Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Awesome Powers

I sometimes daydream about having superpowers. We all do. I've discussed it with friends, and I am surprised at how varied our dreams are.

One friend wants to be flat as a pancake, so she can slip under doors. Another wants to transform into any of a variety of lawn ornaments, so he can spy on people.

I wanted to be able to see out my fingertips.

It would be easier to peek around corners and find lost things. It could help or hurt romance, depending on how you—ahem—look at it, but as with kissing, one can always close one's eyes. I gave up on the idea, remembering that I like to juggle. Just the thought of what juggling would look like from my hands' point of view made me nauseous.

The Fantastic Four, a Saturday morning cartoon from my youth, was just remade as a movie. I was amazed that they didn't upgrade the goofy superpowers of the cast, which even as a kid I thought were the dumbest ever. Of course we've all dreamed of turning invisible. But who dreams of being stretchy? (I notice his clothes have the same superpower, which is a relief.) The Thing can turn himself into a pile of rocks. And Johnny Torch can zoom around while setting himself afire—a talent which had already been attempted to ill effect by Richard Pryor.

Last night I discovered I do indeed have a magic power after all: The Incredible Magnetic Shin. Last week I thought it was a feat of long odds when a softball thrown from halfway across the field ducked right around my big fat mitt but was stopped with a slam by my shin, which is as skinny and hard as the handle of a ball bat. You couldn't hit that stick of a target from five feet away if you tried, but it happened again last night: past my glove, into my shin, right on the same spot. I thought, wait a minute...

I don't know if it only works for softballs or if I can draw all manner of thrown sports equipment. As I think back on my past I realize I've attracted both wood and metal coffee tables, even in the dark. How I'll exercise this gift depends on the limits of what I can attract, but so far you can rest assured that if you are attacked by my notorious nemesis, the sinister Simon Slowpitch, or his evil sidekick Boris Badbounce, I'll show up at the last second and offer you my protectshin.

Maybe I'll attract imposters, like Shin Feign.

[Okay, I'm trying too hard.]

I suppose I'll need a Super Name. I'm leaning towards Jimmy The Shin. I'm a little nervous about costuming—I had to wear yellow tights in a British play once, and the costumer said if I only had a feather boa I could be Big Bird. I was offended that she didn't add that I would also need a bigger nose.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Routine Examination

I have a lot on my mind. I think it is full. For every new thing I cram in, something spills out. It makes me look stupid.

I have to consider the possibility that I actually am stupid. But it sounds so much better to say I have a lot on my mind. I feel more important and put-upon.

I survive by devising routines. The less I have to think about the better, so I do things the same way every day. It works, pretty much. I go to the bank every Monday. I water plants every Saturday and Wednesday. I send this email out every Tuesday. Last week I got up, put on a dirty t-shirt and my running shoes, fed that cat, cleaned the litter box, and headed outside and down the street for a quick morning jog. Same as every day. Except I forgot one step: my shorts.

One advantage of a routine is that if something is out of whack it feels funny. And when you're jogging down the street in boxers, you feel funny.

My first thought, upon discovering my omission, reflects my inherent laziness: "Does it matter?" Running shorts are shorts. Boxers are shorts. Algebraically-speaking, they're pretty much the same, except for the little cowboy lariats. Then I looked up at the relentless stream of commuters coming at me on Farnam Street and I knew they weren't going to say to themselves, "Wow, there's a guy running down the street in his running shorts." I turned around and when home.

I had a nightmare like this when I was a kid. I'm told it's a common one too: the dream where you go up in front of the entire fourth grade class and your pants fall down. Or you discover they were never there at all. It's a horrible dream, and the only reason I can imagine for one's mind to play out something so embarrassing is so that you will never actually let it happen in real life—a theory that has worked for me pretty well up to now. To my credit, this is the first time I have gone outside without pants.

Not counting the times I meant to.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Special Education

When I was a kid I thought half the world was retarded. Indeed, I was half right.

I can't even start this train of thought without derailing to urge the six of you who are offended at the word "retarded" to please remember that when I was five years old, "retarded" was what retarded people were called. I know we get a new euphemism every seven years or so, but it was okay to say it then, and the retarded people didn't mind.

My dad was a psychologist who trained Special Ed teachers, so everything he did involved retarded kids. I followed him around a lot, and was often engaged as a guinea pig to help develop new tests and train the teachers who gave them. Weekly I'd find myself in a room full of retarded kids, all of us taking IQ tests. To this day I still love taking tests, a sentiment my friends find despicable.

As a kindergartner I was given exactly two days to learn the eight block path to my school. "Don't worry," my parents assured me as they refused to accompany me the third day, "you'll find it." I was terrified of getting lost. I had already surmised that because there were four other siblings ahead of me in my family, my disappearance would not be a great inconvenience, and perhaps my absence would only be discovered when my mom noticed that the house was still clean.

