Sacred Wraps


Evelina Zuni Lucero

Dusk was overtaking the East Bay. A bluish cast from the street light spilled upon the parking lot as the Buick swung wide into a space. Light glistened on car chrome. Clyde jumped nimbly out of his car, a beaten Buick Regal with the front seat on the driver's side sagging toward the door from his weight. I got out, carefully arranging my folded shawl over my arm so that its long silk fringe fell straight and untangled. Drumming and singing carried faintly over the distance of a football field, over the rush of the nearby freeway.

Clyde stared over the top of the car, past the football field toward the powwow grounds. He stood big, a refrigerator of a man, dark and wild-haired. His sunglasses, smudged and greasy-looking, sat atop the tangle of his hair. Although it was drawn into two wrapped braids, wiry wisps managed to escape all over his head. Clyde looked imposing. He wasn't quite six feet, but he seemed well over that height. His belly flowed generously over his beaded belt buckle. I happened to know it was beaded, but m ost people didn't because no one could ever see it. His feet, wide and flat, were encased in scruffy moccasins. Most of the spring quarter, he had walked barefoot around campus so that the bottoms of his feet had become thickened, his toes spread out. H owever, after Professor Kovacs, whom Clyde deeply admired, had stared disapprovingly at his feet and asked if he was facing financial difficulties, Clyde began to wear the moccasins, which, except for the few beads on top, looked very much like his own bare feet. Clyde placed one moccasin on the rear bumper to tie the leather string. The bumper, pasted with stickers declaring THINK INDIAN and INDIAN PRIDE, lowered noticeably.

He straightened, breathing heavily. "Dang'et. We missed the Grand Entry." He looked at me accusingly.

"Don't blame me. You're the one who had to have your hair done."

Clyde's dark face darkened further. He looked sheepish. His preoccupation with wrapping his hair had become legendary among his friends. It all began when he had joined the Berkeley football team, not as a player but as a water boy or towel holder of some sort, though he would never put a name to what he did. His grades fell enough to put him on probation, so he took a class in modern dance in order to raise his grade point average with an easy A. He hadn't expected to like the dance class, but it turned out he could leap and twist and kick with a grace gone untapped till then. He learned disco, the robot, the bump, the moonwalk and more. He took over the dance floor at parties. His hair was just barely touching his shoulders then, and wild as it was, it fell into his eyes and interfered with the graceful execution of his dance steps. Clyde's hair was barely long enough to form two stubs for braids, but when he covered the stubs with rabbit fur wrappings, he cleverly lengthened what was not there. Overnight, he achieved the look of long braids any AIM member would be proud to wear. Clyde must have gotten caught up in his own image because shortly it got to the point where he couldn't and wouldn't go anywhere unless his hair was wrapped, which required a hairdresser, a female, of course, because no male was going to be wrapping another guy's hair. The job largely fell to my roommate, Jackie, and me, and the two of us got our share of jokes for the role we played in helping Clyde with his "sacred wraps," as they came to be known. When he twirled on the dance floor, the wraps enlivened and hung on. He passed out on the couch more than once, legs sprawled, head thrown back, mouth open, sacred wraps intact.

He'd gotten so obsessed with wrapping his hair, I think, because he wanted to make sure no one mistook him for what he was: a genuine, one hundred percent, real Indian. Clyde was half-Pueblo, half-Apache. He told me that having the blood of two traditional enemies ebbing and flowing in his veins gave him no peace. One part of him wanted to plant corn, and send down roots; another part wanted to roam, free as the wind. Further complicating matters, Clyde hadn't grown up on either of his parents' reservations, making him feel neither here nor there. Instead, he grew up in Reno, the biggest little city in the world. Having fixed his hair so often, Jackie and I were sure that his wraps had become his ties to his peoples, and we told him so every chance we got.

Clyde and I remembered all this in the moment we looked at each other over the hood of the car. His flush deepened, so that his face was rose-hued. He looked down at the wraps on his chest, lifted one at me, and said, "At least one of us looks good."

From Native Roots and Rhythm, 1.1 (1999): 7.
© 2004 Evelina Zuni Lucero

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