Adventures of Me & Joe: The Indian Chief|
By Bob Cram
Amanda Cloture slammed a well-manicured hand down on the tabletop. The silverware jumped. I jumped. Joe sipped delicately at his coffee.
“You have to do it!”
“No, Senator,” Joe said mildly, between sips. “We don’t have to do anything.”
“All right, all right,” Amanda sat back in her chair. Around the dining room of the Five N’ Diner the breakfast crowd, startled by her sudden outburst, turned back to their meals.
“But will you do it as a favor to me? All I want you to do is provide transportation for the producer and cameraman for a few days. After that, we’ll have additional support up here and you can go back to…” She lifted an eyebrow, “…whatever it is you do.” The attitude that had brought her success in the state senate was wasted on Joe. He looked at her thoughtfully.
“What I don’t understand is, why Tom Bear?”
“Well, the production company approached me with the idea and, since I have connections in a wide range of legislative departments, I told them I’d see what I could do. This will be a great opportunity for northern Maine. Just think of it; a new reality television show with the star being an actual Native American. I mean, it’ll be like Northwoods Law, but with an Indian slant.”
“They’d orta call that show ‘Southwoods Law’, although I guess they did git north of Bangor once or twice.”
“Anyway, I talked to Harold Streams, the tribal representative at the legislature, and he recommended Tom Bear. Said he was staying in the north woods somewhere near here on some sort of spiritual retreat. Everybody says you know Tom Bear pretty well.”
Joe nodded. “Well enough ter be surprised he’d go along with somethin’ like this.”
“Oh, he agreed right off the bat. Now what about it? Will you lend a hand?”
Joe glanced at me and I nodded slowly. He sighed. “Alright, Senator. Where and when?”
“This afternoon. Pick up the producer, the cameraman, and me in front of the emporium as soon as you can.”
“You?” Joe frowned.
“Sure, me! You don’t really think I’m gonna sit at home when there’s a television camera around, do you?” She shot us each a smile, dropped a few bills on the table for her coffee, and hurried out the door.
I looked at Joe and he grinned. “Busy, ain’t she?” he said. That put it mildly. Amanda Cloture made frequent and exhausting trips between the legislature in Augusta and her modest home at Clayton Lake. She spent long days traveling around her district, visiting all the remote hamlets in the Allagash at regular intervals. If anything, she was a little too dedicated to the legislative process, and her penchant for oddball causes was well known. She had sponsored the American Reality Network’s idea of a show about a Maine Indian’s life in the north woods from the first. The production company was already here, staying in the Northern Myths Hotel on Main Street in Mooseleuk.
A few minutes later we pulled up in front of the hotel in my battered old Bronco. We’d decided not to try and fit five people into Joe’s little Jeep. Amanda introduced us to the producer, Harold Pitch, and the cameraman, Lou Focus, while Focus busied himself piling gear into the rear of the vehicle. Finally, we all piled in and I drove out of town heading north.
Harold Pitch kept up a constant stream of conversation, seemingly without the need for input from anyone else.
“We’re setting up at this Hemlock Lake place, where Chief Bear has his camp.”
“Chief Bear?” I asked innocently.
“Yes, the Chief has set up a traditional Native American camping place on the shore and we will start filming there. Our director, Milton Cinema, is already on sight, setting things up with Chief Bear.” Pitch warmed to his subject.
“This is going to make a great series! If we get enough episodes in the can, we’ll be introducing it just before the fall sweeps. Our projections are, it’ll take off like wildfire. Reality shows are all the rage right now, and a show that features a Native American in the lead roll, showing how his people have lived in the wilderness for eons, will resonate with a broad audience. It simply can’t lose.”
“And Tom Bear is going to be doing all this?” Joe said.
“He’s just the man for the roll,” Pitch replied. “Tall, well-built, with that far-reaching look in his eyes. Why, the name of Chief Tom Bear will be on every tongue in the nation by Christmas!”
We pulled in to the boat launch at Hemlock Lake and unloaded the Bronco. Harold Pitch led the way north along the shoreline on a path marked with orange flagging tape. In a few hundred yards, we came to a small clearing by the water.
To one side, a brush shelter hugged the edge of the trees. In front of it, the makings of a campfire were stacked in a small fire pit surrounded by stones. Near the pit, Tom Bear, stood, dressed in worn leather pants with a fringe along the seam. A beaded leather vest with tassels covered his torso. His shaggy mane of hair was held back from his bronzed face with a colorful band that crossed his forehead just above the eyebrows. He was about 22 years old and seemed the epitome of a stalwart Indian brave.
The director, a small, reed-thin man with coppery hair and glasses, came hurrying toward us. “There you are! Good! Let’s get the camera set up. The Chief is about to start a fire and we want to get the process on film. You all know the Chief?”
