Friday, June 5

The Acting life is ...Shakespeare!

I'm currently rehearsing in a production of " Much Ado About Nothing" with the Roving Park Players. I've never done Shakespeare before  and the Friar is not a big role but I struggle with the syntax of middle English. I also notice, despite considerable trimming of the text by the director, that Shakespeare is a long winded playwright.The production has a Beach Blanket Bingo theme with little regard for gender roles. If men played women in Shakespeare's time, then women can play men today. I don't have much to do until the second act then the friar becomes the driver of the plot, countering the evil machinations of Don John with a sly trick of her own to set things right. The rest of the cast is a good mixture of newbie's and skilled professional actors and  the pro's ability to absorb and remember huge amounts of this linguistic gibberish has me intimidated. The modern mind does not have the memory of the 17th century folk. I am secretly consoled when a week after going "off book" the pro's  still occasionally draw a big fat blank.
The leads are a real life couple who handle the banter between Beatrice and Benedick with relish. There are two other couples involved in the play, As a loner, I look on them with a touch of envy.
I have to learn to project my voice, not a an easy thing with the absorption power of nature. We rehearsed in a park by the river which was no fun in the recent rain though everyone else took it in stride. The show becomes Shakespeare in the Dark as we never make it through the whole thing because of the failing light at sunset.
As I watch the show shape itself into a fine production I pick up on little jewels of  phrases or stage business that I so love to notice. " Your wit ambles well, it goes easily" Benedick remarks tersely to the clueless Claudio. Dogberry is a riot of malaprops and bombast. In one scene, Beatrice overhears Hero and Ursula talk about how much Benedick loves her while she eavesdrops- badly- on the conversation. Her attempt to get closer to the ladies under cover is about as subtle as a great dane trying to sneak into a room by crawling on it's stomach. " For it so falls out that we prize not to the worth whilest we enjoy it" is a line I deliver with true meaning.
Normally I'm not nervous about being on stage but a week before we open, I still anxiously pace back stage.
Stay tuned.

Friday, May 1

Fire Fly Chapter 3 The Genie is Out ofthe Bottle

     The first sign of trouble was sleeping poorly, then I began to lash out at everyone to the point that the guys at work kept their distance from me. I knew I had to confront the disappointment with my cowardice and after much agonizing, realized there was one person I could confide in.
             Roscoe Lionel had been my partner during probation and was the biggest, blackest man I have ever met. Coming from a small town, I had known exactly three black people in my life-- Galesburg was very white back then. Roscoe was a towering mass. I'm fairly lean and five ten on a good day; he was six two and 230 pounds of pure muscle. He had a wide flat nose, jet black complexion and long arms. He often joked that he looked like a gorilla followed with a mad cackle when white folks present looked shocked. He never cared for political correctness and I never took the bait.
            Roscoe was patient with me and a good judge of people--he didn't tolerate fools easily. Nothing scared him. A mad woman with a meat cleaver charged him once, screaming like a banshee. He stopped her cold with his own ferocious roar. She fainted and five minutes later he was laughing his ass off in the truck. He was untouchable.
             I never developed his thick skin and Roscoe became concerned with my ability to deal with the horror and stress of the workload. It didn't help that firefighters looked down on paramedics because they didn’t considered it real work.
            The job had its moments of hilarity though, like the calls where someone gets a hand stuck in a toilet bowl or a toe in a tub faucet. And Roscoe found my discomfort at delivering babies highly amusing. I was rather shy around women so it was awkward to say the least, but once past the gory part, the sight of a newborn always heartened me. After I transferred we still saw each other at Kelly's Bar or went fishing on our days off.           
            On particular weekend trip to the Alleghany Reservoir, we tooled along in his boat on a cool day with bright clouds littering the sky. I struggled inwardly with how to confide in him and the monumental pressure gave me a headache. I tuned out everything but the buzzing of the engine and the shush of water pushed aside by the bow, in an effort to calm my mind.
            “What's eating you alive, man?” asked Roscoe, concerned with my unusual silence. He turned off the motor and we drifted for awhile, my reverie broken by a crack as he opened a beer and passed it to me.
            “Roscoe, you ever dream of flying?” I asked without warning.
            “Sure, lots of people do. Most recount a flying dream in ecstatic terms.” He began with interest.
