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.

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