Excerpts from Kayfables: Confessions of a Wrestling Poet (Poetry & Short Stories)
NO SAFE WORD
I ended up being more or less forced to bitch-slap my ex-wife in public, becoming that pariah of all right-thinking people, A Man Who Hits Women. It was muggy summer, downtown Nashville, passing yuppies and music tourists looking on in horror. Let me add she was in a wheelchair. As it happened, I remember thinking: "A 225 pound Queer Satanist Professional Wrestler has just beaten up a Poor Cripple Girl in front of God and Second Avenue."
When it came to domestic violence, I was the kind of man who tended to believe the woman, If you had personal power, great or small, you also had commensurate responsibility. You didn't hit people weaker than yourself. Unless backed into a corner, you didn't hit people, period. Not unless you were working a match with another wrestler, someone who'd agreed to sell your moves. To hurl himself through the air for your throws, accept your pulled but often still painful punches. Even to take some hard-as-fuck open-hand chops. The marks liked to hear the crisp echoing CRACKS and see the resulting red handprints on our chests. We kept Kayfabe, and sold it all. The chest-chops were easiest to sell. They hurt like a genuine motherfucker.
But in my world, you didn't strike women in anger. You especially didn't hit kids. Not in front of me, at least. I didn't give a fuck what your Bible said. I'd take your god damn rod away, stick it up your ass and break it off. It was never right to hit children, and it was only right to hit women if they asked you to.
"Spank me, I'm a bad girl!" Some chicks were into that. That was cool with me. I was a Dom, a Spanko Top. But even if the woman was a Bottom, a Subbie, there were stringent rules. Before the role-playing commenced, you and the woman had to agree on a Safe Word. One she could use to make the Drama halt instantly. The Safe Word could never be "Stop!", of course. Or "Don't!", or "No!" It had to be something like "Red Light!" or even a Word no one would possibly use by accident in such circumstances, like "Rutabaga" or "Green Fire Truck."
Now I wished that I had a Safe Word. Kitty had been pushing that chair a long time. Her large, muscled arms ended in hard fists. They struck my face and shoulders repeatedly. She hurled her purse across the street and snarled, '"Go get it, motherfucker!"
My sole desire in life was to get Kitty home. She kept throwing on the brakes, stalling her wheelchair. Swinging on me, cursing, slinging the purse. I could taste blood now. She'd split my lip.
"Go get it, motherfucker!"
I crossed Second Avenue for the third or fourth time, picked up the purse. Walked back and pushed it at Kitty. She batted it away. The purse took a strange spin and landed upside down, spilling most of its contents.
"Fucking motherfucker, faggot, piece of shit! Pick it up, motherfucker!"
Metro police had already told me to get Kitty off the street or they’d do it for me. Sure, I’d been at the whiskey, but Kitty was raving drunk, all tore up about some picker from the Irish bar on First Avenue who wouldn't fuck her. She’d end up in jail if I left her on the sidewalk, and I still had a small stock of empathy and concern, then the last of it was punched, cursed and slapped out of me.
"I hate you, motherfucker! You--"
Suddenly my hands made a decision. They flashed out in a flurry of cuffs across both sides of Kitty’s head. She sagged in her chair, stunned silent.
I don't remember making a conscious choice to use loose open-hands instead of fists. It just happened and was done, and I was walking away. Let her be dragged to jail, fuck it. I was weak, and a pussy. A brutal woman-beater now. Driving home with the care of the guiltily drunk, I saw clearly the headlines of tomorrow's Nashville Tennessean:
LOCAL WRESTLER ASSAULTS WOMAN IN WHEELCHAIR.
I was living at my Dad's. We were both divorced and drinking heavily. In my bedroom, the AC was busted. It was still 89 degrees, even after 1:00 a.m. I lay in bed feeling like a man with some rare form of malaria. Just as I was about to be mercy-fucked by sleep, the phone rang. Kitty.
"YOU HIT ME!"
"You hit me first. A lot of times. A whole lot of times. You were excessive, Kitty.”
"YOU HIT ME!"
I hung up. I was too drunk, cored out, and stressed with post-combat adrenaline to care whether or not the police came in the night with a SWAT team to put me in a special cage. Finally I fell into a sweaty sleep.
Next day, Kitty's psychotic mother called my Dad. "I want to talk to you about what your son did to my daughter!"
Cotton said, "Stella, what do you want me to do? Make him stay in the yard?"
Stella sputtered into inaudibility and hung up. My Father looked at me.
"Thank you, Cotton." I said.
"This might be a little wake-up call for you, son."
