Saturday, January 17, 2009

Caught Grease Handed

Boy howdy, fightin robot ninjas every day is harder'n wrestlin gators, which is the part time job I had just after I gradjiated high school and lit out for the territories, as it were. I found myself, after some thumbin and train jumpin, down in Louisiana, broker than a dropped record on a cold day. I was out in the middle of nowhere with no one comin to pick me up and with the sun fadin fast into the swamp. Now, you don't want to be caught in them Louisiana swamps at night because they've got that musk ape down there that'll come out and rip your arms off if you can't answer his three riddles. If you ever find yourself in that position, the answer to his first riddle is "barking spiders". My uncle Ted told me that when I was young and I never forgot it. He never did tell me what the riddle was, though, so if you lose your arms because of that, don't blame me for tryin to be a good Samaritan. I wasn't intent on losin my arms, either, cause I figured my arms had come in handy up to that point and I might be needin them for things later in life, kinda like a swiss army knife that you somehow manage to find a use for every day. Sure enough, the day you're without either you're gonna find somethin you need it for. You leave your knife at home, you know you're gonna have to open a box or punch a hole in a piece of leather. You lose your arms to a musk ape, you're probably gonna need them for somethin the next day like liftin a box or scratchin your nose or standin up outta bed. I started walkin down the highway a bit and, just as the last sliver of sun was dippin below the horizon, I stumbled upon one of them roadside zoos. It smelt like they was raisin a whole family of musk apes by feedin 'em burnin tires ala skunk, but it was shelter. There was a little tar-paper shack just inside the gate, so I knocked at the door, told the owner, Jim Bob, about my predicament and asked if I could sleep there for the night. He said that was all right by him, but if I wanted to eat anything, I'd have to work for it. So started my career at the roadside zoo. In the 6 months I was there, I learned to slop tiger cages, milk a two-headed snake and wrestle alligators. That last one is the most exhausting of the three. You gotta jump on the alligator, hang on while he's thrashin around and get his eyes covered as quick as you can. After that, though, it ain't too hard because alligators don't have very strong muscles to open their jaws. The real exciting part is when you jump off again. Sometimes, they get mad at havin lost, alligators are poor sports, after all, and they try to flip around and bite you. On a side note, I ended up leavin that job because the star attraction, the two-tailed albino gator ran off in the night. I thought she was taken by the musk ape, but Jim Bob said they'd probably eloped. Up to this past week, that was the most tirin thing I'd done, but, as I said, fightin robot ninjas is more tiring.

Yesterday's ninja ambushed me with a stick when I went to pour out the donut oil. I was carryin a 50 pound drum of oil, on a dolly to save my back, and this guy just jumps out of the bushes with no sorta preamble or conversation or anything. Well, I just holler and jump back, lettin the dolly go so I could block my face. Now, I never got hit in the face with a big ol' stick, but I don't need to touch a fire to know it's hot, if you know what I mean. So, there I am tryin to ward off the attack when, out of the corner of my eye I see the barrel reach the apex of it's arc and slowly tip over.

Now we got oil all over everywhere and we're slidin all over the place. I got no idea how to get inside the range of his stick so I can punch him or somethin and I start thinkin I'm gonna need a shield of some kind. I'm desperately lookin around for somethin, anything to help me while gettin my arms pretty banged up when I see this camper shell for a pickup sittin over by the wall. I'm tryin to slide my way over there, windmillin my arms with every step when, by some miracle of physics or somethin, I manage to grab the stick while it's in mid-swing. Now, I may have goofed around in school thinkin about girls and whatnot, but I paid enough attention to still remember my Newton to this day, so I gave that stick a shove, sent the ninja out of range and propelled myself towards the camper shell. I picked it up and held it in front of me while I walked towards the ninja, hopin to back him up against the dumpster. He kept swingin that stick and punched a couple of holes in the fiberglass, but he didn't land anything on me, which was a definite improvement. I finally got him backed up to where I could do somethin when I started to smell smoke. I looked down and saw that the ninja's foot was on fire and, me bein wet to he waist with donut grease, I turned and ran as fast as I could. When I felt like I was a safe distance away, a couple hundred feet or so, I turned to see that ninja goin up like 4th of July, Chinese New Year, Chernobyl, the heart of the sun and Richard Pryor combined. I never saw nothin go from normal to pile of ash quicker, even in them cartoons with that martian that's always tryin to blow up the earth. You know, that one that fights that rabbit and the rabbit always turns the laser back on the martian and he's like Lot's wife, only he gets made into ask instead of salt. This ninja was just like that, minus the rabbit, laser and bein a martian. Also, it wasn't drawn and he wasn't a person-shaped pile of ash, just a regular pile. And he was covered in donut grease. Other than that, it was exactly the same.

