Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ninja 101

     “Doggone it!”
     Randy slammed the front door shut as soon as he entered his house. He was still dripping wet, but paid no attention to the mess he made as he stomped across the carpet. Instead, he marched straight into the kitchen, took off his shirt and wrung it out in the sink.
     Sparky, Randy’s beagle, heard the commotion and trotted into the kitchen. When he saw Randy standing shirtless over the sink, he let out a grunt—not that it was unusual to see Randy standing above the sink without a shirt, but because Randy looked extra angry today.
     Randy sighed. “No, I’m not okay Sparky. That pesky Mrs. Pearson hosed me again.”
     For the third time this week, Mrs. Pearson, Randy’s next-door neighbor, caught him trying to steal carrots from her garden. Randy wanted the carrots so he could catch a rabbit to keep Sparky company when he was away. He tried to explain to Mrs. Pearson that he was only thinking of Sparky’s well-being, but that selfish old bag didn’t even give a hoot. Instead, she just yelled at him and chased him away with the garden hose. This was the third time Randy had to hang up his underwear to dry in the kitchen window.
     “I just don’t know what to do, Sparky.” Randy scratched the beagle behind the ears before taking off his boxers. “I try to be quiet, but she hears me every time. I wish I was a ninja. Then I’d be so sneaky she could look right at me and not even know I was there.”
     Sparky let out a little yap.
     “Why can’t I be a ninja? Well, it’s not that easy, Sparky. Not just anyone can do it. You have to go through all sorts of ninja training and buy ninja clothes. And there’s probably some kind of certification you need to do it properly.”
     Sparky yapped again.
     “Well… honestly, I don’t know why I can’t do it,” Randy said as he pulled off his socks. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to look into it.”
     After he hung up the last of his clothes, Randy walked outside and began digging through stacks of old mail and newspapers in his recycling bin until he found the class schedule from the local adult education center. He remembered throwing it in there last week after using it to kill a big spider that scared Sparky. The spider guts were still on the back cover.
     Randy quickly flipped through the computer training and cooking classes until he found what he was looking for. There it was: Introduction to the Ninja Arts. And the good news was that the class met on Tuesday and Thursday evenings starting next week, so it wouldn’t interfere with Randy’s knitting circle.
     “What luck,” he said. “But there’s a $65 class fee. Is it really worth it?”
     Just then a stream of cold water hit him in the face.
     “Put some clothes on, you hippie!” shouted Mrs. Pearson from the yard next door. She had the garden hose aimed right at him with the sprayer on the highest setting.
     Randy made up his mind as he ran back to the house.

     The next six weeks of ninja training were grueling. Randy had never worked so hard in his life, but he learned all sorts of neat tricks, like how to become shadows and how to throw ninja stars and how to do a triple backflip and rip a person’s heart out with your bare hands (to be fair, Randy never actually did all of those, but he understood the diagrams and was confident in his ability to pull them off when needed). It was tough, because Randy had to give up a lot of his favorite TV shows for the class, but he knew it would be worth it in the end. After all, he could always watch the reruns of Downton Abbey later.
     Finally, the big day came when Randy finished the class and received a certificate of completion signed by the instructor, Mr. Schmidt. Randy couldn’t have been more proud as he hung the framed certificate above the toilet. Sparky watched him do it and barked twice as they both took a step back to admire it.
     “Thanks Sparky,” said Randy, a little teary-eyed. “You know, this is all for you, and it’s totally worth it. Now let’s get us some carrots!”
     This time, instead of going out in midday, Randy waited until dark. Thanks to his ninja class, he realized that was probably his biggest mistake in the past. He also learned a few other tricks, such as wearing dark clothes instead of neon green, choosing his path wisely instead of running through the rose bushes and setting his cell phone to vibrate. Before venturing out, Randy wrapped himself in his ninja clothes and looked over his figure in the mirror. Why, he made a dashing ninja if he said so himself!
     “Wish me luck, pal,” he said to Sparky as he grabbed his nunchucks and disappeared out the door (Sparky let out only a subtle yap so as to preserve Randy’s element of surprise).
     Randy’s heart was racing as he darted across his lawn. He didn’t stop moving until he was hidden within the shadow of the big elm tree that separated the two yards. For a moment, he felt he was in over his head and thought about turning back, but one thought of Sparky restored his resolution. He hadn’t gone through all that work for nothing. Randy was a ninja now, and ninjas have to do these kinds of things. He took a deep breath and ran over the property line into Mrs. Pearson’s territory.
     The garden was in sight, but Randy knew better than to cut across the open yard. Instead, he darted over to the edge of the house and stood in the shadow of the chimney, then ran for cover under the oversized birdbath, then to the line of rose bushes that only pricked him a few times. Finally, after a few more jumps between Mrs. Pearson’s lawn ornaments, Randy found himself in the middle of her vegetable garden looking down at a row of carrot tops sticking out of the ground. He had never gotten this far before! He did it!
     Randy had never felt such an adrenaline rush. He let out a “Wahoo!” but quickly quieted down before giving away his position. Reminding himself that he wasn’t done yet, he knelt down, grabbed the tallest carrot top within reach and pulled as hard as he could. A few seconds later, the earth gave and the veggies tore through the ground, causing Randy to fall backwards. As he lay there, completely elated, he held up his prize in the moonlight. It was at that moment he noticed something was wrong: instead of long, thin orange carrots, he saw stubby dark round bulbs at the end of the greens he was holding.
     “Why, these are the funniest carrots I’ve ever seen,” he said out loud.
     “That’s because I don’t grow carrots. I grow beets,” said Mrs. Pearson from her back door, just before she turned on the garden hose.

