Red Squirrel’s Indian Summer (Part 2)

Indian GuidesThis is the second part of my Indian Guides story. If you haven’t done so already, you should first read Part One. Go on. You’ll like it. I’ll wait for you. 

***

I wasn’t sure how I had gotten myself into this situation – or rather I did. It was Tall Oak’s fault.

Tall Oak was Dad’s Indian Guides name. Mine was Red Squirrel. These names conjured up terrible memories: Mind-numbing lectures on Lenae Lenape wedding rituals. Sweaty, aimless hikes in remote woodlands. And the near constant, condescending, passive aggressive drone of our tribe’s chief, Grey Hawk.

Despite accumulating a lifetime’s worth of boredom, anxiety, and irritation during our first year in Indian Guides, Dad had signed us up for a second. The only consolation I could take from this was that Indian Guides was a father/son organization; so, yes, I have to suffer, but Tall Oak would be suffering right along with me.

Adding insult to injury, Dad volunteered to host the very first tribe meeting of the new season. I translated this to mean that a bunch of kids would be tromping through my house touching my stuff. The very idea made me cringe. Even though I had an older sister, we were born seven years apart and our paths rarely crossed. Therefore I was an unofficial only child, and, like many only children, sharing did not come naturally.

Dad, on the other hand…

“Hmmm…” Wearing a thoughtful frown, Dad peered into the fridge. The other members of the tribe would be ringing our bell any minute and he wanted to make sure he was prepared for their arrival. “I probably should’ve gotten more beer. Oh, well,” he shrugged. “It’ll do.”

Indian Guides meetings didn’t normally have beer, but Dad decided to blaze a new trail. Another trail he was blazing was his plan to have nothing – absolutely nothing – prepared for the evening. The Indian Guides host was supposed to have an appropriate Native American-ish activity on hand. As far as I could see, the only activity Dad had in mind involved a fridge full of Budweiser.

Chief Grey Hawk was not going to like this. Not one bit. And when the chief didn’t like something, he lectured and tut-tutted and generally made himself insufferable until everyone present fell into an eye rolling stupor.

The guests soon began to arrive. As each father shrugged out of his coat, Dad threw a can of beer at him at him.

Most were surprised by the projectile, but all of them caught it. All of them also followed up their catches with a paraphrase of “Now this is my kind of meeting!”

Dad laughed every time the line was uttered as if it was the first time he had ever heard it ever. He gave the father and son a hearty handshake and led them to the basement with promises of bottomless bowls of Doritos.

The only brave who didn’t get beered upon his arrival was the chief, who showed up last.

The chief heard the merry commotion wafting up from the basement — booming laughter and an elephant herd of scampering kids. “Everyone is here already?”

“Yeah, they’re here.”

Grey Hawk squinted at his watch. “Am I late?”

“Nope. I suppose the other guys were just eager to get started.”

Everyone is early! The chief beamed. This was clearly evidence that he was a beloved leader. “So, Tall Oak, what do you have planned for this evening?”

“Come on down, I’ll show you.”

What Grey Hawk found was a party. A roomful of dads on their second or third beer and wired kids with their distended cheeks crammed full with chips.

He did not like it. Not one bit.

“You’re serving beer?” Grey Hawk sputtered. “There are children here!”

“Oh, the kids aren’t drinking,” Dad replied. “I have soda for them.”

Before Grey Hawk could work himself into full blown level of insufferability, Dad whispered into my ear.

“Why don’t you take the boys up to the family room and show them that new video game of yours. You know the one: Revenge of the Cars.”

“Yars Revenge?”

“Right. That.”

As one, the young braves and I clumped up the basement stairs. I revved up the Atari 2600 and was soon dazzling my audience with my gamesmanship. The incessant beeps and boops of the TV were interrupted by an occasional raucous shout from the floor below, but we paid it little mind. This was the best Indian Guides meeting we had ever had and we didn’t want to squander it be eavesdropping on adults.

After everyone got his turn at Yars Revenge we switched to Phoenix, then Breakout.

The hollow thunks of the basement stairs alerted us to the fact that someone was coming up to ruin our fun. We turned to find a Grey Hawk seething in the doorway, his face beet red and his eyes little more than two malevolent slits peering through his glasses.

“Eric. Get your coat.”

So that was Grey Hawk’ kid’s name! I only knew him as Red Robin. Red Robin was wielding a joystick pulverizing me in Combat, the one where tanks battle each other with ricochet bullets.

Red Robin — someone I had always thought of as obedient and easygoing — ignored his father’s command. Instead, he viciously send my tank to kingdom come for about the dozenth time.

“Eric. Get your coat. Now.”

Red Robin turned from the game and shot his father a stare far more lethal than anything my tank had endured. I didn’t know he had such anger in him. No wonder Red Robin was so good at Combat, I thought; it was a much-needed outlet for his hostility. If I had Grey Hawk for a dad I’d be hostile, too.

Fortunately, I didn’t have Grey Hawk for a dad. I soon found out I didn’t have Grey Hawk for a chief either. As we boys destroyed our enemies in an imaginary 8-bit universe, our fathers were downstairs destroying a real enemy. An enemy of fun.

Tall Oak, of course, was the leader of this beer-fueled bloodless coup. In gratitude, he was unanimously elected chief. As the tribe cheered his victory, Tall Oak gave me a smile. I couldn’t help but smile back.

Things were about to change.

***

Tune in next week for the thrilling — or at least potentially amusing — conclusion to Red Squirrel’s Indian Summer!

Red Squirrel’s Indian Summer (Part 1)

Indian GuidesDad and I milled about in the Grand Union parking lot wearing matching brown leather vests and feathered headbands. Also matching were our expressions of dread.

