The kickboxing class is supposed to be my training for The Movie, though by this point it’s all become little more than pure fantasy. I can’t blame Abdul. To be honest. Put it another way, Abdul, messing around, his video camera to the Hi-8 cassettes stacked on the TV, run it through a co-axl, and I’m watching water droplets on a spiderweb, 15-minute sunsets, and so on. The problem, what we endlessly argue about—is that there has to be some way to bridge the gap. The existential stuff, between that and all the BS pulp entertainment we’ve grown up on, that we were both still fascinated by. But there has to be a missing link, some cultural common ground, and from my point of view, why not an action movie? Yeah ok, he’d say, grinning. With superheroes? He won’t concede completely, but I feel we’re onto something. Eating chips, arguing, laughing, from Hong Kong films to our joint lexicon, 80’s comics and shitty television shows. What about Riptide? Buck Rogers. Knight Rider. The Last Ninja.
“Ok, why not? Say we do this.” Leaning forward, spinning his lighter on the coffee table, “Make it about atmosphere. You understand? This bleak-house shit all around us. Cityscape. Some action. Plot is overrated. What we do is we find the mood . . .
Talking all night about it on the weekends, over beers. Few weeks, maybe a month or so, before he starts to fade. And not as if we’ve made a pact, or something. It’s also during this time that I meet Inez. So maybe I’m the one fading . . .
Which is the half-life effect I ascribe not just to the Mayflower, but to Iowa City in general. A kind of reverse sunlight, bleaching away hope, back to the usual, grey system of helpless longing. Then the night I drop by Abdul’s and first see the Nintendo N64. Right on schedule. Open box on its side. He’s already gone, playing like an addict, with the controller, barefoot, lost in a trance. Normally we’d watch snippets of movies, talk plans for the script. I drop onto the couch and sit. Sweat stippling his forehead. One-ups and ringing coins. The ridiculous, farting, blooping music. And as usual, without warning, as if I’m the one suddenly not quite getting it.
“Oh, have you played this? 64 bits. Man, so real . . .
But by then I’ve already signed up for the class, twice a week, and at first the trek doesn’t seem too bad. By winter though, the Cambus, out to the edge of town, city bus to Coralville, then the additional freezing, 20 minute walk, stubbing through snow. Not to mention the literal rogue’s gallery of absolute fools inside the gym. Guy named Jon, friendly enough. Ear-studs, nose-rings. Also Cody, Kenny, also Zach. Blurry tattoos. Flaccid, skinny arms, sagging guts. Acne everywhere, bright red haze. T-shirts tucked into high-waisted camo pants. I should say, that every white dude I meet off-campus seems like a dealer, or former drug user of some stripe. The one girl. Woman. Looks older than she probably is. Like tan gristle, but with some nice, mouth-watering legs. That’s my thought. There was McTier, of course. Trying to get me into a showy bro-hug. But then also he’s always trying to crush and roll the bones in my fingers with the handshake part of it. Seven of us in the class. Pile of mats, squared off with cones, back of the strip-mall gym. Heavy bag in the corner. Continuous rock music, sports jams. Keith is our instructor. Mesh shorts. Huge hands. And it’s a slippery, quick-dissolving thing, to even remember the so-called movie, whatever it’s supposed to be about. Smell from the nearby bathroom. Pounding the heavy bag, dismally, single file, kicking it, or, combos; punch, kick-kick, jab, kick-punch, punch, punch, punch, back of the line, punch, repeat, until 8pm, clap it up. Brief, Asian-derived, non-sensical pep talk, and then I’m in the car, back hitching a ride with McTier. Bundled up, sweating beneath my clothes, from Coralville back to Iowa City. Cold. The black, leafless trees, the grey landscape blurring by.