Chapter 5

The Missing Piece Meets The Big O

ON LOYALTY

Never forget who your friends are

There is too much evil, too much sadness and pain in this world

for a Champion to take part in perpetuating it. YOU MUST REMAIN

LOYAL TO THOSE WHO HAVE EARNED YOUR TRUST. Not just

because it is right. Not just because it is honorable. But because if you

don’t, you will feel it. It will haunt you to your very soul.

You must remember that a key to being Undefeatable is to pick

your battles, to fight the intelligent fight. If you make an enemy out of

someone close to you, you have made an enemy out of someone who

knows you, who knows your strengths and weaknesses, who knows

how to most effectively hurt you. No matter how trained a Champion

you are, such an enemy can defeat you. You must stay the course.

THE CHAMPION’S GUIDEBOOK

Keith was an amazing study in duality. He lived next door to Greg in the dorms

freshman year. They met in the cafeteria when they both went for the last piece of pie. It

didn’t take Greg and I long to discover the sharp contrasts in his character. He loved beer

and steak, but was an avid Disney Channel watcher. He lived and breathed sports, but

knew every single word to every single Celine Dion cd, all of which he owned. He was

blind, but he could watch TV. Stuff like that. He was also one of the goofiest people I

49

had ever met; yet he turned deadly serious at a moments notice. Truly yin and yang

personified, Keith would make a good Champion. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel

like kicking his ass as I chased him out of the house.

Keith did this often.

“This” refers to Keith getting in “a mood” and going for “a walk.” It’s impossible

to predict when he might take off or when he’s gonna show up again. Different things

can set him off—he is a moody little bastard—and he doesn’t like sharing what’s on his

mind. Usually though, it’s a girl. Anyways, I highly doubted that it was our critique of

his Tecmo Bowl strategy that sent him running.

It was turning into a nice Edwardsville evening. It was quiet and cold and breezy

and the sun was setting over the campus making everything look orange. Even Keith.

He was walking his thoughts over to Cherrystone, the street that led away from campus

but right towards Hassan’s. That could help things… “Hey, Keith,” I yelled. “Wait up.”

He stopped but didn’t turn around.

“Hey, Kov,” he said in a soft voice.

“You want a walking buddy?”

“Sure,” he said. We lit cigarettes and smoked and walked in silence for awhile.

Then Keith stopped walking. “Kov?”

“Yeah, Keith?”

“It’s pie time*, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Keith,” I said. “Yes it is.”

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We sat down in our favorite booth at Hassan’s House of Eggs and Love (again)

and Amy brought us two cups of coffee and two pieces of banana cream pie. Becka had

already left. Nice. Amy stayed by our table and watched as Keith and I exchanged

knowing glances, clinked our forks together, and attacked our pie. I beat Keith by a bite

and a half, successfully defending my status as King of the Eaters, and Amy was so

impressed that she rolled her eyes and retreated into the back of the restaurant. She had

never been much fun.

With that little formality out of the way, I leaned back in the booth and lit up a

smoke. Keith did the same. I was sure a little Champion wisdom was all that was needed

to cheer him up, and I was full of pie and happy to oblige.

“So, Keithy,” I said, “penny for your thoughts?” Keith looked both earnest and

pensive, which is a difficult thing to do. He took a drag off his smoke.

“I’m fine, Kov,” he said. “Really.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Keith always took a little softening up before he would talk, hence

the pie. “C’mon, dude. What’s her name?”

“Heh.” Keith forced a sickly laugh. “Actually, you know her. Vicki?”

“Vicki from econ last year?”

“Yes, Vicki from econ.”

“So, the saga continues.” Vicki was in one of Keith’s classes last year, and he

had spent a good part of the summer a-courtin’ her. “What happened?” I asked.

51

“I ran into her on Friday, asked her out.”

“She said no?”

“No, she said yes.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“When it was time to meet, she wasn’t there.”

“Dude.”

“An hour after it was time to meet, she wasn’t there.”

“Dude.”

“Two hours, nothing.”

“I’m sorry, Keith. Did you call her?”

“The number she gave me? The Econ Department’s.”

“Dude!” I said, instantly wishing I had something better to say. Dude was one of

the most powerful, useful, all-purpose words in the English language, but even it had

limits.

