Thursday, 8 December 2005

Celebrity Corner

Even though I lived in Los Angeles for more than a dozen years, I had very few celebrity sightings. Sure, I saw future governator Arnold once on the beach in Malibu, but really, who hasn't. And Sarah and I ran into Christian Slater in an elevator at a Beverly Hills doctor's office. He had dark glasses on and pressed the button for my floor for me.

In fact, Sarah has better celebrity stories to tell, from her time working in television production. My trouble also tends to be that I'm not a particularly good celebrity spotter. I'm always the one being told after the fact that "the woman over there was Geena Davis". I took a six week self-defense course with the guy from "Third Rock from the Sun", and he even wore a nametag each Sunday that read "French" (as in Stewart), and while he looked vaguely familiar, I didn't put it together until Sarah told me after our graduation ceremony.

Actually, there was a little more to it than that. First, you've got to picture this graduation ceremony. This was no suit and tie affair, where we were calmly handed slips of paper with official seals. No, this was a demonstration session, where we were supposed to demonstrate the asskicking and nametaking skills we had recently acquired. The course (usually run under the name "Impact") is all about putting you in approximated real-world situations where you're being attacked or threatened in some way. Two or three burly guys, dressed in a lot of padding and a big helmet, play the baddies. First, you're supposed to de-escalate and try to walk away (coming in to the class, I was a lot better at this part than most people, and a lot worse at the physical stuff). If that doesn't work, you're shown how to defend yourself at all cost, and open up a can or two of whupass on the side.

Now, one of the key parts of this programme is yelling. You yell with every movement, both to stay focused and to remind you of what you're doing. In real life scenarios, it's supposed that you would be yelling something like "No!" or "Get away!" (with the men's class, they advised us that this is also a good idea from a legal point of view, lest passersby see you working your skills and decide you're the assailant). However, in the class, we used the yelling as reminders as to which move we were supposed to be making. This included yelling such things as "heel palm!" and "elbow!" as the corresponding moves were executed. (The most badass of these being without a doubt "hammer fist!") At graduation time, the instructor encouraged the crowd of friends and family who were in attendance to participate in yelling these phrases (particularly if they themselves had taken the course previously), to help each student battle his way to the end.

You'll note that I previously used the phrase "at all cost". This is no exaggeration, and it was explained that in a fight for your life, you've got to fight dirty. So we were taught effective means of crippling a man intent on attacking us, by any means necessary.

On graduation day, Sarah, herself an Impact graduate, was in the audience as my guest. French Stewart, too, had invited guests: his wife was present, as was screen legend Dennis Hopper, sitting right next to Sarah. Each student went through a scenario. I heel-palmed. I elbowed. I hammerfisted. I lived to tell the tale, and passed on a high five to the next contender.

As French walked on to the mat and assumed the ready position, the thug approached him and got in his face.

"ELBOW!" yelled the crowd, and French thrust his elbow smartly into the attacker's face.

Still the man came on, and knocked him to the ground. But he was prepared for that, and following the crowd's shouts of "LEG!" kicked to try to release himself. Yet that didn't quite work. It was time to do what must be done.

In what Sarah later described as her most surreal Hollywood moment, she, myself, French Stewart and Dennis Hopper all let out a mighty cry, shaking the walls of the Santa Monica YWCA:

"GROIN!!!" we screamed, as French delivered a devastating crotch grab followed by a kick and twisted himself free. The crowd cheered.

I didn't know much about French Stewart before taking this course, and it's unlikely I'll meet him again in the future. But don't be deceived by the slight figure and nasal voice you hear on TV: the dude has got balls.

Coming up next time in Celebrity Corner: The Second Most Surreal Celebrity Moment, or, I Almost Get My Ass Kicked By Mike Tyson.

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