In full disclosure, the era almost ended as soon as it began. I was driving home in my ten-year-old red Nissan Maxima, trying to focus on the road. Tenacious D was playing from my CD player; Jack Black was singing about a guy named Lee. I tried to stay focused on the task at hand.
Eyes on the road. Guy named Lee.
But it wasn't happening. It's part of the whole obsessive personality thing. I had decided that this book was going to change my life, and that couldn't start soon enough.
"Sorry boys," I said out loud as I turned down the 'D'. Eyes only half on the pavement before me, I dug into my Borders bag. I had several Blu-Rays in there. I managed to avoid them in order to come upon my little book.
I rested the six-inch by four-inch hardcover on the dash and flipped it open to a random page. Ready for an epiphany, I read...
"Make forays into fertile country in order to supply your army with food."
I tried to think about this for a second. Immediately, I thought impure thoughts about eating and a girl's private areas. I brushed this from my mind and tried to focus. Surely, there was something I should be able to garner from this.
Try as I might, I came up with nothing. I was frustrated until it dawned on me that this book had hundreds of factoids in it. There were certainly going to be a few that involved war that could not be applied to my personal battle for Minnie's heart.
So, I flipped again to another one. "All warfare is based on deception."
Well, I didn't like that. I'm an honest guy with good morals. Utilizing deception to win a girl was not my forte. I decided to skip this passage, thinking that maybe it would be one of the advanced lessons I could grow to learn.
I turned the page and read another bullet point. This one stated that 'the General is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points, the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak."
What the frak did that mean? I wasn't sure what a bulwark was and, since I was driving, I wasn't about to whip out my phone and look it up on dictionary.com.
I tossed the book back on my passenger seat in frustration and turned 'The D' back up. Jack was singing about how he could kick my ass with karate. I rolled my window down and pumped the volume even louder. I started singing along, thinking that I was the Black man, and that with karate, I'd kick Sun Tzu's ass for ripping me off my five bucks (including tax and rounding up) to buy his idiot book.
I pulled into my parents' driveway in a much better mood. I almost didn't even take the stupid little hardcover in with me, thinking it might be better served to line the bottom of my boa constrictor cage (though, in full disclosure, I do not have a boa constrictor).
I went inside and proceeded to my bedroom in the basement. I threw the book on the bed and pulled out the Blu-Rays I had just purchased.
Putting them on the shelf was always a project. I had six bookshelves in my room. One was for books. The second stored toys, action figures, trinkets, and other generally awesome stuff. The third through fifth were for my now archaic DVD collection; the sixth, for Blu-Rays.
Everything must be alphabetized. Except for the toys, obviously, those are sorted by genre.
A movie does not get unwrapped until first viewing. This way, I can also avoid loaning out anything until I have been the first to view it. I always have to be the one to de-virginize any movie I purchase.
My Blu-Ray shelf was almost completely full. This feat can be seen as especially impressive due to the thinner case a Blu-Ray disc comes in as opposed to a DVD, as well as the general newness of the format. My basement bedroom, much like my Blu-Ray shelf, was beginning to fill up. I had more than one restless night trying to figure out what to do when I ran out of space. I couldn't exactly sell off my DVD collection. Many of those were not yet out with improved picture and sound. Plus, a good number of the ones that were available in high definition came with a story. How was I supposed to sell back the Criterion version of Seven Samurai that my buddy Will gave me for my birthday sophomore year? Not to mention the fact that it's the number two Criterion Collection DVD ever released. Do you know how much that could be worth someday?
The equation was simple. It was a matter of volume divided by the limitations of space plus the size of my collections. The only solution, it seemed, would be to get my father to move out of his home office and allow me to expand into it so that I could further purchase the possessions I so clearly needed to own.
That would be a tough battle to fight, and it wasn't one I'd be able to win that day. Perhaps Sun Tzu, in addition to helping me win Minnie, would teach me how to get my dad's office. Perhaps he had written a book entitled The Art of Besting Annoying Parental Units.
Once I put away all my new acquisitions, I scanned the shelves for the proper viewing material. I finally settled on Event Horizon, an underrated science fiction flick which was a stand by for when I needed to make a movie decision quickly.
After inserting the disk, I flopped on my bed. I lay there a few minutes as the movie started, trying to decide whether or not to go online. This really annoying kid had found me through Facebook and thought we would be best friends because he was a Star Trek geek. His knowledge was intermediate, at best, and I found our conversations to be wanting. It was the afternoon, so he certainly would be online, waiting to impress me with some widely known tidbit about Spock's ears.
I turned to my left and saw the book sitting there. "Should I give you a second chance buddy?" I asked the book. It did not respond.
I exhaled a small grunt of a breath as I leaned over to pick it up.
"This is it." I told the tiny little thing, before opening it. "Make or break."
I flipped it open, leafed through a bit. It was at this point that I realized there were chapters; thirteen of them, to be exact. Some had promising titles like "Laying Plans" and "Variation in Tactics" while others seemed to have no bearing on my situation (i.e. "The Army on the March" and "Terrain"). The last chapter held the title "The Use of Spies." This fell under the category of 'Never-Thought-of-it-Before-But-Could-Be-Useful.'
None of this changed my hesitance to trust the book as a guide. As I flipped the pages I scanned words, but did not read. I trusted my eyes would find the passage they needed; that the book would speak to me.
Finally, it did. Almost literally. I read: "The general that harkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: let such a one be retained in command! The general that harkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat."
I dropped the book on the bed. I felt the sweet newness of revelation. The pupils of my eyes widened (okay, this part I am imagining. They may not have actually widened).
It was as though Sun Tzu was beside me, speaking to me (probably being played by Pat Morita). He guided me to Chapter 1, passage 15 where I read the above mentioned words. Like a real life Hiro Nakamura, he reached through 2600 years to give me this knowledge. Sun Tzu may have meant to influence men like General Patton or Napoleon, as the jacket cover suggested, but instead he was speaking to me: T.L. James.
But what were the implications of such a message? Was I meant to find this book and read it? Was I meant to learn from it and absorb its wealth of knowledge? Was I meant to be with Minnie?
In the epic words of Teeny Weeny: "Night Hob! This could be serious!"
I opened the book again with a renewed sense of purpose. I found the most cliché of places to start reading: Chapter One, Laying Plans. I read 1:1 "The art of war is of vital importance to the State."
And I was that State.