A Single Gesture

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Single Gesture

The Impartial Friend: Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all–the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.” -Mark Twain

Early in the morning, as the moon floated overhead and had its personal space intruded upon by loose clusters of wispy clouds, Scott saw his bus approach.  Every once in a while, Scott would burst out of his home, scurry to fit his keys to the lock, and then run for the door.  More often than not, this resulted in Scott arriving for the bus five minutes early, so he had recently adopted a different policy.  He would take his time and hope that the bus was not going to be too early.

The usual boarding routine was observed.  Scott stood back and let the somber man enter first.  Always carrying an overstuffed backpack, the somber man also carried a temperament that was determined to overcompensate for the compact man’s lack of height.  Scott had decided long ago that if getting a seat first was that important to the serious commuter, he could go ahead and have first rights.  Scott only wanted a quiet spot with a reasonable amount of elbow room.

Entering the bus, Scott greeted the usual driver with his standard greeting of, “Morning”.  She replied in kind as she reached for the long handle and pulled the double doors of her bus shut.  Scott put his loose and ratty backpack on his lap and did his best to encourage his sleepy frame to sit up straight.  The bench seats were built at a stern angle, but Scott’s back often answered the call of the slouch.  For the first few miles at least, Scott tried to adopt something resembling correct posture.  If nothing else he felt he should be in top form when he passed that one intersection.

Scott wanted to close his eyes and begin his quiet time of thinking things out and mentally preparing his day.  Yet he knew that the park and ride stop was still to come; followed closely by that certain intersection.  Scott’s peace would have been short lived anyway, for the park and ride group were numerous, and therefore a bit disruptive to the environment of stillness that often accompanied the moving vehicle.

Seven people mumbled greetings to the bus driver and swiped their cards or crammed their grimy bills into the pay-box.  The woman once again reached for her hefty door handle.  She gave one last look across the dimly lit parking lot.  She had been on the route for a while and knew what to expect.  Sure enough, as if responding to her greatest fear, a large woman came huffing and bustling towards the vehicle.  Her clothes and her bags leapt and jostled about as she did her best to arrive before the bus’s departure.  She almost fell as she threw herself in the door and tried to climb up the two steps.  The handrails congratulated each other on an excellent job helping out this Jane Doe in her time of need.  The driver greeted the woman with a simple, “Good morning”.  The large woman, still gasping, expressed her thanks for the professional person’s patience.

Watching the woman stomp down the aisle, Scott noted the presence of her items.  Everyone on the bus seemed to have their own way of packing for the day.  Some folks carried two, if not three carriers with them every day.  Scott did his best to keep his load light; sometimes transporting nothing more than what would fit in his pockets.  Middle-aged workers had swapped out simple satchels for backpacks with wheels.  Scott made mental judgments on those items based on his mood.  There were days when he shook his head in sadness, and others where he only wondered what had happened to the world so that backpacks needed to have their own wheels.  And of course, there were the phone addicts.  A large portion of the commuters didn’t put down their phone the entire trip.  Very rarely was there a phone call this early in the morning.  If there was, the rider could be assured that several heads would glare in that person’s direction.  Many times the phones were used to check e-mails or websites before work, but before sunup it tended to be the music-listening option that was most popular.  Scott had never been one for phones.  He figured if he was allowed to let his brain relax while he went to work, he would take the opportunity.  There was enough overstimulation in his life already.  He preferred to relax.  That calm time would have to wait a moment though, for they were passing the intersection.

Scott looked at a certain spot on the road, put his fingers to his forehead, saluted, and then very quietly said, “God speed, darlin’.  God speed.”  The bus wouldn’t stop unless the light demanded it, which was rare.  Scott watched the spot at the intersection pass by his window, and then he closed his eyes and went about his day.

There were people that wondered what Scott was doing.  They questioned his gesture and they felt uneasy at his waving when there was no one visible outside.  One or two folks slid to a seat further away.  Scott largely ignored them.  He had his reasons and that was enough for him.

Several years ago, the quiet bus stop had been a hubbub of noise and activity.  The city in all its wisdom had decided to spend a year and a half redoing the roads.  The lanes became a little wider, and the trees and grass that had been growing quite well had been ripped out and replaced with new grass and new trees.  Scott didn’t really see the point to it all, but he had long ago accepted the wisdom of the phrase, “And it came to pass”.  He let the construction companies toil away, using his tax dollars for a project that someone had thought was necessary.  Scott assumed that life would return to normal.  Except for one person, that hadn’t been true.

