So I decided to buy a grappling hook. You know, something handy that I could keep in the car in case of emergency. In case I might need to scale an imposing cliff face or the wall of an office building.
None of you will be surprised to learn that there is a lot of variety in the grappling hook market. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who wanted to connect with his inner ninja. After some deliberation, I went for a smaller collapsible four-claw variety, mid-range in price, deciding that it was most appropriate for casual use in a suburban environment. Not only is a grappling hook a handy tool, but it is also very satisfying to say. Go on, say it with me a few times: Grappling hook. Grappling hook. That’s right, grappling hook! See, now don’t you feel better?
At first it was just reassuring to have it in the car and know that I could grapple at a moment’s notice. I had never grappled anything in my entire life, and I decided it was about time to start. I first began to put it to use grappling the morning paper from the driveway, then at the grocery store where I grappled fruit and vegetables from the produce displays. Which generated some odds looks. It didn’t take long before a clerk came by and told me that in spite of my obvious skill, I couldn’t grapple in the store. Really, since when? Was that documented company policy? In fact it was. He turned and pointed to a sign on the wall with a grappling hook with a line through it. Grappling Forbidden! How could I have missed that?
Looking closer I noticed that the hook in the sign had only three claws, something I felt I needed to mention as mine had four and was therefore not covered by the restriction. The man pointed to the other wall where there was another sign with a grapple with four hooks and a line through it and the same caption.
“Look,” he said, “I don’t want to have to do this, but I going to have to confiscate your grappling hook.”
You ever notice how they always tell you this, and then do it anyway? If you don’t want to do it, then don’t. How about that? Now confiscate is funny word. Only the authorities get to use it. If I wanted to, say, confiscate some candy while waiting in the checkout aisle, that would be stealing. So basically he was going to steal my grappling hook.
“I didn’t realize it was such a big deal,” I told him.
“It’s like this,” he said, “you can grapple all you want in public, but not here in the store. I’ll give you a break this time, and just put it in the lost and found and you can come get it on your way out.”
Which is what I did. But when I got there, I was surprised to find a bin filled with grappling hooks, and it took me some time to find my own, which fortunately I had engraved with my initials in case it got lost.
I had taken to carrying the grappling hook around with me slung over my shoulder. It turned out the other men in the neighborhood had seen me grappling the morning paper and the mail from the mailbox and it didn’t take long before they bought their own grappling hooks. Two camps emerged, the four claw and the three. Obviously, I was the leader of four claw group, and those who resented my alpha male status had broken off to form their own three prong faction. They were by and large frustrated married men, and to discover a new tool gave them a newfound sense of pride and purpose. You could see it in the way they lifted their heads and thrust out their chests when they grappled in their yards; and by the way they jauntily slung them over their shoulder or self-consciously wore them on their belts.
Soon every man in the neighborhood had to have a grappling hook. And like all tools, they had to outdo one another and of course show them off at backyard barbecues where they debated at length the merits of three-claw versus four, described the superior design of their particular hook, perhaps made out of super light titanium, special polymers, or unique self-adjusting parabolic curves. There was a fad in colors, with blue and green challenging black and unpainted metal for market share. It seemed there was no limit to what you could spend on a good grappling hook. And let’s be honest, there were the usual posers who had hooks just for show and never grappled. Sure, they talked big about grappling around the barbecue, but we, the true grapplers, knew it was just hot air and publicly humored them while holding them in private contempt. And though it wasn’t possible to grapple everything, many of us tried, to the frustration and ire of our bewildered wives.
Of course it escalated. We began to sneak out at night and drive downtown and then to the city where were would grapple and climb buildings for sport. We even had black uniforms made with a small four-claw logo in red on the front and larger one centered on the back. We were the Four-Claw Tribe. This was our secret life. We were urban ninjas who could climb and repel down vertical walls with great dexterity and skill. That’s right repel. Because if there’s one thing that matches the sheer joy of grappling, it is repelling. It is the yang to the yin. It is zen. A sublime experience of hanging between the physical and spiritual realm. A dangling nirvana.
Working our dull office jobs, we had a secret. If there were a fire, we could grapple our way out, and even save lives. Yes, we were zen grapplers, and even if our grappling forays didn’t last, and like many things were spoiled because grappling became a fad, then a reality show, and ultimately an industry with organized competitions and corporate sponsors; we could all appreciate the beauty of the grappling hook as another tool in a man’s arsenal to confront the challenges of life.
Even now I sometimes head out to the mountains, where I grapple a rocky cliff, climb to the summit and look down on a world that is constantly changing but somehow remains the same. And when I am too old to grapple, I will polish my grappling hook with loving care and remember how it once was.