The Tale of Ninja Matt

It was a Tuesday night when my neighbor decided he was going to have a party in his car parked behind his house. I didn’t think anything of it at first knowing that on previous nights like this one the parties were short lived after he downed a bottle of vodka and passed out in his house. This night was already turning out differently from the rest.
I was upstairs in my office working on a story when the music started. The bass of the subwoofer vibrated the windows of my house and looking outside I could see the car rocking back and forth as the occupants hollered out the lyrics to a rap song. My wife came into the room with a window overlooking the backyard and alley and looked out at the car with smoke billowing out of the windows.
“Do you hear this shit?” she asked as the walls shook.
“Yup,” I said not wanting to deal with it. This kind of thing had become a regular occurrence throughout the summer and I wanted to see how long it would go on before calling the police.
“I’m calling the cops,” she said before I stopped her.
“That’s the one neighbor that likes us. We aren’t going to bed yet. If they are still at it in an hour then I’ll call.”
I didn’t take long for the guys outside to ruin their own party. Dennis lived in the house since the year before and I had learned from talking to him that his sister owned the house and let him stay in it. He owned the Cadillac parked behind it and I had no idea what he did for a living. Tonight, his job was to party and they were taking it very seriously.
“They’re throwing things in our yard,” she said in disgust and horror.
I bolted out of my chair and looked out the window to see a beer can soaring through the air into my yard. Next was a liquor bottle and other trash. This was a line they should not have crossed.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“Giving it back.”
I went into the bedroom and pulled out all the black clothes I owned. Head to toe I looked like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and I snuck out the front door and into the back yard. I walked around picking up all the cans and liquor bottles of which there were already many. I walked over to the fence and tossed them back over without anyone noticing. The smell of marijuana was in the air. Dennis sat on his porch puffing away at his own joint while a second made the rounds in the car.
I sat back on a bench in my yard and waited for the next item to fly over the fence. Upstairs my wife watched and waited. Her job was to call the police if there was some kind of altercation during this adventure.
The music was cracked up and the lyrics “fuck that bitch, fuck that bitch” were repeated through the neighborhood. As the song was cracked up, the windows were rolled down and a red light flew over the fence, a burning ember like a shooting star across the sky. I ran over to it and found the cigarette still lit. I picked up the butt and flicked it back over the fence in the same direction it came from. I sat back on the bench and waited for the next thing.
What I didn’t see was that the lit cigarette went back through the sunroof if had been thrown through and into the car. A minute later all hell broke loose.
The following is the conversation I heard between four very drunk and high men from the other side of the fence. I don’t know who was speaking at the time:
“Ow, ow man, what the fuck man. Oh shit, get it off get it off. What the fuck!”
“What the fuck you doing in my car man?”
“Man, that cigarette burned my leg man.”
“Why the fuck you burn your leg?”
“I didn’t burn my leg. Why the fuck you throw that cigarette in the car man?”
“Why the fuck would I throw a cigarette in my own car?”
“I saw you throw that cigarette in the car. It came in through the sunroof.”
“Why the fuck would I do that? It’s my fucking car.”
“This hurts really bad man. This shit hurts.”
“Man, it’s a cigarette. Why you being a bitch?”
“Look at it, this shit hurts. What the fuck you want me to do?”
“Why the fuck are you guys throwing shit in my car?”
“How the fuck did we throw it in? we’re in the motherfucking car.”
“I gots ta go to the hospital.”
“You aint got to go to the hospital. It’s a cigarette burn.”
“Look at this shit. This shit hurts.”
“Fuck you.”
“Man, his pants are burnt and everything.”
“What the fuck, you want me to drive your ass to the hospital when we downed a fifth of absolute. Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“This fucking shit hurts man.”
“God damn it.”
I hear keys jingling out of a pocket and the car doors opening.
“Get in the fucking car.”
The car starts and the Cadillac slowly strolls out of the tight space and disappears into the alley.
I go back into the house where my wife is on the floor laughing.
“Oh my god, how the hell did you do that? That cigarette went right back through the sunroof they threw it through. What the hell happened?”
“It landed in a guys lap and burned him. They’re taking him to the hospital.”
We both laughed and started to enjoy the silence of the night. The yard was clean, the air smelled fresh and the sound of bats could be heard fluttering through the air. We finally had our night back.
The next morning, I saw Dennis in his yard mumbling to himself. I went out back and started racking the leaves that were already starting to fall from the trees.
“These lazy ass motherfuckers,” Dennis pops his head over the fence. “these motherfuckers come over to my house and trashed my fucking yard. Ain’t nobody got any respect these days.”
“Man, that sucks,” I had to force my laughter deep down to get through this conversation.
