June 24, 2012

"36 to Desk ... Did you just say, fight?"

I stop short. "Did you just say, "Fire?""

"Right. A fire," the voice cracks back.

"A fire. A real fire, in the kitchen," I'm running - fires are bad; laundry and all its airborne lint is the worst - like fireworks shooting off in a gunpowder factory - but kitchen is bad too, what with all the grease, flour, pissed-off chefs ... I snatch an extinguisher I pass on the wall.

"That's what they said," the dispatcher's voice flat.

Like he cared - he hated this job, like everybody else, including me. For several years, (several years ago) I work at this five-star hotel as a security officer. Midnight shifts are supposed to be boring, predictable. But this is a weird start: First, a medical emergency - 'Housekeeper-bleeds-everywhere' cuts herself and runs to the security office. After patching her up, a call of "fire" and this is in the first ten minutes of shift change.

I race to the kitchen and yeah, they had a fire; flames and everything. Started with a discarded sterno unit nobody thought was still lit, and burned a bunch of trays. But there's no serious damage - a chef puts it out. Bit of a mess, but at least he didn't pull the ANSUL unit, which would have been a freaking disaster. I whip out my notepad to get his name for the report, which is all I ever seem to do - write reports. That's when I hear it, but ... it can't be right. I press my jacket mic to confirm, "36 to desk, repeat your last."

"(Garbled) ... fight!"

I process this. "A fight?"

"There's a FIGHT in the bar! GO!"

This is ridiculous. More has happened in the last 20 minutes than in six months. I drop the extinguisher and race to the bar. Larry, the bartender, is waiting outside. He's exasperated, desperate - not him, this guy is always mellow, like he has single malt for blood.

"The hell's going on?"

His arms in surrender, "They just won't stop ..."

We march in - the whole room is yelling - a crowd of people surround two men, one is young, in his twenties, wearing shorts and sandals - an odd choice for a swanky five-star hotel, but whatever. But the other fellow is also sporting odd fashion sense and it would turn out, that's what starts this fight.

See, this other guy is wearing a suit. A green suit. A really green suit, like, leprechaun green - he needs to be hoarding a pot of gold, dancing a jig this thing is so green. Now, he's an older guy and he's wagging his finger in the face of the kid and they're both trying to out scream everybody else's screams.

I raise my own voice - I can go hella loud when I want to - and the place quiets (I'm slightly proud of this), "People! Let's calm down! Now, what is going on?!" You know, hindsight is 20/20 and at this time I did not have it. As it turns out, these words are most probably exactly what I should NOT have said - it was just too good a set up ...

Green Suit turns to me and in a measured, calm tone says, "Hey, we were just enjoying our evening until this mother-" In this next moment several things happen at once. Let me detail: Green Suit screams, "FUCKER!!" and pastes the kid in the mouth with a left cross. The Kid drops like a stone and it is at this point God takes hold of the carpet with both hands and violently whip cracks it - the place literally goes up for grabs. In fact, this phrase, "goes up for grabs" doesn't accurately describe just how "Three Stooges" this scene becomes: It's like everybody is fighting everybody with pies, but there's no pies.

And then it hits me - holy crap, this is a melee. I mean, I grew up watching melees: Adam West and Burt Ward - melees every week as Batman and Robin against guest stars like Vincent Price as Egghead; The Monkees - sing a song, melee; The Banana Splits - meleed all over that jungle gym thingy they had. Melees were everywhere when I was growing up, clearly instilling zero respect for them, because let me tell you, melees are not wholesome, silly fun, where mustachioed bad guys in top hats are maypoled to a post as you dance to Benny Hill's raunchy theme. Real melees suck. And this one sucks ass: Women are throwing wine glasses everywhere - shattering - furniture is whipped around, shit gets all kinds of broken, everybody's swinging at everyone, screaming, crying - in one second this five-star hotel bar becomes a SLAYER mosh pit with sharks with lasers on their freakin' heads.

Now, rather than start Kung Fu-ing everybody, I decide I am not going to Kung Fu anybody. In fact, I decide, rather quickly, to restrain the biggest guy - a barrel-chested fellow, head down, like the famous toughman 'Butterbean,' knocking people down left and right. I grab hold of his elbows from the front and pin them to his sides - he sees me and gives in, not wanting to fight the "law," I guess. I yell at everyone else to stop fighting. This works as well as distracting a dog from a meaty bone with an algebra expression, demanding he solve for x. "Solve it, Rover! Solve for x, now!"

