Lost Angeles by Darlene Campos

As promised in the new chapbook, we bring you Darlene Campos’ story “Lost Angeles” in its entirety. Enjoy.

The Editors

♦  ♦  ♦

Lost Angeles by Darlene Campos

Three months ago, I was stuck in Los Angeles. Since I go there every year to grass-dance in the Los Angeles Pow Wow, I like LA and know my way around. The Los Angeles Pow Wow is a four-day event on the UCLA campus. Several Native tribes call LA home, so it’s the largest pow wow in the country. There are traditional foods, crafts, songs, and dances. I’ve been grass-dancing at the Los Angeles Pow Wow since I was a six-year-old boy.

But this year I didn’t dance. My parents were already at the event, setting up their booth, and I told them I’d be on my way later. I wanted to visit Cindy. I could’ve waited to see her at the pow wow, but I didn’t want to. I caught the #4 bus from our hotel and got off on Vine Street, two blocks from her place. After I passed the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, a red car with a purple driver’s door swerved onto the pavement. I woke up in the ER with my parents hugging me and praying in Lakota. A piece of metal from the car pierced through my right leg. I spent a week in the hospital and had to miss my flight back to South Dakota.

My ina went home a couple days after I was released from the hospital. Her job needed her back so much that her bosses paid her flight-change fee to get her back to South Dakota. She’s the manager of the cleaning crew at Sioux Plains Superstore, about an hour from our reservation. My ate is the head janitor at Sitting Bull Community College and I’m his assistant when I’m not in class. While we were stranded, Ate found someone to work for us as we came up with money to get ourselves home.

♦  ♦  ♦

Only three miles from LAX, the Presidential Suites Hotel of Inglewood is owned by Harry Iron Horse, an old family acquaintance. He let Ate and me stay for free, although we didn’t get the “presidential breakfast” of donuts and knock-off Folgers coffee. Ate was still dead asleep with his wallet-sized picture of Ina in his hand and his cell phone against his ear.

“Ahhhtay,” I said as I nudged him. “C’mon, we gotta work.”

“Lemme sleep, Josie, I’m tired,” he groaned.

“I’m not Ina, she went home on Sunday,” I reminded him.

“That’s right,” Ate yawned. “I miss my babe too much.” He hopped to his feet and went to the bathroom to put cold water on his face. The phone rang and it was Uncle Gray Mountain, or, as I call him, “Leksi,” Lakota for uncle. He’s a doctor for low-income people in Sioux Plains. He offered to pay some of my medical bills, but Ate doesn’t like admitting we need help.

“Was that your leksi?” Ate said when he was out of the bathroom. I nodded and he let out a grunt. He brushed his hair until it was straight again and then made his signature ponytail. I did the same, except my ponytail wasn’t as perfect.

“So what are we doing today, Ate?”

“Hollywood,” he said. “Those tourists loved our feathers.”

“Ate, I can’t take any more pictures with tourists, I’m not a landmark.”

“That don’t matter at a time like this. You put your feathers on, Geronimo Thunderclap,” he said. I sunk my head down and threw my feathers into my backpack.

Three bus rides later, we were standing over Barbra Streisand’s star on the Walk of Fame dressed in our Lakota Sioux regalia. Tourists flocked to us for pictures. In just over an hour, we made $80. We charged $5 for a picture, which is okay since the other people who stand around Hollywood dressed as Darth Vader or Charlie Chaplin charge anywhere from $10-$20. When we were close to making $100, an elderly woman jumped in front of our eager customer and told him to leave.

“Native Americans believe taking pictures of them robs their soul,” she told our customer. “You are being disrespectful towards our people.”

Our people?” Ate said.

“Yes sir,” the elderly woman nodded. “I’m one-eightieth Cherokee. What tribe are you?”

“My son and I are proud members of the you-are-not-Cherokee-go-away tribe,” he said. We made close to $160 by the end of the afternoon, only a fraction of what we needed for our debts. We walked a couple of blocks down the street to Mel’s, ordered two hamburgers, and split an extra large drink.

“Ate, do we really believe that taking pictures robs our soul?” I asked as he rubbed excess grease from his chin.

“That’s a myth,” he said. “I think it’s a bunch of crap, especially if you’re getting paid to have your picture taken.”

