Today, I read with great sadness of the death of Aleksey Vayner, who strode like a colossus through his own imgagination. Back in 2006, my brother Sweetums e-mailed a link to the "video resume" that catapulted Mr Vayner to internet infamy:
He appended a cryptic note, something to the effect of "check out the credits at the end, I think your mind will be blown". Sure enough, after six minutes of shameless, yet goofy, self-promotion, there was a dedication:
IN MEMORY OF RADOMIR KOVACEVIC
Back in the 90's, I had played "dummy" for Radomir in kids' judo and self-defense classes. Kovacevic was six feet, six inches tall, and 280 pounds of muscle and badassery. He competed in three Olympic games, and won a bronze medal. He was perhaps the funniest human being I've ever met- he could actually make you laugh even while he was kicking your ass (for example, he once had me in a classic arm bar, having one of my arms locked between his legs, and my other arm in his meaty paws, being extended in a direction anatomy never intended... while I was grimacing, he turned to the kids standing around us and joked in his heavy Slavic accent, "Look, he looks just like Jayzuz Christ." Hurting as I was, I had to chuckle).
Sweetums knew that the dedication to Radomir would catch my notice. Kovacevic played an integral role in the development of the "Big Bad Bald Bastard" character- in the 90's, I was working in the five boroughs of NYC investigating freaky insurance claims that the insurance companies gave up on and spending a few hours a week getting my ass kicked by a guy who would have made a perfect heavy in a James Bond film. If that's not enough to transform a bookish suburban kid into a bad bastard, I don't know what else would.
Like everybody who came into contact with him (including, no doubt, Vayner), I had a bunch of Radomir stories, two of which I particularly love to relate:
One morning, Radomir was teaching a class of eleven year old boys. While he was explaining a technique, some guy walked into the dojo, and one of the kids turned around. Radomir pointed at the kid and bellowed, "YOU! IF YOU ARE FUCKING GIRL, AND DOORBELL RINGS, ARE YOU GOING TO SAY, 'OH, I WONDER WHO IS AT THE DOOR... MAYBE IT'S MY FRIEND PETER.'? NO! YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT. WHEN YOU ARE WITH ME, YOU PAY ATTENTION TO ME ALONE!" The combined hilarity of a Serbian werebear using such language while yelling at an eleven year old, and the image of some guy telling his fuckbuddy, "Baby, maybe I should get the door" hit me like a truck full of comedy, but I knew that I'd be the next one to feel his wrath if I started laughing. I spent a good two minutes silently rocking back-and-forth, biting my lip until I could taste blood.
Another morning, Radomir was giving self defense advice to a class of twelve to fourteen year old girls. In characteristic fashion, his underdeveloped sense of vulgarity in the English language (he spoke Serbo-Croatian, Russian, Japanese, Italian, and English- he was an extremely smart guy, he just had a sailor's vocabulary at times) contributed some pure comedy gold to the grotesque physical comedy which was to follow. In this lesson, he was teaching a bunch of girls how a five foot tall woman could take on a six foot tall man. He, at six-six, was playing the woman's role:
"Look, you watch movie, and kung-fu woman beats the crap out of a man, but this is bullshit! In real life, an ordinary woman cannot beat an ordinary man fighting like a man. She must fight like a woman, nice and soft!"
At this time, I'm starting to have misgivings... Kovacevic stared to caress my face and said, "Make him think he is nicest guy in world. Ohhh... so nice." He's rubbing my cheeks and cooing in a falseeto, and then suddenly he pokes his thumbs into my eyes... nice and soft. I'm thinking, "Shit, my contacts..." when the knee comes up. He gave me the slightest "love tap" to the family jewels, and I'm on the mat, gasping and thinking, "Ow! My balls! Ow, my eyes! Ow, my balls!" The girls are standing around us in a circle, mouths agape, when Radomir roars at them, "WHY ARE YOU THINKING 'OH, POOR GUY.'?" DON'T WORRY ABOUT HIM, HE MUST LOOK AFTER HIMSELF! IF HE WERE CONCERNED ABOUT YOU, HE WOULDN'T HASSLE YOU IN FIRST PLACE!"
Good times... good times... there are other Radomir stories, like the time he limped into the dojo because he twisted his ankle while chasing the bodyguard of a minor celeb who tried to cut the line to the club he was bouncing, so he could beat said bodyguard up more, his habit of singing at the top of his lungs in restaurants, and if the manager came up to convey other diners' complaints, he'd hug the guy, and "convince" him to sing a duet. He succumbed to prostate cancer in 2006 at the appallingly young age of fifty-two. His memorial service was attended by about 800 people, and we laughed at all of our reminiscences of the man. I got off easy, he just beat the crap out of me... he mentored one tennis player who was too flat-footed on the court, and got him to stay on the balls of his feet by poking nails through the soles of his shoes. After the memorial service, there was a reception where the Slivovitz flowed like water.
So, what does this have to do with Aleksey Vayner, who also died altogether too young? Well, Vayner's cardinal mistake was to tell tall stories about himself, while Kovacevic allowed the people around him to tell tall tales, which just happened to be true. Vayner should have paid more attention to Kovacevic when he told his favorite joke:
A rooster was chatting with a bull. "I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree," sighed the rooster, "but I haven't got the energy." "Well, why don't you nibble on some of my droppings?" replied the bull. "They're packed with nutrients." The rooster pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. Soon he was spotted by a hunter, who promptly shot the rooster out of the tree. Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there.
It's a shame Vayner went into a bit of a downward spiral after he bacame internet infamous- he could have forged a great career as a paid huckster like the slap-chop guy. Having failed to sell himself as a product, he could have swallowed his pride and pushed other cheesy products like a champ.
Enough about Vayner, here's a memorial video about Radomir, where you can hear the man himself, so you can imagine him delivering his hilarious tirades in that accent:
Here's a video of one of his 1980 Olympic matches:
Watching that match, I recall a time when a friend of mine asked me what it was like getting the crap beaten out of me by that "big, ugly meathead". I replied, "He's no meathead, he speaks five languages and teaches philosophy. Come to think of it, he's not ugly either, he's actually kinda handsome in a 'heavy in a James Bond movie' kinda way." It's funny how some people want the big, tough, physically competent guy to somehow be deficient in some way. Some people can't accept the fact that some folks roll a bunch of "18's". Too bad his "constitution" roll wasn't as high as his others.