I'm behind a Honda Element with three bullet holes across the back. You guessed it — West L.A., specifically that gritty stretch near the Overland exit. No, I don't know for sure that they are real bullet holes. But in this end of town, I just assume everything I see is authentic.
I am on my way to Hunger Games Training, a Saturday class in the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center, near Fox Studios. Archery. Self-defense. Primping. Sarcasm. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse. If you were looking at how to behave during some sort of cataclysmic meltdown, where better to learn?
Hunger Games Training is either the most brilliant little piece of marketing I have seen in ages or just another way to rip off a pretty good book. Because I like to think the best of people, I think it's brilliant.
"I wanted to meet like-minded lethal folks who enjoy young adult novels," is how another student, Michael Taylor, explains being here.
Can you tell Taylor's a writer? Can you tell he lives in Studio City?
Me, I don't like writers who go around mocking everything. I, and most of the 20 other Hunger Games students, are here to learn how to kill things with a bow and arrow, or how to kick-box an attacker in dim light — or, at the very least, poke someone's eyes out, like in "The Three Stooges."I highly recommend that flick as well. If they ever hold a Three Stooges survival class, I'm in (and you're coming with me).
Anyway, back to Hunger Games for a second. One of the first things martial arts instructor Philippe Til of Origin Motion Fitness suggests is that if an armed thug demands your car, just give him the keys. I laugh, because my car is about to blow up anyway, a ton and a half of Hessian metal hiss-popping at stoplights. It is the only vehicle I've ever owned with a sense of ennui.
Yet, Til is the perfect guy to teach a martial arts class in West L.A. He is movie star handsome and moves like a lemur. He speaks with a hint of his native French, and when he says, "Suppose I was trying to attack you ..." several of the female participants visibly swoon.
In the first half of the three-hour class ($75 on the travel and adventure website Zozi), we learn how to duck away from an attacker, and if that doesn't work, pound his genitals with our feet.
The assumption, which I find pretty sexist, is that all attackers are men. Historically, this may be accurate, but it's not very inclusive. I have two daughters, both of whom could kick my keister and one day will — probably the frantic morning of their weddings when they discover I put a $10,000 limit on the open bar.
"You guys are now trained bad-asses," Til says when we are done.
"Or just asses," another student mumbles.
The archery portion of the class is taught by Alejandro Barahona, who did not put his bow down once. I took that as a sign that danger was eminent.
Evidently, the most important part about archery is that you not shoot your fellow archers. I think that goes against the sport's original spirit: to kill villagers across the highlands and the occasional musk ox that wanders into the kitchen looking for scraps.
In fact, Barahona spends a ton of time talking about safety, then helps us determine which is our "dominant eye," so we know whether to shoot left- or right-handed.
As luck would have it, I have no dominant eye. Just submissive eyes. Which probably explains why I'm now missing a toe.
"The things you would do naturally are wrong," notes classmate Erin Buena, of the counterintuitive techniques in archery.
But it's fun, this class, and the fellow students are friendly without being look-at-me obnoxious. That's quite an accomplishment, given that a couple are actresses, and several others act like actresses, especially the men (the core of the young-lit market).
Best of all, we discover that the Cheviot Hills archery range is free — equipment too. You need to take a beginner's class first, and the Hunger Games course qualifies as that.
"Hmmm, I didn't know you could do anything for free in L.A.," says student Stephanie Eastman.
Me either. And it only cost me 75 bucks to find out.
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