From The Parables of Don Guangoche - Losing at Dice
BY: Michael Vernon
Since moving away from Taos, New Mexico in 2005, my visits with the Don Guangoche have been less frequent. Last September, over a three day weekend I journeyed to Northern New Mexico. I took a chance that Don Guangoche would be at home. I woke up early to make the treacherous journey up a rocky four wheel drive pass. The road winds its way through aspen and Douglas fir, into the Sangre de Christos Mountains east of Taos.
Presenting a few simple gifts is a way to honor a "sage". It is a tradition, and shows respect. I packed a box with tobacco, sweet grass, some coffee and ten pounds of pinto beans. The occasional clink, clink, clink, from a bottle of tequila hitting against a bottle of maple syrup, was the only sound besides the grinding roar of the engine of my old Dodge truck lumbering along in low gear. Nearing Don Guangoche's cabin, his blue eye dog, Yapie escorted me barking all the way to announce my arrival.
Don Guangoche's cabin clings to the edge of a steep canyon, perched like a huge bird house in a clearing that juts out from the trees. From his front porch, the view is 180 degrees of Northern New Mexico. Looking west, you can see maybe sixty miles to the horizon. The flat top mountain of Cerro Pedernal stands as a centurion to the "Ancient Ones", the Anasazi, whose ruins are not far from Abiquiu. The huge boulders of Tres Pedres stand out, as if placed by the hand of God and to the north the giant mound of San Antonio Mountain distinguishes the boarder of New Mexico and Colorado, just before Antonito.
Don Guangoche sat rocking in a chair nonchalantly, as though I drove up his "river bed" of a road every day. A half smoked, hand rolled cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth, unlit. As my truck rolled to a stop, he waved his arm and shouted, "Hey vato, come over here!" Yapie finally stopped barking as I got down. My insides felt curdled like churned butter after the jolting drive.
I shook Don Guangoche's hand. He pulled me into an embrace and then he slapped me hard on the back. It was the kind of slap that stings and it carried the message that my visits have been too long apart.
Don Guangoche invited me in to his home, "Let's eat something". Sitting at Don Guangoche's table having a coffee, some chicos with refried beans and thick home made tortillas was in its self a spiritual experience. The fire in his wood stove heated the entire cabin as well as kept the coffee hot and cooked the food that he eats. There's always a pot of coffee and a pot of pinto beans on the stove.
After finishing the chicos and beans, he rolled a cigarette lit it from a kitchen match that he struck on a post. "So, what is your question, what do you want to know?" He asked me out of the blue. I really did not have a question. It was just a social visit, at least that was what I thought. I told him that I had some time off and decided to come to Taos and pay him a visit. "Bullshit!" He said. "No one comes up that ball busting hill just to see me unless they want something." Next thing, I hear myself saying to him, "Well, it is really not my question but a question that that others are asking. I suppose I could use some of your insight."
I went on to explain how I had received email letters from people that played dice at Indian casinos. It was their opinion that the dice games were unfair. I told Don Guangoche how some of these people reported cheating and bias dice to make sure players would always lose. The same players who formerly won are now finding it impossible to win.
"You White people are so vain. It is all about you and when it does not go your way, you cry poor me, I am cheated." He laughed hard at his own joke.
He went on to explain that Natives had lived in flow before the White Man came along. "If we did not kill an animal, we did not eat. We did not know "poor me", we just knew hunger. Did we stop living in flow? No, we kept on with life.
After making my statements, my first thought was where the hell did all of that come from? Don Guangoche is going to think I am nuts for boring him with such trivial nonsense. To my surprise, the old man simply said, "Yes, I know... a decir verdad." Confirming what I had asked. Then he went on to tell me this story.
"You should understand the White Man's karma. You know the history of how the People of the Land were lied to and mistreated. The Great Spirit is called upon all the time. But it is not through Grandfather's ways that things happen the way that we think they do. It is the nature of all things to strive to be in balance. That is the rule. Balance takes time. As a man, we do not know about the direction of balance or the time involved for things to come back around. You hear people all the time asking, "Why God, why did this horrible thing have to happen?" Well, we do not know that it is so horrible in fact, or just the balance of all things coming around. To sit as judge is not man's assignment on this earth, it is God's."
"Is it not true, that in nature, everything is within a cycle? From season to season, from birth to death, all things move in a circle, do they not? So it is for the People of the Land. Although they are no longer able to live life in their ways, their ways do live on." Don Guangoche paused, puffed on his cigarette and continued. "That the Native Americans survived long enough to be given the power of gambling is critical in understanding the complexity of the question you just asked."
"For now, the tables are turned. Instead of the Indians being plied with liquor and lies to manipulate them, and swindle them from their homeland, now it is the Indians' turn to balance all the wrongs suffered upon them."
"So, it is part of the balance that the White Man flocks to the Indian casino to gamble money away. It is in his nature. It is the White Man's way of his continued greed. Always more, always more. But see how the tables are now turned. Ever consider why, with Indian casinos, the members of the tribe are forbidden to gamble in their own casino?"
"I will tell you a little of this and then you can do with it what you want. It is powerful medicine and because it is so powerful, it is hidden. It is invisible. So, no one will believe you when you tell of it. Because no one can see it, no one will believe you. This is something I know you understand. But no one will believe you. (He laughed) And the joke is on the White Man because he says that "seeing is believing", and in the nature of things it is the other way around... we believe in the unseen, we believe in the spirit of all things."
