you guys are like my children, except there are only nine of you, and you all have my real phone number

The change occurring within Johnny first manifested itself in a bewildered facial expression when presented with a familiar request, but it had been a long time in the making. And while the timing of the confrontation between opposing forces within his soul may not have been to his liking (of all places, the All Valley Karate tournament he had been preparing for all year?), he knew he was helpless to choose when this inner conflict would inevitably rise to the surface.

“Sweep the leg,” his sensei had directed him, and the doubt that crossed Johnny’s face was enough to cause the teacher to reiterate the demand: “Do you have a problem with that?” Having surprised even himself with this whiff of disobedience, Johnny collected himself after this brief lapse in what had heretofore been an unbroken lifelong streak of following authority like the good soldier that he was, and though he fell back in line this time, the facade that was his life had already begun to crumble. He could never go back to his old self.

Like a factory, the culture he was a part of had been churning out young men like him for generations. It was all he knew, despite his growing discomfort with the inevitable result. He’d entered into his teenage years as a wide-eyed, towheaded scamp with endless hopes, dreams and possibilities, but if he allowed the process to continue uninterrupted, Johnny knew he would finally be spit out the other end his senior year as just another Encino country club asshole, whose only joy came from harassing the have-nots who dared cross into his turf from Reseda.

Where this new self-awareness came from, he didn’t know, though he theorized it was the shock of Ali breaking up with him sophomore year that sent him into this period of self-examination. The questions gnawed at him from the inside out, threatening to break through the sneering-badass exterior he had carefully cultivated to shield himself from the constant pressure that accompanied his family’s wealth and status. Despite his attempts to quiet them with a renewed devotion to karate (he had begun to suspect that his aptitude at the rote muscle memorization brought on by the many repetitions of practice was derived from the same skill set that had enabled his climb to the upper tiers of his school’s social structure, an ascent which had required its own rites of robotic conformity), the doubts only grew in their persistence, beginning like a teakettle screaming in a faraway room, the sound increasing in intensity as he got closer to its source within his being, becoming more and more difficult to ignore until he could hear nothing else, not even Kreese’s angry exhortations in the dojo.

Properly chastened by his loss in the tournament’s final round, Johnny spent the next morning icing his chin while thumbing through his father’s Rolodex, until he found the number he was looking for: that of a plastic surgeon in Glendale, who made several excursions each year to developing nations, where he would work tirelessly to provide medical assistance to poverty-stricken villagers who otherwise had no access to even the modest technology and medical expertise needed to keep their most vulnerable people from falling victim to otherwise preventable diseases. Over the phone, Johnny announced his availability for the next medical mission, wherever it may be.

It was that summer in Guatemala that Johnny found his life’s true calling. The richly rewarding work of helping others had lit a fire within him. The memories he made there, combined with the dream of more trips to follow in the future, sustained him through the next seven years of school once he returned to the States, graduating near the top of his med school class.

Perhaps it was his youthful interest in martial arts that piqued Johnny’s elevated pleasure when the Doctors Without Borders program would send him to Asian countries. As a man nearing 40, though, he was growing weary from two decades of near-constant travel, and had begun to entertain thoughts of settling down, maybe even getting married. He had even started sentimentally making note of the many “lasts” (last sunrise over Mount Gusuku, last time bathing in the Hiji River) during a mission to Okinawa. He went into a tavern one night to comfort himself with a drink, after a particularly harrowing experience that day with a feverish child brought in by a distraught mother from the rural margins of civilization, in this land whose beauty was exceeded only by its lethality. He looked up from his hot cup of sake, and his eyes met those of the rarest of sights in these parts: a fellow Westerner. And not only that: a further spark of recognition made Johnny’s heart race and he addressed the man sitting across from him:

“Daniel Larusso?”

It was him! The two spoke for hours, and Johnny offered his condolences when Daniel revealed that had come here a few days ago to bury his mentor, Mr. Miyagi, in his homeland. When it came time for the tavern to close, the two walked side by side on their way out. Then, out of nowhere, Johnny suckerpunched Daniel, sending him spinning to the ground. Poor dummy had no idea it was coming. As Johnny stood over Daniel’s unconscious body in the street, the moonlight illuminated a trickle of blood seeping from his supine rival’s nose, and he reflected on how there was something really annoying about that guy’s voice that had just always gotten to him.


2 Responses to “you guys are like my children, except there are only nine of you, and you all have my real phone number”

  1. 1 Your Brother
    May 27, 2010 at 10:45 am

    I’d like to read more essays about what happened to that weird Cobra Kai student who yelled “get him a body bag” and made that odd face afterward.

  2. 2 Your Brother
    May 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    If you’re not familiar, he’s at the :30 mark. He kind of has “Wiggum Nose.”

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