I was to walk about six blocks before turned right, onto a random dirt path that passed what I now know was a home for retarded kids. As I walked alongside its big gray stucco wall, I would look in the windows and see several hydrocephalic boys getting ready for school. It was reassuring to see them, because then I knew for sure I was on the right path. To this day I feel safer around anyone with a big head.

I started elementary school at A. O. Thomas, an old brick building on the college campus. The public school system leased a couple of rooms for kindergartners and first graders, and the rest of the building for Special Ed. So it was normal to see the hallways filled with retarded kids, and whenever I looked out the window the playground was filled with the Special Ed kids who, as near as I could tell, had recess all day long.

Because the kids with Downs Syndrome had such similar features I presumed they were all from the same big family. This was not so far-fetched, because my friend Randy Shada came from a family that took up about a third of the city, and held their family reunions at the county fairgrounds.

It wasn't until fourth grade, after moving to a more traditional school building with a more representative population, that I learned most kids have an intellect advanced enough to exploit my soft spots, steal my lunch money, and to trick Chris The Class Bully into beating me up by telling him things I said which I really didn't. And by the end of that year I discovered I too had the gift of belittling. I effortlessly mocked my classmate Earl when he tripped over his shoelaces and fell flat on his face while on his way to demonstrate in front of the the whole class that he couldn't find the United States on a map. I didn't know that both of his parents were deaf. I wasn't smart enough to see that Earl, too, was struggling to find his path.

Every day in first grade Edwin, who had Downs Syndrome, gave me a bear hug like I was a cocker spaniel and told me he loved me. And every time we sat together on the merry-go-round, Randy, who was hydrocephalic and had a head shaped like a lightbulb, offered me half his lunch. It took a few years for me to realize that kids like these weren't common at all.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Big Bang

I quizzed a few kids about the connection between July 4th and why we blow stuff up. Not a single one mentioned anything about the symbolism of war and the cost of freedom. (One did complain about the cost of bottle rockets.) The significance to them was that after a long year of being told to wear a bike helmet and wash your hands and don't run with the scissors, their parents handed them a wad of cash to go buy an armful of their favorite explosives.

That's okay. Historically, July 4th is pretty squishy as a significant date. Independence was actually declared on July 2, 1776. No one signed it until a month later. It was printed on the 4th, so it was dated the 4th, but that's about it for claim-to-fame. When John Adams predicted a "great anniversary Festival...with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more," he was actually referring to July 2. Indeed, in the very same letter he expresses his regret that we hadn't "mastered Quebec and been in possession of Canada." Easy, John.

Some say Jesus was actually born in the spring, so Christmas should be on Easter. And we've already moved Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays to an easier-to-party-on date. My friends agreed just last night that Halloween should always fall on a Friday. So July 4th can be a holiday just because we say so. You take a party where you can find one.

During the amazing, blazing fireworks display at Rosenblatt Stadium, where the Omaha World-Herald set fire to $40,000, I pondered the significance of the event. I watched a teenage boy light noisy rockets while his friends and family huddled so closely around every launch that I feared the next missile wouldn't clear their foreheads. This punk with a punk sat with his legs astride his projectile, slumped so that his nose nearly touched it, and I imagined the rocket snagging his shorts on its way up, carrying his screaming seeds of freedom to be scattered across our fertile county.

After every thunderous explosion I expect it to rain fingers. But things work out okay, every year, and the next morning's newspaper inevitably reports just one or two people who can now only count to seven.

The weather was flawless, the fireworks spectacular, the friends hilarious, the wine intoxicating. I indeed felt very liberated, and relented to the idea that if a fourteen-year-old wants to spend his mom's money to blow off his own testicles—well, it's a free country.         ❦

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

You Name It

"My name is spelled "Richart," she said. "I bet you can't pronounce it."

Me, Mr. International Guy. Me, who can speak in a great French accent, even though I can't speak any French, except to say Il y a un monde dans le balcon, which means "the balcony is full." According to my friend, this is how the French say a woman is boobish.

Easy, I huffed. German, I thought. Rye-cart, I gambled.

"No, it's like Richard, but with a t, she corrected, without actually calling me dumb. "Everyone always makes it too hard." Great, now I'm Wrong Like Everyone Else. Then she told me about a friend who was trying to come up with a baby name that no one would make fun of. "Oh, please—" I replied eagerly, "tell me what she has come up with so far." None of her suggestions took longer than .03 seconds to mock.

I grew up with Rusty Beavers. We didn't make much of his name because, well, his mom just handed it to us. It wasn't any fun. High school mates called me Chicken Noodle, which wasn't funny either because, well, duh. Same with Dusty Rhodes. I swear, every town with more than ten people in it has a Dusty Rhodes. What we need is fewer Dusty Rhodes and more Wendy Butz.

Richart-With-A-T said she knew a Bambi Faun. Note: try not to give give your daughter a porn name.

"I'm going to change my name to something more obvious," Richart vowed. "Like 'Rattlesnake.'"

That's more obvious?

"Okay," I replied, "but then tell them it's pronounced "Rott-la-snok-ee."         ❦