Location: Oakland, CA, USA
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|Re: Ninjalicious has passed away|
< Reply # 262 on 9/16/2005 4:27 AM >
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Words fail when you hear news like this. I only met Jeff briefly, but was inspired by his writings to be confident and excited about UE, and to see the potential around me for a more pure and creative experience in my own environment.
Jeff brought humor, passion, and a deep respect for humanity to his work. For me, his writing made UE speak about issues that matter deep down: democracy, authority, how places affect people, and what it means for us to live in cities. He was good at demystifying powerful institutions - something that a lot of writers who care about social change try to do, but few succeed.
I especially liked that he presented his own interpretations of places and experiences but always left you feeling like there was room for you to add something to the story. He never needed to have the last word, and he was happy instead of threatened when people built on his accomplishments. He was the heart of a scene but also an anti-scenester. This kind of practical, compassionate humility is rare and something to really treasure. (And something we should all aspire to.)
I am crushed that we lost him so young. But Jeff made our lives richer, and will live on as a legend for many years to come. However long we live, few of us will ever be able to say that.
Let's remember him by passing along the grace he shared with us.
Warning: Prosecutors will be Violated
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|Re: Ninjalicious has passed away|
< Reply # 269 on 9/25/2005 12:29 AM >
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On Saturday, September 24th I attended a "gathering" at Don Valley Brickworks, Building #1 - an informal remembrance of a person who passed away approximately one month ago. His monicker was 'Ninjalicious' (real name Jeff). He was an inspiration and considered a father of urban exploration, and the popularization (if that's ever a good thing) of this odd hobby of going place you're not supposed to go.
His witty writing in his 'zines "Infiltration", since 1996, have encouraged and coalesced diverse people from all over the world. There are 100s of similar groups now - Australia, England, Russia. Ninjalicious exuberant style and flair brought them all together in the cyber world.
The gathering was attended by perhaps 50 or so people. His wife, mother, father and brother (I think). About 4 people plus Jeff's father delivered some nice speeches. There was a short TV interview with Ninj shown on a laptop.
Ninjalicious didn't like interviews but was interviewed on radio, and on TV while keeping anonymous. No matter how well the intent of exploring abandoned buildings, under-construction hospitals, tunnel systems underneath the city, disused subway platforms, storm drains, roofs and basements of government official buildings, etc., there will always be the sourpusses who can not wrap their heads around child-like curiosity and genuine creativity as a driving force. They would imagine the worst of intentions - B&E (break and entry), though nothing is ever broken.
To me, Ninj was not so much a pioneer, but only because I am older by almost 20 years. I have ventured into "invisible" floors at University of Toronto's Erindale campus, ducking swiveling security cameras and crawling around catwalks and roofs of the Ontario Science Centre in the mid to late 70s. Finding Dr. No like access ramps and electric personnel vehicles underneath the Eaton's Centre (Toronto's huge indoor shopping mall) while it was still new. The Casa Loma - the castle that's a tourism focus - but not known for its old boiler rooms, dumb waiters, rickety towers, and hidden tunnels.
I met Ninj once, face to face. That was probably around late 90's. I had seen his magazine 'Infiltration' and I wanted to arrange to order all back issues I was missing. Back then I was on the 3rd or 4th when I discovered it. Before going any further to offer money or support this funny person who wrote so delightfully, I wanted to interview him over supper. It took a few attempts and he finally agreed to come out to the Dundas Street Grille - near the Kipling subway stop.
I had been doing 'urban spelunking' as I coined it for over 20 years by the time I met him. I had always practiced the utmost in ethical exploration. I would sometimes spend an hour retracing my steps to close all propped open doors and reset elevator 'service' switches to their default positions. I told him of several of my past adventures but I was still very cautious when he encouraged me to contribute some articles to the zine. Some of my techniques included separating inner and outer elevator doors, taking service ports off their hinges, jumping across intertwined scissor staircases, crawling over glass domes, fashioning crude tools, etc. I explained to him that I in no way wanted to simplify a bad person's access. Ninj was never pressuring. He said, OK, yeah, I see what you mean. Can you then leave that dangerous part out? By 'dangerous' he didn't just mean protection from bruised arm from being stuck in an elevator door. He meant that if I felt uncomfortable that some miscreant may abuse the knowledge that I was not obligated to write in that much nitty detail.
Whether it's the taking along of night-vision equipment and infra-red (invisible) flashlights, laser rangefinders, radio scanners and the like, we spent the supper discussing high tech toys and their ultimate practicality. All the while I was realizing I am becoming more and more chicken in my old age. My explorations have waned over the years.
It's becoming less and less fun anymore. Even simple storm drains are now routinely barred up - and graffitiized. These things used to be open and welcoming. Not hangouts for druggies. Times have changed.
Anyhow, my interview with Ninj proved that he was more humble, more quiet than I had expected. Not a note out of place as far as ethics and motivations. But he percolated an underlying energy and positive vibe. He didn't look comfortable for long. Just too "family restaurant" and an environment just too mundane I would guess. He liked some of the ideas of destinations that I had mentioned.
His zines from that point forward arrived gratis - often with a nice yellow sticky attached with some note or funny saying. Signed Jeff. I was considered one of his 'friends' which honors me since I barely knew him. I wish I had made more effort. We corresponded via email over the years.
I often told him he is welcomed anytime to another supper, my treat. I owed him. Unfortunately he was simply too humble to take me up on it.
After remembering his article about the scuttled ship La Grande Hermine off St. Catharines, my mother called me to say that on the news the ship had been torched. During the winter I proceeded to do some post-exploration exploration and took a bunch of pictures to send to Ninj as a 'thank you'. Obviously when he explored it, the ship had much more of its glory intact.
The Eaton's Centre was revisited but there again, lots of new cameras all over the place. The telephone access portals in the sidewalks have all been locked down. The "central core" as I called it - the cylinder that the cars spiral around when exiting the multi-level garage has even been locked up. Used to be my friend and I could enter there and stand in the middle of it - wondering how all those golf balls got there. Probably someone is using this concrete cylinder as putting practice off the higher buildings around there.
I managed to do a storm drain in my area. Plus environs of a private residence - which I felt was a little too private. Well I did respect a healthy boundary area. Then an impromptu afternoon's worth of exploring Union Station using Ninj's advice of which access doors were more access than doors. A friend and I alternated between clandestine sleuthing and overt social engineering: "of course we belong here, do you?".
I had promised but never delivered a detailed alphabetical index of his zines. For that I am sorry. His website seems to have a comprehensive index now anyways.
At the gathering I had the pleasure of meeting Liz - his partner in 'crimes'. She knew me right away... from the correspondence. Again, I don't know why we wait to get to know people.
The old Don Valley Brickworks was such a perfect location. Great day. I went for a walk up top of the escarpment to the north of there. Though I had my small Maglite (R) with me I was not in the mood for anything more grimy on such a nice day.
I don't know what else to say except that Ninj (Jeff) never made a big deal about his perpetual health problems. His passing came as a total shock when I read it on the UER forums. I was not aware of anything amiss until then. On August 17th I had asked in an email how I may pay for a pre-order of his new book "Access All Areas" if not by sending cash. I had not heard from him. The book was available at the gathering... and there will be an upcoming official book launch later some time in the brewery district I think I heard.
I am grateful Jeff was part of my life experience. There was of course much more to him than this particular hobby but this part is all I know. Just as most people do not know I do (did) this urban spelunking.
Thank you Liz and all other persons who planned and arranged the gathering.
[last edit 9/25/2005 12:37 AM by oldtimer - edited 6 times]
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