Joe woke, groggy from a late night of studying. It was the weekend, but one to be spent pretending to be his ancestors for minimum wage.
He allowed himself a bit of worrying as he dressed. Almost to the end of the school year and still no prospects for a summer job. The budget cuts that had eliminated his planned summer Internship were getting deeper not better. No hope there.
By the end of his cold cereal, he decided to put off thinking about the summer problem until the upcoming week. Today he would get through his part-time Museum job. It didn’t pay much but did cover food.
Joe arrived early and entered the Museum’s back entrance into the rooms that staged the Native American displays. Although he had to be ready at opening, he typically had no visitors until they wandered their way through the front exhibits. He had his displays out and had made a start on a new basket before he heard the first visitors.
Two men entered, one after the other. The first headed his way, the other meandering to the displays of clothing.
“Hey Indian, why you doing baskets,” the approaching man asked. “Ain’t that squaw’s work?”
“Good morning, Sir,” Joe said. “Excuse me, but the term ‘squaw’ is considered to be a derogatory term.”
“Whatever,” the man replied. “So why you doing women’s work?”
“Baskets and skins were the only containers for thousands of years. Even hunters…”
“Yeah, yeah,” the man interrupted. “What’s with these rocks?”
“These are obsidian and chert. The best of available material for producing sharp edges,” Joes said. He took a slow breath. The man looked normal enough, shaved and adequately dressed.
“So what good is a rock with sharp edges?” the man asked.
“These are basic tools,” answered Joe. “The edges are used for hunting, skinning and scraping”.
The man picked up a scrapper, looked at it and dropped it. “So where’d you learn this stuff?” he asked. “On the reservation?”
Joe drew in another deep breath. This one not so silent. He needed this job, this man he didn’t need.
“Actually, I’ve never lived on a reservation,” Joe said.
“So you’re a tame Indian?” the man asked.
“We’re all tame now-a-days,” Joe answered. Maybe a little humor could calm this guy.
The man moved one of the offered chairs and sat down. A little hard from the groan of the chair.
“Ok, show me,” he said.
Joe continued with his basket, completing the bottom and working on the beginning of the sides.
“You can buy one of these for a buck at the Dollar Store,” the man commented.
Replying was useless, so Joe kept working. He did notice that the other man who had entered earlier was now standing a few yards away. This one was apparently looking at a display of beadwork.
“Heck, I’ll give you two bucks for it,” the first man added with what sounded like a low laugh.
“Actually, Sir,” Joe said, “these baskets go for a quite a lot more at the Museum Shop.” Unfortunately, not many sold.
“Hey, not bad for woman’s work” the first man said. “Ever think of getting a real job?”
Joe stopped. Not worth it. Maybe this guy’s got an issue or two. Joe continued working the basket.
“Hell, this is boring,” the man said. He got up and wandered away.
Joe worked for a few more minutes.
Then, with a whirlwind of chatter, a small group of children stopped by, a harried mother in tow. Joe smiled. Kids were always enthusiastic, even if somewhat inattentive.
For the next 20 minutes, Joe fielded questions, managing to keep up with the changing and somewhat tangential flow of topics.
Finally, when he thought his voice would give out, the kids moved on, the harried mother still in tow.
Joe realized that the second man was still nearby.
“Can I explain something, Sir,” Joe called out to this watching man. Sometimes people were curious but hesitant to ask questions about unfamiliar topics.
“Actually not,” this man said, walking over. “What I overhead was very clear.” He was tall, with tanned skin. He wore what Joe call Country Camo: plaid shirt and blue jeans. His boots looked expensive, but worn and comfortable.
“My name’s Alex,” he said. “Here in town on business.” He stuck out his hand. Joe took it. Firm but without the macho over-pressure thing.
Joe introduced himself, adding “The Museum has me here on weekends to demonstrate the old skills used by the First Americans.”
“Later today I’m flying back to a ranch I manage.” Alex said. “It’s a large Resort operation. And we’ve been lookin’ for some help with the summer season activities. We got us a Naturalist and a Blacksmith to give classes to our clients. Thinkin’ of adding someone to cover these pre-contact skills. You interested?”
“Why…,” Joe stammered. “Yes, I’d like to hear about it.”
“Good,” Alex said. “I was sorta watching you with that drunk and with the kids. You handle yourself pretty good. That’s important at our resort.”
Joe took Alex’s business card and gave him his contact information.
“I’ll have our Activity Director send you an application first thing Monday.” Alex said. “Hope to see you again.”
Joe stood for a few seconds after the man left. Maybe this next year’s finances would be ok.