🔒 #63: Natural instinct vs. control.

A short story.

“Here is natural instinct and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony. If you have one to the extreme, you will be very unscientific; if you have another to the extreme, you become a mechanical man and no longer a human being.”

“When you want to move, you’re moving, and when you move, you’re determined to move. If I want to punch, I’m going to do it, man.”  – Bruce Lee

Dmitriy loved Bruce Lee.

“What a man,” he would say in awe, pouring over YouTube clips of Way of the Dragon or Fist of Fury.  “what a true slice of America.”

This became Dmitriy's catchphrase. Over and over again, "What a man, Bruce Lee."

When Dima, which was his wife's nickname for him, or Dimochka, which was his girlfriend's nickname for him, would walk to work each morning, he'd always spend forty-five minutes stalking through San Francisco's Chinatown. Some part of him must have known he wouldn't find Bruce, but there still was a part of him that hoped he'd see his ghost.

But Dimochka wouldn't find Bruce Lee in the window of the Chinatown outpost of Tacorea, or through the gaudy windows of House of Nanking. Nor would he find him in his martial arts classes in Dogpatch, nor his open office plan in SoMa.

When he was supposed to be building out the frontend of his company’s site—something he could do but wasn’t sure why he was being asked to do—he found himself re-watching and rewinding a video titled Amazing Superhuman Speed! Bruce Lee instead.

When his wife lay in bed next to him, texting her friends, he held his phone close and studied The MOST BRUTAL Display of Bruce Lee’s Speed!

“Dima, the blue light,” she’d complain, still texting, not looking at him. He would hide his phone in the nightstand drawer and turn off the overhead light, keeping his AirPods in. He would fall asleep to a soundscape of Wing Chun.

And on Thursday nights, when he snuck out and waited for his girlfriend to return home from work, he would watch The Forgotten First Fight of Bruce Lee.

Hearing “Dimochka!”, clumsy in her American accent, should have been his cue to put his phone away, though he wouldn’t.

Each meeting, he’d nervously watch his Bruce Lee videos, before telling her, “I’m too nervous to do anything.”

She’d say to him, “Well, do you want to kiss me?”

Instead, she would kiss him, and finally, they’d have sex, and Dimochka would spend the rest of the night looking into her eyes and repeating, “You’re so cute, how are you so cute?”

His girlfriend, who probably wasn’t really his girlfriend, would repeat the same back to him, mimicking his accent, until he’d say to her, “The first time you kissed me it was like a hundred 9/11s were happening inside me.”

She wouldn’t repeat this one. She wouldn’t say anything.

But one night she asked him, “Do you mean fireworks?”

And Dimochka echoed, “Fireworks… I felt so warm inside, it was like a hundred 9/11s were happening.”

He wondered if this was only because she said yes to him at all; if she could have been any number of pretty women he fixated on, if he would have still felt warmly.

Every meeting was an echo of the last.

Around 10, he would spring out of bed, and leave, ready to spend another forty-five minutes in Chinatown.

His girlfriend-who-wasn’t-really-his-girlfriend would whine, “Dimochka, do you have to go?”  

And he’d give her a kiss on the forehead and say solemnly, “Sorry, I have to get home. One day.”

If he took an Uber, he could probably stay at her place in the Haight until 11:30 and get back home to Bayview by midnight, but he couldn’t jeopardize his walk through Chinatown.

Why was it that Chinatown was so empty by 10? It wasn’t as though there weren’t bars, it wasn’t as though there wasn’t a pulse here.

He walked along the sidewalk, looking at the buildings, shuttered storefront after shuttered storefront. He looked up and down the street, at the cars, Teslas intermingling with beat up Camrys.

He imagined what it would feel like to punch someone in the face.

He imagined punching his wife in the face but felt too guilty, he couldn’t even think it.

He imagined punching his boss, he imagined punching the founder.

He imagined punching his mother.

He imagined punching his father, but he couldn’t remember what he looked like.

He imagined punching a homeless person. And then he imagined punching Bruce Lee. More than just punching him though, he imagined using a guillotine on him—not the execution device, but the move that Bruce Lee himself had popularized in The Way of the Dragon.

He imagined Bruce overtaking him, subduing him, and that final moment, in pain, but also deeply ashamed by the defeat. He was impotent, even in his own street fighting fantasy.

When Dimochka reached the end of his tour through Chinatown, he requested an Uber.

He watched the driver weave in-and-out of nonexistent traffic, take unconceivable turns down one way streets. The number ticked up from a wait time of 5 minutes to 10, and then 5 again, and then jumped all the way up to 15.

He studied the driver’s face. He guessed that he was an immigrant, too.

He imagined punching him.

He imagined choking him.

He imagined grabbing him by the back of the neck and bashing his head into the cement.

He imagined illegal move after illegal move. He imagined winning.

He considered, for a moment, that maybe he should punch him.

But when the Uber driver finally arrived, he apologized to Dmitriy profusely.

“No, don’t worry,” Dmitriy offered getting in the back seat, “Really. No big deal.”

The Uber driver, now faceless and driving, responded, “Good attitude. Be like water, right?”

Dmitriy took out his phone and watched the last 30 seconds of The Game of Death, over and over again until they arrived back in Bayview, where his wife would be lying in bed, not looking at him, texting her friends.