With the news everyday seeming so much like fiction I thought I would take a break from that and offer you some of my own fiction again (whether you want it or not). This is a short story I call:
Minor League Hero
by: Dustin Joy
Superman has it made. You have to admit, being able to fly is the big one. Who wouldn’t give their left arm for that? Flying opens up so many other opportunities, too. Not riding in coach is just the tip of the iceberg. And cooler even than flying is that standing in midair shit. You want to impress a lady, I tell you, try knocking on her sixth story apartment window. She opens the curtain, and there you are leaning against an imaginary wall fifty feet in the air. Man, you know you’re getting laid.
But it’s not so easy being in the minor leagues. For those of us who can’t summon whales to do our bidding or run four hundred miles an hour, it’s hard to get any respect. We get no press at all. I even tried getting on Hollywood Squares once but Whoopie wouldn’t take my call. Her assistant said they already had Green Lantern for September and they didn’t want to get into a rut on the whole superhero thing. Green Lantern, for Christ’s sake?I’m not bitter, though. I still thank God every day for what I’ve got. It is a gift, you know. And it is good to know that I’m helping people. I mean that’s what it’s all about, anyway. Right?
All I ever wanted was to do good in this world. I should be happy, because I have more chance to make a difference than most people. When they print up my obit in the Journal Star I’ll probably get one of those two column things with a little picture, you know. That’s more than most folks. And I like what I do, you know. It’s not drudgery. I’m not working in a factory. I don’t pull the same drill press handle every day. I save lives. I stop criminals. I do just what Batman does, without all the hype.
Sometimes I think about when I was a kid, before I discovered my gift. It seemed to me then that my life stretched out before me like a great plain. I could see in all directions, and I could go in any direction. But as I got older, it seemed like I was coming up to a big forest. At first the trees came in patches, and I could travel at will among them and even through them. But the farther I progressed, the denser the patches became until finally each patch formed a solid wall. After a while the patches merged into a vast forest with a single trail, all other avenues having been blocked. When we’re kids anything is possible. You can be an actor, a doctor, an astronaut, maybe president. But every decision you make closes certain doors or, more accurately, leads you down a path toward other choices each more inevitable than the last.
Finding out I had super powers opened up a lot of doors for me. But it also narrowed my focus. It closed some doors, too. As Spiderman says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” If God grants you super powers you can’t just go out and become a custodian. It’s like spitting in God’s face. At least that’s what my Mom used to say. “God doesn’t pass out super powers just for the hell of it.” If he’s gonna let you defy the laws of physics there’s got to be a reason. That’s how my Mom saw it, anyway. She always thought of my power as a gift for all mankind. I just kind of thought He meant it for me because He liked me.
I discovered my gift the same way a lot of young superheroes do, while masturbating. That might strike you as strange, especially given my previous statement about the God-given quality of such things. It makes sense, though, if you think about it. Each super power is rooted in or augmented by strong emotion. The Hulk is the obvious example. He gets mad, “TaDa,” here’s the Hulk. You’ve even heard of regular people, what we call norms, who in times of great crisis find superhuman strength- a mother who experiences an adrenaline rush lifts the refrigerator off the little child. It happens.
My theory is that there are more superheroes in this world than we know, people who just haven’t discovered their powers or learned to control them. Aquaman thinks I’m full of shit on this, but I believe it. Look at Granny Power. She never discovered her abilities until the age of seventy. Weren’t they there all along? I think so. All her life she was winning at Bingo and she just thought she was lucky. It was only after deep introspection and careful observation that she realized she was manipulating the balls with her own mind. She started channeling her energies, went to Vegas, won enough to make herself financially independent, and put her gift to use fighting crime, crimes other than gambling fraud.
Anyway, superpowers are nearly always the result of electrochemical reactions in the body and mind. Strong emotion whips these chemicals into a froth. Hence, there you are, jacking off to your Debbie Gibson album cover, and, TaDa, all the light bulbs in the room blow out at once. Coincidence? You start thinking. Next day you’re helping your Dad in the shop and you hit your thumb with the hammer; all four tires on the car go flat. It’s things like that that clue you in. You don’t tell anyone, of course. They would think you’re nuts. And also, your folks would be horrified to learn about your self-abuse. So you quietly conduct some more experiments, with Debbie Gibson’s unwitting assistance. You discover that things blow up, break, crack, or otherwise destroy themselves every time you reach a, shall we say, emotional climax. Then it strikes you that maybe this thing can be controlled. Maybe it can be put to use.
