Posts Tagged ‘layla’

Lock Picking Part Deux

on August 17, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Lock Picking Part Deux

It’s a good thing Layla never needs to pick a car’s lock.

“Car locks are really hard to pick,” Chris confessed.  Rather than pick a car lock, a thief would be better off just breaking the window.  On the other hand, to break into a Bentley you just have to take off a headlight and throw a screwdriver into the opening behind it.  That’ll short out the electrical system and the doors will open.  “But at that point you might as well break the window,” Chris said logically.

Obviously, Chris and I were now getting down to the nitty-gritty of Layla’s needs.

“Where does your character work?” he asked.  When I told him she was mostly in Europe (and forgot to add the Middle East), he stated she would need flatter tools.  It seems that locks in Europe are more finely tuned than American ones, therefore the tools must also be finer.  When he asked me what kind of places she’d be getting into, I told him mostly older buildings like archives, libraries and churches.

“Then she should carry WD40 and graphite powder with her,” he instructed.

That’s because older locks can have rust in them, which makes their pins and other parts stiff.  Layla could pour a little WD40 oil into a lock, but after picking her way past the pins the lock would need to be replaced because oil can ruin it.  Graphite powder would be better:  after blowing some into the lock, the parts wouldn’t be damaged and the powder would still facilitate picking.

Precisely because Layla wouldn’t leave damaged locks behind, both to protect herself and out of personal ethics, Chris and I decided that Layla wouldn’t bump locks.  Yes, bumping is easy and it works, but bump a lock repeatedly and it has to be replaced.  Picking is kinder and gentler.


Happily I don’t have Layla breaking into state-of-the-art safes.  Even Chris believes the best of them are nearly impossible to get into.  That means the scene in The Italian Job when Charlize Theron is practicing breaking into a safe by listening to its tumbler isn’t realistic, he thinks.  Opening your standard basic combination lock by listening to it is one thing.  Listening to a very expensive safe with an advanced system would take a lot more than Charlize’s skills and tools.

Layla would also occasionally encounter the really old-fashioned lock — the kind with the classic keyhole accessed with big old keys.  When I was a kid a few doors on our family’s 1920’s house had such locks, and a standard skeleton key bought at the hardware store could open all of them.  “You can open those locks with a hairpin!” Chris said with a laugh.

I’m glad he said this, because in The Compass Master Layla picks a desk lock with a hairpin.  The scene is one of several concerning her teenage years in an Irish boarding school; it’s her first time at lock picking and getting into something that’s forbidden to her, and she finds the thrill addictive.  When writing the scene I figured this was plausible because as a kid I often misplaced the key to an old trunk I’d been given and so had to teach myself how to use a twisted-up hairpin to pick the lock.

Other everyday objects can also be altered into handy-dandy picking tools, Chris said.  To prove his point he pulled out a file and a long thin wire he’d been working on.  The wire was a bristle from a street-cleaner, the kind that can be found on streets or in gutters just about anywhere.  Then there’s the metal edge to a ruler, the wire inside a windshield wiper, even — and I am not making this up — the stiff edge of a banana’s top.  “You can turn just about anything into a pick!” Chris declared.  Apparently resourcefulness and ingenuity are points of pride among Crazy Young Guy lock pickers.

Home-made picks can also be convenient because buying real lock picking tools might get tricky.  Chris wouldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to get my hands on a set like his, never mind that they seem to be sold on plenty of internet sites.  In most states only professional locksmiths and law enforcement agencies can legally purchase lock picking kits.

Well, I still need a lock picking set with at least the four tools Chris recommended, and like him I need to buy a deadbolt lock and a couple padlocks and practice on them.  In the coming weeks I’ll find out just how tough or easy it’ll be to buy those tools.

My First Lock Picking Teacher

on August 15, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on My First Lock Picking Teacher

Great news!  After parkour class today I met a top-of-the-line lock picker, someone who knows the art as well as Layla.

