The Etymology of KungFu Mike - April 8, 2008

(Reconditioning Batteries)

The fall leaves crunched under our ratty skate sneakers as Seth and I stepped out of his brother's maroon '87 Jetta, war torn skateboards in hand.

Every Friday afternoon when we were 15, we would hit Seth's brother up for a lift to the Hong Kong Ramps; a secret skate spot we built in the parking lot of an abandoned factory. The factory sat behind Hong Kong Express, a less than hygienic Chinese food restaurant. Young skaters fashioned the park together out of stolen and scavenged wood from construction sites. Ramps were held together with as many screws as we could afford with our collectively saved lunch money. The majority of the ramps and boxes we built were anything but sturdy, patches of grass had forced their way through gaping cracks in the aging pavement and you could only skate as long as the sun offered illumination. The city of Portsmouth was just beginning to enforce its long ignored ban on skateboarding. This left the local kids who couldn't drive to legitimate skate parks with two options; either skate in the street and risk getting their boards confiscated by local fuzz or skate at the Hong Kong Ramps, which were completely hidden from Big Brother by trees and empty commercial property. It was less than perfect, but it served its purpose as a sanctuary for youth being persecuted for participating in a sport that elderly town officials refused to foster.

HKR was empty that afternoon, save for a group of seven unfamiliar guys and girls. They looked about our age and were wearing classic New England fall clothing; sweatshirts, fleece vests, jeans and light jackets. They didn't quite look like jocks but they weren't exactly skate punks or wiggers. They looked like kids in high school that just blended in with everyone else in the hallways. They were sitting on one of the better constructed grind boxes, not a skateboard among them. Seth and I were a little confused as to how people we didn't know managed to infiltrate our Fortress of Solitude. We went about our ritual warm up and decided how we were going to position ramps so we could execute new tricks we had been working on in our driveways during the school week. Every time I skated by the group of strangers I would take a quick look at them, taking care not to be noticed. Fights broke out at HKR pretty frequently. Two of us and seven of them weren't great odds if a scrap broke out over a perceived shitty look. The second or third time I looked over I noticed there were eight of them, and a grungy homeless person was among their ranks. I also noticed that there were a few cases of Natural Ice resting on the grind box. Putting two and two together, I deduced that the homeless guy bought the kids beer and they were hanging out at the park so they could slug them back without getting cuffed by Johnny Law. A few more passes by the group led me to believe they were all shitfaced, partly from the stench of shitty beer wafting off of them, partly because the lion's share of their words slurred.

I was practicing on a 45 degree bank and Seth was angrily pushing back and forth by the kids on the box, hoping they would move so he could use it for what is was intended for. Seth wasn't the kind of kid that would just go up to people he didn't know and ask them for something and I could see the exasperation in Seth's face. I totally understood it. There's nothing more annoying than park 'tards perching on shit you're looking to skate. The fact that we only had a couple hours of useful daylight made the skate spot etiquette infraction obnoxious as it was, but tack on the fact that total strangers were blocking us from using ramps we built and it became downright unbearable. I kept on skating, Seth kept on pushing and the group of strange kids kept on drinking.

An hour into our session, Seth and I ended up at the top of a ramp together for a smoke break. Back then, we would share a pack of Marlboro Reds that we stole from a local convenience store. We would smoke maybe one or two cigarettes a weekend at most, so the pack would last us a month, maybe longer. I pulled a bent cigarette out of the tattered hard pack and lit it with matches. Seth and I whispered to each other under heavy, labored breath about the weird kids at our park.

"Who the crap are these goons, Mike? Do you know them?" Seth grabbed the cigarette from my hand and took a drag. I was the most social one in the group and he was home schooled. It was a valid question. The kids got louder and more animated as we talked.

"I sure don't. Don't they have somewhere else to drink? If the cops close the ramps down because those guys are being idiots, I'm going to be piss--"

That's when we both saw the homeless man turn around, cock his arm back and punch one of the girls right in the face.