We were members of Indian Guides, a father/son organization sponsored by the YMCA. When we first joined the group we didn’t know what to expect, but we safely assumed that it would involve hanging out in nature and respectfully acknowledging Native American culture. I was fine with this prospect. I liked nature; I spent the better part of the previous summer building – and endlessly repairing – a fort in the woods behind my house. I appreciated Indians, too; my fourth grade social studies teacher spent half the year teaching us about the Lenae Lenape Tribe.

A little Native American appreciation can a long way, however. Chief Grey Hawk, a doughy middle-aged man whose bald head glimmered like a strand of Christmas lights, had lots of appreciation to offer. According to him, there was no limit to one’s level of Native American appreciation.

No limit at all.

Chief Grey Hawk’s sentiments were earnest and honorable, of course. They were also  boring. In one of our weekly meetings we spent a half hour appreciating an arrowhead.

He could barely contain himself. “Isn’t it amazing, Red Squirrel?” (My Indian Guides name was Red Squirrel.) “What you’re holding in your hands was used hundreds of years ago to hunt game! Just imagine it!”

I did. And for the remaining 29 minutes I imagined I was playing Atari.

A quick scan around the table indicated that I wasn’t the only young brave yearning to earn a high score in Yars Revenge. As one, the boys stared at their hands as if by doing so something interesting might appear there. Even Grey Hawk’s son, Red Robin, could barely stay awake.

Not all of our meetings were dull. Some of them highlighted our incompetence. One Saturday the chief drove the tribe to a wooded area in the middle of nowhere. This was a “trailblazing exercise,” he explained.

His plan was stunning in its reckless simplicity. He would drop off each father and son pair in a different, lonely area of the woods and provide vague directions to a distant meet-up point. Navigating by compass, we would try to find our way.

Once the entire tribe finally assembled at this location, we would, I assume, look at another arrowhead

I always liked walking in the woods. But the woods behind my house was in the middle of a suburb. No matter how far I walked, I was never more than 100 yards from some form of civilization: a house, a street, or a 7-11 dumpster. When Dad and I got out of the chief’s station wagon, there was nothing but trees in every direction for as far as the eye could see. The vastness of our surroundings sent a chill down my spine. The chief’s car disappeared down the dirt road, leaving Dad and me to fend for ourselves.

We’re doomed, I thought.

“Alright, you heard him,” Dad nodded. “A half mile northwest. Let’s go.” Dad had a way about him that made even the most difficult tasks sound easy.

Dad also had a way about him that made difficult tasks much more difficult. We hadn’t stumbled around in the woods for 20 minutes before he dropped my brand new compass in a river.

As I watched it blurble into the brownish murk, I heard my mother repeat her familiar bon mot: “If we were a pioneer family, we’d be dead in an hour.”

It’s hard to figure out where northwest is when you don’t have a compass. We tried navigating by sun. We both vaguely remembered something about moss facing north on tree trunks. (Or was it south? East maybe?) I suggested walking in a direction that “seemed right.” After Dad tripped for the fourth time on a hidden tree root, his cool demeanor, usually so impenetrable, fell away. It was replaced with a mumbling, grumbling running commentary with a common refrain: “What in the hell are we doing out here?”

We yelled for help. Eventually Gray Hawk found us.

The chief beamed. “Tall Oak!” (Dad’s Indian Guides name was Tall Oak.) “There you are! Thank goodness I was here or you might not have been found!”

Dad eyes turned into two malevolent slits. “If we weren’t here, I wouldn’t need finding.”

Dad was grateful when I faked the stomach flu to get out of the Indian Guides annual camping trip — but such insubordination came at a price; Chief Grey Hawk suddenly took a personal interest in making sure Dad and I planned to march with the tribe in the town’s Memorial Day Parade.

“We are all counting on you, Tall Oak,” Chief Grey Hawk intoned.

As the chief said this, the other dads and their sons nodded gravely in agreement. They had all gone on the camping trip. They had all endured Grey Hawk for 48 straight hours. The expressions on their faces indicated it was a waking nightmare.

Marching in the parade was the least we could do.

And so we stood in the Grand Union parking lot with the tribe — wedged between the Knights of Columbus and the Ramapo High School sousaphone section — waiting for our turn to go. Dad and I both knew that marching in this parade was going to be difficult and painful for us. I was born with a gimpy foot. Dad never fully recovered from a long ago injury when he shattered both of his legs.

This parade was going to be a Bataan Death March.

We waited and waited. The sun pounded us all into submission. It was so hot the tar used to fill in the parking lot’s cracks began to bubble. To pass the time, a few of the young braves and I sat on our haunches and poked the goo with a stick. Dad watched us do this without comment for a while before heading off to chat with the other Indian Guides fathers.

Dad was a gregarious fellow who took delight in boisterously holding court with other guys. Whenever I looked up from the tar, however, I noticed that this conversation was different. Dad had formed a hushed, conspiratorial huddle. Chief Grey Hawk was safely out of earshot.

The parade was predictably awful. I barely made it a tenth of a mile before my orthopedic shoes made my feet throb. By the half-mile mark I couldn’t walk another step. Dad and I broke off from the procession and found a shady spot on the wide porch of Miller’s Pharmacy.

I sighed with a sense of relief I had never known before or since. Indian Guides was awful, but it was over. It was finally over.

As if reading my thoughts, Dad leaned over and patted my back. “We’re going to give it one more year,” he said.

“What?! Why?!”

Tall Oak held up a reassuring hand. “I have a feeling things will get better.”

Before I could respond, Dad put his hands together for a cluster of marching Girl Scouts. Dad is the loudest clapper I know. “Hey, it’s Troop 27!” he bellowed. “That’s my favorite troop!”

In response, a beaming Troop 27 threw handfuls of Jolly Ranchers in our direction.