Monday, September 19, 2016

Tipping Point

Mountain View, California, September 16, 2016

The man sat in his Air Hawk motorized wheelchair in the corner in the grand living room, which was a little more luxurious and ornate than what he was used to. He felt slightly thirsty, but left his glass of water sweating on the small side table against the wall beside him. He was instead watching the twenty-some other guests who gathered in small clusters around the room, engaged in lively conversation. It was the first party the man had attended since he had become confined to his chair, having lost most of the use of his left arm and leg a few months ago. And despite his weeks of practice with the Air Hawk, he was a bit apprehensive maneuvering the chair through the crowded room. So he was content with having his lovely wife fetch some hors d'oeuvres for him while he parked himself out of the way, and mulled over his own lively conversation from a few moments before in the host’s private den.

The party was held in the home of a mild acquaintance, the supervisor of one of the man’s business associates in the health care industry. The associate and the supervisor have been working with the man on a prospectus for a pilot study for a new experimental rehabilitative therapy developed in Japan — one that may actually assist in helping the man regain his lost mobility. The three of them have had a number of discussions on the matter over the last several weeks, mostly on how to persuade the Japanese developer to pilot with their medical firm. But this evening, the man and his wife were invited by the supervisor to his social-cum-business gathering at his impressive Mountain View home to talk about having the man qualify as a potential test subject when… if… the pilot is a go. The associate was still in the den with the supervisor as they had additional business to discuss, but he encouraged the man and his wife to stay and enjoy the party.

While the man was elated by the news, he still looked at the cool glass of water with mild disdain. He had spent most of his recent days in t-shirts and sweatpants, but he had to dress in a button shirt with slacks and a blazer for this occasion. He had learned on a recent business trip that this attire adds an additional layer of complexity when he had to use the facilities, so he was trying to minimize that need as much as possible.

It was then that the man noticed that all of the people in the room suddenly stopped talking. All except for one, who was talking quite loudly.

A rather large man who appeared to be a bit underdressed for this gathering was arguing with his sharply dressed female companion near the drink station. The man in the wheelchair did not really pay much attention to the actual words yelled as he did to the person’s tipsy demeanor. The woman made a dismissive wave to the inebriated man and turned to walk away, when the drunkard angrily seized the woman’s slender arm.

“You’re hurting me…” she groaned, trying to twist away, but she couldn’t break free.

The man’s eyes narrowed as he worked the controls of the Air Hawk to point the caster wheels directly at the couple. Aside from his wife, he hardly knew any of these people around him, but he still could not believe how they could just stand idly by while this was happening right before them. The man’s slender fingers pressed the joystick of his Air Hawk forward.

The man caught the look of his wife from across the room as he was guiding the chair towards the argument. With his only working hand on the controls, the man had to cock his head to one side repeatedly in order to gesture toward the woman in the drunkard’s grip. The man was pleased to see his wife received the message and was working her way toward the other side of the arguing couple.

The angry drunkard seemed oblivious to the whirring hum of the man’s wheelchair as he made his approach. The man considered using the chair’s electronic horn, but instead decided to keep the chair moving, extending his good right leg as high as possible so he could give the drunkard a sharp nudge in the posterior upon his arrival.

As the man hoped, his sudden “kick” made the drunkard let go of the woman and turn toward him -- just as his wife arrived from the other direction. The man lifted his chin imperiously toward the intoxicated brute. He just needed to hold the bully’s attention long enough for his wife to help lead the maltreated woman out of the room and into the kitchen. “That’s quite enough,” the man said sharply. “Perhaps you should step outside and cool off.”

The brute bristled. “This your party, Mr. Sulu?” he scoffed.

The man suppressed his mild surprise that the drunken taunt was focused on his ethnicity rather than his disability, and instead repeated himself in the precise manner he had used before. “Again, I suggest you step outside and…”

As the man spoke, the brute made a few slightly unsteady steps to the left side of the man’s wheelchair, placed the sole of his right workman’s boot against the frame crossbar below the chair’s seat saddle, and pushed. The man’s sentence was cut off by an undignified reflexive yelp as the wheelchair tipped over onto its side.

That action triggered a collective gasp from the onlookers in the room. As the man struggled to shift his half-motionless body from its sprawled position on the floor, he could not help but mentally repeat with acerbity the part of the Air Hawk sales pitch regarding how being the “lightest lightweight power wheelchair” offered “the greatest flexibility and range of motion”...

With a grunt of effort, the man managed to lay flat on his back, and could see the brute slowly lumbering away from him, looking around the room for his female companion. The man strained to lift his head so he could get a clearer view of the crowd, to no avail. All he could do was hope that the women had already made it to the kitchen so the maltreated woman would be hidden from view… and that his wife did not see what had just occurred.

