Yappie had been reading about ceremonies in an old anthropology book. Now he was full of ideas and wanted to get everyone organized. That’s how he got his name — he was always yapping at everyone to get organized, but they didn’t mind because he was always ready to share and update and all that. He wasn’t a dictator. He just liked lists: menus, orders of service, tables of contents and all that. This time his list had a half-dozen things on it.
“First we got to make a special space, protected and just for us. Here’s this photo of a sweat lodge. I know where there are a lot of willows growing in a ditch. They’re pretty tall and I think we could make a kind of dome like a beaver dam.”
It took the whole day to cut the willow sticks, bury the butt ends in a circle and then bend them together at the top and tie them. They were proud but it wasn’t a very secret space since anyone could see between the sticks.
“I have an idea,” said Noddie. “I been watching where this garage had a tarp on it’s roof that was about to blow off and it finally did in that last storm. It blew a long ways before it got stuck in a bunch of bushes. We could put that over the top.” So they went to get it and it took three of them to drag it home and spread it over the willow wands, but it looked cool. They made a little entrance, just barely big enough for a boy to crawl in but there was room inside for all of them.
“We should have a campfire inside.”
“Naw, that’s too dangerous and the smoke would attract attention.”
“Wait a minute. I got something stashed. How many extension cords do we have? And what’s the biggest flashlight we have?”
After a lot of scurrying around, they were ready to activate the treasure found at a garage sale: it was a tabletop mirror ball, like the kind that hangs in the middle of the ceiling at a dance hall and turns so that light splinters and moves. They trained their flashlights on it and the effect was magical. Now the space really was special.
“Okay, Yappie. There’s your little sanctuary hide-out. Now what do we do?”
“10PM we all meet here, but we need sigils.”
“What the heck is that?”
“You know, like Game of Thrones. Each person should have an animal familiar, the way those guys have wolves and ravens. I think we should have each have animals like the ones in the woods around here: squirrel, fox, badger, pigeon . . .”
“A pigeon is not an animal.”
“Sure it is.”
“You guys are going off topic.”
So they all showed up and as each one crawled through the door, he announced his animal aspect: beaver, coyote, gopher, garter snake. . .”
“A snake is not an animal!”
“Don’t be so damn picky. You’re ruining the mood.”
They sat in a circle on the blankets they had brought earlier. In a while Yappie said, “Now we’re supposed to think of really bad things.”
“I ain’t gonna do it. I don’t wanna think about bad stuff.”
“I’m not afraid to. I say starving kids.”
“Nobody ever listening.”
They ran out — not of bad things, but of the energy to talk about them. Yappie let it be quiet for a little while. Then he said, “The next thing is to talk about the best stuff, the really sweet part of life.”
“Bein’ in love. I loooove bein’ in love.”
“Dawn. It’s always coming and it’s always free.”
“Pizza.” It wasn’t that funny, but they were feeling the mood changes and needed an excuse to roll around laughing. The light shards rotated around, bouncing off their faces and the underside of the blue tarp.
Yappie mused, “I’m a little stumped by this next part. It’s the sharing of food or something. I suppose drugs would really work, but we’re sworn off drugs.” One boy blushed. Maybe he’d wasn’t so good at swearing.
Another boy who often had trouble with storms of coughing pulled out a little flat box, throat lozenges — not cough drops like candy but little flat clay discs. He solemnly doled out one each to their hands. “They call these the fisherman’s friend because if you cough in a rowboat while you’re fishing, the fish hear it and take off. You let these things dissolve in your mouth — it’ll take a while.”
They didn’t much like the sensation of the discs biting their tongues, but it wasn’t too painful to bear so no one spit out his lozenge. “Now what, Yappie?”
He brought out one of his most treasured and, until now, secret little packets. It was cards, but not traditional playing cards. Rather these were “Good Medicine Cards” that sort of told fortunes. Each card was a little story like a horoscope with a picture of an animal. A couple of cards were missing but luckily every boy’s sigil had a card. They read them out by the light from their flashlights. “You know, my card really does seem like me.”
“My card is nothing like my sigil. Whoever wrote this was nuts.” Always one guy who has to be different. Is there an animal for that?
There were a few long ago church-goers whose memories had been jogged. “We ought to have some music in here somewhere.”
Though it was the younger boys who were inventing this ceremony, the older boys had been interested and paying attention. They were just outside the blue dome, listening and thinking about it. One had suggested they bring their guitars, but they didn’t. They always felt kind of protective about their guitars and being out in a damp night wasn’t a good idea, maybe.
But then there was a soft chord: a harmonica from someone’s pocket. Mournfully, he began a blues song and then it built into a wail of emotion. Some of the young ones began to tear up. Not crying — no, they wouldn’t cry.
In the end it wasn’t Yappie who put his hand above the turning, flashing ball and said, “Let’s swear.” But it was a good idea. Every boy piled his hand on and they swore: “One for all and all for one.”
When they came out, the older boys had made a line and each boy was ceremonially and repeatedly hugged. No, they wouldn’t cry. It was the night air.
Anyway, they weren’t sad. They felt better than they had for a while, more of a group, even the knotheads. They went for pizza with arms over each other’s shoulders. They didn’t sing, but someone knew some raunchy old Marine marching chants, easy to learn.
This story is to illustrate some of the theories I’ve been expounding on this blog.