Audience of the Great Comedy
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|Down in the Dojo|
|Down in the Dojo|
Hill-Trank Plaza was a shopping mall not too far away from Zoom Comics, serving as a halfway point between the comic shop and the neighborhood Marco and Star lived in. It wasn’t a place Drew, Jo, or Roland normally stopped by of their own free will–its only shops being a record store, a frozen yogurt place, a bar, and a Tang Soo Do Karate dojo–but from this day forward they were going to become very familiar with it.
“I don’t think I’ve actually been to any of these shops,” Roland said as they walked along the sidewalk in front of the store fronts.
Drew glanced into the window of a record store, a place that only survived thanks to hipster inertia and nostalgia from Gen Xers. “Dad comes here like once a month and buys at least a hundred dollars’ worth of records.”
Roland found that interesting. “What, and he has the nerve to get on you for reading comics?”
“Yeah, funny how that is,” Jo said.
In front of the Hill-Trank Plaza Dojo, a dimensional scissor portal opened, and Marco hopped out, dressed in a white karate gi and headband, a green belt tied tightly around his waist. The abrupt appearance of the portal took the trio off guard, and they quickly looked around as it shut behind him.
“Wait, is that okay?!” Drew asked.
Marco noticed them. “Oh, hey guys. Ready to get started?”
Roland gestured to the closing portal behind him. “You’re just portaling around in public?”
Marco looked back as it completely vanished. “I was running a little late today. Don’t worry, it’s fine. It’s not the weirdest thing this Dojo’s seen.”
Drew and Roland reluctantly accepted it, while Jo rolled with and asked more important questions. “So, is it gonna be okay for us to start now?”
Marco pushed open the door. “Of course. I’m just going to ask Sensei if I can run you through the basics separately and work you up to catch with the rest of the class.”
Jo looked back at him as he let the door close and followed them. “Don’t you think we’re a little past the basics?”
“No.” Marco’s blunt reply hit hard as a hammer. “None of you guys can actually fight, and the only way you’re going to learn is from the ground up.”
“Take good care of us, then,” Drew awkwardly began to bow, when Marco stopped him.
“Hang on, you haven’t actually become part of the school yet. You still need to sign up, show Sensei the waivers–you got the waivers filled out, right?”
When Drew, Roland, and Jo presented signed papers that Marco had given them earlier, he nodded. “And I need to pay your sign-up fee.”
“You don’t need to do all that,” Roland said.
Drew agreed. “Yeah.”
Marco waved it off. “Relax, I’ve got it. Plus it’s my way of showing Sensei that I’m serious about teaching you.”
The school was well-furnished for something set in a strip mall, with tatami mats on the floors and wood finished walls and ceiling. It looked like something that one would right away think of when the word “karate dojo” came to mind, with the exception of bleacher style seats that were arranged along the back wall for spectating.
There were already several other students present, ranging from Marco’s age to just about half that, though most were just hanging out and socializing as class had not begun. Who wasn’t present was the sensei, which caught Marco’s attention.
“Huh… where is Sensei?” Marco murmured. He looked over at another student, playing on his phone on the bleachers. “Hey, Sensei’s here, right?”
“He went next door for some froyo, he’ll be back,” the student said without looking up from his phone.
Jo raised an eyebrow. “Uh huh…?”
Marco didn’t think anything of it. “Well, this’ll give me time to introduce you to the others. Cool phone kid is Peter.”
Peter, a blonde boy with glasses, looked up and did a double-take when he saw Jo. “Oh, righteous. Sup, Jo.”
Jo responded with a silent nod. Marco gestured over to a short dark-skinned boy with messy hair practicing roundhouse kicks on a heavy bag. “That’s Hunter.”
Drew recognized him. “Oh, he’s in our class.”
Hunter looked over and saw Jo, Drew, and Roland. “Whoa… Captain Falcon herself is here.”
He called to Marco. “Hey, are they joining the school?”
“That’s the plan,” Marco replied.
Hunter nodded. “Sweet! Now that we have two monsters, maybe this place’ll stop being treated like a daycare.”
Drew watched Jo preen under the praise being spooned onto her and couldn’t help but feel inadequacy claw at him. We haven’t even signed up and all the attention is on her.
She was riding high after dispatching Lars, and thanks to the circumstances of the fight, she had escaped any punishment for putting him in the hospital.
Roland looked from Hunter to Marco. “Daycare?”
