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Pawns in the Sun 

Rock Ninja! encounters the rules of a summer concert at BFD

Wednesday, Jun 23 2004
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The sun does not appeal to me. I prefer the cool shelter and safety of nightfall. Darkness tends to hide imperfections and veil appearance; it offers me great comfort. So when my grandfather found me alone in my dark bedroom clutching a traffic citation one recent afternoon, he showed little surprise. Under his breath, he said, "Summer holds days of adventure and exploration. The warm season shouldn't be ignored, young ninja." I ignored him and continued to read the fine print on my jaywalking violation.

He then reached into his hidden pocket and pulled out a rectangular printout and a plastic card that read "Unlimited Access." He dropped them onto my bamboo floor and spoke softly: "A ticket and a security pass for this evening. This ticket will allow entrance to a summer rock music festival in a nearby village. Escape the confines of your den. You will find wisdom at this event."

He left me staring at the concert ticket. The words printed upon the glossy cards were: "Live 105 presents -- The Strokes -- The Beastie Boys -- Violent Femmes -- The Yeah Yeah Yeahs." Though these bands were very popular, I had reservations about leaving the security of the dojo and being engulfed in a sea of teenagers. Yet I had no choice. My grandfather's instructions were clear.

At the Shoreline Amphitheatre, where the concert was being held, I handed my ticket to the blue-vested clerk and passed through the turnstile. The interior of the stadium was chaotic and noisy. People bustled about, many of them clutching plastic cups filled with beer drink. Young girls traveled in packs of 10, wearing shirts that exposed their midriffs and bosoms. Young men wore their baseball hats backward and shouted obscenities as they walked. It was the opposite of my quiet bedroom. I needed to find solace somewhere within this place. I had to regain my composure. It occurred to me that there may be a library or reading room backstage for the artists, so I clutched my security card and headed for the area behind the stage.

This "Unlimited Access" card magically provided me with the respect that I needed to enter all areas of the stadium. As soon as the security guards saw the credentials printed upon this laminated paper, they bowed to me. After I passed the final guard, I found myself in the section devoted to leisure activities for the performers. There was a basketball court and a bar for alcoholic beverages. I stopped near the basketball goal, then crouched into a Mongolian duck stance and strained my eyes to spot someone from the MTV channel. I recognized three charismatic young men who danced and sang in videos -- the Beastie Boys. Before I could approach them, a loud, distorted rumble shook the air like the roar of a hippopotamus. My ninja instinct took hold! I laid down on the asphalt. From this emergency position I overheard someone say that it was not a hippopotamus at all. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs had taken the stage.

Picking myself up, I tiptoed over to the backstage viewing area. I stood silently and watched the Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform. The band was very loud despite having only three musicmakers: one electric guitarist, one drummer, and a young girl in a dress with vocal duties. The sound that leapt from their speakers was equivalent to that of an army of musicians. I was mesmerized. Suddenly, I sensed a figure appear alongside me. I turned my head. One of the Beastie Boys had crept up next to me like a silent turtle. Could he have ninjitsu skills similar to mine? Impossible. I offered my hand as a signal of gratitude. He accepted and thanked me. He was a soft-spoken man, similar to my grandfather. He introduced himself as "MCA."

There was a calm about MCA. He had no trouble conversing with me. Instantly an idea struck me like lightning barreling into a palm tree in a wild tropical storm. I would get a photograph with MCA. This would prove to my grandfather that I had been to the rock concert and explored this June day. I asked MCA to pose with me in a photograph. He thought about my proposition for a moment, then responded, "I can't. It's not allowed back here. I'm just a pawn." His words echoed through me like a giant bear's roar. Traffic citations, photography regulations, local ordinances, codes -- thoughts of these absurd limitations exploded inside of me. Could I not escape laws wherever I went? It was time for me to retreat to the safety of my bedroom once again, where I could read my scriptures and be undisturbed by regulations.

As I left, the sound of the Beastie Boys echoed through the night winds; their vocals compelled me to stop for a moment and observe the show. The amount of energy the Beastie Boys possessed was amazing. That energy seemed to flow from the stage out to each of the summer concertgoers. The previous performance by the Violent Femmes, an adult contemporary group from Milwaukee, did not have the bombastic quality of the Beastie Boys'. I mentally re-examined my meeting with MCA. As I jogged through the shadows en route to my train homeward, I contrasted MCA's reserved demeanor with the fire of his performance. He possessed magic.

Once at our dojo, I sprinted upstairs and slammed the bedroom door. I began rereading my jaywalking violation. A strong feeling of angst bloomed inside of me. Interrupting this angry blood flow to my head was a gentle knock at my door. I turned the brass knob and found my grandfather in the hallway.

"How was the rock music festival?" he asked.

"Terrible," I replied. "It seems that there are too many rules in this world. I did meet a kind soul named MCA, but he refused to take a photograph with me. He claimed that he was 'just a pawn.'"

My grandfather thought for a moment with his hands cupped near his face. "Would you take a photograph with a stranger?" he asked.

"No," I responded.

"Was MCA in good spirits, despite the regulations that plagued him?"

"Yes. Excellent spirits," I responded.

My grandfather took a deep breath and said, "MCA is wise. It is true, we are all pawns. But we must learn to enjoy the moment. MCA has transcended authority and found happiness." I pondered his observation. Looking at my jaywalking violation, I let out a mighty laugh. My grandfather was right, once again. Rules can only control you if you let them.

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Rock Ninja

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