            “George thinks flying dreams represent a desire to break free of ones inhibitions-- whatever they are. Curious that it's a universal symbol,” he finished. George was his academic stepfather.
            Roscoe was capable of speaking in an eloquent manner among his family and friends but tended to use street dialect in public because it was what people expected. I drained my beer and gestured for another.
            “What if someone really could fly?” I wondered hypothetically. Roscoe handed me another beer with a dismissive gesture.
            “Shit, I don't know. Most people don't handle the paranormal very well. I guess most folks would freak out. It's a pretty fantastic idea,” he concluded. I looked down at the calm water--that's what I’d suspected. Roscoe belched and decided it was time to move on.
            We rode the boat to a favorite camping spot just north of Kinzua Dam and unloaded the gear. It was good to get away from the city and I enjoyed setting up camp while Roscoe fried up the fish we caught for dinner.
            As night fell, we laid on the ground gazing up at the night sky, fireflies added to the starlight, accompanied by a concert of crickets, frogs and owls. Roscoe's easygoing company and the soothing surroundings didn't drive away my anxiety, however; it worsened. The isolation of our spot tempted me to leap into the air for some much needed flying to relax me. And what if I did? Would he care? I wanted to shout out my secret, but my tongue refused to move. I turned in the dim light to see him sound asleep.
            The next morning I peeked out of my sleeping bag to see a heavy fog hanging over the water obscuring most of the view but I could see the boat unmoored and adrift  fifty feet away.
            The damn thing was always getting away, Roscoe would complain in a conspiratorial tone but in the reality he often secured it poorly. I watched the boat as if half expecting it to drift back like a petulant child done with a tantrum. I pulled on my sweat pants and  shoes to investigate, moving quietly so as not to awaken Roscoe.
            I checked to see if he was truly asleep and then I took a chance. I can’t swim so I pushed off and rose just above the water and flew to the boat, snagging the bowline as I made a turn back to shore. I had my eye on the boat as I pulled it onto the small beach when I turned to see Roscoe in shorts and a tee shirt stockstill, his jaw dropped in disbelief.
            “Uh, I can explain . . .” I stammered, but I couldn't, fearing this was the end of our friendship. Slowly his expression melted from astonishment to an enlightened smile. The logic of yesterday's conversation now made sense.
            “That. Was. Unbelievable,” he said, mouthing each syllable slowly. I shook as the flood of pent up emotions threatened to drown me. I sobbed, still holding the towline loosely in my hand then dropped it as if it were white hot.
            Roscoe recognized my anxious state, having seen me scared before. He approached me, gently putting a hand on my shoulder.
            "Put it down little bro, put it down." The words he had used so often with me had the desired effect and I managed to stifle my crying.
            “You're not mad at me are you?” I pleaded. He had plenty of reason to be.
            "Nah," he shrugged. He dug around in the pocket of his coat  hanging on a lawn chair and lit up a rare cigarette to calm his nerves.
            “You won’t tell Della.” He bargained. His wife wouldn't allow him to smoke around their daughter. That reminded me of another complication.
            “You can't tell anyone about this,” I said quickly and too loudly.
            “I get it. Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead,” he said giving a nervous snort.
            “I would never hurt you, I trust you more than anyone--please,” I said terrified, misunderstanding his attempt at humor. I wiped at the sweat on my forehead.
            “You are some piece of work,” he said, pulling me into a bear hug, his laughter a hearty rasp.
            His embrace absorbed all my stress like a sponge. Soon my breathing calmed and I could think straight. Feeling emboldened I wrapped my arms around him and easily lifted his large girth off the ground. This provoked more laughter from both of us. We broke our embrace and sat down to talk.
            "God, you have no idea how wonderful it feels to let this out," I said at last, it was like being with Pete again. The relief was indescribable.
            I told him everything: my discovery of flying, lifting cars, how fast I was at track races. Roscoe was further stunned and lit another cigarette. Suddenly at a loss for words, we finished dressing and I scrambled up some eggs while he prepared the morning coffee.
            “How do you do it?” he asked, throwing a hand into the air.
            “I don’t know.” I answered honestly.
            “You ever going public with this?”
            “I always intended to use my skills at work, so yeah, eventually it's going to come out.”  I  said with resignation.