Marco narrowed his eyes and seethed. “Yeah, there’s one student I need to warn you guys about in advance-”
“Hey Marco, showing some newbies around?” Spoke a child whose condescending, overprivileged voice triggered similar grimaces in Drew, Jo, and Roland. They turned and looked down at a freckled-faced, buck-toothed eight year old who radiated a cheerful malice.
“This,” Marco said stiffly, “Is Jeremy.”
Oh I already hate this kid. Drew thought.
“But you can call me Jeremy-senpai. Since I’ve been here longer than you and am the best student in Sensei’s class.” He looked up at Marco. “Right Marco?”
Jo shared her brother’s disgust. Great, I may have to throw hands with a child.
“Rrrr…” Marco glowered at him. He was not about to let this brat flex on him in front of the guys. “Whatever, Jeremy.”
Jeremy chuckled. “Oh Marco, there’s no need to be humble on my behalf. Tell them all about how I’ve whupped your butt in every spar we’ve had.”
Drew, Jo, and Roland looked back and forth among one another, and nodded in agreement. Drew gestured for Roland to take it away, and he was off.
“HA!” Roland laughed, causing Jeremy to recoil. “You know he had to hold back on you, right?”
Jeremy scowled up at Roland. “What was that?”
Marco was caught off guard himself by Roland.
“I bet he’d cry if Marco actually tried to hit him,” Jo said to her brother.
Drew nodded in agreement and looked at Marco. “So, do we have to buy our own gis, does the school supply them… or what?”
Marco was trying to process this. Wait, wait, what’s happening here?
“I’ve actually fought him!” Jeremy insisted.
“Whatever,” Roland said.
“Buzz off,” Jo said to him with a shooing motion.
Jeremy’s face turned red. “You can’t tell me to buzz off, I’m your Senpai!”
“Man, he’s what seven? Eight?” Roland asked Marco before looking to Jo and Drew. “There are so many worse things to worry about than karate brat. Ignore him.”
“Don’t ignore me!” Jeremy shrieked.
Drew did anyway and faced Marco. “So yeah, are we gonna get gis or what?”
“Huh…?” Marco murmured, still surprised at what happened.
Marco glanced at Jeremy, who looked stuck between bursting a blood vessel and bursting into tears. Letting that settle in his head, he remembered Trip Vanderhoff’s tear-streaked, impotently angry glare the other day when he and Star broke up his confrontation with Dipper Mabel, and Misao.
It came to him, like a moment of clarity for a deeply drunk man. Oh, that’s the kind of loser he’s going to grow up into.
With that comforting thought, he ignored him, too. “There are gis here that you can use, and you can use the bathrooms to change.”
The Dojo’s front door opened, the school’s black sleeveless gi-wearing sensei walked in holding several carry-out carts worth of drinks. “Students, your sensei has returned, and he has brought smoothies to prepare you for today’s journey down the path.”
“Oh, cool, he’s back.” Marco gestured for Drew, Jo, and Roland to follow him over, as the other students quickly gathered around their instructor.
“All right, I’ve got a double banana for you Pete, Chocolate raspberry protein for you, Hunter. Strawberry chilled for Everett…” He looked at Marco as he reached the gathered students. “Marco, what took you, bro? I didn’t get you a smoothie, but I left some cash with Monica next door. You can go grab one before class starts.”
He noticed the trio accompanying him. “Whoa, are these new students?”
Marco nodded. “I texted you about them Sunday, remember?”
Sensei handed off the last smoothie and checked his phone. “Oh, right! Sorry, I was spaced out that whole weekend.”
“Huh?” Marco asked.
“Expanding my mind, Marco. Engaging upon a spiritual quest to broaden my mental, physical, and spiritual horizons.”
Roland and Drew glanced at each other, while Jo rolled her eyes.
“Right,” Marco said himself, “Anyway, these are Drew and Jo McCormick, and Roland Williams.”
“Williams…” Sensei looked closer at Roland. “You wouldn’t happen to be Nano’s grandson, would you?”
“I am,” Roland said.
Sensei pressed a fist into his palm and bowed to him. “It is an honor.”
Drew and Jo both glanced at Roland, who took the respectful gesture in stride and returned it. “Uh thanks…”
“They’ve got their waivers signed. All they actually need to do is finish filling out their paperwork and they can start today.” Marco continued.
Sensei nodded. “Very good, where are they in terms of skill?”
“Rank amateur,” Roland said.
“I apparently don’t know how to make a fist to punch,” Drew said.
Jo folded her arms. “I’ve won some fights.”
Before anyone could correct her, Sensei closed his eyes and shook his head. “It does not take much to win a fight–a lucky blow, a surprise attack, a simple difference in strength. So saying that means very little.”