But first let me summarize the class:

We really, really worked on jumping the vault boxes.  And I really, really still suck at jumping the vault boxes.

Anyway, after class I mentioned to one of the instructors that I’d overheard him saying something about lock pickers.  Of course he knew a few, it turned out.  (The rule seems to be that in any large group of Crazy Young Guys, one can find at least a couple excellent lock pickers.)  In fact, one of the best was hanging out in the gym’s lounge.

Chris was lying on the floor of the lounge with ice packs bracketing the calves of one leg while his right arm was taped up and nearly immobile.   Apparently during the National Parkour Jam a week earlier he’d dislocated his elbow and banged up his leg.  But he was still bright-eyed, very friendly, and happy to give me the basics.

He started by pulling out his own lock picking kit.  It was a small leather case with only a few tools in it, and the ones he recommended to me the most were the rake, the half diamond, the hook, and the torque.  He also pulled out a laptop and brought up two websites he highly recommended:    lockpicking101 and the MIT Guide to Lock Picking.  “Like, the MIT Guide is great,” he said; everything I need to know should be in there.

For half an hour, Chris showed me how he used the tools on padlocks and described the pins that were in the locks and in deadbolts; he talked about how to line up the pins and what I had to feel.  You have to develop serious sensitivity in your fingers, he advised.  Some people can do this in only days, but it took him a year to get really good at feeling those pins move.  In fact he was now so good he used to teach lock picking, and for the last six months he hadn’t bothered to carry a house key.  In one recent incident when he was locked out of a place, he picked his way past three deadbolt locks in ten minutes.

“And like these new hospital locks that are supposed to be unpickable?” He almost laughed.  “Totally pickable!”

Maybe I should now emphasize that Chris strictly avoids doing anything illegal.  As with many of his Crazy Young Guy colleagues, he only picks locks at home for the fun and challenge of it or when he’s locked out of his place.  It sounds funny, but there seems to be a code of ethics among guys like Chris that goes:  Dude! Like, picking a lock illegally is totally uncool.

Another word about Chris:  he’s a college student who in a couple days will be flying overseas for a year of studying abroad where he plans to become fluent in the local language.  He’s definitely no slacker.

But enough about lock picking for now.  In my next blog I’ll list more of Chris’s handy-dandy pointers and his advice regarding Layla’s own personal kit.

I Can’t Do This Shit!

on July 25, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on I Can’t Do This Shit!

I found out while surfing the net that parkour is called an extreme sport.

Oh goody.  I’m not even in decent shape yet and I’m training in an extreme sport with a bunch of crazy-ass young guys that insurance companies hate precisely because they are crazy-ass risk-taking young guys.

Today in class #3 it was, among many other things, doing handstands (CAN’T DO THEM!) and then tucking and rolling out and smoothly jumping back up.  I could only do this with an instructor spotting me.  When I was younger I sometimes did handstands against a wall.  With no wall I had no balance and would fall and hurt myself, or so I assumed, hence I didn’t even try.

Now I wonder.

Part of me really wants to go with these handstands, even though it seems a potential escape mechanism Layla wouldn’t bother with.  Still, if I can learn to balance on my hands for one second before tuck-rolling out, I will feel so hot.

What I really don’t like is that I’ve only taken three parkour classes so far and I’m only in the first month of my Becoming Layla Plan, yet already I’m finding myself forced to confront limitations I’ve placed on myself, limitations I didn’t even know were in me.  And I didn’t know I’d created so many or that they had become a part of me, like reflexes.

Take the jump and dive roll.  Jake placed a mini-tramp in front of a three-foot thick pad and told us to run for it and jump as high as we could before tucking and doing a dive roll onto the mat.

My reaction was:  No.  Don’t think so.  I didn’t so much as do tricks like this in high school phys ed and that was decades ago anyway.  But I kept my mouth shut, got in line, and like the guys just did it and got in about a dozen turns.  And my jump dive rolls were fine, as were other parkour stuff I’ve now done that I mentally swore were beyond my ability.