Now, you can’t carry around pictures of Debbie Gibson while you’re fighting crime. It wouldn’t look right, even wearing big puffy pants. But you practice in other ways. You glare at the uncool corduroys your mom bought for you and you bear down with all your might like you were fixing to take a crap. They burst into flames. You learn, through hard work and perseverance how to control your gift. You learn, eventually, how to knock the bully on his ass from across the playground without bursting any blood vessels in your eyes.
See, it’s only half a gift from God; the other half is hard work. That’s why there are superpower bums out there. I know a guy who comes to the meetings sometimes who can locate lost keys and stuff just by talking to the person who lost them. But he doesn’t want to bother with it. I told him he could make a lot of money that way, finding people’s rings and things for a fee. But he just wants to watch Nascar and drink beer.
I’ve come to understand that. I mean, what does God want, anyway? He gives you this gift and everybody thinks you’re a freak. Sometimes you can make a good living out of it, sometimes not. Just look at Dittoman, able to burn the image of one page of information onto a fresh piece of paper placed below it. Here he’s doing alright, making a living, and wham, here comes Xerox and he’s on state aid. And even if God gives you a good one you’re still not making out like Bill Gates. Christ, Superman still has a day job. If God wanted to give you a real gift he’d give you an MBA from Harvard, or make your parents George and Barbra Bush. Sometimes you start to wonder if your gift is actually some kind of punishment, possibly for masturbating.
But you do your what you can and try to make the best of it. Once you learn to control your powers, you’ve got to learn how to apply them. You get a lot of thank you in this line of work but precious few stock options. I understand the sentiment of superheroes who just want to be left alone.
I guess I was about 15 when I first discovered my powers. I was just a normal kid, maybe a bit nerdy. Bookish is the word I like to use. But I played soccer, had some friends, the hots for Debbie Gibson. You know, regular kid. Then one day it all changed. I was in my bedroom alone, you know. As I was about to finish my, um, exercises I noticed some movement off to my left. I look over and here is a rock from my rock collection floating in mid air. As you might imagine, I was a little surprised. But as soon as I got a real good focus on the rock it fell to the floor. I wasn’t sure I had seen what I thought I saw. Eventually I forgot about it. A few weeks later, though, it happened again- same situation, same rock. Only this time the rock stayed in the air. I was dumbfounded. It was like something out of Close Encounters. I sat there with my hand on my wank looking at this floating rock. At first I assumed that I was witnessing the work of a poltergeist, which unnerved me mostly because that meant the poltergeist had been witnessing my work. In my absorption with the riddle of the rock, my hand fell still. The rock began to slowly descend toward the table. As my erection quickly subsided so did the rock, finally settling back into its place among the rest of the collection.
I sat in the semi-darkness of the room for what seemed like hours, staring at the rock and the spot in the air which it had occupied. I was literally petrified, certain that any poltergeist that could lift a rock could just as easily dash my brains out with said rock. For the next week, I spent hour upon hour in my room waiting for the rock to move, but it never did. Though I spent all day in the room I wasn’t about to sleep there. When my parents had gone to bed I snuck down to the laundry room and slept in a pile of linens, curled up against the dryer, badminton racquet in hand. For some reason I felt a badminton racquet was the proper weapon for use against a rock chucking poltergeist.
No matter how vigilant or distracted, however, it is impossible for a teenage boy to keep his hands off himself for long. I finally succumbed to my natural urges in the laundry room one night. All hell broke loose. As soon as I commenced to enjoy myself, cans of soda from the nearby shelf began to burst sending geysers of RC and Tab everywhere. I ran from the room in my birthday suit, dripping with soda and certain the poltergeist had found me again. What my father must have thought when I barreled into him in the hallway, I can’t say, but it is that incident which finally prompted the appointment with Dr. Marshall. It was in the psychotherapist’s office that I ultimately began to understand and control my gift. Dr. Marshall gave me a new perspective on my powers and my Dad helped Dr. Marshall pay off his Bentley. We were all winners.
In my life I haven’t been able to determine if God is kind and benevolent or petty and malicious. Einstein said God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Of course Einstein was mistaken about string theory, wasn’t he. And he didn’t really seem like someone who spent a lot of time around crap tables. My theory is that God has a lot to watch. I think he has about a billion worlds out there to keep him entertained. Once he sets one up and tinkers with it a bit I think he kind of loses interest. It’s like your closet full of junk at home. There’s your stamp collection, the snow skis, the paint by numbers thing, with easel, your wood-burning set, the treadmill. All held your interest for about a week and then you never looked at them again. I think that’s what God did to us. I think he set it all up, let there be light and whatnot, then just kind of got bored.
