In the 70s, the local Papua New Guineans called him The Sea Warrior for his fondness of swimming 20k across the ocean. “Any white guy who did anything outstanding was a warrior in that thing,” he says. I tell him that I am the chai latte warrior.
We meet in Ulladulla, Australia—a seaside tourist town that means safe harbor in a now forgotten aboriginal tongue. Outside of the girl I came to Oz to see about, the one I’d reunited with at the airport and just spent four days in an off-grid cabin along the Deua River, he is the first Australian I converse with.
His throne is the front desk of the Harbor Foreshore Hotel. I squeeze the rubber duck purposed as a service bell, andhe breezes in through a curtain of hanging door beads to greet me.
Charlie is his name—his only name. I never get the full story, just the outcome. He’s refused to carry any appellation other than Charlie.
He shows me his healthcare card. It just says Charlie. He shows me his credit card which reads Sir Charlie. The name on his driver’s license is only Charlie.
“The government didn’t know how to put me into the computer as just Charlie,” he says, “so they asked if I could be called, ‘Citizen Charlie.'”
He gets a twinkle in his eyes that seventy-one years of life has deepened, not dimmed, “Citizen Charlie. . .” He repeats in the dreamy tone I imagine he first recited it to himself, “Alright, I’ll be Citizen Charlie.” He turns from the imaginary government and beams at me, “With a name like that, I could live anywhere.”
A Man With A Story
And perhaps he has lived everywhere. My gal walks up from the car wondering what is taking me so long to check in. She joins the conversation with Charlie, who follows us into our room to tell us the story from three decades ago when he lived in the jungles of Papa New Guinea.
Charlie walked those jungles with a $500 compound bow.
Once upon a jungle trail, a band of warriors demanded he trade his bow for one of their hut-made bows. Charlie wasn’t having it. “They could see I was afraid,” he said, “but the point is not to back down, to show no weakness.” At one point, one of the men pointed an arrow at Charlie and drew back the string of his bow. Things had gotten serious—a classic Papa New Guinean standoff. Your move Charlie.
Filled with the requisite amount of fear one feels when the son of lineage of cannibals points an arrow at you, but not backing down, Charlie extended his bow and brushed the arrow aside. Only then did he see that the arrow had not been notched on the man’s string—it was all a bluff to see how dedicated Charlie was to not backing down.
The four warriors burst into laughter followed by Charlie, who must have laughed with them then as he laughed with us now—his head hurled backwards, his eyes maniacally twinkling like a high school prankster placing a mephitic catfish in the school’s furnace—laughter that gets inside everyone’s funny bone, laughter that invites you to join it in witnessing the hilarity of this thing called life, played out on this crazy field called existence, wandered through in this absurd thing called a body—rolling, rife laughter that rides ridiculousness like a midget cowboy in backless chaps riding a miniature pony painted purple for the occasion. It was contagious.
His story concluded, the laughter chuckled out into a contented quiet, Charlie left us to our room. Without a doubt, as they say in the Aussie parlance, Charlie is a legend and a scholar. As he jokes, “medical technology is the only thing keeping me alive.” But it’s something else that’s kept such joie de vivre intact.
If you find yourself in Australia, I highly recommend a trip to Ulladulla if only just to pop into the Foreshore Hotel to meet Charlie, the Sea Warrior. The best way I have found it to get around Australia is to book a trip with Webjet to connect you to every airport in the country and find the cheapest flights from here to there.