It really helps that I’m working out with crazy young guys.  Unlike me, they don’t seem to feel surges of hesitancy holding them back, which is how most (not all) middle-aged women in this class would react (AND DON’T TAKE OFFENSE LADIES CAUSE YOU KNOW THAT’S TRUE!).  The guys just plain don’t feel or don’t show the need to have someone encourage them and hold their hands and walk them through a challenging new physical action until they feel comfortable with it.  They just fucking do it.  It’s as if the neuronal synapses in their brains that would wire them for self-preservation and caution haven’t yet fully connected and instead are firing like runaway fireworks.  This means they move with an unfettered sense of physical freedom and control and power.

And I have put myself in a situation where I have to keep up with these guys. It’s both a hell of a challenge and my good fortune.

God bless crazy young guys.

Layla’s playground

on July 19, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Layla’s playground

A word about the parkour gym:  It’s kind of like a playground for overgrown kids.

It’s in funky old building right next to the Denver Rescue Mission.  Obviously not the best neighborhood.  It also occupies what appears to be a former ancient garage, and to get air into the place (no air conditioning, remember) an instructor will open the big garage door that faces the street.  Across the street and under a tree sit homeless people who watch us like we’re a sports channel.  They laugh a lot.

The gym’s equipment is mostly homemade.  Except for a couple of standard gymnastic gizmos like the uneven bars and rings and mats, it seems that the owners/instructors had to build everything themselves.  That’s how new parkour is, I guess:  The equipment needed to train for it isn’t being manufactured by any company.

There’s an adult-size jungle jim made of thick pipes, high plywood platforms, horizontal bars affixed to the ceiling, and other such stuff I assume I’ll have to swing from/ through/ under and jump over/ through and bounce off/ up. Think of how a kid moves along a playground with crazy playthings and you realize how much fun this might be.  Then watch some real parkour and you know that if you screw up you can do damage to your body.

Guess which alternative I’m anticipating.

But Layla would laugh at danger.  Layla could evade chasing bad guys by parkouring the hell out of a place.  Hence I must do the same.

The Suffering Continues

on July 18, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on The Suffering Continues

The good news:  I survived my second parkour class.

The bad news:  We ripped through a two-hour schedule in ninety minutes because the instructor (today it was Jake) apparently had never heard of breaks.  Not even a single lousy two minute break.  Not even when all of us students were staggering while dripping pools of sweat on the floor.

Needless to say, Jake never broke a sweat.  Jake looked like he could run a marathon and afterwards parkour his ass off all night.  And that’s because Jake is obscenely young and has a perfect body and was probably born with such an excess of energy and strength that while he was still in his crib his mother hooked him up to the household’s electrical system and had him generate all the energy the place needed just by waving his little baby arms.

Toward the end of class Jake had a casual out-loud thought.

“I forgot to eat today,” he said with a grin.

I hate Jake.

Class itself consisted of the same tough basics we got in the first class, plus new material like the army crawl (flat on the floor crawling).  We also had to do multiple broad jumps off a platform, land and go into a fast shoulder roll.

One more piece of good news:  Just before class the student guys and I were sitting around, and I asked them all, “How long did it take for you to stop hurting after last Saturday’s class?”

They laughed and one guy said he felt okay by Thursday, others said they still hurt.  So hey, if I was okay by Wednesday then I’m doing alright.

Star Trek and Action Movies, Part Deux

on July 14, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Star Trek and Action Movies, Part Deux

Funny, isn’t it, how the shows we watched as kids permanently mold some small part of us.  How a few of the fantasies they concocted like witching spells in our kid brains never completely disappear.  I assumed when I was a kid that the exciting story lines in TV shows and movies and books would vanish from my imagination with my arrival into adulthood.  And sure enough, the years passed and when silly phenomena like Star Trek or Star Wars conventions appeared on the horizon I dismissed them as absurd.  Men dressing up as Civil War re-enactors?  Ridiculous.  People buying James Bond cars and gadgets so they can pretend to live in his world?  Oh please.

