Saturday, May 08, 2010

Slower Than a Speeding Bullet

I don't think I've posted this here before. An essay on my misspent youth ...





Slower Than a Speeding Bullet

by

Steve Perry


In the summer of 1961, my best friend Greg Ellison and I decided to become masked crime-fighters. We were fourteen years old. It was Greg’s idea.

Every word of what follows is as true as I can remember it. I swear. You'll see why I needed to say that soon enough.

We were about as ill-equipped to join the Legion of Superheroes as we could be: I was just over five-feet-high and a hundred pounds, and at that, both taller and heavier than Greg. I also wore gray and clear plastic-framed glasses, because I couldn’t see the big E on the eye chart without them, and neither Greg nor I could have fought our way out of a wet paper bag.

I pointed this out to my friend, using, as I recall, language that included, “You are out of your fucking mind!”

I was only the second-smartest kid at Prescott Junior High, however, and the one smarter talked me into it.

We did it, sort of, but you are unlikely to read about our crime-fighting exploits on any police blotter anywhere. Just as well, too.

Greg and I met in the back of our 8th grade science class, where we had been banished for arguing that questions our teacher had marked wrong on a test were right. We both needed the same volume of the encyclopedia to verify our claims. He had put down the exact distance from the Earth to the Sun and failed to round it off to the usual ninety-three-million; I did the same with the average surface temperature, opting for a number slightly higher than the rounded-off version, and according to the encyclopedia, we were both right. We were most pleased with ourselves.

In such matters, however, we shortly found that the eighth grade science book triumphed Encylopedia Americana.

We were outraged when our claims for redress were denied.

Later, in the hall, an irate Greg said to me, “When I get to be a nuclear physicist, do you think anybody will care what my fucking eighth grade science book said?!”

Up until then, I hadn’t had any friends who could spell “nuclear physicist,” much less plan to be one. As the bright kid who never needed to crack a book, I had mostly kept my smarts hidden under a bushel -- being a suck-up egghead was unhealthy. Now and again, my mouth would outrun my brain and cause me grief, but otherwise I kept a low profile: Being the brightest bulb in the southern school room cost you much more than you gained. Here, however, was a guy I could run with and not have to make excuses for just because I was smart.

There wasn’t any way we couldn’t have become buddies. Henceforth, our science teacher-in-common was known to us as “mean-ugly-old-hag-bag,” which appelation was largely inaccurate -- the woman might have been thirty-two or thirty-three and not particularly hideous, but there you go. Who is more judgemental than a smart-ass fourteen-year-old boy?

In those pre-home computer, pre-video-game, two-staticky channel TV days, geeks like us read science fiction books and comics and learned poetry. We liked to run the halls spouting snippets from “The Raven,” or “The Jabberwocky,” or the opening for the old black-and-white Superman TV show: “Faster than a speeding bullet ...”

For about fifteen minutes, Greg claimed to be a socialist. We started a mimeographed science fiction fanboy magazine. None of these were popular pursuits at Prescott Junior High, a solidly blue-collar school in North Baton Rouge, not far from what was generically called, “The Plant.” The Plant was actually several mega-companies -- among them Esso, (later Exxon), Ethyl, and Kaiser -- forming what was, at the time, the largest petrochemical industrial complex in the country, if not the world, and The Plant was most of our fathers worked. Greg didn’t have a father around, his parents having gone their separate ways shortly after his younger twin brothers were born. Either his father, or his mother, or both, had been in vaudeville, at the end of its days, so he told me. His mother worked somewhere downtown.

In Baton Rouge in those duck-and-cover days, we were perversely proud of the fact that if the commies ever attacked America with atomic bombs, we were #3 on their hit list, after New York City and Washington, D.C., or so we had heard, because of The Plant. When the bombs started falling, my father used to say, we would get on the road that led to Mississippi where we would be safe, because there wasn’t anything in that state worth blowing up.

At Prescott, everybody thought Greg and I were crazy, and on one level, they were right: Crime-fighters? Like ... Batman?

