The Eagle Strikes Again
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Sep 2013)

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            In 1985, somewhere in Ohio, a skinny, curly-haired girl with braces taped a poster – probably from Right On! Magazine – of actor and martial artist Taimak to the inside of her middle school locker. Taimak is an Aztec word meaning “Ages Like Fine Wine” – excuse me for a moment. Fingers! Obey me! Apologies, dear reader. That should have read “Striking Eagle.” Taimak had just starred in The Last Dragon, a cross-cultural action/kung fu/comedy film executive-produced by Motown’s Berry Gordy. The soundtrack included DeBarge’s hit single “Rhythm of the Night.” Go ahead. Hum it. Dance until the morning light.

           The movie is known today as a cult hit; many people can quote it with feeling decades later (Who’s the master? Sho’Nuff!), while some others have never heard of it. The latter have missed out on some delightfully entertaining 1980s awesomeness. Here’s a taste: Taimak plays a black kung-fu practitioner in New York who eats movie popcorn with chopsticks, and is known in the neighborhood as “Bruce Leroy.” The movie holds up today, and the last fight scene still makes me want to stand up and cheer.

           In college I met plenty of people my age who remembered the movie with great affection. Among them was my friend Felicia. We stayed in touch after graduation and, when a mutual friend forwarded the two of us an e-mail in January 2005 about a 20th anniversary screening of The Last Dragon in New York, scheduled for that very Friday, to be hosted by Taimak himself, it took only minutes for us to coordinate the trip.

           That Friday after work, I packed my Sharpie, my The Last Dragon DVD, and my hopes to get an autograph. In an attempt to kill that hope, my train arrived an hour late, ten minutes after the screening was scheduled to begin, and I still had to get to the venue. By the time I arrived, anxious and angry, the movie had begun. Noooooooooo! Not only might I have missed my one chance to hear Taimak speak in person, but I also had to be THAT GUY, all late, all in the way, walking down the aisle of a packed movie theater during the movie.

           I thought it would help to use the light bouncing off of the movie screen, so I decided to look yet more ridiculous by walking backwards. I got all the way down to row number five without tripping, and still no Felicia. Curses! Had I missed her farther back? Would I have to repeat this walk of shame? Then, in row number four, lit by the blue-green glow of his own 20-year-old projection, I saw Taimak.

           In the early ‘90s, there was a cereal called Triples. It was so delicious, according to the commercial, that “You’ll do a triple take!” Actor after actor would taste the cereal, then risk whiplash by looking not twice for a mere double take, but thrice in rapid succession at the box. I had never done a triple take, but then I saw Taimak in person. “My God,” I thought. “There are real people who look like that.” He was like a sculpture. I had seen such humans on film and in magazines, but never in life.

           This was when I remembered that I was standing in the middle of a movie aisle and, oh yeah, I was looking for Felicia. Focus. How fortunate that I located her and another friend Nia in row number three, one row in front of Taimak. One. Row. I ducked in, past the Taimak in row four, and asked Felicia what I had missed. She reassured me that there had been a very brief intro, but Taimak would do Q&A later. What a relief! Now all I had to do was enjoy the movie. Or spend the next hour and a half using all of my mental and physical power to resist the urge to ignore the movie, crane around in my seat, and stare at the cheekbones attached to the actor sitting immediately behind me and only three seats to my right. Pause and picture how close that is. Sitting still and looking straight ahead for 90 minutes was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do, especially with an internal monologue consisting almost entirely of “He’s right there. Don’t look. He’s right there. Don’t look.” I only looked once, and I consider that a tremendous success.

           During the post-movie Q&A, I asked for the most significant lesson he had learned from studying martial arts. He said he’d learned that anything is possible, and that “the body can do more than the mind thinks it can do.” One kid asked him to demonstrate a move, and he did a spinning kick despite the dress shoes and slacks. We liked him more and more. Soon we formed a line to pose for photos with him and get autographs (YES!). After I got mine, I reached out to shake his hand and say thank you. He shook mine with both of his, then opened his arms to give me a hug. I actually turned to look behind me in case he meant someone else. I did hug him, and I’m not sure what happened next because I think I may have passed out.

           Taimak stayed until the very last person in line had gotten an autograph or photo, and this was not a short line. He could have cut it off at some point – he had been there for hours – but I remember him saying, without a hint of ego or disingenuousness, “I’m not here for me. I’m here for all of you.” Felicia, Nia and I were already amazed that he looked better at 40 than he did at 20, but we were floored at what a kind, warm, and humble man he turned out to be. Score one for celebrities who are genuinely nice people.

           We joined the official fan/mailing list and were notified a few months later that Taimak, a personal trainer in New York, would release a fitness DVD. I ordered one knowing that the only exercise I might do while watching it was power lift several handfuls of kettle corn from a bowl to my mouth. What? The fact that he’s nice doesn’t make his abs any less fabulous. The DVD came with a signed photo that hangs in my office today. And it is way, way better than the one I had in my locker.

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