“We made a lot of dough today, didn’t we?”

“We did,” he chuckled. “We still gotta pay your med bills and those damned flight fees, but I think we can do it.”

“Leksi said he’d wire us some money.”

“My brother can keep his money,” Ate said and took a long gulp of soda. “I don’t let no one pay for my problems except myself or the US government.”

“You hate the US government, Ate.”

“We’re Indians, Geronimo – we got plenty of reasons to hate the US government.” I put my burger down and covered my laughs with my hands.

♦  ♦  ♦

The next morning I walked up the street to Randy’s Donuts to buy a drink and then I was off to visit Cindy Blackbird. I met her at the 2000 LA Pow Wow when I was 13 right after I finished my grass dance. She noticed how thirsty I was and gave me her water bottle. Every time I think about her, I forget she’s engaged. And even if she wasn’t, she doesn’t love me anymore. As I walked to the apartment she shares with her fiancé Alan Red Bear, I tripped over a sleeping homeless guy and fell on my face. I brushed the dirt off myself, fixed my ponytail, and walked the last block to Cindy’s apartment.

“Nimo!” Cindy said when she answered the door. She gave me a big hug and asked how my leg was doing. I pretended to be in pain so I could have an excuse to slouch down to her sweet Apache face.

“Alan’s at work,” she said as she poured cold water into my empty Randy’s cup. “So how’s your progress on getting back to Pine Ridge?”

“Me and my dad are working to get some cash,” I said. “We have a load of stuff to pay to the UCLA hospital and then some other fees with the airline.”

“I’m sorry about your accident,” she said. “You never told me how it happened.”

“It was a little past Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I wanted to stop by Astro Burger before going to the pow wow.” She didn’t have to know the truth anyway.

Cindy gave me another hug and served me a plate of chips and hummus. When she was 18, her dad helped her get her apartment as a gift for getting into UCLA. I also got into UCLA with a good scholarship, so Cindy and I were planning to live together, when we were together, that is. It was terrible to meet Alan for the first time last year. He’s a Navajo, 6 foot 4, with muscles. I’m a Lakota Sioux who’s 5 foot 9 and 50 pounds overweight. Despite my not-so-good looks, I long distance dated Cindy for three years. I lost my virginity to her and during the last time we had sex, I told her I loved her and I meant it. A month later, she met Alan at her job and broke up with me. Six months later, he was living where I was supposed to live.

“If you stay a little longer, Alan can give you a ride to your hotel,” Cindy said. I told Cindy I was okay with taking the bus and went towards her door. She tapped my bad leg and then kissed my wounded knee. My leg was sore from all the walking I had done earlier, so it hurt like hell to have it touched, but it was the best pain I’ve ever felt.

When I got back from visiting Cindy, Ate and I went to the Santa Monica Pier to sell our leftover crafts from the LA Pow Wow. Ate carves figurines and Ina makes jewelry and quilts. I don’t know how to make anything except cereal, and that’s why I dance. I attempted to bust a grass dance move on the pier, but it wasn’t the same.

“You don’t gotta dance if your leg hurts,” Ate told me.

“It doesn’t hurt, I just can’t move it well.”

“Some lady’s gonna be happy to have you and your bad leg,” he said. “Men with bad legs can’t run around on their wives.” I gave him a smile and a few chuckles.

A couple days later, Cindy asked if I could meet her in Santa Monica for dinner so I was on the bus by 7pm. I took the wrong bus and ended up in a rough neighborhood eight blocks from Santa Monica. I figured I’d take a shortcut through an alley when two morons jumped on me, jammed their hands into my pockets, and demanded all my money. I only had ten bucks on me but I also had Ate’s carving knife since he told me to hold it for him when we at the pier earlier that day.

“I’m gonna circumcise the both of you,” I said and took out the knife. I’m so lucky those guys didn’t have guns because I must’ve looked like such an idiot. They let me keep my cash but they also threw me against the wall, so I crashed into a trashcan. I brushed the dirt from myself and got on the next bus to Santa Monica.

Half an hour later, I met up with Cindy and douchebag, I mean Alan, at Greens Up, a café that serves organic food. After I took final sips of my lemonade, Alan started making out with Cindy. I dropped my fork and quickly stabbed my bad leg under the table to make myself squeal.

