Almost Boyfriend Man

According to contemporary social myth, all it takes to be a hero is to be standing nearby when something bad happens. Given how often bad stuff seems to be happening, you and I are officially heroes.

If something bad hasn’t happened near you yet, fear not. It soon shall.

Lately, given my status as hero, I’ve been giving some thought as to what my super power might be, in that bad stuff has been happening to me for a long time, so it seems as though it ought to have made itself evident by now. I should have an inexplicable mysterious power, allowing me to accomplish amazing feats beyond the understanding of common men, like Spiderman, The Hulk, or Arsenio Hall.

Since we’re all heroes in this era of terror, I looked around at my fellow citizens, to see what kind of super powers others have been endowed with; what unique abilities and talents this time of stress and strain has borne.

I found a woman working in the customer service department at CitiBank who is bestowed with the amazing ability to keep any caller from finding the department that might be able to help them.

I discovered a man blessed with the unequaled power to appear at the front of any line he didn’t feel he needed to wait in.

And several people all appear to be sharing the talent to create a parking space in which to wait for their spouse in the red zone in front of Safeway where none of the rest of us could hope to get away with it.

I could sure use that one.

The more I thought about, the more I realized that I had, at various times, had and lost a series of super powers.

I used to be Fast Metabolism Boy, able to eat ice cream without having it go to my hips.

Once, I was Captain Fearless, beholding of the power to convince myself I was immortal. Not actually immortal, mind you. Just seventeen.

Unfortunately, those youthful super powers are fleeting, and unable to stand up to the evil Doctor Time.

I have, in the intervening years, developed a new and growing super power. My new super power is to make the people I care about go away.

For a while, I was Daddy Man, defender of the defenseless, larger than life, destroyer of under-bed monsters, maker of pancakes with funny faces on them.
Unfortunately, like Thor, like Pan, like Vulcan, like all heroes and Gods, our existence as Daddy Man depends on belief. When the worshipers find more mundane and secular objects for their affections, champions fade away like steam.

And I have been, on multiple occasions, Almost Boyfriend Man, good friend and confidant, cuddler and supporter, lover and dependable intimate, whose only threat is the dreaded Rejectionite.

Of course, along with each super power comes some kind of angst-filled irony; a sad estrangement from family and friends, or the need to carry on a life of lies to protect yourself and those around you from danger. Generally, a sad separation from the very society you are bound to protect. Superman can’t tell Lois who he really is. Spiderman must resign himself to loving that redheaded chick from afar. And Plastic Man must spend his time hanging out with the rest of the Fantastic Four, to whom, of course, he is simply the other lonely hero with no normal friends.

Almost Boyfriend Man avoids the dreaded Rejectionite by way of an uncanny ability to choose the exactly right woman at the exactly wrong time. Choosing the exactly wrong time gives Almost Boyfriend Man the opportunity to hang out with the exactly right woman, without fear of the dreaded Rejectionite. The dreaded Rejectionite, you see, is bound by the strict rules of Space-Time, and exists only in the exactly right time, when, if he had actually stumbled across the exactly right woman, he would open his lunchbox and find a pile of glowing stinking Rejectionite which would peel his skin like an orange. But never fear, Almost Boyfriend Man unflinchingly chooses the exactly wrong time, and spends his energy demonstrating what a great boyfriend he would be, were he a real boyfriend, and were this the exactly right time, creating healthy expectations and giving the exactly right woman all the information she needs to go out and find a real boyfriend.

Not exactly satisfying in the short term. But heroic in the sad, lonely, estranged from society like a guy who turns green when he’s pissed sense.

It’s been rewarding, being Almost Boyfriend Man. I’ve made many wonderful friends, and watched them leave for better and more satisfying lives which they all say they’d never have had the opportunity to enjoy had they not spent enough time with me to want to get away from me and start over. With any luck, the kids I’ve driven away from me will someday have the opportunity to say the same. They’re bound to realize how wrong they were sooner or later, after all.

But I find myself now hoping that the time for heroes is gone. I’ve had enough of difficult times catapulting me to heroism. It’s time to set aside the super powers, and try life as a regular mundane guy, a guy whose arms don’t stretch, whose eyes don’t shoot laser beams, whose focus is not the fear of the evil Doctor Time or the dreaded Rejectionite.

Or at least move on to a new and less isolationist super power.

I just want to be Mister Mundane. Able to avoid drama and angst with a single snore.

Oh, and a sidekick. Got to have a sidekick. Preferably, the exactly right sidekick.
Is that asking too much?

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Never Done

This essay was originally written and performed on KSCO 1080am on the second anniversary of 9/11. 

My father told me once that he was glad my mother had died first. He loved her too much to wish he had gone in her place, he said. The harder thing was to be the one left behind. He wouldn’t wish the pain and guilt and insecurity and loneliness and self-loathing on an enemy, much less on the woman he loved. Best for her to have gone first, he said. He alone would bear the crushing weight of the following empty years for them both. 

This staying behind and suffering stuff is heroic. Being the one who has to continue, guilty that we’ve survived, forcing ourselves to go out and see the latest Jim Carrey movie, buy a new washer and dryer, take a long evening walk and watch a beautiful sunset in an eerily empty sky that we know is being enjoyed by one less person than it ought to be. And as if that weren’t enough, we’re burdened by the responsibility of representing the deceased to the future, the responsibility of ensuring that the rest of the world understands how unfair it was, how unnecessary it was, how tragic it was, what a saint they were. We are all thrust into selfless heroism, for fifteen minutes, by virtue of our survival.