     And so, Randy learned the hard way that a six week course at an adult education center just doesn’t give you the same training as a two-year intensive program from an accredited college.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Centennial

Today marks my 100th daily story! It's been great to watch my pageviews rise and I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to check out this blog. Setting a goal to write something every day has certainly kept me from feeling lazy, but it has also been time consuming and a little stressful (especially when I’m banging my head against my desk at one in the morning trying to think of a subject). I’d like to devote more time to work on longer and more refined pieces for submissions, so I’m going to start cutting back my blog updates to 2-3 posts a week. Thanks for reading! —Martin

     Lily walked into her apartment carrying a paper bag full of groceries. Her roommate Marla sat on the couch, flipping through a fashion magazine.
     “Hey Marla,” said Lily as she set the groceries on the kitchen counter. “Do you remember what today is?”
     Marla perked an eyebrow and scanned her memory, then her face lit up and she jumped off the sofa.
     “Oh my god, I can’t believe I almost forgot!” Marla bounced up and down. “It’s the one hundredth anniversary of Franz Reichelt’s death!”
     Without another word, she pushed past Lily and ran into the kitchen. Then she flung open the refrigerator door and began digging through the food inside. A few carrots and grapes fell out and rolled across the floor, but Marla paid no attention to them. Finally, she reemerged with a bottle of champagne.
     “I bought this a year ago and I’ve been saving it just for today.” She struggled to twist the cork.
     Lily watched her from across the room. “Actually Marla—“
     The cork popped and ricocheted off the ceiling. Lily ducked to avoid being hit. Bubbly champagne foamed out of the bottle and spilled onto the floor.
     “Hurry up and get some glasses!” shouted Marla.
     In a panic, Lily grabbed two wine glasses out of the cupboard and shoved them under the pouring bottle. When the glasses were full, Marla took one and held it high for a toast.
     “To the memory of Franz Reichelt, the Flying Tailor! Your peers said it couldn’t be done, but you bravely stood up to them and invented the world’s first parachute suit. Nobody else believed a coat could turn into a parachute, but you sure showed them. We’ll always remember you, Monsieur Reichelt, and the innovative thinking you brought into the world.”
     The two women sipped their drinks.
     “Is there anything you want to add, Lily?” Marla looked as if she could cry.
     “Well,” said Lily, “I just have to say I never heard of this guy and I only wanted to remind you that we have to take the garbage out tonight.”
     “Oh,” said Marla. She scanned her memory again. “Come to think of it, the anniversary of Franz Reichelt’s death was last week. Oh well.” She finished the rest of her champagne in one long gulp and tossed the glass in the sink.
     Lily looked at the mess in the kitchen and sighed. “So this Franz guy invented a parachute suit one hundred years ago? And it worked?”
     “Kind of,” said Marla “He fell to his death from the Eiffel Tower trying to test it. There’s actual newsreel footage of his fall on Youtube and it shows the police measuring the crater he left in the ground. Wanna watch it?”
     The video went viral that night.

