WriterDave By WriterDave, 19th Dec 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Short Stories

Phillip was a young man who loved Kung Fu, movies, joking around, and unfortunately...smoking cigarettes.


My friend Phillip and I used to work together at The Cherry Bay Cafe on Charleston Avenue. Phillip was twenty-five years old, Asian-American, loved martial arts, and had a rather biting sense of humor. When Phillip quit the Cafe and went on to other pursuits, he would still come by when he knew I was working. He’d drive up in his brand new Mazda, leap out onto the sidewalk, and immediately light up a cigarette. If I wasn’t too busy, I would join Phillip, via the screen door near the back entrance, and keep him company.
“Did you see the game?” was usually the way Phillip chose to open a conversation or on occasion “Get any lately?” when he was feeling saucy.
“What game?” I’d invariably answer. Then Phillip would give me one of those looks that said, ‘and you call yourself a man’ and cluck his tongue. He’d then proceed to tell me how the Expo’s whipped the hell out of the Padre’s or some such nonsense and I’d pretend to care by nodding my head vigorously.
Phillip always kept his hair very short, and I used to tease him about looking like David Carridine from “Kung Fu.” This never seemed to bother him. I think he thought it was a compliment or something. He’d just laugh it off, smiling proudly, “I’d rather look like Quai-Chang Kane then Michael Jackson circa nineteen eighty-five.” Phillip usually had the last word.
As for the rest of Phillip’s presentation, he opted for the color black in most of his
clothing selections. He kept his clothes loose, but never baggy or wrinkled.
“Why do you always wear black?” I asked Phillip one day, trying not to burn myself on the espresso machine. Phillip just winked at me and quoted a line from the Wesley Snipes character in “Passenger 57.”
“Always bet on black.” Phillip chuckled, swilling down a huge gulp of ice coffee.
I loved when Phillip did impressions of his former, and my current boss, Tom. He’d prop his leg up on the bench adjacent to the espresso maker, and fold both his arms over his knee. “Huh…” Phillip would sigh, exhaling a great deal of air. “Uh…listen guys, I just want to tell you that will be closing at five today,” continued Phillip in a perfect imitation of Tom’s ultra-mellow way of speech. Then, for added effect, he’d mime Tom puffing on a joint, looking stoned out of his gourd. He could always get me with that impression. Even in my worst mood, Phillip never failed to make me howl like a wounded jackal.
I remember one time, Phillip and I went to see “Hard-Boiled” with Chow Yun-Fat at the old Bijou on Clark Street. There were a couple hundred people there. It was the middle of the week, like a Wednesday or a Thursday, but Phillip insisted I see this film.
“You’ve gotta go, man. It’s John Woo. John friggin’ Woo, man!” Phillip pleaded with me on the phone.
“Who the hell is John Woo?” I bellowed impatiently. There was a pause on the other end of the phone. I could just see Phillip giving me that disapproving-manhood-look again. Sure enough, a moment later came the cluck of the tongue.
“Did you just say ‘Who is John Woo?’” groaned Phillip very slowly. “Look, jackass, I’ll be by in twenty minutes to pick you up,” to which he promptly hung up.
So, there we were chomping on popcorn about to watch this movie Phillip had dragged me to, when suddenly Phillip jumps out of his seat, rattles off some expletive, and charges down the aisle towards the lobby. I looked back as casually as I could, just in case I still had the chance of fooling anyone that thought I was actually with this baboon. The other patrons in the movie theater seemed too preoccupied with their own conversations to notice a mad, crazy-man darting down the aisle. I slumped down in my seat as far as I could and tried to look as non-nonchalant as it was humanly possible to be with my body at a one-hundred twenty degree angle. Luckily, before I could asphyxiate with shame the previews came on. By the time Phillip came back it was already forty-five minutes into the movie, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself, but I was still curious as to where Phillip had cloistered himself.
“Where the hell have you been?” I whispered. Phillip gave me a sheepish look.
“I had to call my aunt. It’s her birthday,” Phillip whispered, obviously embarrassed.
“Your Aunt!” I said, somewhat bewildered.
That’s the way Phillip was, tough as nails one moment, comedian in a flash, and a caring nephew the next. I never mentioned that night again to Phillip, but I often thought of it years later.
Phillip and I saw each other off and on the next few months, but when Summer came, I had saved up enough money to go to Finland, so we kind of lost touch. When I came back three months later and went by the Cafe, Tom was standing behind the counter looking pleased I had returned. We chatted for a while, worked out my scheduling, talked about my adventures in Europe. Then Tom’s face changed, and I knew he wanted to tell
me something.
“Have you seen Phillip?” He asked. I looked at Tom closer. He seemed sad and worn down.
