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The Essay
Show #470
The Yuman Condition
David Gunn

Bescadero Bengaze was a Yuma Indian who lived in a desert village in the Lower Colorado River Valley. Astute listeners will recognize the surname, and, indeed, he was a relative of the musical shaman, Beano Bengaze. Genealogy is always a bit murky with shamans--they don't fancy being too closely linked to mere mortals lest they tip off an agent of the Witness Protection Program--but we can be pretty sure that Bescadero was a half-nephew of Beano's stepmother's au pair. He lived with his extended clan in the village of Gorda Cabeza, Arizona, near the Mexican border. His father and mother farmed, as did his brothers Pablo, Pascual, and Pedro. Hoping he would do likewise, his inamorata, Isabel, fashioned for him from the branches of the baobab tree a set of farming implements: a hoe, a rake, and a one-half scale combine with an inclined-delivery auger, titanium silage head, tri-sweep tailings processor, ancillary grain tank, adjustable louvers on the lower sieves, fast-folding tank extensions, grain loss monitor and 2,200 radiated aspartame fuel pods. This was an offer that most Yuma Indians couldn't refuse. But Bescadero wasn't like most Yumans. His was a quixotic nature. He dreamed of heady adventures, of leaving the Colorado River Valley and exploring the rest of the Earth. Oh, he was all for maintaining Indian Tradition, but not when the stultifying consequence was a life of mind-numbing subsistence farming.

He was briefly tempted, however. One day, Isabel plopped Bescadero down into the combine's comfy cab--whose air conditioning system she had ingeniously constructed out of the tree's cones, scales and bark beetles--and bade him drive. The machine handled so effortlessly that Bescadero was instantly impressed. And in one hour the harvesting mechanism reaped two hundred and fifteen bushels of peyote buttons, more than a skilled Yuma hunter-gatherer squad could collect in a whole day. But as he guided the machine boustrophedonically through the desert scrub, his mind began to wander. Beano would say that he was about to have a vision.

Bescadero was sitting in a canoe suspended from the ceiling of a fancy restaurant. All the other patrons were seated around a large round table and dressed as Polynesian royalty. The front of the canoe was covered with a linen tablecloth, and a runcible spoon and machete were Velcroed to the bowsprit. A waiter whose body was adorned with tattoos of scores of mouths sidled up to him. A description of the restaurant's house special seemed to emanate from the mouth on the man's latissimus dorsi. Bescadero nodded, the waiter vanished, and in his place there appeared a tray of peyote sticky buns, the customary Yuma Indian feastday meal. As Bescadero bit into one, the restaurant's patrons floated up to and through the ceiling, dribbling orts as they rose. Bescadero felt a slight tremor in the canoe, and then it abruptly executed six stomach-churning barrel rolls. He leapt out just as it broke free of its mooring and followed the trenchermen's spoor up to and through the ceiling. He woke as Isabel was shaking him, stridently imploring him to stop. His stepmother's winter yurt was not a dozen feet ahead, and he slammed on the combine's brakes just in time. Glancing in the rear view mirror, he noticed behind him a swath of destroyed homes. Farming, he reckoned, was just not in the cards for him. So he picked up his bedroll, pecked Isabel on the cheek, jumped down from the cab, and headed north along the banks of the Colorado River, determined to fill his life with heady adventure.

And adventures did find him. It seemed that Bescadero merely had to let his mind wander and, next thing he knew, he'd be up to his eyeballs in intrigue. There was the escapade with Oldchief Pescador and the Zaparro Indians of Zacatecas; the rediscovery of the Crown Jewels of Rangoon in The Dollar Store; the perilous expedition to find the breeding ground of Sonoma Organic Soot, and dozens more. Fortunately, he always was able to extricate himself whenever real danger threatened. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, months to more months--twenty in all--and then, after escaping a particularly harrowing adventure with a threshing machine, Bescadero found himself slogging across the Colorado River back into Gorda Cabeza. In the distance, he spotted Isabel's combine harvesting another crop of peyote buttons. But he went straight to the tribe's community center, sat down in front of the typewriter, and began to transcribe the voluminous notes he'd written during his nearly two-year walkabout.

The book was a local bestseller, and even earned a review bullet on Amazon.com. His publisher sent Bescadero on a nationwide book tour, which led to even more adventures, and, ultimately, a sequel. Good though it was, it didn't live up to his first publication which was titled, as if you didn't know, "Of Yuman Vagabondage."

Half of the hosts of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is presently vagabonding, as evidenced by the lack of palaver so far during this 470th episode. However, an interview soon follows that contains so much confabulation that it may be hazardous to your ears' health. So check with your otorhinolaryngologist before listening any further. Details, as usual, follow.