We all nodded and Joe muttered “Doctor, lawyer…” Tom Bear flushed under the tan and Joe continued, “Chief. I talked to your father a couple of weeks ago.”
Tom Bear looked a little uncertain, and said “uh…that good,” but Milton Cinema interrupted. “We’ve got the camera all set up. Now, Chief, if you could just show us how you start a campfire, we’ll get it all down.”
As Tom Bear walked turned to the fire pit, I glanced across the clearing and spotted a long green canoe pulled up on shore. I started slightly, but Joe touched my arm and shook his head once.
At the fire pit, Tom Bear picked up a small bow and a length of dry limb. Wrapping the bowstring around the stick, he set its point against a flat piece of wood buried under the kindling. He began to work the bow back and forth, the string turning the stick rapidly back and forth.
After only a moment, he laid the bow and stick aside, knelt down, and blew softly at the base of the bundle of twigs. A tendril of smoke drifted into the air. After a few more puffs, a small tongue of fire showed in the tinder, quickly growing into a substantial flame. Tom Bear sat back and added larger sticks to the fire. He grunted.
“Good. Now me cook fish for meal.” He got up and walked over to the canoe. Pulling on a rawhide string hooked to the gunnel, he drew a fat 3-pound togue out of the water. Bringing it to the fire he dropped it onto a broad piece of bark. Reaching to his waist, a sudden look of panic crossed his face. Joe, who was standing just behind him, made a slight movement. Tom Bear slid a hand behind his back and, when it reappeared in front of him, it held a worn, hand-made knife. Tom knelt and quickly filleted the fish, stuck the fillets skin side-down to pieces of bark, and stood the bark slabs up at an angle near the fire. The aroma of roasting fish filled the air.
“Cut!” yelled Milton Cinema. “Okay Chief, we’ll get some shots of you eating the fish later. Right now, I’d like to get some footage of you polling the canoe. Stick near shore and we can keep up with you as you move along.” He scratched his head. “I still don’t see why we can’t film you polling through some fast water.”
“No can do film,” Tom Bear said hastily. “Too hard for cameraman to go along shore. I be gone downstream out of sight. No picture.” he swept an arm along the shoreline, “Here water calm, I pole slow, you keep up good.”
“That makes sense,” Milton nodded. “Okay, let’s get set up.”
For the next hour we watched Tom Bear slowly pole the canoe back and forth along the shoreline as the cameras rolled. Later, he ate the togue with his fingers, explaining the filleting and cooking process to the camera in halting English.
Then Lou Focus followed him as he explained the shelter and how he had set up the campsite. I had to admit Tom seemed like a natural in front of the camera, appearing stoic and knowledgeable at the same time.
Finally, the filming was done for the day. The production crew picked up their equipment and prepared to head down the trail. Joe stopped Harold Pitch for a moment.
“Why don’t you guys go back to the hotel together. We’ll be along and drop off the Senator as soon as we get tomorrow’s schedule straight with the Chief.”
Pitch agreed and the film crew disappeared down the trail. Senator Cloture looked at us uncertainly. Joe walked over to the fire and sat down on a log. Tom Bear sat across from him and smiled crookedly.
“So, Tom…or should I say Chief? How’s it going?” Joe said.
Tom Bear grinned sheepishly. “Good, I guess, Joe…you?”
“Oh, I’m doin’ fine. How’d you git yoreself into this thing, anyway Tom?”
“Well, they just came and asked me if I’d be interested in doing it. I mean, it seemed simple to begin with.”
Where’d you git the clothes?”
“Pants came from the Salvation Army place in Bangor. I got the vest from Wal-Mart. They got a sale going on promoting the hippie movement in the 1960s. A lot of beaded vests and stuff. The headband’s from my do-rag on the bike.” He shifted uncomfortably. “But I’m starting to feel a little guilty about the whole thing.”
“Then why’d you agree to do it?”
“Hey, the money’s great, and I got college loans to pay.”
Amanda Cloture’s jaw lay on her chest. “How come you speak so well now…I mean…college loans?” she sputtered.
“Yeah,” Joe said looking first at Amanda, then at Tom Bear. “Tom’s doing his graduate work at Georgetown. Yore dad told me it’s real expensive.”
“It is, and this money would come in really handy, but I’m starting to feel really guilty about the deception. Oh, by the way, here’s your knife. Forgot mine on the motorcycle.” He handed the hunting knife over to Joe, who slid it back into the sheath on his belt.
“Good thing you didn’t try polin’ in whitewater fer the camera,” Joe smiled again.
“Yeah,” Tom smiled back. “Remember the time I dumped you and dad in the middle of Crow-Foot Pitch?”
