Upside Down

I’m taking a short break from “Too Much” to contemplate what comes next in that story; I’m planning something ambitious, and want to give myself some time to improve my chance of success. For today’s post, I’m revisiting a technique that’s worked well for me recently — responding to an interesting post I’ve discovered in my Reader. Mark Aldrich, The Gad About Town, just shared his experience living with a disease that was first undiagnosed, then mis-diagnosed.

“Later.” And with a wave of a hand slender as a paper fan, Rex turned and walked down the hall, his head towering over the other students.

“You know him?” Hearing the disdain in Nathalie’s voice, Annie decided, contrary to her nature, to answer while her back was still turned.

“He’s a fencer.” Hands reaching behind her head to tighten her pony-tail, Annie twisted, met Nathalie’s gaze. “Been on the team longer than me. He’s — ”

“You ever see what he eats?” Shuffle of student feet along the tiled floor, punctuated by slams of lockers and doors. Nathalie’s lips purple today.

“Really? What’s with the sudden interest in other people’ lunches?”

“That kid’s weird.” An accusing finger pointed down the hall. “And those clothes, oh my God — ”

“Just leave him alone.” Two steps to her right, Annie on her way to AP Calc, then — “You’ve heard the rumors, right?”

Her instincts told her to keep walking, leave Nathalie to her petty insecurities. But it was not in the Hutchinson’s family nature to leave a challenge.

To be continued


Too Much 8

When the fencer furthest from them, on the referee’s left, scored her fourth touch, recognition finally woke in Rune from its slumber.  Her build, the mask — if he could see her hair he’d know her for sure, yet it was tucked tight, hidden under her gray metal face. She was from the Academy, they were the only gals who wore regulation pants; her last name would be written on the back of her lame and down the outside of her back leg, but neither was visible from where they were sitting.

Fence. The other fencer closed the distance quickly, arm extending his foil in a line threatening his opponent’s chest, legs coiling for a lunge. Yet before he could execute his action the Academy fencer caught his blade, the stout base of her weapon binding against the slimmer upper portion of her opponent’s; the chiming of metal followed by a subtle flick of the Academy fencer’s fingers, her blade pivoting so its tip threatened, then landed, on her opponent’s front shoulder.

 Halt. A bind in six, riposte in opposition, just like Coach Dan had showed them last week in practice. Attack right, is parried. Riposte, left. The competitors stepped back to their starting lines, and as the Academy gal removed her mask and her flaxen curls tumbled onto her shoulders, Rune immediately recognized her. But again, he drew a blank on her name; as if on cue to bail him out, Annie called out to her.

“Nice job, Wanda!”

Wanda. He’d fenced her last spring, at regionals. His only victory in the pools. 

Too Much 7

Annie was sitting at the end of her strip. Rune could tell she had completed a bout, as the edges of her hair was plastered with sweat against her scalp; the thin layer of persperation on her skin caused her face to glow in the dim light of the field house. What a babe, Rune thought not for the first time, and never more beautiful than now.

She looked up at him suddenly. “Hey.” Her smile warmed his heart.

“How’s it going?” He handed the water bottle, and crouched next to her after she took it.

“Five – two, some guy from Woolford.” Rune knew she only gave the score when she won. She began thrusting the bottle forward with her right arm, her face frowning like a disappointed teacher. “Jab jab jab. That’s all the Woolford fencers know how to do. Keep your distance and lunge.” Decapitating the water bottle, she drank quickly.

Two fencers Rune didn’t recognize continued their bout, swift footfalls and the recoiling of cables and the song of colliding metal. Several yards away from the strip, the blue-jacketed referee watched the action, his body still and quiet like a diligent sentry, until the sharp command to halt that followed each sharp interrupting buzz of the scoring machine.


Disembodied voices echo in the gray light inside the egg
Arms like scimitars cut into the trapezoid
But only one can be there first

The urge to make the right call
Is usurped by the desire to make the call that pleases the observer

There is neither victory nor defeat today
Only the weary burden of the observed



Returning to my occasional fencing journal today, as I took my first steps this along the path of another journey in this sport: officiating.

Wasn’t my first experience officiating at tournaments, but the difference this time is that I’m pursuing certification, trying to become officially official. There’s three components — a four-hour seminar, an online test, and observation, where you officiate tournament bouts under the supervision of a veteran referee.

Seminar last night was humbling — in addition to a lengthy rulebook, fencing has a large number of subtle techniques and practices of which an official must be aware — and today’s observation demonstrated to me that I need to improve my officiating in order to make the contributions I want to provide to this sport.

My supervisors today were honest, yet encouraging. One in particular, an avuncular veteran of Middle Eastern descent, was particularly helpful. “I want you to take a piece of paper,” his calloused hand squeezing my shoulder, “and write down five ways you want to improve.” I felt like an enthusiastic undergrad again, drafting my list quickly and making a more legible copy. He seemed pleased — “This matches my list!” — and tucked my list into his vest pocket.

And so, here’s that list:

  1. Maintain better distance from the strip, and keep from wandering
  2. Better hand signals and announcing
  3. Focus on the trapezoid area between the fencers
  4. Maintain better poise, display confidence
  5. RELAX!

