2010-04-07 / Opinion

Lessons from history, and the Karate Kid

by Alex McRae

The Texas Board of Education recently decided to keep Thomas Edison in the social studies textbooks. I'm glad. It would have been a shame if the father of the incandescent light bulb got dumped from the history books in favor of information about the impact of hiphop culture on modern society.

Edison is important. Not just because he made the world a brighter place. He made it safer, too. If not for Edison, millions of people could be disfigured each year by mishandled candles. It happened to me just the other day.

And, no, I wasn't reading or writing by candlelight because I forgot to pay the power bill.

My lovely wife delights in setting out scented candles that add a dash of color to the home decor and emit delightful aromas that soothe the troubled soul. Whatever.

Anyway, the other night Angela went to bed while I was still reading a trashy novel. I promised to blow out the big candle on the hearth before I joined her.

I wanted to make sure I got it right, so I sucked in air until I resembled a beach ball, aimed my pouty lips at the candle and blew like there was no tomorrow.

The flame disappeared faster than you can say "Katrina," but the aftermath was unexpected. Mostly because I failed to notice the puddle of liquid wax that had gathered around the wick. That is, until all that wax came blowing right back in my face.

I didn't scream very loud at all. Maybe embarrassment paralyzes your vocal cords.

Soon the wax cooled and hardened — all over my face and my eyeglasses. I wandered upstairs seeking first-aid and wax removal advice. I got neither. Instead of cooing sympathetically, Angela looked at me and said, "You look like you have leprosy."

I gave another half-hearted groan and turned my attention to the clean-up effort, with a little inspiration from Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio, who starred in the first "Karate Kid" movie.

Macchio plays a teenage geek who gets beat up more often than the Waffle House egg supply. Morita plays a man who dabbles with miniature plants but is secretly the world's most accomplished karate expert.

Morita decides to teach Macchio karate, so he can defend himself from bullies. But he doesn't want Macchio to know he is learning karate, so Morita disguises karate exercises to resemble practical motions ... like waxing the car.

Morita shows Macchio clockwise and counterclockwise hand and arm motions designed to block punches. He makes Macchio say "wax on, wax off" during the motions to make the lad think he is learning to wax a car.

It works like a charm. By the time he masters the "yank the transmission, rebuild the transmission" move, Macchio is ready to rumble. He does so with great results, winning the girl and beating the school bullies in the city karate championship.

I clearly didn't need "wax on" advice but the "wax off" technique (and some heavy assistance from a steel wool pad) took the wax right off my face. After several weeks of intense effort, the karate technique has yet to clear all the smears from my eyeglasses (although it was helpful in shooing a squirrel I caught near the bird feeder). I'll keep at it.

The candle caper reminded me there is a time and place for everything. The time and place for candles is in the Middle Ages. I'm back to bulbs.

If Angela ever suggests a romantic dinner at a place with candles on the table, I'll go, but I'll insist the server snuff the candles before I dine. As for light, if Edison's invention isn't available, another great historical figure — the Energizer Bunny — should keep my flashlight shining just fine.

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