The Neighborly Ninja: A Tale of Darkest Suburbia

It’s Tuesday night; your narrator has just stepped out the door on the way to the bus stop, so as to catch the last bus to work for his usual overnight shift. The door, as it’s been trained to do, swings shut behind him…

…and my hand slides into my right front pocket, where there is no key ring.


On the one hand, this is a serious problem for a one-person household in Oregon whose closest spare key is located in southern California. On the other hand, it’s a five minute walk to the bus stop, the bus is due in thirteen minutes, and it is in fact the last bus of the night.

I walk to the bus stop, establishing as I wait for the bus that no, my brother will not be coming up from Los Angeles to let me in tomorrow morning. We discuss the feasibility of replacing the lock with a fancy keypad model…

…and meanwhile, the bus mysteriously fails to appear. I check the GPS-driven app on my phone, which shows that it should be along in one minute – but it’s a scheduled one minute, because the bus’s GPS is evidently offline.

One minute fails to produce a bus. Five minutes fail to produce a bus. I check the app in an attempt to discern whether the bus somehow slipped past me while I was texting my brother. The app reports that the bus should be somewhere between my stop and the stop where I get off. It becomes obvious, however, that wherever it went, the last bus has ended its run without picking me up.

Clearly, the universe is conspiring against me. I sigh and make two phone calls, one to work and one to Uber. Impressively, the Uber driver is reasonably prompt and I am only slightly late for work, although without my key ring I can’t get into my locker, where some of my usual work gear lives. The universe is also out to get my immediate supervisor; another co-worker has called in sick, and we also discover we have about twice as much work as there was supposed to be for this particular shift. Nevertheless, we persist, and the work mostly gets done in timely fashion.

Now it’s time to come home – but how to get in? I have a light-bulb moment; I’ve recently learned that our HOA has a garage in which various odds and ends are stored, including assorted tools and such. It occurs to me that given our recent hot weather, and given that my condo is a second-floor unit sadly lacking in air conditioning, I’ve been leaving the glass sliding door to my balcony open at night for better airflow. (The sliding screen door is not open; I’m not inclined to let in the neighborhood squirrels or the occasional visiting goose.)

Possibly, I think to myself, the HOA will have a ladder in the garage, whereby I can climb up, get onto the balcony, and let myself in.

My brother points out via text that I am gaining ground on Lewis Carroll’s Father William, and that perhaps I ought not be scrambling around on rickety ladders at my age. (Neither of us mentions that I have had an explicit warning from my doctor not to scramble around on ladders, rickety or otherwise, while one of my current prescriptions is still running.)

This discussion takes long enough that it’s no longer too stupidly early to knock on my next door neighbor’s door, on the off chance that I actually did give him a spare key when I changed my locks a couple of years ago. We establish that no, I wasn’t that bright. However, my neighbor knows exactly which of my other neighbors is (a) on the HOA board, and (b) has the key to the garage in which there may or may not be a ladder. And wonder of wonders, the other neighbor is home!

Better still, we establish that there is, in fact, a ladder of sufficient height in the garage to reach my second-floor balcony. My two neighbors and I are, shortly, standing next to the base of said ladder, which is neatly extended up to said balcony. We look at one another. “John,” my next door neighbor asks, “are you sure you can make it up that ladder?”

On the one hand, advancing age notwithstanding, I announce that I feel perfectly capable of climbing the ladder. However, the board member and custodian of ladders eyes me critically, and inquires, “Would you like me to climb up there, get in, and open up the door?”

I contemplate the ladder for a moment, and consider what the doctor is likely to say should I happen to fail my saving throw versus landing on my head as I swing over the balcony railing. “That’s probably a good idea,” I reply.

The other two of us watch – with my neighbor helping to steady the ladder – as the board member scoots with ninja-like efficiency up to the balcony, swings with monkey-like deftness over the railing, and takes all of two and a half seconds to defeat the screen door. Another thirty seconds find me back around at the front of the building, greeting him with effusive thanks as he emerges from my front door. Clearly my neighbor and board member is a bona fide ninja, and I have been saved from having to call a locksmith. [Clearly I also need to do some serious baking, preferably before the next heat wave arrives in a week or so.]

For the moment, in any event, the universe’s conspiracy against me has been defeated, and life in Darkest Suburbia is back to its usual state.