John Carlson: Are There Pathetic Ninjas?

Most ninjas can probably do an actual push-up. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonMost ninjas can probably do an actual push-up. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Though not a regular viewer, I do enjoy watching those modern-day ninja competitions when I encounter one while channel surfing.

Frankly, in these sad days of video-game and electronic-device addiction, it’s almost hard to imagine there are young Americans who are that physically fit anymore.

As they navigate the obstacle course, I am always reminded that when those outstanding physical specimens were school kids, mymother wasn’t packing their lunches. Back in the day, she kept way too busy packing mine.

There are probably people who eat for a week on less food than Mom packed every day in my “Bonanza” lunch box, the one with Hoss Cartwright fetchingly posed on the lid. There would be two substantial sandwiches. A plastic baggie full of olives. An individual serving of crispy Fritos. And there would always be a luscious Hostess dessert – ideally, a two-pack of Suzy Q’s, or a delightfully creamy Banana Flip.

After that, if there was any room left in the box, she’d poke in a grape someplace, but I’d dump it out on the way to school.

Now, there are undoubtedly nutritionists who think that sounds obscenely excessive, and maybe it was. But they lack historical perspective. What they forget is this. Back in the early 1960’s – what with the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain, Nikita Khrushchev threatening to “bury” us, plus the Cuban Missile Crisis and such – nuclear holocaust could have been unleashed at any moment. Given that, I neededthe nutrients found in two sandwiches, Fritos and a Banana Flip, just in case when school let out I had to wander around a few days, looking for where my house had been.

But the second thing I always think while watching those ninja contests, is how irrelevant they are to my life now as an old, flabby person.

Oh sure, I’d love to tackle that ninja obstacle course. You know, jump the water hazards, hand swing across 50 feet of open space, pull myself up and over a 20-foot wall, then hustle across a swaying track high in the air to smack the buzzer.

Heck, I’d love to be able to do a push-up, too.

Those days, alas, are behind me. While on occasion I prove to be an expert at flopping around on the floor, mastering the art of getting back up without looking like I’m taking a yoga class for drunkards remains a challenge.

But so what? Be the best you can be, we are told.

So if there were a ninja obstacle course actually relevant to chubby oldsters, it’d start with the Plugged Toilet Challenge. From a sitting position with the newspaper spread across your knees, you would activate the flusher with your elbow, then wait an ominous 10 seconds. Then you’d hop up, whip around, yank off the porcelain toilet lid and desperately grab the float at the last moment to keep the bowl from overflowing.

About the time you caught your breath, you’d be trotting off for the Please-God-Not-The-Doorbell Sprint. Oh sure, it sounds easy enough. That’s until you remember your pants are still down around your ankles. Running like a penguin, at the same time you must bend over to grab those pants, hiking them to your waist and buckling your belt before reaching the door, where a visitor hollers, “Isn’t that yourToaster Strudel I smell burning?”

Huffing and puffing toward the kitchen, you dodge the couch, stumble past the ottoman and hop over the dog and cat, taking care not to land short and flatten them.

But suddenly, you come upon the Floor of Pain. Strewn across the Floor of Pain are children’s wooden blocks, which can’t kill you, but canmake you wish you were dead. I know because one night years ago, when our kids were little, I stepped barefooted in the dark on one. My next five minutes were spent bolstering the English lexicon with obscene new cuss words.

With the lights on, though, crossing a floor full of children’s blocks should be no big deal. But that’s when the Screen of Doom lights up. “Ooh, look!” a recording announces. “Isn’t that the Andy Mohr Ford girl from the television ads behind the wheel of a Mustang convertible, batting her eyelashes, calling you big boy and asking if you need a lift?”

Eyes zeroed in on her outstanding personalities, you begin blindly chasing her across the Floor of Pain, shrieking in agony.

The female ninja contestants of a certain advanced age, meanwhile, watch all this and derisively laugh their heads off.

They do, that is, until they begin crossing the Floor of Pain. “Ooh, look!”the Screen of Doom announces. “Isn’t that the gray-haired Trivago guy alongside movie star George Clooney, getting all sweaty riding two-seat bicycles and wondering if you’d care to hop on and help them find where they mislaid their shirts?”

Then the ladies, their eyes locked on the guys’ bulging good manners, begin blindly chasing them across the Floor of Pain, shrieking in agony.

In the end, the winner is the first person who hobbles to the kitchen and rescues their Toaster Strudel before it’s burned to a crisp.

So, think an old folks ninja contest might make for great television?

Yeah, me neither.



A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.