One of the other male guests finally found his voice. “That does it. I’m calling the police.”

That sentence had finally convinced the intoxicated brute to head for the front door. In a few moments the partygoers would hear a distant screeching of tires and an obnoxious rev of a car engine as he made his departure.

In the meantime, the supervisor host and the associate had emerged from the den, no doubt alerted by the commotion. They immediately went to work righting the motorized wheelchair and helping the man back into it. Before the man could regain his dignity, he immediately received a very tight hug from his horrified wife, which he returned as best he could with his right arm.

The man and his wife were relieved to find out that the maltreated woman, who was a good friend of the host, had been in a relationship with the brute for only a brief time, and that this was the first and only sign of abuse that she had experienced. The host insisted that she stay the night in his home as a precaution, and the host’s wife would kindly provide whatever provisions she needed. The man was disappointed that no one actually called the police, but the woman did not want to press any charges. The man was also concerned that the brute was driving a car while intoxicated, but all he could do was hope that the brute would make it home without causing any harm to himself or others.

After a lengthy expression of thanks from the woman and repeated apologies from the host, the man and his wife had taken their leave.

The man slowly wheeled his chair down the walkway, following his shapely wife as they made their way toward their car parked along the street. Before they reached it, the wife suddenly turned and tossed her husband an austere look.

“Just what the hell do you think you were doing? Standing up to that—” The wife bit her lip at her choice of words, but after a pause she continued. “Did you think that the guy wasn’t gonna fight you just because you were in a wheelchair?”

“Well, I was hoping…” the man said with a little cheek. He flexed his right arm slightly… starting to feel signs that bruises were forming under his blazer and shirt sleeve.

“Don’t joke about this!” she snapped. Her voice sounded a little panicked, and the man was surprised to see that she was on the verge of tears. “When you had that… attack, and we had to call the ambulance, I was so scared. The kids were so scared. I don’t want us to go through that again, even if…”

The man tried to reassure her. “Namiko, I’m okay… really… I…”

“No, sometimes I think you’re not,” she countered. “It’s almost as if you have forgotten what happened to you. As if you can just do anything you used to…”

The man held up his right hand. “Believe me, I am aware… painfully aware… of my limitations,” he said earnestly. “But you know I cannot just sit there and let someone…”

“I know,” she sighed.  “I know you always have this urge to help people – even total strangers. It’s one of the things I love about you. But please... please… just promise me that you will give someone else a chance to jump in and help before you put yourself in harm’s way like that, okay?”

The man nodded. He felt that was what he had essentially done earlier that evening, but he knew what his wife truly meant. “Okay. I promise,” he said quietly, his tone dead serious.

“Okay,” the wife said, satisfied. All signs of worry evaporated from her face. She gently touched the man’s left cheek with her fingers, and then brought her mouth to meet his.

“Thank you for that,” the man said after their lips parted. “And for helping her out. I don’t regret doing what I did, seeing how much we helped that woman. But I also know what I did was pretty stupid, seeing how quickly he took me down…”

“Maybe so,“ the woman smirked, “but you literally kicked his ass.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Protector in Pink

Johur Baru, Johor, Malaysia, November 1997

The man observed that the shopping centre was abuzz with excitement over the Saturday event that has drawn several children and their families from across the city and neighboring towns. And no wonder. The main stage in the promenade, normally reserved for local musical performances, was under attack by two alien mutant monsters from outer space – each almost a towering two metres tall! One appeared to be half-man, half turtle; the other half-man, half lobster. While both monsters looked utterly grotesque, the bright colors of their foam rubber bodies made them appear not too scary for the youngest of the younger crowd.

Fortunately, the monsters’ evil scheme to destroy the weekend afternoon commerce was about to be thwarted by flashes of red, blue, black, pink, and yellow that leapt, cartwheeled, and somersaulted onto the stage. The speeding arrivals surrounded the monsters, each pausing in a fighting stance so the cheering crowd of over two hundred onlookers can have a good look at the brightly colored spandex-and-lyrca outfits of the six fully masked super sentai heroes that most of the kids had instantly recognized as the Power Rangers.

However, the quintet was not the actual Power Rangers from the television programme or the fairly recent movie. In fact, those with a keen eye can see that the uniforms, while in the correct colors, were not quite the same as their on-screen counterparts. The diamond motif had been replaced with ovals, and the dinosaur patterns of the helmets appeared to be more bug-like. 

That was because the five heroes and two monsters on stage were not officially licensed Power Ranger or Zyuranger performers like the ones that toured in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore a few years ago. They were actually the Sentai Seven, a quasi-professional performing troupe comprised of seven very talented martial artists and acrobats from Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia who presented live Power-Ranger-like shows at local events throughout Southeast Asia – usually to draw in customers to drum up local business, which they no doubt were doing for the shops and eateries in that J.B. shopping centre that day.

