I have my winter coat on, as if I am ready to be arrested, but actually it’s because HEAP has run out. They give you an initial grant in November that is not enough, but if you manage to get a shut-off notice before the end of March, they’ll pay it. It’s April Fool’s Day and the gas bill is $252.
Cop, badge number 911, sees me through the faux stained-glass window. I put my hand up. Welfare Fraud Lady has charged me with attempted welfare fraud in the third degree. 911 mildly objects when I move to the back of the long trailer to call to Jacob, “I’m going out. I’ll explain later.”
Jacob is alarmed. I never go out. He runs to me. “Grandmama!”
911 assures the child he will bring me back. How old is he? Cop wants to know. Old enough to stay alone. We don’t need the services of CPS here.
911 is almost to the cop car before he turns to see me still standing on the deck waving my cane. I’ve aged since the last time he came for me: back then I went down fighting.
He puts his arm around me and I lean on him to get down the steep steps; then 911 slides me and my cane down the icy incline, and around Cop car. He opens the door and explains that he doesn’t want my grandson to see me handcuffed. I hold out my arms. My right hand has recently been amputated, the stump still raw and painful. “Flesh-eating bacteria,” I inform the tiny little uniformed man. “They don’t know how I contracted it.”
“I’m supposed to cuff you behind your back.” 911 seems as confused as I am, and I am on oxycodone and morphine. He snaps a cuff on my left wrist; it’s the best he can do. “I know you can get out of that,” he says lamely.
Just days ago, he had been in on the raid of the double-wide next to my trailer and arrested Number One Grandson, Allha Stump, for selling weed. They seized all his money, his marijuana, his hydroponics, and his car. And when Allha wouldn’t narc, they arrested his father, Number One Son, Dusty Stump. And when they came for his mother, Char—who is next in line to be Matriarch of the Erie—and 911 put her in a hammerlock, and threw her on the back of cop car, and tasered her, I stood on my veranda and screamed, “911! You are fucking insane!”
Do you blame the insane? No, you pity them.
I’m going to claim dementia. Mama died of that, looking at a wall in a government-sponsored home. To Mama, every day was April Fool’s Day.
Mama was Matriarch of the Erie.
Now I am.
The Erie sold Manhattan for a few beads. Because we don’t believe anyone can own the Earth. The Erie are the original Indian Givers. We are responsible for Thanks-giving. Giving and receiving are the same thing.
We are the wild (free) Indians, us Erie, anarchists, a matriarchy, known for shamamaism, vision-quests, mystical talents, and doing hallucinatives. Erie possess intense psychic abilities. And a disposition for difficulty with authority.
Erie have no concept of ownership or one person subjugating another. The Erie are in direct contact with God. Each individual is a sovereign nation; we each draw our power from a central Creator. Erie take care of the children, and everything else balances. We don’t label, not even relationships. Us Erie, we just belong to each other.
The white man based the Constitution of the United States Of America on the Six Nations’ government, which considered the Erie to be insane. Because we would not be a nation.
Everyone is our Tribe.
Nations engage in behavior that would be immediately recognizable as psychopathic in an individual. If nations were individuals, they’d be committed as insane. Or they’d get the electric chair, like Grandpa Weed, an Erie, the last man in New York State to be executed. (He was innocent.)
My SSI for the Handicapped grant—I have degenerative joint disease, very painful—is based on what I earned in taxes before I became disabled, mostly tips, and jobs that were “under-the-table,” meaning I paid no taxes. No one could live on what I get a month from SSI.
Time slows as I pass the Nut Bin in the back of cop car. Two hundred years ago, my ancestors squatted on that slanted piece of land, and became first in a long line of descendants to take advantage of a government program. They built the core of the long, long house of the Erie, on speculation they would build a canal.
And they named it Erie.
The Nut Bin on Erie Street is a massive, ad hoc architectural structure, with deep eaves and elaborately carved cornices that has obviously been expanded to suit the needs of the expanding Tribe. Many rooms have been added, and a second story, as well as an attic, that was once actually part of the underground railroad. Improvements such as haphazardly installed stained-glass windows and several chimneys give the Nut Bin the appearance of a surreal dream. It’s my dream.
I added the purple picket fence and the intricate gingerbread trim to the gables. And the gargoyles.
As we round the curve and I lose sight of the Nut Bin, I raise my left hand, the cuffed one, in the How gesture. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
The law took the Nut Bin.
The only thing I took was the fireplace and the landscaping. Little 911 came and put locks on the doors that had none and arrested me for trespassing and attempted assault in the third degree, with a weapon: my cane.
And now I am arrested for welfare fraud. Attempted. In the third degree.
The jail looks like a hemorrhoid smack in the middle of the county seat: it’s attached to the architecturally imposing courthouse centered on Public Square.
“When one out of every hundred Americans is in jail—well, that’s probably just on weekends—none of us is free!” I quote to 911 from the late Kurt Vonnegut, an Erie. “If not for the Erie—If everyone obeyed the law—the economy would fail. You’d be out a job, wouldn’t you?”
911 snaps my mug shot.
I’m processed—fingerprinting takes half the time—then, as promised, 911 returns me to Erie Trailer Park and my single-wide can with the leaking roof. Then he’s off to arrest some illegal Erie immigrants who are supporting their families in Mexico by picking fruit.