She fell, knocked senseless enough that she didn't even bring her hands up to stop her head from hitting the pavement. The homeless man immediately jumped on top of her. The drunk kids made a half circle around the melee, frozen in terror. Seth and I were frozen too. Sure, we saw plenty of fights growing up, but this was different. This was a grown up beating a child; a little girl no less, right in front of us. We were just a couple of little dudes with skateboards. The girl was dazed. She didn't scream at first. Her arms lazily fought off the homeless man, who was tearing at her clothes and forcing his hands up her sweatshirt. Her nose was bleeding. The kids standing around the girl and the homeless man yelled and screamed at him to stop and to go away. They would have overpowered him if all seven of them swarmed him at once, but they didn't. I could see it in their eyes; nobody wanted to be the first one to get hit. The homeless man was at least twice the size of everybody at the skate park. The girl started crying, then she started screaming. We built the Hong Kong ramps in that location was so nobody could hear us and kick us out. Nobody could hear any of our screams. Everything was in slow motion. We all stood there and watched.

"Seth, we have to do something. We can't just stand here. Dude, what do we do?" My muscles felt like they were going to rip through my skin and I could feel my asthma kicking in.

"I'm not doing anything. I'm staying right here."

"We can't...you can't..." I looked at him and saw the fear in his eyes. It was the same fear he saw in mine. I was paralyzed by it.

"I'm not going anywhere near that, dude. I'm leaving. We need to get out of here and find help."

"NO! DON'T! Don't leave, dude. Don't leave. Please."

There was no way that Seth was going to find an adult quickly enough. By the time someone got there it would have been too late. One of the drunk kids tried kicking the homeless man. He got him right in the ribs. The man looked at the kid, and the kid vanished into the trees that surrounded the park. The bum continued to wrestle the girl, intermittently rubbing his crotch to get hard when she would pause from exhaustion.

"Stay right here. If I start getting fucked up, come and get me."

"Um, yeah. Sure." They way he said it, I knew Seth wasn't going to come get me.

I ran over to the two on the ground with my skateboard raised above my head. The girl and the homeless man were rolling around on the ground and I couldn't get a clear shot in. The last thing I wanted to do was wail that poor chick in the face with my deck. I stood there for what felt like a millennium, waiting for the perfect opportunity. I could hear the kids behind me screaming. "HIT HIM! COME ON, MAN! OH MY GOD!!! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! FUCKING HIT HIM!!! PLEASE!!!" I looked down and I didn't know if I even had it in me to hit the guy. I knew what he was doing was wrong and I knew he needed to be stopped, but I doubted my ability to make that happen. I've never been so scared in my life. What am I doing? If I don't hurt this guy bad, I'm going to get my ass kicked at the very least. This guy could kill me. He's a homeless dude. He could have a knife, a broken bottle, anything. He's going to kill me if I try anything. What would I do against that? Maybe Seth is right. Maybe we should get help. I'm just a kid.

The bum rolled on top of the girl one more time, exposing his back to me. Do it. Do it now.



I held my skateboard by the trucks (the metal piece that connects the wheels to the deck), swung the board over my shoulders and drove it into the homeless man's upper back as hard as my little arms could. Instead of the hollow thud I expected to hear, a loud cracking noise followed. The man arched his back in pain and let out a gurgling, silent scream, the only sound you can make when the wind has just been knocked out of you. He got to his knees, his arms flailed behind him in an attempt to grab the spot on his back that my skateboard connected with. The girl was still between his legs, wiggling her way out slowly. I struck again, this time swinging my skateboard like a baseball bat right into his lower back. The man collapsed onto his side and the girl got up and ran to her friends. I positioned myself over to the man and plunged my deck tail-first into the side of his head like a jackhammer. Stunned, the bum covered his head with his hands and curled into a fetal position. I knew I had to keep hitting him. I couldn't let him get up. If I did, we were all fucked.

