Superman

A creative essay by G. David Schwartz


My eight-year-old son goes into a frenzy each time Clark Kent leaves Lois Lane and returns as Superman. The child is sufficiently wise, or sufficiently naive, to know that clothes do not make the person.

Clothes occasionally, however, unmake the person.

People should not be fooled by the removal of glasses or a slight modification in the way a person wears a hat or carries a glove. My son, at such a tender age, is capable of cutting through the superficiality of appearance in order to reach the ontology of identity.

He knows that Clark Kent is Superman and Superman is Clark Kent. He is not yet, at age eight, to the stage where he knows that Superman is Steve Rieves, or George Reeves.

The identities of Clark Kent and the Man of Steel are frequent topics of conversation in our house. Why doesn’t Lois notice the obvious?

Why doesn’t Jimmy? Lois claims to have a romantic interest in Superman and to resist the supposed romantic intentions of Kent. Jimmy claims to be Clark’s best friend.

To complicate matters, these people are reporters, trained with a critical eye. Perhaps the Superman series, movie, and television revival are a collective satire?

In each of the venues through which Superman has made an incarnation, including the comic book, Superman engages our willing suspension of disbelief against the hard and newsworthy evidence of our eyes. Or, as Dan puts it, they are stupid. Neither of us are convinced that the issue of putting on or taking off glasses as a disguise of identity is a secret meant to be shared between the “actors” and the audience. Dan might say the “actors” want us to be as daft as Lois and Jimmy.

In my opinion, the writers and producers are propagating the obviously false idea that small changes betoken major events, a notion that might help them sell mascara or hair coloring, ointments and creams.

I have to admit that I enjoy Dan’s agony or, more correctly, the fact that his mild disturbance results in our continually talking about the issue.

The television, movie, and comic book’s loss of recognition is our gain. I also enjoy the fact that when I was Dan’s age I, too, shouted at the television for Lois to get a little critical distance and notice that Clark was Superman.

I phrased it thus: “Don’t be so stupid.”

Being privy to secrets of one kind or another can be a burdensome thing.

Perhaps Dan, as I once did, nourishes the hope that Lois, too, has a secret. Perhaps she will turn to Clark at some point or another and say, “Hey, Clark. Want to hear something really funny? I’ve known for years you’re Superman. That’s right. I’ve known it all along. But I’ve done the decent thing, the human thing, and kept your secret because you’ve wanted it that way. But here’s the funny part. Here’s the really funny part. I have a secret, too. You see, I’m not Lois Lane. I’m…”

But I go astray.

Attributing to Lois a moral stance, the secret that she has never betrayed Clark’s secret, has the advantage of allowing us to see her in some way other than stupid. In fact, if my hypothesis is correct, Lois did such an outstanding job of keeping the secret and buttressing her knowledge by playing the utter fool that she needs to be designated the very best actor on the show—possibly in history.

Lois not only knew and did not tell; she did not behave in any manner that would have led her co-workers to know she knew. Jimmy, I assume, is just stupid.

Perhaps that’s the point of fantasy and fancy, miracle stories and other culture-bound inspiring work: to enkindle us with questions and statements of what we know to be obvious.

What is obvious to one person is a deep mystery to the next. What can best be done in those situations is to arrange conversations not between those who know it all and those who know nothing… The conversations that need be arranged are between those who know the obvious and those who know the obvious as mysterious. Each will gain by being informed by the other.

I did not understand the fact that the identity issue was a charade until I was older. Not Lois, but Clark, was in a predicament about expressing character issues.

It was, after all, Superman who purchased glasses—a symbol of seeing clearly—he did not need. Superman clothed himself in conventional clothing and hid his functional suit. Superman was the one who wanted to look like less than what he was.

I did not understand this until I had to purchase glasses. Until I purchased them, I not only did not recognize their benefits and virtues, but claimed I did not need them.

Perhaps the refusal to change appearance is vanity. Perhaps dressing in style is a vane conceit. Perhaps switching glasses, or clothing, or hair styles, is to engage in the ebb and flow of appearance.

