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Summer of the Superhero: A Short Story
by Jerome Weeks 4 Aug 2008

st1:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } Today, our attention turns to the skies. Specifically, to that American invention, the comic-book superhero. Our interest is prompted partly by the mad-crazy box office receipts for comic-book movies this summer  — more than a billion dollars and counting — and partly by the release of a new short story anthology, Who Can […]


st1:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }

Today, our attention turns to the skies. Specifically, to that American invention, the comic-book superhero. Our interest is prompted partly by the mad-crazy box office receipts for comic-book movies this summer  — more than a billion dollars and counting — and partly by the release of a new short story anthology, Who Can Save Us Now?, edited by Owen King and John McNally. It features two Dallas authors, Will Clarke and David Haynes. For more on both topics, go here.

What follows is the superhero story contributed by David Haynes, director of Southern Methodist Univeristy’s creative writing program.

The Lives of Ordinary Superheroes

By David Haynes

st1:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }

The old man and I had done enough interventions in this part of town I didn’t need to be told it was a bad idea to leave a car filled with high-end stereo components unattended for any length of time. He’d always say: Son, folks ’round here steal anything not nailed down. Don’t get me wrong: The man had faith. But just like the rest of us, now and then he’d let his cynicism rule the day. I told myself that the ragged quilt I’d strewn across the lot of my precious audio would fool all but the most dogged smash-and-grab artists—the garden-variety delusion we all share, all of us hiding comfortably behind our flimsy deadbolts and reassured by the whine of our alarms crying out in the wilderness.

I’d put off taking my leave of him until I could postpone it no longer. Glo and the kids were on the plane to Portland, the house keys had been transferred after the new owner’s walk-through this morning, and as soon as I finished up here I’d chase after the Mayflower, determined to beat that punk driver across this continent if it killed me. The Toyota was gassed and the passenger seat laden with enough snack junk to clog the arteries of a moose.

I guess there was a possibility that I might not have found Bill Jenkins here at the Third Generation, but, then, the sun might rise in the west tomorrow and they might cancel the Wheel of Fortune, too. Old Bill had as much as had a barstool grafted onto his ass since his “retirement”—the polite way we like to talk about his change in career trajectory. I’d get calls pretty regularly for a while there—from Little Reggie, the owner of 3G, or from that girl over at Hadley’s before Hadley’s barred him—telling me he was in again and acting a fool again and wouldn’t I come and see after him please. Which I did for a while, until Glo put her foot down, insisting that the old man was not my problem and she wasn’t about to have her husband running out every damn night shepherding some drunk, has-been superhero out of the corner tavern. But, what can I tell you; I felt guilty. Who else did he have after all?

You know the story: his people had all been blown to bits when that dastardly Roscoe the BlingMaster aimed his diabolical Disitegro-ray at the project where the Jenkins family lived, immediately vaporizing everyone, except poor little William, who, shielded by the ancient, lead-lined porcelain tub, where he’d been eluding his sister during a marathon session of hide-and-seek, was miraculously spared with the only apparent effect being his new ability to, when needed, make himself invisible (except to dogs and small children) and his uncanny ability to shame even the most hard core evil-doer into thinking twice about what he or she was up to. Evermore he has trod the lonely path of all such…dare we call them men? The passionate pursuit of truth and justice, his anonymous and solitary life of self-sacrifice.

What were the chances even one of his fellow mid-day drunks knew the storied exploits of the man who had been Ghetto Man? And, make no mistake, these were drunks, all of them; the hard-core kind, even the old man himself these days. Barely past noon and each of them already more than a few highballs into their daily journeys to oblivion. 3G was that kind of joint, “Home of the Long Pour” printed right there on their cocktail napkins, less a promise than a warning, I assure you. I sidled up to Bill on an angle, all the better not to take him by surprise. Your retired superheroes tend to get nervous about being sneaked up upon. He spied me, flicked his mustache with his thumb and harrumphed.

“Hey, yourself” I said. I may as well be from the collection agency, so cold are the eyes he cut me with, and it’s clear that will be the extent of his greeting.

But, make no mistake, this isn’t the casual dismissal of those who have lived too long for friendly discourse, nor is this the ironically comical snub of the secretly lovable curmudgeon. Bill Jenkins is an old timer with a grudge. Long story short: I’m blamed for the revocation of his superhero license. It’s because of me he’s glommed onto that barstool, pickling his liver and longing after lost glory. He sniffed or snorted or made some other dismissive noise and took a long pull from his seven-and-seven—and if that was to be the worst of my punishment, surely I’d gotten of lightly.