“Fucking liquor bottles, beer cans. Who drinks this shit? Those motherfuckers ain’t coming back here. Fuck this shit.”
Dennis’ car wasn’t there and I wondered what happened to it. He put all the bottles and cans into a grocery bag and set it by the house where it would stay. Dennis disappeared after saying a few choice words about his friends and I never saw him again after that. The car never returned and the house was declared condemned a few months later. I can’t say I miss Dennis, the man who would catch catfish out of the local rivers and dump the heads and guts behind the fence to rot stinking up my yard. The guy who would hit on my wife while sunbathing. The guy who told his friends to throw their shit in my yard the night before. That guy, fuck that guy. I hope they were pulled over, the car impounded, maybe his license taken away. When you act like an asshole, sometimes you’re going to get fucked. Do not mess with the ninja Matt, you will never know what happened.

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The Tale of Brendan

Neighbors came and went with the seasons at Maple Ridge Apartments and during the spring of 2000 a white pick-up truck backed up to a door and started unloading furniture. A few days later I heard a woman calling out my name in the parking lot and I saw someone I recognized but didn’t know, although she acted like she knew me. Karen was a cashier at the Meijer grocery store I worked for in high school. Two years later one of those cashiers was my new neighbor. Karen was ten years older than me with dark straight stringy hair, a thin face, and a bad attitude. This was the first time she had tried to be nice to me. In the two years I worked with her I could not recall anyone liking this woman. Then I met her husband.
Brendan was close to my age. A young decent looking guy who acted like he was always on a caffeine kick and had never heard of something called peace and quiet. His blonde hair was spiked with gel and he was still at that stage of eating whatever he wanted and still appearing in shape. When you met Brendan, you could not leave without hearing about his truck. It was a mid-90s white Ford Ranger that was nothing remarkable except that it had been totaled in an accident and rebuilt. To this day I can’t figure out what is so special about a truck that “has no value” as he put it and “I could never sell it since it doesn’t exist.” How much of this story is true, I have no idea? There were the holes I found in the story back then, how do you buy tags for the plate? How do you get a plate? Insurance, it’s not like they won’t look up the vin number. None of these questions were answered and he usually turned the topic to sex. Women he banged. Prospects in the apartment complex. Women, women, and more women was the constant topic of discussion, but he never talked about his wife.
The marriage was rocky from the beginning. These two were always fighting and Karen would storm out taking their kid, I don’t remember if it was a boy or a girl, to her mom’s place leaving Brendan to roam the complex on his own.
During that time, I had regular visits from Gary, a former co-worker from Meijer that knew Nate and Rob who were also regular visitors. Rob eventually became my roommate for a period, and it was during that phase Brendan and Karen moved in a few doors down. Gary lived in the building behind ours and as the social butterfly that he was. He knew most of the people in his building, who smoked weed, who was throwing parties, who was looking for some action, etc. Gary was not picky and as he put it, “they all look that same when the lights are out.”
Karen had stormed out of the apartment again. There was the usual yelling and screaming that had all the neighbors looking out of their blinds. A few minutes after she left, Brendan was knocking on the door expecting me or Rob to entertain him. I didn’t answer the door and went about my business. An hour later Gary came knocking and around that time Rob came home from work. He had the misfortune of landing a Union job for a garbage company and his task was cleaning out the backs of those trucks. And I thought I had it bad with the rats.
“Ya’ll gotta come ta muh building. Dis gurl haffin a party up in der.” Gary was difficult to understand. If you didn’t know Gary you would think he was drunk, or high, or maybe a speech impediment, or just had dental work done. None of these were true although sometimes he was high but that made it easier to understand him.
I was bored so I said to heck with it and followed Gary and Rob out the door. On the way Rob went to Brendan’s and that man came rushing out like a dog let off the leash.
There was indeed a party that was happening. Some girl that nobody knew had just moved in and was having people over. Her real agenda was to have someone bring some weed so that she could get high and Gary was happy to fulfill that wish. With a dozen of us in this one-bedroom apartment we sat around looking at one another wondering how nobody had something to smoke it with. Rob went back to the apartment and grabbed an old corncob pipe that he had, and Brendan assigned himself to pack it.
“I’ve done this before,” Brendan said. “I’m good at this.” Not exactly the thing to brag about when you are pressing your thumb into the bowl with all your might. He never broke apart the bud and instead stuffed the entire thing into the pipe. Gary sat back watching completely entertained. Eventually the bowl was lit but nobody could draw from the damn thing, so we went about drinking cheap booze and making small talk. Brendan was hitting on the girl the whole time. He would say he liked rap and she would reply she liked country. “I was just kidding. I love country. Country is my jam.” Then he started talking about his truck. To my surprise the girl started asking all the same questions I had regarding the truck being legal. Brendan changed the subject to what he wanted to do with it. “I’m going to lower it down, put some small fat tires on it and run some lights underneath. It’s going to be sweet.” The girl on the other hand said. “I like big trucks.” Brendan changed his tune and said, “I was just kidding. Ya, I’m going to get one of those kits and put some big fat mud tires on there.”