It had been a typical weekday.  A non-descript worker, someone Scott had never met, rode the early afternoon bus.  She probably liked getting home a little before the rest of her family.  The woman might have enjoyed avoiding rush hour traffic and having a bit of “me” time to run errands or straighten up her household.  Scott would never know.

What Scott was certain of were the events of that Tuesday afternoon.  Shortly after the bus had pulled away from that intersection, the woman had crossed.  She answered the summons of the white-light man who benignly assured her that all was well.  The woman stepped into the street and walked through the intersection.  Scant seconds after she had entered, a truck joined her.  The several-ton construction truck had turned right on a red light, which would have been entirely legal had there not been a small group of pedestrians in his way.

The collision occurred the only way it could.  The truck and all its mass came crashing into the people.  A short time later several victims would be admitted to the hospital, but one person would never be fully discharged.  There would be no front door to her house, no sliding doors at a hospital for her to limp across; the last doors that the woman would ever walk through were those double doors on the bus.

Scott felt that someone should remember such things.  There was a memorial stone on the side of the road after all.  The city had realized the tragedy of the event once upon a time, even if they had forgotten about it now.  Certainly the woman’s family hadn’t forgotten.  Scott felt that he could use the reminder to himself.  When he was driving, it served as constant prodding to always follow the rules, especially where traffic lights were concerned.  For the times when he was a pedestrian or a bus rider, Scott tried to remember that one never knows what comes next.

People could stare, people could whisper, but Scott didn’t listen.  He closed his eyes as the intersection faded away into the distance.  He had paid his daily tribute, and he didn’t need the approval of other people to tell him it was the right thing to do.  He simply knew that it was.  With that, as it did each morning, life went on as best as it could.

Death in the Super Family

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Death in the Super Family

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” -Christopher Reeve

“What did you do?!”

The window that had formerly sat in the door to Forgotten Acquaintances shattered.  The shout that had emanated from the muscular and mask-clad character echoed off the walls threatening to knock the numerous pictures off the wall.  The people in the photographs were unspoken legends.  They had paved the way over the past century for the current generation.  Stories were still swapped about the narrow victory they had almost grasped or the hero that they had narrowly escaped from.  Forgotten Acquaintances had a reputation, a feeling that no other bar in town could match.  Only this bar could lay claim to hosting the cleverest and most infamous villains that Prosper City had to offer.

There were civilians in attendance, but one didn’t need to be a criminal mastermind to recognize the hulking figure of The Do-Gooder.   His white uniform; decorated by a blue utility belt and cape, with white domino mask to match; had been spread over countless broadcasts and newspapers over the years.  Fittingly enough, the fair-haired hero often spoke of fighting fair as well.  He was adored by young children throughout the city and even parents smiled when he flew by.  Any other person with the abilities of flight and super-strength would have frightened a populace within days.  But there was something about The Do-Gooder.  He wouldn’t punch super-villains below the belt, he operated in daylight, and he even took time to attend school assemblies.  It was his squeaky-clean reputation that made his outburst in the bar that much more unsettling.

All in attendance had the urge to whisper, however they could only cower and stay out of the way of his rampage.  The Do-Gooder had the ability to float, yet his legs took powerful steps and almost smashed through the floor.  A thin man with a moustache to match sat at the bar.  He felt the beer in his hands slosh out of the cup just enough to be noticeable.  He set down his beer, gulped down the nervousness that was building in him, and tried to maintain some composure.  Ned Neener could tell that the hero had come here for him.

“Well, Mr. Do-doo”, he tried to joke.  “What brings you to the bowels of the underworld?  Come to slum a little?”

“What did you do, Neener-Neener?”  The Do-Gooder’s voice had become eerily calm.  There was a focus behind his voice that was frightening.  It was clear the conversation was not going to end until the hero got the answers he wanted.  “What did you do to her?”

Neener sighed.  “I’ve told you before, I changed my alias.  For one thing, that childhood taunt wasn’t me.  Who wants to be robbed by a guy that goes by a playground jeer?  Just because I’m born with an appropriate name doesn’t mean I have to be saddled with it for the rest of my life, am I right?”

Neener’s attempt to diffuse the situation with humor only seemed to make The Do-Gooder angrier.  A table stood in the path between The Do-Gooder and Neener.  The occupants had abandoned it and ducked over the bar as soon as they had seen that they were in the route of possible destruction.  Without looking, and with no effort whatsoever, The Do-Gooder grabbed the table with one hand, ripped it free of the bolts that had previously held it to the ground, and threw it across the room.  There were no obstacles between The Do-Gooder and Neener now as the massive bulk of white menacingly loomed right over his nemesis.