“Are you okay?” Cindy asked me. She hunched down to look at my leg, but Alan pulled her back and shoved his damn tongue in her mouth again.

“I need to go, my leg’s acting up real bad,” I said and got up from my chair. Cindy told Alan to give me a ride, but he refused. I stumbled to the bus stop outside and limped back to the hotel room.

“What the hell happened to you?” Ate gasped when I walked in.

“I got jumped,” I said. “And thrown against a trashcan. And stabbed with a fork.”

“Every time you go after that girl, you get hurt. You should take that as a sign.”

“I have a sign, I’m ugly,” I said. I didn’t mean to say that, it just slipped out.

“No you ain’t, son,” he said. “You look like me and your ina and we ain’t ugly. You need to get another girl. The perfect day to ask someone out is on April Fool’s Day. If they say no, you can say you were joking.” I couldn’t help but laugh at his advice.

At the end of my first month of being stranded, the LAPD still hadn’t found who ran me over, but most of my medical bills were paid off. However, the airline refused to waive the flight change fees of $300 per ticket unless I had a valid emergency to go home. Jack Blackbird, Cindy’s dad, owns a printing shop in Culver City, so Ate wanted him to create a fake doctor’s note saying I needed to go back to South Dakota for an emergency surgery on my leg.

“Both of us could get in a lotta trouble for doing that,” Jack said.

“Aww, c’mon, Vermont. I’ll give you $50,” Ate told him. Ate calls Jack ‘Vermont’ because he thinks Jack looks like the state of Vermont when he stands sideways. I didn’t think anyone could look like a state until I met Jack Blackbird.

“Jay Eagle, why do you call me Vermont?”

“You grew up on Vermont Avenue, didn’t you?”

“You grew up on Rosebud rez and I don’t call you Rosebud.”

“Are you gonna do us the favor or what?” Ate said. Vermont, I mean, Jack, really didn’t want to get involved and sent us on our way. Ate was disappointed and suggested we put on our regalia and head to Hollywood for the billionth time.

“Nah, I’m beat,” I said. “Let’s go back to the hotel.”

“I should call your ina and tell her we’re still stranded,” he sighed. “I wanna go home, Geronimo. I miss her so much.” Ate looked at his wedding ring and rubbed it. Ina does the same thing. I’m still trying to figure out why they do that.

Ate told me he was going to take a ‘power nap’ but it always turns into full on sleeping. With that, we didn’t go to Hollywood, so I went ahead and called Jack.

“Geronimo, I already told your dad I’m not gonna do that,” Jack repeated.

“Mr. Blackbird,” I said. “I still love your daughter.”

“No you don’t,” Jack said, almost laughing. “Wait a minute, do you?”

“I never stopped loving her,” I admitted.

“Oh Geronimo,” Jack responded. “I always thought you were a nice guy for her. The one she’s got now is a douchebag. I’ll see what I can do for you.”

“Thanks,” I said. Cindy is Jack’s only kid. Marie, Cindy’s mom, left Jack during their tenth year of marriage for his best friend and had three other kids with him. I knew he’d change his mind once I confessed my feelings.

After that phone call, I didn’t hear from Jack for ten days. With the last of my medical bills paid off, there was no money left for the airline fees. The LAPD got in touch with me and said they were going to take a break from my case since there was too little evidence. I decided to take matters into my own hands and went to reenact my accident. I stood in front of Hollywood Forever Cemetery, staring at my embedded bloodstains on the concrete until the guard asked what I was doing.

“I got hit by a car here on March 4th at around 11 in the morning. It was red with a purple driver’s door. Did you see anything?”

“No,” he shook his head. “But I heard you screaming. I was giving a woman a ride to her husband’s grave and when I got back to my post, you were passed out and bleeding. I was gonna call 911, but someone else already had. Are you doing better?”

“Yeah,” I shrugged. I started to head down the street, but the guard noticed my limp. He told me to hop into his golf cart and he gave me a ride to the chapel so I could find a pew to rest on. He closed the door behind me and I sat at the front of building. There were dead flower petals on the floor and fresh ones on the other pews, meaning a funeral had been held earlier that day. Though it would’ve been very convenient to die in front of a cemetery, I was glad I survived my accident. 21 years old is too young to die. As I was about to get up and go back to the bus stop, my cellphone rang. It was Jack and he said he was going to make the fake doctor’s note and if it didn’t follow through, he’d pay the flight fees.