Perhaps the becoming and changing of reality occurs, as it were, through the vessels of our clothing. Or, perhaps the identity, not the duality, of Clark and Superman is more real than any of the “spectators'” concentration on glasses in one scene and removal in the next. Perhaps consistency of change is more important than identity. Or perhaps not.

That’s the way it is with “perhaps”.

I knew my eyes were bad for some time, but thought I could live without the sheer anguish of glasses; I had been accustomed to wearing glasses to see into the distance, but slowly, ever so slowly, the lenses deteriorated—they didn’t work as well as they once had. The fact of faulty lenses did not bother me; all it meant was that I was becoming accustomed to not seeing as many things, a condition I rationalized as acceptable given some alternatives.

Well, it was acceptable until those other cars on the highway suddenly began appearing in lanes where they had not been moments before.

So I needed new glasses. So what! I would get them. Some day. In the mean time, I’ll just drive a little slower. You’ve wanted me to drive slower for years.

And now I will. So there!

What was most annoying was that I noticed, faster than a speeding bullet, that I could not see things up close.

I could not read as easily as I had so recently been able to do: When I first became aware of it, I was curious to know if the economy was so horribly bad that all books were now being printed in a fuzzy, obviously cheap, ink.

Then I began to notice that the economy was so terribly bad that even books I had possessed for years had retrospectively been affected.

“Why are you holding that book so close to your face?”

I resisted the urge to say the reason was because I was convinced it was a razor.

I thought that perhaps, just perhaps, such a statement would not make my reasonable defense against getting new glasses so reasonable. I do not know who first uttered the word “bifocal”, but I adamantly refused to purchase glasses that would make me look like my grandmother.

Split lenses, indeed! I already was bi-focal. Some things I could see, and some I could not see.

So I ended up getting two pairs of glasses. One pair was simply for seeing (which, as suggested above, I was accustomed to doing); the other, which had a secondary purpose, bore the less obnoxious name “reading glasses”.

I despise the very concept of bifocals, with their smug suggestion of growing old and their self-complacent suggestion of double vision. It suggests indecisiveness, and the one thing I am not is indecisive, I think.

So I made an appointment with the optometrist and explained sadly to Dan, “I can no longer see through these things.” I grew instantly accustomed to the reading glasses. I could see what I was reading without squinting or straining my eyes.

Reading was enjoyable again.

Because my long-distance vision was corrected perfectly with the glasses I had, and would remain so for a solid week after I received my new reading glasses, I chose to have two pairs of glasses.

Consequently, I grew accustomed to switching back and forth between corrective lenses. I grew accustomed, that is, to taking off one identity (one set of circumstances, requirements, and modes of being) and putting on another.

I became, in a phrase, a virtual Superman of the visceral world.

I felt great. I felt like I was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound—if I was standing atop their roofs and had overcome my fear of heights.

Now, if I could only break the habit of whipping off a pair of glasses and staring into my son’s eyes—or an imaginary camera if he is not available—and saying, “I’m Batman.”


G. David Schwartz is the former president of Seedhouse, an online interfaith committee. Schwartz is the author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue (1994) and Midrash and Working Out of the Book (2004). He is currently a volunteer at Cincinnati, Ohio’s community center, the J (Mayerson JCC); and Meals On Wheels. His newest book, Shards And Verse (2011) is now in stores, and can be ordered online.
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Cicadas

A creative essay by Lara Lillibridge


I had not seen my father in several years, and I had no aching desire to change that. When I thought about my father, I felt nothing. He wanted to visit this past summer, and I didn’t know how to say no, for my children’s sake, if nothing else. Dementia was overtaking him, and the minute-hand of the clock was stealing the person I used to know—every day he was a little less the man I remembered. But I still did not want him to come. Whatever he had or had not been to me, it no longer mattered—I was a parent now, no longer in need of parenting.

