Last winter I drove six and a half hours to central Wyoming, to my friend Stanford’s place on the Wind River Indian Reservation. I did the usual – hung around the kitchen table, chatting and drinking Folgers, then entered the sweat lodge for an evening-long ceremony. There were several breaks, which just about everyone spent lying on the floor of the lodge, gossiping and making jokes. During one of these, one of the men I knew best, a guy who happened to be white, said he was under investigation for stealing a woman’s $800 in winnings at the tribal casino.

“I probably should never have told the casino guys that I was living in their parking lot,” he said, letting loose a hail of laughter and installing himself as the evening’s entertainment. He had lived on the reservation for more than a decade, after burning his face and torso in a truck fire. His disfigurement made life in the white world unbearable. The white world tends to punish that kind of misfortune, while on the reservation people were more likely to laugh at it until he learned to laugh along. (Soon after he arrived on the reservation, a woman was having a hard time lighting the pilot light on the stove. “You try it,” she told him. “You’re already also burned up.”)

Anyway, that night in the sweat lodge, the conversation kept coming back to him and the details of his story, to the fact he was so broke (ha!) and out of friends willing to take him in (hahaha!) that despite the subzero winter temperatures he had parked his car in the parking lot a couple of weeks before, to the fact that after the robbery a security guard told the local paper the guy took the money and took off running. “He’s probably still running,” the security guard reported. In the sweat lodge, my friend’s story segued into another guy’s story about being kicked out of church because his friend brought a gun to mass. A gun.

Stanford once told me that on the Wind River Indian Reservation, people laugh so much because if they didn’t, they’d cry. Well. I hadn’t laughed that much in weeks.