Chapter 1M

After both fencers returned to their starting positions, the Coach motioned for them to resume the bout. Double-J shuffled towards Rex, noticeably slower this time, and as he approach he twirled his foil with his wrist, the red plastic tip of his blade moving in a slow, hypnotic circle. He increased the circle as his foil crossed his opponent’s.

Rex allowed Double-J to encircle his foil a moment, and in that pause, they heard the sound of light rythmic clapping coming from the senior section.

Rex flicked his wrist, his foil clanging loudly against the other, causing another burst of surprised excitement from the crowd. Double-J returned his foil back to a defensive posture, paused a moment, then not seeing an attack from Rex, resumed encircling his opponent’s blade.

The clapping grew louder, and spread to the other sections of the audience.

Rex flicked Double-J’s foil aside again, and Double-J resumed his circling. Rex flicked the foil again, then a fourth time, fifth, each coming in quicker succession, with more force, the sound of each steel clash ringing louder, and with each sound the clapping from the crowd grew louder, the rhythym growing more coordinated, and faster.

Windshield Wiper

“Keep your elbow in line with your body,” said the Coach. “Your elbow should never move laterally. When parrying to either your right or left, pivot your lower arm from the elbow. Think of a windshield wiper — the base of the wiper is like your elbow, stationary. Your lower arm, from the elbow down, that’s the arm of the wiper, and your foil is the wiper blade. Your wrist, it’s like the hinge that connects the wiper arm to the blade, it pivots as well, just not as much as your elbow. Keep the wrist parallel to your body, not turning over.”

Chapter 1L

The Coach waived Rex and Double-J back to their start positions, and immediately upon the signal to resume Double-J advanced briskly, feinting an attack to Rex’s left. Rex gave ground, but with an air of confidence. After his second step back, Rex spun his foil under and around Double-J’s, and lunged forward, his attack parried by Double-J, who immediately responded with a counter-attack. Bernie raised his arm, followed by Annie, as another excited yelp came from the crowd.

“Halt!” yelled the Coach. “We have an attack from my left — a disengage thrust, to be exact — and a parry-riposte from my right. First, the attack from the left?” he asked, pointing to Bernie.

“Off target,” said Bernie.

“I agree,” said the Coach. “The fencer hit his opponent on his upper left arm. In foil fencing, a touch must be scored by hitting the opponent’s toros, not the arms, legs, or head. An off-target hit stops the action, so the parry-riposte is ignored. Fencers, back to on-garde position please!”

Rex pointed playfully at Double-J. “I’d have had you in epee.”

Double-J snorted. “If this was sabre, I’d kick your ass.”

Chapter 1K

Double-J had taken a few steps backwards after blocking Rex’s lunge, and Rex approached him again, stepping forward slowly this time — right foot pointed at his opponent and lifting, extending, landing, then his back foot, pointed ninety degrees to the left, pushing forward to about half a foot behind the front, heels in line with each other. But as Rex lifted his front leg again, Double-J shuffled forward quickly and lunged, foil extended. Rex moved his wrist to the left, his elbow not moving from its position, and his foil collided loudly with Double-J’s. As a yell of excitement sprang from the crowd, Rex quickly extended his foil forward at Double-J. Behind Rex, Bernie raised his hand high and straight. Double-J drew his arm back slightly, and jabbed his foil forward; Annie raised her hand. 

“Halt!” cried the Coach. “As the referee, it’s my job to decide who initiated the attack. In foil fencing, the person who attacks first has right of way, and the opponent needs to block the attacker who has right of way before counter-attacking. In this case, even though the fencer on my right moved forward, he didn’t attack first. The initial attack came from my left” — the Coach motioned to Double-J — “and the fencer on my right” — pointing now to Rex — “attempted to block. In fencing, we call a block a parry. After the parry, the fencer on my right then counter-attacked, or what we call a riposte. After the parry and riposte, the fencer on my left then did a second attack. It’s important to know this order of attack, because the first hit stops the action. Now, it’s time to check with my judges to see if there were any hits. Judge to my right — the first attack from the right — was there a hit?”

“No, not the first attack” said Annie, loudly.

“I agree, the first attack was blocked, we’ll get to the second attack later. Judge to my left — the parry and riposte from the left — was there a hit?”

“Yes,” said Bernie.

“And I confirm,” said the Coach. “We have a touch from the left, which stops the action, doesn’t matter whether the second attack from the right hit. The score is one” — pointing to Rex — “to zero.”

A round of applause erupted from the audience, and the Coach and all the team members looked up in surprised recognition that the action had aroused such interest among the student body. The loudest applause came from the seniors.

Icicles

Frigid icicle fingers ran down the windows from the partially melted hand of snow that enveloped the roof.

Chapter 1J

Rex and Double-J extended their foils towards each other and the Coach waved for them to approach each other. As the red plastic tip guards neared contact, the Coach extended his right hand forward between them. “At the start of each bout, the fencers must start in a neutral position, weapons uncrossed. Fencers, are you ready?” Rex nodded enthusiastically, and Double-J offered a resigned shrug that generated a few chuckles. The Coach gave a quick nod to Bernie behind Rex, Annie behind Double-J, then, dropping his hand, announced “Fence!”

Rex shuffled two quick steps toward Double-J, who stood and twirled his foil with his wrist in a slow circle. Rex lunged forward, his tip aimed at his opponent’s chest, but Double-J blocked the attack with a swift swipe of his foil. The sound of their foils clanged loudly in the gymnasium, and drew sounds of astonishment, then a low murmur from the crowd. From the junior section, Double-J’s friend stood and yelled, “Run him through, Double-J!” Sharp laughter erupted, and the Coach smiled.

The Big Short

I haven’t read Michael Lewis’ earlier book “Liar’s Poker,” an autobiographical account of his career at a Wall Street financial firm, but “The Big Short” really isn’t a sequel, as the author only makes short appearances in this book. “The Big Short” tells the story of a handful of investors and analysts who, between 2005 and 2007, saw and bet against the financial meltdown of 2008. There’s an inherent problem with writing this story — at its core, this is a story about arcane investment tools, a technical subject that’s inherently appealing only to brokers, financial analysts, and future victims of investment scams. Lewis attempts to enliven his material by focusing attention on the personalities of the men who were wise enough to see the weaknesses in the subprime mortgage bond market. Unfortunately, most of these men really aren’t that interesting; the only character who sticks in my mind is Michael Burry, the glass-eyed neurologist with Asperger’s syndrome and a contrarian view of financial markets. For anyone with an interest in last decade’s financial meltdown this book will be somewhat insightful, but if you’re not interested in this story I’m afraid “The Big Short” simply isn’t strong enough to pique your curiosity.