I persisted. I had a mission. I signaled Little Reg to snag me a bottle of water and perched on the stool next to the old man.

“So…” I began. It was that “so” you hear on bad blind dates, after the lucky couple has exhausted their conversational repertoire, nothing further to note about the weather or the high price of gasoline. The old man sighed, rolled his eyes. I’d seen this brand of exasperation more times than I could count; it was standard in his arsenal, a trusted saber most often employed against gangbangers foolish enough to try to explain why they’re shaking down the owner of the corner confectionary—the same kind soul who’d extended credit to their mamas during that fourth week of the month when the money ran a little thin.

One of the drunks two drunks down the bar down wanted to know “why the boy ain’t drinking.” Bill answered by pursing his lips in disgust.

“I’m driving,” I responded. “Hitting the road. Today. I just wanted to holler before I took off.” I kept my eye on the old man while I said this, and, in fact, I did see a flash of something in his eye. Something… hopeful. Well, to me at least it was. You don’t spend half your life as sidekick to a superhero without learning to read even the subtlest of signals.

Fifteen, I’d been, when I met this man, strutting my hopeless teenage behind home from high school. Don’t ask me why—a bad grade or a bad attitude, who knows—but I’d been ripping papers out of my satchel, wadding them up and leaving them littered in my wake.

“Excuse me, young fellow,” he’d said; and I swear I had not seen him there, seen anyone there. I gave him the evil eye.

“What’s all this?” he said, indicating my trail of trash.

“…the f*** business is it of yours?” I hissed

“Come on, now, son. There’s no call for that.”

Who did he think he was messing with? I was J. B. Henderson, toughest little MF on the north side—or at least in my feeble imagination I had been. And I wasn’t his damn son—for that matter I wasn’t anybody’s damn son, my actual father never in the picture past his hit-and-run sperm deposit in my mom.

But he had those eyes, Bill Jenkins did. There was something in those eyes. He tsked and he shook his head.

“Poor Ms. Harris in that house right there—we don’t want to see a sister out here picking up after us. She’s trying to keep it nice around here. Come on.” Bill snagged a wad or two and—damnit—I found myself snagging the rest.

“Bring it on down here,” he ordered, and I followed him to the corner. Along the way he bent for a few more scraps of other fool’s liter and so I followed suit. We deposited the lot of it in an oil barrel outside the barbershop. “Good man,” Bill praised.

“What the hell ever,” I sniffed, and turned on my heel to head home to my game console.

“Just a second, there, young man.”

I turned to see what he wanted.


“Well what?”

“Don’t you got something to say?”

I shrugged.

“Come on, now. Your mama raised you better than that.”

“You don’t know my mama.”

“Come on, now.

“All right, then. Sorry. Satisfied?”

“Sorry. And?”

This is what the old man was like back then. He would ride a brother ragged, wear him down like 20 grit sandpaper. All of this, by the way, with puppy dog soft eyes that appeared ready to brim over with tears.

“I am sorry, sir, and it will never happen again.” I had hit that sir heavily with sarcasm, and had been about to ask him if I could get the hell out of there now. He grabbed my hand and congratulated me.

“And now your mama’s proud,” he cheered, and he dismissed me—pointing me on my way, trilling his fingers in that “run along now” way that people who are through with subordinates do.

I complied, or started to, but—I couldn’t help it, I was hooked—I turned back and just had to ask him:

“So this is what you do?”

“Say what, now?”

“This. You do this all day? Walk the hood and tell people how to behave?”

“I can see that you’re a young man with a lot of issues,” he responded.

I mumbled a vulgar name and headed home.

“What’s that?” he questioned, but when I turned back I realized that he had not been talking to me. His hand was pressed to an earpiece, his head bent forward slightly as if to improve the reception. “Over on Vandeventer you say? Twenty minutes. I’m on it.”

That damn headset: still today pinned above his left ear, radical even magical back in our heyday, today however only slightly more obtrusive than every garden variety Bluetooth on every garden variety workaholic; alas no more likely to ring these days than the alarm at an abandoned firehouse, it weighs his ear like the medals on the jacket of an ancient vet, reminding himself surely more than anyone else that once he’d had his day, that once he’d done his part.

David Haynes outside Zeus Comics.

On that fateful afternoon he keyed open the locks on his rusted Grand Torino and asked me if I was coming. Owning no better judgment, off I went on the first of fifteen years of making the greater Jeff-Vander-Lou community safe for its ever-struggling citizenry. Regrets: only the day I broke this man’s heart. But I had done what I had to do.

