Karate Kid

There was this French kid I grew up with (I won’t mention him by name as he might be scarred if he did a Google search on himself and found this anecdote). As France and Miami had different fashion senses he didn’t exactly fit in. He had glasses with pink frames and he always wore a hip pack. His name was also somewhat androgynous, so that didn’t help his cause either.

Any time a new kid was enrolled into our elementary school the French kid would immediately befriend him. He would tell the new kid that he was the most popular person at school. The French kid would say all the girls loved him and all the guys wanted to be him. But the first time the French kid got a wedgie from a bully, his social status would be betrayed and he would have to wait until another new kid transferred to have someone who respected him.

At some point the French kid must have had enough because he started taking karate classes. Every day after school you could see him bicycling in his gi to the karate studio. This did not stop other kids from continuing to pick on him. And then came the creme de la creme of public humiliations.

Those of a certain age can remember the DARE program. The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program whose only tangible success was its t-shirts became a fashion statement amongst potheads a few years later. 

One afternoon DARE sponsored an assembly at our school. Police officers spoke on the stage about the dangers of drugs, all of the kids had to make a verbal pledge to never try drugs, and then our local sensei came on to the stage.

This karate master was probably thirty years old and of Latin American descent. He  made a speech about how drugs rob you of your dreams. “If you don’t take drugs anything is possible. Any goal you have can be achieved. If you say no to drugs the impossible is possible.”

The sensei brought out a block of wood. “Many of you think only in the movies could someone chop this wood in half. But one of your classmates is going to show you the power of a drug free life.”

Out came the French kid wearing his karate outfit. Fortunately he left his pink framed glasses and hip pack at home, but I don’t think it would have made much difference in the audience response. The whole crowd laughed and heckled and catcalled. It’s probably not right to psychoanalyze a twelve year old kid, but I imagine what was going through his head was something like, “When I chop this wood in half all the girls will want me and all the guys will want to be me.”

He bowed to his master and the crowd went quiet. He ran toward the sensei and did a flying jump kick. But in his moment of glory his heel bounced off the wood and he fell backwards on to the floor.  The wood stayed in his sensei’s hands unbroken. The laughter unfortunately did not break for the next half hour. I think on the French kid’s next attempt he did break the wood, but everyone was still laughing too loud to notice.

The assembly ended and so did the French kid’s hope for glory. But don’t worry, our story has a happy ending. After high school the French kid grew up to be one of our neighborhood’s  more profitable drug dealers carrying his supply in his hip pack.

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