I later figured out that the plexiglass windows on the camper top, bein curved, concentrated the sunlight into a small point, like a magnifyin glass will do over an ant hill, if you're a young man and disposed to that kinda thing, which I am not, but I've heard about it from some people I used to know.

After defeatin the ninja with help from my friend, the sun, I turned around to go change my pants and who was standin behind me tryin to catch flies in his open mouth but Jared. He was just gapin, lookin back and forth from me to the pile of ash and the still burnin donut grease, his jaw just flappin up and down like a bass that's just been caught. Finally, he squeaked out a little, "!"

Well, I just didn't know what to say, so I just told him, "Don't worry, that fire'll burn itself out." And then I walked back in the shop, mutterin "Durn it all! Consarnit! Flippin Flapjacks!" Under my breath. I'm sorry for the foul language, but I figure y'all can handle it after bein exposed to whatever else on the internets.

I didn't tell no one about what had happened, because I didn't know what to say. I thought I'd just blown the whole operation. I was pretty jumpy there for a couple hours. Then Jared's mom called. I went to high school with Brenda. She's a couple years younger than me, and we didn't run in the same circles or anything, but we see each other at potlucks and cake walks every now and then, but I doubted she was callin me to buy a raffle ticket this time.

She began, "Hello, Pat, this is Brenda."

I decided to play it cool. "Hi Brenda, it's been a long time. To what do I owe this pleasure? Is it Girl Scout Cookie season again?"

"Actually, Pat," she wasn't havin any nonsense, "I'm calling about Jared. I've heard some disturbing things this afternoon."

"Is this about those extra bear claws?" I asked. "Because I gave those to him."

"No, Pat, it's not about that." She took a deep breath. "Look," she sighed, "I know we don't know each other that well, but I'm worried about Jared. He spends all his time in his room playin them video games of his and I think it's starting to harm him." Her voice went all shaky and I think she started to cry. "I think the divorce has been really hard on him. I mean, he used to be such a sweet kid and now he's always wearin black everywhere and he's listenin to this music that sounds like people are hittin their guitars with cats. And then today, he comes home and says he saw you fight a man with a stick and then BURN him to death."

My mind went blank. "Well, uh, Brenda," I stammered, "I, um, don't...uh"

She interrupted me, "I know, Pat. It's ridiculous. I think those video games got into his head and now he's hallucinating or something. Maybe, I don't know, maybe he's on the drugs or something."

Then I heard Jared in the background yellin, "Mooooooooooooaaaaamm! I'm not making it up! Jeez! Why can't you believe me?!"

She covered the phone with her hand, but I heard, muffled, "Jared, I am on the phone!" She said this last stucatto, like all moms know how to do when they're angry. Then, she returned to me. "I'm at wit's end here, Pat. So, I was wonderin, could you sit him down and talk to him or something?"

I don't know what came over me, but I agreed to talk to him. He's comin in tomorrow morning at 7. I don't know what I'm going to say, but I'm sure I'll let you know.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ninja Fights in the New Year

Well, friends, the holidays have come and gone. The presents are all opened, the champagne is all drunk, the balls are dropped. We shut down the shop for a week or so during this time so the employees could spend time with their families. Bein as the only two "official" employees is me and Douggy and seein how Douggy came over to my family's house for the festivities, as he's done every year since we was knee high to a nutcracker, it prolly wasn't the best business decision I've ever had to make. O' course, I don't really need to be concerned about makin this a terribly successful business; well, not the up front part of it, anyway. The stuff goin on in the back, with the ninjas and the fighting and the zeppelins and everything, I'd like that to go successful, but it seems on an even keel lately. But, not everything's been popcorn and cake for Pat O'Neil lately. I been fightin these durned robot ninjas almost daily for the last coupla weeks. Every one's been pretty much the same; ninja comes in the shop, says he's gotta fight me, then I offer him a donut, he takes it and then he starts shootin sparks and stuff. Lindbergh says that he's tryin to give the robots some sort of autonomy so they can make decisions for themselves while they're fighting, but he keeps running into the problem he's calling the "donigma". As it was explained to me, it's something like this: robots can't eat nothin cause the got no stomach or throat or teeth, they know they ain't supposed to eat nothin but if a robot's gonna fight or do anything, really, they gotta have their minds programmed right and, unfortunately for robot ninjas, no one in their right mind can turn down a free donut. So, the robots, because they're in their right mind, they gotta take the donut and try to eat it, which causes all sortsa sparks and stuff. It's usually ok, but Friday Jared, the goth kid in town, came in to rustle himself up a mess of bear claws cause he said he was gonna "play wow" on the internet all weekend. I told him that I didn't need that kinda honesty, but I gave him a couple of extras because I remember when I was a lad and I'd "play wow" all weekend, 'cept I had to use the Sears catalogues, and how I needed to keep my strength up. Anyway, when he walked in, there was a headless ninja robot just layin on the floor. I tried explaining that it was one of them vacuuming robots that I'd got for Christmas, but I don't think he bought it. Now he's been lurking around all weekend. I guess headless robots are more interesting than wow to today's kids. How times change.

