Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Today is a truly beautiful day in the Empire State (question: which is the Rebel Alliance state? Sorry, bad Star Wars joke.). Anyway, it's warm and sunny enough for me to let the peacocks loose in garden for the first time since September. It's a commonly known fact that it's actually the male of the species that has the beautiful plumage. Less well known is that peacock is a heck of an eat, especially when roasted, and the skin is crackling good....

It's also the time of year when the women of NYC start walking around in considerably less than the eight layers they wear in the winter, which means tight tank tops (I know, aliteration), short skirts, and even shorter shorts. So I'm sitting high atop the Fortress, enjoying the caw of the peacocks, with combination high-powered binoculars and digital camera. The box it came in said it was perfect for birdwatching. Do you think the manufacturer believed that line of bullshit when they designed the box? I suppose it's better than "perfect for sexual predators." I love the future.

But that's not what I'm going to write about today. No, today I'm going to regale you with a tale of my youth.

It was sometime in the summer of 1992 (or was it '93?). My ex-wife (who I normally refer to as The Harpy, but that upsets some people) was a member of a the Tai Yim Hung Fot Kung Fu School. We were invited to a barbeque in honor of the Seven Stars Mantis Kung Fu School, who were in town for a tournament. It was held in a student's backyard, and there was volleyball, and hamburgers. By virtue of the fact that I speak fluent Mandarin Chinese, the Harpy and I were seated at the table of honor.

Now it's at this point that, given my extravagant claims of fortresses, peacocks and Madagascar hissing cockaroaches, that you'd think the whole Mandarin thing is also some kind of joke. It's true. I speak French and Chinese, which would have made me perfect for a career in Vietnam circa 1956. But alas.

Seated at the table of honor, which was really a picnic table, and thus not really "honorable", was the grandmaster of the Seven Stars Mantis school. This guy was about a thousand years old, pruned, bald, and had two teeth in his head. He hadn't shaved that day. He had kind eyes. He also didn't speak a word of English, which is why I was there, because Master Tai Yim's English was spotty, too; I was to translate for the assembled.

We're talking and laughing, and Master Two Teeth says something I don't understand. Chinese actually has a specialized language for almost every profession, so if you want to be a doctor in China, you learn "doctor Chinese", and if you're a lawyer, you learn "lawyer" Chinese. I'd neglected my "kung fu" Chinese in favor of all the cuss words, and I asked Master Two Teeth to repeat. He did. Still no help. We stared at each other in that way that says "I have no idea what to do now," then he said something I understood all too well. I stared at him blankly.

"He wants you to punch him," one of his helpful students said. Yes, I'd gotten that. I understood the words coming out of Master Two Teeth's mouth. I just didn't understand their meaning. See, Master Two Teeth was reputed to have beaten up seven of his students in a demonstration, defeating them all without landing a single blow. It's the kind of thing you call "bullshit" on, but I'd talked with one of the aforementioned ass-whupped students, and I believed him. I was sitting with Pai Mei, despite the kind eyes and the smile. No way was I going to punch this guy.

But I was assured that I wasn't really to punch the old man, I was merely to throw a punch in his general direction. After a few minutes of assurances, I agreed. I aimed my blow two inches from his solar plexus. It was a near perfect punch -- knuckle strike, arm torqued at the right time, a good snap. If I'd aimed two inches behind the target, it would have hurt.

Old Master Two Teeth grabbed my arm at the wrist, elbow, and shoulder, then grabbed my head at the temples. This took about half a second. At each pressure point, my arm went numb. Lost the hand, then the forearm, the the whole arm. Again, in the blink of an eye. Now he had me by the head, and proceeded to toss me around the backyard. He laughed the whole time. The Ex loved it. Then he let me go, and as I tried to rub life back into my arm he said "Eagle. claw. kung. fu."

Oh. Eagle claw kung fu. Got it.

Then we sat down and enjoyed over-cooked hamburgers.

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