Text translation:
As if he sensed the horrible fate that awaited him,
the unfortunate inventor hesitated before making his jump.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Art Class

     Mrs. Duncan rang her little bell to get the students’ attention. The class of second graders stopped working on their art projects and looked up. The entire room seemed to be a mess of paint and glue and scraps of paper.
     “Okay class,” she said, walking in front of the chalkboard. “It’s almost time for lunch, but I’m very curious to see what kind of art you’ve been able to make out of recycled materials. Does anyone want to go first?”
      Timmy raised his hand. “I do, Mrs. Duncan. I used a bunch of old popsicle sticks to build a birdhouse.” He held up a very lopsided and sticky-looking box with a hole in one side.
     “Why that’s very nice, Timmy,” said Mrs. Duncan. “And you kept those popsicle sticks from ending up in the trash. Does anyone else what to share what they recycled?”
     Regina raised her hand next. “I painted an old soup can and turned it into a pencil holder.” She held up her purple and pink can, which contained a few loose pencils.
     “Lovely, Regina.” Mrs. Duncan smiled. “You did a nice job reducing waste. Who’s next?”
     “Oh, pick me,” Robbie shot his hand into the air.
     “Very well, Robbie,” she said. “What did you make?”
     “I built a car that runs on macaroni. See?”
     Robbie lifted up his creation, which looked like a small car made from egg cartons, tape, pipe cleaners and a few pieces of trash. He set the car on the ground, grabbed a handful of macaroni from a tub on his desk and poured it into a hole in the car’s hood. Within seconds, a small whirring sound started and the car began to putter. Then a puff of black smoke shot out of the back and the car took off, speeding between the desks and out the door. The students rushed to follow it and watched as it ran down the long school hallway until it was so far that nobody could see it anymore. Only a streak of smoke was left behind.
     “Back to your seats, everyone.” Mrs. Duncan rang her little bell again. She waited until everyone was seated before continuing. “That’s a nice try, Robbie, but there’s no way the EPA would approve of a machine with emissions like that. Who’s next?”
     Mrs. Duncan’s comment made Robbie a little sad, but he did have to admit that the exhaust system on his car could have benefitted from a carbon monoxide filter or particle abatement device. He thought about building one out of cardboard, but he became distracted and forgot about it when Mandy showed the toy catapult she made from pencils and rubber bands. That was pretty cool.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Sunday

     “Thanks for inviting me, guys.” Larry walked in carrying a case of beer. “I didn’t know anyone else having a superbowl party.”
     “Don’t mention it.” Ben helped him with the beer. “We’re happy to have company. My brother and I do this every year.”
     “That’s right,” said Justin. “Ben and I have never missed a superbowl, even as kids. Speaking of which, I think it’s about to start.”
     The three men rushed to the living room and took seats in front of the TV, which showed a very expensive Chevy commercial. Larry passed out beers and Justin turned up the volume. When the ad ended, the game came on and announcers prepared for the kickoff.
     “Okay, time for a bathroom break,” said Ben, jumping up.
     “I’m going to check the weather forecast,” said Justin, changing the station.
     Larry almost dropped his beer. “What are you guys doing? The game is just starting!”
     “Oh we’re not really into sports,” said Justin. “But the commercials are awesome.”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Stuart's Dragon

