The Clash

“Dad, it’s him again,” says Jaden Smith into his cell phone. “Ralph Macchio is hanging around outside the school.”

“What’s your name?”

“Dad…”

“Say your name.”

“Jaden Smith.”

“That’s right. Jaden Smith. You’re a Smith, and what does that mean?”

“It means I take care of my business so my business takes care of me.”

Will Smith’s laugh leaps from the phone. Jaden pictures his dad’s head tilted back, his eyes twinkling. “That’s right,” says Will. “Go talk to him. Tell him you’re the new Karate Kid and he needs to get over it.”

——

Ralph looks like a gangster in his silver suit. A cigarette slants from his lips. Tufts of three-day facial stubble sprout spottily across his face and neck. His fingers curl round the chain link fence like claws.

Jaden saunters towards him, head down and hands tucked inside the pockets of his red tracksuit. He kicks a rock and it skips along, billowing up clouds of dirt before clinking off the fence near Ralph Macchio’s snakeskin shoes. “You can’t keep hanging around here,” says Jaden. “It’s creepy. What are you like thirty?”

“Forty-eight. Good genes on both sides of the family.” Ralph sucks at his cigarette and flicks it aside, a burst of orange against the sidewalk. “Heard you don’t even do karate in your rip-off flick. What kind of asshole features kung fu in a movie called The Karate Kid? It’s culturally insensitive if you ask me.”

“My mom and dad were producers. I just starred in it.” Jaden shrugs and twirls at one of his braids. “Look Macchio, this is a done deal. The movie already came out. Number one at the box office in its opening weekend. What do you want from me?”

“I want the world to know you’re a poser. I want to rip that silver spoon from your cute little mouth.” Ralph thrashes about, shaking the fence. “I want a shot at you punk!”

“Like a fight?” Jaden’s hands hover shoulder level, equal scales of justice. “I’ve been training. Hanging with Jackie Chan and doing real training. And you’re like a hundred. I was being charming with that whole thirty thing. I’d destroy you old man.”

“Then it’s settled.” Ralph front kicks the air, chops an invisible foe. “I’ll see you on the football field after school.”

——

A-list talent bustles about the bleachers. Jack Nicholson puffs at a Cuban. Justin Bieber’s head twitches as he slings his bangs from his eyes. Surgically enhanced blonds coo and cocoon around Hef. Hundred-dollar bills fan in Jada Pinkett Smith’s hands as she and Will take bets on the action.

Macchio arrives first. As he walks, the knot of his lotus flower headband flutters on the base of his skull like a giant white moth. His karate gi flops open, exposing his doughy skinny-fat physique. The word Kid flashes from a gold necklace around his neck.

A bald man, wearing a faded black Cobra Kai uniform, clumps along behind Ralph. He lugs a green plastic bucket in each hand while chanting words of encouragement, “Wax on. Wax off. You’ve got this, Ralph. Let’s sand the floor with this chump!”

The crowd erupts when Jaden jogs out onto the field. His head glints like a sparkler as light jumps from the silver beads attached to his braids. He’s shed his top, flaunting seventy-five pounds of muscle striations and charisma. He does two front handsprings and a flip before landing in a fight stance.

Macchio plunges his fists into one of the buckets. He removes his now resin-coated fists and dips them into the other bucket. Shards of glass stick to his knuckles. “They call this the ancient way,” says Ralph. He tests it out with a one-two shadowboxing combination. “Saw it in a Van Damme movie.”

Jaden skitters back two steps. His woozy eyes find his parents in the bleachers. Will Smith smiles wide and gives him a thumbs up. Jada shoos him forward with a flash of red fingernails. Jaden reads her lips: Make Mama proud. Take care of your business.

Jaden breads his fists with glass and marches towards Ralph, lips pursed with determination.

Ralph raises his hands above his head and balances on one wobbly leg. “Crane technique,” he explains. “It ain’t just an awkward position in the Kama Sutra.”

Jaden rushes him and Ralph leaps in a horribly mistimed crane kick, only striking air. Ralph tumbles to the ground, slicing his left leg on his hand as he braces his fall.

As red blooms on Macchio’s gi, Jaden’s foot thwacks him twice in his budding potbelly.

“Who’s The Karate Kid?” asks Jaden, the glass on his raised fist mirroring vengeance.

“You are,” moans Ralph Macchio.

“Say my name, old man!”

“Jaden.”

“Jaden who?”

“Jaden Smith. Jaden Smith is The Karate Kid,” says Macchio, his eyes pleading the heavens for divine Miyagi intervention.

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