This is the part that I really don't remember too well. I remember crushing my skateboard into his back over and over again. Every third or fourth hit, I would hear that snapping sound again. I don't remember how many times I hit him. Everything just kind of went white. I remember the man trying to crawl away, seeing everybody looking on and screaming, but I don't remember what they were screaming. I definitely remember not knowing where Seth was, and abandoning my skateboard for a rusty dirt shovel laying by the entrance of the park and beating it against the man's head. He kept trying to crawl towards the trees and I kept hitting him. He was bleeding out of his head, back, arms and hands. Finally, he sprung up in a last ditch effort to escape and leaped into the trees that blocked us from the main road, disappearing from sight. I stood there for a while staring at the hole in the trees that he bolted through, still gripping the dirt shovel. I finally turned towards Seth. He hadn't moved an inch from the ramp we were standing on.

I walked up to the group of kids. The girl was in the middle of them with her arms wrapped around herself. She was staring at the ground and kind of swaying from side to side. Wet and dry blood matted the area underneath her nose. Her friends just stared at her, not even knowing what to do. I took off one of my t-shirts (I always wore two then), moistened it with the only drink I had - a bottle of Snapple pink lemonade - and cleaned her face up as best as I could.

"Are you OK?"

"I think so. My nose hurts a lot, but that's the worst of it, I think."

"Yeah, it might be broken. I'm not sure, though."

"What's your name?" The girl finally lifted her head up and looked at me. I remember her being pretty.

"I'm Mike. My friend over there is Seth. This is our little skate park. How did you guys find this place? Are you from around here?"

The girl looked down again. Everyone else in her group looked around, anywhere else but at me directly. After a few seconds, the girl finally looked up at me and answered.

"We're from the Odyssey House."

The Odyssey House is a halfway house for troubled teens. Back then, it was in the town of Hampton which is about ten miles away from downtown Portsmouth. I remembered hearing stories about bad kids from school getting sent there and never coming out. It was like a black hole for bullies, depressed drama club cutters and idiots with angry parents that couldn't do the bad shit every other kid was doing without getting caught. Moms and dads would drop the name of the Odyssey House when threatening their kids do their homework or to take the trash out. Everybody knew what the Odyssey House was. I always pictured Odyssey House residents to look like . These kids looked almost completely normal, besides them being drunk and one of them covered in blood.

"How did you get out?"

One of the group, a guy around my age with red hair and freckles, stepped up to answer. "We snuck out early this morning. It's really not as hard as everyone makes it out to be. We hit the train tracks and just started walking until we ran into that bum. He said he would buy us beer if he could drink some with us. We didn't think he would ever..." He trailed off as he thought about what happened. I think the gravity of the situation was just starting to offset his shock.

"Alright, what are you guys going to do? Are you going to keep running or are you going to go back? Either way, she needs to see a doctor."

"We want to go back, dude. We just want to go back. We didn't think that anything like this would happen if we broke out. What should we do?" Everyone nodded their heads in unison.

I handed the girl my shirt so she had something to blot her nose with, slung her arm over my shoulder and carried her a mile and a half to the Portsmouth Police Station. Seth and the Odyssey House runaways trailed a few steps behind. Once there, I waived goodbye and left. I didn't want to stick around for a two reasons, one of them being that I didn't know what the cops would say about me beating up a homeless man with a skateboard, the other being that I didn't want to be the one that led the cops to the Hong Kong Ramps. Being a teenager was tough enough without being a narc. Seth and I walked back downtown and hung out until his brother picked up back up.

I was riding home on the school bus the following week when a kid that lived on my street in Stratham scooted down towards the back of the bus to talk to me. He was younger than me and went to the junior high. He and I didn't speak regularly.

"I heard about what you did last weekend."

"What?" I took a break from melting the back of a bus seat with a lighter. "What are you talking about?"

"You know, with that bum. You fucked him up big time."

Oh no, no no no. This isn't good. How did this happen? I'm in fucking Stratham. That's 10 miles from Portsmouth. "Um, how do you know about that, dude?" I could already picture what my room was going to look like at the Odyssey House; gray slate walls with white fingernail scratches around a barred windowsill.

"My dad's a big shot at the Portsmouth Police Department. Those kids mentioned your name to the officers on staff that night."

"...I'm in trouble, aren't I."