(Now that I had made clear the fact of who these heroes are not, please note that, to allow for ease of writing, this post will continue to refer to these performers as “Rangers” since that was who they were supposed to represent. Please keep in mind that at this particular event, or at any other Sentai Seven show, they could not officially – nor legally – be referred to as such.)

This had actually been the first time the Sentai Seven (referred only as “your kids’ favorite heroes” during the show and in the event adverts) had performed in Malaysia in a number of years. The troupe was quite popular when the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” programme had taken the country (as it did the world) by storm on Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) 2. That was before a few parents and government officials were concerned that the show would have a negative influence on children because the word “Morphin’” in the title sounded like “morphine”– and that would somehow encourage impressionable young minds to want to abuse drugs. So the programme was banned from Malaysia for a time, and the troupe decided to perform in other countries at that point.

That meant the children had to get their Super Sentai fix either by watching the Japanese programme, “Choushinsei Flashman,” dubbed in Malay on RTM1, or settling for the (thankfully) short-lived chintzy American knockoff television series, “Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills,” on Metrovision 8.

The ban did not last too long, however. Eventually, the movie based on the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” series was allowed to be screened in local theatres with the shortened title, “Power Rangers: The Movie.” The television programme was soon allowed back on the air when it followed the same naming convention. And now that the show had returned, so too had the Sentai Seven.

The man was at the shopping center event, of course, enjoying an exclusive vantage point of the show. He was paying particular attention on the movements of the performer who portrayed the doppelgänger of the Yellow Ranger Trini – and with good reason.

(No, not that reason). 

Since the man worked for the advertising agency that served the property management company for the shopping centre, and was good friends with the centre’s event organizer, he was able to meet the troupe performers and watch them practice their routine (both in costume and in athletic sweatsuits) earlier that week. He remembered the horrible moment when he saw the sweet young woman who was the Yellow Ranger of the troupe accidentally fall against the edge of a raised platform during practice and tear her clavicle loose, just three days before the show.

The remaining “Sentai Six” were scrambling to figure out how to best restructure the choreography with one less performer, when the event organizer had a suggestion for a potential fill-in. A few calls were made, and the candidate was auditioning at the troupe’s practice area later that afternoon. The candidate had promising skills, but admitted to having not practiced in several months, and was thus “a bit rusty.” However, the candidate would work as a viable stand-in with only a few minor cuts to the choreography, limiting the new Yellow Ranger’s routine to martial arts only and no acrobatics beyond breakfalls. Further, the man, a Yondan in Aikido, was willing to work long hours with the troupe in order to train the candidate to be ready for the show in time.

In addition to lacking some acrobatic skill, the candidate was also not quite as… built as the original performer, but that was easily fixed with a bit of strategically placed padding.

On the shopping center stage, the entire Ranger team pretended to be knocked backward by a broad sweep of the Turtle-Man’s arm, eliciting first a collective gasp of shock from the kids in the crowd – and then a communal cheer as the Rangers all used rolling breakfalls to immediately right themselves back on their feet, ready to resume the fight.

The man silently winced as he noticed the Yellow Ranger tip slightly after standing from the ushiro ukemi. Despite his and the troupe’s best efforts during the long two days of the stand-in’s intensive training and practice, the padding still threw the new performer’s balance off a touch. This was soon further evidenced by the Yellow Ranger’s roundhouse kick, aimed to intentionally miss the side of the Turtle Man’s face, accidentally connecting with his right shoulder, actually knocking him to the padded stage floor.

The Yellow Ranger immediately pulled the opponent up to a standing position by the scruff of the foam rubber turtle shell. Before the audience could register what the man knew was a brief check that the fallen actor was unhurt, the yellow-clad performer mimed an overelaborate bowling throw as the Turtle Man somersaulted off-stage in simulated defeat.

Aside from that small hiccup, which was very likely perceived by the crowd as a normal part of the act, the performance went swimmingly. In fact, the final act of all five Rangers vanquishing the threat of the Lobster-man, which climaxed with the monster disappearing from the stage (a magician technique using flash powder, a smoke machine, and the aforementioned raised platform with a built-in trap door), was well-received by the applauding audience.

Shortly after the performance, there was a “meet and greet” session that was originally supposed to have the kids line up to shake the hands of each of the “Rangers” in succession as they moved across the stage, but it quickly reverted to a disorderly mob of kids and adults flocking around the troupe to shake hands and take pictures of the team of masked heroes. 

One person among the crowd behind the heroes had a different reason for being on the stage.

