Monday, April 2, 2007

Carradine's Pebble

I'm sitting at home, watching the Yellow Pages ad that stars David Carradine in his most memorable role - the monk-like sage that is Kung Fu.

I met Carradine once. He's a great guy. And he's more of a genuine sage than you can imagine. Here's the story.

About twenty years ago, I ended up at a New Year's Eve party hosted by a Hollywood film producer at his sprawling ranch house on La Tuna Canyon Road, just north of L.A. It was an excellent party. But I've been to many excellent parties. This particular evening remains in my memory for two reasons:

1) At precisely five minutes to midnight, approximately fifty armed men dressed in cowboy outfits left the ranch house, went outside, and shot about two hundred rounds apiece of live ammunition into the sky.

2) I got to snatch a pebble from the hand of David Carradine.

That's right. I snatched a pebble from the hand of Kung Fu. Read on.

Although I'd seen Carradine earlier in the night, walking among various, easily-recognizable Western character actors from The Unforgiven (the guy with the weird lightning-bolt scar, the guy with the especially thin face, the guy with eyes like a squinting pig), we didn't really get to talk. Our host, a leading Western film producer, was holding court, telling stories of Westerns old and new.

Good stories. Cowboys are nice guys. There were a lot of laughs.

So it wasn't until around midnight, when the house became suddenly deserted, as the cowboys rushed outside, that Carradine and I finally met up. As it happened, I didn't have a gun and he didn't seem to care much for shooting at the moon. So we ended up in the kitchen together, drinking Coronas.

In between the gunshots and reloads, it was quiet in the canyon house. We talked for a long time. Like a lot of folks currently in their forties, I grew up watching Kung Fu. It was great to have a chance to talk about it, with the star of the series. And talk we did.

The music. The picture of Carradine walking off over the sand dunes, into the sunset. The Tibetan monks. The lifting of the scorching bronze urn by the forearms - all of this lurked in the back of my mind as I chatted with David Carradine in the kitchen of my host's house - Carradine seated on a formica and chrome table, I standing in front of him with a half-drunk lime sticking out of the neck of my Corona, twenty rounds a minute popping behind me through the kitchen window, from 45's, 38's, and god-knows-what-else-caliber weapons.

Then I posed a question, which elicited a response that was so perfect, so exactly right, that to this day, it's the only part of the conversation that I can relate to you now verbatim.

The question I asked him was: "I can't be the only person that's ever asked about this Kung Fu stuff. You must get twenty people an hour coming up to you. How do you deal with it?"

Carradine smiled and reached into his pocket. In a single, refined action, he drew out a shiny, river-smoothed pebble, placed it in the middle of his upturned palm, and held it out to me.

Now, I don't know what would be running through your mind at this moment, but let me tell you what was running through mine. I've had several Coronas and a couple or more of Tequilas. I'm up against the star of Kung Fu.

As a child, as "Grasshopper", Kung Fu spent eight years trying to snatch the pebble. Now, he has issued me the Challenge. If I can somehow take the pebble from his hand, I'll have a story that I can talk about forever.

Carradine moved his hand a tad closer, taunting me. I moved my hand into position. He did not reposition his. I moved my hand a little higher, placing my hand in a striking position, slightly above his. He didn't appear to notice, and he didn't move.

I looked into his eyes. There was a long pause. Then I went for it...

Now, to recap, the story of the boy who trained with the monks in the original series of Kung Fu (and who would eventually become Carradine's grown-up Fung Fu character) was based around the understanding that the boy would know when it was time for him to leave - because in taking the stone from his hand, the boy would become the master.

I pulled back my hand. There was something in it. I opened it. There, lying in my palm, was Carradine's pebble.

I looked at him, astonished. Then it dawned on me. He had just answered the question - "You must get twenty people an hour coming up to you. How do you deal with it?"

The answer is: have twenty pebbles in your pocket.

Carradine smiled as he saw the look of recognition cross my face. He lifted his hand and waved.

"It's time for you to leave", he said.

The truth sunk in. The irony. It was beautiful. I smiled, and pocketed the pebble. Outside, the cowboys were still firing at the sky. Carradine and I clinked our Coronas and waited for them to come back inside.

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