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In memory of a ninja - Which is not unduly obvious, as I am about to explain
dronon
dronon
In memory of a ninja
I was deeply saddened to hear tonight that Ninjalicious has passed away.



A.k.a. Ninj, Jeff, or Milky - Ninjalicious was the writer and publisher of a zine called Infiltration, "The zine about going places you're not supposed to go." I don't know how many copies he printed, but Infiltration travelled far and wide. It hooked Ninj up with other interested people in Minneapolis, Australia, people all over the world - and with a common interest identified, they began to network and form a true underground phenomenon (sometimes literally). Ninj was there. He was a founder, a mover, an inspiration; a kind and thoughtful person.

Infiltration was about exploring. In an age when man had mapped the Earth, there were still hidden secrets to be found. Abandoned factories, "Staff only" corridors in hospitals and hotels, the back halls of churches - anything was game. Ninj was a very mature and intelligent person. He knew that in many cases what he was doing amounted to illegal trespassing, but he believed in doing no harm. Half of his enjoyment was the thrill of seeing these spaces as a social phenomenon, and the other half was the sheer taboo thrill of getting there. He did not believe in damage or vandalism, although in his younger days he didn't mind plucking an apple from a bowl or a quick dip in a swimming pool. He had a code of ethics and stuck to them, and tried to encourage others to balance risk with respect, especially after the events of 9-11 made people increasingly paranoid. He was interviewed on the radio many times under his alias. I can't possibly estimate how many people he got interested in (what is now being called) Urban Exploration, directly or indirectly.

Ninj's health was never very good, something he kept very private. I felt privileged but saddened to have been "in the know" in his last year. During that time, Ninj married his long-term girlfriend and fellow explorer Liz, whose memorial to him can be read here (hoping that link still works). Ninj also managed to write a book about his hobby before he passed away, Access All Areas, which for now is probably the book on the subject. Ninj was an excellent writer with a very approachable prose style. It was fun, full of wit, friendly and felt very personal while you were reading it, but he could be very serious at the same time.

I was not a close friend of Ninj's, but we go back a long way. Back in the late '80s when I was a teenaged nerd, I was on BBSes that promoted creative writing. Most of the other users on the boards were four years older than I was, but they were very accepting. Just as I was getting into the subculture, the main gang split apart - university, personal disagreements, people politics - and I followed the shards of the nuclear group across several other BBSes, determined to stay in touch. One of those shards was pobig, which eventually led me to anime and anthropomorphics. One of the other shards led me to YIP, a very silly BBS that Ninj ran under his alias Milky. This was how I came to know him. We met a couple of times, but I was slightly older and he had his own circles, so we never became close friends. As I went off to university and thereafter, we were distant acquaintances who were mutually happy when either of us received an unexpected hello from the other. I think the last time I saw him was in 2002 at one of the Toronto zine events at Sneaky Dee's.

Ninj and I shared a very strong liking for absurd humour, and this is where we really hit it off, although we rarely collaborated. Before Infiltration began, Ninj published another zine called YIP for his old BBS crowd. I contributed to maybe three, four issues tops. The humour was often juvenile, not to my liking, but in other parts very intelligent (which I liked), or intelligent while masquerading as stupid, or just plain silly. It was up to issue 30-something recently, and I contributed to the most recent issue, although I can't find my copy right now. Ninj would write things like this, or would include bizarre advertisements like this:



...and it always made me smile or laugh outright. I think Ninj even organized a meet in Toronto for fellow urban explorers, and called it OPEX - short for "Office Products Exposition". That's classic Ninj.

Or this paragraph from Infiltration no. 13: "Our first stop on the other side was the flashing light, which turned out to be a warning light on the front of a big yellow construction train that ran along the subway tracks. I climbed up into the cab and asked Liz to take my picture, which she did, while making some snide comment about boys and trains. (Look: many boys may have an irrational love for trains, but hey, many girls have an irrational love for horses, and which of those do you think would win in a fight? I Rest My Case.)"