Yep. Just like Batman. I was the smartest person I knew until I met Greg, and together, we were smarter than any four people we were apt to bump into, with one exception. We could do it, we were sure, once we decided that we could. Who has more hubris than a bright fourteen-year-old boy?

Two bright fourteen-year-old boys.

Later, I learned that Greg was actually a year older than I, he’d somehow missed a school term along the way. That explained a lot.

Crazy, yeah, but not so much so as to tell anybody about our idea, though. That’s the whole point of a secret identity. Being a namby-pamby-casper-milquetoast was but a cover -- just like Clark Kent, or Bruce Wayne. The last people anybody would suspect of being caped crusaders would be us, we were perfect.

So, he talked me into it, and having grown up on a diet of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and even Speedy, it wasn’t that hard a chore. I was ripe.

We did know a little gymnastics. Well, actually, Greg knew most of that. I was able to bounce a bit on the trampoline, and our gym coach -- gym class being required in those thrilling days of yesteryear -- “Vannie” Edwards, was big into the whole tumbling thing, and later, became the coach of the American Women’s Olympic Team. While he was at Prescott, he started a gymnastics program and within two or three years, had a junior high team as good as any south of the Mason-Dixon line. Greg, who was the first and probably the last kid in his age group to be able to throw eight consecutive back flips in his mat-tumbling routine, was, at one point, nationally ranked in junior high circles, though that came later. I say he was the last, because mat-tumbling, like rope-climbing, and flying rings, are no longer events in competitive gymnastics. Greg was forever irritated that he lost a meet to a local kid whose routine consisted of round-off, flip-flop, flip-flop, back-full. Any judge who couldn’t tell that eight bounding backs were ten times harder than a simple layout back somersault with a full twist should have been boiled in snot, and would have been, had Greg run things.

We got a couple of books on Japanese self-defense, one on Ju Jitsu, by Bruce Tegner, and one on something called “Ketsugo.” We practiced in my back yard, stepping in and attacking in slow-motion, to give each other plenty of time to fumble through the moves. After a couple of weeks of this, we were sure we could defeat the average crook. We, who made Arnold Stang look like Charles Atlas, considered ourselves quite deadly the weapons.

Besides, it wasn’t about brawn, it was about brains -- a smart crime fighter would out-think the bad guys and not have to fight. Made perfect sense to us.

A bit of advice for those considering the idea of becoming caped crusaders -- plan ahead. The field of crime-fighting isn’t one into which you should just jump, willy-nilly, without due consideration. Batman has it easy -- Commissioner Gordon shines the bat-signal into the night sky, and you can see it from anywhere in Gotham City, including from inside Wayne Manor, where in your secret identity, you have more money than God, which makes mansions and batmobiles and bat caves a lot easier to come by. As a beginner, you probably won’t have these luxuries, and will have to drum up criminals on your own.

You should also consider a test-run, wherein you don your costume and see how things hang, before you get into serious criminal-bashing. You will learn, for instance, that off-the-shelf eye masks do not fit very well over coke-bottle-bottom thick glasses, and that if you put the mask under the lenses, your glasses will fog up or fall off frequently. Or both, plus you will look -- not to put too fine a point on it -- stupid.

But I get ahead of myself.

We decided to put our operation into play around the middle of July, on a Saturday, which gave us a few weeks to get things up and running. We carefully hatched a plan wherein we told our mothers we would be going camping in the local three-acre wood, just a few blocks from my house. In 1961, the idea of two Boy Scout-aged pals (and, in fact, Boy Scout members) going camping alone together was still innocent and safe enough to raise no eyebrows.

We gathered our camping gear, packed it into duffel bags along with our secret costumes and anti-crime fighting supplies, and hiked off for the woods on Saturday morning. The Prescott Woods, named for the road that ran by the mini-forest as well as the junior high, was, lucky for us, on the bus line. Here, we caught a ride for downtown.

Well, okay, taking the bus was not how most caped-crime fighters got around, but we were still more than a year away from our drivers’ licenses, much less our own car; we had to make do.

