Long ago and far away, when he grew up in Ashland, Oregon, arguably one of the more bizarre places on the West Coast to grow up. I asked James to provide a pithy synopsis of the town for the uninitated reader, and he said "Ashland is the midway point between San Fransisco and Eugene."
"That's not real helpful," I said.
"It's very helpful," he insisted. "'Cos if you're a pot-smoking hippy driving from Frisco to Eugene, and you've dropped a few tabs, by the time you get to Ashland you'll be too high to drive any farther."**
I am unable to fault his logic. Certainly, in addition to one of the biggest Shakespeare-fests around, Ashland has far more than its share of deranged hippies, tourists, lunatics and crystal thumpers. Also white trash. Also weird ass people living up in the hills on BLM land who would trade deerskins in town, before getting busted by the man and being forced to live in town. I am not making this up, although I cannot vouch for the accuracy of James's childhood memories, as he did enough recreational pharmaceuticals in his youth to drop a charging rhino. On the other hand, James is today pragmatic, responsible, good-natured, kind, works like a team of sled-dogs, and is very very good at what he does, and takes approximately one sick-day a decade, so I really can't knock the process.
It is because James is, in general, intensely honest, and has been high so often that he's fairly good at it, that I cannot dismiss The Thing With The Ninjas out of hand. For one thing, he's stuck to his guns for a decade. For another, he doesn't particularly expect anyone to believe him, because the story is so very ridiculous.
It goes like this. On a couple of moonlight wanderings, though the large and rambling park in town known as Lithia Park (named after Lithia Springs, named after the high lithium concentration in the water, and now perhaps some things about the town start to make sense) James and his comrades would start to see things. Since they were high, they generally dismissed this, but the sober people with them saw it too. What they saw were...ninjas.
At this point, the reader and the wife both go "Surrrrrrrrre you did."
James sticks to his guns. After several weeks of noticing surrieptious ninja activity--initially just dismissed as "Dude, I'm high, that's probably a tree stump," but eventually adding up to a bonafide rash of ninja sightings--while wandering around the park Yet Again, he and the people he was with spotted yet MORE hypothetical ninjas, and decided, in the way of stoned people everywhere, "Dude! Let's follow the ninjas!"
(This is the bit I actually do believe, because of course, you'd follow the ninjas. I mean, c'mon. Like you can watch a ninja run by and NOT follow him. It follows all the laws of human nature and none of the laws of self-preservation.)
They were able to track said hypothetical ninjas because they were, for once, reasonably sober***, and heard one fall into the stream, and it being a reasonably well lit night and the park had the occasional light, could follow large wet tabi-boot prints on the rocks. (Yes, he claims they were wearing the split-toed boots.) Obviously these were not particularly competent ninjas, but then again, if they were, they wouldn't have been spotted by stoned teenagers in the first place. They follow the clumsy ninja into the woods, whereupon they are--yes--set upon by ninjas.
James recounts that there were three or four, one of whom pinned him to a tree. He didn't struggle. (It was a ninja. I mean, c'mon.) Most of them were white guys, but not all. One or two had katanaesque swords.
The...um...we'll call him the Head Ninja...told them that they didn't mind them hanging around the park, but...well...don't fuck with the ninjas, man.
James, who is a very intelligent man, valiantly as he tries to hide it, felt that this was excellent advice, and to the best of my knowledge, has never again followed a strange ninja through a park.
I sort of believe him. I certainly believe he's telling the truth as he recalls it--most of my skepticism is reserved for the chemicals coursing through his veins at the time. For one thing, if you were gonna lie, you'd make a better story of it, and for another, I've personally watched this man return a 5000$ check, made out to his name, to the post office because the insured item they were replacing had turned up. (The post office employees couldn't believe it either.) For another thing, he never really mentions the Thing With The Ninjas--it's not a favored party anecdote the way, for example, The Time We Got Investigated By Homeland Security, or Ashland High's Self-Defense Course in PE is. Except that today, as I was driving home, he said "Did I ever tell you about the thing with the ninjas?" which he had, once before.
Finally, of course, assuming that rather than some Super Sekrit Ninja Clan that for some unfathomable reason had decided on a small southern Oregon tourist town renowned for the Shakespeare Festival as a staging ground for world dominion, it was a bunch of testosterone laden dudes from the local dojo who wanted to play at being ninjas, it does not entirely strain the bonds of possibility, although certainly it hammers them pretty hard.
And I confess, the notion of Ninjas in the Park, perhaps putting on an all-ninja version of "Hamlet" or "Romeo and Juliet" does crack me up.
*A delusion that I am dead certain a significant percentage of my readership will share
**For the love of GOD, don't try this at home, kids. We here at Ursula's blog think driving while tripping is not only stupid but makes the whole act of taking hallucinogens look bad.
***For a given value of sober, in this case "lightly stoned, but not tripping on anything."