“This is only because you love Cindy,” he said. “Have a safe trip home.”

“Thanks Mr. Blackbird,” I told him. “You’ve been a big help.”

“You’re a nice kid,” Jack answered. “I wish you were the guy marrying Cindy.”

♦  ♦  ♦

I stayed in Los Angeles for another week after Jack made the doctor’s note. It turned out there was one last medical bill I forgot to pay, so I stood on Barbra Streisand’s star again and pretended to play a traditional honoring song on Ate’s flute. Ate even chanted along with my performance and passing people thought he was singing in Lakota, but he was really yelling a load of gibberish. I was debt-free with the UCLA hospital at last by the next morning.

I visited the LAPD on my last night in LA to see how they were doing on my case. Since the only clue was a red car with a purple driver’s door, they said they didn’t know how long it would be before anything turned up. I then met up with Cindy for dinner at a Mexican place near her job. She brought the douchebag with her and they made out in front of me for a century. After being stuck in LA for two months, I was more than ready to go home.

Ate and I took bus #3 from Inglewood to LAX. We were four hours early to our flight, excited to get back to South Dakota. Cindy gave me a call to tell me she was going to visit me at the airport one last time. I nearly cried when she said that because I knew that the next time I saw her, she would be married.

When Cindy got to LAX, I was 30 minutes away from boarding time. She said she was going to take the bus, but Alan doesn’t like her riding alone, so she waited all morning for him to give her a ride. As Alan drove around the airport, we took a walk past the platforms and into a secluded area near a baggage drop off. I looked at my watch, seeing I had about 15 minutes left.

“I gotta go,” I frowned.

“Are you coming back next year?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve spent too much money lately.” She looked at me with her soft brown eyes and made me melt. I placed a light kiss on her forehead. A second later, we were making out. I hadn’t kissed her like that in a long time and forgot how much I enjoyed it.

“You’re still a good kisser,” she winked.

“So are you,” I said. We walked back out to the platform to wait for Alan to show up. I gave Cindy a final hug as Alan pulled up to the curb.

“Bye Nimo!” she called out and slid into Alan’s car. I was about to wave at them but my bad leg twisted and I dropped my luggage onto the street. As I picked up my things, I saw Alan waving at me as he reversed to exit the busy airport lanes. When I waved at him back, I saw his purple driver door shine under the sunlight.

“Geronimo Jay Thunderclap!” Ate shouted over the airport traffic. “I already missed this flight once, I ain’t missing it again!” I tried to talk to him, but he grabbed my arm and pulled me to Gate 67. Once we were seated on the plane, Ate rubbed his wedding ring and pulled down the shade of the window on his right.

“I don’t wanna see this damn place for a long time,” he said. “Freakin’ LA.”

I’ve been back on the reservation for two weeks. It still feels weird to not see the Hollywood sign everyday and to not be able to get on a bus to Cindy’s place. I’m back at work and back in school. I was able to enroll in summer classes at my college to catch up on missing half of the spring semester thanks to Leksi giving me the money. I needed something to keep my mind busy after everything that’s happened in the last months. The LAPD called me the other day and said they charged Alan with aggravated assault. He’s going to jail, but I don’t know for how long yet. I haven’t heard from Cindy since I last saw her at LAX. I don’t expect to either.

♦  ♦  ♦

When I got home from class today, Ina was dividing her time between frying chicken strips and kissing Ate. She turns one strip over, kisses him, runs back to the stove to turn another, and kisses him again. If Ina gives him 23 kisses, one for each year of their marriage, without burning any of the chicken strips, Ate has to do the dishes after dinner. They’ve been playing that game since I was a kid and I have never seen Ate not do the dishes.

“I win again!” Ina laughed.

“Aww Josie, I suck at this game,” Ate chuckled.

“You sure do suck, Jay Eagle!” she laughed again. They took in each other in their arms and shared a couple of post-game kisses. Ate lifted Ina from the floor to kiss her even closer, as he always does after their game.

“Nimo! You’re home!” Ina said when she spotted me.

“Yeah, I’m home,” I said. “I’m home, finally.”  

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