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Southern Discomfort - Padgett Powell

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groovedaddy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-19-09 12:16 PM
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Southern Discomfort - Padgett Powell
Here is an example of how Padgett Powells mind works. His friend Michael Costello, a Vietnam vet, once told him a funny story about a bar fight Costello got into, in 1967, while he was in infantry training. This past summer, Powell decided he wanted to hear the story again, so we drove out to Costellos house, in North Florida, about an hour northwest of Powells home in Gainesville, for a visit. The story went like this:

One night at a bar in Columbia, S.C., Costello and some of his buddies got into it with the joints regulars, white guys, riled up over the presence of one of the soldiers, a black G.I., in their bar. Because they were outnumbered, another of the G.I.s, a big Louisiana boy named Kiloq, suggested to the locals that they choose someone in their group for Kiloq to fight and leave it at that. This was judged acceptable. As he left his beer at the bar, Kiloq pulled his upper teeth out of his mouth, put them in his pocket and said to Costello, You know, down where Im from, I aint exactly considered white myself.

Kiloq won. This was not judged acceptable. One of the regulars stabbed Costello with a broken beer bottle. In the ensuing free-for-all, Costello ended up with the guy in a headlock and, hoping to avoid a riot, said to him, Lets just stop this, lets just stop this! The guy in the headlock continued to try to lacerate Costello, and so Costello finally threw the guy to the ground and jumped up and down on his face for a while until the G.I.s managed to extricate themselves and flee.

The way Powell remembered it went like this: Once, in Columbia, S.C., his friend Costello got in a fight, but Costello didnt want to fight, and so when he managed to get the guy in a headlock, he started talking to him, and walking him all around, trying to calm him down, walking and talking, through the night to the next morning and into the day, until he had walked all over the city of Columbia, Powell said, with a guy in a headlock for 24 hours.

Fiction, Powell once wrote, is taking strange truths and making them into less-strange lies. Here the relative levels of strangeness might be debatable. But in Powells world strange truths do seem to manifest themselves regularly. When I arrived to visit him this summer at his house in the woods, he was engaged in a furious war against the local raccoons, which had murdered 17 of his 18 chickens. Powell, who is 57, thick-chested and muscular, had come home from a trip to Morocco to find the neighbor he left in charge a shoeless machinist Powell paid to build the coops and safeguard the birds gone AWOL, having taken Powells truck, leaving only a note, written on the back of a receipt for $70 of cheap liquor, asking for some money from Powells teenage daughter. All that was left for Powell to do was to revenge himself on the raccoons. So now he was trapping them nightly. But unable to shoot an animal trapped in a cage, he had failed to execute the first two he caught, and when I showed up he was girding himself to shoot his latest capture, a shifty-looking, smallish specimen, and be done with it, but he was dithering a bit and growing annoyed with himself that he had enough N.R.A. in him to feel he should have no sympathy for the thing but then also enough NPR in him to hesitate.
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smoogatz Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-22-09 04:41 PM
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1. I love Padgett Powell.
I knew Padgett Powell. I was shot by Padgett Powell, though fortunately at sufficient range that the birdshot pellet that hit me didn't penetrate my clothing. Stung a bit, though, and left a good bruise.
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