You likely know how that sentence ends. More about it shortly. In a previous post, “Writing Humor: It Doesn’t All Have To Be Funny,” I documented how my first comedy/science fiction novel, Bicycling Through Space and Time, came to be published in the ’90s. Berkley bought it based on seven chapters…six totally outrageous ones, and a seventh that just about tore my heart out as I wrote it. My character and alter ego, Jack Miller, bikes into late nineteenth century Austria and encounters an eight-year-old Adolf Hitler. Because of a Prime Directive by his alien benefactor, the Old Guy, he cannot kill the little bastard. His soliloquy is heart-wrenching.
According to my editor at Berkley, that seventh chapter is what sold them. I got to write three books for them, and they all contained counterbalancing serious chapters.
When I came out of my cave during last year’s pandemic to write Back on the Bike Path, the fourth book in the series, I stuck to the formula of having a few serious scenes. In fact, this book had more to say than the previous ones. Maybe that comes with age, as both Jack and I are much older. Here is one of the scenes.
Setup first: Jack is riding along the Ultimate Bike Path (the mhuva lun gallee) when he encounters a cosmic effigy of Sitting Bull, the Lakota chief, which thrills him. They chat briefly, until a cosmic effigy of a cavalry officer notorious for uttering the phrase, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” appears. Sitting Bull, appalled, rides off, while Jack spars verbally with the guy before ramming his conveyance and sending him through a “wall.” This is a major no-no, and Jack is afraid that he will lose his riding privileges on the path, seemingly a certainty when the Old Guy summons him back to Camp Pendleton. The alien begins the conversation.
“Oh Jack, Jack,” he muttered as I pulled up next to him and got off the bike. “What a big…” Finger in. “…can of worms…” Finger out. “…you opened when you caused that rider to go through the wall.” He shook his head. “My, the emotions of you Earthers can create a host of problems, am I right?”
“For sure,” I replied. “But I can explain…uh, Old Guy?”
“Am I gonna be pulled off the mhuva lun gallee?”
“Well, that all depends. As instructed, I’ve brought you back to listen to your argument for doing what you did. It will then be passed on to… Ah, let’s just say it will be passed on, and then a decision will be rendered.”
“Why don’t you let me talk directly to the…powers that be?”
“That is…uh, quite impossible. Now, please begin, Jack.”
I felt like a lawyer about to make a plea for his client, only I was the client, and a thumbs-down ruling would send me home for all time. Okay, I suppose that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, but now that I’d resumed my travels along the Ultimate Bike Path, I really wanted to continue.
“So you know these people are called Native Americans,” I began, “and there is a reason for it. They were here first, for crying out loud, at least way before any Europeans, and that includes freaking Columbus, who only made it to the West Indies, and people were already there, so how could he discover anything?
“Back in the 1600s, not long after Europeans actually did settle here, some of this shit started. A priest in the Society of Jesus told a chief from a tribe back east that he ‘…wanted to extend civilization and instruction to his ignorant race and show them the way to heaven.’ What balls on the guy!”
“What…balls?” The Old Guy raised a finger toward his ear. I grabbed his wrist.
“Never mind. Anyway, right here in California a bunch of missionaries from Spain, led by Father Junipero Serra, built a bunch of missions and tried to ‘educate’ the poor savages. These indigenous people lived their own lives and had their own beliefs and were doing just fine, but the missionaries forced their religion down the Indians’ throats. They were enslaved, beaten, starved, and many died from the white man’s diseases.”
“These missionaries had…balls, yes?”
“More like hubris…look that up later. Anyway, in the nineteenth century westward expansion brought white America to the Great Plains and beyond, and the genocide continued, this time on a grander scale during the so-called Indian Wars. That’s when a certain soldier spewed out those infamous words, ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian.’ I mean, what did they do to deserve that?”
“The effigy of that soldier being the life form you knocked through the wall of the mhuva lun gallee, right?” the Old Guy asked.
Effigy. “Yeah, you got it, and those words, in one form or another, gained a lot of traction after that, as more were killed or forced onto reservations, where many remain to this day!”
“Very well, Jack, I think that—”
“I’m not finished!” I was close to the boiling point. “Those damn words caused another asshole to declare, ‘A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.’ Do you freaking believe that?”
“So this guy was instrumental in founding the first Indian boarding school, where kids were taken by force from their parents and taught NOT to be Native Americans anymore!” My loud diatribe had attracted the attention of some passing riders, but I didn’t give a shit. “They couldn’t speak their tribal language, they had to wear white people’s clothing—!”
“The boys had their long braids cut off, an insult to their culture! Girls were sexually abused—!”
Did that voice come from the Old Guy? I swear, it was loud enough to be heard in L.A. It brought me up short, probably a good thing, because my heart raced, and tears melded with sweat, and I found it hard to catch my breath.
“Sorry,” I managed to croak.
“No need to apologize,” he said in a normal tone. “Now, be quiet for a moment.”
He raised his arms to the heavens, which generated a few curious looks from others passing by. By the time he brought them down, about a minute later, I had regained some semblance of control.
“The effigy has been recovered and returned to…the place where it came from. As you always say, Jack: ‘No harm, no foul.’ And you are free to resume your travels on the mhuva lun gallee.”
That worked out well for Jack, and it gave me another chance to vent. If you’re interested, check out my post, “Kill The Indian…Save The Man.”