Coyote on a Leash
I could tell you that I didn’t intend to sleep with Frosty that night. I’d be lying. Let’s face it – I saw a weak, frustrated man, I drank with him, I told him stories about travelers suffocated by pear blossoms, I got naked. I seduced about as well as anybody ever has.
Not to worry – my guilt was short-lived. I woke up on the floor of my Mitsubishi, the gray light of overcast seeping in through the windows. Thank God it wasn’t bright, because I had one helluva hangover. I undid my origami body to a Catholic kneel and scanned the windows. Not much doing at the Bel Canto. No one at Gilda’s yet. Good. A note taped to my steering wheel.
You already know what was in that note. Frosty was in love with Carlotta. A round of blotto boinking with the old flame was not about to change it. Frosty being Frosty, of course, he put it much more gracefully.
My mind had been sparking like a nuclear reactor since my boring lunch with George, but now I felt calm. And focused. I fired the engine and headed for the Waterfront. Once there, I slipped into a homey little coffeehouse for a change of clothing, a splash of water on my face, two Extra-Strength Tylenol and a double cappuccino.
Thus fortified, I drove to the entrance of Knickerbocker State Park, paid my day-use fee, and then left the Mitsubishi in the parking lot and took the old trail. As I neared Frosty’s campsite, I took a deer-trail through the bushes and ventured a peek, finding that Frosty and his car were both gone.
I raced back to the Mitsubishi and drove the narrow, looping road to the ranger’s cabin, finding that he, also, was gone. I parked in the road near Frosty’s secret entrance and snuck into the backyard, bringing along my lug wrench. The lock on the shed looked pretty sturdy, but I walked the perimeter and found the aluminum walls to be downright flimsy. I discovered a seam at the back where I could insert the chisel end of the lug wrench and pop the sheeting right over the rivets. After removing several along the bottom and a few up the seam, I took the corner with both hands and folded it back, creating a sort of tent-flap opening. God! I thought. I’m pretty good at this.
I quickly grabbed three white buckets marked B, W and G, and set them outside the shed. Then I noticed two yellow buckets and one black, so I took those, too. By the time I lugged all six down to the Mitsubishi, my muscles and joints were in full revolt. Still, I managed to give the on-duty ranger a smile and a wave on the way out.
I was tempted to pull over in Depoe Bay and revisit the Spouting Horns – especially when I spotted an Internet café just across the street. But I was on a mission from Frosted Glass Woman, so any delays were out of the question. I waited out a dozen stoplights down the long thoroughfare of Lincoln City, passing the Chinook Winds Indian Casino’s large billboard, boasting of Bobby Vinton.
A few miles north I saw a sign for Highway 18 to Portland, and decided it was time to escape the Pacific Ocean. A few miles past Otis, zippering through thick deciduous forests knifed off at the roadside like boxwood hedges, it finally occurred to me to ask my newly placid mind where the hell it was taking me.
I suppose my dogleg could be explained by Hessie’s gravitational pull. But I knew it wasn’t time to see her yet. Just then the woods to my right disappeared to reveal a soaring, broad-shouldered mountain, and at its base, what looked like a Silicon Valley shopping mall.
It turned out to be another Indian gambling joint, Spirit Mountain Casino, crouching in a small sea of parking lots. The casino was a pillow of terra cotta, wearing a headband of bright geometrics, like the patterns in Indian jewelry and the logos of high-tech corporations. I found myself entirely charmed, and fished around the parking lots until I found a space.
I wandered into the plush interior, relieved to know that not a single soul here gave an even-odds goddamn about my hovering spiritual predicaments. I purchased a two-dollar ticket and looked for the simplest nickel slot I could find. The winning candidate was a country and western number with payoffs for different cowboy combos: a double-x branding iron, a broncin’ buck, a white Stetson, snakeskin boots, etc. My plan was to kill an hour or two making pathetic little five-cent bets, but in my weary state I misfired, pressing the “Bet 40” button and somehow failing to hit on any of eight possible lines. Just like that, my two-dollar ticket was gone (Crazy Horse snickering in his grave).
Strolling through the surrounding slots, I noticed that almost everybody was tethered to their stations by little plastic curly-cords. I was dying of curiosity, so I queried an old guy wearing a navy squadron cap. He seemed pleased with the chance to explain something to a youngster.
“Coyote Cards,” he said. “They give bonus credits – the more you play, the more you get. The little wire is just so you don’t forget and leave it in a machine somewhere.”
I thanked him and moved on, thinking Cripes! (No, really - cripes.) You can’t put a coyote on a leash!
I moved on to the gift shop, where I saw a basket of used craps dice and playing cards that were drilled through the middle with small, clean circles. A redheaded girl with braces asked if she could help.
“These are sacred, you know,” I answered. “These are the tools of a wounded people, used in the service of their redemption.”
Oh God, I thought. I have become a crazy person.
