Fire Bush. Dark, but no Indian. Surely. Obvious. Called himself Indian, claimed “The Assistants” were Indians too.
The Assistants: Chicken Killer, elderly in denim; floppy hat pierced with an old, dusty feather; weathered skin; faded illegible tattoos.
White Buffalo Woman, or “Buffalo Gal,” almost young and almost beautiful; white suede dress and moccasins; hip-length black hair; weary eyes.
The two (Missing?) Young; seventeen and sixteen; male and female; Smashed Deer and Fidelity Desire.
Smashed Deer parked the trailer, joined the others to work The Park. “Ceremony of Love.” Lecture and Lunch. Congregation on The Green.
Smashed Deer not of The Missing Young. All of this for her: Fidelity Desire, high school love-dream. Fidelity Desire his completion: stark, sharp, love-bloom beauty. Smashed Deer had been an “A” student, no history of “deviant” behavior. But then. Then. Fierce, profound love for the girl he’d never, never in the “real world” of The Nation. School and college. Jobs. All that would wedge between absolute Smashed Deer and Fidelity.
Fire Bush. Gaunt, cadaverous. Old black suit. Harangued the gathering of homeless, derelicts, casual spectators and Missing Young. Hungry, fidgeting “Viral Deviants” (VDs) waited for food. Lecture/meeting first was the rule. Listen then lunge.
“I speak of the Indian way and of The Nation that robbed us of our heritage, our Mother Earth, The Nation that chokes on its own black fumes. The Indian way is the way of nature and The Plant. Not the pill, The Plant,” Fire Bush said.
Fire Bush, once professor of ethno-botany at The University, had traveled the world to study plant use in tribal cultures.
Herbs, foods, medicines.
“The way of The Nation is the way of the world. Big Chemistry and Big Pharma hire researchers to study plants that they may exploit specific properties. Not accept The Plant as a living, life-giving whole, a treasure of phyto-chemicals, but grind down as yet another ‘raw material’ to be stripped, mined, ‘refined,’ wasted. For profit. ‘Whose?’ I ask you. Whose?”
“The Nation is a factory, a death machine. It is dirty. Smoke stifles us all. Many have fled the contrived chaos of The Nation, choosing alternative paths.”
“Be strong. Your independence from The Nation is a loud declaration of freedom. One day soon the day of reckoning will come and we will return to the old way, the Indian way.”
Fire Bush ranted for some time. Chicken Killer, White Buffalo Woman, and the two Young, brought food drinks pamphlets printed on rough, recycled paper — to the hungry crowd, restless crowd, yearning-for-free-lunch crowd. Free “Genuine Indian” lunch.
After his first screed, Fire Bush exhorted listeners, many drunk or stoned, to respect the few plants left in The City. Plants, bounty of the “Maker of All Things,” running scant, like all living creatures in The Nation, save its rapacious Citizens.
Began to wonder was this some kind of Topiary Techniques publicity stunt dreamed up by Victor?
“Now we will sit to a Genuine Indian meal,” declared Fire Bush.
The “Genuine Indian meal” consisted of sardines, salad and some sort of meatless stew. Fire Bush’s Assistants ladled food on to paper plates. Indian rations. Watery juice. Half the crowd went away, stomachs teased not sated. A few, mostly Missing Young, stayed. Sat cross-legged, “Indian-style,” like they’d learned in Kindergarten. Ate on blankets The Assistants spread on dead, brown City grass. Fire Bush spoke of his travels.
Knowledge of herbs and medicines passed down orally through ancient tribes. Essential cultures. “Indian” healing. Journeys out West.
Me, BEING, The Bakery Girl and her friend, Eye of The City, a journalist.
“His real name is Greenman.” Eye said. “Supposedly, he was a professor of ethno-botany at The University. He was in the jungles down South on a research grant. Took some funky drugs. Blew out his mind, I suppose.”
We sat cross-legged like kids, ate with the rest of the audience. Viral Deviants, homeless, “derelicts,” kids. BEING anxious to leave.
“Do we know what’s in this food?” asked BEING. “I mean, really. Do we know what’s in this? We could end up wearing feather bonnets and riding around in that ratty old trailer.”
“Too much weirdness for BEING in the park today,” said Eye.
“I’ve seen this guy before,” The Bakery Girl reassured. “I’ve sold bread to him.”
Eye wrote the eponymous “Eye of The City” column for The City Free Press. Story on Fire Bush’s weekly “conventions” in The City’s parks. He introduced himself to Fire Bush, then tossed questions.
What was his mission and why was he doing what he was doing and whatever and what not. Fire Bush answered politely. Then grew testy, especially regarding his work at The University and with indigenous healing plants and psychotropic herbs Out West. Eye pushed too personal about his previous. Asked to photograph him. Fire Bush refused. Against his “religion.” Eye asked what kind of Indian, what tribe.
Fire Bush said “We are all of one tribe, the tribe of humanity.”
Yadda yadda yadda; blah-blah-blah, bleh-bleh-bleh.
More back-and-forth. Fire Bush disappeared into the trailer.
Eye opined he was a crank.
“Gee, you think?” sardonic BEING.
Chicken Killer and Buffalo Gal proffered deep hats. Begged donations for the work of Fire Bush. His speeches and writings for sale. Books, pamphlets, discs. No buyers.
“He does much better in the Big Park. Rich people and tourists and all that,” said Eye.
BEING left. Eye and The Bakery Girl followed.
I knocked on the trailer. Fire Bush poked his head out the window.
“I’m Plantman,” I said. “I water plants. I care for them.”
“Then you are like an Indian,” Fire Bush said kindly. “You follow The Way.”
“I don’t want to be ‘like’ an Indian, I want to be one.”
“You cannot be a real Indian in The City of boxes. Only ghosts, miserable, angry ghosts exist in stacks and stacks of boxes.”
“Then what? What then?”
“The Tree of Life,” Fire Bush said. “The Plantman must tend the Tree of Life.”
“Where?” I asked.
“Out in The Nation. West, perhaps,” he smiled sly.
“What does it look like?”
“When you find it, you will know it. You will say ‘Ah Ha!’”
The Assistants rolled up the blankets, cleaned and disposed of the mess their “congregants” had left behind. Packed the trailer. Drove away.
Fire Bush seemed harmless enough. Worse a man could do than play Indian and dish out food to VDs, poor people and Missing Young. Plenty worse. But more than all that, it seemed (if “be be finale of seem”). Possibly, possibly I was “Indian” like him. Why not?
One big tribe all our illusions.