“Fine”, The Do-Gooder said through clenched jaw.  “What did you do to her, Ne’er-Do-Well?”

“You’re going to have to be more specific”, the thief said as his voice started to audibly crack.  “There are a lot of ladies who hang out with me.  I’m a dangerous guy.  I attract lots of women’s attention; lots and lots.  Don’t I, fellas?”

Needer looked around the bar but could find no one to take his side.  All of his former drinking companions had either fled in terror or were choosing to remain silent.  Whatever Needer had done to get himself on the wrong side of The Do-Gooder, the man was on his own.  It was his fight to win or lose.  The bar was full of disreputable types.  They had been henchmen and thugs, so they all knew a “Super-Brawl” when they saw one.  There was a saying in the underground of Prosper City.  “You can deal with another guy’s B.S., but don’t ever get near another guy’s S-B.”

“You know who I’m talking about Needer”, The Do-Gooder snarled through gritted teeth.  “You killed the woman I love.”

“Killed?!”  Gone was the act of composure and posturing that Needer had employed up until that moment.  “Are you nuts?  I don’t kill!”

Grief At Cemetery by Petr Kratochvil

“You told me, the last time I put you away, that’d you make me pay.  You swore you’d take away everything you hold dear to me.”  The Do-Gooder’s rage came out in the form of a massive arm gripping Needer by the neck.  “I don’t know how you did it…”

“Wait”, Needer gasped.  “You’re making a mistake.  That isn’t my style and you know it.”

The Do-Gooder paused, a flash of doubt appeared across his masked face.  The grip around Needer’s neck softened.

“Look”, Ne’er-Do-Well said as he tried to pull the hero’s hands off of his neck.  “I steal from people.  That’s it.  I want a little more bankroll in my wallet.  But I don’t kill people!  Who do you think I am, Hangman?  C’mon, that guy belongs in whatever lunatic joint can hold him.  I’m greedy, nothing more.  Sure, we have our games back and forth.  I tease you, you catch me, but we don’t actually hurt anybody.”

“Last time… your threat”, The Do-Gooder stammered as he took his hands off of Needer.

“I was toying with you.  I meant I was going to steal your Do-Gooder Go-Cart and sell it for parts.  I already got a fence lined up; ask around.  I embarrass guys like you; I don’t off ‘em.  Really, it’s business between you and me.  I may not like being roughed up or tossed in the clink; but that doesn’t mean I’ve turned into a killer.  How would I sleep at night if I got all dark like that?  How’s a guy supposed to enjoy his own private island with blood on his hands?”

“So, you didn’t give Martha cancer?”  The whispered tone that had crept into The Do-Gooder’s throat showed how unsure he really was.

“Who’s Martha?”

“She was…” The Do-Gooder hesitated.  He knew what kind of place he was in and he knew that he had already revealed too much.  “She was someone close to me.”

“Oh man.  Look D-G, I’m sorry to hear that.  I really am”, Needer said.  “I wouldn’t give anyone cancer, though.  Life’s hard enough without that stuff.  Besides, I don’t really have access to anything medical or radioactive, y’know?  I think you might be giving me a little too much credit.  I’m a schemer, sure.  Only not on the level you’re talking about.  I’ll spend hours cooking up stuff in my secret laboratory.  You gotta remember though, I’m a gadget kinda guy.  The extend-o-arms that reach across a building?  The nanites with miniature hammers that chip away at a building overnight?  Those’re my kind of devices.  And they’re all non-lethal.”

“That’s it?  I didn’t bring this on her?  You’re serious?”

“Aw, man”, Needer looked at The Do-Gooder’s face and felt sorry for the large man.  All the powers he had, his never-ending feeling of justice; both had failed the hero in this fight.  “Look, why don’t you let me buy you a beer?  I mean, you can’t just go around tearing things up and scaring people like you are.  Do you realize you almost pulverized those two guys in the corner when you threw that table?”

“I wasn’t… I mean I didn’t…”

“I know, I know”, Needer said as he tried to console the man.  “Listen.  I’m going to tell you something.  This is between you and me and the room.  You ever mention this to anybody else and we’ll all flatly deny it.  You hear me?  This all sinking in, Do-Gooder?”

The man clad in white nodded solemnly.