~

When I was a child in my mother’s house, my brother and I spent our summers in the backyard. The grass was thick and dense beneath my bare feet, and the dark brown dirt always stained the pads of my toes. We carved fingernail x’s into our mosquito bites, in an effort to remove the itch. The cicada buzz reverberated in my ears, the tinny radio-static soundtrack of summer. I found their discarded robot/alien shells as clinging detritus on the tire-tread bark of the maple tree. The exoskeletons were the color of toast, slightly translucent. It took me a long time to realize the shells were empty and could not bite, and when I mustered the courage to touch them, they crackled into broken shards beneath my fingers.

~

I had spent a year plotting my father’s death when I was fourteen—I was going to push him down the brown carpeted stairs of his condo, and then inject alcohol into his veins and make it look like an accident. He was a doctor—syringes weren’t hard to come by, and I was overly confident in my ability to push a needle through someone else’s skin. In the end, I didn’t have hands that would push my father down the stairs, no matter how much my rage instructed them to. My hands were useless wounded birds controlled by my heart, which still yearned for a Daddy who loved me.

~

The years of unrequited love drained me of all emotion towards my father. I haven’t even been able to muster up anger in longer than I can remember. I have been full-grown for quite some time now. It is too late for him to requite my golden-retriever- like love, to fulfill all those hastily-made promises, or take me to the father/daughter dinner dance. Whatever I hadn’t gotten from him I no longer wanted. But his impending visit made me think I should try one more time, at least to appease everyone else. The night before he came into town, I thought about his attachment disorder diagnosis. Was it fair to shut him off if he was inherently incapable of feeling emotion? Hadn’t he tried the best he was able, small though that had been? He sent me stuffed animals each Christmas, weird ones, granted, like a three-foot- long snake made out of neckties or a weasel instead of the husky I had asked for, but he made time to go to a toy store and bought me something each year. He wrapped them up and wrote out a name tag with his favorite black pen. His handwriting was more familiar than his face. My father was always excited to see me, scooping me up in a tight bear hug and crushing my child-soft cheek against his black-and- red plaid Woolrich jacket.

~

He didn’t think it mattered that I only saw him twice a year as a child, and I have learned how quickly time passes when you are an adult compared to the never-ending feel of a child’s summer and the eternity of fifteen minutes when I rubbed the toes of my shoes in the brown-gray dirt and tried to guess how much time had passed. I decided to attempt to loosen my shell. Perhaps I could learn to see him through adult eyes. Maybe his attachment disorder really did explain all of his past failings, if only I would stop judging him so harshly. I knew we could not make up for the lost years, but perhaps it was not too late to develop some affection for the person he had become. Maybe a relationship could be had on new terms.

~

My father and I sat across the table from each other from each other and said nothing, like strangers at a train station. I looked at his eighty-year old hands, ropy with thick blue veins and corroded with deep lines. His fingernails were thick and clean and longer than mine. I felt nothing—not sympathy for an old, tired man, not remorse for all he had never been. I was no longer a daughter-abyss needing to be filled. We sat in silence and he looked into the distance blankly. I knew I was supposed to say something, but I had nothing left to say. My father just stared out towards my garden with unfocused eyes. When I tried to make small talk, he responded with words like, “oh,” words like air, words like emptiness. The cicada had flown, and the empty hard shell I had tried so hard to penetrate as a child was all that remained of my father.

~

My father peed on the toilet seat and I sat in it. My children asked why Grandpa got mashed potatoes all over the table when he ate. He tried to assemble a simple wooden toy with my seven-year- old and glued everything together backwards. My father, formerly an airplane pilot, boat captain and pediatrician, could no longer distinguish between his left and right hands, could not translate a map, could not follow a conversation to completion.

~

He asked to have a “heart-to- heart” with me before he left. I tried my best to avoid it. There was nothing he could say that would mean anything to me, and I hoped he didn’t expect reassurance of his parenting or proclamations of my love and appreciation. I just didn’t have it in me to pretend any longer. He stood up from the table where we were all sitting and asked to speak with me, and I could not come up with any more reasons not to. My father and I sat upstairs on my balcony, away from his wife and my family.

