt his best friend’s heart. Wellpinit never recovered from their loss to Reardan, while Junior’s team headed into the playoffs, but there, they got beaten. It was a big upset and everybody cried. 

Rowdy and I have long and serious discussion about basketball

A few days after the basketball season had ended, Junior e-mailed Rowdy to apologize for the win. He answered back with a rebellious and insulting sentence, as always. Nevertheless Junior was happy, because it was the first time that Rowdy had talked to him since he had left the reservation and although the answer was rude, Rowdy was also a bit friendly.

Because Russian guys are not always geniuses

For Junior, the biggest difference between Indian and white people, was the amount of funerals, which you attended. Junior’s white friends could count their deaths on a hand, while he had been to 42 funerals: ninety percent of them were due to alcohol. One day, during chemistry, the guidance consulter wanted to speak in private with Junior. She told him, that his father was coming to pick him up, because his sister Mary was dead. On the way back, Junior’s father told him the reason: she and her husband had had a big party in their home in Montana and they had forgotten a soup on a hot plate. A near curtain caught the hot plate and the trailer burned down quickly. Junior’s mother was broken and she didn’t want Junior to leave her. Two days later, they buried her. During the burial, he had to get out of there and ran out of the graveyard into the woods, where he bumped into Rowdy, who was crying. Rowdy blamed Junior for her death: because he had left the rez, she did it too. Junior went back to school, where boys, girls and teachers worried for him. He was important to them. Penelope came up to him last and she was weeping. Junior felt like every planet in his solar system had exploded.

Remembering

Junior went with his parents to the cemetery and cleaned up the graves of Grandmother Spirit, Eugene, and Mary. They had a picnic and Junior’s dad played also his saxophone. His mum told him, that she was proud of him and this made Junior happy, but he missed his sister. He admired her for the courage to leave the basement. Thinking that more Spokane would die during the next year, because of booze, made him sad. He knew that he was never going to drink and that he was going to have a better life out in the white world. Junior was okay, but it also reminded him of the people who were not okay, like Rowdy. He missed him.

Talking about turtles

The school year was over and Junior enjoyed the time on the reservation, which was beautiful. The rez was surrounded by pine trees everywhere. These reminded him of Rowdy: when they were nine or ten and they decided to climb the tallest tree over by Turtle Lake. On that day, they weren’t afraid of falling. Actually, they wanted to go swimming in Turtle Lake, but since Junior was afraid and the lake was deep, they decided to climb it. Thinking about it, he couldn’t believe that they did it and he couldn’t either believe that he had survived the first year at Reardan. He missed his white friends: he wrote Penelope a couple of letters, Gordy wanted to come to the reservation and Roger had willed his basketball uniform for him. Then, one afternoon, Rowdy came to Junior’s house, with the excuse he was bored. So they decided to go to the court and play basketball. Again, Junior asked Rowdy to go with him to Reardan, but he declined. Instead he was happy for him, because he was going to follow his dreams. Junior cried a little by the thought, how much he would miss his family, his friends, the tribe and his reservation. Then, they continued to play and they didn’t keep score.

 

(c) Chiara Videsott

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Chiara Videsott: “The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

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