Once downtown, we exited our ride near the Trailways Bus Depot, went in, and rented a large locker, wherein we stowed our duffel bags. It being Saturday, we wandered around downtown, caught a movie at the Paramount Theater, had lunch at the Picadilly Cafeteria across the street -- hamburger steak, rice and gravy, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cherry pie -- and whiled another hour after that looking at bodybuilding and judo magazines at the City News Stand. We sat on the lawn at the Old State Capitol building, across from Sears, which was across a street from the news stand, and across another street from city hall/police headquarters, all of them no more than a good left fielder’s one-bounce throw from the Mississippi River levee.

We were so excited we were in a constant state of needing to pee.

We took the ferry across the river to Port Allen, Baton Rouge’s smaller and uglier sister. Rode it back and forth twice. Eventually -- and it seemed to take years -- it grew dark.

Once night fell, we gathered in our duffel bags and hiked down Third Street toward the State Capitol grounds.

Those of you who have been to the capitol of Louisiana know what a beautful place it was, and still is. Huge, ancient oak trees lined the walks; vast lawns of St. Augustine grass were then dotted with giant azalea bushes and other huge, waxy-green shrubberies. There was an old fort, toward Capitol Lake (across which was the Catholic-run hospital, named, not-coincidentally, Our Lady of the Lake, wherein I had been born in 1947.) The fort was undergoing rennovation, and closed to the public. It was surrounded by a high stone wall with a massive iron gate in front.

In later years when I would tell the story, I would say it was my father who gave us the idea of the location for our shake-down cruise as crime-fighters. I asked him one night as he was reading the State Times, “Daddy, where is most of the crime in the city?” To which he laughed and said, “At the state capitol.” It’s a good movie-line, but it didn’t happen. What we needed was a place with plenty of cover and places we could hide, and the grounds had those in spades.

Plus we had been there a few times, and were kind of familiar with it.

So. After dark, we went down Third Street, the main drag of downtown, without being stopped by a cop who might have wondered who these two skinny little kids were hauling duffel bags along the sidewalk were; we achieved the capitol grounds, found a ring of tall and thick bushes, crawled into them, and out-of-sight, set up our camp. We unrolled our sleeping bags. I had even thought to bring an alarm clock, to wake us before dawn, so we could sneak out in the dark. A wind-up Big Ben Westclock, as I recall, with glow-in-the-dark dials and numbers.

Came then the moment of truth: We shucked our secret identity Steve and Greg adolescent-dweeb clothes and slipped into our masked crime fighter costumes.

Power practically thrummed in the night air.

Ever notice how superheroes are all accomplished tailors? Spider Man sewed his own costume and it looks great. Clark Kent’s mother knitted his, from the blanket he came wrapped in from Krypton. The rays of our yellow sun apparently also make such blankets invulnerable, and to cut the thread, Clark, aka Kal-el, aka Superman, had to use his heat vision. I always wondered about that. The cape even had a secret pouch, where Superman could put his compressed Clark Kent clothes when he went into action.

Admittedly, our costumes were not exactly this drape of sophistication.

I wore a pale gray sweatsuit with an “S” done in black Marks-a-Lot on the chest. This stood for “Shadow.” Orginally, I had planned to be the Phantom, with Greg going for “The Spectre,” but I decided that the guy who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men was cooler than the ghost-who-walks. I wore black Keds high-top tennis shoes. I wore my mask-and-glasses -- which quickly became just the glasses because otherwise, even in the hot summer night, they fogged up. I hung the mask around my neck and decided if we spotted anybody who might see us, I’d use it. And, of course, I had my utility belt, because what was a masked crime-fighter without a utility belt?

I quickly came to regret the sweatsuit. At eighty-five degrees and ninety-five percent relative humidity, a not uncommon occurance in south Louisiana after dark in the summer, a sweat suit is exactly that.

Greg, on the other hand, wore his black eye mask, black shorts, a black T-shirt, black leather shoes, and had a calf-length black cape, salvaged from a Halloween Dracula costume.

And his utility belt, of course. Admittedly cooler than I, in more ways than one.