Our first case had been a bar fight—a couple of down-and-outers who’d been aimless and most often intoxicated since the carburetor plant closed back in the seventies were having their weekly shoving match—foolishness that, frankly, you’d let pass, were it not for the grade school on the corner and the kids getting ready to walk by on their way home.

“Gentlemen,” he’d cheered. They called him “Jenks” and asked where the hell he’d come from. He introduced me: “Ya’ll know my boy, Little J?”

And I got a round of handshakes and “how you doings?” and plenty of insistence that I was a chip off the old block. Five minutes later we were inside, a bar not unlike the 3G, a round of Busch Bavarian for the three of them, “And a Coke for my boy here.”

That’s how I became Little J, sidekick to the greatest superhero the Northside has ever known. And, for what it’s worth that’s what it’s like most days, the lives of your ordinary superheroes. Surprised? Honestly, I had been, too. Like you, I’d been raised on images of larger than life figures; their glossy and impossibly souped-up sports cars; their fortresses of solitude and high-profile, world-redeeming escapades. And, hey, I’m not hating: If it’s a choice is between being devoured by humanoid robots from Zortron and having all the media sucked up by some guy in a red cape and leotards, I choose the cape and leotards every time. But, you know the drill: We can’t all be Academy Award Winners. For every Denzel with his guaranteed percentages of screen time and points on the gross profits, there’s a hundred guys who are lucky if they get to shout the line “I’m tired of the man!” while being shoved head first into the back of the squad car. And for every Green Hornet, there’s a half-dozen guys like Ghetto Man, tamping down the petty crime, keeping a lid on the little stuff so that the glamour boys can focus on saving the world. Are they jealous, these journeymen of justice? Well, surely a little: but there’s no shame. Bill Jenkins: he spent forty years happily routing drug dealers from the playground and giving the evil eye to parking scofflaws. He rounded up stray house pets, kept your alley free of abandoned tires and most likely is the reason there’s still treads on the jungle gym in what passes for a neighborhood park. If only there were dozens of him, if only he were still at it today. If only he were twenty years younger and if only there had not been that little incident with his false teeth sunk into some delirious stick-up artist’s leg.

But all that water had rolled off to the sea. And I was rolling on my way as well. There was just this one last thing.

Bill signaled Little Reggie to turn on the TV: Their story was on. Despite no one talking much that afternoon, the drunks all shushed each other.

“Still watching Days, I see. I bet that Sammy is still up to no good.”

“That girl: I swear if she was my daughter I don’t know what I would fix her punishment at.”

Leave it to the Days of Our Lives to finally get a response out of the man.

“She means well,” I offered.

Bill nodded. Meaning well: As important to Bill Jenkins as actually doing well or doing good. Cynical, yes, often enough he could be. But as I already told you, this is a man who believed strongly in the goodness in each of us. Despite the hungry and neglected children he’d rescued from crack houses, despite their drug-addled mamas, despite the landlords who left those abandoned houses to decay and to become infested, Bill Jenkins remained an optimist at heart. He can and will forgive me.

The hourglass popped up, signaling a long commercial break, and Bill looked me in the eye for the first time.

“How’s all yours doing anyway?” he asked, and this is real progress—the most he’s sent my way in months.

I told him that everybody’s doing fine and how excited the kids were about the move—especially Jerry Jr.—and how I’d sent them ahead and was looking forward to joining them later in the week. He lifted a brow in that way that indicates he isn’t sure it’s a good idea sending a woman and two youngsters off on their own, but it’s a mild admonition only. He’s known Glo since I met the woman, and he also knew the smart money would be on her in should any problems happen along the road.

We’d met on a case, as it happens, Glo and I did. I’d been rolling with the old man about five years at the time, finishing my senior year at UMSL (where he’d insisted I enroll) (and where he constantly monitored my grades) (and where—and although I’ve never been able to confirm this—the “Northside” scholarship that funded much of my tuition I’m confident was actually money provided by him) when one late afternoon we got called to the playground of the school up on Cass Avenue.

The future Mrs. Gloria Henderson we found in the last phase of shooing a crowd of rowdy sixth graders back into the building.

“Is there a problem, Miss?” Bill had asked her.

“Hell, yes, there’s a problem,” she responded, pointing to a sketchy group of male perps gathered by the swing set. “And where are the damn police? And who the hell are you?”

