(Excerpt from Raking the Dust)
Monday morning. I sat in my yard, drank coffee and flipped through the newspaper, eventually making my way to the section I had been avoiding: the classifieds.
With perfunctory listlessness I circled the jobs that seemed okay. The more listings I circled, the more I felt I was accomplishing in actively pursuing work. Then I saw it:
“Male needed to play Spider-Man at a new toy store. Weekends only. $8/hr. Apply in person betw. 10am and 3pm at Sammy’s Joyland, directly across the street from Wal-Mart.”
I circled the listing and moved on, then a delayed realization gave me pause: Spider-Man?
My mind flashed back to seven-year-old me, collecting spiders in a jar, then releasing them onto my arms in hopes that not only would one bite me but that it would also happen to be radioactive and infused me with spider-powers. When that didn’t work out, the disappointed seven-year-old gave deferred birth to the twelve-year-old with modified philosophies. If I couldn’t procure super-powers, then I’d become Spider-Man minus the super-powers.
That’s twelve-year-old me in my homemade Spider-Man costume, replete with spring-loaded suction darts that shot from gadgets attached to my wrists.
I am patrolling my neighborhood, determined to keep it safe from crime and evil-doers. I make my rounds in the park, as I always do, and near the monkey bars I spot a boy backed against the fence by two other boys: one fat, one skinny.
What’s going on here, I wonder, my spider-sense tingling, and I creep in quietly, remaining in the shadows.
The boy-against-the-fence keeps flinching as Fat threatens to slap him in the face. I don’t know the back story, but the fact that it is two-against-one strikes me as an injustice.
I step out of the shadows and deliver what I believe is an instant classic of a quip—Hey, boys, now that Webs is here, you two ready to tangle?
The villains, Fat and Skinny, look at me, then at each other and burst out laughing. The boy-against-the-fence seems thoroughly confused.
I stand poised, slightly bent at the knees, fingers resting on the triggers that will launch my darts.
Fat walks up to me and backs me up with a chest-bump—You better get outta here freak, before you wind up like this punk.
As if punk were the cue, Skinny hits the boy-against-the-fence in the stomach, hard. The boy grunts and drops to one knee, spitting several times.
You want some, Fat threatens, and places his pudgy face inches from my mask. He smells of pork rinds.
I glance at Skinny, who is standing over the still-crumpled boy.
I quietly walk away, not looking back.
When I get home I throw my costume in the trash. I am done with the super-hero business.
And now, twenty-one years later.
I snapped my fingers against the listing—This is it. This is the job I’m gonna get.
Energized by this prospect I put in a call to Ella, who didn’t share my enthusiasm.
$8 an hour? And only on weekends? That’s not a lot of money Alex.
I know Ella, I know . . . but I get to play Spider-Man. You know how much I loved Spider-Man when I was a kid.
Yeah Alex, I know how much you loved Spider-Man—
There Ella paused, and her tone became pointed.
—when you were a kid.
I said nothing and Ella went on.
The way you’re talking about this . . . you do realize that if you get hired the toy store doesn’t give you super-powers to go with the job?
I let Ella’s uncontestable logic settle in, then—Well it’s something, isn’t it?
Yeah, Ella agreed, it’s something. Anyway, good luck. We’ll see you tomorrow around ten. Your house?
I listened to the sound of the dial tone for ten seconds then hung up.
That was fucking stupid, I berated myself. Why the hell had I called Ella? Did I expect her to stamp me with the ex-wife’s seal of approval because I might become a toy store Spider-Man?
I considered revisiting the stolen panties and manually relieving myself of my tension. Instead I went to the windowsill to see if the spider, the great artist, was hanging out on her web. She wasn’t there.
The morning light filtering in through the window gave the web a silvery translucence. I sat down and admired both the effect of the light on the web and the web itself. I waited for the spider to show up and when she didn’t I made my announcement anyway.
I’m going to become Spider-Man, May, what do you think of that?
I had decided, just then, to name the spider May, after Peter Parker’s beloved Aunt May. Peter Parker was Spider Man’s alter ego, or vice versa.
Have a good day May, wherever you are. And keep up the fine artistry.