As soon as the man realized what was happening, the rest of the crowd was suddenly made aware via the sound of a loud male scream. They all then saw the Pink Ranger twisting the right hand of a surprised 30-something-year-old Indian male, as she forced him backward through the quickly parting crowd, and roughly shoved him against a nearby pillar at the back of the stage. The Yellow Ranger followed closely behind.

The greasy-haired, lightly mustached male was clearly three times the weight of the Pink Ranger, and even though that extra mass can be considered more flab than muscle, he could have easily knocked down the Pink Ranger with a little leverage. The only thing that was preventing the male from doing so was the pain of his hand bones, which the man could see were straining toward the point of dislocation in the Pink Ranger’s gloved grasp.

The Malay security guard assigned to accompany the troupe quickly approached the two Rangers and inquired what was going on. Before they could respond, a young boy at the front of the crowd pointed to the Yellow Ranger and said in Malay, “He grabbed her backside. He grabbed her backside."

The yellow-clad stand-in did not understand Malay, but soon nodded in agreement when the guard asked in English to confirm what the Indian man did.

Two additional shopping centre security guards, altered by the Indian’s scream, soon arrived and escorted the molester off the premises, but not until they had first spent several minutes attempting to convince the two Rangers that the incident was most likely “a simple misunderstanding.” When that did not work, the guards assured the Rangers that they will bar him from the property and that there was no need to waste time filing a police report. 

The man gave a scornful look to both the departing pervert and his security guard escorts. He knew from experience that filing a police report would indeed be a waste of time…

Later, the man joined the troupe in a reserved private area behind the shopping center offices that included changing rooms.

The Yellow Ranger turned to the pink counterpart and whispered, “Thank you again for dealing with that… molester…”

The Pink Ranger removed her helmet, and the attractive, mid-30s Singaporean-Chinese performer underneath gave her yellow counterpart a wide smile. ”No problem,” she said, arching an eyebrow. “After all, we girls have to stick together, right?”

The Yellow Ranger stiffened slightly at the question before removing the helmet of the uniform, revealing the perspiring face of Xum Yukinori.

“Indeed,” the man in the padded yellow uniform smiled back. He handed the pink heroine a towel and a bottle of water from the stock provided for the troupe on a small side table. He hesitantly asked, “Does that… sort of thing… happen to you often?”

The Pink Ranger performer pushed back the bangs of her short-cropped dark hair so she could dab her sweaty forehead lightly with the towel. “More often than you’d think,” she said with a bit of sadness, draping the towel over her shoulder. She then cracked another smile as she cracked open the water bottle. “The price for having a great backside, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree to pay.”

The man nodded. He was still very disappointed that the molester was essentially led out with only a warning from the guards. But he did have some satisfaction that his pink-clad protector had brought that pervert’s sneaky actions out into the open. Perhaps the public humiliation, from both being discovered and the physical retaliation, will make that person reconsider ever trying to touch a woman improperly again.


The rest of the troupe had already gone into the male dressing room. The man decided to wait a few moments before following suit. All of the male performers had at one time or another made cat-calls at the man in jest when he first put on the chest padding and the yellow uniform. And now through the dressing room door he can hear them all having a good laugh about him being so “sexy” that some casual pervert actually groped him.

The Pink Ranger could hear them too. “They are such boys…” she remarked.

A realization struck the man. He gestured toward the gents’ changing room. “Um, they don’t treat you like…”

The Singaporean woman shook her head. “Oh, no. The may be boys, but they are good boys. They just like to make fun at you putting on boobs.” She paused, and her playful voice now had a serious tone. “But they are all very glad that you did so to fill in for Phaik-Seng… as am I. So thank you, Xum.”

“It was my pleasure. I hope Phaik-Seng has a successful recovery.”

The woman in pink nodded, then turned toward the female dressing room. “You can change in here, if you wish,” she offered. “After I am done, of course.”

“Thank you, but the gents’ will be fine,” the man replied. “I’ve faced worse than ‘those boys’…”

The woman turned to face the man. “I know,” she said flatly. “I saw those marks on you during practice.”

There was a long pause, and the man hoped the performer in pink would not ask about the circumstances behind the few but noticeable scars on his body, which his loose practice shirt apparently did not conceal. Fortunately, his silent wish was granted.

The woman finally spoke. “Well, you watch your backside, Xum. You will not always have someone else watching it for you.” She then disappeared behind the female dressing room door.

It would be hours after the man had changed and said a final goodbye to the Sentai Seven, while enjoying an after-supper Kopi O Peng at a hawker stall near his hotel, that he would realize there may had been a deeper meaning to the Pink Ranger’s words. He briefly wondered if the reason she caught the molester’s action was because she was already looking at his backside... 

And then, just as quickly, the man pushed that ridiculous thought out of his head.