Years ago in my grandaddy's trailerpark, there was a Vietnam Vet named Charlie (also my grandaddy's name -- he'd been in World War II so he was Big Charlie) who taught kids a version of what he referred to as "kung-fu" that he had learned in "far-off Eastern lands." From what I could tell, Little Charlie's kung fu didn't have that more in common with David Carradine than Bruce Lee, but it was something to watch, how he'd turn his trailerpark yard of dirt into a dojo, a place where certain behaviors were expected. Mostly the kids in the trailerpark were badasses, but Little Charlie was a bigger badass than any of them and when one of them would get out of line, he'd yell, You bow, you little shit, this is a sacred place, like an old-time preacher (except for the little shit part). They bowed to him, the best they could and instead of the traditional Karate wear, showed up in shorts and t-shirts that said advertised cigarettes or said, Fuck You, I'm From Texas. One could tell from the onset that it was best not to mess with that rough bunch, but Little Charlie had them all bowing and kicking in that hot Texas heat and cleaning up the dojo after, a process that meant they had to take a rake and make lines in a circle, much like a traditional zen garden.
I'd seen plenty of fighting, both real and fake, and was especially fond of the Steel Cage Death Match, a form of professional wrestling when both opponents were locked in a cage to fight to "the death." My great grandmother loved wrestling and would wake me up in the middle of the night to see special shows. She couldn't walk because of her diabetes and refused a wheelchair (feeling it was degrading) and so she insisted on scooting across the floor to get where she needed to sit to see the action on our small television. I loved being up in the middle of the night without permission and watching people smack the shit out of each other. It made me want to attend the trailerpark classes, but I never did. It was enough to see the kids engaged in something hard and worthwhile for a bit, a place where everything was as it should be, if only for a few hours.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It's about sunlight. It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow." Tim O'Brien
Steel Cage Death Match
1 1/2 ounces scotch
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
Benedictions and Maledictions
First published in Nomad's Choir
Why I Hate Sunflowers
The only story my friend Hank’s dad ever
told in my presence involved them, him
spending a youthful summer chopping them
down for almost nothing. Hate them, he said.
Case closed. Vietnam had taken away most
of his words, freakish chance his son, who died
far away from home in Philadelphia. Guess I’ll
have to stop watching the Weather Channel, Hank’s
dad said at the funeral. I remembered the sunflower
story and thought I could hate them too, in solidarity.
The sun doesn’t impress me much and anything
becomes sad and ugly if you put your mind to it.