The following piece was presented at Jersey City Writers’ literary event – Blackout! A Night of Memoirs. Please enjoy.
“And if they don’t like it”—Rocko would punch his hand—“I’ll hit ’em on the head with my war club.” Rocko was a Penobscot Indian. This was his stated solution to most problems. “Most problems are caused by white people–No offense—and most problems can really be settled pretty simply.” He punched his hand.
I met Rocko at a demonstration against logging over a Penobscot burial ground. He had stalked away from a group of American Indian Movement badasses and stuck an enormous finger in my face.
“Why are you here?”
“Because I hate it when people get screwed.”
The next day I had my cassettes spread out on a blanket. Rocko came over. He was gnawing a cheese sandwich.
I squinted at the label. “‘Giant Steps.’”
“Jesus Christ, you’re selling your Coltrane?”
“Boy’s gotta eat.”
He handed me the sandwich.
We spent the summer driving from demonstration to demonstration. At Plymouth Rock on Thanksgiving Day state troopers tear-gassed us. Rocko told a trooper he was coming back with his war club. The troopers held Rocko’s eyes open and pepper-sprayed them. “White people!” Rocko screamed, “Fucking white people!”
Rocko knew a lot of radicals from the American Indian Movement. When he introduced me they would always say, “Beware Rocko’s war club.” Some of them didn’t laugh when they said it.
“Want to go to an island party? My sister invited us.”
“Barbeque. Guitars. Hairy-legged hippie chicks.”
“No! You white people–No offense–and your fucking liquor.”
“Can I borrow Salmon?” Salmon was Rocko’s prized birch-bark canoe. It had taken him two summers to build.
“Fuck no.” He paused, then poked a finger at my face. “If anything happens …”
The beer was long gone, the tequila longer, and the fire a dim glow when the last kid playing–besides me—dropped his pick and passed out, mid-solo. A thick cloud of second-hand cannabis smoke stung my nose. When I stood, my head rose up so much faster than my body I had to hug it back into place. I steadied myself, stowed my guitar, and headed for the beach. All the tents were pitched on another island.
Oh shit. The beach was empty. Oh shit. I pictured Rocko scowling. Oh SHIT!
Maybe Salmon had just drifted away, not too far. Maybe a gust had tugged it loose from the beach.
I stumbled along the shore, clapped my hands. “Salmon! Where are you?” The tequila pickle between my ears rammed my forehead with each step. “Salmon!”
I found a little rowboat stashed in some brush. It contained a half-flattened Maxwell House can–for bailing, I assumed–and one long oar.
The boat wobbled and tipped as I poled it along the shore.
A breeze kicked up and pushed me away from the island. I tried rowing with one oar, skittered left-right left-right like a water bug, sat down to think.
When I opened my eyes rain was pelting me like rocks thrown up from a truck tire. Four inches of water sloshed the boat, my face held above it by the coffee can. BAM! The lightning blinded me. Another flash-BOOM! I grabbed the oar and tried to paddle.
Another flash of lightning revealed a canoe speeding toward me. Rocko’s grizzly-bear arms had the bow skimming the waves like a hydrofoil.
“Rocko! Over here!”
Rocko glared at me. He lifted his paddle over his head. A fist-sized stone was lashed to the end of the blade. He screamed like a wildcat.
I hoed madly at the water, swung the boat around. Another flash showed Rocko standing tall in the bow, his war club raised like a harpoon, the stone glowing, lightning blue.
My little boat crunched against the gravelly beach and threw me out. I ran for the trees. A burst of lightning revealed my tent.
“No, Rocko! No!”
I dove into my tent, thrashed and kicked at the doorway.
“Go away! Go away!”
The tent collapsed.
I woke up to a sharp, throbbing pain in my ribs.
My sister smiled down at me. “Get your ass up.”
“Quit kicking me.”
“Nice canoe you got there.” I couldn’t remember this boyfriend’s name. “We took her for a spin last night.”
I clawed my way out of the nylon.
At the beach Rocko was bent over Salmon rummaging through my gear. “You seen my axe?”
“You mean your war club? Didn’t you have it last night?”
Rocko gave me a quizzical look, then scowled, then shrugged. “Not that good of an axe, anyway.”
“Seemed like a good axe to me.”
“It looked like a pretty good axe to me.”
“Rusty piece of junk.”
“It seemed like a pretty good axe to me.”