“Fiction is nothing more than an unmitigated pack lies redeemed by a grain of truth.” Marcus said.
“Dad, you’re trying to sound like Mark Twain again.” Jack looked annoyed. “That doesn’t help me. I’m supposed to write a story for class and it’s supposed to be fiction.”
“Why not tell the story of the time you stopped the thief as a three year-old. No one would believe that anyway.”
“Dad, that story is true. We can’t use things that really happened. It has to be fake.”
“Biography is the telling of lies to flatter the subject of the work. None more so than autobiography.”
“Who is that supposed to be?”
“Me.” Marcus smiled. “Not all quotes come from dead people.”
Even decades later, that memory was vivid. He and Jack had been in Minneapolis visiting Jack’s cousins. Jack had been in the front seat of their Black ‘69 Mercury Cougar and was wearing his Spider-Man-Man pajamas. At the time, his favorite game was playing “chase the bad guys.” Jack would be Spider-Man and he would insist that Marcus be Batman (Marcus never argued. Copyrighted material isn’t particularly important to three year-olds and everyone knows the old Bill Murray adage. ‘Always Be Yourself! Unless you can be Batman, then be Batman!’)
After all, the Cougar looked a lot like it should be the Batmobile reasoned Jack. It only made sense that they should chase bad guys in it. So that’s what they did. His wife Rosemary was shopping at some stores in the Uptown neighborhood and parking was terrible. Jack was getting impatient, so Marcus suggested the game.
Driving around, they chased “Doc Ock”, “The Riddler” and “Green Goblin” (pronounced Green Gobble-inn)” and it was too much fun. All of a sudden, Jack jumped up. “A real bad guy! A real bad guy!”
Just then, a young man dressed like he really, really wanted to belong in an gang and wasn’t succeeding ran out of the store carrying a dress. He jumped on a bicycle and started pedaling down the street as the women from the store came out and shouted “Stop! Thief!”
Not to be outdone, her coworker came out half a beat later and shouted “Help! Somebody help us!
Jack jumped up and down, his face glowing with righteous indignation, “Get ‘em dad!”
“You got it bud.” Marcus revved the engines and started to follow the thief into the neighborhood south of the shopping area. They followed the thief who pedaled harder and cut into an alley. They circled the block and entered the alley. As soon as he saw them, the thief turned around on the bicycle, losing momentum and sticking his foot out to help his turn. He was up in a flash and pedaling hard.
Marcus pulled the Cougar up behind the crook, knocked it into neutral and revved the engine. The thief panicked and shouted “I give!” and dropped the dress on the asphalt. As soon as he was out of sight, Marcus and Jack exited the vehicle.
“Good Job Spider-Man.”
“Good Job Batman.”
The dress in the street was an off-white brocade dress, the kind that someone might wear to a Mother’s Day Brunch. It was slightly scuffed from where the bike tire had rubbed it during the chase. There was a bit of dirt on it, which Marcus hoped would wash out.
Jack picked it up and got back into the car. “We need to get that guy Batman.”
“I don’t know,” said Marcus. “If the police catch us with him, we’ll get in trouble for making them look bad by solving their crimes.”
“But he’s a bad guy.” said Jack with a small stamp of his foot.”
“I know Jack-I mean, Spider-Man. But he didn’t get the loot and we can still get it back to the store before your mom-
“Sorry, before Catwoman is finished shopping.”
“Let’s get back to the store.” Jack said decisively.
When they returned to the store, Marcus let Jack carry it in. He’d even found his Spider-Man Halloween mask that Rosemary had made him the month before. Jack entered the store, the conquering hero with the dress as spoils of war. The girls in the store were suitably impressed and flattered his ego, offering Jack his pick of anything he wanted in the store. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot he might want. The store had a few toys as a display, but was mostly adult clothing. He picked a black Pashmina scarf and declared that he would give it to Batman so he could have a cape.
Jack smiled at his son’s generosity and did what you had to do in these situations. He swung the cape over his shoulders with a flourish and tied it at the neck.
“How do I look, old chum?” Asked Marcus in his best Batman voice. (These were the days when Batman was on TV and much more suitable for children).
“I’d say you look purr-fect” came a feline voice behind him. Marcus felt familiar arms wrap around him from behind.
“Mom- I mean, Catwoman!”
“Hi Spider-man! How are you? And why is Batman wearing that… …cape?”
“We caught a bad guy!” His face shone. Rosemary knelt down and put her hands on his shoulders.
“Were you playing that game again honey?”
“We were at first and I’m not honey, I’m Spider-Man! But then, I saw a real bad guy and we chased him in the Batmobile and Da-Batman chased him and was gonna run him over and he threw the dress and-“ Jack stopped speaking as he saw his mom was fixing his Dad with a look™. She stood up slowly with controlled movements and pulled Jack toward her in a protective motherly embrace.
“I didn’t run him down. I just pulled up behind him and revved the engine in Neutral. He dropped the dress and Jack brought it back here.”
Jack wriggled his way out of the grip and tugged her sleeve.
“Did daddy do something wrong? We stopped the bad guy!”
“We’ll talk about it later honey,” she said in a tone that was soft and reassuring, but was a warning that there would be a ‘discussion’ later on.