A brief discourse on utility belts: All crime-fighters of any salt carry the tools of their trade, but none are better-equipped than Batman, who wears a belt that transcends the laws of time and space to allow the carrying of objects that couldn’t possibly fit into the thing otherwise. Batarangs, chemical bombs, super-strong and thin batline; gas mask, lights -- you name it, Batman has it tucked away in his n-space belt. He could have a Buick V-8 in there and it wouldn’t surprise me. The man is a stone genius, of course, and richer than Midas, which help.

He can also dive off a building and catch a flag pole ten stories down and do a neat full gainer to land lightly on the sidewalk. An ordinary mortal with enough hand strength to grab that pole would have both arms ripped from his sockets, which would make driving the Batmobile home tricky, at best.

Our belts were somewhat more spartan than either the Caped Crusader’s or the Boy Wonder’s. I had a Boy Scout flashlight -- the dark green one with the bent L-shapped head -- along with a sheath knife, a coil of clothesline, a cigarette lighter, and a walkie-talkie. Unfortunately, this last did not come with a squelch control. These were all hooked to an Army surplus web belt I had bought at Steinberg’s Sport Center, upon the walls of which was on Joe Lipsey’s gun collection, one of the largest in the country, and including in it a Colt Peacemaker revolver with a twenty-peso gold piece in the butt that had belonged either to a Texas Ranger or Billy the Kid, depending on which story you believed.

Locally, however, we were, we thought, the acme of the well-dressed dynamic duo, and so clad, the Shadow and the Spectre were ready to rock and roll.

Our first order of business was to scope out the lay of the land. In that part of Louisiana, the word “flat” is usually all-inclusive, since the ground is wet, rich, alluvial soil. Shove a walking stick into the ground and it will sprout leaves in a week, so the story goes, but there actually were a couple of man-made hillocks on the capitol grounds. One overlooked the lake, and had at the top, mounted in big concrete blocks, a pair of old and rusting cannon. The old fort sat on top of the other hill.

In the dark and bug-infested evening -- we wore Six-Twelve mosquito dope, of course, and one never forgets that smell -- we roamed from bush to tree trunk, crouching low behind cover whenever a car passed.

Running around in the dark being a crime-fighter in your masked -- sort of -- crime-fighter costume? It couldn’t get any better than that.

The capitol itself was, at the time, not only the tallest building in town, it was the tallest building in the state, and in most of the south. One of Huey Long’s efforts -- Huey was thirty-odd years dead by then, killed at the capitol by a pissed-off eye doctor -- the building looks much like the Los Angeles Municipal building that was supposedly the Daily Planet in the George Reeves’s Superman television show of the early fifties. Five million and change when they built it, and years later, it cost more than that just to air condition it. The Baton Rouge building is much taller than the L.A. structure, and as phallic as anything up to the famous “Brick Dick” of Ypsilanti, Michigan. A spotlight at the top of the capitol shined down on a bronze statue of Huey Long. Over the years, the light has been turned off, then on again, for political reasons, but then, it was on, and you could see the solidified metal spirit of Huey for quite a ways. Every man a king.

I mentioned that Greg and I had been to the capitol a number of times, another reason it was a good choice for our initial foray into night-moves. We had looked for the bullet holes in the walls where Huey had been killed, but never found them. We had sat in the gallery watching legislators speak on the House floor, because Louisiana politics was then more interesting to watch than most television or movies -- still is, for that.

Years later, somebody set off a bomb in the House chamber. Didn’t kill anybody, but there was a pencil got blown off a desk and up, to stick point-first into the ceiling. They left it there.
And years later, one of our Prescott Junior High classmates and occasional running buddies, Louis “Woody” Jenkins, would be elected and re-elected to the state legislature repeatedly. Woody was the other bright light at the school -- he started a newspaper: wrote, sang, and recorded a local hit song about Billy Cannon’s famous eighty-nine yard run at L.S.U. during the 1958 championship football season: ran for the U.S. Senate once and just barely lost. Some say he didn't actually lose, but Louisiana politics are passing strange, and he didn't get the job. Great guy, Woody, even if he was a Republican.

