This morning as I’m readying myself for work, I receive-what else-a knock on the door. Yep, you guessed it, another pesky author wanting to use my computer. So, I invite him in, feed him breakfast (I mean we’re all starving authors, right?) and we sit and chat for awhile.
But what minds some of these authors have, what insight, what…absolute ping pong ability to jump from topic to topic and yet, somehow make sense. What am I rambling on for, I should let the author do it for me…
Truth or dare. I’ve recently flipped on the wrong side of fifty. I share this truth because I’m too old to accept dares anymore. Last time I dared myself was over the summer walking with my two boys in the woods. We came upon a small stream. My oldest boy looked for a place to cross but I waved him off. “What? This stream too wide to jump? Are we not mighty mighty men?” My youngest eagerly went first, hurtling it with ease. My oldest went next, also clearing the water by a couple yards. Their eyes were on their leader, the iconic figure who represented perfection in all categories masculine. I went airborne. I was savoring flight. I made a solid landing, like a superhero leaping between buildings. And I felt the wetness surrounding my shoes. My socks soaked.
This happens when one finds himself in the middle of a stream.
When I was a young dude I knew everything about everything. But nowadays I constantly learn how little I know about anything. And I’m falling behind the pack faster and faster every time they release a new mini-touch iPad wristwatch 5000. Hell, I panic when Facespace moves the upcoming birthday section. I’m writing this blog on an Etch-a-Sketch just to look important.
Now sure, I brag like anyone else. I rattle off my Olympian list of accomplishments in an attempt to throw down and I beat my chest like a mountain gorilla during mating season. (Side note for you lady readers out there- Flirting like a mountain gorilla has caused some historical discrepancies in how I got my wife to marry me. Waving my arms in the air, screaming and showing my teeth are honestly far sexier than it sounds here. But my wife insists on using the word ‘pity’)
I was a professional standup and improv comic for twenty-five years. I’ve taught at colleges despite having only a high school education. I dated a girl named Jennifer Aniston who wasn’t the famous actress but I can still say I dated Jennifer Aniston without lying. And I’ve been lucky enough to have several of my books published. If you’ve seen your work on a shelf, you know how kick bahookie that is. There’s a groovy bond between people who have slaved over word, paragraph and chapter to reach ‘The End’. So I say ‘Huzzah!’ to all my male and females author brothers.
I once shot a wasp out of mid-air with a thin spray of Raid. I worked at the top rated haunted attraction in America as their main ‘barker’ for the tourists. Working outside in the streets allowed me to know the local Goth kids and they gave me membership as an honorary vampire. I found them so interesting I made them the focus of my novel At the End of Church Street. (Did you know Goths have the best dances, like ‘Kick the Smurf’, ‘The Mopey Two Step’ and ‘Ow, I Cut My Wrists!’?) OH! Here’s the biggest bragging card– I was once hugged by Pat Morita. Yes. Mr. Mijagi from The Karate Kid.
But none of this means a damn thing. I found something that put me in my place forever. And I learned how little I’ve done with my time here on the earth. Bored one night, I was channel surfing. I’m a sucker for history documentaries and stopped on a program about the Shinto religion. I know as much about Japanese culture as I know about any conversation between teenage girls. But knowing Shintoism doesn’t involve selfies or unpredictable swings of emotion because Bobby texted Tiffany that brb little frog picture OMG!, I decided to invest the hour and expand my horizons.
The documentary highlighted an annual ritual they call the Naked Spirit Man.
At the risk of showing my limited intellectual capacity even further, I will attempt to tell you what I learned. To those in the Shinto religion who are reading this, I ask for forgiveness in advance. The Naked Spirit man ritual goes like this- for centuries, one guy is chosen by fate from a group of contestants. The holy leaders know they found their man because he picks a special marked stick. He doesn’t have to put his answer in the form of a question or face down Simon Cowell. It comes down to picking the right stick. I’m sure the process is much more complicated than I’m selling it here.
Then for the next few months, this guy is treated like a rock star. He is pampered and spoiled with the best food and living quarters and people who bathe him and he probably gets a new mini-touch iPad wristwatch 5000. A simple man who was nobody yesterday is now regarded by an entire population as a god on earth! Much like how we view Samuel L Jackson.
But as expected, there is a catch. He is getting ready for his very special event at the Hadaka Matsuri, or as they like to call it at Walmart, the ‘Naked Festival’. Can you guess where this is heading? Well, you’re wrong. Wait until you hear this.
The superstar is stripped naked and except for his eyebrows, he is completely shaved. I don’t know about you but that’s at least a third or fourth date kinda thing. But he is now the Shin-otoko, which means ‘Chosen One’ or the ‘Good Luck Keeper’. And he carries all the good luck for that year. We are about to have different definitions of ‘good luck’.
His main purpose is to share his abundance of luck. So he must run from a temple to a shrine for a Shinto deity about three-hundred yards away. That’s three football fields. Running naked and shaved. Oh, and did I mention this takes place in January?
Now if you have ever seen actual footage of a Japanese game show, you know I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. They lock you in a phone booth, on the beach, on those shows. They make you stick your face up into a long box and then release a komodo dragon at the other end. This shin-otoko ain’t going to be the guest of honor at a Macy’s Day parade. Nope. Between him and the shrine are about nine-thousand crazed sake-soaked locals dressed in their own loin cloth glory. You see, if you are one of the people who get to touch the Chosen One, all of your bad luck is erased.