As shocked by her beauty as I’d been by her sharp tongue, I, as was my assigned role in such matters, helped usher the youngsters clear while Bill did his magic, all the while assuring their teacher that my employer was on the case and that things would be copasetic momentarily and could I have her phone number, please. She’d hardly finished giving me the evil eye before Bill ambled in and announced it was safe for the kids to finish their recess.

“Is that so?” she scoffed, but she let the restless youngsters back out anyway.

Frankly she was no more or less suspicious than anyone else we helped over the years. She had quickly coursed that almost always predictable path from mocking disbelief to begrudging gratitude that the problem had been solved. Who knows, perhaps had we worn the tights and codpieces and gotten us a couple of capes with a crafty logo affixed we’d have gotten the respect we deserved. A somewhat dumpy middle-aged black man in denim and plaid work wear; well, they’re as common as houseflies in these parts and about as uninspiring.

Look at him here; look at all these harmless drunks, sipping their beer and watching but not really watching Sammy and company emote and cry and otherwise explicate the obvious: Would you even imagine any of these men might be anything other than what you see here today? And, okay, so perhaps for one or more of them, what you see is what you get. But, again, perhaps they are not. I sauntered to the window, grimed over with smoky yellow film, checking on the car. I’d been itching to hit the road; I’d promised myself to hit mid-Kansas before bedtime, and even with the long summer evening, that may be a stretch.

“Ain’t nobody studying your stuff,” the old man admonished me, his signal to get on with the matter at hand. The others scoffed and mocked my caution. They’ve sat here long enough to know it’s too early for the neighborhood riff raff to ply their nickel-and-dime trade.

And you had to give this man his props: Bill Jenkins knew people. He knew how to sweet talk those girls who worked the corners to come and have a cup a coffee and rest their feet a few minutes and to get them to tell him how it came to this; knew that sometimes the few dollars he’d passed them would help more than the service organizations he’d try to connect them with. He understood, that unless Bobby C. happened to be incarcerated, on any given night he would likely break out somebody’s back window and rifle through the medicine cabinets and dresser drawers, and that he was likely to continue doing so until he got tired of climbing through broken glass and of running from the police and of thirty-day stretches in the workhouse. And wouldn’t you know Bobby C is now Deacon Bobby—Deacon Anderson he prefers these days, thank you very much—and he spends his afternoons dropping off supper to the same homes he’d pilfered from, the same homes the old man and I had spent many an afternoon reinforcing the windows with iron gates and decoy security stickers.

“So…” I said again, and again he flicked his mustache. Fifteen years I’d ridden with this man. He won’t make this easy—this leave taking. This much I knew. He waved a shaming finger at the screen—that dastardly Stefano DiMera, once again risen from the dead. What Ghetto Man wouldn’t have given to have a chance at the likes of a villain such as he.

“So, I wanted to say…” I started, but he put up his hand and stopped me, reminding me that as far as he’s concerned I’ve had my say.

They’re to be expected, I guess, such resentments. You see it all the time—even in free-lance tech support, my main work these days. You just happen to be on-site on the day some lifer well past his sell-by date, one of those who didn’t have the sense to walk away on his own volition, is finally shown the door. It’s never pretty: the lady from human resources supervising the packing of the cubicle, the rent-a-cops standing by just in case it turns ugly, the dispossessed speechifying as to how he’d given his life to this damn company and how he can’t believe people could be so cold.

Back then Bill’s decline had seemed rapid to me, but in hindsight there had been signs for years, really. Routine calls—rumbles that had once taken moments to disburse—would drag on for way too long. A rowdy group of teenagers who in the past would have moved along quickly now lingered and made it clear that whatever happened was going to happen on their schedule, some raggedy old Negro be damned.

This one time, we’d taken a routine belligerent drunk call, and, as was the program, I’d stationed myself on the opposite end of the room, setting about diverting the audience attention to a more entertaining spectacle—me making a fool out of myself with some badly executed magic tricks. (First cure for your acting-out types: lose the audience.) I’d been about to unfurl some scarves from a wine glass when I heard Bill’s raised voice in full argument with the drunk. Threats were exchanged, the N-word got aired. This was so not his way—and had the police not rolled through just then I don’t know where that might have ended.

The thing was: you didn’t confront this man. I’d learned that years back, back with my paper wads and that chip on my shoulder. Instead, I waited a few weeks and raised the subject in a way I thought was being clever.

“Still thinking of moving to Sarasota with your sister?” I had asked him.

“You trying to get rid of me, boy?”

