In 2006, a Jackson Pollock painting purportedly sold for one hundred and forty million dollars. The private sale was never confirmed and the precise whereabouts of the Pollock remains shrouded in mystery.
I looked at the wall at the framed letter sitting next to an image of a beautiful Mark Rothko painting. It was one of those museum four-panel cards with a separate inner space for writing. The card was cut in half with the front Rothko image on the left, and the inside writing component on the right. I didn’t read the letter often, but I knew what it said. It was there. It always seemed to make sense:
What do we strive for?
What do we need in life?
What things do we as human beings yearn for?
Success? Contentment? A Job? Art? Family? Love?
BAM!” I felt a fist hit me in the jaw and fell to the ground. Lucky for me, I was with my compadre Dr. Alexiev Shaw, former Israeli defense engineer and master of Krav Maga. Or should I say, unlucky for the three goons who thought they were going to make out like bandits right outside of the Red Rooster—Harlem’s latest trendy home-cooking restaurant. I never quite understood how Shaw got tied up with the Israeli Ministry of Defense, but he was always a bit of a mystery. In his grey Armani suit and blue Ferragamo tie, the six-foot-two-inch tall, olive-skinned Shaw looked somewhat subdued. We were about to present our latest startup venture—MATAL Inc.—to one of the hottest VCs in the world, but now that meeting was seriously in jeopardy.
“Guys, I will give you one chance to step back and leave as quickly as you came,” said Shaw with a very calm, French-accented voice. The goons just laughed!
“What the fuck you gonna do?” said an over-tattooed bandana-wearing goon wielding a switchblade.
“Yea!” said another equally tattooed goon holding a crow bar.
“Alex, just leave him alone.” I cringed. I did not want him to do what he did the last time. By the last time, I was referring to when “the gang of twelve” jumped him last spring. Each gang member wound up with permanent injuries, only Shaw was left unscathed.
“This fucker can’t do anything to us,” said a chuckling third goon. This third guy pulled out an even bigger, badder knife and began to move ever so slightly towards Alex.
Within a nanosecond, Alex moved opposite the third’s lunge, spun, and grabbed him from behind in a headlock, and with one rapid jerk broke the sucker’s neck, then twisted his arm. The blade clanged to the ground, falling alongside the now motionless assailant. The two other goons surrounded their fellow gang member, both simultaneously raised their weapons, one to his left, and the other to his right.
“You’ve got a problem, motherfucker. You’re gonna pay for that,” grunted the over-tattooed first goon.
“Yes,” snarled the second, “you can’t do that to us!” as he proceeded to raise his blade.
“By us, are you referring to both of you? I think you underestimate your opponent,” said Alex. With what looked like two twists, one lunge, and a kick, both goons were doubled over in pain—one flat on his face, the other fully supine.
“Matt, are you okay?” asked a concerned Alex.
I looked back at Shaw standing there after this ordeal, and it came to me. Perhaps it was the combination of his martial arts with his large muscular stature. No, it was the addition of his recently changed hairdo. Shaw had always parted his dark black hair and combed it behind his ears. Not now. He had let it grow, and now he combed his near-shoulder-length hair straight back in a ponytail. Yet his body, underneath the jacket and tie, was Schwarzenegger-esque. The entire package was more like Steven Seagal in Under Siege.
Seagal played a former Navy Seal serving as a cook on a military ship attacked by terrorists. Seagal—with his aikido jabs, kicks, twists, and spins—made chop suey out of the terrorists. And Shaw was the spitting image of Seagal. Perhaps the only difference in appearance when compared side by side to Seagal was a very slight twist to Shaw’s nose from some sort of brawl he preferred not to talk about. He originally told me he was into “jujutsu” to stay fit. But finally, after five years of our friendship, he confessed. It was not jujutsu at all. It was Krav Maga, the Israeli ancient art of self-defense. But those Israelis really didn’t play around. Krav Maga was not for fun, it was for survival. It was life or death, and Shaw knew how to survive, better than anyone I had ever met.
“I’m okay. How about you?” I responded. I knew Alex was fine, but I just had to ask. I also knew the three goons who attacked us were not okay, to put it mildly. But we had a meeting to go to, one that could change everything. Alex extended a hand and helped me to my feet. We both walked to the door, and he proceeded to open it as I made my way unobtrusively towards the bathroom in the far left-hand corner of the restaurant. I looked at him and said it.
“Has anyone ever told you that you bear a striking resemblance to Steven Seagal?”
“I have heard that once or twice,” Alex smugly responded.
I chuckled and then I said it: “Seagal for Shaw!” I was always poking fun at his last name. Substituting “Shaw” for sure. Now I had something else to poke fun at. I opened the door marked men, walked in, and looked in the mirror. My jaw was starting to swell, and my hair was disheveled. I cupped the water from the sink and splashed it on my face.
“MD,” I said to myself. “You have an important meeting to go to.” Again, I poured more water all over my face, then my hair, using my fingers to brush my drenched hair backwards in some semblance of what I thought would be a cool, entrepreneurial look.
“That’s better,” I thought. I proceeded to dry my face and my dripping wet hair with a paper towel, then straightened my black Saks Fifth Avenue V-neck T-shirt and fixed the collar on my Brooks Brothers herringbone blazer.
“Ready,” I said to myself as I made my way back toward Alex standing at the front with the maître d’.