“Okay.”  Needer took a deep breath.  He surveyed the room, made eye-contact with those left in attendance, and then turned back to The Do-Gooder.  “The truth is, we all respect you.  We want you to be better than this.”

“Hold on”, The Do-Gooder said.  “I’m confused.  You want me around?”

“I don’t want you around me”, Ne’er-Do-Well said quickly.  “But yeah, we like having you in Prosper City.”

“That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Sure it does”, Needer replied.  “If the dam breaks and our town might get flooded, you’re our best bet.  Whenever Hangman or somebody like him comes to cause trouble, we want you on the scene.  And if I’m being completely honest, my kid looks up to you.  Other heroes; like the ones with all the guns and facial piercings?  They scare the living daylights out of him.  He’s got you on a t-shirt.”

“Really?”

“Yeah”, Needer said with a touch of annoyance.  “I haven’t really told him about the whole Ne’er-Do-Well thing.  He thinks I’m an account representative for a textile company.”  Needer closed his eyes and shook his head from side to side.  “If that little guy knew how many heists I’ve pulled to get him what he wanted…”

“So, you want me to catch you?”

“No!”  Needer looked The Do-Gooder square in the face and commanded his full attention.  “I want to be left alone to do my thing.  All these fellas do.  However, there are times when life gets a little too dangerous around here.  There are days when the city needs a hero to believe in.  And for Prosper City, that fellow is you.  Right boys?”

The Do-Gooder turned his attention to the rest of the room.  They had been a captive audience to the entire conversation, but none of them had dared to leave their hiding spots.  They remained unsure as to how to proceed.  Yet, as The Do-Gooder turned to look at them one-by-one, they all nodded their affirmation of Needer’s statement.  “You’re A-O-K”, one man replied.

“All right, all right”, Needer said.  “There’s no need to butter the guy up.   He’s still gonna arrest you and wrap a light pole around your gut the next time he sees ya.”

Needer sized up his supposed enemy.  Normally there was an immense strength about the man’s stature, but today his shoulders were unmistakably drooping.  The fight that had raged so strongly when The Do-Gooder had burst in the door had now drained out of him.  He was, to put it mildly, in a sad state.

“What do you say I buy you a beer and you tell me all about her?”

“I’m surrounded by troublemakers.  I should be stopping crime or arresting most of you.”

“Yeah yeah”, Needer replied as he waved off the idea.  “You can catch us tomorrow.  Take a day to mourn the woman you love.  Everybody needs a day off, am I right?”

“I guess”, The Do-Gooder replied as a pitcher was slid towards him.

“Good.  Besides, you’re not in any condition to take on the newest invention I got cooked up for ya.  I tell ya D-G, this one’s really a pip.  I’m gonna make my fortune off of this one.”

“Needer…”

“Sorry”, he replied with a sheepish grin.  “It’s not the right time.  Pull up a seat and tell me all about her.”

That night, the police would comment on how quiet it was in the city.  It was almost as if the criminals had occupied themselves with something other than heists and devious plots.  Unbeknownst to the police the city’s less-desirables were sitting around a man and helping him deal with his sorrows.  Crime continued to be a problem in the days that ensued, but not onr that somber evening.

Parallel Loves

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Parallel Loves

“The holes in our soul may never heal, but we would not have souls in the first place if we did not love.” –Geoff Johns

Paul looked at the park and couldn’t believe how similar things were.  There were differences, to be sure, but there were also more things that he recognized than he would have thought possible.  The swing sets were different and the logos on the baseball field’s walls were not what he thought they should be.  Still, their tree was exactly as he had left it back home.  The same branch jutted out at the same quirky angle with the strength to hold two people securely.  If there were this many similarities visible already, then surely there would be a Lynn who was like the one he had lost back home.

Rain slowly started to fall from the sky.  It wasn’t an oppressive, torrential rain; more of a light sprinkling.  Paul ignored the few drops that spattered about his head and he walked to where he thought there was a phone booth.  He couldn’t remember the last time that he had used a payphone, but now it seemed to hold the answers that he was looking for.  Sure enough, right by the fire hydrant that was red and should have been white, Paul found the phone and its directory.

With a slow precision that betrayed a degree of hesitance, Paul let the pages turn quietly in his hands.  The J’s passed by, then the L’s.  He soon came to the M’s.  He turned the pages one by one, hoping that the entry he was looking for would be there.  Finally, he found the entry right where it should be.  Paul and Lynn Monroe resided at an address not more than a mile away.