“Yeah, no shit.” Keith lit a new cigarette with his old one. “I mean, its not that

I’m upset as much as I’m angry, you know? I mean, it’s one thing if she just doesn’t like

me, but damn, that was mean.”

“Seriously.”

“I mean, C’mon!”

“I know, Keith. That sucks, but…” some girl being mean to you should not be

enough to shake you this much. No matter how much Keith thought he cared for Vicki,

52

she was just some girl. He shouldn’t be all depressed and going on his walks because of

her. I needed to say this gently though.

“But what?” he asked.

“It sucks, but come on Keith, she’s just a girl.” Keith sipped his coffee, glaring in

my direction over the edge of his mug. “How many times does this happen to all of us?

We like some girl, she poops on us, we’re all upset for awhile, and then it gets better.

You see? It always gets better, it’s inevitable. Life goes on. If you already know it’s

gonna get better, why waste time getting upset? So Vicki’s a bitch. Tough. Why go on

those walks of yours or sit in dark corners lamenting”—Keith had a designated lamenting

corner in his room—“when you already know you’ll be fine in a week or two? It’s all up

to you and how you deal with things. It’s your choice to be all upset, so choose not to be.

” Satisfied with my advice, I took a nice big gulp of coffee and waited for Keith to agree

with me.

“Oh, fuck off, Paul.” Huh?

“Huh?”

“This coming from the inventor of ‘Paul Time?’ Come on now. And you can

take that Champion shit and shove it up your ass for all I care.” Keith seemed a little

mad. “You and Greg don’t realize that I’m not a machine. We are not fucking machines,

we are only human. I can’t always control my emotions. I’m glad that you guys think

you can, but you can’t either.” Keith’s voice trembled, and at the moment I was grateful

that he wasn’t looking directly at me. The wall was getting one hell of a glare until—had

53

to be an accident—he looked right at me. “No matter what your little Champion stuff

may dictate, you guys are not machines. Everything is not all logical, and I’m sure that,

eventually, something’s gonna come up that you can’t think your way out of. You won’t

know how to deal with it, and it is going to mess you up.”

I was not about to back down from this. “Well, that’s the difference between us,

Keith” I said. “Believe me, I know I’m not some machine. I know that I’m a frail,

emotional little nothing. But since I do know this, I can use that knowledge. I simply

don’t put myself in a position to get destroyed. I avoid it. That’s the key, and that’s what

you have to learn so that the next girl that looks at you funny or calls you a name or

whatever the fuck it takes doesn’t send you reeling into depression.”

“Look, asshole,” said Keith. He lit yet another cigarette, his third, off of his

second. “That’s what you fuckers just don’t get. None of you.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t mind being depressed.” Keith stopped for a second to take a drag off his

smoke. His voice lowered and I could tell that he had just told me something that he

usually kept quiet. “I almost…enjoy it. It’s like, well, feeling something so strongly

makes me feel alive, you know?”

I could agree with that.

“Ok,” I said, “I can buy that. But why not bask in a more, I don’t know, happier

emotion?”

Keith shook his head and gave me a smug smile. “Bah,” he said. “We are happy

54

all the time, Paul. C’mon, we’re assholes! We are ridiculous!” I had to smile. “We

spend all of our time all happy and retarded, it’s nothing special. There’s a whole range

of emotions out there; you gotta feel them all to be alive.”

“I don’t know man,” I said. I fished a smoke out of my pack and put it behind my

ear and under my curls. “I know that depressed feeling, believe me. And I hate it. So I

avoid it.”

“Like how you’ve never asked a girl out,” Keith said, his smug smile returning,

“in case she says no.”

“Well, yeah,” I said, quickly adding, “fucker.” I thought for a second. “I never

kick field goals, at least.”

“As far as problems go,” Keith said, “yours is worse.”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled. I wasn’t enjoying the fact that he was probably right.

“I think that makes life boring,” Keith said, “if you don’t take any chances.”

“Maybe you call it boring,” I said, “but I call it safe.” I freed the smoke from its

resting place and lit it up. Even though he had ignored my brilliant advice and told me to

stuff my Champion ideas up my ass, I was having a good time. Keith tended to be kinda

secretive, so it was fun to see what made him tick. I wanted this conversation to keep

going. “Keith, you need more coffee?”