It’s funny how families only reunite at funerals. Well, weddings and funerals, but it does always seem to take some kind of tragedy to get people to hop on a plane or a bus and take a weekend out of their lives to stand around uncomfortably with people they spend the balance of the year badmouthing to their spouses, eating miniature spinach quiche and questionably warm shrimp.

When my mother died, my father and brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles gathered together for the first time in years. The tragic event is spent bonding. Oh, how we bond. We recall how much we miss one another, we re-tell those hilarious stories about Uncle Milo’s embarrassing toupee mishap, we reminisce about the years we spent as the best of friends, and make heartfelt apologies for our lack of communication… we promise to stay in touch. We were so close once… I miss you so… blood is thicker than water, family is everything, how did we let so much time get away, I promised your mother I’d raise you as my own, where’s that waiter with the Seven and Seven.

I went to another funeral, more recently… Not somebody I know, just a guy. The funeral of a guy who knew a guy I knew. Died of liver failure. Drank too much.

It was funny the way everybody completely ignored the way this guy died.
The guy had died a long and painful and unnecessary death of cirrhosis. A self-inflicted death brought on by years of drunken debauchery, parties and drugs and alcohol and general short-sighted irresponsibility.

Not funny. Just true.

What was funny was that those that spoke for him at the service stood up and told tales of a fun-loving, hard-living good old boy. Oh Yes, his old friends from the Program said, and they shifted their beers from one hand to another. They talked about his wayward youth, his motorcycle, the time he made his wife walk three miles to the store on a dark country road at 1am because he’d run out of Jack, he was such a card, what a wacky guy. Boy Howdy, his first wife, his kids, his brother agreed, and they laughed and they clinked their coolers and martinis in agreement. He was a misunderstood man, a dynamic and creative soul who couldn’t be shoehorned into a single relationship, a regular job, a responsible lifestyle. He couldn’t be expected to be something so mundane as a dependable parent or a reliable spouse. They were going to miss him, why did this happen, why hadn’t they seen it coming, they lamented the unfairness of it all, he was so young, it was so unnecessary, and his counselor and his priest and his third wife raised their glasses in unison and toasted the memory of a guy who had no faults.

Not funny ha-ha. Just funny sad.

This veneration, combined with the warm fuzzy feeling we get from our reunion with all the other surviving loved ones is a happy thing, because for a little while all the family drama is gone; we are galvanized anew in our rekindled familial dedication. We are all brothers… we’re filled with unconditional love for one another… the arrogance and dysfunction and the abuse and the misogyny and the hate and the intolerance and the inequity are gone, and we all put stickers on our cars, and play country music, and wave to each other knowingly with secret signals, hand over heart as we pass on the freeway, and we pinkie swear to become blood brothers and we’ll beat the crap out of anyone who questions our god-given virtue. We fool ourselves into believing that the arrogance, dysfunction and abuse and misogyny and hate and intolerance and inequity truly are gone, and that the stickers on our cars are the proof of it. That productizing our grief and pride with t-shirts and country songs and ‘very special episodes’ of Law & Order will make it so.

Clearly the loss is tragic. And it is always unfair. I would rather that no one had to pass, and if they do, it should be in their sleep, after a good meal and a fine sunset and the love of a soul mate.

And the surviving is hard. I would rather none of us had to be survivors, to suffer the going on, the persevering, the slow but inevitable normalizing of our lives and the guilt we feel over the eventual waning of grief.

Or the strange dereliction we feel in remembering with any fondness the closeness and intimacy and vulnerability we will always share with the soul who sat next to us on the couch while we silently watched the images repeat before our eyes in slow motion.

But unlike my father, I’m not happy that my mother died first. I don’t think that being the survivor is the harder role to play. As survivors, we’re given the bitter-sweet opportunity to pursue many things.
To avenge.
To remember.
To deify.
To correct.
To grow.
To learn.
To introspect.

My mother has been gone six years, and in the intervening time I’ve punished myself for not being a better son, for not appreciating the sacrifice she made, for not seeing the person she was beneath the mother. And in so doing I’ve set aside the petty differences I had with my father, forged a friendship that is stronger than our disagreements, and bridged our estrangement. I’ve allowed myself the latitude to be wrong, I’ve allowed my father the latitude to be wrong, and I’ve allowed her passing to help me become just a little bit better person, a little bit better father, a little bit better son.

Parents are just people, trying their best. It was a great revelation for me to realize that… and interestingly, being one didn’t do it. Losing one did. That it took my mother’s death to manifest that is a cruel irony, because she is probably the one person who would have taken more joy in this than me.

The real tragedy in my experience is in how we often don’t do those things. The real tragedy is the way we lie to ourselves.

We lie to ourselves when we think that tragedy offers no lessons, that we needn’t question our virtue. We do ourselves a disservice by insisting that we needn’t entertain introspection … by inferring that there are no lessons left to learn, and that we are the best that we can hope to be. We hurt ourselves when we learn nothing from tragedy but defensiveness and separatism, anger and mistrust, fear and hatred. We are all just people trying our best. It was a great revelation to realize that. Ironically, being one didn’t do it. Losing some did.

I miss you, mom. I’m sorry you suffered, guy who knew a guy I knew. I promise to not simply tell your story, to do more than defend and avenge, to do more than grieve, to be more than merely angry. I promise to try to be a different and better person, to be willing to introspect, to call, to visit, and to acknowledge that I am not, and may never be, done.

Our world is a much more complicated place than that. And we are, I hope, much more complicated beings.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.