            We discussed various ways to tell the guys at work but the idea filled me with dread. I wasn't sure about the crew--or the rest of the world.. We agreed two out of three of my skills were practical but the flying should stay hidden for now. Roscoe sipped his coffee in contemplation.
            “If I could do all that stuff I'd have fun messing with people,”  he said laughing.
            “Well, there was the prank on Abe Lincoln,” I recalled.
            When I was a teenager I had worked at an historical museum with a life size statue of Abe Lincoln out front on a pedestal, wearing a stovepipe hat. People loved to place things on top of the hat: a bowl of goldfish, a flower arrangement, a birthday cake. One night, I took the 250 pound anvil from the "pioneer" exhibit and placed it on top of the nearly ten -foot figure. That had people scratching their heads trying to figure out how it got there. Roscoe almost fell off his chair laughing.
            I felt positively weightless the rest of the day and was sorry when it was time to pack up and return to the world of hiding. As we finished loading the boat I gave the campsite one last look then turned to Roscoe.
            “I can't thank you enough for accepting me, for understanding--this,” I said, gesturing to myself. He smiled, his teeth bright in contrast to his dark skin.
            “Hey, you're still you.”
            When I returned to work, I formally requested a transfer to Search and Rescue.  I told Roscoe later and he agreed it was a good step in the right direction. I could use my strength openly which eased my festering conscience and made up for earlier missed opportunities.
            While I was taking the S and R training, I continued to work with Rueben until Darryl got his EMT certification. We got a call of a shooting with multiple victims. Shots were fired at an upscale apartment building where a very nervous super opened the front door for us and the police before fleeing. We stayed back as the cop went in with drawn gun to make sure it was safe. He signaled us forward where we found two people lying on the floor in the front hall. A man was dead with two wounds to the chest. A woman sat against the wall clutching her stomach, bleeding heavily. Rueben quickly applied pressure to the wound as the cop finished his search. I trotted out to the unit for an additional kit when I heard another shot and raced back.
             The front door was opened slightly, affording me a view of a very agitated young man pointing a gun at Rueben who had his hands in the air.
            “Back away asshole or I'll kill you too.” he said in a wild tone. The cop lay on the floor holding his upper arm where he had been shot; his service revolver had been kicked aside.
            Shit, the man was truly unhinged as he waved the gun erractically, while Rueben did his best to calm him. I caught the cop's eye as he more or less faced me and I pantomimed what I was going to do.
            I'm fast; I can move faster than anyone. I can cover ten feet and catch a glass falling off a counter. This was much closer--three big steps. I jumped him and grabbed his wrist, knocking the gun down and punched him hard in the jaw. He was out cold before he landed in a heap on the floor. The cop wanted to cuff him, but why bother? Our immediate concern was the woman who I assisted while Rueben tended to the cop. By the time more help arrived, we got her bleeding under control and the cop had a bandage around his arm. The gunman woke up with a dislocated jaw and several loose teeth. He screamed in pain which I ignored as I set his jaw and braced his wrist. Serves him right, shooting people and waving a gun around. I checked on Rueben, who was unusually quiet.
            "You alright?" I could feel him shaking when I touched his shoulder and he nodded quickly. I got behind the wheel and he took the passenger seat without protest.
            " Having a gun aimed at you can be traumatizing," I said, but he shook his head that wasn't it.
            "I didn't see you coming, you appeared out of nowhere."
            "Kind of like Madonna," It was the first thing that popped into my head to ease the tension. He looked bewildered, then we both burst out laughing.
            “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.” he managed between fits of laughter.  Mentioning Madonna became our inside joke.
              Life at the firehouse went on as usual. During one shift I occupied myself with drawing a design for the Halloween pumpkin and chatted with Fisher as he dusted the plaques on the wall of the day room.
            “When you going to get rid of that tank of a car?” he asked.
            “Hey, I love it.” It was a graduation present from dad.
            “Running old Betty probably cost less,” he chuckled. Admittedly, the Olds Delta 88 was not known for good gas mileage.
            “But the green beast can handle an icy road better,” I said, reminding him of the time the truck couldn't get up a steep hill last winter. Fisher shrugged in agreement. He was removing some old photos when Phil wandered in.
            “Hey, be careful there,” Phil snapped, scolding Fisher as if he were a clumsy child. Fisher glared back at him with long simmering resentment.
