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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

A Dance Mom, A Light Bulb, A Plumber, and A Squirrel

You know when you have one of those moments when you did not think anyone would believe a story if you told them? This weekend we had a snowstorm that I am sure everyone in the Northeast knows about. I canceled classes for the day and like most of NJ, stayed home while Mother Nature reminded us of who is in charge. So, while I am inside waiting for the snow to stop before being allowed the pleasure of shoveling, why not write a letter?

This Wednesday past, I showed up early to teach my class figuring I could send out a couple of emails before I Hakama’ed up (I like that term. Should I copyright it? It’s probably too late now that I put it in this letter). After the slow rush hour drive from Brooklyn to Roselle Park, I experienced a pressing need having had a few pots of tea that afternoon. I pulled into the parking lot and there was a large SUV with the engine idling parked in my reserved ‘Sensei’ spot. It was one of those expensive black Escalades you see in a Superbowl ad (Do you know we’re having a party?). I flashed my lights, and nothing. I hopped out of my truck to address the driver of the running SUV, only to find no one in it. As a native Brooklyn boy, I was shocked by the daring of someone leaving their idling car unattended. I did what I normally do when a Dance Mom parks in my spot: I pulled my truck up to their bumper, parked, and headed into the dojo.

As many of you know, we share the parking lot with a dance studio. The parents tend not to be very considerate of anyone else: often leaving their cars right in the middle of the driveway for ten minutes or more while they ‘quickly run’ their kids inside. We all have a little dislike of our parking lot mates. I left my truck blocking the SUV so the owner would have to get me when they wanted to leave and prevent someone from stealing it (Brooklyn, remember). It is my passive aggressiveness as this happens often and even though there is a “No Parking” sign and the word “Reserved” painted in the spot.

I ran into the dojo to where Nature’s calls are answered, and boy, was Nature calling. While taking care of my protesting bladder, I couldn’t help but notice it was kind of dark in the bathroom. Like I was peeing in a cave. I looked up and saw that all but one of the lightbulbs in the bathroom were out.

Nature’s crisis averted, I looked for the spare bulbs when Derrell arrived at the dojo with a Plumber friend to fix the drinking fountain. I gave the Plumber a quick run-down of the water fountain issue and continued to look for lightbulbs in the many storage areas we have. (We have eight storage cabinets. Not that I counted.) I finally found a box of various loose lightbulbs under three boxes of garbage bags in the last storage closet I opened.

I jumped up onto the vanity (Sorry Hal! It’s an inside joke between us, I couldn’t resist.) and put in a bulb – nothing. I tried another, again - nothing. I just happened to have an electrical tester in my shirt pocket (Doesn’t everyone?) which showed the light socket had juice (as in electrical, not fruit). I tried another bulb – nothing. Getting frustrated, I jumped down (more like carefully climbed down as I have been nursing a bad ankle but really, that doesn’t make for a good story especially from a martial artist. After all, I have an image to keep up!). So, slowly and carefully coming down from the vanity (Sorry again, Hal – same joke. It’s still funny at least for me.) I walked into my office with bulb in hand and tried it out in the hi hat above my desk (after carefully climbing up again, you know, my ankle). Lo and behold, the bulb from the box was dead. I tried another, it was bad, also. All five bulbs from the box of bulbs were bad. What were the chances? It seems someone in the dojo thought the proper place to keep bad lightbulbs is in a box under many boxes of garbage bags in the back of the last closet you’d think to look. I should have seen that one coming.

I found a box of LED spotlights (not exactly what you would use in a vanity light fixture, but did I mention it was kind of dark?) under another box of garbage bags and jumped up (I am still embellishing, it was embarrassingly slow) and screwed in the spotlight when the Plumber called me. He had an issue with the fountain and needed my attention. I began the careful descent (I am not even trying to sound cool anymore) as the Dance Mom walked in now that she had finished using my parking spot. I was trying to talk to the Plumber while diffusing (lighting humor) the irate blocked-in Dance Mom, when I heard panicked screaming from the mat (a kids’ class was going on). Danny ran over to tell me there was a large squirrel on the mat who seemed to want to take an Aikido class.

So, with ten minutes until I had to teach class, I juggled an irate Dance Mom standing in the front door, a friendly Plumber sitting on the floor, a dimly light uni-bulbed bathroom, several terrified gi-clad kids screaming and a frisky bushy-tailed rodent on the mat that did not sign a waiver. It was at that moment I thought to myself, “I am living the dream!” Who would believe this is a day in the life of a sensei of a large Aikido dojo? I hiked up my big boy pants (not even wearing a gi yet) and got to work.

I told the Plumber the filter was on order, and I would change it and to come back tomorrow with a Shark Bite fitting. I popped in two lightbulbs to get the bathroom looking less like a poetry reading in a 1970’s coffee bar, zipped outside to move my truck allowing the Dance Mom -- she promised never to park there again – to drove away angrily, ran back into the dojo, flung off my shoes to learn Rocky (“Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat?” Classic 60’s cartoon reference) was now squirreled away in the bottom of the weapons’ rack.

Now for those of you who know me, a squirrel does not cause me the least amount of fear. Quite the opposite, I have a history of efficiently dispatching them. As the dojo was filled with young students, that would probably not be my best course of action (again for those of you who know me, you are probably very proud of my restraint).

I got a jo and knocked the now-named Rocky on the head to let him (I assume it is a “he,” I already named him Rocky. Which interestingly, Rocky, a male squirrel cartoon character, was voiced by June Foray.), know I meant business and to slow him down a little. Danny had someone open the side door. I began the process of informing the squirrel it was better for him to be out of the weapons’ rack than stay tucked away. After some prodding with various dojo weapons, he got the message and leapt up into the air. I managed a quick whack with the jo (the years of stickball as a teen finally had some use) sending him towards the open door. Without ever signing a waiver, he ran out, leaped over the fence into the NJ Transit woods not even thanking me for my restraint. I mean, we have lots of sharp swords for cutting things in half! Did I mention there was a mat full of kids?

It was. Now 6:59, one minute before I taught. I can’t help but feel like I just did a half hour of randori with four ukes. Off to my office to don my expected Aikido unform, I casually plopped down and bowed in for an Aikido class and taught as if the recent past was not filled with all those things. I have no moral or lesson here. This is not one of those letters. It was just one of those stories that is worth telling for the sake of the story. And did I mention there was a snowstorm? Typing is great way to put off shoveling. By the way, the entire time I am typing this, there is a squirrel outside the window on the large juniper tree. Think I can get him to sign a waiver? Argh.

I truly am living the life. I thank g-d every day for all the blessing I have. Now, I have to make sure I buy some lightbulbs.

Unretouched picture from our yard in South Orange.

Obviously not in a snowstorm.

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