The girl, who must have been used to weird people in casinos, smiled and said, “Yes, you’re right. I like that!”
Bless you and all your DNA, I thought. May you have many boyfriends who are terrific in bed and always bring extra condoms.
“I’ll take two decks and four dice,” I said. I was relieved to find that my thought balloons were not yet leaking into my speech balloons.
As she was handing me my change, Redhead Girl told me I could find other sacred items down the hall, where a gathering of native artisans were hawking their wares. I checked it out, but found their jewelry, ceramics and moccasins to be ruthlessly predictable. Exiting their meeting room, however, I found a grove of trees to my left. Suspecting hallucinations, I ventured over to inspect.
No, they were trees all right – genuine fake trees. It was a dark hallway, twenty feet wide, twenty feet high, forty feet long, between the casino and the lodge. A sign at the entrance read, Hall of Legends. The trees were lined up at either side, their trunks disappearing into a black ceiling spotted with stars. Behind the trees were realistic, woodsy murals, to the right a deepening forest, to the left a brook bordered by patches of snow. The dirt in the center was made over like a campground, peppered with fir needles and carefully set tracks of deer, raccoon and coyote. Hidden speakers played a soundtrack of crickets, breezes and coyote cries.
The only obvious man-made device was a light beam extending from the base of a cedar like some kind of security device. I was willing to bet that something would happen if I tripped that light, and I wasn’t disappointed. The thunder thundered. The lightning lightninged. Fortunately, the rain did not rain. A stern-looking Indian appeared on the trunk of the cedar – broad forehead, proud tomahawk nose, granite cheekbones – and commanded my attention with roaring baritone syllables.
“Come! Hear the stories of my people. Hear the legends that whisper in the land. Listen for the sounds of spirits in the forest.”
The face faded away, and I noticed that the bark underneath was formed into smooth echoes of his features. The crickety silence returned, then a second projector clicked on, conjuring a heavy-set native woman on the wall behind me. She set herself squarely on her feet and addressed her hidden audience, speaking in spare, clean syllables, telling how it was that Coyote, The Trickster, deceived the Frog People into liberating their hoard of water so that all the creatures of the forest could use it freely.
My next visitor was a tall, broad-shouldered man who appeared over the brook, his features sharper, more aquiline than the cedar man. He wore his hair in two long braids and held up his hands like a punter receiving a snap from center. Speaking between them, he told of Coyote’s love of the moon, how one time the moon tricked Coyote into allowing himself to be lifted into the night sky. The moon ignored Coyote’s pleas for release until he had traveled to the top of the heavens. When he finally let him go, the impact of the fall sent Coyote’s blood flowing upon the land in a great river. And that was why, ever since, the sons of Coyote would perch on the ridgelines and let out howls of anger and grief at the bright villain who murdered their father.
Just as the tall man was nearing the end of his story, poor Coyote dangling from the end of the crescent, two grandma types barged through the double doors from the lodge, chatting full-volume about someone’s fucking wedding in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I nearly slapped them silly, but I figured I’d best not exhibit any further signs of insanity. Curiosity eventually shushed them and drew them to a spot behind my shoulder. “My,” said one. “He’s quite handsome, isn’t he?”
I stayed for a couple more stories (How Coyote Created the Stars, Why Dogs Sniff Each Other), then wandered through the doors to the lodge, finding a long hallway painted the colors of autumn. The walls hosted a gallery of framed landscapes engraved with the shapes of leaves; and the carpet held the familiar patterns of Navajo blankets. At the end I found a lobby centered on an outcropping of boulders, a water fountain cutting between them to a pond littered with gamblers’ pennies. Standing guard at the pond was a bronze Coyote, nose to the wind, eyes slanted, one paw lifted, ready for flight. I placed a weary hand on his head, searching his keen metallic eyes for some sign, a lucky number, a hint of my direction. Then I went to the desk to check in.
I had a beautiful room at the southwest corner, its windows facing a high, barren hill and, just over its western shoulder, the casino’s namesake mountain. All right, I’m guessing, but it certainly looked like a Spirit Mountain, its peak rung about with clouds, dancing like ancestors at a pow-wow.
The furniture was made of bulky, rough-hewn wood, comforting and muscular. The blankets and covers were a continuation of the Navajo patterns in the carpeting, and the walls carried three more of those warm landscapes with the leaf-shaped etchings. All very homey, and if that didn’t work, there was a huge grandfather spirit of a television with all kinds of premiere movies (including a soft-porn channel, which the bellhop, a toothy redhead kid, seemed a bit too eager to point out).
Fending off a combination of paranoia and fatigue, I brought in the buckets one at a time, at random intervals (I didn’t want anyone thinking I was running a meth lab). On a jaunt to the nearby town of Sheridan, I found a hardware store with lots of tile grout and a furniture store with several glass tabletops.