When I finished university and moved back to Toronto, Ninj started giving me copies of Infiltration. The first issue was an amazing look at the back halls of the Royal York Hotel. And the last few pages were about sneaking into the MuchMusic building, owned by egoist and Canadian media mogul Moses Znaimer. "I found out early in the evening that if one held a clipboard and looked harried they'd assume you were on staff. If I'd had a headset, I think I could've gone anywhere in the building. ... It seemed all the employees had been brainwashed into devotion to the company. On a wall near the offices, I found an insane treatise which Moses had had all the employees sign proclaiming that 'Television has triumphed over the printed word' or some such nonsense."

This was like nothing I'd ever seen before. So I kept my eyes open for more issues. Keep in mind that I'm a fat, lazy person who's shy of trying new things. I don't live daringly or go off the beaten path... so reading this zine was like living it without having to do it. It's not like I'm in good shape to run from security guards or squeeze through windows. Anyway, my father got into the zine too. He was interested in the phenomenon as a sociologist - okay, the real reason was because a lot of the issues had articles about exploring train/subway tunnels and stations, and my father's a train nut. So naturally he was over the moon.

As I like to share quirky things with my friends, I showed them the zine and they got into it too. My friend entropicana was particularly smitten with the idea, and this is undoubtedly the way Ninj had an effect on so many people's lives. One day, Entropicana mentioned offhand how he wished he could get into urban exploring, but he didn't know anyone in the scene. I frowned and said, "Well, I could ask Ninj..." and suddenly Entropicana's eyes lit up with fire and surprise. "You know the guy? And you never told me??" In my defense, I had assumed Entropicana had known where I was getting my zines from, but I guess from his perspective, the zines originated in... well, whatever dimension I pull this weird stuff out of.

So I wrote to Ninj. I distinctly remember how I started the e-mail: "Hi. I have this friend (you probably know where this is going already)..." and I explained about his enthusiasm, that he was safe and trustworthy. Could he be hooked up with anyone to take a first-time explorer and show him the ropes? - Mentioning that on his first trip out he'd likely be overly nervous and self-conscious, but once that was out of the way, he'd be no problem. (Sorry.)

Well, as it turned out, Ninj came through and hooked Entropicana up with someone. And they hooked. They're lovers now, and have been for some time. And I've always been happy to have been a step in making that happen. I get all mushy thinking about it.

Thank you, Ninj. Let us know what the back rooms of Heaven are like. And thanks for sending me all those issues.



Current Mood: solemn
Current Music: Jane's Addiction - Been caught stealing

5 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: pobig Date: August 25th, 2005 07:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I've been pondering how to react to the news all day, but this entry says just about everything I could think of. Thanks very much for sharing these memories.
oshawa From: oshawa Date: August 25th, 2005 07:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I have a few examples of a magazine called "Weird New Jersey" which features many such infiltrations. Perhaps I can show them to you if you show up on either friday or saturday for their respective events. I think you would like them, they are quite interesting magazines for those interested in obscuria. Or at least to me.
pyat From: pyat Date: August 25th, 2005 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's very sad. I used to read his site fairly regularly... I had no idea you knew him.
dronon From: dronon Date: August 25th, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, we were distant acquaintances at best, and all the more distant after I moved to Winnipeg. I wish I'd known him better. I didn't tell people I knew him, partially to preserve his privacy, partially because I had few reasons to name-drop, and heck, it's not something that happened to come up in conversation very often.
melskunk From: melskunk Date: August 25th, 2005 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Holy crap. I had been wondering, but can't say I'm surprised. He always looked tired when I saw him and he was withdrawing from the UE community.

Shit.
I'm really, really torn up to hear this. I WENT to OPEX (he didn't call it that, I can't remember who's joke it was, but he was intrumental in running the first one). Man. I'm just speechless...
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