Sure the whole Garden of Eden thing was interesting: nudity, intrigue, betrayal, talking snakes. Even the rest of the Genesis days had their interesting points: deceit, murder, incest. But I think God had stuffed us in Mr. Whoopee’s closet before he even got through the begats. Since then it’s been kind of tough to get his attention. Hitler finally got noticed, but it sure took God a while to do something about him. I think by then he was watching his own little soap opera in the Andromeda Galaxy.
So despite my mother’s insistence that I was one of God’s chosen, I quickly came to the conclusion that I was the butt of one of God’s less funny jokes. As I learned more about my powers I became even more persuaded that God was the, well, the, shall we say, the Carrot Top of the, well, of the universe. My first frustration came when I tried to use my powers to levitate items other than my one particular rock and soda cans. No dice. Strain as I might and curse as Dr. Marshall would, I could not move wood, plastic, steel, copper, marble, oatmeal, or cotton. As it turns out the only things I have influence over are items composed of at least 18% aluminum by weight or rocks containing at least 37% bauxite ore. My powers were not quite as stunning as I had imagined.
Now some people would have accepted defeat at this point and used their powers to retrieve beer from the fridge while they watched Nascar. But whatever I have been in my life, I have not been a quitter. By this time I had settled on superhero as a vocation and no matter God’s plan I was going to parlay my meager gift into fame and universal renown. I had the ability to levitate, bend, melt, and otherwise rearrange the atoms in objects made of aluminum. That’s pretty darn cool if you think about it. Most people can’t do that. And if you think about it there are quite a few things in this world made of aluminum; some pretty cool stuff, in fact.
So I made a solemn vow that I would use my powers for good, to benefit all mankind. Now I needed a hook, a motif, and a name. Several suggested themselves. My friend Marcus proposed the Tin Man, which I thought summoned up negative comparisons with the “heartless” character of Oz fame, and after all, aluminum is not tin. They are separate elements, you know. Comparisons to Superman didn’t seem appropriate, either. “Man of Aluminum” just doesn’t turn on the chicks like “Man of Steel.” I put the moniker on hold and focused my attention on the modus operandi. To fight crime, you have to be able to use your powers to reduce felons to custody. In my mind that called for a weapon. But my weapon, obviously, had to be made of, you know, aluminum.
Fortunately for me aluminum is a fairly versatile metal and it is, contrary to popular belief, very strong for its weight. I considered a number of items: a gun which fired aluminum bullets. I could steer the bullets as they left the muzzle to hit targets even around corners. Alas, I lacked the intestinal fortitude to actually kill anyone, even bad guys. The gun was out.
Next I considered airplanes. Airplanes are made of aluminum. I could have a cool little jet like Wonder Woman. I could control it from the ground to locate terrorists and put out fires. Who knows? I quickly discovered that even the most paltry “little jet” was in the neighborhood of five million dollars, more than my weapon budget had allotted. I even appealed to the U.S. military for funds, expounding the benefits of my gift which could accrue to them if they would provide me the use of one of the Air Force’s spare “little jets.” The short-sighted bastards passed on the deal.
Ultimately, I had a friend of my father, who happened to be a competent machinist, fashion me a hammer out of aluminum. It was large, about the size of a mini sledge, and not unattractive. Sleek and silver, it glimmered as I piloted it across the sky. With it I could break things, deflect weapons, and knock the wind out of fleeing thugs without, in the process, killing them. The true mark of a superhero is, of course, the ability to render bad guys unconscious, not send them to hell.
Satisfied, if somewhat disappointed, in my weapon, I returned to the problem of a name. Marcus suggested that if I was still against Tin Man, that perhaps Tin Hammer would sound good, or even, perhaps Silver Hammer, since my weapon is, actually silver colored. But I felt that Silver Hammer still implied too much. Honesty is the best policy for a superhero and it struck me as vaguely dishonest to call my hammer silver because of its color when I knew, full well, that everyone would assume the hammer was made of silver.
Finally, I opted to eliminate the color altogether and I settled for a moniker that commanded attention and summoned up a manly image of power and stability. I became — THE HAMMER! In the headlines, at least. In the eyes of the State of Illinois I remain Martin T. Hammer, since the bureaucrat in the Secretary of State’s office required that my name change paperwork include a full first name and a middle initial.
