As a budding young comic-book geek, I wanted to be a superhero. At first my goal was to be Superman. Supes was the man, possessed of all those cool powers like flight, super-speed, super-strength, and a whole host of amazing senses that would make peeping on the cute neighbors a lot less difficult than trying to sneak up to their windows. (Not that I ever peeped in windows, of course. The superhero code forbids such things.)
One thing about being Superman is the costume change. Pick up a comic book, watch any movie or TV show, and you'll know what I'm talking about--that moment when Clark Kent yanks open his shirt and you see that familiar emblem peeking out from underneath. I knew I'd have to get that quick-change act down if I wanted to keep my identity a secret. (That I was doing this in a subdivision never factored in; so long as I could change clothes fast, no one would know it was me, right?)
But where was I supposed to keep my clothes?
Avid comics readers know that Superman compresses his Clark Kent guise into a dinky little packet with his super-strength. (Even more impressive, he decompresses those clothes when he has to change back--including a pair of patent leather loafers and glasses. Pretty special super-strength there.) To top it off, this compressed packet somehow never weighs Superman's mantle down. His cape never fails to flutter elegantly in the slightest breeze.
Try hiding your civilian clothing in your cape when you're five years old. It ain't easy. I put on my makeshift Superman costume and then my Clark Kent clothes. Hiding a cape under a set of clothes is tricky, but I managed it. I walked past Mom, who didn't bat an eyelash as I headed out the door, supposedly to play. Mom was surely fooled. I always went out to play in eighty-degree weather wearing a full dress shirt buttoned all the way up, slacks, and dress shoes. I always looked like I was about to transform into a puddle in full air conditioning, and everything I wore always looked like I'd put on another ten pounds in five minutes.
Sure. And Mom was fooled. Right.
The time came as I was playing outside for me to slip away, doff my outer garb, and fly into action. That "doffing" part wasn't so easy. It took me five minutes to undo all those buttons (ah, for super-speed), and I nearly fell twice trying to get out of my pants in a heroic manner. That failure probably involved the second pair of pants I was wearing and the underwear I had on over the blue pajamas pants I'd put on. (Superhero trunks were a little out of my budget.) But doff my outer garments I did--only to find out that crunching up all those clothes and shoes into a tiny packet won't work without super-strength. I'd thought ahead to pin up the edge of my cape to make a compartment for my clothes. It took another five minutes to figure out how to get the clothes in there, but I did it. Ten minutes after I'd ducked into the barn, I burst out in full superhero guise.
And promptly almost fell over and simultaneously strangled from the extra pounds of clothing tucked into the towel I'd safety pinned in place around my neck.
I gave up on capes and stashing clothing in them after that.
Another impediment to my being a real world superhero was the part where bullets bounced off my chest. They didn't. I learned this when the kid next door was fiddling around with a BB gun as we played superheroes. I was ready to show off my "incredible powers" to his sister (my girlfriend) by taking what I thought was a nonexistent shot to the chest. I jumped in front of my girlfriend, put my hands on my hips, and said, in my best superhero voice, "I've got you now! That won't hurt me!"
Ah, the things we do for love when we're young and total idiots.
On cue, my neighbor pulled the trigger and got a surprise. The BB gun had pellets in it! Much to my chagrin, the pellet didn't just bounce off my chest and tickle a little. It bounced off my chest, all right (thankfully, because he'd unintentionally aimed for my heart), but that sucker hurt! As I lay in the doctor's office an hour later, with the doctor and my mother fretting over x-rays, I found myself reevaluating the whole superpowers thing. After we got back from the doctor's office and Mom found out why I'd taken a BB pellet to the chest, just sighed and went into the kitchen to fix dinner. I think she was getting used to having a superhero wannabe for a son.
Since I wasn't invulnerable, I wasn't about to jump off the roof to see if I could fly. I had another option, though. I could swing from tall buildings like Batman. The Dark Knight has no superpowers, so this had to be an easier route. I just had to ignore the lack of tall buildings to swing from.
Lacking the finances to create a utility (I couldn't even get superhero trunks, remember), I started small. I grabbed shoestrings and started making my own swing line. It was summer, and I went barefoot all the time. I wouldn't be using my shoes. I decided my brothers wouldn't need their shoes, either. And since grappling hooks, like swing lines, were in short supply, I had to find a substitute. I came across this miniature boat anchor in the garage. It was just what the doctor ordered when I couldn't get better crime-fighting implements. I tied my shoestrings to the anchor and trotted out to the swing set, determined to prove I was a natural at tossing a rope over a bar, having it loop around enough times that it wouldn't fall right back off said bar the minute I tried to swing on it, and then actually swing from it.
The first time I tried, I nearly knocked myself out.
The anchor arced over the swing set gracefully, but as soon as it started to descend and the swing line caught on the bar, I found I'd overlooked an important element of swing line throwing. I let too much rope play out, and the anchor was making a beeline for my face. Never was falling flat on my ass such a lifesaver.
After that first near-miss, I started throwing the anchor over the swing set, dropping the line, and running under the swing set while the anchor was still in flight. I figured this would put me well past the danger zone when it swung back around. I was successful the first few times, and I started to get cocky. Big mistake.
The last time I ever tried to use my makeshift Batarang and Batrope was when I threw the line over the swing set and took off on my dead run to beat it over. I mistimed; the anchor was already on its downward swing as I ran through. The anchor itself missed me, but the line didn't. I found out a swing line made of shoestrings with no one holding onto it could still yank me off my feet as it caught me across my neck.
I had a rope burn for two weeks. Mom, thankfully, didn't ask about it.
What nailed the coffin shut on my superhero training was my bicycle. The way I saw it, not swinging from rooftops was okay when I lived in a subdivision, but I had to be able to chase down the bad guys. My inherently clumsy nature had hampered my proficiency in the bike riding department, and I was determined to make up for lost training time by becoming the fastest biker in the neighborhood, speeding down the street in hot pursuit of jaywalkers.
I was off to a good start as I cranked the pedals, taking off from the dead end of one street. I prepared to rocket out at high speed, whizzing past befuddled motorists who would learn that Pine Court subdivision had its own self-appointed protector. My speed mounted; the wind whistled in my ears; the thrill of the hunt was on!
Until that dog ran out in front of me and I slammed on my brakes.
I still don't understand why boys' bikes have a crossbar in a place that's very inconvenient, and very painful, if a sudden stop jolts the rider off the seat. As I limped home from my ordeal, wondering if I'd be a soprano the rest of my life, I vowed to give up on the idea of being an action-packed superhero. The training alone would kill me.
But then I got a chemistry set.