Billy Cannon, by the way, became a dentist in Baton Rouge after he left pro football, and was eventually arrested in a big counterfeiting bust. He got caught, so the joke went, because instead of “In God We Trust” on the fake bills, it said “Go To Hell Ole Miss.”

As the Shadow and the Spectre roamed the grounds, we decided to split up to cast a wider dragnet. We turned on our walkie-talkies, instruments I had built, with my father’s help, from a Heathkit. A couple of years later, we once walked along the levee with these same walkie-talkies, making crank calls: “Help, help, this is the submarine Thresher -- we’re lost! Where are we?” we broadcast. We stopped that when we got a response from a Sheriff’s Deputy: “Where are you boys?”

Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are not that much brighter than fourteen- or fifteen-year-olds, if at all.

On patrol for crime, I headed for the top of Cannon Hill, while Greg went to check out the capitol’s car port, next to the rear entrance.

It was only a few moments later that I saw a pair of shadowy figures skulking their way up
Cannon Hill.

Criminals!

I grabbed my walkie-talkie, the volume of which was turned way down to keep the static from blasting into the night. I cranked the volume up and put in a frantic call to my partner.

“Greg! Uh, I mean, Spectre! There’s somebody going up Cannon Hill, over!

The screech and static from my walkie-talkie sounded like a bomb going off as I let go of the “send” button. Jesus! I twisted the volume button down, fast. It wouldn’t do to scare them off.

“I copy you, Shadow. Where are you?”

“In the bushes at the, uh, southwest, uh, northwest, uh, at the bottom of the hill away from the lake and toward the capitol!”

In due course, The Spectre arrived at my location. I was easy to see -- that gray sweatsuit stood out against all the greenery, even in the dark. Might as well have done my insignia in neon insofar as blending in went.

“Where are they?” he whispered.

“They went up the sidewalk, right there.”

“I don’t see them. What were they doing?”

“Just walking. I didn’t get a good look.”

“We’ll have to move in closer.”

I nodded, jittery, nervous, and sloshing with testosterone. It was almost ten o’clock. Who but criminals would be out here this late? Well, it must be said, crime-fighters -- but what were the chances of running into another set of those?

We crept up the side of the hill, which wasn’t particularly steep, staying low. It took a long time to get within range of our quarry, we didn’t want to spook them.

When finally we caught sight of the pair, we realized they weren’t, uh, criminals.

Not unless the girl was under the age of seventeen.

A couple making out. The guy looked to be at first base, but we couldn’t tell for sure, though we certainly tried. Very interesting, since neither of us had ever gotten that far with a girl, but still.

Not really what masked crime fighters were supposed to do while on patrol, was it? Be peeping toms?

The Spectre glared at the Shadow. “Criminals,” he whispered with derision.

The Shadow shrugged. What?

We slithered back down the hill.

By eleven, the smoochers were gone, and the grounds were quiet. A car went by now and then.

A few cars were parked by the lake, more couples therein “watching the submarine races” -- an activity we had yet to manage, though we certainly were willing to try, if we could but find a compliant girl.

So far, crime had been quiet in our part of town.

We decided that we needed to check out the old fort. We made our way toward it. The only way to get to the building itself was over the wall, which at the time seemed to be at least ten feet tall, or the iron gate. The fence was impossible, but we knew how to climb gates, and it was but the work of a moment to clamber up the rusty wrought iron and over.

Then we noticed two things: The door to the building was open a crack, and there was a light inside.

The Shadow’s immediate, and fortunately unacted upon, white-feather, yellow-belly, chickenshit reaction, was to zip back up and over the gate and to boogie down the hill. That would hardly have done anything good for his reputation.

The Spectre was made of sterner stuff. “A burglar,” he whispered. “We’ll catch him!”