So, anyway, I finally roused myself from my holiday ham and cookie coma to check in at the shop today. When I got in, I saw there was a message on the answering machine. Well, to be honest, it wasn't right when I got in, a man has to have his coffee, eat his donut and solve his crossword in the morning, after all, so, let's say, about an hour or two after I got in this morning, I got the message which had, itself, been left about a week ago, so I don't think that couple of hours made a difference. Turns out a friend of my cousin's roommate's niece's dog sitter had gotten a new car for Christmas and wanted us to come tow away the one she had, which was a pretty decent 1971 Lincoln Continental with most of the original interior actually in the car. Sure, most of it was wadded up in the back seat or had been cut into strips to patch leaks in the engine, but I'd say a good eighty percent of it was still attached to the vehicle itself in one form or another. Alistair and I talked about this for awhile until Douggy came in. I thought we should repair it, but Alistair pointed out that, as of yet, we do not have any refurbished cars and so we were really letting the middle part of Pat O'Neil's Body Shop, Refurbished Car Emporium and Donut Eatery really sag; sag like carrying a bowling ball on a rubber band; a real wide rubber band, not one of them thin ones. It would be too hard to carry a bowling ball on one of them thin rubber bands. It may work if you kinda pulled it tight and set the bowling ball in the space in the middle. But then, the rubber band would be taut, and wouldn't sag that much. Let's start over on this metaphor. Let's say sagging like a granny's triceps and leave it at that without worrying about some really strong granny that is capable of juggling fully grown trees, like Douggy's grandma used to until she was hit by a meteor one day back in '71. So, ignoring that, Alistair's point was that we needed to refurbish at least one car, in order to go with the name. In order to refurbish it, we needed to get it in the shop, and that meant we needed Douggy to drive the tow truck. I was gonna give him a couple more days off, because he had some project he was working on for his wife, I don't know exactly what it was but it involved macrame and egg crates, but I gave him a call and he was there in a half hour.

When he got there, I didn't want to rush him, so we had some coffee and a couple donuts and then, because I'd already solved the crossword, I let him go ahead and solve the sudoku puzzle in the paper. I usually like doing them, but Douggy needed something after getting involved in one of Geraldine's big craft projects. Last year about this time, she decided she was gonna knit scarves for all the kids down at the orphanage, but she got a little carried away and ended up knitting one big scarf that all the orphans had to share and it had bells in it. The nuns down there said it helped them out, though, because they always knew where the kids were and that they were warm. So, after bein in that kinda environment, I thought I'd give Douggy a little Douggy time. After he got that puzzle solved, I talked to him about towin in the Lincoln and he was ready for it.

"There might be a problem though," he told me.

"Whassat?" I asked.

"Well, I don't see any body layin around," he gestured to the clean floor, "so it looks like your ninja hasn't been here today. What do we do if he comes while we're out?"

"That's a good question," I thought about it for a time, "How about we leave a sign?"

"A sign that says, 'gone to tow a car, robotic ninjas wait here until we get back'?"

When he said it that way, it did sound like less of a good idea, so I told him, "When you say it that way, it does sound like less of a good idea."

We debated it for a bit and ended up leavin a sign that said, "Gone to tow a car. We will return in an hour. Anyone in all black can help themselves to a donut." Then, we left a plate of donuts sitting just outside the front door. We figured that, this way, if a roboninja came, maybe I could defeat him without even confronting him. Also, if Jared came by, he could keep his "wow" energy up, just so long as he washed his hands after the last time playing wow. So, that bein done, we grabbed Albert and headed off.

As we were ridin in the tow truck, Douggy asked me some about how the training was going. I told him about the 'donigma' and how that was making it less of a challenge than I'd expected. He pointed out that Charles was the guy who figured out sweet potato burritos on sea monkey tortillas would extend life and so he'd probably be able to find a way to get robots to stop eating donuts. Then, he offered to give me some fighting tips, to which I agreed.

"When your fighting," he explained, "don't expect. If you expect your opponent to strike with the right hand, but they strike with the left hand, you have to react to the fact they're hitting with a different hand and then figure out what to do. But, if you wait with a clear mind, then you can react much faster no matter which hand they strike you with."

