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Friday, March 16, 2007 | Did you hear? A new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is opening next Friday?
That news might inspire you to yawn, or scream “Noooooooo!” but it just gives me a giant case of deja vu all over again.
Back in the early ’90s, I briefly worked as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle performing at kids’ parties.
Yes, it was as bad as it sounds, but, on the upside, getting in touch with my inner child forced me to finally become an adult.
The company that employed me believed in giving families quality entertainment while ignoring copyright laws. Seriously, I have a feeling the owner of the company didn’t feel like paying those annoying licensing fees or spending cash on decent costumes.
Basically, our outfits were football helmets with a makeshift turtle head, along with green one-size-fits-all tights. Actually, the only reason they were one-size-fits-all is because the company only bought them in one size so every pair had a ripped crotch.
I had to buy a pair of green boxers.
You might think that dressing up as a Ninja Turtle might be easy, but it was the hardest job I’ve ever had.
My first appearance was at the Red Robin in Encinitas. When I showed up, I couldn’t tell who was happier to see me: The kids, who had a chance to meet their hero; or the parents, who now had a chance to go to the bar for a few minutes.
It was my first experience of fame and it was painful. All these 4-year-old kids started karate-chopping me.
Sadly, the costume given to me had no shin guards and my headband kept falling off so I had no idea whether I was Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello or Michaelangelo.
I think I was Michaelangelo.
Finally, I had enough and I said to the kids: “Sure, being a Ninja Turtle is fun, but it’s not just about beating people through karate moves. It’s about using your mind.”
Suddenly, the kid whose party it was got serious and held his friends back. Then he said quietly: “Let’s listen to him.”
With that, I knew they were mine and led the little squirts through “turtle calisthenics” that I invented on the spot, along with games like “Turtle, Turtle, Shredder,” a variation on “Duck, Duck, Goose.”
After that, I left the party for an hour to “go look for Leonardo” and then came back with a different mask.
“Hey kids, have you seen Michaelangelo?”
“He was looking for you.”
At that moment, another schmo in a costume came in the room. It was the Red Robin, the chain’s loveable mascot. We immediately gravitated toward each other and gave each other a hug. After all, you can never really know a person’s pain until you walk in their moccasin (or in the case, an itchy costume).
It was a touching moment for all.
Then it was time for me to leave, and the boy’s father seemed really happy to see me.
“He’s been so excited for this. He’s been in cancer treatment and I told him that if he got better, we’d have this party.”
“Man, I am so happy to do this,” I said, before pausing. “By the way, the owner of the company told me your credit card didn’t go through and I have to collect the bill in cash.”
The dad looked flustered and immediately went to the other parents in the bar to collect the cash. Amazingly, I got a $20 tip.
My first performance was actually my best. It went downhill from there.
A little while later, I went to a party in National City for a little boy who was cute but confused. And after talking to him, I was just as confused.
“Did you come frumda tewer?”
“What’d you say, kid?”
“Did you come frumda tewer?”
Luckily, his mom was there to translate.
“He wants to know if you came from the sewer.”
“Oh yeah. Sure, I did. From that sewer down the street.”
“Where you weapwins?”
Luckily, mom spoke up for him.
“He wants to know where your weapons are.”
“Oh. Uh, hey, this is a party. I don’t bring weapons to a party.”
Then the older kids started kicking me.
“You’re not real. You’re not real. You’re not real,” they chanted.
I tried to get them to stop, but the kids wouldn’t and I didn’t get any help from the parents.
“You’re the entertainment,” said the little boy’s dad.
“And this is entertaining?” I winced.
“I think so.”
After 45 minutes of abuse, I left the party. I tried to sneak away so that the little boy wouldn’t see me getting into my Mustang instead of slipping down the sewer.
Alas, that didn’t happen.
“You not going da tewer?”
“Can’t. I’ve got an important mission and have to get to headquarters fast.”
Then I tried to start my car. But it didn’t turn over. I’m sure that kid is forever traumatized by the sight of Donatello (or was it Raphael?) asking his parents to help jump start his car.
That show was difficult physically, but the most mentally challenging one was when I appeared at a party in Otay Mesa and the kids were actually asking me questions about the characters.
Most of them were easy, but one kid was perplexed but polite.
“Mr. Ninja Turtle. How come, on screen three of the Ninja Turtles videogame, Donatello has no weapons?”
Imagine the longest pregnant pause possible. Double it, and you have my reaction time. But I did answer.
“Well, you see. There are a lot of folks working on the videogame who are nice people but they don’t understand what it’s really like, being down in the sewer battling the Shredder. They think it’s all fun and games and sometimes they forget to ask us these important questions. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to bother us with seemingly petty answers. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what. As soon as I get back to headquarters, I am going address this issue and I promise you heads will roll.”
Amazingly, the kid was satisfied with my answer.
I was also happy when I was able to use my Ninja Turtle powers to help my friends. I dated a nursery school teacher and during a conversation, I found out that one of her students — an especially rowdy student — was going to be at one of my parties.
You should’ve seen the look on his face when I told him, “Miss Judith wants you to behave better in class. And I do too.”
After that, I stopped doing the Ninja Turtle thing. Frankly, it wasn’t worth the weird looks I got from women I met in bars.
But after a winter of reminiscing, I got the urge to do it once again, so I agreed to do a party at a park in Mission Valley.
After putting on the hot costume, I went and started my show and immediately, one of the kids grabbed my helmet off my head and started playing keep away.
After five minutes, I got my head back (at the cost of my dignity) and decided to walk away then and there, thus closing a part of my past.
Although the owner of the company was disappointed, he had other things to worry about, and didn’t exactly try to keep me in the fold. In exchange, I didn’t ask him to pay me for the show.
Right now, my daughter, Alex, is asking me to take her to see the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. But that isn’t going to happen.
As I told her, “I don’t need to see it. I lived it.”
David Moye is a La Mesa-based writer who was so traumatized by his Ninja Turtle experience that he refuses to wear anything over his head — including baseball hats. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org