A close friend of mine, Simon Coronel, is an illusionist (no really: go see his show at the looming Melbourne Magic Festival – he’s world class). We get together for coffee or possibly something more alcoholic whenever we can, and swap stories, brainwaves, concepts, crazy plans, angst, moments, the germ of a good idea … you get the picture.
Once, during one of these sessions, at the Black Cat on Brunswick Street, we got to talking about moments where you somehow accidentally pulled off something pretty much impossible in everyday life, for no great reward. Let me explain: in movies, this happens all the time. An action Hero will catch a spear out of mid-air and throw it back, killing the original thrower. Or will leap out of a skyscraper and one-handed-catch the foot-rail of a helicopter to be carried to safety, or maybe kill everybody in the helicopter and then jump off, rolling neatly off a café umbrella, breaking his fall, to land on his feet next to Halle Berry, who will take him straight to a hotel room to celebrate. That kind of thing. They never miss that spear, or that catch, or that leap, or that umbrella. Usually, these actions save the world.
In real life, you don’t save the world. And rarely in real life can you pull off such feats of physical skill, timing and sheer chutzpah anyway.
Especially while managing to look like you totally meant it.
But sometimes it can happen. OK, I’ll give you a lesser example. I am the world’s worst soccer player. That, and basketball, are the two ball sports I simply cannot play. I’ve tried. I’ve failed.
So years ago, when a newspaper I was working for organized a social game of soccer against another paper, I groaned, laced up my footy boots and volunteered to be a substitute, rather than a player. Deep in the second half, the coach decided it was time for me to have a run and so I reluctantly jogged onto the dodgy suburban pitch, with its uneven grassy surface, to be humiliated in front of all my friends and workmates. With no real idea about soccer, I kind of wandered into the middle of the field and that was when one of our defenders, no doubt English and expert, having seen off an opposition attack, spotted Nick Place, all alone in the centre, and punted the ball in a long looping arc.
I had no clue what to do, but the ball was coming in fast, dying in its trajectory, and so I kind of stuck out my left foot and the ball cannoned off my boot and went straight up in the air.
I had no idea where it had gone. Just lost sight of it and sort of turned around, 180 degrees, looking for it.
At which time, the ball having neatly risen over my head and looped past me, landed perfectly at my feet, but this time facing our goal. I saw one of our forwards running past, kicked it to him and pretty much retired from soccer on the spot. I could never look that good again. Anybody watching this flawless, casual over-the-head flick pass to myself must have been wondering how I had never made it to the English Premier League.
Of course, later, when it was mentioned, I shrugged and said: ‘Oh yeah, whatever’; like that was the kind of thing I pulled off all the time.
So that, my friends, is an Everyday Ninja moment. You’re privately thinking: Whoa, how the Hell did I even do that?
Anybody watching would be thinking: That was incredible. That guy/girl is basically Neo from The Matrix.
It was Coronel and I, laughing about such moments, who came up with the term Everyday Ninja and have lived for the rare moments they occur ever since. (Simon has a great one about catching his mobile phone on an escalator in a split-second reflex action, as the phone was about to plummet several stories of Melbourne Central to its certain death.)
Hockey is built for this stuff. Each game is full of so many tiny moments within the wider picture, and often they’re personal. None of your teammates might even spot it, good or bad, but you either curse yourself blue for an error (that happens a lot – and not just me. Teammates arrive back at the bench, earnestly apologizing for that crap pass or this failed shot, and you honestly have no idea what they’re talking about) or you get to enjoy a private oh-yeah moment of pure satisfaction.
Usually, it’s blind luck or barely-controlled skating/stick-handling that somehow comes off. I had a pass come to behind my feet as I had momentum surging forward on Sunday night, in a 10 pm Nite Owls game, and somehow reached back with my stick and perfectly deflected the puck 90 degrees so that it was now in front of me, bouncing off the boards. Sure, a D-man for the opposition beat me to it, but almost. Almost. I reckon I could pull that move off maybe once in every 20 attempts.
And then, weirdly, I had a true Everyday Ninja moment, with only three minutes to go in the game, moments after getting my first penalty in a long time. I’d been dicing for the puck on our defensive blue line and somehow managed to get my stick totally tangled in the legs of my opponent. Worse, when I yanked my stick, I completely took his legs and he fell hard, face first. It basically should have been videoed as a textbook example of the most blatant tripping foul possible.
Because the Nite Owls play by proper hockey rules, there was no whistle, just a delayed penalty. I just saw the referee’s arm shoot into the air, meaning I was going to the box as soon as our opponents lost possession. In the meantime, play continued (a delayed penalty, for those new to hockey, is when you sometimes see a team pull their goalie, because only the non-penalty team is allowed to touch the puck in this situation. As soon as one of my team gets the puck, play stops and I get sent off. But in the meantime, the infringed opponent has an advantage, and can bring on an extra skater if they’ve got their wits about them.)
So now I’m skating, knowing I’m facing a delayed penalty, and their defender has the puck and is looking to set something up. I skate to centre ice just as he attempts a “saucer pass” – as in looping the puck through the air – past me, and here’s where I pull off my Everyday Ninja move.
I see the puck coming, raise my stick and somehow – who knows how? – use The Force to knock the puck clean out of the air, dead to the ice at my feet. If this doesn’t sound impressive, try standing on thin strips of metal on impossibly slippery ice sometime, peering through the cage of a helmet and wave a long hockey stick maybe four centimetres wide to intercept a flying block of circular rubber traveling at speed.
I manage it. Just this once.
The whistle blows. I pat the killed puck with my stick, to make sure it’s stopped, and nonchalantly skate straight to the penalty box, without waiting for the referee to come and point at me and escort me off the ice.
“Number 17. Goon Place,” I announce to the scorers, who laugh, and then I allow myself to smile, even though incarcerated in hockey’s Naughty Corner. Big Cat Place, watching the game, grins from the other side of the ice and I enjoy how badass that whole moment must have looked.
Who cares? I saw it. I lived it.
Everyday Ninja, and a nice two-minute breather. Yeah!
Do YOU have an Everyday Ninja moment? Either in hockey or elsewhere?