This act went on all night and I was one of the last people to leave. My job that evening was the cock blocker. I didn’t like Karen, hell I didn’t like Brendan, but who was this girl that was being pulled into their bullshit. When Brendan went to take a leak, I told the girl he was married, and they had a kid.
“He said he was single,” she whispered back. “How do you know?”
“He lives a few doors down and I worked with his wife. Look do what you want but now you know.”
I went home that night feeling a little better. To this day nobody knows what happened. The next morning Brendan came nocking on the door. Half-awake I answered and he told me about his sexual escapades with the girl from the party. “She had a huge bush and she blew me. It was so good.” These were the details that would be repeated and never expanded upon and I was fine with that.
The next day I saw Rob and he said he ran into Brendan after work. “He said she was shaved, and they fucked.” After comparing the few notes we had it was obvious somebody was lying.
A week later Rob came storming into the apartment with a large cardboard box. “You won’t believe what this guy a work gave me.” It was difficult to tell what it was at first, all the VHS tapes had the covers missing and the titles were in small print.
“What is it?” I asked.
“There is this old cranky Vietnam vet at work who doesn’t talk to anyone and is pissed off all the time. He comes in today and says ‘does anybody want this box of porn’ so I raise my hand up and he tells me its all lesbian porn because seeing another dude’s dick is gay. He didn’t have to explain that to me, but he did. Then he tells me that if I didn’t take it then it was going in the trash and I put it in my car right away.”
Rob starts going through the titles; Muff Divers volume 4, No Dicks Allowed 2, Carpet Burn, and the list went on and on. He was happy with his find and had the next day off.
“Just make sure you clean up afterwards,” I said rolling my eyes as he explained he wasn’t leaving the house all day.
That next day I went to work at Olga’s and Rob stayed home with his box of porn. What happened is as follows. Rob went through his tapes reading the titles. When he came across All Anal Action volume 12, he thought “this sounds nice.” None of the tapes were rewound so if you put it in the VCR you were starting at some random spot. This tape started with a close up, loins slapping and heavy breathing, Rob sat back on the couch and enjoyed, until the camera started to pull back. There was something odd he couldn’t put his finger on. The guy was odd enough, not exactly what the man at work had said these movies were. No, the problem was the girl in the movie who either had a serious case of hemorrhoids or…
Rob fast forwarded enough to learn he had been enjoying two guys going at it and for a few minutes he sat in a corner balled up crying. Then he had an idea.
Rob rewound the tape to the exact spot he had found it and took it out of the VCR. Then, he called Brendan. “Dude, you know that box of porn I got from work. I have something you need to see.” Brendan was at the door in seconds. “Now when you watch it don’t rewind it. It’s at the best scene.” Brendan grabbed the tape and ran back to his place eager to watch the film. Rob waited.
And waited…
And waited…
What he had expected was for Brendan to come back yelling and throwing the tape at him. Maybe a phone call where he said, “very funny asshole.” Some prank played on him later. But none of these things happened. We never saw Brendan again. We never saw Karen again.
When I came home that night Rob told me what had happened, and I too waited for a response. A week later the truck was gone. A few days later, Karen was moving out on her own with the kid. She never said anything to us. We had no idea what had happened to Brendan. The girl in Gary’s building disappeared that summer as well. It was like those few weeks had never happened.
Rob often wondered if he had ruined Brendan’s life, opening doors that weren’t meant to be opened.
“Rob, he tried too hard. You know this. He was living in denial.”
“What about Karen?”
“He picked the one girl at the bar that looked like a man. And she was always a bitch.”
“Ya, she was a bitch.” Rob smoked his cigarette and maybe felt better about the joke he had played. I could see why it would be difficult to move on. A marriage destroyed, a child’s life in limbo, and a woman with nowhere to go. I think Rob liked Brendan, for all of his faults, of which there were many, he was likable in small doses, really small doses, like not living a few doors down from you, or keeping a safe distance while passing on the street far enough away that you won’t end up talking, or not knowing that a person like him exist at all. That is the best way to enjoy Brendan’s personality.
To this day I have never run into Brendan. I don’t know if I would recognize him if I saw him. I never saw the white truck on the road. I never saw Karen again either. It was obvious from the beginning that Brendan had some issues the down side was that he had to take a few people down a road with him because he was too afraid to do it by himself. In the end I think the big old box of porn was a practical joke that turned into a two for one deal. When you work with garbagemen expect to feel a little dirty.

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