Then lo and behold here comes a Star Trek movie that harkens back to the original series, and I come away from it feeling like a kid all over again.  The same thing when I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. No apologies, either.  It’s a damn fine feeling.

So this is the truth I must admit to:  that shadowy threads of my childhood stories have wrapped themselves around my skin and through my emotions and have ever since been a part of me.  It doesn’t matter that for most of my life I’ve forgotten about them or dismissed the longing they occasionally evoke as mere nostalgia.  They’re a small part of me and what I wanted to be.

Some more facts:  I’m now old enough to be on the downward slope of life.   My 401k is in the tank.  The economy stinks.  Jobs are vanishing.  Life is a risk and nothing is guaranteed.  I wrote a novel with a great lead action woman named Layla Daltry.  If I now want to live more like her or in truth let that part of me that is her become real, then why the hell not?  It’s not like I have much to lose.

But no dressing up.  I’m not into that at all, and even Layla wears normal (though really cool) clothes.  Then again, when my own brother tells me that I need to get more of an edge to my wardrobe, it might be time for a makeover.

An embarrassing confession…

When I was a kid watching Star Trek I had unreasonably assumed — me with my braces and thick glasses and a jaw that wasn’t developing right — that when I grew up I’d be as lovely as the women Kirk was always chasing, which was his tough luck because my heart belonged to Spock.

Star Trek and Layla and Me.

on July 13, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Star Trek and Layla and Me.

I thought my quads would feel better by now.  No such luck.  Walking upstairs isn’t too bad but walking down is excruciating.  I’m moving like a whiny, arthritic ninety-year-old.

The evening after my first parkour class I went out with a couple friends (suffering all the while) to see Star Trek.  It was the first time for Ann but the second for me and Rich.  Fun stuff, and of course this second time I paid close heed to how Kirk was knocked off platforms and catwalks and the edge of a cliff, and each time he grunted and groaned but pulled his full body weight up over the edges (once with the help of Sulu).  Damn.  Maybe after parkour class #10 I’ll manage one measly chin-up to save my own life!  Layla would certainly be able to save herself.

The stratospherically high skydiving scene was great.  No, I won’t be going anywhere near such moon-high elevation when I do my first skydive, but since starting my plan I’ve found myself gleefully anticipating how in the coming months I’m actually, finally going to skydive and paraglide and zip up and down buildings (or at least try to) and other cool stuff.  It seems that for most of my life I’ve promised myself that someday I’ll do the same thrilling sports or stunts I see in movies or on TV.  Someday when I have the money or the time.

And that’s just the problem — I never seem to have the money and time always slips through my fingers.  Well, to hell with saving and scrimping and being practical and time-conscious.  For my one-year plan, my savings will just have to take a hit and I will rearrange my days so that I have all the time in the world.

I’m In Over My Head

on July 11, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on I’m In Over My Head

My thighs won’t stop hurting.

Oh God, they just won’t stop hurting!

You know when you’ve done some really strenuous exercise or tough physical work that make your quads kind of burn?  Well, take that burn, ramp it up a thousand degrees, and make your calves as weak as watery jelly so that just walking hurts so freaking bad all you can do is lie on your sofa and whimper.

That’s me after my first parkour class.

I had it yesterday.  Two agonizing hours.  A hot July day.  The gym has no air-conditioning.  Contrary to my expectations, there are no other females in the class, but what really makes me stick out like a big red pimple is the fact that I am far and away the oldest person in the class.  Old as in I could be the mother of my fellow students and teacher.

Then there’s the nonexistent fat.  There are six guy students and me and I swear to God I’ve got more fat in one butt cheek than all of them put together.  The older ones (as in twenty-something) have lean bodies and sculpted muscles, while the teenagers seem more gangly than strong.  But looks can be deceiving. One kid was just standing there when he suddenly popped off a back flip.

