In an undisclosed afternoon crevice of our country, there is a treacherous, militaristic man teaching Karate to children in a high school gymnasium. You can hear him screaming a quarter-mile away. He screams like a banshee is slowly ripping off his fingernails. I was in fact, a quarter-mile away when I heard him and thought, “Someone is being horribly tortured,” so I went in to check it out. When I opened the gym door, there was a small pack of white children wearing white karate outfits making faux, ill-formed chopping movements with their arms and legs. They were timid, and meek, and clearly afraid of their instructor. The sound he made when he screamed was a cross between Adolf Hitler at Nuremburg and an attacking pterodactyl. It was a terrible and frightening sound, which the acoustics of the gymnasium magnified.
These poor children. Their parents signed them up for this, and their teacher is still fighting the Vietnam War. He was a very angry man, ultimately in charge. Though his own kicks and chops were of poor form, he stopped the class twice within two minutes to yell at a blonde ten year old who “wasn’t seeing his target” when he extended his fist.
I took my phone out, put it on speaker, and played the Doors “The End” remix from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Apocalypse Now. The children continued to make ill-formed chopping motions, and Jim Morrison drearily crooned, “This is the end, my only friend, the end.”
The Lieutenant Karate Instructor was still deep in the Vietnamese jungle. He was not teaching these spry, nubile children, he was fighting the battle of Dak To. Dak To is the in Kontum Province, close to the tri-border region where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet. On a flat valley floor adjacent to a river, it’s surrounded by mountains. Slopes are sheer and covered with 200-foot double and triple-canopy trees. November is the beginning of the monsoon season. Temperatures can reach almost 100 degrees during the day and drop to as low as 55 at night.
Morrison began his second verse and the instructor approached me, “Can I help you with something?”
I responded, “Sir, I think you might be being a little too hard on the kids. They look scared.”
He put his hand on my neck and said, “Who made you Captain fucking America? Get the fuck out of here.” The kids had huddled to the other side of their mat.
I removed his hand from my throat, pushed him back and said, “Maybe you shouldn’t cuss in front of the kids, maybe you should punch a punching bag, or get some help.”
The blonde child that had been yelled at earlier spoke, “Oh he says cuss words all the time.”
The karate instructor got close, so the class couldn’t hear him and said, “Tell your mousy little boss to stop monitoring my situation. I didn’t make his wife come on to me, she’s the one he needs to monitor. We only French kissed anyway. I’m fucking someone else.”
Me: “You shouldn’t be around children.”
Lieutenant Karate Instructor: “I eat children.”
Me: “You like the smell of napalm in the morning?”
Which I regret saying. I got caught up. I shouldn’t have been there. I respect the people that give their lives to serve our country. The napalm quote was over the line. I shouldn’t have come in the gym. I had truly made him mad. I just needed to leave. He was coming at me with a closed fist, so I ran out the door. I yelled back to the kids to tell their parents what happened. I ran across a small field to my car and got in, God I’m an idiot. Lieutenant Karate Instructor ran after me. I started the engine and pulled away. He was still running after me, barefoot, through cold wet mud. His two middle fingers were raised and he was screaming, “Fuck you, fucker.” Without the acoustics of the gymnasium, he sounded less formidable.
I shouldn’t have said the napalm quote. Man I feel sorry for those kids.