As he walked to the home, the memory of house shopping came into his brain.  Lynn had been the excited one while Paul just wanted to find a darn house.  He would be happy in any home, so long as Lynn liked it.  He would content himself with whatever choice she made, but Lynn had always been particular.  “Don’t you want to find the perfect home for us to live a life in?”  That was the mantra which she kept repeating to Paul.  Each and every time, Paul would respond, “I already found the perfect wife; the home is only a detail.”  She liked that response, but her determination was never softened by it.

In the end, she had found two houses that she liked.  In  Paul’s version, Lynn had settled for the one with the bigger fireplace because she had wanted to spend winters together, huddled around reading stories to each other and one day their kids.  Apparently this world’s Lynn had opted for the home that was closer to the park so that they could go for walks and take their kids out to fly kites and chase each other in circles.  If they were going to live near a park, Paul knew that it had to be this park.

There were other parks in the city, many of them nicer and most all of them were bigger.  However this park had their tree.  The big tree with the odd tree branch had been a touchstone for the couple.  It was on their first date that they had gone for a walk and ended up in that park.  It had been that tree branch that he watched her ascend with childlike enthusiasm.  They both had made comments about wanting to climb the tree, but Lynn in her skirt and blouse had made note of the impracticality of her scrambling up.  Somehow Paul knew that she really wanted to climb the tree, but didn’t feel like she should.  He cajoled and harangued her until she had caved.  He had helped her up, putting his hands underneath her foot and giving her a boost.  Then he had jumped for the branch and pulled himself up beside her.  That became their tree.

They didn’t go by the tree on every date, but it was certainly a place of interest for them.  If nothing else, the little hollow spot where the branch met the trunk would always be remembered fondly for the way it had held her engagement ring.  Paul had been a bit nervous not only because he wasn’t absolutely positive that Lynn would say yes, but also because he was afraid some kid or a squirrel would come across the ring and carry it away.  Yet, after the tradition of helping Lynn up had been completed, he brushed the leaves and twigs aside and the ring was still there.   Paul hadn’t been able to kneel on the narrow tree branch, but he managed to ask the question without tripping over his words.  Lynn had cried and lunged to hug him, which had almost sent the two of them falling out of the tree.  If the tree hadn’t been in that park, Paul would have seen it as a sign to go home.  Instead, he was encouraged.  Seeing that landmark there in all its perfection helped Paul to believe that it was all going to work out.

 Suddenly a thought entered into Paul’s mind.  He hated to make a detour, but he knew that it was the wisest course to take.  Walking two miles out of the way, Paul was relieved to find that the drugstore was right where it should have been.  Commerce was not one to be swayed by such trivial things as parallel earths.  He walked in and found a pair of cheap binoculars.  The cashier gave him an odd look when he tried to pay with cash.  Rather than explain that his payment was indeed valid, he offered his credit card which the man with the apron took and swiped.  Paul left as rapidly as he could, leaving his receipt and plastic bag behind.

Paul headed back towards his, or rather “their” home.  He felt like a creep holding a pair of binoculars in his hand as he came closer to the residence.  He had to keep telling himself that spying on Paul & Lynn was like looking in the mirror.  It wasn’t perverted, it was just curiosity.  The Lynn he knew always appreciated how intently he had looked at her.  Over the years, he had found more and more things on her face to be fascinated with.  Before she got sick, Paul had known there was something wrong.  Her hair had gotten thinner and her complexion had gone paler.  Paul guessed at the illness before Lynn had even gone to the doctor.

Shaking himself from his grief-filled past, Paul found himself standing in front of the home that the two of them had almost bought.  There was that pink flamingo that Lynn thought was so wonderfully gaudy planted in the front yard.  Even from his safe distance away, Paul recognized the couch that sat happily in the living room with its picture window.

Paul found a tree stump to sit on behind a group of bushes and sat down.  He put the binoculars to his face, feeling like he stood out more than he liked.  The park was empty, and his only goal was to get a quick look at this version of the two of them, so he put his thumb to the focus wheel.  That was when she appeared.

Walking into the living room, a bowl of popcorn in her hand, Lynn came into view.  There was no sign of sickness about her.  Paul felt himself gasp when he saw how young she looked.  He had forgotten how youthful she had once been.  Her complexion was tan like it used to be each summer when they would spend every weekend hiking.  Her hair was its full self, no bare or bald patches like he remembered.  Paul looked at this version of Lynn and felt an enormous lump develop in his throat.

