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Saturday Night Chicken, Swordplay and Americans

Grown-ass man wearing the tight black turtleneck with hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, please consider renting a private studio from which to conduct your courses in swordplay. Practitioners of Tai-Chi are a soothing sight on the horizon. Painfully slow and measured strokes with a katana disturb the girl trying to read her book in a rare moment of sun. They worry harried mothers who stand complaining about their lives and distract their precious offspring from pushing each other off the slide.

It’s not the promise of violence that causes such consternation, it’s the adherence to childhood ambitions and flaunting of social conventions. We all had an imaginary friend who whispered devious schemes in our ears. We all had the red plastic lunchbox festooned with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We all ran screaming down the street shooting lasers at our friends. But we don’t anymore because sometime during the advent of adolescence it became embarrassing. Girls wouldn’t talk to us and that became a problem. Bigger kids would beat us up. This is nature’s way of promoting growth and development.

Your student is clearly aware that passerby regard her with absolute disdain. She might be able to concentrate more on fighting theory and technique were she not the subject of public ridicule. Note her flowing black dress and treasure trove of bangles and jewels carefully arranged to conceal flesh, the artificial but not outlandish red hue of her lengthy tresses. There is clearly a lack of self-confidence. Magazines, movies, even women walking down the street have inspired feelings of low self-worth which are reinforced daily. This cruel world haunts her nights, and you’ve dragged her out into a park and challenged her to a sword-fight.

Also, why do you, lanky master of battle, hold the steel blade and she the clunky wooden staff? If someone is training to stave off hordes of goblins and return the rightful heir to the throne they need to know what a real sword feels like in their hand. They need to appreciate the weight of their weapon, predict its reaction to contact with a shield and expertly gauge the swing radius. Let your poor student have a crack at the damn sword, please. Clearly your years of dedicated practice have imbued you with unrivaled skill. The wooden staff will deflect any amateur attempt at taking your head off. You look like a jack-ass making her parry your thrusts with a broomstick. Misogynist prick.

***

On the far side of a particularly itchy fellow looking forward to a can of Foster’s stands a woman buying a rotisserie chicken. It comes with a complimentary packet of plastic cutlery and napkin, proof positive of a lone dining experience. She does not look the part of a habitual Saturday night solo chicken eater, like the massive 40oz swilling dude who lived on the steps of Daily’s old Bed-Stuy apartment and used his fingers. She’s actually quite striking in a Slavic sort of way, unpretentious enough to wear a simple denim jacket which is not fashionable in this part of town.

The woman pays up and leaves, allowing Itchy to dump a fistful of change on the counter. It’s not enough change. He runs off to scrutinize price tags, which careful reading reveals the sale price he is seeking requires the purchase of four cans of Foster’s. Itchy runs back to grab his quarters, railing against supermarket trickery as he storms back into the streets that spawned him. By the time I’ve left the store the woman and her chicken have disappeared. Probably for the best—unaccompanied women don’t appreciate being followed down darkening streets by weirdos.

Blocks in the direction of her departure sits a post-modern park of reeds and concrete islands in rippling water and artless gashes of wrought iron piercing the trucked in earth. A wedding party is posing for pictures in the gathering dusk as idlers watch. I don’t see her picking at dinner but distracted by the revelry and wonder of marriage brimming with happiness and bouquets. Heartbreaking, sitting alone with a Saturday night chicken while a bride and groom kiss for the camera, family and friends all around.

You should really get some rice to go with that chicken, I’d say, a handy tool to begin chiseling at the walls of her isolation.

Or I could choke on my tongue.

After a crosstown bike ride I’m nursing a beer in the front yard. A girl wrestles her hulking bicycle down the block, heaving her entire weight against the gears. And she’s looking at me as she goes, standing on the pedals and swerving. And she’s looking at me. Nice bike! You should get a light! That bike is too big for you! Anything! I nod, nailed against the tree I’ve sat against. She smiles, then renews her efforts to trundle past, doubling intensity, pausing only to fix her shirt which had begun riding up her back. Because she knew I watch watching her go, quietly choking on my tongue.

***

Americans live across the street. They conquered a single-story bungalow and raised Old Glory, then added a star-spangled windsock. Huge trucks occupy the driveway and loud boasting about new lawnmowers can be heard at odd-hours. There is a father and teenaged son. An asthmatic woman sometimes yells out the window.

One night the teenager was leaving with a couple friends when the patriarch ran to catch them. He insisted that they take a knife along with them. It probably won’t puncture anything, he assured the teenager, but you should have something to protect yourself with.

My own father’s advice would be never to pull a knife unless you intend to use it. A dull knife will not protect you. It might inspire someone to hurt you more than they had been prepared to, possibly with your dull knife.

The teenager refused the offered weapon, as did his friends when the patriarch implored them to see reason. Unperturbed he began to pull jawbones from his pockets, pick whichever one you’d like. One of the friends, maybe out of sympathy, made polite compliments about the collection of animal remains but again the gracious offer is declined. Everyone bid one another a good night, then the patriarch disappeared back inside the house and the teenager down the street with his friends.

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