"Nah! They were psyched. My dad wants to talk to you and give you some kind of award or something. You heard they caught the guy, right?"


"Yeah, they found him lying on the sidewalk in front of Rite-Aid a few minutes after you dropped those kids off at the station. You broke a bunch of ribs in his back and his head was all fucked up. He couldn't walk or breathe too well. They say he's probably going to do a bunch of time." Rite-Aid was directly across the street from Hong Kong Express. I guess he didn't make it too far.

"How's the girl?"

"She's fine. They treated her at the hospital and then they all went back to that nut house. But yeah, you should stop by tonight and see my dad."

"Yeah, sure. Thanks for the heads up, man." I sunk into my seat and stared out the window as we neared my street, trying my best to take everything in.

I never ended up going to see that kid's dad, though. I didn't need any makeshift junior hero's award / generic ribbon with a fill-in-the-blank designation on the back that they were going to hand me for doing what any normal person should have done. I felt good enough as it was. The girl was OK and the homeless guy was in the hands of the law. Even better, I wasn't in trouble and the Hong Kong Ramps were safe. What a great ending to it all.

A few weeks later, Seth and I were walking around downtown with our skateboards when a bunch of the older, tougher kids in town walked up to us. One of the biggest ones, Bobby, came up to me and shook my hand. I was nervous.

"What's up, little dude? I heard you wailed on some piece of shit rapist beggar with your skateboard the other day."

"You did?" I was just glad he didn't want to beat me up. Bobby was not only a huge, scary Greek guy who ran with the toughest crowd in town, he was a local legend and well known for dispensing street justice with his gigantic fists. Smartly, Seth stared at his feet.

"Yeah, everybody knows about that shit. That was awesome! You're alright."

"Thanks, man. It's no big deal. Anyone would have done the same thing if they were there."

"No way, dude. You fucking wrecked that guy. You're a tough little guy! You're name's Mike, right?"

I couldn't believe he knew my name. "Yeah! That's me."

"We're going to start calling you Karate Mike or something. Karate Mike; the toughest little skate rat in town!"

Anytime I saw those guys in town after that, they screamed "KARATE MIKE!" at me. One day they slipped up and called me "KungFu Mike", and I've been called that ever since.


•Six months after this incident, I ran into the girl from the Odyssey House at a local bowling alley. She gave me a huge hug and thanked me for doing what I did that day. She was living at her parents' house and going back to school again. She told me that the incident at the Hong Kong Ramps scared her straight. I was really glad to hear that. I have no idea where she is now, but I hope she's staying away from train tracks and Natural Ice.

•The homeless man ended up being prosecuted and sent away for a slew of charges, from what happened that day and for other stuff that he already had warrants out for. He was in a wheelchair for a while and he spent months healing from the little guy beat down he suffered. I think he's still in prison, but I'd love it if someone of authority that knows anything about this incident could fill me in on the details.

•The Hong Kong Ramps have since been dismantled. Unfortunately, Hong Kong Express hasn't. It's still gross as Hell.

Posted by KungFu Mike at 2:09 PM

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That story is so good and cool it's almost unbelievable.

Posted by: Nick at April 8, 2008 02:53 PM

I always wondered how you got that nickname. Great story.

Posted by: at April 8, 2008 03:21 PM

Your stories just keep getting better and better. You seriously have a huge talent for writing, keep it up, I can't wait to read more.

Posted by: Alex at April 8, 2008 03:27 PM

Great story.

I thought the part just prior to you cracking the bum was very well done. I always try to tell people about that feeling you get where your brain is screaming "DO IT" and then you jump off the proverbial cliff. After that everything goes on autopilot. It still happens like that when I get in a fight, and it's a great way to pick out the bullshitters (aside from the professionals) that talk about how they ruined a guy's shit in a calm and calculated manner.

Hell, despite that part, I couldn't call bullshit on this story if I wanted to due to this line: moistened it with the only drink I had - a bottle of Snapple pink lemonade. No self-respecting heterosexual male would make up a lie about purchasing Pink Snapple...