“Yeah,” he said, and we both put our empty mugs on top of our heads in the

universal signal that, hey, Paul and Keith need some more fucking coffee. Amy loved it

when we did that, but she still came over and filled us up.

55

“Thanks, Amy,” I said.

“Whatever,” said Amy. She really was a peach.

When she was gone, Keith continued the conversation. “What I don’t get,” he

said, “is why you always avoid the girls that ask you out.”

“I—” I stopped for a sip of coffee. “It’s pretty funny, actually. As scared as I am

of getting rejected, I am equally as scared of things turning out well.”

“Wow,” said Keith, “you are fucked!”

“Heh, maybe.” I puffed on the smoke. Man, was it fun to smoke when you were

having a serious discussion. I wondered what I would do if I didn’t smoke…probably

just wave my arms around like an asshole, I guess. “Usually, when a girl asked me out,

or even hinted that she liked me, I would shake her hand and then run away, shrieking

like a little baby.”

Keith grinned. “Ah, the Kov Shake,*” he said.

“Exactly.”

“What a great maneuver.”

“Thank you, thank you,” I said. “Now, when I was younger, I wasn’t as polite,

and I got right to the shrieking and running. But when I got to high school, I figured that

I could be man enough to shake the poor girl’s hand first.”

“You are a gentleman.” Keith shuffled around in the booth. “Now why was it

different with Becka?”

Good question. “I don’t know,” I said. Hassan walked by to give me a smack on

56

the back with the fly swatter. I waited for him to resume his post behind the register

before I continued. “It was just different, like Fate Itself had taken upon Its shoulders the

task of granting me this dream girl. I just couldn’t run away.”

“Wow,” said Keith, “that’s deep.”

I grinned sheepishly. “No, it’s not. I meant that literally—she had sat down next

to me and I was pinned in the booth. I really couldn’t run away.”

Keith shook his head. “Jackass,” he mumbled into his mug.

We had been sitting there for a while—a quality Hassan’s sit. The Dream flowed

around us while Keith and I drank a lot of coffee and smoked a lot of cigarettes. I

watched as the orange sky turned dark and Keith listened as the crowded restaurant

turned empty. After a couple minutes of silence, Keith turned towards my general

direction.

“Ever fallen in love?” he asked.

“No,” I said, because I hadn’t. “And I have no intention of doing so.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like letting my guard down.”

“Why not?”

“When you let your guard down, you give away the power. You are in love with

some girl and she has this power over you, and,” I had been looking out the window but

now I turned and looked at Keith. “And then you can be defeated.” I looked back out the

window. “It’s better to be safe and alone.” That was the first time I ever said that out

57

loud.

“There’s that word,” said Keith. “I see more and more why you want to be

‘Undefeatable,’ Kov.” He had made the little quotation mark hand gesture when he said

that. Not everyone believes. But that’s ok.

“I don’t want to be defeated, Keith,” I said. “Therefore, yes, I want to be

Undefeatable.”

“But, I mean,” Keith started, “in all honesty, Greg just made it up.”

“Look, I’ll give you that,” I said. I was out of coffee and I looked around for

Amy. “The thing is though, Greg just made up the word.”

“What do you mean?” Keith was also out of coffee. Where the fuck was she?

“Here’s how I see it. That feeling that nothing can beat you, that there is no

problem you can’t solve, that is real—it’s out there, waiting to be found. For instance, I

have felt the same way towards love and girls for a long time, way before I even met

Greg. It just turns out that my way of thinking fit perfectly into the Champion way of

thinking. So, Greg may have made up a word to describe Undefeatable, but he did not

make up that feeling.”

“You really believe that Greg is Undefeatable?” Keith asked. He did not make

the little quotation mark hand gesture when he said that.

“Yes, I really do,” I said. If Keith hung around with Greg as much as I did, he

wouldn’t have to ask. “And I really think that I can be too. There are times I feel like

nothing can touch me, you know?” Keith nodded, and I lit up a smoke. “Then there are

58

times when I think I’ll never get it.” Keith lit up a smoke too.

“There’s still something I don’t understand, though,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“All this Champion shit seems so complicated. I mean, Greg’s writing a fucking

book about it.”

“What’s your point?”

“There’s got to be a way to boil it down, to make it simple. I want you to explain

this whole Champion philosophy to me in one sentence.” That was an easy one.