There’d been some humor in his eyes, but frankly, I’d have preferred a bit more warmth in his tone. It was Glo, in fact, who wanted rid of him—or, rather, who’d wanted a full-time husband and who knew that the only way that would happen would be to end my affiliation with Ghetto Man. At the time she’d been five month pregnant with Jerry Jr. and she’d had enough of me spending my off hours riding shotgun through the Northside.

“I’m just thinking how you might want to slow down some, is all.”

“Slow down and do what?” he asked, and as if to demonstrate he coasted the Torino to a crawl and glowered at some low lifes on the corner of St. Louis Avenue and Grand. Before I could muster the courage to mention some of the recent debacles, he began lecturing me on the evils of idleness.

“Lot’s of these folks out here, the problem is they ain’t got enough to do. Always keep yourself busy, young man. That’s the to key everything.”

Believe me there was no pleasure in the irony of him among the midday drunks, busy with their bourbon and soap opera. Was it that there had been nothing to attend to on that screen or are had they been too benumbed to raise their eyes to the histrionics? Bill and all the rest focused laser-like on nicked wood of the bar as if it were a bottomless lake.

“Look…” I began, and I placed a hand on his shoulder, which he jerked from my reach.

“You didn’t have to,” he protested—and he’d not been protesting my touch.

But I did. Someone had to.

It had been a dangerous call as our calls went: a jittery older man threatening a duck-and-noodles with something inside the pocket of his trench coat. Bill had been testy with me that entire evening—I’d announced earlier in the week my decision (Glo’s decision) to cut back my time on patrol with him. His usually genial small talk—orations on the glory days of Sportsman’s Park and of when he and his boys had integrated the pool at Fairgrounds Park—had been replaced by one-word answers and grunts and silences. Bill Jenkins was a seether, and the car was hot with the energy of his disdain.

At the chop suey joint he made it a point to offer me unneeded direction as to my role and on where to position myself. I’d been hiding in plain sight since before I shaved regularly, but I said nothing about his condescension and found my spot where the glare from the sun off the windows would render me invisible.

For the record, the “diffuse and ignore” strategy had been the right choice that early evening and, ignoring the panicked eyes and subtle hand warning offered by the clerk, Bill sauntered up to the plexiglass, announcing:

“Some shrimp fried rice might just hit the spot. Or maybe I’ll have me one of them happy boxes.” Bill Jenkins at his best: he relished playing the naïf, almost certainly could barely contain his glee at the disbelieving looks of both clerk and perp.

“Ain’t nobody getting s*** ‘til I get me some cash,” the perp announced, and I remember the poor man’s almost violent shaking—so convulsed that I considered walking to the corner and buying him a bottle of wine myself.

Bill gave him a heartfelt, “Oh, come on, now,” and started in on his spiel about how these poor people didn’t have nothing in here and was just trying to make a go of it and serve folks a decent meal. Over the years I had seen this speech work its magic literally hundreds of times. And on much tougher customers than this one—once I’d seen a clearly borderline psychotic crackhead lay down a lead pipe and walk away shamefaced from the man he’d been in the process of mugging. And when that jittery old drunk removed his hands from his pockets and raised them in the air—revealing he’d had no more weapon than his bad breath and bad attitude—I figured we’d have wrapped another one and call it a night and maybe get us one of those happy boxes after all. Until…

Until the drunk shoved Ghetto Man. He lowered those jittery arms and mustered whatever strength he had left in his wine-addled body, and he shoved Bill Jenkins, shoved him right up against the menu board, which came crashing to the ground in all its cardboard handwritten glory.

“Oh no you didn’t,” came Bill’s response, and perhaps if I’d not been so relieved that there wasn’t a gun in the perp’s pocket I might have noticed Bill coming apart on me.

The drunk took a big inhale, ready to unload on Ghetto Man, but apparently the exertion of the shove and the excitement of the (now) foiled stick up had been too much for his delicate constitution. When he unloaded, what he unloaded was about a gallon of cheap wine, vomited from his gut.

“Oh, hell, no,” Bill protested, and then he added: “You get your black ass out of here right this minute, you hear.”

That was the first time I’d heard the man curse, and to show that he meant business, Bill actually grabbed hold of the drunk’s raggedy jacket and proceeded to drag him to the door.

From my perspective, this was all happening both instantly and in slow motion, and I’d found myself obsessing over that puddle which I was pretty sure I’d be ordered to clean up. By all evidence, however, Bill hadn’t obsessed on it enough, because between his zeal to eighty-six the drunk and the drunk’s outrage at being manhandled, they both slipped in the slime and found themselves entangled on the floor.