Too Much 6

Rune watched the duration of the bout, rooting for the Libyan dude mostly in silence but unable to restrain an exuberant “YES!” when Malik hit Francis’ low line, tieing the score at 2. It would be, however, his last point in the bout, as Francis began to attack Malik’s back shoulder, swiftly and efficiently and without much seeming effort, like he was warming up rather than competing. Touch right, touch right, touch right. Bout.

Rex, whose bout was next, had stood next to Rune, leaned down and whispered in the younger teen’s ear. “You wanted to see him lose, didn’t you?”

“Woulda been nice, for once.” Rune turned, saw that Jane — yes, he remembered Harris’ name, Jane — had moved to the other side of the strip, was talking to her coach now. Slick with condensation, the plastic bottle in Rune’s hand slipped, nearly fell; he excused himself, hustled over to the strip where Annie was competing.

Too Much 5

Rex was sitting on the floor next to the strip, his legs extending in front of his body like poles. Rune handed him one of the water bottles, as he glanced at the strip.

“Francis.” He saw Rex nod silently at the corner of his vision, intent on the other fencer in the bout. “Any idea who that is?”

“Hassan.” Rex opened the bottle. “He’s from the Academy too. He’s I don’t know, Egyptian or something.”

“Libya.” The gal whose name Rune couldn’t remember had followed him. 

A clatter or metal, a sharp buzz. Rune looked at the scoring machine, which showed one green light, on Francis’ side.

“Parry-riposte.” Not having seen the conversation himself, Rune nodded, trusting the report of this gal he knew only as Harris. “Malik still hasn’t figured out that Francis likes to use his opponents’ aggression to his advantage.”

Of with

My source for this month’s entry in 2wenty-thr3 is the classic I’m currently reading, “The Book of Margery Kempe.” Turning to Chapter 46 (a particularly dramatic point in the narrative, as Margery is arrested for heresy and almost imprisoned along with men, where she would almost certainly be raped) and counting 46 words from the top and bottom, leaves me two prepositions to use . . .

Falling, weeping, gasping for breath,
she is, her mind, out of with passion overloaded
violated and vulnerable in spirit and body.

Too Much 4

“Hey.” Rune felt the call directed at him, from a voice he didn’t recognize yet still seemed familiar. He stopped, turned, water in the bottles he held rattling against the plastic; a smiling black-haired gal walking towards him,  from the Academy, he’d have known that from the pristine condition of her silver lame and white fencing pants, even if he didn’t recall meeting her at the scrimmage back in November.

“How’s it going, Rune?” He bit his lower lip. Harris, he definitely remembered her last name, repeated it silently to himself, hoping to recall her first.

“What strip are you on?” Her eyes betraying uncertainty. She sees I’m not suited up.

Gluh — ” Rune cleared his throat — “Not competing today. I’m just, you know, trying to be helpful.” He held up the two bottles of water.

“No thanks.” She raised her right hand, showed her aluminum canteen. “It’s cool, you’re being here, supporting your teammates.”

“Yeah.” His mother was taking his brother to his hockey game, which would have left Rune alone with his father at the house. Behind him, a scoring machine buzzed. “I guess we’re starting.”

“I’m at three.” Harris pointed up and to her right, indicating the strip beyond the one currently next to them.  “Think I’ve got one of your Bark Bay teammates, Ankiel?”

Rune nodded. “Rex.” He held up the bottles again. “And I need to get him his water.”

Too Much 3

“You ever, y’know, talk to him?” Rune was surprised to hear Rex take Annie’s side in the argument. “Francis is actually really nice, y’know. He’s given me a lot of pointers, really helped me improve.”

The gray-haired referee began barking, PATEL! ANKIEL! CHU! PINE!, calling fencers to his strip. When he finished, a woman in her thirties, also wearing a blue referee’s jacket, called fencers to the strip on the right, her voice not as powerful yet just as effective. Hutchinson! Rex reported dutifully to his referee, as Rune followed Annie to her strip.

He wanted to stop her, say he thought she was taking her new position as team captain a little too seriously. Let me have some fun. And wasn’t she his girlfriend, after all? No they hadn’t told anyone they were dating, but when they did, would it be good for her to openly mock him like she just had?

“Hey.” Annie turned, put a gentle hand on Rune’s shoulder; was she about to apologize? “We forgot to bring the water with us.” A case of plastic bottles bought with her parents’ credit card at a convenience store that morning. “I need one, so does Rex.” She flicked her head in the direction of the team’s equipment, her brown pony-tail swishing behind her head.

“OK.” Congratulating himself for withholding his sarcasm, Rune jogged over to the corner of the court where the Bark Bay High School fencing team had made camp for today’s tournament. He found the bottles, packaged in a plastic enclosing wrap, under a large canvas sack that contained the team’s masks. Wondering again why he had to lug the entire team’s equipment around today when they only had two fencers competing (three, if Double-J decided to show up for saber, but since he wouldn’t commit it would be his own damn fault if his equipment wasn’t there), Rune tore open the plastic wrapping, bottles falling to the floor and bouncing; grabbing two, he hustled back to the strips.