November 17, 2010 by David Gillaspie
Mixed Martial Author series
(Previously, author Mark Christensen read from Acid Christ at Multnomah Library. Upon leaving, he found his book’s subject, Ken Kesey, waiting for him in a glowing octagon at the foot of the library steps visible only to them. The world around them sat frozen in gray light. Mark stepped into the cage and put on fighting gloves.)
Christensen faked a lunge toward Kesey with darting quickness, then backed away shadow boxing.
“You said one hit would snap them out of it.” He’d fallen for a trick hit.
Kesey stood immobile to the untrained eye, the same way some contests seem overly cautious. Every fighter knows the first wrong move could be the last move.
“It’s going to take more,” Kesey said.
Christensen moved to the left, moved to the right, stood up, bent down, ready to fight.
“Where’s the cartwheels now? What about riding that bike backward again? This is the real world now, bub, not some swampy farm.”
Kesey shifted his weight in the direction of Christensen’s movement. He’d been sucker punched before.
“You’re calling out my place? My land?”
“Whatever, man. Things look different when you don’t have Irving in here. This kitchen’s about to heat up, bub, you might want to get out while you can.”
Christensen threw a lightning straight jab designed to land at the exact moment his elbow locked, just like he learned at the dojo. He’d follow the jab with a flying overhand right, knees up chest high for a crushing finale the way he’d practiced on the dummies.
The fighting scream he unleashed sounded like Cheeta on too much caffeine.
Kesey twitched his head just enough for the jab to fly past and lifted one hand to catch the second punch before it got off. Christensen’s leap ended in a clotheslined fall. Kesey spun off in a series of leaps the belonged in Swan Lake, not the octagon.
“I liked that jab,” he said. “I’d work on it if I were you. You’re a natural for it with your length. Instead of trying a kill-shot at the first encounter, jab and kick.”
He swept across the cage’s floor, faked a jab, and landed a double Kozatsky kick before Christensen jumped back.
“You want to confuse your opponent. See, if you jab and jump, you’re headed for a sprawl and brawl. Can you feel it? Then it’s ground and pound. Do you know what that is? It’s where you hope your heart explodes and you die so you don’t have to get knocked out, tap out, or take the most God-awful beating a man could ever endure without losing your mind. So far so good, no deaths. No Boom Boom or Emile Griffith, yet.”
The fall from the accidental clotheslining shook something loose in Mark Christensen. The crack he tried to open with his jab slammed shut. His follow-up flying overhand right gave him a crash landing.
Kesey wasn’t moving toward him, but he wouldn’t stop talking.
“Can you see the problem, Mark? I know what you’re thinking. This is why I’m not more active in MMAuthor than I am. You are a deer in the headlights, man. But you’re a journalist, you’re used to it. Except you like to see what is making the light. You won’t see that now. You’ll see the lights and nothing else, and it won’t make sense. It never does.”
“What am I thinking, huh? What? You’re the big man. Put on your swami hat and read my mind. It’s all been so easy for you. You think this is easy? Well, it’s not.”
“Your thinking your jab is all you’ve got, and it’s not enough. You’re thinking I’m giving you the choice of being knocked out, tapping out, or taking a beat down of Pacquiao proportions. Well, I’m not.”
Kesey mimed a knock out with a leaping backhand/uppercut combination, finishing with a barrel roll. For the tap out, he wrapped a burly arm around his own neck until his face turned purble. The beating was a series of head snaps at the end of imaginary jabs and crosses. He slapped himself a few times for good measure.
“That’s what you come up with?” Christensen said. “I’ve had my ass kicked before, Ken, but never like I got it kicked at your place. Look, I was a kid. I had long hair and wore a sport coat. Chicks dug the look. I’d talk some of that Castenada crap and they’d fall over in front of me. That was my thing. It didn’t work at your place, Ken? Why? Tell me why? I stepped my game up. I was a player, but no one moved. Now I can’t even punch you when you don’t move.”
Kesey swayed while he listened. He moved his feet. He put his arms up the way he learned at the high school dances in the ’50’s. He boxed stepped away from Mark Christensen, then two-stepped to the other side of the cage.
“You don’t hear the music, Mark. You can’t hear it; you never have. A friend and his wife went to Barcelona and walked Las Ramblas after midnight. The wife wondered why everyone was out with no bands in any bars. The man said he heard a different music, the song of possibility. More things happen when you get out and move around, when you’re on the bus.”
The gray light over the frozen crowd began to change.
“I took acid and I couldn’t write One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or Sometimes A Great Notion. I tried as hard as I could.”
“Neither has anyone else. The titles are parts of rhymes, you know that. You know that, right? One flew east, one flew west? Live in the country, live in the town? Couplets, lyrics, silly words that make me smile, make you smile. You’re not smiling.”
Kesey started bounding about like a young Pete Townsend.
“The man said he knew somebody with an idea for a new kind of biography,” Christensen said. “I wanted to give it a shot and picked you instead of Hunter Thompson. We have history. I’ve participated.”
“Okay, you’ve done something. You could do the same by going to a Justin Bieber concert and writing his biography.”
“That’s a cheap shot.”
“We’re talking cheap shots? Prankster, please.”
“I’m not a Prankster. I never was. You guys wouldn’t let me. You ran me off the stage for bad poetry. You kept pranking me.”
“You’ve got to carry the bags a while, son; take the stairs instead of the elevator. Some make the road team, some don’t. Those who don’t usually keep trying. They want to accomplish what they started out doing.”
“What’s that, Ken?”
Kesey launched himself across the octagon in a Albert Pujols baseball slide toward home plate.
Everything dark went darker.
Later, Mark Christensen remembered saying ‘what’s that, Ken?’
The glowing octagon was gone.
Two men stood on the last step in front of the library.
“That’s right, Mark. I heard you,” Kesey said. “So did they.”
Kesey pointed to the people moving about their daily tasks outside the library. Petitioners asking for signatures; scooters rolling up the handicap ramp.
Mark followed Kesey’s hand. When he turned back, Kesey was gone.
“Ken?” he said. “Commander? Chief? Now what? What do I do?”
A page from his book fell out. Along with the print, it had black Sharpie lettering across it…
(to be continued)