04 April 2013

A Mythological Kick to the Balls

If that title got your attention then you are likely a male or you're wondering the best way to hurt one.  In the latter case, I invite you to continue reading, but your mileage may vary.

I just got back from an evening with Sherman Alexie held in the intimate Beasley Coliseum with about a thousand of Alexie's closest friends that Professors assigned to him.  Honestly though, it was a riotously good time, and I'll always be grateful that my sister sent me.  In addition to winning both the PEN Faulkner and Hemingway awards (and National Book awards & c. & c.), Mr. Alexie is a gregarious public speaker and righteously irreverent.

The night began with an introduction dripping with jealousy, as is only befitting for such an accomplished author, then Sherman Alexie took the stage.  "Margot [the MC] has aged well.  Me?  Not so much, but that's okay, because I have money," and with those words all the bets I had placed on what this evening would be like were collected by the house - but I still won.  Alexie told stories about what it was like growing up rural and Indian poor, making fun of government issued food (including but not limited to "Canned Whole Chicken" - as the label so generously said, despite the fact that it was in fact IN a can and so redundant).  He did say that he missed the USDA cheese, however.  "My mother still sends me hunks of that cheese."
The kicker about his poor stories came about his dentist - you see, Indian Healthcare only authorizes once annual major oral surgery and Mr. Alexie had forty-two teeth.  I'll wait and let you count how many you have.  Spoiler alert: most people have 32.  So, Alexie had to have ten teeth pulled all in one day.  He did it in shifts, but that's not even the punchline.  The punchline was that this dentist believed that Indians only felt 50% of the pain that white people do.  Guess how much Novocaine he used?  Yup, 50%.  (Now we're getting to the title).  "I'm still waiting for him.  I'm a lot bigger now.  He'll say, 'Hi, remember me?  I was your dentist when you were a kid,' and I'll answer him with a kick to the crotch.  I'm not talking some small kick - I mean a BIG kick, a mythological kick.  Someday a grandmother will take her daughter up to the watchtower, climb the ladder to the tower, open the hatch, climb on the roof and point one  long finger. 'You see those two stars?'"  Alexie paused.  "I'll wait for you all to get it."  By this point most of the audience is howling with laughter like a pack of mad hyenas, then Alexie stage-whispers into the microphone, "Is he talking about balls?"
Much of the night carried on in a similar fashion, with Alexie demonstrating his mastery of brevity and the genius of leaving just enough unsaid.  As Oscar Wilde said, "Brevity is the Soul of Wit."  Alexie has plenty of soul.
Speaking of the soul, let's talk religion, because he certainly did.  "All creation myths are bullshit."  He went on to say how he went to a Catholic conference (being Catholic himself), and he listened to this woman give a beautiful discussion on reading the bible literally, specifically focused on the Garden of Eden.  An old Indian matriarch leaned over to Alexie and asked what he thought.  "Well, I think the Garden of Eden is beautiful; I'm not convinced but it sure sounds nice."
To which she replied, "It's bullshit.  You know how humans really came into the earth?  Lightning struck a log and the people walked out."
At this point in the story, Mr. Alexie gave the audience a knowing look.  "That's much more plausible."  Another rapture of laughter.  Then he talked about how we all came from Africa, walked across the Sinai peninsula, got a little lighter (brown skin like Osama bin Laden - let's pause here and consider that Jesus looked a lot more like bin Laden or Hussein than he did Brad Pitt) then moved across Russia and over the Bering Straight Land Bridge, "Indian's will say, 'That didn't exist!' Shut the fuck up, yes it did." So that's how people moved across the world with a lot of "Fuck you, I'm out of here"s in between.
The most enjoyable part of the whole evening was how it built on itself.  Alexie demonstrated his same mastery of storytelling by bringing back and adding depth and nuance to his previous statements.  He signed off with an incredibly moving statement.  "We survive you [white people] by storytelling.  We survive you by storytelling, and you love us for it."

Thanks for reading.  Now enough procrastinating, get back to your own stories.
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