I didn't really get it, but he said he'd show me some things when we got home. After that, we got to the car and, even though we weren't going to do any of the repair work ourselves, we opened the hood and stared at the engine for awhile. After a few minutes, Douggy chimed in with the obligatory, "Well, I think we're gonna have to pull it," thereby fulfilling our manly duties in front of automobiles. When that was completed, we hooked up the Lincoln to the chain and headed back towards the shop. Everything seemed fine except Douggy kept lookin in the rear view mirror.

Eventually, he tells me, "Pat, I think there's somethin movin around in the car back there."

"Oh, yeah?" I ask.

"Yeah," he responds, "I thought it was the ceiling lining flappin at first, but now I think something's in there. You wanna go back and check it out?"

I can't help but notice that we're still moving, so I inquire, "What? Now?"

"Well, wait for the next stop sign," he concedes.

"Ok," I tell him, "is it dangerous?"

He scoffs, "Nah, it's usually just a cat or a drunk that crawled in there to get warm. Just open the door and shoo it out."

I hop out at the next stop sign and open the door to the car. I don't see nothin at first, but I push the interior around a bit and I finally see what was movin around. It turns out Douggy was wrong, it wasn't a cat OR a drunk. Instead, it was a ninja. It jumped out and grabbed my arm.

"Pat O'Neil!" yelled the ninja, "I must fight you!"

I knew how to handle this. "Sure, that sounds fine," I tell the ninja, "But you want a donut first?"

"No Donut!" screams the ninja.

"Are you sure?" I ask, "It's free!"

"No Donut!" screeches the ninja again. "Diabetic!"

It looked like Charles had solved the donigma. It was pretty clever, too, making the ninja diabetic. It looked like I'd have to actually fight this one. I was tryin to remember what Douggy had told me when the ninja clocked me a good one across the jaw. I haven't been in that many fights, but I know now I don't like bein punched in the face. I wasn't about to take another one of them, so I pushed the ninja back in the car and slammed the door. Then I went and hopped back into the tow truck.

"Cat?" asked Douggy.

"Ninja," I said.

"Huh," he grunted. I figured I wouldn't bother him with the fact that it was a ninja with a head still attached. I figured we could do something about it when we got back to the shop.

We'd gone about a block when the back window of the truck cabin shattered and a black clad fist followed the cold air through to grab me by the beard. Before I knew it, I was standin on the back of the tow truck with the robot ninja takin swings at me. Douggy was a little discombobulated and so he was swervin, which actually helped me some. Every time the ninja would swing, Douggy would swerve and I was pushed out of the range of the fists. This couldn't last long, I knew, before I would go skidding off the truck and onto the road like that chicken from that joke about the chicken and the road, only I would be crossing it on my face. To avoid that, I grabbed the chain that was holding the Lincoln on to the back of the truck. You think a bowling ball puts some tension on a rubber band, you should try grabbing a chain pulling a 2 ton car by its axle at 30 miles an hour. Douggy took the next turn pretty quick and my legs flew out from under me, sticking straight out the side of the trick. This knocked over the ninja, too, but he didn't have no chain to hold on to. He went sprawling on the back of the truck, but he managed to hang on pretty well. He got up in a squatting position and started to take swipes at me. The best I could do was keep my legs and face out of harm's way and try to kick his fingers when I could.

That lasted a couple of blocks until he looked up at my hand. Then he got this horrible gleam in his eyes. He stood and grabbed the chain with one hand while he started pryin my fingers with the other. Now, I don't know if you were aware of this, I wasn't until just today, but it turns out robots are incredibly strong. That bein the case, I couldn't resist him when he separated my fingers from that life-giving chain. I was in desperate straits, grasping anywhere I could with my other hand, and I guess I grabbed his hood just as Douggy braked for an old lady in the road. I was thrown back at the cab of the truck, which I hit my head on, but the ninja ended up with his body on one side of the chain and his head, in my hand, on the other side. As soon as I shook the cobwebs out, I could see that his head had come clean off in my hand and his body neck was sparking and spilling goo everywhere. I'd won my first actual fight against a robot ninja. I'll tell ya, except for the bump on my head and nearly dying being thrown from the back of a truck, it felt pretty darn good.

When we got back to the shop, everyone congratulated me, even Charles via telephone. This evening, Douggy and asked him if all ninja fights are like that.

He told me, "Yeah, pretty much, except their heads usually don't come off that easily. Also, most don't take place on the back of a tow truck, and there's usually weapons involved, plus, both people usually know how to fight. Come to think of it, most ninja fights are little to nothing like that fight. But that's ok, you have time."