“Good things will happen to good people,” I said without hesitation. “That’s

what it is.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. That’s what I believe, at least, and that is the thought that keeps me

going when shitty things happen. I know I am a good person, and it is only fair that

things will work out. Like you. Keith, you are a good man.” Keith smoked and smiled.

“You didn’t deserve for Vicki to blow you off, but that bitch doesn’t know what she’s

missing. But some girl will figure it out; it’s only fair. Good things will happen to good

people. That belief is what will make me Undefeatable.”

“Did you ask Greg if that’s what it is?” asked Keith. I stared at him for a second.

“No.”

“What if that’s not it?”

“What else could it be?” Nothing, I thought.

59

“I don’t know,” said Keith, “but that’s not a bad thing to believe. Everyone needs

to believe in something to keep ‘em going, right?”

“Alright, Keith,” I said, “I’ll bite. What do you believe?”

“More coffee?” Amy was back.

“Yes, please,” we said. Amy poured coffee into our mugs, stopping way too

soon.

“Sorry I haven’t been around in awhile,” said Amy, “but I don’t like you.”

“Thank you,” we said, and Amy strolled over to the staff smoking booth.

“Wow,” said Keith.

“Well, you definitely can’t say that she’s fake,” I said.

“Nope.” Keith carefully sipped his newly hot coffee. “So, what do I believe?”

“Yeah.”

“Ok. My life philosophy is based on a book.”

“What book?” I asked. Please don’t say The Bible. I was not up for a religious

discussion.

“When I was a kid, and I was at Sunday School, we read this book,” he said. I

shifted uncomfortably in the booth. I felt that our conversation was about to be touched

by The Lord. Keith continued. “I think it was a Shel Silverstein book, but I forgot the

title. You know, the guy who wrote those giant hard-cover books of funny poems?” I

happily nodded. “So anyway, we read this book in class, and I never forgot it. Well,

besides the title, I mean.”

60

“What was it about?”

“Don’t forget, this was a kid’s book,” Keith said. He stubbed out his smoke.

“Basically, there’s this piece of a circle—looks like a slice of pizza—and it goes around

trying to find an incomplete circle that he can fit into.”

“It sounds familiar,” I said, as I tried to remember the book and dream of pizza at

the same time. Pizza.

Pizza pie.

Pie!

Mmm.

“But the thing is, the piece can’t find a circle to fit into, it’s either too big or too

small, and it gets all depressed.”

Oh yeah, Keith was talking. Focus.

“Then, at the end, it runs into a complete circle, and the complete circle tells the piece to

keep its head up and just keep rolling along. So the piece rolls around and, after awhile,

it grounds itself down into its own, little circle.” Keith lit up a new smoke, just in time

for me to finish my old one. “I can’t remember what the teacher said about it, but I never

forgot that little story.”

“What do you think it means?”

“It means that you should just be yourself, don’t worry about fitting in anywhere.”

Keith missed the ashtray by a mile. “So that’s what I believe: you just have to be

yourself and damn what everyone else thinks. And when life gets you down, brush it off

61

and keep rolling along.”

That sounded very similar to Fuck that Shit. I was impressed with the little

Korean. “Well.” I shook Keith’s ashes off my hand. “I think that sounds pretty good,

Keith. But how do you apply it?”

“Ok, like with this Vicki thing. I liked her a lot, but I don’t need her to make me

whole. Maybe it took me a little too long to come to terms with that,” Keith arched his

eyebrows at me. “But the point is, I eventually do, and just keep rolling along.”

“Sounds like a good way to look at things.”

“I think so,” said Keith. He started to shift in the booth but then his face

scrunched up. “Kov, let’s go home. My ass is stuck to this booth.”

“Sure, Keith,” I said, “we just have to ask Amy for—”

“The bill?” Amy was suddenly at our table. “Here you go, boys. Sorry you have

to leave so soon.” She handed me the bill, and was gone before Keith and I could throw

our money on the table. I put my arm around Keith’s shoulder as we walked out.

“Man,” I said, “she hates you.”

He smiled. “Maybe it’s an Asian thing.”

“Can you blame her?”

“I guess not.”

We walked home through the darkened campus and as we walked onto our porch

I wondered if Keith had ever been in love.

I had totally forgotten to ask.

 

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