Comments & Curiosities: A ninja and a cobra make the news

All in all, not a bad week. If you're in the too-strange-to-be-fiction business, that is, which I am.

There were two stories that moved the needle on the loopy meter way to the right: the ninja warrior at Sears, and the missing cobra at the Bronx Zoo. The two aren't related, of course, but both are great examples of news in the digital age.

First, the ninja warrior at Sears.

My mornings start with an unrelenting consistency — up before 6 a.m., turn on the TV, fire up the espresso maker, check the Internet to see what blew up during the night. But the wee small hours of last Monday were different.

While I'm clicking away at my little laptop, I hear a TV reporter signing off a segment in the next room, "Andy Adler, KNBC, at South Coast Plaza, back to you."

That's weird, I thought. What would get an L.A. news crew to South Coast Plaza at 0545 hours, on a Monday morning no less? Since early morning news shows are on about a four-and-a-half-minute cycle, I didn't have to wait long to hear it again.

According to KNBC, shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday, a man called 911 and said he was in the parking lot outside Sears, when he was attacked by a machete-wielding man in a ninja outfit. Needless to say, at that point, KNBC had my full attention. Don't know about you, but when I go to Sears, whatever expectations I might have, getting sideways with a machete-wielding ninja isn't one of them.

A quick spin with the remote told me the story was everywhere on the L.A. early morning news circuit. Fortunately, the man was not hurt and ninja-man didn't get far. While still on the phone with 911, the victim allegedly guided the police to his attacker as he ran first to Maggiano's Little Italy, then toward the South Coast Village Cinema across Sunflower Avenue, which is where he was arrested, just 10 minutes after the initial call was made. By midday, the item was online everywhere, but now the story was changing and the thrill was fading.

First of all, the assailant's "ninja outfit" was devolving into a black shirt, black pants and a backpack — all pretty basic stuff. The machete was definitely a machete, but the assailant never took it out of its sheath.

No bonus points there, of course. You still end up in front of a judge if you threaten someone with something sharp and scary big, sheathed or not. In a final bizarre touch, the suspect was pretty helpful as suspects go. After he was nabbed, he told police exactly where to find his long knife, underneath a seat at South Coast Village Cinema — not like it wouldn't have turned up otherwise. I don't care how much popcorn and candy wrappers are down there, machetes really stand out.

And that brings us to the Bronx Zoo's missing cobra, a story that caught my ear for two reasons.

One, it's loopy, and two, it came from the Bronx, just like me. In fact, my high school was a few blocks from the Bronx Zoo, one of the world's greatest zoos. You know the story by now, I'm sure. Last week, an Egyptian cobra was MIA at the Bronx Zoo and his story went viral in a New York minute.

There are a lots of stress-inducing things in the Bronx, and having a venomous Egyptian cobra on the loose doesn't help. But the twist that no one saw coming was that shortly after the story broke, someone opened a Twitter account for "the cobra," who started breathlessly Tweeting about where it was and what it was doing.

The buzz was that "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest was behind it all, but neither the cobra nor Seacrest are talking at this point. Before you could say serpentine, the cobra had more than 200,000 followers on Twitter, which only goes to show you that however many people you think have too much time on their hands — there are way more than that.

On Thursday, the cobra surfaced, just as zoo officials predicted, tucked away in a cranny at the zoo but nowhere near the public areas.

But the blizzard of Tweets started funny and got funnier, including but not limited to, "Hi, Rockefeller Plaza, scary crowded and, OMG, Tina Fey totally just walked by me!" "Downtown, Wall Street, not fun. And people say I'm a snake." "This boa I know said they have organic mice at PetCo. Anyone know if that's true?" "Scored a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery. To die for, but it's going straight to my hips. Wait, I don't have hips. Yessssss!"

I will never look at a cobra the same way again.

I think that's it. A ninja that wasn't and a cobra that Tweets. No matter how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. You just have to know where to look. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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