(originally posted 7/20/2020)
I don’t know if you remember the old Charles Atlas advertisement where a skinny guy at the beach gets sand kicked into his face by a much larger man, right in front of his girlfriend, who ends up walking off with the larger sand-kicker, but that advertisement about sums up my high school years.
Even when not on a beach, bullies at my school would bring pails of their own sand to distribute on my face on a daily basis. Not metaphorically. They would actually bring pails of sand to school with them. I realize that sounds a bit elaborate, but there it is. You can’t make that stuff up. I still can’t maintain an erection if I hear a Beach Boys song playing.
While not as skinny as I was, my college roommate endured very similar treatment at the hands of bullies (sans sand), so the first thing we did as we arrived on campus was to seek out karate lessons.
Kenpo karate to be exact. Kenpo, coming from the Japanese “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?”
We both got an immediate surge of self-confidence from the training and by the third lesson I had realized that my sensei had nothing more to teach me. I had absorbed everything I needed. While perhaps my feet had not quite been transformed into lethal weapons, I felt confident that my hands were capable of not only defending myself but, should the situation arise, of taking a human life.
Through the fires of those three 45 minute classes my body had literally and figuratively been forged into a living, breathing personification of all things masculine and violent. Hair was growing where it had never before made an appearance.
My roommate on the other hand, did not pick up things as quickly and it took him over eight years to receive his black belt.
I could sense a change with the ladies as well. After a quick trip to the mall, where I picked up a bad-ass leather jacket and shades, I walked into every social gathering with the confidence of ten men.
Bottling up that much confidence was not easy. In fact, if I’m to be totally honest, there were times where I might have been accused of exhibiting a touch of overconfidence. And overcologning (the bottle came free with the jacket).
I blame it on those wooden boards that they had us break in karate class. I was under the assumption that they were your average ordinary pieces of wood. When they snapped easily under the assault of my flying fist it led me to believe that all wood would behave similarly.
All wood did not.
I won’t go into details, but I can picture lumberjacks harvesting the wood they use in karate classes with no need whatsoever for a chainsaw. I picture them leisurely walking around snapping towering trees and tucking them under their arm with the greatest of ease. Their biggest concern would be that a light breeze might cause all the trees in the karate forest to fall over before they can get to them.
If you think I was suffering from overconfidence, imagine those lumberjacks when they were looking for their next gig. They’d take a look at a thousand acres of heavy timber and say “I’ll have it all down by the end of the week.”
When another lumberjack, who had some familiarity with such things, said it might take upwards of eight months I can almost hear them saying “Pussy” under their breath.
It’s sort of weird that my roommate went on to be a lumberjack. His degree was in Biology.
My dream of being a concert pianist came to a rather abrupt end one night in college thanks to a dozen Coors Lights, a pretty girl and a length of Argentine Lignum Vitae (Verawood). (I imagine readers familiar with wood will smile and say to themselves “Yep, that is a hard one.”) Typically the Kiai, the short shout used when striking to tighten the core muscles and help feed oxygen back into the body, lasts a second or two. Mine lasted over fifteen minutes that night.
As I began the long walk to the school medical building I could have sworn I heard the pretty girl say something under her breath.