My cousin Boxie returned from Afghanistan to say that people turn into pink mist when they are blown to smithereens. Boxie spends his days shelving toilet paper at Costco, making $37,000 a year. He bought a house for $109,000 and leases a Chevy SUV. He has a daughter but his wife can no longer bear children. They live near Pearl, Mississippi. They keep a Boxer chained to the tree in their back yard. Boxie won’t let his wife cook instant rice. She shaves her pussy. Their daughter, Esther, wants to be a fireman. She wears a helmet to bed. Boxie, Tricia, and Esther belong to the Church of Proximate Causes, a sect based on the worship of reality, an internet group of survivalists who live somewhere in North Dakota. People say, they keep tons of deodorant in their basement along with cans of ravioli and Mississippi tamales.
Boxie’s grandfather was my father’s uncle. He raced motorcycles at the state fair during the Great Depression. It was billed as the greatest show on earth until the State of Mississippi was sued by Barnum and Bailey’s Circus which accused Mississippi of copyright infringement. From then on, the state fair was known as the Magnolia State Fair, the Finest Fair in Dixie. My great uncle was in the show. He rode a motorcycle at 100 mph horizontally round and round a room shaped like a barrel. He circled the floor and then climbed the walls going faster and faster until the floor disappeared. The customers paid to stand and watch from the top of the giant round track.
Boxie’s Granddaddy risked his life to make a living. It was the Depression: 1937, at the fairgrounds, just steps away from the state penitentiary not too far from Biloxi. My Dad was just a boy. I wasn’t there. It was back then when America was young. It was back when America was still weird. It was Faulkner country is what it was. Moonshiners were still living in the woods and made money pimping out women up in Memphis.
Uncle “Elk” flew around that barrel until he was riding parallel to the ground, round and round. If he slowed, he would crash. A crash landing, in point of fact. He drove without a helmet, so everyone could see his beautiful hair, blown back, and his face all contorted. I would love to have seen a picture. Suddenly, there was nothing there.
Did he shout before he died? My uncle Elk fell when his bike stalled. He and his bike whipped around the walls, careening and tumbling a thousand times, until the gasoline splashed out and around that room. The explosion set the place on fire; the cylinder-like space contained the blast so Elk was blown to bits. My Dad heard about all this when he was child.
His luck plum run out. That’s what people said. Some said he had it coming. “Don’t press your luck.” The bottom fell out. He learned he could count on nothing. Hope don’t mean shit. It was his turn, one lady announced. These were God-fearing folk. They didn’t believe in luck. After a while, these same people got bored and went to watch the tattooed lady and the funny fish man they called Scaly. Step this way. Funny thing, this was where Elvis’s manager, Colonel Parker got started. On Wednesday nights, you could pay a quarter to hear a skinny black boy from Georgia sing some songs. His name was Little Rich. This would have been a few years later.