by David Lambert
Ninja Man moves lightly over the sidewalk that runs alongside the dune woods. He is a man with no baggage, a man of few belongings, a man devoid of encumbrance except the infrequent neural quags which, when they come, unfurl his thoughts like a backlash, splaying them, laying them at right angles to each other.
When this happens his thoughts carom like pingpong balls from the bounds of his scull and the blood whooshes through his temples and settles behind his eyes. Everything he sees softens at the edges and his visible world becomes a scarlet pastiche as though viewed from a distance.
When this happens Ninja Man prays to be invisible.
Ninja Man is a man you might see any day trading the cool shelter of the library for the wet coolness of beach sand just after the tide recedes. If weather or his wits become an adversary Ninja Man moves directly to his badtime shelter under the Intracoastal Bridge, a place where light darkles unevenly, where his eyes find focus on the softness of shadow edges and the Doppler hiss of tires on pavement provides an aural lean-to, a soothing white noise, a calmative, fingertips on his forehead — a place where he can weather the storms, emotional or atmospheric.
Local taunters, kids and shitheads, they call him Ninja Man because he wears only black, every day, toe to wrist, ankle to neck, black, even in the sticky, sweaty swelter of the southern August sun. Ninja Man. He likes the sound of that. Ninja Man — not a taunt, a tribute; yes, a tribute, that — a history, a title. Ninja Man, he likes it alright; he can take care of himself, just look how he walks when he hears his name.
Ninja Man walks like a cat, every step a tiny exhausting of spring steel, each motion a controlled release from a coiled center that lightens his step and pulls the muscles of his hands into a repose so sublime that they angle slightly akimbo as he strides, as if they rested on an ergonomic keyboard awaiting the big idea.
As he walks his head does what? Bob? No, Ninja Man is no Mister Natural; he does not truck, he glides as he strides, lifting lightly from the balls of his foot, like. . .what? A dancer? No. . .a cat. Yeah, a cat, a puma. A panther. Awaiting the pounce. And as he strides his head moves in coordinated balance, punctus contra punctum, gimbaled to his graying and grizzled neck like a bobble-head doll velcroed to the rear dash of his Dad’s old Buick.
Ninja Man is a walking gyroscope, a jowly, jaunty tom who, when he is right — and that is most of the goddam time!! — thinks of his mind as a throttle to be juiced or slackened as the as the occasion requires. His body, his temple, a tool to employ at will, as needed, whenever. Ninja Man is a. . .wait, wait. . .his Dad’s old Buick? What a piece of crud car that was. Rusted with a bad AC and cigarette burns in the upholstery. Brown too. Ninja Man never liked that car. What was it? A Tempest? Ninja Man can’t remember. . .
Anyway, anyway. . .Ninja Man’s police rap sheet accords that he is fully aware, self-acknowledging, consistent in his responses, capable of gainful employment but given to periodic mental lapses. A scrawled notation rests diagonally on the edge of his rap sheet. It reads: ‘Not violent! Usually cooperative.’ But the ‘usually’ is underlined heavily in blue pen and punctuated by an exclamation mark.
Sometimes Ninja Man’s mind goes scarlet and he forgets to get along. He’s pretty sure that’s what the ‘usually’ is about. When he finally remembers he needs to get along, he feels pretty bad, like a kid who shoots a bird, then holds it in his hand while it’s dying. That’s why he needed a place like his bad-time place.
Ninja Man views the trips to his badtime place as parentheses around the short asides in a running dialog of his life. Sometimes in his mind he can see the outward curves of the punctuative brackets and watch as the old bad-time events unfold in text behind his eyes, like the opening scroll of Star Wars
. . . A Long Time Ago in A Galaxy Far, Far Away.
White words on a black background, slowly scrolling from top to bottom. With little pinpoints of background light, and . . . wait, wait, goddammit!! . . .scrolling from bottom to top. Ninja Man never gets that right.
White words calm Ninja Man, even when they emerge from the top. White words have letters and letters have edges and edges are boundaries and boundaries create form and the form becomes a word and a word has a definition. Ninja Man embraces definitions. String a few together end-to-end like pencils and they make a sentence. Sentences start and end and start and end and start and end. Sentences have meanings and they form paragraphs and paragraphs are indented and new chapters start on a right-hand page.
These are things Ninja Man knows: letters and words and sentences are synaptic solids with bulk and mass and meaning; they are bricks behind which he can barricade the past bad times; they are blocks which keep the new ones at bay.
Ninja Man owns these words during badtimes and during his infrequent visitations to them; words are his alone to be held. And he does hold them, in two hands like a favorite blankey or, or. . .what? What? A sword? With a scrolled gold handle? Yeah. Ninja Man holds words like broadsword. With two hands, in front of him. Stand back. Trust me, Ninja Man can use a broadsword.
Ninja Man holds words like a broadsword when he can not hold much else — and when he has not much else to hold.
Images, though, images can cause Ninja Man trouble. Images sometimes appear amoebic, as amorphous blobs with evaporating edges that trick him by melting into each other like wet tissue paper, so he can’t tell where one begins or ends. Ninja Man sometimes doesn’t like images.
We are not talking about photographs here, not art school!! Not something from National Geographic or Life. No! Goddammit try to keep up! We’re talking about brain images, little ninja thoughts that sneak secretly into his brainback from behind the Wall of Brick Words. All this while his front brain is not looking. Images from that part of his mind. Images sneak into Ninja Man’s mind from out of nowhere, headfake thoughts; they point one way, then, when Ninja Man looks, they sneak into the dark theater behind his eyes. Sometimes Ninja Man knows he’s being headfaked, but he looks anyway.
Sometimes. Not often, not often, dammit, but sometimes! Sometimes they sneak in on scarlet scarves, all undulating and wavelike that scatter in layers throughout the theatre and eventually strangle the scrolling words in his head.
When they sneak in, though, Ninja Man sneaks out. He leaves quietly, too; no one hears. After all, he is Ninja Man.
© 2011 David Lambert