So I’m on the Pine Ridge reservation for reasons I don’t remember. To visit friends? Traveling through? It doesn’t matter. The fact is, I was there.
Understand that the town of Pine Ridge is a pretty hardscrabble place — a gas station, a couple of stores, a Subway and a Taco John’s, and a coffee house that keeps me alive with the only espresso for miles around. But it has no motels or accommodations, and it was getting time to find a place to bed down for the night.
Being a devotee of cheap motels — partly because I like their character and partly because I hate to pay more than $30 a night to sleep — I drove 25 miles south through the empty rolling hills to the little Nebraska town of Rushville.
Now, Rushville, to be charitable, isn’t much — very different from Pine Ridge in that it is a ghostly remainder of what once was a thriving white rural community. But in its current state it is little more than a dusty, sleepy, dying one main street small town visited by few, and with no apparent reason to exist other than that it hasn’t yet dried up and disappeared. The population is about 900, and you’d be hard pressed to find them. Think tumbleweeds, a grain elevator, and a few old men in pickups.
As I had expected, I found a cheap motel on the edge of town. A bed, a shower, not too many crawling things scuttling across the floor of the room, and the diesel whine of eighteen wheelers rumbling by on the highway outside.
But there was something more in Rushville that evening.
Back in Pine Ridge, at the gas station/convenience store that serves as the hub of the town, I had seen a poster for a film that was being premiered or having a single showing at some little theater on Rushville’s mostly boarded up main street.
It was called Rez Bomb, and it had been made by someone named Steven Simpson. Much of it, the poster claimed, had been filmed on Pine Ridge. And the filmmaker was going to be in attendance.
The whole notion was surreal and strange. Rushville? Film premiere? Shot on Pine Ridge? None of it made any sense. But, then again, how much sense did a I, a Ph.D. in religious studies, trained in sculpture, and now writing books about the people and dreams of Indian country, make in my own right?
I was curious. And, in the back of my mind, there was the hope, faint and foolish, that this Simpson character was cut from the same cloth as I and might, just might, be the one to finally turn Neither Wolf nor Dog into a film after more than half a dozen years of failed and false starts by folks making promises and blowing kisses in my ear. This Simpson, whoever he was, at least had rez dust on his feet.
I made my way down the empty main street to the little theater. It was some old 1920’s show hall that was apparently rented out occasionally by some community theater and otherwise sat mostly vacant. There were a few Indians scattered about — probably curious folks who had driven down from Pine Ridge. But, other than that, no audience to speak of.
The film came on and it was a professional, quickly paced piece that was not about Pine Ridge, but used Pine Ridge as its setting. I was surprised and intrigued. The world is full of productions that want to show the poor downtrodden Indian or the shame of America’s reservations or some variation of an “up from poverty/flowers growing from the garbage” theme. This was none of those. The folk on the screen were just folk who happened to be Indian. The reservation was neither glorified nor vilified. This was the work of a man comfortable with the people and the place.
Either at the beginning or the end to the showing — I don’t remember which — the filmmaker got up to say a few words. He was fairly young — somewhere shy of 40, kind of quirky and shabby, a bit slouchy and looking in need of a shower. He had a Scottish accent.
He fascinated me. Who was he? Why was he here? How did he get such access to the people and the place of Pine Ridge? I determined to get him a copy of Neither Wolf nor Dog just to see if maybe he was the one I had been looking for.
Here my memory gets very hazy. I don’t think I gave a copy of the book to him at the showing. I think I went back to the motel and bedded down in my creaky bed and listened to the semis whine by on the highway. What I remember clearly is that in the morning I walked out into the Nebraska sun, and coming out of one of the other units in this mostly empty $30 a night motel, was Steven Simpson. Perhaps it was then that I gave him the book. All I remember is that when I did hand it to him I felt awkward and inappropriate, mumbling in an overly offhanded way that I was an author and that maybe he’d like this book. He took it in the manner of all people who are handed books by strangers — with a display of graciousness that masked a desire not to engage with someone who may or may not be insane.
But, the fact remained: here we both were in a cheap roadside motel where no one other than down-on-their-luck families, hard drinking highway construction crews, and passing truckers would ever think of staying. And both of us were white men who, for some reason, found ourselves invested in telling stories from Indian country. Somewhere, there was some synchronicity that I could only hope spoke of a commonality of purpose.
We parted ways, I thought nothing more of it, and felt that it was one more casting of bread upon the waters.
I did not hear from Steven for more than a year.
I’ll finish the story when Steven’s kickstarter gets to $23,000. Go to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/126766071/neither-wolf-nor-dog-movie-adaptation?ref=nav_search to contribute.