Monday, March 26, 2012

Reservation Blues Cont.

The "Alexie Sandwich" continued.

The sad-funny-sad sandwich.
"'Are you a Christian, Thomas?'
'No. Not really.'
'Are these two Christian?'
'Junior and Victor? No way. All they know about religion they saw in Dances with Wolves.'
'Do you pray?' Chess asked but wasn't sure what she wanted to hear. Of course Thomas prayed. Everybody prayed; everybody lied about it. Even atheists prayed on airplanes and bingo nights.
'Yeah I pray,' Thomas said and made the sign of the cross." (145-146)
This sandwich has extra meat in it. Alexie introduces the bread through Chess asking Thomas to join her and Checkers on Sunday for church service. Thomas has bad memories in church, and is skeptical about going. Alexie then smooshes two pieces of freshly sliced jokes inbetween Thomas's skepticism. One joke pokes fun at Victor and Junior, while making a reference to culture. White people learn through the cinema, and red people are no different. The next joke is aimed at atheists. The funniest thing I found about this joke was its truthfulness. Everybody prays; especailly in dangerous or potentially prospective situations. These jokes lighten the mood of the irony of Indians being Christianized willingly, because it was once forced upon them.

The funny-sad-funny sandwich.
"He even called a few companies in Seattle, like Sub Pop. Sub Pop discovered Nirvana and a lot of other bands, but they never returned Thomas's phone calls. They just mailed form rejections. Black letters on white paper, just like commodity cans. U.S.D.A. PORK. SORRY WE ARE UNABLE TO USE THIS. JUST ADD WATER. WE DON'T LISTEN TO UNSOLICITED DEMOS. POWDERED MILK. THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST. HEAT AND SERVE.
The taverns refused to hire Coyote Springs." (187)
Thomas is desperately trying to get his band, Coyote Springs, a gig, but doesn't seem to have any luck. The fact that a pre-typed rejection note is mailed from a famous record company is comical, but the fact that the note reminds Thomas of commodity food is not. Even the mixed rejection note can be confused with the food labels. "SORRY WE ARE UNABLE TO USE THIS," could be a response to the people handing out the commodities at the beginning of the month; because the commodity food is usually disgusting and artificial. Finally, Alexie relieves us of this sad realization by saying that not even Indians wanted to hire the traditional Indian band.

"'Victor,' Thomas said, "I brought an eagle feather for protection. You can have it.'
'Get that Indian bullshit away from me!'
The crowd at the gate stared at Coyote Springs. They worried those loud dark-skinned people might be hijackers. Coyote Springs did their best not to look middle eastern.
'That ain't going to do nothing,' Victor continued, in a lower volume. 'It's just a feather. Hell, it fell off some damn eagle, so it obviously wasn't working, enit?'
Victor was being as logical as a white man." (218)
Victor is afraid of flying and hilariously rejects his own religion in the middle of the airport at full volume. Because of Victor's public display, racisim rapidly spoils inbetween the bread. At airports across America, before but mostly after 9-11, every dark-skinned person has had to be humiliated in the security line. Alexie is guddesting that white people are suceptable to stereotypes, and he is also suggesting the Indian band is among a large group of whites. Luckily the reader is finally returned to the jokes of Victor who rationalized his mistrust for the eagle feather. Unfortunately, Victor is compared to a white man due to his rationalization. This sandwich leaves a moldy aftertaste even though the bread was good.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Reservation Blues

With this story of a classic nature I will continue my research on the "Alexie Sandwich." The story of Reservation Blues is a continuation of Robert Johnson. Johnson is traveling the road by foot when he comes across a crossroad on the reservation. He is trying to earn his soul back, and loses his cursed guitar in the process. Thomas Builds-the-Fire picks it up and forms an all Indian band to change the world.

In Reservation Blues, I found mostly sad-funny-sad sandwiches, which should come as no surprise, considering the book is titled Reservation BLUES, but i did manage to find one funny-sad-funny story.

The two most powerful sad-funny-sad sandwiches I found made me think very deeply.
The first of which made me depressed because if the story is true, Native Americans are not receiving the medical care they need. When Johnson happens upon the reservation, his hands are badly hurt, and Thomas wants to help him.
"Thomas wanted to take Johnson to the Indian Health Service Clinic, for a checkup and the exact diagnosis of his illness, but he knew that wouldn't work. Indian Health only gave out dental floss and condoms, and Thomas spent his whole life trying to figure out the connection between the two. More than anything, he wanted a story to heal the wounds, but he knew that his stories never healed anything." (6)

