I'd like to thank everyone for their kind comments and emails last week, and for being patient while I took a few days off to say goodbye to my great Uncle Robert Chomstein. The Navajo people knew him as Naadåa DaaNeéaNaa Néé, or "He Who Reeks of Bongwater", and although he was simply "Uncle Bob" to me, he was much more than just an uncle. He was a mentor. A sage. The last of a dying race of progressive giants who ushered in the civil rights movement with an enlightened cocktail of psychedelic drugs, free love, and congenital herpes.
Indeed, my own political philosophy has its roots in Uncle Bob's little geodesic dome on the banks of the Rio Grande, and my return to Santa Fe last weekend conjured up old childhood memories of summers spent frolicking naked amongst the pinyoned arroyos with the horned lizards, the mournful cries of ancient Pueblo ghosts shouting at me to get off their property floating on the warm New Mexico winds. Now, thanks to Bush's refusal to ratify Kyoto, the winds will sear the flesh right off your bones, and the pinyons have all gone the way of old man Zozobra - burned to ashes like so many civil liberties during a Republican administration.
An environmental and political activist before activism would get you a one-way ticket to Gitmo, Uncle Bob was deeply involved with the American Indian Movement, and it was not unusual to see such Native American heroes as Ward Churchill, Jane Fonda, and Skip Stevenson gathered around the family hooka on a warm summer night, the firelight seeming to deepen the lines in their noble Indian visages. War wounds, perhaps. Scars collected from a lifetime of suffering at the hands of offensive sports logos, racist cartoon characters, and humiliating cigar store sculptures.
Uncle Bob was also an accomplished Native American artist. Unlike the traitorous slime he had dubbed "Uncle Tomahawks", Bob refused to steal precious silver and turqouise from the sacred womb of Gaia. Instead, you'd find typically him at Santa Fe's vibrant Indian Market every weekend, peddling his charming kokopelli figurines fashioned from ear wax and cat turds. He was a regular fixture at the Plaza for many years, until the intolerant wasicu in the city health department forced him out of business. His passing, however, is certain to increase the value of his works, and I've already seen a few of his lint and pubic hair dreamweavers fetching upwards of six dollars a piece on eBay.
The last time I saw him, Uncle Bob was already showing signs of the senile dementia that would ultimately claim his life, and it made him an easy target for Republican hucksters and scam artists who prey on the weak and feeble. I can still recall poring through his piles of unopened utility statements to discover a $950 electricity bill. How a man who lived in a solar powered home could be charged that much for electricity was beyond me, but when I brought it to his attention he merely gave me his trademark toothless grin an nodded knowingly.
"Coyote workum for Enron," he'd say with a wink. "Now come, young papoose! We call Pow Wow. Have big backyard Fire Dance before DEA Kachinas findum basement crop of glaucoma medicine!" Even as his health failed him, Uncle Bob was always thinking of others. And hundreds came from all over the reservation last Friday to show their gratitude and pay him their final respects.