            “Who is that guy?” I asked Phil, intercepting the potential squabble. It was a black and white photo of a firefighter in full gear holding the nozzle of a hose.
            “That's my old man, Lieutenant William Avery Armstrong and don't you forget it,” he said with pride as he held the frame reverently.
            Historically, fire departments are filled with descendants of firefighters eager to follow their fathers and grandfathers trade. Phil considered being in the same company as his father a point of honor and felt he deserved more respect even though Fisher had been there longer.
            " I'd like to do a drawing of him if you don't mind,” I offered. Phil seemed genuinely surprised by my request. Ordinarily he found my drawings frivolous and sissy. He sat next to me with his ever present mug of coffee as I did a quick study from the photo.
            Having mollified him, I returned to my other project when the captain called me into his office and insisted I close the door.
            “It has come to my attention your behavior on the job has been a bit reckless lately,” he began to admonish.
            “Your displays of speed and strength have been . . . remarkable. What's going on here?” his bluntness caught me off guard. Such stunts were bound to attract attention and I expected the sharp-eyed Rueben to call me out. Maybe he was the one who pointed it out to Fabiano. Maybe I wanted to be caught and would be forced to reveal myself. I should have listened to Roscoe's advise and just done it.
            “ I haven't put anyone in danger sir,” I said, trying to shrug it off.
            “You put yourself in danger,” he retorted.
            I remember Dad lecturing me with the exact same tone of voice when Pete and I went out to watch an approaching tornado. We thought it was cool until we nearly got hit with flying debris.
            “Sir, I think you're overreacting,” I dismissed but I saw the stern look on his face and knew he wasn't buying it.
            He pulled at the corner of his mustache in a habitual gesture as he swiveled back and forth  in his office chair like a windshield blade. He gave me the same kind of penetrating stare he gave his kids when he caught them in a lie.
            “Son, let fate take you by the hand or it will drag you by your feet," he quoted an old Italian saying. I knew it was time to come out of hiding. With a catch of breath, I bowed my head and stepped into the void.
            “There is more to it sir, but I think a demonstration is in order,” I said in a slow, precise voice, to his puzzlement. I got up and he followed me out to the garage where the guys were horsing around while washing the muddy vehicles. The captain got their attention and they stopped.
            “Guys, I have an important announcement to make,” I said then hesitated, suddenly questioning my brashness.
            “What is it Boy Scout, you finally get laid?” Kaz chortled. He loved to rib me about my monastic lifestyle. The others laughed until the captain cleared his throat and gave me an encouraging nod.
             I looked around and spotted a heavy steel bar with a hook on the end used to pull down ceilings at a fireground. I held the long bar in my hands and placed it across one of the garages  support columns. I easily bent it in half then let it drop to the floor with a loud clatter.            
            “Damn, I knew you were freakishly strong for a white guy,” Darryl said, breaking the silence with hands nonchalantly shoved in his pockets.
            “There's more.” I glanced at Captain Fabiano then motioned for the guys to follow me to the basketball court behind the station. They stood in a line, relaxed and joking as they wondered what I was going to do next.
            “I trust you guys more than anyone else so I'm going to share a secret I've kept for a long time." 
            “Oh God, don't tell us you're queer.”  Dima, our resident scholar groaned. The others snorted in amusement.
            I ignored the juvenile interruption as I took a deep breath and gazed upward. I jumped to the top of the hoop then up to the roof of the firehouse. I leapt down to the ground falling gently back to my original spot. Before me were eight men with expressions like dead fish. There was a long silence.
            “Okay, you're fucking Superman. So what?”  Phil said, breaking the ice. Everyone nodded except Rueben who hurried inside, a disturbed shadow across his face. That shook me--he was like the older brother I never had and I feared losing his trust more than any other.
            “Don't worry, he'll come around,” Fabiano said, assuring me.
            “Are you alright with this sir?” I asked, wondering if I was demanding too much from these roughhewn men.
            “This is going to take some time getting used to . . .” he said, breaking off as the scope of my revelation sank in. “But if it helps you do your job better, I'm good with it,” he said, slapping me on the shoulder. Apparently, the others were fine with it too, as we walked back into the firehouse. I damn near cried-- I was still one of them. Fabiano pulled me aside while the crew returned to business as usual.