Let the games begin.
The Chosen One runs into the wall of people and is pummeled and grabbed and tossed around like a discount hooker at Charlie Sheen’s bachelor party for three-hundred yards of whack-a-mole. There are factual accounts of broken arms, busted jaws and punctured lungs, and that’s injuries the rabid attendees get trying to fight their way to the middle of the crowd. In interviews afterwards, the participants say things like “Yeah, I got trampled and they shattered my ankle, but I got to touch the Chosen One’s oddly smooth tushy. Now all my bad luck has vanished!” The trip from point A to point B can take hours. It’s on par with running the Boston Marathon through a mosh pit.
Here’s the best part. The Chosen One’s reward. Once he finally reaches the shrine and pays his respects, he is rushed away to rid the town of evil. Much like my prom.
I assume he does belong to a holy fraternity of sorts afterwards. Maybe there are Shin-otoko trading cards. Maybe there are conventions like what we have for authors. “Oh my God! You were the Chosen One 1993! Can you sign my loin cloth?” You have to respect a playa like that.
In America, some idiot eats a bug on camera or survives alone in the woods, with a TV crew of fifteen people, and walks away with a million dollars. I’ve since read other articles that say the Chosen One has to run around a temple at night with a burnt evil rice cake, his fans throw buckets of water on his already-freezing body and if he accepts an award, Kayne West jumps onstage to snatch it away. I’m not sure which additions to the documentary I saw are accurate but regardless, the Western World has no idea what a bad mama jama is.
When I finally turned off the TV, I sat for a long time lost in thought. At first I was embarrassed. I’ve been alive for over half a decade and I had no idea such a sacred ritual, hundreds of years older than the USA itself, even existed. You can cross ‘worldly’ off your list of ‘Describe Greg’ adjectives. I’m too busy eating Funyuns, checking my fantasy football scores and wondering if Taylor Swift will ever find true love. If it’s not on The View or Finding Bigfoot, I know nothing about the day’s news.
But then a deeper question surfaced from my Zima-addled brain. If my town or religion or culture called upon me, would I have what it takes to be a Chosen One like they have in Japan? Could I, Greg Hall, be a Naked Spirit Man?
Thankfully for most of you, the answer is no.
I lived in Detroit for six years and made it out with minimal bullet holes. In my lifetime, I’ve survived a tornado, a hurricane at sea and even dragged a dumbass from the second floor of a burning building when my last words to him were “Hey, don’t open that pressure cooker…”
But there ain’t no way I’m stepping up to the plate to get beat to death by nine-thousand drunks. I don’t care how much good luck I’m destined to bring them. You should have seen the documentary. There has to be YouTube footage somewhere. It was like being caught outside as the last living piece of meat in a Romero film. Suddenly the ‘shaved and naked in January’ part doesn’t sound so bad.
No, from that day forth, I’ve fully admitted my shortcomings. I hold the Naked Spirit Man as a constant symbol that somewhere out there is someone who dwarfs anything I’ll ever accomplish. It’s the ultimate ego check.
It’s a wonderful thing to know where the bar is set. The golden boy at your class reunion, bragging about his wife and his girlfriend getting matching breast implants. That martyr who goes on for days about how they survived being unfriended on Facebook. Oprah. You can put them all in one pile and ask a simple question.
Do they—do any of us—have what it takes to be a Naked Spirit Man?
Because I know of thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of crazy drunk little men who just want to touch you.
Stay humble, my friends.
At the End of Church Street
Gregory L. Hall
Publisher: Fiery Seas Publishing
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy/Horror
Release Date: October 2016
Homeless and with nowhere to turn, Rebecca De Rosa finds a family of lost souls just like her—the vampires of Orlando. Reborn, she revels in her new lifestyle of ‘no rules’. Love whoever you want. Seek whatever high you wish. Live forever young. Every night’s an adventure—hunting down tourists, challenging local police, screaming to the world vampires really do exist! It’s Neverland and every dream Rebecca has comes true.
Until the first murder.
Someone else lurks in the shadows. Goths are found beheaded, with wooden stakes pounded into their chests. The hunters have become the hunted. As the bodies pile up, Rebecca and the Family are forced to ask who can you trust when the only person who believes you’re an actual vampire is a vampire killer?
About the Author:
Gregory L Hall has a long history in comedy, theatre and improv. He is a national Telly Award winner and creator of the Baltimore Comedy Fest, which supported Autism Awareness. Many fans know Greg best as the host/producer of the popular live radio show The Funky Werepig.
As a writer his work has appeared over the decade in various publications, anthologies and a short story collection. His novels rarely stick to one genre, ranging from comedy and romance to intense thrillers and horror. His biggest claim to fame is he was once hugged by Pat Morita, Mr. Miyagi of The Karate Kid. We should pause an extra moment to realize how awesome that is.
<a class=”rcptr” href=”http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba112ffc1482/” rel=”nofollow” data-raflid=”ba112ffc1482″ data-theme=”classic” data-template=”” id=”rcwidget_qiogizis”>a Rafflecopter giveaway</a>