Jo opened her mouth to refute that but stopped. Both Drew and Roland gave her smug looks, daring her to say he was wrong.
As she pouted in defeat, Marco spoke to his master. “About that, since they’re going to be behind most of the other students… I was thinking that I’d give them some personal training separate from the rest of class, and then we’d roll them into the group when they’ve caught up-”
Sensei was struck with surprise, and he clapped his hands onto Marco’s shoulders. “Marco, are you telling me that you wish to become… an assistant instructor?”
Jeremy, who was sipping on an orange and mint smoothie, nearly choked on it and looked towards Marco and Sensei. “What!?”
“Assistant instructor…” Marco repeated, and the thought of him being a teacher–even if just in the assistant role–filled his mind with wonder. All he wanted to do was just give hands on instruction to his friends. “… What–really? Me? Y-your assistant? I’d… I’d be able to… lead classes in your absence…?”
“Marco, you have no idea how awesome it would be for me to have another assistant instructor, and it’s even better knowing it’s someone who I can rely on as a responsible, pragmatic, safety-minded person who doesn’t randomly flake out at crucial times for strange reasons.”
Drew hummed and leaned aside to Roland and whispered. “That’s really specific…”
“Well, he did mention wanting another assistant… what happened to the last one?” Roland wondered.
Behind them, Jeremy had dropped his abominable smoothie for a smartphone. He rapidly swiped a message on it, glancing up from it to glare daggers at Marco and his friends every couple of seconds, and pressed send.
Marco thought Sensei was being really specific, too. He was also a little concerned about the whole flaking out thing. The Magnavores weren’t going to be too concerned about what they all had going on in their lives–after all.
On the other hand? Assistant Instructor means he’d have some authority in the dojo… even Jeremy would have to do what he said!
“I’ll do it!”
“Awesome! Just what I wanted to hear.” A shrill ring came from Sensei’s gi, and he reached into it. “Oh, hang on bro. Gotta take this one. Get the new students the paperwork they got to finish, and into gis and we’ll get to introductions.”
“Yes, Sensei!” Marco obeyed before gesturing for the three to follow him to Sensei’s office.
Taking them to the back, where a well-kept desk, filing cabinet, and copy machine sat, Marco went into the filing cabinet and began rifling through papers. Checking the door after closing it, Jo leaned against the frame and spoke. “So… what happens if the Magnavores start interrupting classes for you, Mr. Assistant Instructor?”
Marco looked back at her. He frowned and went back to looking through the papers. “I don’t know.”
“We can avoid burning that bridge when we get to it,” Roland said.
“And while we’re on the subject of things that burn easily, that piece of garbage out there.” Jo sneered. “How much do you wanna bet he’s one of Trip’s illegitimate brothers or something?”
“Yeah, probably,” Roland said with a small laugh.
“Ignore him,” Drew said, “We have to focus on our training, not dojo drama.”
Marco pulled up the sign up forms folder, and found only the hard copy. “I told Sensei to make more copies…”
He went across the room to the old copy machine and started it up. “Man, I can’t believe I let Jeremy get under my skin for all this time.”
“Sometimes you just need people backing you up to stand up to bullies, you know?” Roland asked.
Marco recalled him and Star punking the Vanderhoffs and smiled. “Hah, yeah.”
“Speaking of the Magnavores,” Drew said, “It’s been pretty quiet since we last fought them.”
“We trashed them pretty good, they’re probably still recovering,” Jo pointed out.
Roland wasn’t too concerned either. “Besides, Dipper said he’s got his ear to the ground, remember? If anything pops up, he’ll let us know.”
Drew sighed. “I hope they aren’t up to anything that could do a lot of harm, then.”
“Hoping is all we can do,” Roland said.
“Hoping, and training,” Marco said as he set the forms on the desk. “You can use pencils but write dark so I can make readable copies.”
Within a few minutes, the four emerged from the office, Marco shuffling the printed signup forms together with their waivers, so he could grab his wallet. “All right, all we have to do now is get you changed, and we can start.”
It was much quieter now, the other students, Jeremy included, lined up at the edge of the training mat. In front of them, Sensei took a deep breath and turned his head to call over to him. “Mr. Diaz, I need to have a word with you.”
Marco brightened and whispered aside to Drew. “I guess he’s making it official…”
Handing the papers to him, Marco jogged over to Sensei and bowed to him. “Yes, Sensei?”
Sensei turned in place and looked down at his student. “Earlier, I had expressed interest in making you my assistant instructor.”
Marco nodded. “Yes, Sensei.”