The ensuing discussion had been considerably less heroic. Rosemary made it clear she didn’t approve of vigilante justice outside of fiction and that it was reckless and dangerous to include a three year-old in this sort of nonsense. Later of course, Marcus realized she was right, though at the time, he wisely did not point out that this was Minneapolis, not Chicago or New York and that the man had been fleeing on a bicycle. She already knew that and to fight her on it would be as dumb as poking a Badger to see what would happen.
They agreed that they wouldn’t play “chase the bad guys” in the car again for awhile and that he would even hang up his “cape”. Jack and Marcus decided to have a retirement ceremony for Batman in the Batcave (basement), where they put it in a box and put it on a shelf of identical boxes just like in the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Once in awhile though, just once in a while, when it was just the two of them, they would remember that afternoon and bask in the glow of their remembered heroics.
Not long after that, he ended up agreeing to sell the Cougar, which Rosemary said was an impractical car car for a family, on account of the two doors,
“What if you change the ending?” Asked Marcus.
“What?” Asked Jack.
“What if you changed the ending of the story.”
“You mean, what if we didn’t get in trouble from Mom?” he snorted.
“Yeah. That- or what if your mom had been right and the thief was a brave criminal who was armed?”
“Whoa, like if he’d pulled a gun or something?”
“Well, what would have happened then?” This was another of his favorite games to play with Jack. Jack was often bullied in school and one of the ways that they dealt with it was to discuss the situation at a distance.
Marcus remembered being a kid better than most adults. Most adults remember the lack of responsibility that kids have, but kids remember the lack of control. Being a child is having all of the fears that adults have, without the experience to know which ones are real or how big they should be.
Since a child’s world is on a smaller scale, the human sense of the epic plays out on that scale. The freckled, chubby kid who bullies you is an Unstoppable Juggernaut who is impossible to make fun of back, because he’s so scary! The principle or teacher is the Judge, Jury, Cop, Bailiff, Warden and Executioner. A fight with your friend is the falling out of Remus and Romulus writ small.
Marcus figured it was because of this that it didn’t work to talk with Jack directly about the problems. It was far better for the situation to remind Marcus of a “story he remembered” about “Benji the Wrestler,” or about a similar situation from when he was a kid.
Parents have mostly been in the situations their kids find themselves in, or something similar. That’s why they can tell if you’re lying and always have the advice that drives you crazy, no matter what situation you’re in. Anything you’re doing, they’re likely to have done before and that makes most teenagers go nuts when they talk to their parents.
After all, as a teen, you’re striking out on your own, hoping for independence and to be your own person. Then this old person, worse- in most cases a fallen hero- comes and tells you that a lot of what you’re going through isn’t a big problem. That THEY have been through it before. That your experiences are nothing new? How dare they? Your love is one that NO ONE has ever felt before. You can acknowledge that your parents love each other, or that they might have at one time, but how could that compare with Jeannie’s smile. How could their boring commitment to each other compare with your love and the way her long dark hair falls down her back like an onyx waterfall, how her lips must feel if you were to kiss them (this part is often speculation, of course).
Besides, they were always old! How could they? They couldn’t, that’s how!
Marcus knew all too well that this was the likely outcome if he tried comparison, and that’s why he mostly stuck with stories. He loved telling stories. He made them up for his son all the time and they would work on them together. Hopefully this exercise would help Jack with his writer’s block. Not fun for anyone, but especially not for someone going through all that, plus a healthy heaping of teen worries.
“Let’s chart out the story like in the timeline Back to the Future.” Said Marcus.
“Ugh, dad! C’mon…”
“Jack. Let’s do this. I’ll take the boring timelines and you take the interesting ones.”
“Okay, first. Let’s do the real events as our baseline and see what happens if we change any of the points in time.”
“Fine.” He pulled out a piece of white paper. Okay, what happened first.
“We dropped Mom off at the store. Then we couldn’t find parking.”
“Then you were getting impatient”
“Ugh, dad! Fine. I was getting impatient, so we played the ‘Chasing Badguys’ game.” His eyes met Marcus’s for a moment and there was a brief smile.
“Right. Then what?”
“Then after we chased some ‘Bad Guys’, I saw a real Bad Guy.”
“Alleged bad guy”
“Fine, I saw what I thought was a bad guy. Then I saw the ladies from the shop scream and ask for help.”
“Then I said, ‘Get ‘im Dad!’ and we chased him.”
“Okay. Then what.”
We cornered him in the alley and he turned and ran.
“We cut him off.”
“We cut him off, we didn’t corner him. If we’d cornered him, he wouldn’t have an exit.”
“Okay, fine. We cut him off… Then you pulled up behind him and revved the engine to scare him into dropping the dress.”
“Right. Then we picked up the dress and I wanted to chase him, but instead we went back to the store, and we got the cape and mom was mad.”
“Err… well, right. I think it’s more fair to say that Mom was worried.”
“Okay. Then later we got lectured about safety and after that mom made you sell the Cougar.” Jack stood and stretched. Damn, that kid was insightful. He’d probably still have the cougar if it wasn’t for that stunt. He looked up at his son. The kid must be six feet tall. When had that happened? “Okay, now what dad?”
“Now choose how you want the story to go and write it.” He smiled.