chairs, one for each character, are placed in front of a raised platform.
They are labeled "First Person," "My Man," "Only,"
and "Doll," respectively. As pale light forms over the platform,
wordless, glottal vocalization is heard, then dies away. Light fades to
black. After a pause, large spot comes on over "First Person."
First Person: When my mom called that afternoon in July to tell me my
good friend Gary had been murdered, shot dead nearby in Happy Valley,
the only thing I could think was, My God, I was just talking to him on
the phone. That was to lend moral support after he got fired from his
job. He'd seemed a bit distant then, like not so happy to hear from me.
We ended up just talking about our daughters, who were the same age, freshmen
in college. Gary was one of the good people you stay in touch with. He'd
even come to see me perform at the civic auditorium ten years before -
local prodigy returns home in triumph - came backstage with the daughter,
then little, unhappy looking and silent. And now he was dead.
Silent. His brother had found him, naked in bed, multiple gunshot wounds,
and next to him, also dead, blood everywhere, his lover, a guy named Winfield.
So the next thing I thought was, Gary? Gay? He'd written in my high school
yearbook how he'd always, sort of, had a crush on me. "Sort of"
now being the operative words. Suddenly I had this flash: Gary as a kid,
wearing those European leather shorts. And it seemed, he wore them quite
a lot, not just to play "Hansel" in the junior high school German
play. Which was, by the way, a very big deal: on local TV, big story in
the paper, pictures of Gary - wearing the leather shorts - in a cage,
behind bars, and the witch in the foreground, stirring her evil brew.
Gary had yelled - I can hear his voice - "Du alte, böse Hexe,
du!" Which, roughly translated, means, "Fuck you, witch."
What did he yell on July l, l999, before the murderers took him out? Could
he even speak for terror? Later I found out, he had spoken, they
made him record a message on the answering machine. Which got entered
into State's Evidence. At gunpoint he had to say, "Winfield and I
are gonna be away for a week or two, so don't try to reach us at home.
We're going to a specialist in San Francisco, 'cause we're sick, we're
coming down with something." AND WE ALL KNOW WHAT THAT SOMETHING
IS! Then he had to cough so he'd sound sick. A voice in the background,
one of the killers, was heard saying, "Just try to calm down."
Like, we're gonna kill you, but, hey, lets not get all excited. Then he
and Winfield had to get up on their platform bed, which was pretty high
off the floor. The killers stood on chairs to blow them away at close
range. Emptied two shotguns into the two naked homos.
Two brothers named Williams - their folks lived just outside of Redding
- caught just days later heading south to Sacramento in the slain men's
car. Using Gary's credit card to buy ammunition loaders. Stupid as well
as evil. Police searches turned up a weapons stash, piles of literature:
Soldier of Fortune, pamphlets from the World Church of the Creator.
And then they found a hit list with the names of thirty-two Sacramento
Jews. These guys had torched three synagogues in Sacramento in June. Seems
they were on their way back to finish the job.
Your Shasta Cascade Wonderland! Everybody has a place they belong to,
this happens to be mine. I was born and raised in the Wonderland, in view
of two great volcanoes. Your Shasta Cascade Wonderland! Words to
match the great outdoors. Words only the Chamber of Commerce could coin,
words to splash over the brochure, the picture postcard: sports fisherman
hauls in a big one, Mt. Shasta overlooks approvingly. Your Shasta
Cascade Wonderland. Whose wonderland would that be, exactly?
by Burnell Yow and the Digital Exquisite Corpse Project
The night of my mother's call NBC Nightly News flashed Gary and Winfield
all over the country. My daughter, in Prague for the summer, saw them
in the Herald Trib. They'd gotten their fifteen minutes of fame.
But for me, Gary was the middle aged man with the thinning blonde hair
and the bad skin, my old friend. And I went on thinking about him, there
with Winfield, high up under the ceiling, guns trained on him, death grinning,
seconds away. Then an instant away. First Person ascending to platform,
spot following. Tell us, Gary. Did your whole life flash before you,
like they say? Did you hear voices? Spotlight becoming small and intense.
