HOW THE NINJA TURTLES ALMOST MADE ME AN ORPHAN
LOST IN A JUNGLE
I stood in one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring places on Earth and was reduced to a decade-old pile of snot, sweat, and salty tears caused by the anxiety of my abandonment. This place was a jungle. Visibility was limited and hordes of ape-like creatures swarmed frantically, seeking to land on whatever “deal” they could find. Multiple Home Alone movies should have prepared me for the excitement of parentlessness but, when tried, tested and put in the furnace, I melted.
I shouted for help but found none in the nearby mammals; their selfish instincts took over. I had become isolated from my family and was in survival mode. I had to get out of this place. Fast.
Nervously, I carried myself back to where we started and found help in the form of a grandmotherly lady in a blue apron. I told her I was lost. She asked for my name and I gave it to her.
“Wait here, Adam. It’ll be ok.”
Her reassuring tone was like balm.
With my trauma temporarily tranquillised, she grabbed a microphone and broadcasted the following:
“Will the parents of Adam Meyersieck please come to the Customer Services Desk. Parents of Adam Meyersieck to the Customer Services Desk. Thank you.”
It was my first experience at Walmart.
I looked around at the towers of toilet paper climbing as high as I could see. Big yellow cartoon smiley faces taunted me with their happiness. Banners touting their “Everyday low prices!” reminded me I was at an all-time low. “Price Cut!” posters reminded me I had been cut away from my family - possibly forever this time.
HOW I LOST MY WAY
Just how did I end up getting rescued by Blue Apron Lady at a Walmart Customer Services Desk? Probably the same way every kid gets lost at Walmart- I stayed in the Toys section while my family carried on shopping. Due to my own distractibility, my obsession for the heroes in a half shell turned into full-on emotional hell.
THE CULPRIT: NINJA TURTLES
For most of my elementary school years I was on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kick. My first Ninja Turtle action figure was Raphael, the hot-headed one with the red bandana. Walmart had an endless supply of Ninja Turtles action figures and accessories. Pizza Throwers and Party Wagons, Toilet Taxis and Turtle Trikes; they had Shredder, Splinter, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and variations of each. They had the has-been amateur hockey playing ruffian Casey Jones and pretentious Channel 6 News Anchor, April O’Neill. She came with a news camera and microphone.
I was in Toy Heaven. Walmart had it all!
Check out the video before continuing:
WHO COMES UP WITH THIS STUFF?
Now I know New York style pizzas are large, but flinging them at New York’s most cruel and advanced underground, chemical-trading crime ring to save the city from imminent takeover does not seem to me to be an effective strategy for fighting evil.
Perhaps that's the reason they never asked me.
Sometimes I wonder how they came up with the basic plot line for the show (though admittedly I haven’t given it much thought). It’s amazing the things we give such little thought to when we are entertained or distracted.
I imagine that initial "ideas meeting" to have gone something like this:
Creative Director of Studio- That’s great team. If no one else has any ideas, we’ll meet again at the same time nex-...(interrupted by a drowsy looking young flounderer)
Guy who’s usually stoned whose dad got him a job in Creative- Hey man. I’ve got one.
(Other writers sigh in disdain, roll eyes and look up at ceiling.)
Creative Director- (Annoyed as the meeting was nearly finished)
What? You do?
Guy who’s usually stoned whose dad got him a job in Creative- Yeah, I had a dream last night.
(All eyes roll).
It was about the Renaissance artists.
(Jaws drop. Everyone is surprised by intelligibility of his reference and they sit back up.)
Creative Director- OK. Keep going...
Guy who’s usually stoned whose dad got him a job in Creative- Yeah man. They were living in Manhattan.
Creative Director- OK this is interesting.
(Looks at the interns)
One of you - take notes.
(Looks back at man recovering from bender. Other writers are intrigued).
Guy who’s usually stoned whose dad got him a job in Creative- So like, these guys - Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo - they’re Samurai Ninja warriors but they’re disguised as pizza delivery guys with a giant ageing rat as a Sensei.
(All slouch again, put hand in face and avoid eye contact).
They live in New York City sewers and the best thing is that they’re turtles, man.
(He laughs to himself before continuing).
They’re like mutated and big and green and look like us. They are us, but they’re like turtles, dude, so they’re not really us. They’re heroes in like... a shell.
(Motions with hands).
But only have half a shell because they’re turtles. Get it?
Creative Director- (Trying to keep morale up, allows the Executive’s son to continue)
OK. What about the antagonist?
Guy who’s usually stoned whose dad got him a job in Creative- The aunt-who?
Creative Director- The “bad guy”.
Guy who’s usually stoned whose dad got him a job in Creative- Yeah, he was this masked man and had a cheese shredder for a mask. I think he was Japanese and wore a purple dress.