The Indian Health Service Clinic is uninvolved in reservation life, which is horrible because that is the only care some Indians have access to. But, Alexie makes a joke about the connection between condoms and dental floss, which adds to his point; why is medical service on the reservation so poor? Then Alexie brings us back down with a sad excerpt about stories not healing wounds, no matter how much you wanted them too. Plus, stories is all Thomas has most days. This was seriously upsetting.
The other sandwich is a jab at religion, and how even though Christianity was forced upon Indians, they still believe in God.
"The sisters walked to the church, which was one of those simple buildings, four walls, a door, a crucifix, and twenty folding chairs. Those folding chairs were multidimensional. Set them up facing the front, and they serve as pews. Circle them around a teacher in the middle, and you have Sunday School. Push them up to card tables, and you feasted on donated food. Fold those chairs, stack them in a corner, and you cleared a dance space. Folding chairs proved the existence of God." (105-106)
Poverty is the bread to this sandwich, and the proof is the church building. The only difference between this building and any other building on the res is the crucifix. Alexie makes jokes about this with the folding chairs. The folding chairs prove the building's many uses and poor funding because the building has to have so many uses. Even through all this, Alexie brings us back to God on a slightly sarcastic note, but I read it as the existence of God must be real, because look how we live; we have survived.

Finally, I came across a funny-sad-funny sandwich. It is about the day's events for Checkers, the youngest flat-head sister. Victor has pissed her off and they got into a fistfight. Shortly after, the band left without her so she could cool off, and she describes what she will do for the day.
"Checkers waved goodbye as the blue van pulled onto the reservation highway. She waved at Chess with most of her hand, saved a little for Thomas, and maybe a bit for Junior. She excluded Victor from her wave.
'What are you going to do this weekend?' Chess had asked her sister before she climbed into the van.
'I think I'll go to church. It's been a while.'
Father Arnold was the priest down there. She had read his name on the greeting board when she walked by the church. Father Arnold. She wondered about Father Arnold's favorite song." (127)
What a way to start off an impossible joke. How ridiculous! You can't exclude someone from a wave! Still, the concept is hilarious because it is so ridiculous. To understand the next serious part, you have to know Checker's character. She is into older Indian men who she feels like can save her, therefore she has fallen in love with many priests throughout her childhood. So, it is good she is going to church because she is a good singer, and singing is like therapy to Checkers, but the ending is mysterious. Checkers is walking into church with the intention of seducing the priest, or at least flirting with him. Thus, the last two sentences are comical. "Father Arnold. She wondered about Father Arnold's favorite song." Checkers uses Father Arnold as his own sentence, pondering him. Then she devises a plan to immediately get on his good side.

Monday, March 12, 2012

One Stick Song

The beginning of the "Alexie Sandwich." The "Alexie Sandwich" is a term i have coined to Sherman Alexie's stories and poetry when he makes a point. It is almost like telling a joke. First, he explains a funny situation, then he hits you with a punch of serious emotion, then he finishes with a light punch-line. Or the situation is reversible; either way, you get punched.

Two perfect examples of these "Sandwiches" are from the long narrative story, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me.

First is a sad-funny-sad story.
"When I step into the house, my mother is sewing yet another quilt. She is singing a song under her breath. You might assume she is singing a highly traditional Spokane Indian song. In fact, she is singing Donna Fargo's 'The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA.' Improbably, this is a highly traditional Spokane Indian song. The living room is dark in the late afternoon. The house is cold. My mother is wearing her coat and shoes."
The song his mother sings is about a girl who is so lucky to be married to a wonderful husband. This song is both funny and ironic because Alexie sets us up with "highly traditional Spokane Indian song." We are introduced to a scene where his mother quietly and sadly sings another song, then we learn what that song actually was, then Alexie brings us back to reality in the cold house of his mother where she must sew quilts to pay the electric bill and feed her children. The song is also ironic because Alexie's father constantly left the family to drink himself away. Sherman has always been upset about this and often writes poetry about drunk fathers, but his stories are sometimes taken too far.

This brings us to the funny-sad-funny story.
"Years later, I am giving a reading at a bookstore in Spokane, Washington. There is a large crowd. I read a story about an Indian father who leaves his family for good. He moves to a city a thousand miles away. Then he dies. It is a sad story. When I finish, a woman in the front row breaks into tears.
'What's wrong?' I ask her.
'I'm so sorry about your father,' she says.
'Thank you,' I say, 'But that's my father sitting right next to you.'"
Alexie sets us up with a sad story about an Indian father, which is probably a common situation even though Sherman made it up. The woman cries and apologizes, and Alexie says "Thank you." To me, this means Alexie does indeed hold his father responsible for his childhood. Finally, the last line unchokes our throats that were previously tight from crying, and gives us a good laugh with an awkward situation.

As readers, we are both sympathetic and empathetic to the stories we read. Our reactions are predetermined by the author, maybe even controlled, but depending on our own personalities and situations, we perceive stories differently. For this reason, I seriously respect the presentation of Alexie's stories. When I feel something while reading his work, I have this strange acknowledgement that Sherman meant for that specific emotion. It is almost like he takes in important factors such as color, guilt, suppression, and haunted pasts into his mechanics of poetry.
I will explore these "Sandwiches" further in more of Alexie's works.