“No, I haven’t.” I said quietly.
“He’s…he seems a little…skinny.”
That night, I called Phillip, but I only got his answering machine. The next day, the same thing. A week later, I was walking along Bertram Avenue contemplating how I would look in a button-down suit, when I heard a familiar voice at my side.
“Hey stranger, don’t you know it’s illegal to loiter.”
I looked over quickly. It was Phillip in his Mazda, leaning over the passenger seat and yelling to me out of the window. I couldn’t help grinning like Jimmy Carter. I had missed him.
“Want a ride?” he asked, but he didn’t have to, I was already heading towards his car. I hopped in quickly and we lurched forward immediately, stalling out the motor.
Phillip shouted something in Cantonese gritting his teeth. He re-started the engine and we caught up with the traffic ahead of us as the car in back of us justifiably honked it’s horn.
I glanced over at Phillip. His face seemed to have a myriad of scars on it. I guess I thought it was acne at the time. He did appear to be quite a bit thinner which frightened me a little because Phillip was already a thin guy owing to his martial arts training. We drove along for a while without saying much. The radio was playing, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Steve Perry. I mouthed the words to the song, getting caught up in the nostalgia of eighties rock. Phillip seemed nervous, fidgety.
“So, what have you been up to?” I said, finally, trying to sound cheery. At that
moment I hated my own voice, it’s patronizing tone. Phillip seemed to be in a kind of trance, staring straight ahead. He took a quick, sharp breath, and it seemed that he winced in some way, but I couldn’t exactly tell.
“I’ve been in the hospi-” but he didn’t finish his sentence. He continued that eerie, trance-like stare as he turned left on Jesper Way, accelerating to meet the flow of traffic.
I stared at Phillip for a long time. “What is it? What is it, man?” I said softly. Phillip seemed to snap out of his zoning.
“Sorry, it’s this stuff they give me. Wigs me out.” Phillip spoke, seemingly happy once more. “Yeah. No. It’s…Its just this stomach thing I have. No biggie.” He waved his hand in front of his face as if he were swatting a gnat.
Ten minutes later, Phillip pulled up in front of my apartment building and turned off the ignition. He took a Marlboro Red from a pack of cigarettes that he had on the dash board and placed it in the corner of his mouth.
“You Mind?” he asked, and not waiting for an answer he lit the cigarette with his Zippo. I rolled down my window. There was a kid on a skateboard trying to do a one-eighty. The kid arched his body to the left like he was going to Hula dance, paused, and with one quick motion, heaved his body violently to the right with all his might. The effect was impressive, if only to illustrate the kid’s fortitude. I turned back to Phillip. He was puffing away on cigarette, emitting these little cough-coughs in between drags. He was back to staring out the front window meditatively. All at once, I felt uncomfortable in the cramped car. My body was sticky with perspiration and I wanted to get the smell of fresh ground coffee beans off of me as soon as possible.
“I’m gonna hit the shower,” I said hurriedly, sticking out my arm to shake Phillip’s hand.
Phillip gave me a sad smile. I squeezed his hand. It was cold, damp, and lacked the firmness it usually had. I opened the car door, and gently closed it behind me.
“I’ll call you!” I yelled back over my shoulder as I jogged the twenty yards or so to my door.
I clumsily yanked my keys out of my pocket. They landed on the sidewalk. I picked them up and looked back to the street. The Mazda was gone. I didn’t realize it then, but Phillip hadn’t said ‘goodbye.’ Maybe he didn’t want to, maybe he didn’t know how to, or maybe it just didn’t occur to him. When you look at a person, a person you’ve known for years, a person the same age as yourself, it’s impossible to imagine them ever having to say ‘goodbye.’
Two months later, Phillip died of stomach cancer. There are times when I watch a Kung Fu flick or remember a certain kind of gesture that Phillip made, that I get sad. Then, other times when I remember him spoofing Tom or telling me a joke, that I smile to myself. Most of the time, I recall all the times we laughed together. If I was in a somber mood or if I was too tired after work to walk home, Phillip would give me a lift and tell me a story about how his Kung Fu instructor made him do knuckle push-ups or how he was sore from attempting a Jet Li stance. Phillip was enigmatic, sarcastic, playful, generous, and above all kind. Phillip was my friend. I’ll miss him.


Anti-Cigarettes, Cancer, Cigarettes, Friends, Friendship, Kung Fu, Loss

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author avatar WriterDave
Writing can be many things to many people. For me, it is a way of expression and understanding. Reviewing films, hopefully helps myself and others better understand and get more out of the film.

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author avatar Jack Woodlock
20th Dec 2012 (#)

Really nice man

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