            “Listen, this will eventually have to go up the chain of command, but for now let's keep this among ourselves,” he advised, I nodded vigorously. He glanced down at the bent bar on the floor.
            “Are you going to pay for that?”

Friday, March 27

Fire Fly Chap. 2 Part 1 "Origins of the Hero Myth"

            Fate has a way of laughing at our plans that isn't funny at all. Six months at work went by smoothly as I improved my firefighting skills when Mother called and informed me Dad had a stroke.
            I’d had gotten used to responding to emergencies at light speed but I held my breath as the news sunk in, feeling parlayed.
            I immediately booked a flight even though I don't like airplanes. It feels so unnatural to sit inside a big noisy metal tube hurtling 500 miles an hours at 38,000 feet, but it was the quickest way to get back home.
             I rushed to the hospital imagining the worst. Worried about how to comfort Mom, I frantically searched the waiting room, then spotted her familiar mop of curly brown hair from behind and rushed over to find her knitting calmly. It was her way of dealing with stress.
            “I'm sorry this ruined your upcoming birthday,” she apologized in her usual practical manner. Mother had been raised a Jehovah's Witness so didn't think much of holidays but Dad and I did.
            “Never mind that, how's Dad?”  I asked, forcing her to put the knitting down in her lap.
            The stroke was minor she told me, but sadly, it had ruined his gift of speech. He could talk but it was so painfully slow, he lost interest. Getting him to physical therapy was a trial.
            “Dad, you need this to get better,” I confronted him, but he crossed his arms like an obstinate child and refused to budge from his favorite chair when I tried him get him in the car.
            I recognized his stubbornness, we were different yet so alike.  I looked like a younger version of him minus his tortoise shell glasses; the same square face and dark wavy brown hair.
              The therapy wasn't the problem, it was my presence at home. I took two weeks off from work to help Mom run the hardware store and seriously considered quitting to care for him. I had no regrets about the decision, his health was more important. Dad, however, made it clear my quitting was out of the question.
            “I'll make you a deal,” I said as I knelt down next to him and took his small hand in mine. He tried to pull his hand away but I held it fast. “You go to speech therapy and I'll return to work --deal?” I fixed my gaze on him. He fidgeted in an attempt to say something but gave up in exasperation.
            “Deal. Go now. The world. Use your strength.” He squeezed the words out slowly, I didn't understand his meaning and frowned. He shook his head and repeated himself, his gaze reaching into me for greater comprehension. Then it dawned on me, he knew.
            I discovered my true strength when I was seventeen. My friend Pete and I got a job loading fifty-pound bags of grain from a conveyer belt to a palette for transport. Although average in height and on the lean side, I could keep up with the football jocks working to make some extra money. As we got into a rhythm, a friendly competition developed to see who could load the most sacks. By lunchtime the other guys were sweaty and covered in dust, their hair plastered to their foreheads. I was barely winded.
            “You're pretty strong for a skinny guy, Archer,” one of them commented with a tinge of jealousy. Pete was equally winded as we traded secret grins.
            Pete was privy to my special skills and we laughed about the contest later while getting our daily ice cream cone. We took a shortcut thru Mr. Rivers' property and passed by his tank-sized Edsel parked near the barn, when Pete stopped me with a hand. Looking around he challenged me to lift up the back end of the car. While holding the cone in one hand, I reached down and took hold of the trailer hitch with the other and lifted it until the rear wheels rose off the ground. Satisfied with the results, I gently set it down. We giggled and continued on our way.
            I looked at Dad and knew he was right. I returned to work where I could put my strength to good use and cover it up for I knew the world was not ready for my gift of flight. 
            But apparently people were beginning to notice something odd in the air. It started with the fringe media stories of a flying man. Most of it was bullshit of course, but some of the reports were true. When a blurry photo of me in the air near a forest fire showed up in a tabloid I grounded myself for some time.
            The path to revelation became serious one lazy day off while I sat on the couch eating a second bag of potato chips and read the Sunday paper from cover to cover. There was an interesting article in the magazine section: “From Reality to Myth". At one point the author  touched on the outlandish stories of a flying man:
            One can brush off such stories as imagination run amok like crop circles and
            UFO's, but the stories persist despite attempts to debunk them. Not only do they
             thrive, but they become harder to explain away with each new report.
            Damn, I had to either stop flying altogether or eventually be exposed. I let this idea sink in, and read on.
