Hit Me With Your Best Shot

When you’re wobbly on your feet and you’re slammed broadside by a half-pint human, you go down like a sumo wrestler on a balance beam.

Comedian and stroke survivor,
John Kawie

Back in the day, when I was a newbie stroke survivor fresh out of the hospital, the streets of NewYork City looked terrifying from my new perspective — a wheelchair. Skateboarders, rollerbladers and kids on scooters whizzed by me like guided missiles, turning every corner into dead man’s curve. Guys delivering Chinese food screamed so close on their bikes; bags of take-out dangling from the handlebars clipped me in the head. I can see the NY Post’s headline: “Greenwich Village Man Assaulted by Double Order of #27, General Tso’s Chicken.”

Being confined to a wheelchair eventually drove me nuts, so I tackled physical therapy with the manic energy of a chipmunk burrowing into the earth during a hawk attack. I wanted to return to exploring the world like my Homo erectus ancestors intended me to… by standing upright. My progress mimicked the evolution chart: bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to side-walker, side-walker to cane, then cane to chucking-the-cane. I may have been a bit rickety but I was “Kawie Unchained.” With my newfound freedom, I developed a kind of Radar-from-MASH clairvoyant ability to detect danger on the urban sidewalk.

Unfortunately, it didn’t always work.

Having just finished brunch at a favorite neighborhood haunt one subzero Sunday afternoon, Marilyn and I and our friend Jill were strolling home up lower Fifth Avenue. After a few mochas with triple-shots, I was humming along in a blissful over-caffeinated state, oblivious to anything other than the conversation. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a family of French tourists consulting their maps as they walked towards us. But they were yards away and we were three abreast. Plus being in the middle, I had cover.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, this 7-year old boy comes bounding out of the group in a roaring gust of pre-pubescent horsepower, recklessly running backwards all the while screaming “Papa, regarde-moi!” Translation? “I will hit the broken American”

And he did.

When you’re wobbly on your feet and you’re slammed broadside by a half-pint human, you go down like a sumo wrestler on a balance beam. As I fell backwards, buildings spun around in slow motion until – THUMP! – I was on my back staring up at the sky. To avoid splitting my head open like a pumpkin, I broke my fall on the concrete with my unaffected right elbow. Luckily I was encased in 100 percent goose down, compliments of Eddie Bauer. Without that padding I would have been road-kill.

At first there was complete silence, like those old Western movies before the shoot out. Once it was established that I was still breathing, all hell broke loose. Ali might have had the “Rumble in the Jungle,” but we had the “Rift on Fifth.” A flurry of French and English spewed like mortar fire from both sides. The precocious little squirt started bawling and took shelter under mommy’s protective arms. I was stunned and angry. As Marilyn struggled to get me up, it all boiled over into my own verbal assault. That kid picked up English words he’ll never learn from the Berlitz Language Program.

The whole experience rattled my confidence and made me question the mythical self- sufficiency I sometimes imagine I have. However, cowering in the apartment just isn’t my thing. I’ve worked too hard and Kawie Unchained needs to get out and keep moving. Must be in my DNA, handed down by those Homo erectus guys.


DVDs of John’s award-winning one-man show, Brain Freeze, are available at Amazon.com. For booking information, contact John at jkawie@aol.com.

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