"I hear you, Daddy."
Cotton held his somber face an instant more, then we both started laughing. Before long, our stomachs were sore. We finally stopped. Then I took off to wrestling practice. My teacher, Gypsy Joe, was mad at me because I was scared to take a bump off the top turnbuckle.
GRASS ALLEY #I: Leg Motherfucker
My Grandfather passed. There was some money and a well-maintained Delta 88 Olds for me. I left my Father to his space and moved into Charlotte Square Villa. My brother Rayland was already there with his wife and kids. It was close to my prep chef gig at Burton's Of Belle Meade. I started fucking Laney, a reasonably pretty alcoholic blonde with an okay voice and pretensions to Nashville music stardom. She quit her job waiting tables at Brown's Diner, moved in, and began to dismantle me. I propped her up for 9 months. Laney’s abuse of me reached epic heights. One night, she came at me with a butcher knife. I put three stiff fingers in her solar plexus. She looked surprised, dropped the knife. I was a veteran woman beater now. The whore finally put me in the hospital, diagnosed with stress-related diverticulitis. She took a bus back to Tempe. I owed $13,000 to St. Thomas Hospital. I kept working at Burton's.
The diverticulitis didn't return, but I soon had a new physical challenge. After my divorce from Kitty, living with Cotton, I'd been tormented by chronic pain in my lower back and left leg. As I began training to become a professional wrestler, there was first overall muscular agony, then improvement of the back pain. While I was wrestling for the IWA and Mick Callas, it had vanished. Now the pain resurfaced savagely. Every day was a crucifixion. But I had an ace in the hole, and remembered it. I'd taken a really sick bump in the walk-in cooler at work just after I moved in with Cotton. Melted ice on the metal floor. And I'd filed an accident report with Burton's, to cover my ass, if. After a weak reflexive attempt to block my claim, Workman's Comp paid for an operation on my ruptured L-5 disk. There was also a small settlement. $20,000. For a time, I was off the Wheel.
Then I married the Russian. It was a favor to my lawyer friend Griff. His mistress Irina wanted her sister in America. Galina arrived. Formerly an actress with the Moscow Theatre, she resembled Kathleen Turner. We did the paperwork and ritual to declare us legally married, ate lunch, and Galina went back to her sister's. In a week or so, Galina's massage business was up and running. She was branching out into Amway. We were doing a lot of introductory fucking in Apt. D-6. Galina began to cajole me to move to a 2-bedroom place in the same complex.
"When my son Nikolai comes, there is not room with Irina. Her lease is soon gone. She must for a while be with me with her kids. Then comes our Mama. Her papers will soon be done. Irina will be only until I sell my flat in Moscow. Then is us, this you want. Da da da da da, you must have your own room. You are the writer. But please think of this, yes, Oh-gooost?"
There was a complex Slavic logic at work I couldn't quite follow. But her trilling, almost mournful pronunciation of my first name always made my heart say yes and my cock stand up. I began to fuck her over the desk, the light summer skirt around her waist, rose-petaled panties banding her calves. I had tried all my usual cockstar tricks, but Galina preferred Brute Russian Sex. As she came, Galya ground her pussy down on me and whisper-screamed "I HATE YOU!" I understood it for what it was, a compliment.
I made the move. It was a mistake.
But, for a while, I had an apartment to myself while the Russian got her pieces set up. The place was as far to the back and left as you could go in Charlotte Square Villa. It felt protected. In the room I'd picked for my office, I put a desk in front of the window. Through it, I could see a generous strip of meadow-like grass dividing the rear apartments from a half-hearted fence. Beyond the fence was a field of small trees, bushes, and overgrown grass. I liked sitting at that window and hitting the word processor. My brother Cap had bought a new one, and sold me his old machine for a very nominal fee. It was magic, and I wrote. Mostly poems about my Little Czarina. I watched the hummingbirds, the Summer thunderstorms I loved, the teenage boys lurching by in their Anarchy jackets, bent on an afternoon's misadventure. When the apartment manager, Frank, passed my window, I waved. I'd put "Freelance Writer" in the space for Occupation on my rental agreement.
Cap moved into a place that put him three buildings up from me. It became ritual to walk up the Grass Alley and see him. To drink, lie, talk about how the Nashville Poetry War was going. As we fell further into each new bottle of Clan McGregor, Cap and I constructed increasingly higher houses of purely conceptual cards. They always fell apart on us at the limits of language. Then we would laugh, and Cap would ask:
"You want a whole leg or a half a leg?"