Until that very moment, I had never actually considered the possibility of confronting a real criminal. It had all been theoretical, images on a silver screen, a fantasy. Already clammy inside the long sleeves and pants of my sodden costume, now I really began to sweat. I was hot, but also cold. I had to pee, felt a sudden urge to crap, and I was having trouble breathing without making a whistling noise. Even with the eyemask hung around my neck, my glasses started to fog over.

This crimefighting thing had suddenly become serious shit.

“How?” I whispered. My voice, to my relief, did not crack.

Sotto, Greg said, “We get on either side of the door and stretch our rope across it. Make a noise. When he comes out, we’ll trip him, grab him, tie him up! We’ll be heroes!”

The flashes of future glory and admiring nubile women were mitigated by the idea of grabbing somebody and tying him up. Had I been alone, I wouldn’t have considered such lunacy. Of course, had I been alone, I wouldn’t have been there. And as much as I didn’t want to do this, I couldn’t back down now. In a fourteen-year-old boy’s world back then, it would be better to be dead than to be thought a coward. Neither of us could back down. We were committed.
“All right,” Greg said. “I’ll peek through the door, see where he is, then we’ll do it.”

I nodded, mouth and throat dry, unable to find my voice. I grabbed my coil of clothesline, my hand slick with sweat.

“Ready?”

No, I wasn’t, but I nodded again.

Greg moved to the door. Looked into the building.

Time stretched like saltwater taffy in the hot night.

Then Greg jerked back away from the door. In a voice filled with terror, he said, “It’s a guard! He has a gun! Run!”

A guard! A gun!

I had never in my short life heard scarier words. A guard! A gun! If he shot us, we’d be dead!

If I was dead, my mother would find out what I had been doing!

Later, when I saw Star Trek on television, I had no problem with the concept of teleportation, for I had already done it myself, without the help of a sci-fi device. One moment, I heard, “Guard!” and “Gun!” The next moment, I was deep in a stand of thick bushes eighty yards away, on the other side of a tall and locked gate. I had no memory of having made the journey, nor do I remember it now.

What must have happened was this: The Shadow and the Spectre shattered the world-record in the unassisted gate-climb. They flew up that wrought iron like winged Oz-ian monkeys on speed and hit the ground on the other side, legs churning like something from a Road Runner cartoon. The masked crimefighting team of The Shadow and The Spectre, five-feet tall and a hundred pounds or less each, then set a land speed record in the under-sixteen age group for the terrified-lawn-sprint-to-the-bushes ...

We crouched under the heavy foliage for what seemed like years. Guard! Gun!

No, “crouched” is not the word. We, the heroic scourge of the Capitol grounds criminals, cowered.

Eventually, we relearned how to breathe normally.

Ears attuned for he slightest sound of pursuit, we began to realize that the guard was not coming for us. There were no police search lights no bullhorns, no whirlybirds, nary a single bloodhound looking for us.

Sometime after one a.m., our epinephrinic tides having ebbed to leave us exhausted, we decided to change back into our street clothes and get some sleep. I set my alarm clock for five, and crawled into my sleeping bag. Four hours was plenty in those days.

At four-fifteen a.m. I woke up. The wind was blowing, the sound of rain pounding on the bushes was loud, and water had already started working its way through the leaves to drip on us.
Shit!

“Greg! Wake up! It’s raining!”

From the depths of his sleeping bag, Greg mumbled something.

“Wake up! It’s raining!”

“Cover up your head. It’ll stop. Go back to sleep.”

I started gathering my gear, trying to stuff it all into the duffel bag. The sky had opened up. Lightning strobed and an almost instant boom! of thunder followed it.

The thunder did it. Greg sat up. “Fuck! It’s raining.”

Water was pouring through the bush canopy. We were getting drenched.

“No shit, Sherlock,” I said. “We gotta get outta here.”

With stuff spilling from my duffel bag, which I couldn’t zip closed, I left the bushes, Greg right behind me. As useless as they had been in stopping the water, the azaleas were a lot better than the open ground. Wind blew the rain in sheets that were practically horizonal. It was dark, it was fucking pouring, we couldn’t see shit, and didn’t know which way shelter was.

“There! There’s a light!” Greg yelled over the noise of the thunderstorm.