            It's a modern urban myth that refuses to die because the fanciful is preferable
            as the truth is often simpler and not as flashy.
            A hundred years ago people didn't believe rocks fell out of the sky,
             when they continued to do so, it was seen a sign from God.
            Now we know they're meteorites, a phenomenon stripped of mystery.
            There is a grain of truth in every mythological story. They grow to fantastic
            proportions to fill the human need for inspiration. The flying man myth is just
             another variation. After the dust of confusion settles, what is the truth of such             speculation and where does it leave us?
            The hairs on my arm stood up in attention. I contemplated my abilities in a new light. I looked at the byline--Victoria Ball. I made a note to read more of her stuff and clipped out the article to post on my kitchen corkboard. The more I looked at it, the more tempted I was to meet her. How would she react to the fantastic?
            The debate was buried under work through a long, miserable Winter followed by weeks of cold sogginess.
            “Great, maybe Spring can finally get started,” Darryl groused with palatable relief when the rain stopped just as we jumped into the engine for a run.
             The first floor of a townhouse was engulfed in flames when we arrived and we worked quickly to keep the fire from spreading to the building on one side still under construction.
            Rueben and I checked on a woman sitting on the stoop of a house two doors down. She was put on oxygen to deal with smoke inhalation, while a man was brought over with burns on his hands. Their injuries were minor, it was the rapidly spreading fire that was a concern. The woman pulled off the oxygen mask.
            "Where's Penny?" she asked the older man in a panic.
            " She's not with you?" he accused wide eyed.
            Oh Shit, this was not a good sign. Just as we realized the grandchild was unaccounted for, we heard a shout from the second floor of the burning building.
            A young girl at the window yelled and waved her arms as smoke tried to swallow her.  We scrambled to get the ladder in place, but there was a swamp of mud below the window.
            "The ladder will just sink in that muck," Fabiano railed at the complication. There was little time to deploy the aerial ladder and there was no way to enter the building from the first floor.
             I could easily fly up there, I thought and for a moment I forgot myself, until I remembered the news crew and spectators watching from across the street. I spotted a large piece of canvas covering some heavy construction equipment; I grabbed it and got three more guys to hold onto the corners.
            “You got to be kidding?” said Fisher, not sure this was the time to employ a firefighting cliché.
            "You got a better idea?" I retorted.
            We crowded beneath the window and with her grandmother shouting encouragement, the six-year-old girl climbed onto the windowsill twelve feet above and jumped. Everyone held their breath as her small body hit the canvas and it collapsed slightly from the impact. A moment later she stood up, a bit wobbly, and was quickly smothered in her grandmother's hug.
            I'll be damned--it worked. As I gazed at the cheering crowd I did a double take when I saw Pete among the faces. He stared at me with his typical challenging expression.
            A grinding noise caught my attention, and in the next instant I opened my eyes and realized I was in bed at the firehouse. Phil's high decibel snoring that had awakened me. I sat up slowly and looked around at the shapes of other firefighters sound asleep in the dim light of the dorm.
            How strange and disturbing. Did that really happen? What was Pete doing there? I was wide awake and confused as I contemplated the remarkably vivid dream. I usually don't remember my dreams so I knew this was important. Unable to sleep I rose quietly and went to the day room to make some notes and remember Pete.  

Fire Fly Chap. 2 part 2 "The Origins of the Hero Myth"

           For years I had suffered my uniqueness in silence until the fourth grade. Excited with the first week of school, I was walking home, playing with a super ball. When I bounced it too hard and it ended up in the gutter of a nearby house, I stopped in frustration. I really liked that ball and wanted it back. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, I quickly flew up, grabbed the ball, and landed back on the ground. I heard a screen door slam, and turning back I saw a boy walking quickly towards me.
            “Hey that's a neat trick,” he said as he caught up to me.
            “What trick?” I asked, feigning innocence.
            “How you flew up to get that ball,” he replied, pointing to my pocket.
            I realized no one else could fly after getting a weird look once from a friend when I mentioned it, but the burden of hiding, had grown heavy, even after the careful realization that everyone had a secret to hide. But the desire to confide in someone usually vanished quickly at the thought of being exposed. The boy continued to walk alongside me in silence for two more blocks.