She behaved much like he remembered.  She still sat cross legged on the couch, insisting that her bare feet were happier on a cushion than on the floor.  She still shoveled massive amounts of popcorn into her face in a comical display of messiness.  And she still called Sir Sheds-Too-Much to her and placed him on the back of the couch.  Paul put down the binoculars to wipe his eyes.  When he brought them back up, he got the first good look at himself, or rather at this version of himself.

Paul walked into the room carrying a stack of DVDs.  Paul didn’t have to read lips to realize that they were having their typical discussion.  Sometimes it took half an hour for the two to decide what they were in the mood for.  The whole ordeal seemed silly for the number of times that one of them dozed off during the movie, but it was simply how they worked.

This Paul clearly had fewer problems on his plate.  He looked healthier and was only starting to develop the first few wrinkles that the onlooker-Paul had developed years ago.  There were no gray hairs in his temples.  His laugh, the absence of slumped shoulders; the Paul that lived here was a man with no apparent worries.

Paul felt himself glaring through the binoculars.  He wanted to hate this world’s Paul.  The happy-go-lucky Paul didn’t have to suffer through what Paul had.  This younger looking Paul hadn’t spent months living in hospital rooms and years watching his wife deteriorate.  This Paul who had a view of the park didn’t have to call up Lynn’s sister and ask her to pick out his wife’s coffin because he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.  This Paul was living out the happiness that should be his.

Without even realizing it, Paul was standing up and walking towards the house.  His eyes never left the living room and the two people inside.  He wanted to scream to this other Paul that he wasn’t the one who should be happy.  Paul had already suffered.  Why should that Paul get everything when he had nothing?

Out of nowhere, it happened.  There had been no leading up to it, no grand gesture.  The two had simply smiled at each other, put the popcorn aside and sat close to one another.  The Paul in the house had leaned in, put his hand on Lynn’s thigh, and happily kissed her.  That brought Paul back to his senses and he stopped in his tracks.  He remembered why he had come here and he dropped the binoculars.

As he fished for the remote control, Paul gave the blissful couple one last look.  He captured the moment in his memory and turned away.  He had stopped himself from banging on the door and telling Paul just how lucky he was.  The truth was, Paul could see it on the man’s face.  This version of himself, this man that hadn’t tried to fight his wife’s illness and lost; he knew what he had.  Paul could tell by the way they held each other and they looked at the other that they knew how blessed they really were.

The rain had developed into a full-on downpour.  Paul fumbled with the wet remote in his hand and walked back to the wide open field in the park.  All he had wanted was to see that some version of him was happy.  He wanted to know that some parallel version of Paul and Lynn had gotten the cheery life that he had been denied.  He pressed a button which activated the portal back to his earth.  Paul went home knowing that for all the agony and pain he had gone through, there was another version of himself where his dreams had come true.  Witnessing that, finding out that things worked out even if it wasn’t for him, was enough for Paul.

Intermission- Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn

(I apologize for the departure in tone today.  Normally I would happily write a cute story filled with sci-fi possibilities or a will they/ won’t they couple.  But today I’m not feeling happy or creative, so you get this.  Hopefully tomorrow will bring happier thoughts.)

For those not well-versed in their comic book movies, the subject line is a little too appropriate for today.  The quote comes from The Dark Knight, and it serves as a description for a villain who kills and causes terror just for the sheer fun of it.  Tragically, the world was served a reminder this morning that such people exist outside of comic books.

I’m sure the final count and details are still being worked out, but I know enough to be horrified at the tragedy.  Twelve people were killed and thirty-eight people were injured when a man came into a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, dispersed smoke, and opened fire.  Police apparently have a suspect in custody.

I don’t know very many people in Colorado.  I would never claim that I will be as impacted as the friends and loved ones of that theater audience.  On a much smaller scale though, I will claim that the room was filled with my people.

Comic book nerds are an interesting breed.  We have a reputation for being anti-social.  I’m here to tell you though; one of the quickest ways to get in our good graces is to read comics, to be one of us.

I work in a comic book shop.  There have been many occasions where I have heard guys and gals say, “Yeah, I just moved to the area.  I needed to find a good shop.”  We leap to make connections with fellow nerds.  We want to share stories and opinions about the latest issue back and forth.  I’ve sold comics to young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight.  Some are of a minority race, and some are classified as disabled.  We don’t care what the world thinks of you, we just like that you enjoy comics.  It’s hard to care about race or religion when the fate of the world is in jeopardy on the four-color page.