Over the course of the following days I dove into my work, taking time-outs for meals in Coyote’s Buffet, five-dollar slot sprees and visits to the Hall of Legends, where I lifted my eyes to my spirit fathers and mothers and learned their dozen stories by heart (including How Coyote Built Willamette Falls, which inspired the sculpture in the lobby). And yeah, you’ve probably figured this out by now, but Coyote was exactly the guy I was in love with: the Trickster, the Man of Glass, transparent and evasive as ever.
My creative visions flew in all directions. I began with the primary colors, exploring different patterns and groupings. For the first of these, I got very precise, using blue painter’s tape to divide a circle of glass into three stripes, then taping it across the middle to give myself six sections. I filled the center stripe with nothing but white. I did the top left section all in green, then covered the section below in a rough checkerboard of green and white. I did the same to the stripe on the right, only with brown instead of green. The results were pleasingly symmetrical but not overly so, as the randomness of the material guaranteed a certain organic-ness.
For my next piece I spun a large green spiral, its emerald gyres cut off by the table’s square edges. With this one, the thrill was all in the beginning; filling in the remaining spaces with a mottle of white and brown was much less exciting. The effect of the whole, however, was quite satisfying, in a primitive, unified sort of way.
I jumped from this into something more evasive, marking off an oval table with cave-drawing figures – antelopes, sea lions, coyotes, poodles – then scattering the letters S-A-N-D-R-I-N-A among them. I filled in the remaining spaces by complete chance, effectively turning my symbols into subliminal rebels. A person could own this mosaic for years before discovering its menagerie, and I expected the letters would forever remain a mystery.
With my artistic bravado mounting (and my flat pieces dwindling), I abandoned functionality for form, selecting a long, narrow rectangle for the crags, nuggets, corners and bottle-threads I had previously set aside. The end-product carried two elements I adored: the added dimension of contour, and the unmistakable Bronx attitude of “Hey! Don’t put your glass down here. I’m a fuckin’ piece of art, okay?” It also gave me an almost sexual thrill when I ran my hands over its Badlands surface.
Finally, after six days of frenetic creativity, I unloosed the yellow buckets. The first contained nothing but pastels – clear pieces with the faintest hints of blue, green and purple. The approach here seemed pretty obvious: simply place the pieces and let their subtle variations dance the rumba. I chose a square tabletop framed in straw-colored wicker, giving it a nice Caribbean vibe.
The second yellow bucket surprised me, because it didn’t contain glass at all. What it held were sea-worn fragments of brick and porcelain, likely gathered at Glass Beach. This spoke to me of great artistic possibilities, so I set it aside and waited for some wild inspiration.
I had already recalled what lay in the black bucket, but the sight still lifted me out of my shoes: a whole U.S. Mint of the rare and lovely blue. This demanded no ingenuity at all – the beauty being right there in the raw materials – but it did demand patience. Being cobalt, the pieces were all rather tiny, and the smallest of my two remaining tabletops – a smoked circle with beveled edges – was still rather large. The placement of the pieces alone took two days, and the grouting was sheer hell, necessitating dozens of passes with the sponge in order to fill in all those little nooks and crevices. By the time I finished the buffing, my back was killing me, but the pain lessened immensely when I held the finished product to the sunlight. It looked like the entire left eye of Frosted Glass Woman.
I rewarded myself with a long breakfast at the Legends Restaurant and a thorough reading of the Portland Oregonian. I was drifting by the gift shop afterward when I saw the Redhead Girl, Sylvie, refilling the sales-basket with craps dice. Red dice, white spots – Sh-boom! There was my inspiration. I bought all the dice she had and headed back to my studio.
I taped off the back of my last tabletop – a grand Thanksgiving-dinner oval – dividing it into four neat sections. At the center of each section I applied an ace from my deck of holy playing cards. Over these I glued a ten-by-ten square of craps dice, paying no particular mind to their numbers. Toward the center of the table, however, I used DNA groupings of dice to count out my home phone number, my high-school locker combination, my best-ever bowling score, and the exact date and address of my deflowering.
I marked off the circumference of the oval with an inch-wide band of porcelain, then a two-inch band of brick, then another band of porcelain. I peppered the remaining surface with an even spray of red and white. As you might have imagined, the end results were fabulous. I celebrated by entering the Hall of Legends just in time for my favorite story, Coyote plummeting the cobalt sky to pour out his brick-red blood on the hard Earth.
And my time was up. I drove to a drug store in Willamina and made my purchase. For something so monumental, the device was alarmingly simple, sort of a magic wand with a tip of stiff, absorbent material like the filter on a cigarette. All you do is squat over the toilet, hold the tip in your urine stream for five seconds, then watch the little windows – a small circle and a slightly larger square, cut into the white plastic handle.
Step 2 of the instructions tells you that a little blue line will appear across the circle to signify that the test is working. Which it did. Step 3 says that if a second blue line appears, this one across the square, that means that you’re pregnant.
Which it did. And I was. And it was time to go see Hessie.
Photo by MJV