Shit.  I am so in over my head.

But the amazing fact is — the glorious, fantastic, and to me truly inconceivable fact is:  I kept up with those guys!

Yes, I’m paying for it now.  I’m paying for it in buckets and spades and gobs of ibuprofen, but damn it all I hung in there and didn’t wimp out once.  And everyone treated me as if I were one of the gang.  I really am proud of myself.

Then again, it stung my pride to be slammed flat up against my limitations.  I thought I was slim and in reasonably good shape?  Reality bites.

For this first class, the instructor and gym co-founder Matt (perfect body, is available for stunt work in movies) began by measuring each student’s abilities.  My broad jump sucked.  Chin-ups were done with hands facing outwards because in the real world where parkour is done (and in thriller novels like The Compass Master) that’s the only way to pull yourself up over edges of buildings/walls/fences.  The guys knocked off multiple sets.  I couldn’t do a single blasted chin-up.

“Not one?” Matt’s assistant asked is surprise.  Ouch.  Layla can do a dozen.

But I made up for it with lots of sit-ups and push-ups, and Matt pronounced my squats as “perfect.”  Of course my swelling self-respect came crashing down during the two hundred million shoulder rolls we had to execute.  After one of my less successful efforts Matt muttered, “That was just silly.”

Anyway, it was the quadrupedal exercises that did in my quads.  That means butt down, chest and head up while moving around on flat hands and feet like a drunken chimp, whether in the quadrupedal/chimp gallop with a hands-feet-hands-feet swing or the more muscle-crunching walking.  You try doing that when proportionally your legs are twice as long as a chimp’s and your hips are built for you to walk upright like a normal human.

Hence there we were, trying to scamper about like Cheetah in an old Tarzan movie, alternately moving fast and slow, forward, backwards and sideways, then mixing it up with broad jumps, sprints and shoulder rolls.  Oh gosh darn, could I have more fun while suffering from screaming thigh pain and with sweat running down my body?

I was scrambling about on the floor, wheezing and panting, when a question popped into my increasingly dizzy brain:  why on earth would Layla Daltry do any of this crap?  Have I made a big mistake signing up for this wretchedly tough class?

Just as I was ready to throw in my sweat-drenched T-shirt, Matt casually remarked, “This is a great way to move in the dark across unknown terrain.”

Come again?

“This is also a great way to move down a steep slope,” he added, and later talked about how we must learn how to jump and land silently, and how we must move as if there were no barriers to stop us.

Well, in my novel I have Layla spidering down drainpipes and silently moving across roofs and climbing up buildings, always at night and usually across unknown spaces.  Hence — damn it all! — parkour is probably the kind of sport Layla can perform like a dream (except maybe not the flips).  And that means I’ve got to do it.

Nine more classes to go.

What I Gotta Do

on July 9, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on What I Gotta Do

First, the facts of my life.

I work the usual 40 hours in an office.

I go to epee fencing two evenings a week (a cool sport that in my back-story of Layla she doesn’t do, hence I’m one up on her).  Then after fun with friends and the usual grind of errands and chores, I don’t have much free time.

I will need to explain to friends and family (at least I have no children to embarrass and right now I’m single) why I, a grown woman who appears to be of sound mental health, intends to skirt along the borders of La-La Land by acting like a fictional character and living out some of her adventures.

