Saturday, March 21, 2009

Choctaw Bingo

Video of Choctaw bingo at the last exit in Tempe Arizona 7/19/08 by James McMurtry... my friend Lynn passed me this article... had to be shared, it's a wonderful song.

Sells his hardwood timber to the chipping mill
Cooks that crystal meth because the shine don't sell
He chooks that crystal meth b! ecause the shine don't sell
You know he likes his money, he don't mind the smell.

"Likes his money, he don't mind the smell": Any difference here between Uncle Slayton and the white-shoe investment bankers who knew the stench of the toxic derivatives they were cooking up but were only too happy to keep the addled customers satisfied?

And Choctaw bingo itself is one of a number of Indian reservation enterprises, tax-free reservation-land smoke shops and the like, that inhabit the song. These phrases, the song's setting, call to mind a land that still bears evidence of its stolenness, the reservation culture and naming practices that still evoke the tragic history of the tribes. The song reminds me of Robert Lowell's "Children of Light," that insidiously malevolent poem about the Pilgrims' original theft from the "Redmen."

First, we hear from one of the pilgrims ! to the family reunion. (Yeah, there's a "Canterbury Tales" shadow stru cture going on here.) This is a guy named Roscoe who:

... stopped and bought a couple of cartons of cigarettes
At that Indian Smoke Shop with the big neon smoke rings
In the Cherokee Nation hit Muskogee late that night
Somebody ran a stoplight at the Shawnee Bypass
Roscoe tried to miss 'em but he didn't quite. ...

Whoa, careless slaughter on the Shawnee Bypass! The lyrics lope over it, but the blood and guts spilled on the concrete make this reunion a bloodstained occasion from the get-go. Great line: "Tried to miss 'em but he didn't quite": The vast carelessness of the roadkill in Gatsby almost finds an echo in the offhandedness of "didn't quite" here.

And then there's Choctaw bingo itself, which evil Uncle Sleyton "plays every Friday night." Here's an ad for Choctaw bingo that heads the Google search list, probably a sponsored link:

Experience the thrilling and rewarding fun of Indian bingo at Choctaw Casinos! Choctaw Bingo has been one of the premiere high stakes bingo halls since 1987. Choctaw Bingo features 750 seats, giant video projection screens, and a non-smoking section. Choctaw Bingo hosts monthly High Stakes Bingo Games for that bingo player who likes the Big Money. Our friendly staff is always willing to help any customer. So, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, Choctaw Bingo is the place where winners play.

Overnight packages available on weekends. For reservation information call 1-800-788-BINGO.

Sounds classy, right? No doubt "winners" play there all the time.

Now, I have a thing about Indian casinos. I'm totally in favor of them. I think they're a disguised form of reparations for the theft of Indian land. I'm glad the tribes are making billions taking the foolish white man's money. They deserve it. No tribe mo! re than the Choctaw because it was their removal from their homeland t hat gave birth to the phrase "trail of tears."

Yes, it was the Choctaws who signed a treaty in 1831, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (no joke), which led to a forced march, a death march, really, in thousands of cases. From Mississippi (which, in their absence, became the meanest, most repulsively racist state in the nation) to the drylands of Oklahoma, where they scratched out a living until casinos were legalized.

Now, the Choctaws get their revenue from meth-and-moonshine-addled fools who play Choctaw bingo, which somehow, despite the 750-seat auditorium and "giant video projection screens," doesn't seem a sure route to financial stability. (But just as sure and stable, it turns out, as collateralized mortgage obligations.) The more you look at the history of the Choctaw nation and how the "trail of tears" led to Choctaw bingo, the more a kind of allegory the song becomes, an eloquent distillation of the tragic history of the American empire, which was base! d on the theft of land the nation was founded on, the murder and the enslavement of the tragic remnant of the original inhabitants, and their sly, delayed revenge (Choctaw bingo). The more you know about the Choctaw "trail of tears," the more you suspect it's no accident that McMurtry chose Choctaw bingo as his emblematic game.

Here's where this song is so amazingly prophetic. Looking at it now, through the lens of the crash, you can see how it envisions the American economy as nothing more than an elaborate Choctaw bingo enterprise, with lots of flashing lights to lure in the unwary and the unlucky, a system that, for all its fancy formulas and talk of risk assignment, is nothing more than a sucker's game. And later in the song, McMurtry explicitly names the scam at the heart of it: subprime mortgages.

'Cause here's Uncle Slayton running the subprime scam:

Uncle Slayton's got his Texan pride
Back in the thickets with his Asian bride
He! 's cut that corner pasture into acre lots
He sells 'em owner finan ced
Strictly to them that's got no kind of credit
'Cause he knows they're slackers
When they miss that payment
Then he takes it back.

It's the subprime mortgage crisis bubbling away as far back in 2002, because Uncle Slayton's bad-credit-no-credit mortgages are probably still "bundled" inside the inside of the inside of some bad bank's lowest tranche of toxic derivatives.

How'd he do it, McMurtry, paint that vision of hell with the money and methamphetamine, mixed in with highway mayhem and the mortgage crisis and the whole "family reunion" heading for a violent crash? No accident all the talk of guns in the song, either:

Bob and Mae come up from a little town
Way down by Lake Texoma where he coaches football
They were two-A champions now for two years running
But he says they won't be this year, no they won't be this year
And he stopped off in Tushka at that "Pop's Knife and Gun" place
Bought a! SKS rifle and a couple a full cases of that steel core ammo
With the berdan primers from some East bloc nation that no longer needs 'em
And a Desert Eagle that's one great big ol' pistol
I mean .50 caliber made by badass Hebrews
And some surplus tracers for that old BAR of Slayton's
Soon as it gets dark we're gonna have us a time
We're gonna have us a time.

Note the football amidt the gun slang. But this is no Friday Night Lights. There's no tender Texas sophistication here. This is a meth-fueled arms-dealing collection of troublemakers heading for a shootout with a not-accidental evocation of Serbia and Palestine giving it world-historical weight.

It reminds you of what a blazing shootout our original national anthem was, with all tha! t rockets'-red-glare. Only we've got a new one now, my choice for a ne w national anthem, and McMurtry's is better than Francis Scott Key's tortured jingoism, if you ask me. No, I can't see people standing up at a ballpark, hands over hearts, hymning their joy at Uncle Slayton's subprime meth dealing. (This is a "modest proposal," people: Jonathan Swift wasn't really advocating the starving Irish eat their babies, OK?)

But when I first heard that song in my girlfriend's car, I thought to myself, "Wow! This guy has really caught America in the Thelma and Louise moment before it goes off the cliff." And it's even got the equivalent of "The Star-Spangled Banner's" emblematic flag.

There's a passage in the song about two hot chicks who arrive for the reunion:

Ruth Ann and Lynn come down from Baxter Springs
That's one ! hell-raisin' town way up in Southeastern Kansas
Got a biker bar next to the lingerie store
That's got them Rolling Stones lips up there in bright pink neon
And they're right down town where everyone can see 'em
And they burn all night
You know they burn all night
You know they burn all night.

Yes, McMurtry's "Choctaw Bingo" is an anthem for the crash, because we may be going down in flames. But those bright pink neon lips burning all night are like the rockets' red glare: "proof through the night that our flag is still there." Those neon lips still wave o'er the land of the brave and the home of the biker bar (lingerie store attached).

Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler.

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