Albert Einstein conducted a thought experiment when he was about twenty
years old, riding a bicycle through the Italian countryside. He asked,
"What would it be like if I were riding a lot faster, right on
a beam of light?" Now we know, time dilation happens. Time as you
experience it does slow down, and everything you see gets
squeezed into a small circular window that stays just in front of you,
even things behind you - in the past - are in it. Spot enlarging, becomes
luminous, polychromatic. But if someone were looking at you, they'd
see you enveloped in radiance, your mass would increase, you'd become
larger than life, huge. Approaching a black hole would be like this too,
or maybe the moment just before dying, with everything that ever was,
is, will be, compressed into an eternal now. So maybe, old friend,
others were in the room with you and Winfield and the Williams boys, all
kinds of others. I like to think you saw them. Maybe you heard their voices.
Light fades to black briefly, then comes up on My Man (in wig), still
My Man: I would have told him - perhaps I did - "No big deal."
Death comes. I had seen it too by lantern light in the corral. Then also
there were voices. My Man descending platform, crossing to his chair,
spot following. When I came down out of the hills into the Sacramento
Valley I was fifty years old, like him. This was not too many miles from
his place in Happy Valley. I was naked, too, had only a few acorns in
my bag, but what did it matter by then? I was ready. It was night, so
I smelled my way along, found myself outside the slaughterhouse. There
was a small pen. It seemed as good a place as any. The white man's dogs
had me cornered and someone put a light right up to my face, a gun was
trained on me. I lowered my head, waiting. But they didn't shoot. The
night was full of voices. And it looked like they were scared,
even though I had no gun and no clothes. Maybe they just weren't expecting
to see an Indian alive any more. So then I looked up at them and I smiled.
Light fades, comes back up on First Person.
F. P.: When my parents first arrived in the Shasta Cascade Wonderland
in l948, they'd already survived Hitler, so they had few illusions what
people are capable of. One of the first events they attended was a big
outdoor gala celebrating a hundred years of California statehood and the
history of our northern Sacramento Valley. Speakers told how local Indians
had once terrorized the settlers, pillaging and killing, then how, in
the l860's brave Indian fighters from our community went up into the hills
to finish them off. Led by R. J. Anderson - the town nearest our farm
got named for him - they had astonishing success. At Millville. At Little
Cow Creek and in Cottonwood. At Oak Run they wiped out all 300 Yana conveniently
gathered for a religious ceremony. They did miss a few it seemed, some
four or five who hid out in a remote canyon for forty-six years, but those
didn't really count. The last one, named Ishi, came out of the hills in
l9ll, and professors from Berkeley made a big fuss over him. The main
thing was, the Shasta Cascade Wonderland had been made safe for decent,
law abiding, Christian people.
My dad, a man of unsurpassed survival skills, had already changed his
name and reconfigured the family past. For a time he attended the Methodist
Church every Easter. This strategy appears to have served him well. He
is still alive today in the Wonderland - a very old man - behind a gate
topped with barbed wire, loaded guns stationed around the house and, at
one time, assorted booby traps. Like others of his ilk, once schooled
in Vienna or Budapest, my dad became a teacher in primitive one-room schools.
There were a few still out there in those same foothills, schools with
names like Parkville, Oak Run, Bush Bar, with outhouses and no electricity.
Teaching jobs nobody else wanted, but where the school board didn't ask
too many questions as long as the teacher appeared to be white and wasn't
a wuss. My dad taught the great grandchildren of the Indian killers evolutionary
theory and how to appreciate light and shade in the paintings of Rembrandt.
I went to the schools, too, grades two through five. I was one of the
kids squatting in the dusty schoolyard - shooting marbles where Yana Indians
had been wiped off the face of the earth. Spot fades, then comes up
on My Man in chair.
My Man: Things got a lot better for me after I smiled. They took me to
the Oroville jail and locked me up, but I could tell they just didn't
know what else to do with me. I didn't like any of their food - except
the doughnuts, so they gave me more of those. And also clothes, which
I liked, especially the silk tie. They tried to find other Indians who
could speak my language - that didn't work out too good, there weren't
any more - brought down one old Yana, Sam Batwee, from Redding, and he
helped out with a few words here and there. Finally a man came up from
the University of California, an anthropologist. By then the whole world
had heard about me or seen my picture on the wires. I was famous. This
anthropologist said he had a new home for me where I could serve the scientific
community, a special house set up where scholars could watch me make arrows.