As for my free time, it will now be filled with the skills I need to learn.  Here are a few of them in no particular order:

  1. Pick locks (Layla is an expert)
  2. Get in and out of places I don’t belong without being caught
  3. Climb around structures like they’re jungle gyms
  4. Climb up buildings and rappel down them
  5. Skydive
  6. Paraglide
  7. Archery (did it as a kid, but I need to learn how to shoot a trident that’s attached to a rope)
  8. Parkour (the sport used in the opening sequence of “Casino Royale” when the bad guy is evading Bond by leaping, sliding and bounding over barriers as if they’re tools of escape)
  9. Scuba (did it once off the coast of Cambodia, but I wasn’t yet certified; now I have to get good at it)
  10. Aerial dancing (okay, that’s more like Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider” when she soars on a cool bungee contraption in her castle, but I still wanna do it)
  11. Lots of other cool stuff like surveillance and evasion techniques
  12. Brush up on French and get serious about learning at least basic Arabic (Layla doesn’t speak it, but with my own passion for archeology in the Middle East that’s what I’m going with)

First up: parkour

I didn’t plan on pursuing the toughest skill first.  The trouble is, one of the best places in the country to learn parkour (which is related to freerunning) is only minutes from where I live, and a ten-week course begins this Saturday.  That means I either take the classes now or wait a few months.

So parkour it is.

According to Wikipedia, parkour is a discipline focusing on moving from one point to another as smoothly, efficiently and quickly as possible using only the abilities of the human body.  It is built on the premise that any physical or mental obstacle can be surpassed.

Also in Wikipedia:  After the attention that parkour received following the film Casino Royale, the British Royal Marines hired parkour athletes to train their members.  Colorado Parkour began a project to introduce the discipline into the U.S. military and it is slowly being introduced into the USMC.

So in essence, parkour does not use acrobatics like flips, while freerunning does.  Yet here in Denver the two terms sometimes seem to be  used interchangeably.

Since what Layla would need to do is parkour (both in my novel The Compass Master and in her back story), then that’s what I’ll be doing.  Hence no flips.

For a peek at the kind of are-you-insane stuff I’m supposed to learn, here’s a YouTube video filmed at the gym where I’ll be taking the classes.

The Plan

on July 7, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on The Plan

I’ve decided that the best way for me to start my plan is by asking two questions.  The first one is:  If I am to become like Layla  Daltry, am I using a realistic model?

As characters go Layla is pretty believable.  Certainly she’s no cartoon-like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones or James Bond.  It even seems that she’s evolved to become something more than fiction:  a creature woven from the bone shards of my own long buried desires and set-aside ambitions, a flesh-and-blood woman emerging from the better than average angels of my nature and my too infrequent adventures, a glamorous avatar who in her youth did almost everything right hence unlike me did not have to settle for a fallback life.

The second question is:  How do I compare to Layla Daltry right now?

The answer hurts.

Layla picks locks and gets into places she doesn’t belong, scampers across rooftops, climbs up and down buildings, and finds hidden and lost rare ancient manuscripts and other antiquities in exotic places — for a price.  I don’t.

Layla lives in a penthouse in Dublin, Ireland, worthy of Architectural Digest.  I live in Denver, Colorado and my place is nice but should not be photographed for any earthly reason.

Layla can get around in a couple modern languages and is fluent in Latin and ancient Greek.  My French has deteriorated into near non-existence and I’m struggling to teach myself basic Arabic.

Layla is a graduate of the University of Chicago and holds a master’s in the literature of early and medieval Christian history with an emphasis on archeology.  I only have a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Colorado that I pretty much never used.

She also once had a lover who was in the British SAS and taught her special forces skills that help her lead a danger-edged life.  Me?  I wish.

Now for the most glaring differences between us . . .

Layla Daltry is still relatively young — about thirty — while I’m well into middle age.  Damn.

She’s beautiful and I’m not.  Double damn.

Worse still, I’ve become aware of how over the years a part of me began to shrink into the confines of my resume, my job description, the petty demands of my daily life.

I mean, I’ve certainly done some exciting and even outrageous things.  Like Layla I’ve flung caution to the winds and gone on a few risky jaunts to different parts of the world (Pakistan, Bosnia, etc.).  But for some years now and without really being aware of what I was doing, I downsized myself and my life so that now even my perception of myself has diminished into a melancholy blur.

Layla would never, ever do that.  And now I must stop doing it.