“You are one of my most capable students. Diligent, hard-working, disciplined, and one I can count on to represent this Dojo at all times within and without its hallowed walls.”
“Yes, Sensei!” Marco repeated with more energy.
“That said!” Sensei closed his eyes and breathed in, bracing himself. He opened his eyes and met Marco’s gaze. “… I cannot grant you the position of Assistant Instructor at this time.”
Marco’s face fell. “W-what?”
“He changed his mind?” Drew whispered.
“Bruh, doing this in front of everyone?” Roland asked.
Jo narrowed her eyes but said nothing as her gaze swiveled towards the lined up students.
Marco sputtered. “W-wait, wait, wait… Sensei, you just said-”
“I know what I said Marco!” Sensei turned away from him with dramatic flourish and clenched his hands into fists. “But my decision was rash, motivated by my zealousness to have another assistant, and I forgot that while you are a great student, and I would gladly have you as an assistant officially… you are not qualified for the position of Assistant Instructor yet.”
“Y-yet?” Marco asked.
“Marco, in Tang Soo Do Karate, one must be at the very least a Red Belt in order to begin leading classes as an assistant. The belt around your waist signifies that you are not ready yet.”
Marco looked down at his belt, then up at Sensei. “Sensei, I’ve been a Green Belt for five years, doesn’t that count for anything?”
“It means that you are ready to advance to Red Belt, but until you do, I must withdraw my offer to promote you to my assistant instructor.”
Sensei hung his head. “I am sorry, Marco. I raised your hopes and dashed them, this is my shame too.”
Marco lowered his head. “Yes. I understand, Sensei.”
“You are still permitted to train up the new students, but you will do so as their senpai. Until you have achieved the rank of red belt, you will still be regarded as a student of this dojo.”
Marco nodded. “Yes, Sensei, thank you.”
Jeremy clicked his teeth and drew in a slow, audible breath through them. “… You hate to see it.”
He grabbed the black belt around his gi and tightened it. “Guess there’s only so far you can get by on that Green Belt, eh Marco?”
The bespectacled phone junkie Marco introduced to the trio as Peter looked at Jeremy with visible disgust and shook his head. “You know what? I can do better with my Fridays, later.”
Grabbing up his bookbag, the teenager walked out of the dojo and headed over to the record store next door. Marco and Sensei watched him leave, and the door swing closed in silence.
After a long, awkward pause, Sensei turned to his students. “All right everybody, if no one else has anywhere better to be, we’re going to proceed with today’s lesson.”
“Wow, what a great start to our first day of lessons,” Jo whispered to her brother and Roland… while hoping she could set Jeremy on fire with her glare.
Drew went over to Marco’s side, as Marco walked over towards the locker room of the dodo. “Marco, you okay?”
Looking up, his right hand gripping the back of his neck, Marco brightened. “Oh, I’m fine…” He looked forward. “It’s just…”
Roland joined them. “Kinda screwed up that he’d offer that position to you, then snatch it away?”
Marco agreed. “Yeah… but it’s not a big deal.”
Jo brought up the rear, glancing again at Jeremy out the corner of her eye. “He just kinda punked you in front of the whole class. How is it not a big deal?”
“I can get my Red Belt as soon as Monday, that’s how,” Marco argued. “Sensei’s kind of like that, but he didn’t mean to disrespect me.”
Jo rolled her eyes. “Yeah, because this dojo’s all about respect.”
Marco tensed up, then gestured to the locker room. “Spare gis are in there, just look for a size that fits you, and we can get started with stretches and what I intend to teach you going forward.”
Jo huffed. “Yeah, sure.”
She walked off into the girl’s side of the locker rooms.
Marco watched her go and sighed. Drew patted him on his shoulder. “For what it’s worth, if Jeremy or anybody here could see what you can do, you’d be running this dojo.”
Roland was in full agreement. “Yeah, we got your back.”
“Thanks. It’s not about running it or being in charge of anything.”
Marco sighed. “Don’t worry about it. We’ve only got so much time before we might have to go back to ‘work,’ you know?”
Drew and Roland both agreed and headed to the boys side of the locker room to get changed for practice. Marco headed back over to the corner of the mat where he’d be training the trio and took a deep breath to center himself. Out the corner of his eye he looked over at his sensei, eyeing the red belt tied around his gi.
“Don’t worry about it, Marco…” He told himself before taking a deep breath. “… Focus on the lesson and teach.”
As Marco began walking them through his stretches, Jeremy watched him and let a wicked little smile spread across his lips. This was going to be fun.
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