THE GINGER MAN
“Brown” people have come to be a kind of category of people indicated by their general skin color, which might not be technically so brown. Roughly they tend to be indigenous people, from America, Asia, or maybe Australia — free from the white Euro pattern, particularly that for men. Their relationship to women, in particular, tends to be different from that of white men. But not like the African black man. (This is all fanciful and not particularly related to any surveys, statistics, or whatever — kind of literary.) I’ll let this part go until later.
For now I’ll set up a new category: “ginger” men from the redhead countries: Ireland, Scotland, the Nordics. Oh, there are “ginger” women, too. And a whole new set of relationships based on the runaway man, often one who goes to sea. So in terms of gender roles, women must “stay put,” maybe under hardship conditions like a stone croft dependent on oats or potatoes or small domestic animals like chickens or goats — high labor necessary for survival — often using the herbal crafts and the nature-weaving of trees and standing stones, the stories of storm and sea.
But in terms of gingermen, they must be a hardy lot capable of aggression and drive, charismatic enough to secure the faithfulness of resourceful women and protective enough to return to her and her children. They are sometimes impossible men — going against the larger society for reasons of their own and resorting to physical violence when trapped, though hopefully not violent with their intimates. And oh so vulnerable to alcohol, the dreaming, the dissociation of it, the narcotic temporary relief of pain.
This is the material of song and story — usually with a tragic end. Added to a seafarer’s personality (I have sea captains on both sides of my genealogy) is the 18th century revolution of the Ulster men that reinforced stubbornness, resistance to imperiums and authorities, bands of acid-based men ready for revolution, rationalism and enlightenment, idealism, subterfuge — their backs against the wall.
I’m not talking about a cookie. Not “genderman” who combines the binaries, but the kind of person supposedly portrayed by John Wayne in “The Quiet Man,” which was directed by John Ford with echoes of John Huston. This is the post-WWII man, a man who can’t “stand down,” not just because of himself but also because of the society. I’m saying that elements of society push ginger men into behavior and attitudes possibly described as PTSD. The kind of man it’s pretty tough to stay married to. And yet that’s what some of us want: to become beloved by an impossible genius fighting injustice. Then maybe it becomes a relief that they are often gone. Maybe such a woman is culturally more male than mama.
SHORTGRASS PORT OF ENTRY
There had been an explosion at the Shortgrass Port of Entry which was the only 24 hour port along the US/Canada border for a hundred miles. The port had been closed until things could be sorted out. It was winter and no one wanted to get off the big artery highways, so there was a pile-up of people at the big truck stop. It doesn’t matter which side of the border the truck stop was on. The land and the culture were pretty much the same on both sides. The 49th parallel is an entirely arbitrary surveyed, treaty-agreed lines. The differences have grown up in the century or so since it was stipulated, because as soon as you draw a line, you create a gradient of some kind and that means things pile up on one side or the other.
She was a free-lance writer, just kind of bumping around looking for stories: Indians, frakking, pipelines — something that would get an editor excited. She stood sipping coffee in the truck stop, wondering whether this port closure would amount to a story. Maybe it was just a gas leak; maybe it was a bomb. No one knew anything so far. Her eye caught on a big handsome red-headed man with a wallet chained to his belt. He was at the trucker’s window and she knew he was arranging the paperwork for a tank of gas on an eighteen-wheeler, undoubtedly going into Canada. No cash changed hands for the hundreds of dollars necessary and all transactions were confirmed on the spot with the company, checking even their credit with a bank. He had photo ID, signed papers, kidded with the cashier.
He realized she was watching him. They struck up conversation. There was a cafe connected to the truck stop and though there were a lot of people milling around, it wasn’t meal time and most guys had gone back out to their trucks to catch some sleep. They found a booth out of the way where they could explore each other’s worlds. It was more intimate than sex.
THE SHAMAN’S WIFE
He was at it again, bamboozling the white men. They came to the little house, hardly more than a hut, where it was dark and stunk of strange vegetable and animal twisted objects in baskets and old cardboard boxes. She hated it, but there was no choice except to leave and she was afraid to do that. As much as he faked magic for the napikwans, he was convinced that he could work real spells when he wanted to. Yet for all his magic, he didn’t seem to understand how she felt. In fact, he didn’t really acknowledge her at all — she was just a shadow to him.
At least when it finally started to warm up it wasn’t so miserable to be cooking up the concoctions he wanted her to make. They were mildly toxic, which is why they worked — the same way alcohol worked. Not local herbs but nasty knobby things he got in the mail. No wonder the place stunk so bad. She tried to cook them outside on a little broken cast iron stove she found at the dump.
Where did the visitors even find out about her husband? There were no ads in newspapers or tacked up at the post office. She didn’t really care anyway. She tried not to think about anything — just do her work, sleep, do more work. Rolled up in corner behind some boxes, she kept the work she did when he briefly left for some reason. Man stuff, she supposed. He didn’t tell her and she didn’t ask.
The work she did secretly was beading a vest for her daughter from a previous marriage. That man had treated her a lot better but he drank too much and a pickup ran over him. The vest was yellow with scarlet flowers and turquoise blue leaves. The daughter was a teenager now and very pretty. She stayed away from her mother because that’s what her mother wanted. But there was more to it than that. Neither of the women ever mentioned it. Naturally, the old wizard didn’t either. His was not white magic — it was evil.
It was so easy to seduce white women — sometimes even white men if they were older than adolescents — because they were already in love with the idea of him, projecting an aura of raven feathers and ochre paint, nobleness and equestrian skill. Native American women were a little harder, shrewder, trying to decide whether he would get and keep a job or get and keep relationships. Native men? Forget it. But it was fun to laugh with them. There were a few to avoid.
He liked to go to gatherings — any kind — like school events, ball games, the tribal college conferences, town meetings, even just the library where there were mostly kids hanging around, some intent on the computer screens and others just pausing in their wandering. But then he realized that the librarian was watching him. He would never hit on kids — sometimes they hit on him, but he always turned them away, turned them off. He knew what they were after: neither money nor anything else. They wanted love, enfolding, safety — he remembered but he was not about to give to anyone else what he had never had himself. It was unclear why he went to gatherings since he never seemed to talk to anyone. Sometimes a head nod to someone he knew.
The librarian was older, white, probably over-educated for this job in a little county library on a rez. Her hair was frizzy and always escaping control. When she dealt with one of the kids, she looked into their eyes and got close to them, but never held onto them. Her coffee mug was always close at hand. She never shushed anyone, but somehow things never got that noisy anyway.