Cap had a shot glass with the Army Airborne emblem. On one side was a parachute with wings. On the other side were notches denoting Rank. The "full" notch on the glass was marked "Airborne". Half was "Ranger". The lowest notch was marked "Leg", and would get you maybe a tablespoon of whiskey. Paratroopers call soldiers who aren't jump-qualified "leg motherfuckers". They pin a medal on you after you make your qualifying jump. I mean, they pin it on you, not your uniform. One last gut check. Cap was qualified. He had done his best work as a machine-gunner in Vietnam. His gun was named Blood and Black Lace. It had once spared a North Vietnamese family walking the trail carrying rice for Tet dinner. One of Cap's poems said: “this time, my finger cannot”. But his finger could, enough times for the NVA to put out a poster with a price for his head.
I had missed 'Nam. But, as Cap frequently said, everyone is a veteran of something, so I didn't feel like a phony shit when I drank from the shot glass. Somehow we had by mutual silent drunken consent designated a half-shot a "half leg", and a full shot a "leg". It made no sense to anyone but us. When asked, I generally took a whole leg, even though I was technically a leg motherfucker. Actually, I was a notch below leg motherfucker. I had never served my country in uniform. The timing was off for me to have been eligible for the draft. While living in Fayetteville, Arkansas for a short strange time at 18, I'd checked with a seamy-faced recruitment Sergeant just to make sure.
"Son, you're not required to register now. But have you thought about the Armed Forces?"
I had thought long and hard. "Thank you, sir. I have other plans."
"I'd'a got zapped in the first fifteen minutes, right, Cap? If it hadn't ended before I graduated high school, and they'd drafted my ass to the 'nam?"
"You can't know that, Aug. Wasn't nothin' goin' on by then, anyway. So what kind of warm fuzzies has this little ole Russian gal got you believing?"
"We're gonna try living together. Just not right this second.” I sipped my beer. “So what's going to happen, G. Roland? I mean, with the Russians?"
"They're done. It's all about the money."
While in the Army, Cap had once taught at a military academy. Until someone noticed that his lectures on the whys and hows of War were usually about following the money. Not only that, they tried to keep him and his buddies from playing D&D. Cap had a 20th Level Barbarian with wings, who enjoyed dropping cannonballs on orc hordes. The Major finally had to let them do it, though. D&D was like cards or anything else.
"Ours or theirs?" I asked.
"Theirs. The money they don't have to build a Star Wars."
"Hell if we have it either. Reagan. That senile Nazi fuck..."
"He's beat 'em. And all he had to use was words. Ain't that better than an atom-bombin'?"
"Reagan? Kiss my ass! He wants a goddamn thermonuclear war so Jesus can come back. And no one else gets any credit? Like JFK or even you, for goin' to Vietnam and, like you say, blocking the Commie's pawn move? Just Reagan, huh? He did it all by himself, huh, Roland?"
Cap squinted. The laugh wrinkles beside his eyes were deep and many. Almost like scars. Scars of laughter. I jotted the line on the back of my brain. It might be the seed of a poem. You never knew.
"The Russians know we will build a Star Wars and then they'll have to try to build one too, and they know they can't. It's been all guns, no butter there. Those boys are bled white. It ain't in the budget. They go down. And we won't have to build no Star Wars then. That OK with you, hot dog?"
"I believe I'll drink a leg to that."
Cap poured the whiskey with a steady hand. "But don't fool yourself. It won't change much. We'll have to find a new enemy."
"I don't see who. The Chinese aren't that expansionist."
"It won't be them. But one will be found. It's--"
"--all about the money."
Silence followed the laughter. It was fine. We knew each other. I went home and jerked off to Galina. I had her bent over the desk again. She pounded the oak with her little fists, she gripped me and gasped, her panties had roses. I came as she screamed she hated me. I was all done for the night.
I was too young for his jungle
so I never met Victor Charlie
but I've met some violent changes
in my own,
and I’ve stepped onto plenty
sharp and shit-smeared situations.
My own fault for not looking down,
I’ve been in beaucoup firefights.
I couldn’t always tell
where the rounds were coming from,
I’ve been wounded, and inflicted
a few wounds of my own.
I haven’t bothered with
a body count.
I’ve called in air support
when I was outnumbered.
More than once, it saved me.
Sometimes, it never came.
I’ve been taken prisoner
and tortured by myself,
but I’ll take the credit
for making my escape.
I have no way of knowing
when I’ll go back to the World.
It could be that my time
is shorter than I think.
For now, I have a path
and I’ll go where it takes me.
Tonight, like every night
I’m walking point.