Tunnel Times: Verbal self-defense versus martial art

by Adrian Manson (agm6morr@gmail.com)


[Author's note: Even though the book is an anachronism (it was published in 1996), I made it appear in the 1980's for the punchline. This has nothing to do with my series set in 2020; it is set in 1988.]


Father sighed as he heard the discordant voices of young people arguing in one of the chambers. It had been bad enough that Mouse (with the assistance of a Helper Above) had found a toy printing press and wanted to come up with a newspaper. Now, Father wondered what the collected youths were arguing over this time.

Still, he had chosen this role because his moral ethos was certainly better than John Pater's. Hopefully, this wouldn't be like the last debate where William wanted to run a small distillery... Although Father said 'No' to that idea, there are times he wished he had let William have his way. After dealing with so many pressing Council issues, a cool alcoholic drink would be good right now.

As he entered the chamber, Father could see the fracas revolving around Kipper and Jamie. Kipper had some black squares he couldn't make out; knowing Kipper, it probably had to do with entertainment. Jamie was holding up a book and gesturing wildly at it. Father couldn't read the title, but the first title word was 'Tongue.'

Heading to the center where Jamie and Kipper were, Father said, “What is going on?” in a sharp tone. Seeing his firmly polite tone was not calming the argument, he said louder, “Will everyone PLEASE be silent?”

That got everyone's attention in the room. As the voices began to die down, Father turned to Kipper and Jamie. 

“I have heard your loud voices for the past fifteen minutes echoing into my chamber,” Father said. “Now can someone please explain what this vociferous debate is about?” Then he amended it by holding up his right hand, saying, “Kipper, please speak first.”

“What's vociferous?” Geoffrey asked.

“I dunno,” Samantha said. “I guess it means we've been really loud.”

“I just found some VCR tapes that are Run Run Shaw movies,” Kipper explained. “I wanted to play them for this evening.”

“I see two problems with that logic, Kipper,” Father replied. “In order to play a tape, there must first be a machine to play them, correct?”

“Right, Father.”

“And just WHERE do you think you could get such a machine?” Father asked, his gaze burning deep into Kipper's eyes.

“Well, Mr. Chang in Chinatown runs a video store. Maybe we could borrow one of his machines to work down here. Mouse could find a way to make it work.” Kipper paused. “Or all of us could go to Mr. Chang's and watch the movies after hours.”

“One option is out of the question,” Father said in a dismissive tone. “Although Mr. Chang is a good friend of this community, I do not want to take liberties with his generosity. If we try to bring a machine and try to plug it into Mouse's setup, there is too much risk of the machine being damaged.”

Seeing Kipper's downcast face, Father softened. “Kipper, notice I did not say you and the others couldn't visit him. However, before I do that, I wish to ask a second question. Just who is Run Run Shaw?”

Father noticed that Kipper's face looked down on the floor. “He's a director of…mumble mumble.”

“Director of what, Kipper?” Father asked in an imperious tone. “I hope these films are not something that I would prohibit to a younger audience. I detest those who contribute to the delinquency of a minor. So speak louder and slowly. What is he a director of?” 

“Martial arts movies. They're about kung fu.” Kipper said, knowing what would happen next.

“Martial arts movies,” Father said, weighing his words carefully. “Then I suppose they are not rated G, are they?”

“Yes, sir. They're not.”

Father came over and reached out to Kipper, putting his right hand on his shoulder. 

“Kipper, I know you – and the other boys – might like those kinds of movies. I remember when I sneaked into movie theaters to watch films, especially those you call war movies. But there are some harsh truths that can only be appreciated when you are older. I made this community to prevent the violence Above from coming down here.”

Father paused. “I know you are smart enough not to imitate those movements on screen, but what if some other boys here imitate those stunts? Right now, medical supplies are near critical levels until my colleagues can help me resupply. I can't waste them on broken bones or noses as boys perform the stunts from those images.”

“I'm sorry, Father,” Kipper said, near tears. “I didn't think.”

“I understand, Kipper,” Father replied. “Now, let me take those tapes back to Mr. Chang. When all of you youths are 18, then you can see them in Mr. Chang's shop.”

After taking them, Father turned to Jamie, who had an elated look on her face.

“That does not mean I will acquiesce to your request either, young lady,” Father said. “Now what is that book? I see it has the word, 'Tongue.' It better not be prohibited material either.”

Jamie turned and showed Father the cover. It read, Tongue Fu!: How To Deflect, Disarm, and Defuse Any Verbal Conflict. 

“I bought this in a second-hand bookstore,” Jamie said. “It was only a dollar. I read a few pages and thought this would be useful for us, especially as we young people debate.”

“It probably would be,” Father replied. “After you're finished reading it, I wouldn't mind taking a few lessons from it, too. Goodness knows, I can be rather trenchant in my Council remarks.” 

“What's trenchant?” Samantha whispered.

“Dunno,” Penny answered. “Probably refers to the Tunnels here.”

Father continued, “Jamie, I don't mind letting you teach a few lessons from that book to prevent further disturbances like I just resolved today. And, Kipper, next week, you can take this mob to Mr. Chang's to watch a Disney movie like The Canterville Ghost.”  

“The short story by Oscar Wilde?” Kipper said. “Cool!”

As the crowd began to break up and chat about more pleasant topics, Father wondered where Mouse was. He certainly would have wanted to print this.

The next day, Father saw a Tunnel Times with the following headline:

Tongue Fu defeats Kung Fu!

Father sighed. Then he turned to Mary and said, “Just where was Vincent yesterday? I'd have thought he'd be interested in what the youths were debating.”

Instead of responding immediately, Mary gave a knowing smile. Then she said, “Let's just say Vincent took a page out Jamie's book and has...resolved...his conflict with Catherine. Considering he came in a few minutes before you woke up this morning, I would say he was teaching lingua franca to Catherine with his rather impressive lingua.

At that last remark, Father raised both eyebrows.

[Editor's remark: Mr. Manson, not to bring up my – distinguished – age, but I remember reading Damon Knight and his stories. Like you, he indulged in frequent stories with paronomasia. But whereas HE was a knight in shining armor, you, sir, are my worst KNIGHT-mare! As you can see, turnabout is fair play.]

And now, the following musical interlude (with profuse apologies to Carl Douglas):

Whoah-ho-ho-ho! Whoah-ho-ho-ho! Whoah-ho-ho-ho!

Everybody was tongue-fu fighting,

Those words were fast as lightning

In fact, it was a little bit frightening

But they fought with expert timing!

Here comes Devin with a quip,

Jamie gives a comeback from her lip.

Catherine's flirts to Vincent with some sport

While Vincent keeps his feelings short.

Everybody was tongue-fu fighting

Those words were fast as lightning

In fact it was a little bit frightening

But they fought with expert timing!

Father enjoys his snark

While William snipes on a lark

Mary just wants to pray

This melee will go away.

Whoah-ho-ho-ho! Whoah-ho-ho-ho! Whoah-ho-ho-ho!