(Receptionist walks into room with a note for the Creative Director. It’s from the studio Chief Executive who also happens to the Stoner’s father. It reads: “You WILL use whatever idea my son comes up with today. Or you’re fired.”)
(Creative director stands up and stares out window for a minute. He considers his future. His wife, children, two dogs, and their homes in Malibu and the Hamptons.)
Creative Director- OK. We’ll make it.
(He turns to the writers who sit in slack-jawed disbelief)
We are going to make this cartoon and it’s gonna be a hit.
(Writers cannot believe what they are hearing. Creative director thinks of a way out of room)
Creative Director- I’ve got a, umm... a meeting to be at now. Everyone listen to everything he says and write it down. If this show fails, it’s on YOU!
(He points at writers and walks out door)
All look around at each other, unsure what to do. One writer speaks up.
Writer 1- OK. I guess we are really doing this. What’s next then?
(All look at Guy who’s usually stoned who’s dad got him a job in Creative. He’s fast asleep with head on table, drooling.)
“THE SUN WILL COME OUT...” OR “PLEASE CAN I HAVE SOME MORE”?
“Will the parents of Adam Meyersieck please come to the Customer Services Desk.”
I stood by Blue Apron Lady red-eyed and snotting. My school teacher walked by with his wife. I was embarrassed because I particularly liked my teacher that year. We had shared interest in US geography and all-things Disney World. He stopped for a moment, looked at me and saw I was crying. He then walked away. Fair enough.
For a brief moment I thought I might be orphaned. Here’s what I knew of orphans. They are either:
Adopted by big city billionaires, sing songs about how good life will be tomorrow and get rescued on drawbridges, or
Live in London workhouses, pick-pocket locals and pay up to a creepy child gang leader with borderline homophobic names.
And while the thought crossed my mind to turn myself in to protective services for admission to a nearby orphanage, I just couldn’t take the chance.
“Too rainy in London.” I thought. I’ll wait for my parents. I don’t know of any billionaires in the area anyway.”
Seconds seemed like minutes. I was afraid that if my parents didn’t come soon, Walmart might, in fact, send me to protective services where I’d be shipped off to some unknown quarters across the Atlantic.
But then, emerging like a steed-riding heroine (except her “steed” was a gray shopping cart filled with toilet paper, Tide and Lysol), my Mother gallantly arrived to rescue me from being sent to a Victorian workhouse.
She kindly thanked the a Customer Services crowd who gathered around to see what the fuss was about then took my hand and asked what happened.
“I was in the toy section looking at Ninja Turtles. They have the Pizza Thrower, you know...”
“Oh.” She sounded surprised. “We were just one aisle over in the Garden section.”
“I thought I looked there.” I said.
“I guess not." She replied. "We were there the whole time. Glad you’re safe.”
PIZZA THROWERS AND PARTY WAGONS
Distractions come in many forms. They can be big or small, shiny or dull, expensive or economical. Heck, they can even be Ninja Turtles at Walmart. Regardless of whatever form distractions take, they still do the same thing- DISTRACT!
They distract us from what really matters- things like love and people and family and justice and wholeness. These are the things that stand the test of time and will bring us true joy, even in painful experiences.
For me, distractions often come in the form of asking “What’s next?” I think I’m wired to dream and desire to make a difference. Odds are, so are you.
I can’t escape it. It’s a wild and wonderful learning experience, but I run the risk of “de-valuing today” and what's in front of me. I become focused on where, what is next and what I don’t have.
If you think about it, words like career, salary, opportunity and ambition can be nothing more than grown-up sounding versions of Pizza Thrower and Party Wagon.
What do we do with our desire to be great? To achieve? To be successful? Some people pursue it at all costs; they give up family, friends, relationships, convictions and more. Others suppress this desire, calling it “selfish” and “self-promoting”. Both are toxic.
I once heard a conference speaker talk about something he called “the radical middle”. It’s the place that most of us want to be but might not know how to get there. The radical middle strikes the balance between self-awareness and selfishness; it is confident in pursuing a cause with compassion.
Valuing today keeps people before position and helps us to remain present in our home, communities and workplaces. It’s not always easy but it is incredibly important .
I was once walking the streets of Rome with my brother. We were in awe of the history, architecture and postcard views around every corner. He had his camera out and was holding it up to his eye, looking at distant buildings as we walked. Unfortunately, while in search of the perfect photo in the distance, he failed to notice a giant lamppost directly in front of him and walked right into it, banging his head - hard. The giant lump proved just how hard, and it caused him a severe headache for the rest of the day.
There’s an obvious analogy in this story, and you can probably figure it out.
Let's try to recognise the distractions that keep us from what really matters. A first step might be figuring out what really matters. Once we have that settled we can look at what draws us away from those things and if they are really worth it. If you're struggling to come up with any distractions, ask trusted family and friends what they think. Sometimes I'm amazed at how well they perceive me!