Spent the weekend in Olympia looking at houses to rent (nothing too exciting to report), and crashed at Eric’s house on Saturday. I love hanging out with people who haven’t forgotten how to PLAY! And I don’t mean like grown-ups play by smoking cigars and talking about golf, or by getting drunk at the club, or even playing chess and discussing Nietzsche, but get down in the dirt and pretend like you’re a cat or a bug or an Indian or a rocketship, and wholeheartedly, unself-consciously play like kids know how to do.

Saturday night, we were feeling restless, so we went for a walk around 11:30 that evening. It was a rare clear night and the stars were out, so we ended up laying on our backs in the front yard, in the shadows of some big fir trees. The front yard has a big street light right next to it, and is on a main street, so we felt sort of secretive laying there in the shadows. We saw a couple shooting stars. It was nice. As we were laying there, I could hear something moving every once in a while in the bushes next to us. I figured there was some sort of nocturnal animal in there waiting for us to move along so it could continue its foraging. After we’d been there for 10 minutes or so, it got tired of waiting and started walking through the dried leaves. Apparently Eric hadn’t heard it before that, because he was immediately crouched and balanced on the balls of his feet facing the fence with his staff in his hands. The motion was beautiful, and I almost felt bad telling him that it was just a raccoon.

We wandered the same direction that the raccoon had headed, towards the abandoned garden, tried to pick grapes in the dark (even harder than you might think), and wandered back towards Eric’s building. Standing in the shadow of one of the apartment garages, we looked out across the well-lit street that we would have to cross to get back to the apartment. We were talking about how we used to play ninja when we were kids, and how we both always wanted to be ninjas. Of course, he’s come a lot closer than I ever did, him being a couple months away from his black belt in kung fu, while the closest I’ve come is a couple months of kickboxing, but y’all let’s not get too nitpicky about the details, shall we?

So standing there in the shadows, I asked him if he wanted his ninja challenge for the night. At first, he turned it down, saying that he couldn’t do anything ninja. But I assured him it was a ninja challenge he would be able to do. Not yet willing to commit, he asked what it was.

“Get from here to the sidewalk in front of your apartment, without stepping into the light.” And he was off. And seriously, I’m not sure I’ve had so much fun slinking around in the dark since the days of my criminal teens, and this time if the cops happened by to ask us what we were up to, I wouldn’t have had to lie. Although we were within sight of his apartment, it took us 40 minutes of crawling around in the bushes to get as close as we could. We were still across the well-lit street from his sidewalk when we found ourselves without another plan to stick to the shadows. His apartment building is pretty well lit, it turns out.

As we sat at the base of a tree pondering our options, a cat walked by and seemed surprised to find us there. “Sshh, don’t say a word,” Eric told the cat. “Or we’ll have to kill you.” “Don’t worry,” I told him. “It’s just a brother ninja; all cats are ninjas.” The cat hung out with us for a while, and listened in while figured out how to get across the road.

“If you were a ninja, and you needed to get from here to there in the least conspicuous way possible, what would you do?” I asked.

“If I was a ninja, and I was out with my female ninja partner, and I needed to cross a well-lit street inconspicuously, I would probably just walk across it while holding hands with my partner and acting like something other than a ninja,” he said.

I thought this was fairly brilliant, and also an indicator that our ninja game had probably lasted long enough. So we headed across the street, and stood in the front yard again for a while. The cat followed us, also not acting like a ninja. We chatted with the cat for a while (which involved alternating periods of looking away from the cat with periods of looking at the cat while pretending not to). The cat seemed fascinated, in that way that cats do when they are so fascinated that they pretend not to be and sit on the sidewalks cleaning themselves instead. Finally, we turned to head up the stairs to the apartment. The cat stopped cleaning himself long enough to make eye contact as we rounded the corner, and we returned the “goodnight” as we left.

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