Where even more vulgarity spewed from both men’s lips and a variety of weak slaps and punches were exchanged. And that’s when it happened.

How Bill ended up with his mouth next to the man’s ankle is both a mystery and entirely beside the point. What isn’t beside the point is the fact that he decided to bite his opponent. This, the man who’d warned me a thousand times that as such things went, a human bite was about as nasty as they got. Here he was with his teeth sunk in another man’s calf.

“What the hell?” the drunk screamed. “What are you doing to me? Lord, have mercy.”

From the concentration on Bill’s face you could tell that he had bared down hard, and it seemed that the louder that the perp screamed the harder he bit. The perp rolled and kicked to dislodge Ghetto Man and, successfully shaking him loose, he rose and fled from the door, the shiny white and pink dentures still firmly attached to his leg.

“My teef!” Bill hollered. “Stop that n*****. He got my teef!”

And so you see: What choice did I have, after all. Handing my hero his now broken dentures, retrieved from the alley behind the restaurant, and seeing him there with those broken teeth; seeing him filthy, reeking, confused: What choice did I have?

“I run him off,” Bill had mumbled.

I’d been too disgusted to respond. And I was determined not see him humiliated again. The next morning I’d made the call that started the process that lead him to this barstool.

“I did stop him,” he reminded me again. He took another pull on his seven-and-seven. “I did run him off.”

“That you did,” I concurred.

He dismissed my acknowledgement with another harrumph, and again I wondered what’s better: a well past his prime old man, messing in things well beyond his powers, or a well past his prime old man wasting his days on Days and cheap booze.

“You didn’t have to,” he mumbled, and I knew that it shamed him to say so; knew because this was the first time he’d said the words out loud to me.

But it had gotten late, and I was way behind schedule and knew there was nothing I could say that would change any of it. And even if there were…

“I just wanted to say…” I started to say, but he waved his hand to shut me off.

He’ll not hear any of it, whatever it is. My “thank you” was as meaningless to him as were those of all the people over all the years whose lives he made better in some way. It’s the humility of superheroes—thank them for what? For doing their job? For doing the right thing? Who would expect less? That’s how these people think.

“What you staring at, boy?” he asked me before I realized I’d been doing so.

Busted in my attempt to drink in as much of this man as I could, I suppressed saying “you.” This is not a sentimental man—I’ve known that for half my life—and my eye twitched as I felt the trashy to-sir-with-love goodbye I’d long entertained fade away like a bad pop song on the ancient juke box.

I chugged the water, stood, gathered the car keys in my fist; signaling my leave-taking as broadly as those actors on the TV and with just as obvious a purpose. Last chance, I thought. Last time I’ll see him in this life. That ancient plaid jacket of his caught my eye. Lined with some sort of fleecy material that explodes out into a collar, it was way too much outerwear for this time of year.

“How long you had this old thing?” I asked him.

He chuckled—his warm chuckle. “Longer than you been alive, I imagine.” For a moment there his eyes were young again, and I saw in them the little boy who had to become a man way, way too early.

A person has choices then, doesn’t he: He turns on the world and pays it back for all they’ve taken. Or he makes a myth of it all, and the deranged dealer who broke down the wrong door becomes Roscoe the Blingmaster, and the stolen piece he uses to shoot your loved ones becomes a Disintegro ray.

For a moment—for just a moment—I considered reviving our long-shared fancy: He used to relish my yelling things such as “Floor it, Ghetto Man!” or “When will these criminals ever learn? There’s no hiding from justice!” But all that had past. The neighborhood watch folks (a.k.a. Superhero Central) long-ago lost his number and here we were in the lives we had now: me, the computer geek, following his intellectual wife off to her next step up the academic ladder, him, another of millions of retirees, lonely and at loose ends.

“You could come with me,” I offered. I mumbled it, really, afraid to further affront his dignity. And I couldn’t place his propulsive laugh as being either mocking or ironic.

“Oregon: That’ll be your territory,” he told me.

And that would be that, I figured. I made for the door, for real this time. I did not look back and I did not linger any longer. I walked straight out of that joint and straight into the new adventures ahead. I was optimistic even, even as I crossed the threshold and heard behind those final words, my ultimate punishment, his final curse that: Son, you go on out there and do good, you hear.

“The Ordinary LIves of Superheroes” published by Free Press. Reprinted by permission.