That is why I mourn the crowd in Colorado.  I don’t know you folks, but I like who you are.  When we see each other on the street with our mutual comic book t-shirts, we exchange a knowing wink and nod.

In addition to working in a comic shop, I also work in a movie theater.  It’s a giant, six-story screen that is, not surprisingly, playing The Dark Knight Rises.  Last night, when the world was getting ready for bed, I was strolling around the lobby in a Batman costume trying to get people ready for what I think is a pretty great film.  There was a Joker, several Batmans, and a Catwoman in attendance.  We gave away posters and comic books.  They just wanted to watch an epic movie and have a good time.  Hopefully they did.

What do I do today?  The rain was falling as I left the apartment, but I didn’t reach for my standard Superman cap to keep me dry.  I need a time to feel dreary.  I’ll call it a win if no one on the bus recognized that I was about two seconds away from breaking down.  I have to go to work and decide if I really want to dress up as The Dark Knight and possibly put people on edge.  Yesterday they would have enjoyed the silly guy in a black costume.  Today they might pause and ask themselves what kind of person is really under that mask.

I’m sure action will be called for.  The police and the legal system will do their thing.  Undoubtedly conversations will occur about whether or not we should screen bags at movie theaters or if movies about crowds taking over a city encourage violence.  And I would guarantee that there will be one more argument for gun control.  I’m not saying any of those talks are good or bad.  I’m saying we all have our own ways of dealing with tragedies like the one that happened this morning.  In one way or the other, the guilty will get what’s coming to them.  Maybe it will be in the court of law, maybe it won’t.

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” -Romans 12:19

Myself, I’m going to be in mourning.  I called up the gal who’s been on my mind this week and made sure to tell her that my life is better with her in it.  I’m going to try to find a comic book that I feel like reading.  A Batman comic wouldn’t feel right today.  Maybe it will tomorrow.  I’m supposed to dress up as Batman tonight and I have no idea whether it’s the right thing to do.

To me, Batman is one of the most hopeful characters ever created.  Every night he goes out trying to keep anyone else from suffering like he did.  The odds are impossible, the circumstances are out of his control, but he still keeps fighting.

No, I’m not going to stop reading comics.  No, I’m not going to give up movies.  I won’t be scared or bullied into worrying about my safety.  I may take a little break from celebrating and Bat-festivities, but I won’t give in to the misguided.  If Batman can have hope in a city like Gotham, then I can too.  The world can break my heart with its cruelty, but it’s not going to keep me from enjoying the good things in life.  Hopefully the darkness will be a little less so tomorrow.

Funeral under the Big Top

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Funeral under the Big Top

The funeral had gone rather pleasantly.  The general tone had been upbeat; more of a celebration of life than a series of “How will we ever get by without Arnie?” cries.  His daughter had told a story of how he had gotten stuck in a tree and hung upside down by his ankle while his five and seven year-old children tried to navigate a ladder.  Arnie’s wife, Anna, had spoken kindly of the forty-six years they had shared together.  Her kind words and deep affection brought everyone to tears.  So most in the crowd were surprised when it turned out that Alfred was the one to give Arnie has final send off.  They certainly didn’t expect him to bring a monkey with him.

Arnold and Alfred’s childhood had been an interesting one.  Their parents didn’t have skills that were suited to office jobs, so they took whatever opportunities came their way.  Their father worked any construction job he could get.  He drove off early in the morning to whatever faraway location the worksite was in and did not return until long after the sun had set.  Their mother worked at a downtown theatre.  Her schedule usually had her working matinees and late night shows.  She really enjoyed her work in the costume department, but it forced her boys to take care of themselves after school.

Arnie and Alfie were never bored.  Quite the contrary; they could find all sorts of ways to entertain themselves.  There was swimming in the neighbor’s pool (assuming that the Crimpes weren’t home).  They could ride their scooters downhill and see who could get to the bottom of the hill fastest without losing control and flying onto the docks and possibly into the water.  Then of course, whenever spring came around, there was the circus.

Every child has their favorite diversion.  Some children have a cherished doll, some girls like jump-roping; but for Arnie and Alfred Dansville, they were always ready to go to the circus.  Their parents tried to take them whenever they could, but it was never often enough.  “They’re only here for a few months!”  “We only saw them once last week,” and other sorts of pleas were uttered.  The boys would save and collect any amount of change that they thought might add up to the price of a ticket.  Soon, the kindness of the circus folk took over.  The elephant handler noticed how often they were around and how enthralled they were by all the proceedings.  Sam, for that was his name, took them under his wing and taught them about life under the big top.

