Once upon a time in Oklahoma City—and, quite possibly, the rest of this infernal country—it wasn’t such a strange sight to see teenagers of all sorts carting around cheap replicas of dangerous weapons in their pockets and belt-loops, non-threateningly flashing them with underage bravado, from their backyard to their schoolyard.
These weapons, typically Chinese throwing stars or metal-handled nunchaku, were seemingly always purchased from the one and only local arms purveyor that would feed these kids’ need for outlandish tools of cartoon violence with aloof tenacity, the anonymous replica weapons dealers that set up vaunted booths at the once-many flea markets that blanketed this town.
The replica weapons dealer never learned your name and you never learned his, but his mildly-hushed legend was passed around like the brass knuckles that were picked up there last weekend, each child that handled them “ooh”-ing and “aah”-ing as they wrapped their mitts around them, desperately thinking up the various nefarious ways to get to the flea market for their very own pair.
Twenty years or so ago, the premier choice for many impressionable youths was the fabled AMC Flea Market Mall. Located at the corner of N.W. 10th and Penn, this once stellar crown jewel of the Ten-Penn District was one-shop dirt-mall shopping for most of us who enjoyed heavily used and primarily bootlegged goods at below dumpster-diving prices.
You always knew you were near the replica weapons dealer, as his stall was typically surrounded by homemade Bruce Lee posters; made up of various film stills, freeze-frames or magazine clippings, they were badly rendered but already laminated for a only a few dollars, a small price to pay for a two-fisted prologue.
The stall’s glass case featured a panoply of armaments that you would usually find only in the most imaginative of action flicks, like real switchblades, butterfly knives and Cimmerian-styled daggers, while on the wall hung grappling-hooks, sais and truncheons of all kinds, from tonfa sticks to billy clubs. But it was the items along the back wall that held the most magical promise of imagined martial arts action.
Swords that could be used by either a well-trained ninja or neck-defending Highlander were the eye-candy, but the smaller items like the kusarigama—or chain sickle—and the collapsible bo-staff were the truly sweet treats, the maybe-real weapons of ancient Asian countries, or at least what we kids saw in the Saturday afternoon TV screenings of Kung-Fu Theater. All that was missing was the flying guillotine.
This ancient trend of bargain artillery continues to live on in the Asian weapons store at the remaining Old Paris Flea Market, 1111 S. Eastern. Far beyond the turkey legs and Nazi flags of the other stalls, this booth beautifully proves how the faux-weapons dealer has moved into the 21st century, offering glock-style pellet guns, walking sticks with a covert tazer, and full-sized Klingon bat’leths, that I suggest kids should invest in now, because it will be the weapon of the future, biHnuch.
As I walked by the booth last weekend, I peered down into the glass counter, dangerously looking at a few inexpensive batarangs and switchblade combs; a small child walked up next to me and started to rattle off in childish gibberish a bucket list of sorts, one of all the weapons he wished he could buy for himself when he “got some money.”
An adult myself now, I walk a mostly different path, the teenage life of imagined bloodsports far behind me. But, that kid gave me the pathetic hope that somewhere in this city, sometime a few years from now, the formidable replica weapons dealer will hopefully still be around, ready to sell him and many others like him their first discount katana blade, a weapon that’ll probably break before he even gets home.