Don Guangoche puffed on a cigarette while holding his mug of coffee. He took the last drink of coffee and said to me, "Let's go outside".
"Here is the thing about this question, yes or no, it does not even matter to you. It only matters to the "doubters" out there. Do you understand? Look out there". Don Guangoche pointed, sweeping his arm from south to north. "Do you see anything or anyone who has curiosity about this question? Hell no! Never the less, the answer to your question is out there, but it will not be noticed by doubters. Just because something is unseen, that does not mean that what you are asking about isn't taking place. Confused esse?"
Don Guangoche paused while looking at me, but I knew that his question was not meant for me to answer. It was just his way of asking me if I was paying attention. A gust of wind blew through the boughs of the fir tress. "Do you hear the sound of fall coming in those trees? The wind always carries a message. We need to have the wind blow through the trees in order to hear the message. Without the trees resisting the wind, we'd hear nothing. Hey, I have to return some of that coffee back to Mother Earth, then let's go back inside."
The brisk mountain air was refreshing but it was good to be back to the warmth of the wood stove. Don Guangoche continued, "I am not going to say it all to you, but I will tell you that it is not this concocted notion of cheating with gimmicks that you ask about. There is no need for that. It all favors the Indian casino now and the White Man should know this. After all, is it not the White Man's own game? Blaming the Indian for not being able to win is so ironic. It is too funny when you tell me of this." Don Guangoche filled our coffee mugs with steaming coffee. "There is something going on alright." He paused to sip some coffee. "But it is not for this suspected reason of cheating."
"Have you ever heard of the expression critical mass? After most of the tribes had some sort of gambling on the reservation, Native casinos gained critical mass. Like closing a circle, the energy that began the process of Tribal casinos was complete. What is going on now, in my opinion, has to do with making right the wrongs delivered by the White Man's invasion of the land. That is all."
Don Guangoche stopped talking as though that was all there was to it. He started to roll up another cigarette. When he was finished, he shoved it up behind his ear. He turned his head from my direction. Then, Don Guangoche laughed a deep belly laugh as though he was really teasing me. Shaking his head he asked, "What did you think, that I would tell you it was some kind of a curse on the gamblers playing in Indian casinos?"
He laughed again and asked me, "Is that what you think? No, mi amigo, it is just the way of things in the natural cycle of how the balance is maintained over time. However, this thing does involve a drawing energy that pulls on the emotions of weak men. It is about the fear of loss. Natives had to experience their loss in the way that they did. They lost everything that was important to them. Now it is the White Man's turn to lose. The energy comes around. Gamblers lose what they fear. Gamblers fear losing what they value. They fear losing money."
Don Guangoche nodded his head at me as if asking for my confirmation on the subject. He finished what he had to say with, "Now, I know your next question, otro vez. How I came to know about this question of yours? "Later... I will tell you later when you buy me breakfast at Abe's Cantina in the morning."
Don Guangoche got up. He muttered something in Spanish as he walked over to the wood piled near the woodstove. I noticed that he picked up several sticks of juniper then gestured to me to open the woodstove's door. Juniper is my favorite wood smoke. The aroma of the smoke invokes a beautiful feeling. Perhaps it is the reason it is often used for cooking in Northern New Mexico.
The sun was about an hour away from setting in a cloudless western sky. You have to have clouds in order to have a spectacular Taos sunset. I poured two tequilas while Don Guangoche was out in his root cellar. When he returned he lit a couple of kerosene lamps before lighting the cigarette he had stored behind his ear. He cocked his head sideways with the cigarette over the top of a lamp's chimney. He puffed smoke as the tip of the cigarette began to glow red. Don Guangoche spoke as he exhaled smoke, "If you don't mind helping with the tamales you can eat super with me tonight."
The next morning we had strong coffee sweetened with the maple syrup that I brought. Then Don Guangoche and I jumped into my Dodge truck and creeping in low gear, slowly headed down the mountain for breakfast at Abe's Cantina. As the truck swayed violently left and right over the boulders, Don Guangoche chuckled saying, "Don't worry esse, you don't have to bring me back." I questioned him with probably too much glee, "I don't"? Don Guangoche answered, "What the hell, you think you own the only truck in Taos?"
We finally got down off of the mountain and arrived at Abe's Cantina in Arroyo Seco. Don Guangoche said we would wait in the truck for a little while. We sat in silence while he smoked. After awhile a tall man I did not recognize walked into Abe's. He looked like he was Native, but not from Taos. He had dark, long flowing hair, with a red bandana tied about his head and a cowboy hat. Don Guangoche grunted, "Let's go."
Inside the cafe Don Guangoche nodded to the stranger and said, "Hey Roberto, come over here and meet my friend Miguel." This guy wants to know about the singing in the Kiva. "Yeah?" said Roberto, "What singing?"
"Come on," said Don Guangoche, "You can say, vato, he's okay. I already told him most of it. You know, about the casino."
"Unhuh," said Roberto. Then turning to me and speaking in a low voice he said, "Okay, I don't know what the old man may have told you, but it is probably true."
Don Guangoche scrunched up his face and shrugged his shoulders as if saying, "See, didn't I tell you."
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