Grownups These Days  (December 2001)

By David Kessler

This little story could be filed with either of 2 categories of my tales - with the "I was out practicing in Waldo Park..." collection, or with the "...Then they called the police on me" collection.  Seeing as how one is an opening theme and the other a closer, I suppose it's only logical that this should have happened.

I went out to Waldo Park this afternoon to practice.  I brought my metal sword with me and after going through Pa Kua, I started practicing techniques for both Tai Chi sword and a Sword form.  I then worked through both these forms several times (with 1 break to introduce myself to a couple of springer spaniels and their owner) and was just putting the sword away when a police car pulled up to the far side of the park.

I continued putting the sword away as he walked into the park, and as he approached he said "Hi."  I smiled and said, "Hi" back to him, and he explained that the station had received 2 calls about me.

We chatted in a friendly manner for about 10 minutes.  I told him where I lived, that I had been in the neighborhood for 2 years, that I've been practicing in the park for at least 6 months and am always exceedingly careful about who is around me, that the sword isn't sharp (he wasn't interested in looking at it, when I offered), and that - far from wanting to freak out my neighbors - I had often spoken with both the local kids and parents and nobody had ever showed a whit of concern about me.

The officer was very nice about the whole thing.  The callers, he said, had both recognized that I was practicing martial arts, and he considered the matter to be trivial (in part, I would guess, because I was being friendly and was alert to possible danger).  He suggested that I practice with my wooden sword from now on, and possibly move into the graveyard to be certain that I'm out of both sight and mind.  He told me that if anyone questioned me about my practice I should use his name to assure them that it was all on the up and up, and I told him that I hoped people would feel comfortable approaching me in the future.  The officer left and I went on practicing empty hand forms.

As I was about done, a troupe of kids on bicycles rolled into the park, and onto the flat top where I practice, with shouts and screams and making sounds like trains and cars as they careened happily along.  Their general atmosphere was a sort of Wild Ones biker gang meets Barney the purple dinosaur.  They circled me noisily once or twice, peddling hard for all the speed they could muster, and one of them pointed a bright green squirt gun at me and made a firing sound.  I took the shot in my gut, staggered, and exclaimed that he'd gotten me.  He cheered in delight and one of the others demanded I chase them.

After a few minutes of this fun, I walked over to introduce myself to the 2 men who were standing off at the side watching them.  Between them, they accounted for the 5 boys, who were all from 7 to 12 years old (1 father claimed Sergei and Alexander, the other claimed Evan, Evan's twin whose name I don't recall, and Wyatt).  The fathers were nice, and advised me not to try and pet their dog, as he normally needed to wear a muzzle whenever he was out, and had just seen me shouting and growling and chasing their sons.  That was when Sergei rode up shot us all with his gun and announced that he had handcuffs too!  Then Wyatt rode up and insisted I chase them more, which I did.  Lot's of fun.  When it was time for me to go, they boys still wanted to play and one of them proudly shot me in the back.

So to sum up the evening: dogs that are unsafe without muzzles, and a wild gang of toy-gun toting adolescents having fun by pretending to kill anything that moves are not a cause for concern.  Meanwhile, a single man, alone in a park, and quietly practicing a disciplined style of martial art is.

Grownups these days.

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