     There once was a boy named Stuart who wanted a pet dragon more than anything in the world. He begged and begged his parents to give him one for his birthday, but all he got was a stuffed dragon toy instead. Stuart was sad when he saw the toy because he was old enough to know the difference between a toy and a real live dragon. He thought his parents were making fun of him.
     Stuart’s mom saw how sad he was, so she sat down with him and explained that real dragons were very hard to come by. She said that even if they could find one, it would be too expensive to buy and they probably wouldn’t be allowed to keep it—just like the man on the news who got in trouble for having an illegal pet monkey. There were lots of laws about exotic animals, and dragons were definitely exotic.
     Stuart felt better after talking with his mom. He still wanted a pet dragon, but he realized that if he was going to get one, he’d have to take matters into his own hands. If his family couldn’t buy a live dragon, then he’d have to make one out of a dog.
     One sunny afternoon, Stuart went to work. He carried all of his craft supplies out to the backyard, then whistled as loud as he could. Seconds later, Snickers, the family golden retriever, came running around the corner. If you’ve ever had a golden retriever, then you know they love attention and are always ready to play. Today was no exception; Snickers couldn’t be happier than to let Stuart turn him into a dragon.
     Stuart started by cutting big triangles out of cardboard and painting them green. With a little string, he was able to prop them up in a line down Snickers’ back. Then he used his crayons to draw lots and lots of scales on pieces of construction paper that he taped to Snickers’ side. He also cut out a dragon mask that he drew and used a rubber band to keep it on Snickers’ head (making sure, of course, that Snickers could still see and breathe easily). After adding some decorations of popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, glitter and a few other supplies he found around the house, Stuart finally took a step back to admire his work. Snickers wagged his tail rapidly and let out a bark of approval.
     “I agree,” said Stuart. “You make a fine dragon if I ever saw one.”
     Stuart was so happy to finally have a dragon! He was also anxious to show him off to the neighborhood. Grabbing Snickers’ leash, which made the dragon very excited, he took his new pet for a walk through the park.
     The dragon sure drew a lot of attention that day. Parents pointed and little kids stood in awe as he marched through the playground. Both Stuart and Snickers were so proud, they walked back and forth across the park four times just to make sure everyone saw them. It was all going well until the fourth lap when they ran into Chad Wilson, the big third grade bully.
     Chad wasn’t alone. His sidekicks Steve Campbell and Ronald Jackson stood on either side of him. The three of them were the meanest and toughest kids in school, and it was usually best to steer clear of them. Today, however, Stuart didn’t have a choice because once the bullies saw him with his dragon, they cut across the playground to block his path.
     “What happened to your dog?” asked Chad as he walked around Snickers.
     “He’s not a dog, he’s a dragon!” said Stuart.
     Steve burst out laughing. “Oh, the baby has a dragon!”
     Ronald pretended to be afraid. “I hope your dragon doesn’t eat us, baby!”
     “You’d better be nice to me and my dragon,” said Stuart, “Or he’ll breathe fire on you!”
     The bullies just laughed more when they heard this. Snickers didn’t like that at all, and he let out a bark of disapproval.
     “Oh no,” said Steve. “The baby’s dragon is sad!”
     Stuart clenched his fists. “I’m warning you!”
     Chad walked right up to Snickers and ripped one of the pages of scale drawings off of his side. Then he crumbled it up and threw it on the ground.
     “I think we need to teach you some respect,” said Chad, punching one fist into the other.
     Stuart and Snickers took a step back as the bullies moved closer. Just before they were within arm’s reach, Snickers let out another bark and a giant fireball shot out of him. The flame was so close to Chad Wilson that it singed his eyebrows. The three bullies froze in shock, then turned around and ran out of the park as fast as they could.
     Snickers let out a happy yap and wagged his tail again as he looked up at Stuart.
     “Good boy,” said Stuart.
     He sure was glad he added the flamethrower to Snickers’ costume.

Friday, February 3, 2012

California Girl

     “It’s so good to see you!” Gretta ran up and hugged her big sister the second she walked through the door. “I feel like you haven’t visited in ages.”
     Julie smiled as she hugged her back. “I know, it’s been too long. I wish I could make it up to Portland more often.”
     Gretta released her embrace and took a step back to look Julie over. “You look great! Your hair is so long and vibrant, and I love that outfit.”
     Julie blushed. “Thanks sis. You’re looking good, too. I love your bangs.”
     “You’re sweet,” said Gretta. “But I’ll never have your beautiful olive skin. The Bakersfield sun has really treated you well. Portland is just too cloudy to get a tan like that.”
     Julie held her arm up in the light and examined it. “Tan? Bakersfield sun? Um… right. Thanks. It looks like you redecorated. Can I have a tour of the house?”
     And so Julie quickly changed the subject. Gretta had never been to Bakersfield, so she had no idea what the pollution did to your skin.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Going Green

     Jenny sat on her porch and checked her watch again. If Harold didn’t show up soon, they were going to miss the beginning of the movie. Just as she was about to text him, she heard the sound of his cranky old pickup from down the road. Sure enough, the truck roared into view and screeched to a stop in front of her house
     “So sorry I’m late,” said Harold, jumping out of the driver’s seat. “But I had a good reason. I’ve been making my life greener and I’m saving the planet.”
     “You? Green?” Jenny stood with her arms crossed. She had learned to take his excuses with a grain of salt.
     “Absolutely,” he said. “I read an article about how much electricity you save with those spirally CFL bulbs, so I spent all afternoon replacing every light in my house.”
     “Really?” Jenny uncrossed her arms. “Didn’t you stock up on a huge supply of the old-style light bulbs last year because you got such a great deal by buying them in bulk?”
     “Yep. Had a few hundred of them.” Harold walked to the back of his truck and pulled a large empty cardboard box out of the bed. “Not anymore, though. I got rid of them all and I’ve switched completely to eco-friendly illumination. I know it cost me a pretty penny, but it’s worth it for a cleaner planet. You always wanted me to be more environmentally conscious, right?”
     Jenny couldn’t help smiling as she walked over and gave him a hug. “I’m so proud of you, Harold. That’s a big step.”
     “Thanks.” He hugged her back. “I know it’s worth it. And I would have been here sooner, but I had to make sure I disposed of the old bulbs properly. They’re now on their way back to the earth, where they came from in the first place.”
     “So you drove all the way to the recycling center?”
     “Nah, they’re just the middleman,” he said.” I dumped them in the river.”