Green Suit and the Kid wind up on the floor, with Greeny choking Kid from behind like a jiujitsu match. But Greeny's poor technique is about as close to choking the Kid out as he is of winning respect for his fashion choices, so I have time to talk him out of continuing his 'head hug of doom,' or whatever it was. Finally, they separate, everybody gets up, dusts off ... and leaves! Just like that! I'm left dumbstruck and a little lost. I look at my partner, who must have showed up after the whip crack - "Should we call the police?" My partner yells into his mic, "CALL THE POLICE, NOW!"

Chicago PD arrives - in like, two seconds - with a cigar-chomping, fedora-wearing detective right out of some cancelled cheesy cop show. Butterbean retires to his room to sleep on his mattress that I later learn is made entirely of strippers, but Green Suit gets mouthy with the family (as they run for the elevators) as well as the cops, which is hilarious. He gets restrained and a good talking to. Probably about his wardrobe.

I would find out later, the Kid is here with his family - mom, dad, brothers, sisters, grandma - from Michigan, celebrating his twenty-first birthday. Isn't that nice? They are staying at this five-star hotel - hundreds of dollars a night - to celebrate their big boy's b-day and are all getting shitfaced on top shelf when Green Suit and his buddy waltz in and the Kid makes a crack about the suit. Green Suit's buddy, Butterbean, is the owner of a local strip club and has just spent more than $300,000 at this hotel's ballroom for the wedding of his daughter. (Flowers $80 grand, cake $14 grand, pounding a grandma and her punk grandson for insulting your pal after your daughter's wedding reception - priceless.) Yes, he has just come from the ballroom where his daughter's wedding reception is, walked into this bar, and rumbled with a whole family from Michigan. Stay classy.

Now, before we get to the family, ask yourself: When was the last time you brawled alongside your mom, dad, sisters, and grandma against two "Goodfella" extras from Central Casting? If your answer is anything other than "never," I will assume you have a very exciting life up there in Michigan. This family - still drunk and who were more than happy to fight these two goofs - now firmly believe that Butterbean will awake from his silicone-rich stripper bed, and join Greeny to flat-out execute them in their rooms with silenced hi-tech pistols as they rappel from the rooftop and shoot through the windows. Totally serious here.

Riding up in the elevator with them, I whip out my note pad to get their names and - NO NAMES! The family nearly jumps me at the very thought, lest like spies they be "burned" or something. (I roll my eyes - I don't remind them they are all on file at the front desk.) They pack their bags like Jason Bourne on the run from a Ninja hit squad and insist on fleeing the hotel from the dock - usually reserved for fleeing celebrities and fleeing heads of state - to escape back to Michigan, unless that's a contradiction in terms.

I would spend the rest of the morning writing the stupid report. I was so proud of it I kept it and was just going to re-post it here, but must have lost it.

Damn shame - best report ever.

June 18, 2012

A Book Worth Reading

Some years ago I was on the bus, reading a book, headed to a job I hated. I have since quit the job and finished the book. I still ride the bus from time to time.

As I remember it, it was a good book. It had a fine cover, nice print, and was sized well enough to carry each day without hassle. The quality of its paper was decent and would absorb ink from my red pen, should I mark notes. It was non fiction. As a rule, I only read non fiction. I write fiction and find myself uninterested in the delusions of others - I have enough of my own.

On this particular day it was sunny. Perhaps it was summer. The bus itself was crowded, stuffy. I was riding at rush hour. I was standing in the isle reading my book. I do not remember which page.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that this rush hour bus, normally loud with banal conversations and cell phone use, had become quiet, and strangely so. It is the kind of quiet one does not welcome, even while trying to read a book worth reading. It is the kind of quiet that makes one wish it were not quiet. The kind of quiet that makes one pay attention. And so, I stopped reading my book and paid attention.

This is what I saw: Two men, sitting on opposite sides of the bus, were, let us say, interacting. One was yelling - terribly so. The other, made faces back. This might not have been unusual had they each been four years old. Or six. Or ten. But they were older than this. Old enough to know better, although their behavior belied this point. The faces of the Face-maker were varietal, spontaneous - a kissy face, a tongue-sticking-out face, a scrunchy face. Had he made them to a baby they might have been cute, endearing even, bringing squeals of laughter or joy from a brand-new person just now discovering the world. But the man on their receiving end - the Yeller - clearly not a baby, was not amused. He was downright mad and getting madder. And what was clear to me (and I am certain clear to Face-maker as well) was the profanity and spitting intensity of Yeller, as well as his odd fashion sense, body language, word choice, and inflection - think of a riled-up Barney Fief - pegged him as mentally challenged, unstable even. And these "cute" faces were provoking him.

I don't know who started it, in fact, I didn't care. I could not concentrate to read, and no one else, I noticed, could much concentrate either. Yeller was yelling louder - and at shorter intervals - and Face-maker's face-making grew more intense. I watched the bus driver for signs of intervention, but there were none - he was nervous. I knew he was nervous - scared, maybe - because although this situation merited attention, he withheld it - not a word, not a stare, not even a glance. He drove in determined ignorance.