I could still see a tinge of brown in my father’s gray hair. His face was foreign to me. He had shaved off his beard when I was twenty, and had looked like a stranger ever since. Even though I had known him clean-shaven for more years than bearded. I always saw him through the eyes of a child, and his face was no longer the face of my childhood. I wondered if his front tooth had always been longer that it’s mate. I noticed how the extra weight he put on over the years filled in his wrinkles. He stared directly into my face, as he always had. I did not see him blink once. I could not sustain that level of eye contact, and looked at his hands instead.

~

My father told me about his dementia, his Parkinson’s Disease, and his relationship with his wife. He was sorry he was moving closer to her children than to me or my brother. He was afraid I felt spurned. He told me that he knew he couldn’t function like he used to, couldn’t carry on conversations or walk with his old, easy gait. His cicada words bounced off my daughter shell. I just wanted him to go home. I stared at his folded hands and made reassuring, meaningless noises, as was expected of a good daughter. But I was no longer a good daughter.

My father’s hands curled loosely on his lap, so I could not see his talon-like nails. The metacarpals rose in sharp ridges above the wrinkled red skin, his veins were bluer than his eyes. The skin on the backs of his hands was made of some material different from mine, something thinner and less opaque, like the skin of lips, that would chap and tear easily. The eighty years of his life didn’t show in his face, but were betrayed by those red, fragile hands. My body remembered his hands teaching me to tie off the boat at the dock, sew a patch on my jacket. My hands balled up so I would not reach out to stroke his fragile skin. I made an excuse to check on the children, and he followed me mutely down the stairs.


Lara Lillibridge is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. In March of 2016 she was a top 5 finalist for DisQuiet’s literary prize in Creative Nonfiction, judged by Phillip Graham. She has had essays published in Pure Slush (Vol. 11), Vandalia, and Polychrome Ink; on the web at Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, Airplane Reading, Thirteen Ways to Tell a Story, Weirderary, and Brain, Child Magazine‘s Brain, Mother blog. Some of her recent essays have been published in Hippocampus and Luna Luna. You can view some of her work at her website, www.LaraLillibridge.com, catch up with her blog at the Huffington Post, and follow her on Twitter @only_mama.

“Bill O’Reilly Officially Endorses Sanders, Vows to Emigrate If Sanders Elected”

A satirical article by James Brooks


Taking several of his fellow commentators by shock, noted conservative media figure Bill O’Reilly has formally declared his support for Vermont senator Bernie Sanders by promising on a live January 14th television broadcast that if Sanders is elected to become the President of the United States in 2016, he will leave the country for the Republic of Ireland.

“I’m fleeing,” said O’Reilly on air. “If Bernie Sanders gets elected president, I’m fleeing,” citing the candidate’s progressive tax policy as the main reason for his feelings. When reached for comment, he declined to elaborate on why he chose to go so far as to offer his own expatriation as a reward for the American people electing Sanders, simply repeating thoughts he vocalized on his  television broadcast: “I’m not going to pay 90 percent of my income to that guy.”

The announcement came as a surprise to many on the right wing, who have considered O’Reilly an eminent figure in the field of American conservatism throughout his career. Many are left questioning his motives for suddenly choosing to incentivize voters to elect the self-described ‘democratic socialist’ Sanders in the 2016 election cycle.

“I just don’t get it,” remarked fellow conservative commentator Sean Hannity, regarding O’Reilly’s sudden, unexpected support for senator Sanders, whom both men have previously harshly criticized. “At first I thought it was a joke, but… when someone like him makes a statement that strong, there’s no way he’d back down.”

As of press time, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service has not released any information on whether or not they have already been contacted by O’Reilly, nor has O’Reilly released any update on the status of his visa application.

Regardless of the confusion surrounding this development on the trail, this news was welcomed enthusiastically by many in the Sanders campaign. Kelly Moran, an aide for Sanders, said, “as a person of Irish ancestry myself, I’m glad to see that Bill has not only had a change of heart on Bernie, but chose to invoke our shared ethnic background to celebrate it!”


James Brooks is an American musician and student currently living in Montreal, Canada.