To be a crime fighter, one needs to develop a close working relationship with the police. It does not do to leap onto the scene in your nifty periwinkle leotard and announce to the assembled law enforcement personnel surrounding the bank robber, “stand aside officers, I shall subdue this scoundrel!” A lot of prior legwork is required before that little give and take can be pulled of credibly. The first time I tried it I nearly got shot in the back by a Mattoon county sheriff’s deputy and ended up spending 72 hours in the pokey for aiding and abetting.
But I finally hit my stride after a few more false starts. My first unqualified success was a drug bust at a crack house in East Peoria. I had been hounding some cops I knew to let me ride around with them on patrol. They were skeptical, at first. I think it was the leotard. Anyway, I just kept hanging around the precinct getting people coffee and whatnot. Everyone has to start small, you know. I’d get to use my hammer here and there mostly to, you know, hammer stuff. And then one night, Sergeant Floyd Patterson, requested me as backup. Actually, I think he kind of said, “For Christ sake Martin shut up and get in the damn car. And for God’s sake put on some pants, you freak.” It was like that at first, you know. Cops are always like that, hard boiled and unrefined. And they’re always kidding each other like that, calling each other freaks and stuff.
We met up with other law enforcement officers from the metropolitan enforcement agency in the Wal-Mart parking lot and planned the approach to the crack house. I offered that I could knock on the front door dressed as a pizza delivery guy with my hammer neatly concealed in a pizza box. When they opened the box to get a slice of pepperoni, those thugs would get the comeuppance they so richly deserved a silver, er, aluminum hammer upside the head. Unfortunately my selfless offer was met with a barrage of paper cups and wadded up doughnut bags. In their defense, the cops were right to be cautious, never having witnessed my prowess with the hammer.
Finally, it was determined to knock down the door with the battering ram and toss in a stun grenade and some tear gas. Their solution was effective, I guess, but none too elegant. I told them so. Floyd told me to go sit in the car. I thought I had lost my opportunity. When we reached the crack house, though, my plan was vindicated, well, partly. Somebody forgot to bring the battering ram. My hammer carried the day as the door to that den of iniquity dissolved in a shower of splinters. It would have been even cooler if I had been swinging the hammer, instead of Officer Perkins.
Today I am well known and respected in crime-fighting circles, in and around Peoria. Whenever there is trouble in the tri-county area, The Hammer is there. When meth lab doors need opening, I’m there. When scofflaws tear down stop signs, I’m on the scene to nail new ones up. When the mayor’s cat gets caught in a tree, I’m there to knock that branch off the tree. I also stop the occasional high speed chase by knocking out the headlights of the felon’s getaway car. This works only at night, of course.
I have gained a degree of satisfaction from my work that most people only dream of. Sure, being a minor league hero can be mundane at times. If I have to knock icicles off the water tower again I’m gonna scream. But you don’t hear me complaining… much. I’m doing good work. The people shower me with adulation, well, appreciation, well …. Did I mention that I get a free cell phone? City hall picks up the tab. They were gonna have a big spotlight thing, projecting my trademark hammer symbol on the clouds, to alert me in time of need. But I kept responding to false alarms at Malcomb Chevy/ GEO when they were having a sale. Mr. Malcomb likes his spotlight and he’s got pull on the city council. So I got the cell phone. It’s really a good deal. I get unlimited night and weekend minutes.
I also get a salary from the city, even a per diem when I’m on loan to the Quad City or Rockford Police. The Mayor doesn’t mind if I take a tip or two from grateful crime victims as long as I declare it for my W2.
As for the ladies, I think they are a little intimidated by the whole Super Hero thing. They are obviously attracted to the leotard and cape. Men in uniform always draw women in. But then they make this nervous little laugh and keep their distance, all coy and shy. It’s really sweet. Unfortunately it doesn’t translate into much one on one action for The Hammer.
I try to be philosophical about my gift, if that’s what it is. I try to make my own luck, as they say. But on those cloudy days I will admit that I have my doubts. Maybe God plays tricks on all of us. Maybe his best one is this: He whispers in our ears that we are really something, that we are special, that we are superheroes even. He tells us we are right, and good, and noble of purpose. He leads us to believe that we are the hero of our own narrative. Only later do we see that he was just joking. He whispered something else about us into everyone else’s ears.