Ethnomusicologists could transcribe and record my songs. Up north in the
Valley some newspapers complained. I was not some marvel, they said, just
an ordinary Indian being made too much of. But not everyone pays attention
to such journalists. Within fifty years my story would be required reading
for schoolchildren all over the state. Light fades on My Man, comes
up on First Person.
F. P.: Gary and Winfield were horticulturists. Gary had probably done
more to beautify the community than any one else, living or dead, in its
history. Fresh out of college in the seventies, and over the years, he
co-founded an arboretum, a museum of natural science and a farmer's market
that created jobs for many people. Later he and Winfield organized a grower's
cooperative to promote native species. They planted parks and gardens
pro bono. Gary would come by my parents' house to check on their ground
cover. My mother relied on his advice. Gary didn't seem to get rich from
all this, which may have made people uneasy - even before he and Winfield
set up housekeeping in a mobile home in Happy Valley. Some felt, no one
should care that much about plants - or people. It just wasn't natural.
Worse still, Gary had a big mouth, about how the workers at his arboretum
should be earning a living wage. At last he called a meeting to unionize
them. Two days later, the board fired him as director. This all happened
a year or two before the murders. There was a brief outcry, some people
wrote letters to the Record Searchlight, others, like me, made
halting, impotent phone calls. And then, of course, it all blew over.
Light slowly fading. Gary and Winfield went on-line, became virtual
Spot coming up on Only, wearing hat, in chair.
Only: You can call me "Only." I have, of course, another name,
Moishe or Shloimy, it doesn't matter. My town? Like many another that
used to be, not so big, not so small, in Lithuania somewhere or Ukraine.
We could call it "Gonish" if you want, it makes no difference.
Everything I'm about to tell you is true. Why would I lie? I've told it
to others. Maybe it comes out sounding a little different each time, but
the essential facts are the same. Gonish is on the other side of the world
from Gary's trailer house in Happy Valley, but I now have access to the
internet. On which the events of the murder are all over the place, I
feel like I'm in the room with him. Going on-line is an enjoyable pastime
when you're ninety years old and not occupied with giving interviews to
the foreign press. Why do they still interview me? Because of the remarkable
events that happened here years ago. It was not long after the war with
Germany. I had been in the Russian army. In Gonish there were not too
many of us soldiers who came back, this was first of all quite unusual.
I had still my gun with me. The first thing I do is to look for the other
Jews of our town - over a thousand of us had lived here, a real community.
So, I ask, where are they all? The people of the town look at me very
strangely. Why are you asking this? Don't you know, everyone was rounded
up when the Germans came. They held them there in the study house. We
don't know what happened after, but not one was ever heard from again.
Then they tell me I can go inside to look, maybe find there some souvenirs.
And so I do go. And I find a few family pictures lying there on the floor.
What had happened, they were all packed in tight to wait until the trucks
came, or the gas vans, and disposed of them all.
So, I am wondering, what will I do with myself. The people are not easy
in their minds, I should still have my side arm. Some think to confiscate
it, maybe I hold a grudge for whatever reason. Others say, no, he may
be a Jew but he's a hero of the Russian army. Besides, he's the only one
left. They give me a job tending graves in the Jewish cemetery for a few
rubles, charity. I go to my new job the next day and see they are using
it for their cows to graze there. An abomination. I shout and wave my
arms, drive the cows away, but the next day they are there again. I take
my gun, fire it into the air. No good. Then I fire it at one of the cows
and the town brings me up on charges. My gun is taken away, hero or no
hero. There is a long discussion, should I or should I not be jailed.
Again they are lenient, I have, after all, suffered. I am, after all,
the only one left. They release me with a warning: no more violence against
the cows. The next day I again watch over the cemetery, again desecrated
by the goyishe cows. But that afternoon comes a storm, such a storm no
one in Gonish has seen before or since. The sky turns black, the wind
shrieks and then heaven opens up with such a bolt of lightning coming
out, it drives straight into the very tree where all the cows are huddled
underneath. And every one of them is struck dead where she stands. Not
one is left alive.
My fortunes change greatly after this. I am allowed to open the study
house and have there my own desk and a small office. In recent years I
acquired a computer. People from the town - and even foreign journalists,
seekers of truth - come to interview me. We have a sandwich, a glass of
tea. They ask, what is the meaning of this occurrence, what do I think
is the nature of divine justice. These are difficult questions, not readily
answered. They would do better to ask, what are people like? And what
will they do now that Gary is gone and they can't give back to him a little
office and his own desk? Light fades, comes back up on My Man.