Posted by: Gris at April 8, 2008 03:46 PM

This is the best story, yet please keep them coming

Posted by: ben at April 8, 2008 03:58 PM

Geez Mike. Rock on bro.

Posted by: Wayland at April 8, 2008 06:59 PM

Great story, Mike. I love it for its background story. The whole deal about how your name came about has always been curious to me.

It flows very well, too. Very genuine. The little things really did it for me ("I took a break from melting the back of a bus seat with a lighter." "I could already picture what my room was going to look like at the Odyssey House; gray slate walls with white fingernail scratches around a barred windowsill." "I didn't need any makeshift junior hero's award / generic ribbon with a fill-in-the-blank designation on the back..."). I don't know the right term for it, but it's those little things that give stories that "KFM-factor." I dunno. Hopefully that'll come across as the compliment that it's supposed to be.

Keep it up, dude.

Posted by: Rob4Broncos at April 8, 2008 09:16 PM

Awww...and I was convinced you got the name by being such a tiger in the sack! Yet another awesome tale, Mike!

Posted by: Judy at April 8, 2008 09:26 PM

That's about the best story surrounding a nick name I've ever heard. You say that "Anyone would have done the same thing if they were there" - I'd like to believe that, but we both know it's not true. Those 7 kids didn't. Seth didn't. You Did. Bravo.

A good friend of mine was just beaten with a skateboard last weekend, broke his nose and jaw. Poor bastard wasn't trying to rape some chick, but he probably instigated it somehow.

I sure hope you can top this story Mike, it's definitely my favorite so far.

Posted by: brandon at April 9, 2008 07:07 AM

I was reading this at 3 am after coming back home from being out. My laptop died halfway through and I was too tired to reboot it just then. I actually had trouble getting to sleep because I was wondering what happened in this story.

Dude, your writing is vivid. I know this is probably an event that's been stuck in your head, but you convey it so well -- the surroundings, your inner monologue, minute details, all of it. It really helps to transport your reader right there with you.

You're really not as big an asshole as you'd like us all to believe.

Posted by: ravenaithne at April 9, 2008 07:11 AM

*Salutes* Awesome, man. Awesome.

Posted by: Rob at April 9, 2008 08:33 AM

Yeah, man I agree with everyone up above.

Reading your story, I felt like I was -there-, the cracks in the concrete with grass growing, seeing some random group, and then the homeless guy decking that chick. I'm pretty sure I would have been like, "What the fuck!?" And I think I would have done what you did. You did the right thing, not just jumping in, but waiting like you did so you didn't fuck up.

If you've ever read Ender's Game, there's the part where Ender has to deal with a bully. His psychology was to hurt the bully badly enough so he would never bother him again, just like you did. You can't afford to fuck up in a situation like that. Respect.

Posted by: Blank at April 9, 2008 10:04 AM

That's the shit I'm talkin' about KFM, serious cojones at the origin of a legendary and badass nickname. you da man.

Posted by: tc at April 9, 2008 01:11 PM

Great story, and you did an excellent job of describing it.

The only thing is I think "He trailed off as she thought about what happened" should be "He trailed off as he thought about what happened".

Posted by: KIMaster at April 9, 2008 02:49 PM

Kudos man...

I wondered where your nickname came from - and I agree with one of the comments that has to be one of the best stories surrounding a nickname that I've ever heard.

I also have to agree with the comment above regarding Ender's Game as well - you knew that you couldn't only won the first round, you had to keep going and finish it right then and there.

Oh, and Hong Kong Express is gross as all hell.

Posted by: Danielle at April 9, 2008 10:42 PM

incredible story man, i was getting pissed in the beginning because i thought you weren't going to do anything... mega props for being the only kid with the balls enough to defend a helpless girl. 7 other guys in the proximity and not one jumped in to help you? that bum is lucky you didn't kill him. im sure he won't be pulling that shit again.

Posted by: mikey at April 10, 2008 02:14 PM

All I can really say is "wow." That is one of the best stories I've read on Rudius.

Posted by: Funky at April 17, 2008 11:24 AM

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