“Motorcycle?” Amanda Cloture was still at sea. “What about the spiritual retreat?”
Tom looked puzzled. “What spiritual retreat?”
“Harold Streams said you were up here on some kind of spiritual retreat.”
“I came up to get some fiddleheads and togue for my father.”
Amanda stared. “Fiddleheads…and togue?”
“My dad had a camp on this lake years ago. It’s long gone but he used to spend a lot of time here when he was young and he always swore the fiddleheads on Hemlock Stream and the fish in the deep holes of the lake tasted better than anywhere in the state. So I told him I’d get him some fiddleheads and togue.”
“I think,” I said delicately, “that Harold was just going along with the idea of a TV show with a Native American. The spiritual retreat thing kind of enhances it.”
“What do you prefer to be called,” Amanda asked curiously, “a Native American or an Indian or what?”
“I don’t really care. That seems to be more important to you white-eyes than to me,” he grinned.
“Well,” Amanda said, trying to work up some indignation. “This can’t go on.”
“No it can’t,” Tom said sadly. “I got to tell the truth. But I’ll sure miss the money.”
It was a serious group that rode slowly into town and parked in front of the Northern Myths Hotel. Amanda called upstairs and asked for Harold Pitch and Milton Cinema to come down and meet with us in the lobby.
We waited near the door as the two men exited the elevator and came across the room.
“Senator…Chief…what can we do for you?” Harold Pitch beamed at us. Tom started to speak but Milton interrupted. “We were just looking at the rushes from today’s filming. They looked just great! If it keeps up like this, we’ll have a real hit on our hands!”
“Yeah,” Tom cleared his throat. “That’s kinda what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What?” said Pitch. Then he scowled. “Say…your English seems to have improved.”
Tom took a deep breath. “Yeah, well, here’s the thing…You guys seem to need a 19th Century Indian brave for your show and I’m, well, I’m a 21st Century kind of Indian. I go to college and I drive a motorcycle. I mean, my dad and Joe have taught me a lot of outdoor stuff but, if it weren’t for Joe loaning me his knife and his canoe, I wouldn’t even have enough Indian equipment to do the show. I’m sorry that I misled you, but I don’t want to keep fooling the two of you.”
“Well!” Harold Pitch sputtered. “We were certainly sold a bill of goods!” He stared at Amanda Cloture. “I expected better than this from an experienced Senator.” Amanda flushed a beet red.
“Uh…I think we’d better just leave…” Tom turned toward the door.
“You speak excellent English,” Milton Cinema interrupted.
“Well, thanks, but…”
“That makes it even better!” He smiled ear to ear.
“What?” said Harold Pitch angrily. “These people have…”
“Shut up Harold. Don’t you have the brains to see that this makes it even better. I was worried all along that working with a primitive culture with a language barrier was going to be the biggest obstacle to the show. Now we don’t have those problems.
“Tell me, Chief…”
“I’m not a chief,” Tom said sheepishly.
“You are on television,” Milton said glibly. “So tell me, Chief, can you still do the work? I mean, can you dress the part, fish, hunt, and live off the land and keep speaking the broken English like you did today?”
“Yeah, I can, but it would be fake.”
“That’s just another name for television. We put on what people want to see, not what is. Now we can include you in the planning sessions. I’m sure you’ll be able to contribute a lot of fresh ideas. You know, from a Native American perspective.”
Harold Pitch had caught on to the concept quickly and his entire demeanor changed.
“That’s right! This is going to be even better than before! Why don’t you come up with us, Chief, and we’ll talk. I think an increase in pay may be in order. You know, commensurate with your education.” He threw an arm across Tom’s shoulders and the three men headed off toward the elevator. Tom looked over his shoulder at us with a growing smile.
Joe took Amanda’s shoulder and turned her toward the door. Come on, Senator, we’ll give you a ride back to Clayton Lake.”
“I just don’t believe it!” she said on the hotel steps. “I thought all of this was going to be straightforward and aboveboard. Now it looks like it’s going to be, well, not dishonest, exactly, but certainly misleading and distorted.”
“Kinda sounds just like the legislature, don’t it?” Joe said, smiling.
“The legislature!? I’ll have you know that the legislature is a patriotic calling, a pure example of democracy in action!”
“Cameras ain’t rollin’ right now, Senator. You kin go back to yer civilian talk with us…you know…kinda like with Tom Bear.
“There’s no comparison! That show will present a distorted picture. We, on the other hand…”
“Are already distorted. Yeah, I know…” Joe headed off toward my Bronco, Amanda hanging off one arm and shouting in his ear. I dug the keys out of my pocket and followed along behind. It was going to be a long, noisy trip to Clayton Lake.
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