Although we didn’t recognize each other immediately, we finally realize that we are acquainted. I don’t know what it is about mask-wearing, but I can see why there hasn’t been an uptick in bank robberies.
Is it the eyes, or the eyebrows and the eyes, or the ears, or the haircut, or what? It’s not terrifically hard to recognize someone you know, or did know, for a long enough time. Half the people you know watching the TV news would say, “Oh look, Lanning’s robbing a bank.” It would be that easy.
Jerry retired about five years before I did. We both worked at the U.H. Mānoa Student Services Center building for years, and for many of those years, up until he managed to quit, he and I would often run into each other taking smoke breaks out behind by the dumpsters.
As I say, he’d retired maybe five years before me. Doing the math, since I retired exactly five years ago two days from now, we’d not seen each other in ten years.
I was out on my daily walk, and as it turns out, so was he. This was on Auahi Street, near Ward Centre Theaters. As we approached each other, we both stopped, cocked our heads slowly to the side, and did that “now where do I know this guy from” semi-squint. The light bulb lit at the same moment. We both called out each other’s names. All those years of cigarette smoking had finally paid off.
“So what are you up to now?” Jerry asked.
I explained that I’d finally retired five years ago, December 2016.
“Are you still smoking?” he asked.
I told him that I too had finally managed to quit, two years before I retired.
He congratulated me. “Where are you headed?”
I explained that I was out on my daily walk.
“Me too,” he said. “Is this your regular route?”
I told him I really had no regular route, that I would just drive someplace, get out, and then walk.
I said I tried to do roughly five miles a day, give or take.
“Wow, that’s pretty good. I do three miles, maybe four or five times a week.”
“Eh, Jerry, at least we’re out exercising. This pandemic weight gain thing has been very real for me. I thing I actually should be walking twice a day.”
Jerry asked, “Do you carry any kind of protection when you walk?”
“Yeah, you know, with all the crazies running around. Between Trump and the pandemic, they’re crawling out of the woodwork. I see them all the time when I’m out walking around.”
“Well, yeah, I guess I’ve seen some, too,” I said.
“So you don’t carry anything to protect yourself?”
“No, no I don’t. You do?”
Jerry reaches into his right pants pocket, pulls out a black tube.
“Know what this is?” he asks, holding it out to show me. We’re standing a good socially-distanced length apart, so I lean in to get a better look.
Not waiting for me to offer an answer, Jerry, with a quick flick of his wrist, extends the black tube into a black baton.
“Wow,” I say, “that’s impressive.”
“Yeah,” says Jerry. “It’s like holding a lead pipe. If you can’t fend someone off with this, get a few good licks in, then you aren’t trying hard enough.”
I nod my head, try to picture someone taking a beating from this 70-some-year-old.
“It’s good,” Jerry continues, “for breaking fingers or hands or wrists, if they’re reaching for you. With any luck you could break an attacker’s elbow, as kneecap, maybe even crack his skull open.”
“Uh huh,” I say, nodding again. He’d been a counselor. I tried briefly to picture a session with him. “I don’t think that would help me, Jerry. I wouldn’t know how to use it.”
“Me either,” Jerry says. “But I took classes.”
“Classes? They offer classes in how to use batons?” I ask. “Like at the Y or something?”
Jerry laughs. “No, no, not at the Y. You just have to know someone. My son-in-law knows folks in law enforcement. I learned from one of them.”
“Huh. Well, I still think I’d not be very effective using something like that at my age.”
“Then you have to have one of these,” Jerry says, reaching into his left pants pocket and pulling out some kind of little stick-like object. With lightning speed he flips it open, and I see it’s what Filipinos call a balisong, a butterfly knife.
Jerry does a few more impressive stunts, whipping the blade around. Not bad for a New Jersey Haole.
“Aren’t those illegal,” I say, glancing around to make sure no one else is observing this show.
“Yeah, they are,” says, Jerry, “but I figured what the heck and put this in my baggage the last time I visited back east. If it gets through, it gets through. If it’s confiscated, it’s only a hundred bucks. But if it does come, then this thing is great for close fighting.”
I scan this senior citizen from head to toe. I don’t know. Hand-to-hand combat? I can’t quite picture Jerry making like Bernardo and Riff going at it in West Side Story. But then I flash back to one of our conversations while we were smoking by the dumpster one time. Jerry, from New Jersey, talked about how a couple of his uncles were involved in organized crime. I could picture him at the family Thanksgiving dinner table, listening to stories about gangland killings, or who knew what kind of gruesome stories? How does a Don Corleone Thanksgiving dinner go? I don’t know, recall De Niro and the baseball bat in The Untouchables.
“You see,” Jerry continues, “if they’re in too close for you to swing the baton, then you pull this out for close-quarter combat. It could save your life.”
Just listening to him makes me sweat, wonder if there are kooks out there, maybe right around the corner up ahead, guys I’ll be killed by because I don’t have a baton or a knife.
Jerry takes out his phone. “Tell me you email address. I’ll send you the info on how to order the baton.”
“Is that even legal here?” I ask.
“Beats me,” he says. “No pun intended.”
After I’ve given him my address, Jerry says, “Okay, Lanning, I’ll send that to you as soon as I get home. And you should start carrying a pocketknife of some kind.”
I thank him for the advice and the good information, and we head off in opposite directions. There goes a dangerous old man, I think. But to whom?
Scarily amusing, shot through with Lanning’s wry observations. Enjoyable.
Thank you, Karen, I’ve been trying to do more humorous writing. Humor is hard to write. The hardest.