The boys became experts at more than just handling elephant waste.  They visited with Terry the Terrific, (whose real name was Stu) and learned all sorts of magic tricks.  By the time they were teenagers they could palm coins and make cards disappear like professionals.  The acrobats changed performers every now and then, but each one of them wowed the boys with their death-defying tricks.  (It was these high-wire specialists that got Arnie stuck in a tree.  The boys knew they could never soar from a trapeze, but they spent many of their adolescent years climbing and swinging from trees.)  Horace the Clown was surprisingly the quietest of the bunch.  He always seemed tired after each performance.  However, when the Amazing A’s were around; for that’s what the circus called them, Horace always found the stamina to amuse them.

Yes, the circus was an endless source of fun for the boys.  They brought their parents with them whenever they could, but the performers seemed to be okay with having two eager assistants on hand.  They learned that timing is everything and how to keep an audience eating out of your palm just like Edgar Elephant.  They survived the awkwardness of puberty by hanging around the sideshow “freaks” who always told them it was okay to be a little different.  Had the circus stayed around, it seemed a certainty that the Amazing A’s would join them.  Yet as the years passed, the crowds dropped off year by year.  By the time the boys were old enough to notice girls and cars, the circus had faded away.

The boys grew older and they grew wiser, but they never fully grew up.  Arnold had always enjoyed the life of a clown.  His living room was often full of people as he joked with them and took pratfalls.  He had a few more bruises than he would like, and he had taken a few broken bones when a joke got out of control, but he considered it all worth it.  He saw the smile he put on peoples’ faces.  That was enough for him.

Alfred, on the other hand, liked to juggle.  That was what he did.  He didn’t like for his hands to be busy so he always had something in one of them.  He took the skills that he had learned from Stu and Horace and spent countless hours blending the two trades into one feat.  It wasn’t something he pulled out at party tricks, but his close friends knew what to ask for.  Arnie was the performer, Alfie was the perfectionist.

Aflie’s trademark move was when he would throw bouncing balls in the air.  He’d juggle three and act like it was no big deal.  Then a ball would be replaced by a banana.  Then another.  And another.  He was juggling three bananas in the air and a bouncing ball would appear.  Soon he was juggling three bananas and three balls all at the same time.  His trick usually ended with three balls bouncing and juggling in the air with one hand, while the other helped Alfie eat the three bananas and wear the peels as a hat.  (The notable exception to this trick was when Alfie first laid eyes on his future wife.  He was so distracted that he tried to eat a ball while bouncing a banana off the ground.  He would later say that she had distracted him too completely; but also claimed it was his most rewarding performance.)

Just as the circus eventually headed off to their next destination stop, so did Arnie.  It had been a pleasant death as those things tend to go.  He died in his sleep at the age of seventy-four.  He had entertained and blessed many people in his life, as was evident by the people standing on the peripherals of the room that had every seat occupied.  As Anna returned to hers and tried to stifle her giggling, Alfie started to get up from his.  His wife patted him on the hand and turned her attention to Anna.  Alfie was not alone though, for his pet monkey, Alfonzo, had leapt from underneath Alfie’s chair and climbed up his arm.

Alfie shared a few childhood memories of the circus while Alfonzo sat on his shoulder and chewed on some fruit that Alfie had thoughtfully put in his jacket pocket.  Alfie was appearing to wrap up his salute with a story of the two brothers riding on Edgar Elephant during one of the circus’ last shows.  That was when Alfonzo began acting oddly.

Alfonzo picked three pieces of banana out of Alfie’s pocket.  He pulled them close to his chest, hopped up on Alfie’s head, and started juggling.  As the crowd chuckled and applauded, Alfonzo produced a batch of bananas and quickly began juggling six bananas in the air.  Alfonzo was not to be outdone and soon pulled three more pieces of banana from Alfie’s jacket.  The audience couldn’t contain themselves.  They roared and applauded, getting to their feet as Alfie juggled half a dozen bananas while Alfonzo juggled his.  Astonishingly, Alfie and Alfonzo traded pieces a few times.  Alfie would be juggling five bananas and one little piece while the Capuchin juggled five little pieces and one full banana.  For their finale, Alfonzo gulped down the six little pieces as they fell, one by one, into his mouth.  Arnie started to put the bananas into his pocket and ended with a single banana.  This he peeled, nibbled on, and stepped back up towards the microphone.

“You all know that my brother, Alfred, liked big productions.  So Alfie, that was for you.”

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