Tony Loneman remembers the first day he noticed “the Drome.” He was six years old, and one of his friends made a comment about how odd-looking his face was. He beat his friend up, but after his grandma Maxine arrived to bring him home from school, Tony stared at himself in the dark, blank screen of the TV, and saw his face “the way everyone else saw it.” He asked his grandmother about why he looked different from other kids, and she sadly told him that because his mother drank while pregnant with him, Tony has fetal alcohol syndrome.
Tony Loneman is marked as different not just because of his heritage, but because of his face. He is an incredibly insecure young man whose physical discomfort in his own skin is exacerbated by the fact that he feels a violence has been done to him in the form of “the Drome”—his mother didn’t care for him, and marked him as different and deformed without thinking of how her son would have to go through life.
Most people, Tony writes, don’t look at their faces the way he looks at his own. He is obsessed with his own visage, and sees the fear the Drome inspires in others as his “power and curse.” Now twenty-one and old enough to drink, Tony chooses to abstain from alcohol, disgusted by what his mother did to him when he was a defenseless fetus living inside of her. Tony sees a counselor once a week at the Indian Center, where he’s been going for counseling since he was six. Though Tony worries he’s dumb, his counselor assures him that in spite of failing intelligence tests in school, Tony is “smart where it counts”—he has street smarts, and is good at reading people. Maxine tells Tony often that he’s a “medicine person,” and looks different because he is in fact rare and different from others.
Tony is deeply insecure and struggles with feelings of worthlessness—yet he’s obsessed with the failures he sees in himself. Though others around him offer him support, empathy, and even attempt to increase his self-confidence, Tony doesn’t believe their kind words.
Tony often rides his bike around his hometown of Oakland, California, to take in the sights of all the city’s different neighborhoods and the people who live there. Sometimes he speaks on the telephone to his mother, who is in prison, and begs her to tell him who his father is, but his mother insists that his father “doesn’t even know [Tony] exist[s.]” Tony becomes incensed during these conversations. All his life he’s had anger issues, and when he gets mad, he worries that he’s “the opposite of a medicine person” who will spin out of control one day.
This passage foreshadows the total rage Tony feels—he’s not just lonely and insecure, but in fact angry about his lot in life. Tony is clearly at a tipping point, and the ways he’ll deal with that feeling of being on the brink will have devastating consequences for himself and for others.
Tony has been selling weed since he was thirteen, after meeting some drug dealers on the corner by accident. Tony gives most of the money he earns to Maxine, who is old and frail. Each night he reads to Maxine as she falls asleep, and though reading often frustrates him, Maxine is comforted by the stories he reads to her.
Tony tries to give back to his grandmother, one of his few champions in the world. Storytelling is shown here to be an activity which bonds them, and which demonstrates to Tony the power of stories to comfort people in difficult times.
One summer, Tony and his boss, Octavio, make good money procuring cocaine and selling it to white boys. Octavio is a hothead and a drunk who often speaks about the “curse” his grandmother helped him lift by using badger fur. Though Octavio has a tough exterior, he’s sensitive about his grandmother. One afternoon, at the end of the summer, Octavio sits Tony down to ask him what a powwow is. Tony explains that at powwows, Native people get together to “dress up Indian,” dance, sing, and “buy and sell Indian shit.” Octavio asks what the powwows are for, and Tony tells him they’re essentially about making money. Octavio tells Tony that he wants to rob an upcoming powwow at the Oakland Coliseum, and shows Tony a white plastic gun he has 3-D printed.
Tony and Octavio are alike in that they both use their illicit trade to help out their grandmothers—strong women who have supported them in times of need. Octavio’s desire, then, to rob the powwow, represents a callous disregard for the connections he and Tony share: he wants to minimize the entire construct of the powwow, and bring violence and chaos into a space that’s sacred to Tony’s people.
The night before the powwow, Octavio calls Tony to tell them that he needs to buy and plant the bullets for the gun. Though the plastic gun will make it through a metal detector, bullets won’t. Octavio instructs Tony to buy bullets from Walmart, put them in a sock, and toss them into the bushes at the Coliseum entrance. He instructs Tony to wear “some Indian shit.” Tony agrees and hangs up. He goes over to his closet where he pulls out his regalia and puts it on. He stands in front of the TV and stares at himself—he cannot see the Drome, only “a dancer.”
This passage suggests that the only time Tony really feels safe and like himself is when he’s cloaked in the clothing and traditions of his ancestors. Tony’s willingness, then, to take part in Octavio’s scheme to rob the powwow, suggests that he’s both emboldened by his heritage but ignorant of it—he isn’t truly connected to his people or his culture, and sees the trappings of Native culture as a way of bolstering himself without taking part in something larger.