Friday, February 18, 2005

Psychopathic Ninja Mission from God

At age twelve, I logically decided to start smoking, choosing menthols because I liked flavors such as peppermint and wintergreen. I skipped school with a friend of mine, his older brother, and his brother’s friend, and we drove to downtown Nashville to tour the state capital and other government buildings. Rather than join any official tours, we wandered around looking like truant high and middle schoolers. I remember I wore my Army field jacket, surplus from the Korean war, and a bad attempt at spiked hair. For some reason, we aroused no suspicion (I miss the pre 9/11 days) and so I bought my very first pack of cigarettes (Salem) in front of a pack of security guards manning the marble lobby counter in some huge and fancy government building, dressed like a militant punk rocker.

I spent the next couple of years learning to smoke with varying degrees of success. My best friend (not the guy from the last paragraph) and I would buy a pack from one of the many convenience stores that sold tobacco to minors (especially if you flashed a blade, but that’s another story), hike for several miles into the woods, light one, take a hit, then decide to quit smoking and throw the entire pack away. After months of intense training, we got to where we could finish a whole cigarette and enjoy an early smoker’s high. By the time we turned fourteen, we could finish a whole pack in less than a week, if you count the times we lit up, gagged, said “I don’t want to smoke this,” and then tossed it away, inadvertently setting the woods ablaze, but that’s another story.

During this time, the low budget ninja movie craze swept the nation, at least for us teenaged boys who wanted to be Sho Kosugi. As part of my ninja training, I decided to skip the actual training itself and just purchase the outfit and weapons I needed from the mall. The weapons they sold were better suited for hanging on the wall than actual combat, but that didn’t stop us from sharpening them to a razor-fine edge and cutting ourselves to bloody ribbons. Sometimes, for safety’s sake, we practiced with sticks, which limited our injuries to bumps, bruises, and the occasional concussion. Those were fun days, and I have the scars to prove it.

True exchange:
Friend: Hold my knife.
Grant: *takes knife*
Friend: Aiiieee!
Lesson learned: Although a courteous gesture, never hold a knife by the blade while offering it to someone else.

True exchange #2:
Friend: Toss me my knife. (You can see where this is going. In my defense, I once stabbed him in the back while swinging at a weed, which proves he has poor judgment since he asked me to throw the knife directly to him, and therefore I am not to blame for what happened next).
Grant: *tosses knife*
Friend: Aiiieee! *Abandoning all pretense of ninja discipline and bearing, chases me up the nearest tree with a running lawnmower* But that’s another story.
Lesson learned: None, really. It was just kind of funny.

So one night after school we were hanging at his house, about to go outside to sneak a cigarette when my friend discovered that he had DROPPED HIS PACK OF CIGARETTES. Oh, the humanity! Never mind the fact that we both smoked the same brand and I had a full pack myself. We had to find the Missing Pack (kind of like the Brass Monkey, or Jade Scorpion, or Maltese Falcon, only much more important). We had a Mission. Since we didn’t want to be seen or identified, it only made sense that this be a Ninja Mission. Since we had recently watched the Blues Brothers (and were still quoting the movie), we decided that we must be on a Mission from God. To that we added the phrase Psychotic, because we were into insanity and it made everything sound cooler. Final title of the evening: Psychopathic Ninja Mission from God to Find the Lost Pack of Cigarettes.

We put on our full ninja regalia, including hoods and cleft boots (they had an opening between the primary and backup toes to help scale walls). To that we added every bit of ninja weaponry we owned. I had a katana (I opted for the straight 36 inch blade instead of the 24, which made it a real bitch to draw from my back), sais, assorted shurikens, nunchakus, tonfas, a kama (complete with detachable weighted handle connected to the pole with a chain), some thing with an iron ring connected by a twelve foot chain to a blade shaped like a fireplace poker, a sharpened letter opener with an oriental paint job, and an array of non-Asian knives (among them my Arkansas toothpick with the ten inch blade, a buffalo skinner, and a replica of a WWII Marine combat knife). My friend was similarly armed, although he had a curved katana (which means nothing, nothing at all, so don’t read into it).

And so we set out into the suburban wilderness, blissfully carrying enough violations to incur multiple consecutive death sentences if caught. Catlike, we slipped through the night air, invisible as morals, intangible as shadows, silent as the deadliest of farts. Maybe that’s not exactly true. Weighted with enough iron to build a Cadillac, we half trotted, half waddled through people’s yards, sounding like a pair of over-laden silverware thieves. We troddled through his neighborhood, some empty fields, and a pair of parks (one recreational, one trailer). We managed to scale the wall protecting the trailer park (or keeping the inhabitants locked in, whichever), but when I landed on the ground half of my weaponry spilled out of my suit, sounding like the silverware thief was just hit by a truckload of church bells. We screamed and ran in circles, and then I scooped my weaponry into my arms and we troddled away. Nobody saw us, or gave a damn if they did. From that day forth, I was known as the Black Wind, but only to myself.

I don’t remember if we ever found the cigarettes. I think we gave up and just bought another pack after changing back to our civilian identities. Sorry if that is a bit anti-climactic, but it reinforces what I’ve said all along – life is not about a destination, but the journey itself. At least we had fun without being killed, or caught by the police, or (worst of all) caught by our parents.

Now that I think of it, we never set the woods on fire with a cigarette. Gasoline, lighter fluid, and fireworks – yes, but never with a cigarette. The incident I was thinking of happened a day after we attempted to smoke and my friend threw away his pack in an attempt to quit for the umpteenth time. The next day he wanted to start again, slightly miffed that I didn’t retrieve his discarded pack and keep it for him, so we walked across a dry field to buy more. On the way, he lit a jumping jack which we thought to be a dud. After a few seconds it jumped up, blazed across our path (nearly hitting us both), and set the field on fire.

But that’s another story.


Weary Hag said...

I had huge laughs while reading this post! First thing it reminded me was back in the 70s when I saw "Five Fingers of Death" about five times in a local theater. Haven't thought about that in ages...
This writing is excellent!


Jef said...

hmmmm forgot about the lawnmower....
next time you wont be so lucky, you're old and slow now <>-<>

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