I folded the corner of the page I was reading, so as to return to it, and made my way forward, weaving and squeezing past the stolid riders of the terminally quiet bus to finally step into the loud and charged space between Yeller and Face-maker. Once positioned directly between them, so as to force them to look around me to continue, I reopened my book and watched the page. And as I watched the page I watched both of them peripherally. I never once looked at them. I never once acknowledged them.

Now, the yelling did not stop. The faces did not either. And for several moments this dynamic duo peered around me and continued their awkward conversation with more profanity and more faces. But not for long. Soon, the yelling grew less, then quieted. And the faces became like reruns - his creativity exhausted.

Eventually they both settled. The drone of the bus' engine became noticeable again. The conversations banal again. I stayed where I was, managed to find my place upon the page and concentrate on my book.

It was a good book, as I remember.

One worth reading.

June 4, 2012

Confessions of a "Real-Life Ninja"

"Upcoming guest on the podcast: REAL-LIFE NINJA! Send us questions for the ninja..."

-Nerd Nite Podcast Twitter Feed
Okay, I got interviewed. About ninjas.

"Nerd Nite Podcast" host Dan Rumney interviews people around the globe from authors to neurologists and the fact their expertise makes them a "nerd." Now, if you have 50 minutes to burn, have at the interview, perhaps you'll find it mildly interesting. Like pineapple salsa.

Nerd Nite Podcast - Episode 20

How did I feel being interviewed as a "Real-Life Ninja?" Easy - I said I wasn't a 'real-life ninja.' In fact, with the exception of Hatsumi sensei, there are no more ninjas. And yet, I can't completely deny any connection.

Look, if you meet someone who says they are a real-life ninja, or insists they can teach you to become a real-life ninja, you need not think further, need not trouble your weary mind for answers, for the truth is staring you - crazily and wild-eyed, probably - in the face. Don't ask questions, don't become argumentative, just relax, breathe - smile even, it will calm them - and back away.

Saying you're a real-life ninja is like saying you're training to be Batman - it's weird. In all my years training I have never, not even one time, used the word "ninja" to promote myself. Ever. I know of no one training legitimately who would either. The baggage attached to the word highlights the stylized, confused, and stereotypic view society has concerning ninjas and martial arts in general.

Not the hero treats deserved, but the one they needed.
It's also an example of the double edge of the ninja craze: Serious practitioners are often defined by the loudest frauds and loonies looking to live up to, train up to the hype of being a "ninja." And like I mentioned in the interview, instead of being inspired by Batman's sense of justice and doing something worthwhile, they're duct taping their batsuit together and spray painting their mom's Camry black. These are the same people buying antique Chinese scrolls on eBay to claim they're inherited densho from Soke Cucamonga.

You will cover up that sack ...
I know of no other martial art with the kind of deep-rooted misconceptions like those found in Ninjutsu. And one really does have to shrug it off - ninja stuff is tailor made to be exploited and exaggerated - what with all the shadowy, black-clad assassin, cloak-and-dagger, mythical nonsense that's attributed to it. And yet, these stereotypes reveal the very aspects people find intriguing. On a recent video shoot for a temp agency, one of my guys met a woman known as the "Office Ninja." She gets sent in ahead of time to handle all the logistics - it was even on her business cards.

People want to be invincible, undefeatable, they want access to that kind of power or at least training that they believe can lead to it. And when they don't or can't find answers about the training, they make it up - they find an answer that satisfies. And so, you wind up with handfuls of "YouTube ninjas" doling out everything from techniques to recipes.
Full disclosure: Had it. Wore it. Loved it. 

But here's the funny part: The reality of training, the actuality of the art, is way cooler - WAY 'effing cooler - than any comic book could ever detail, than any exaggeration could imagine. Use any weapon? Move/fight from any disadvantage? Turn "invisible?" Absolutely. All true. All totally true. True because within reality is the real way to do it. The folks trying to live up to the hype are only seeing the cartoonish aspects of the art, in other words, only what they can imagine. "Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." So, they are unconscious of the art's tactics, strategies, and principles, let alone its values, morals, and ethics - the stuff that can actually assist us in living better lives and help others to do so as well.

RealLifeNinja says: Everybody wins.
So, what is the reality? Simple: I study not just a martial art, which is actually a combination of historical Japanese lineages and techniques; I also train a martial way, a manner of perceiving the art and its inherent principles so I can apply them under the circumstances in which I need to protect myself and others to live a better life.

Crap. Maybe I am a real-life ninja. Except, like, you know, in real life and stuff ...