My Man: Not long after I arrived in Berkeley they took me across the bay
to the opera. This was so I could see more of the white man's culture,
but also, so people could see the famous Ishi. Not my name, only another
who knows it can speak it, and now there was not another. Ishi means just
"My Man." I was that. I was man of the hour in the San Francisco
Opera House. It was my coming out party. A lady was singing on the stage,
Lena somebody. I couldn't look at her. She came over to my box with everybody
watching and took me by the hand up on the stage. My Man ascending
platform, spot following. I wore no shoes, the people liked
that. On stage the light on me was as bright as the sun, but it was a
tunnel. When I looked I saw black things moving like worms. I was inside
the light or it was inside me. Spot becomes luminous, multichromatic.
Again I felt death close by. I grew until I filled the whole stage.
The woman was all feathers and sparkles, half-naked. Then she began to
sing. Removing wig and outer garment to reveal spangled body suit,
singing "Melancholy Baby." As song ends, light fades, comes
back on My Man still on platform. She did kiss me too, where it says
in the song, only I had no tears. So I was kissed by a woman for the first
and last time with all of San Francisco looking on. People seemed happy,
perhaps they felt love. It was a very good moment. I thought, for such
a moment a whole people must die. Descending platform as spot fades.
It comes up on First Person in chair.
F. P.: A lot of things happened very quickly after Gary and Winfield's
murder and the arrest of the Williams brothers. One of these was that
the board of Gary's arboretum, who had so recently fired him, met and
announced they would be erecting a monument to Gary in the oak grove.
Some kind of statue, perhaps, with Gary surrounded by small plants, his
hands raised in benediction. This didn't sit well with people close to
him, so the monument idea was scrapped. In its place were vigils, rallies
and solidarity demonstrations attended by Redding's miniscule gay and
Jewish communities, some African Americans, a handful of partial Indians,
and hundreds of people who just liked plants. On the first anniversary
of the murders a Celebration of Life and Diversity happened on the lawn
of the Carter House Museum, one of Gary's projects. Civic leaders proclaimed
there had never been, was not now and never would be, a place for bigotry
in the Wonderland. Leading the events were dancers, aged two through seventeen,
from the Fancy Dance Troupe of the Local Indians for Education Center
in Shasta Lake, accompanied by the Mountain Water Singers drum group.
The dance's purpose was "to let everyone know that there's still
culture," said dancer Andrea Simmons, l6. Then a possibly Jewish
member of the community taught the crowd how to dance the hora. And Isaac
Lowe, 78, remembered back to l950, when he was president of the NAACP.
"That's how long I've been fighting violence and racism," Lowe
said. Such an occasion is precious. Such an occasion needed a double homicide.
Spot fades, pale light coming up over platform, as at first, First Person
Could Gary see all this, including the Fancy Dance Troupe and the Mountain
Water Singers, in the eternal nanosecond before the Williams boys blew
him away? Were they all there in the bedroom too? Did they sing to him?
Brief vocalization, light over platform fades, spot returning on First
The Williams brothers have not yet come to trial for the murders of Gary
and Winfield. I think they will get death in the end, everyone seems to.
F.P. crossing to chair marked "Doll," spot following.
Consider last of all the case of the Neander Doll. A girl whose 20,000-year
old remains were just found in a cave in Portugal. By that time there
were no real Neanderthals left, they vanished from the Iberian Peninsula,
their last outpost, some 30,000 years ago. But here was proof - clearly
a hybrid, a girl half "modern," half Neanderthal, that the new
people who'd moved in, took over, wiped out the natives, had also bred
with them. Maybe missed them when there were none - or no whole ones -
left, only an occasional expression of the lost people, as in this girl:
a foreshortened limb, an occipital bun, an oversized epiglottis. Yes,
missed her, and maybe staged a pageant in her memory full of yearning
for what had been, or might have been. Maybe dressed up as her, sang her
First Person into blond wig, sitting in "Doll" chair, singing
glottal vocalizations as at first. As song nears its end "Doll"
is enveloped in Einsteinian light, glows briefly, then fades into darkness.