We waddled that way, blind save for that dim light. It seemed a long distance off, but it was all we had. We found ourselves on a slight incline. We crossed a road. We picked up speed on the downslope, headed for the light ...

We ran smack into Capitol Lake. I dropped my alarm clock, saw its glowing face disappear into the water. No crocodiles down in Louisiana, only alligators, but none of those rose to swallow it, or us, fortunately.

“Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I screamed.

We turned around and lumbered toward the road. My duffel bag had gained about forty pounds by now. I dragged it on the ground.

Ahead, we finally made out the capitol building. We lurched that way. Made it under the overhang of the carport behind the rear entrance. Leaned against the wall like two half-drowned rats.

The rain kept on coming. It was a hell of a thunderstorm.

If I could have killed my friend with a hateful glance, he would have died. Dead, buried, dug-up, reanimated, killed again, and blasted into smoking atoms.

Just before dawn, a night maintenance worker dressed in khaki looked out through the glass and brass door and saw us. He unlocked the door and came out.

In a thick Cajun accent, he said, “Whatchu’ boys doin’ out dere, hah?”

“We got caught in the rain,” Mr. No-shit-Sherlock, formerly the Spectre, said.

The man shook his head. “You come on in, you kin dry off in de bat’room.”

As I said, it was a kinder, gentler age. These days, we’d have probably been talking to the F.B.I., the N.S.A, and Homeland Security.

We followed, numb, and in the bathroom, used paper towels -- lots of paper towels -- to blot up as much of the water as we could. Tired, cold, and defeated, I just looked at Greg and shook my head.

Eventually, we made it somehow to a bus stop. Eventually, home. Along the way, we saw the effects of the thunderstorm, fierce enough to have broken out store windows and to have knocked down trees. We knew exactly how those windows and trees felt.

Thus did the short-lived careers of the crime-fighting team of The Shadow and the Spectre come to their glorious ends.

Greg never did become a nuclear physicist. In our early twenties, we had some bad experiences with each other, fell out, and went our separate ways. He and I have both had interesting lives since, wives, children, grandchildren, careers, ups and downs, some regrets, and while I can’t speak for him, I am a happy man, content with my life path. But there was a moment, as the Shadow and the Spectre slipped into their costumes together for the first time in the bushes at the state capitol back in 1961 when the future was ours, anything -- anything was possible, and we could be heroes -- if only in our own minds.

Still -- not everybody can honestly say that he was, once upon a time, a costumed crime fighter.

I can.

7 comments:

James said...

I literally laughed until I cried. Thanks, Steve.

Wow! Bruce Tegner AND Ketsugo - I remember them well.

I also wanted to be a masked crime fighter a la Captain America or Batman - my two favorites since they seemed like more-or-less regular guys and at least semi-attainable.

Now at age 55 I put on a costume every day.

I have special powers (like arrest).

I even have a utility belt of sorts upon which hangs my crime fighting equipment.

I haven't worn a mask, though, since my SWAT days.

Some of us live the Dream.

Anonymous said...

Teleportation power...!
Thanks for the laugh.. :)
M.M

Mike Byers said...

As my grandmother used to say, "You boys are a caution to snakes." Good story, real good story.

J.D. Ray said...

Any teenage boy that didn't dream of being a crimefighter didn't really live. Most of us didn't get past the dreaming stage. This story should be a must-read for twelve year old boys.

So, Steve, if you haven't seen "Kick Ass" (the movie) yet, you certainly should. It's well worth watching, and fits the theme of this story well.

Thanks for the laugh.

JD

Dan Moran said...

You know, if I didn't know you were a writer, I'd know you were a writer after reading that. Beautifully written.

Dan Moran said...

JD, I walked out of Kick-Ass. That crap with the little girl was disturbed.

Steve Perry said...

I didn't bother with Kick Ass after I heard the premise.
Yeah, yeah, they talk about satire and all, but an eleven-year-old in a gorefest? Not my thing. Though my buddy at Dark Horse loved it that there were a long scene with a Dark Horse poster in the b.g.