            “It's okay, I won't tell anyone. Superheros have to keep it a secret. Superman and Spiderman do,” he pointed out. I stopped walking and stared at him in a panic.
            “What are you talking about” I said, playing dumb.
            “I'll show you,” he replied, gesturing for me to follow. Curiosity overrode my paranoia.
             We returned to his house--the one with the ball-snatching-gutter--and he showed me into a house overflowing with books, shelves of them everywhere.
            We threaded our way to a room at the back of the house to his bedroom library. I was unfamiliar with the world of comics but he had an extensive collection and an encyclopedic knowledge of the origins, history and powers of each caped and masked superhero. Pete invited me to come by anytime and once again promised to keep my secret.
            Pete Galway was only a year older but was the wisest eleven-year-old I’d ever known. He  was a head taller with a tangled mess of blond hair and freckles that multiplied in the summer sun. His mother taught literature and his dad was an anthropologist. They endowed him with endless fascination for the world; Pete seemed to know everything.            
            As our friendship grew, I was glad to have someone to share my secret and he thrilled to be my spiritual sidekick. Vicariously enjoying the moments when my quick reflexes peeked out as I dodged snowballs in neighborhood battles or won at track meets. Encouraging me to test the limits of my flying and acted as lookout when I snuck off near dawn for quick lessons out in the country, standing guard with a whistle.
             I had no interest in the fantasy world of comics however, I was too grounded in reality to take any of it seriously.
            The only hero I emulated was my Father. He was fair and honest with everyone, teaching me to judge people by their actions and not their appearance. I remember when he came back to the store one day after lunch with a portrait of Martin Luther King tucked under his arm. He hung it on the wall with the photos of Gandhi and John F. Kennedy. The reason for this addition was a crude comment at the local cafe by a Mr. Ivers about a Vietnamese family that had recently moved to town.
            "Son, people may look different on the outside but we are all the same on the inside," Dad informed me gravely. Ivers refused to shop at Dad's store after seeing the new photo.
             I repeated Dad's observation to Pete who considered the remark deeply as he gazed at the sky.
            “It's a start,” he conceded.
             Pete came to realize I had no ambition to be a scientist or engineer like his comic book idols, and took it in stride, but deep down hoped I would change my mind. Over the years he continued his attempts to convince me I was more than an average kid, but I dismissed the idea.
            “You have a gift to share with the world and a personal mythology to realize,” he told me as we walked home from school after his first driving class.
            “You sound like your father,” I retorted, and he smiled at the comparison. The highbrow analysis was a bit much for me but there was no stopping Pete.
            While my parents taught me to always be considerate of others out of simple kindness, Pete taught me the deeper consequences of altruism. I never gave it much thought because it brought on too much brooding, which I was never good at. He handled big ideas with ease, while I squirmed at the need for such lengthy contemplation.
            “A hero is someone who acts out of concern for others. He gives his life to something bigger than himself. Superheroes are the same. They are wiser, using their intellect and reason to solve problems like others, but it's their morals that make them extraordinary. You need to read the classics, dumb ass,” he said, giving my shoulder a playful shove.
            “Yes Herr Professor,” I returned with the right  amount of sarcasm, shoving him back and knocking him off his feet.
            That summer was spent getting lessons from him on the hero business as we sat at the edge of an isolated pond surrounded by a dense wooded park of mature oak and poplars.  Insects flitted over the green water as a current stirred in the slight breeze. It was the ideal place for contemplating the wider world.
            The idea of being a superhero dispensing justice had a certain appeal. God knows I wanted to bash in the faces of the bullies at school, and the evil twins next door could use a good drubbing, but what good would it do? They aren't going to listen to Pete's version of reason either.
            “I can't see myself as some kind of supercop meting out judgement,” I answered to his latest argument.
            “There are other ways to use your special skills, and you don't have to do it alone,” he advised. Here comes the sidekick pitch again, I thought with an inward groan.
            “I know you don't like the structure of working within a unit but it can offer you the kind of discipline beyond individualism,” he went on without missing a beat. I turned and gave him a frown of irritation.
            “Would you please use words a fifteen-year-old can understand,” I pleaded.
            He laughed and explained why I preferred the one on one competition of track compared to the team dynamic of basketball.
I liked making decisions on my own but that wasn't entirely true when I gave it more thought. Sometimes I wished others would make decisions for me. I wanted to do the right thing but it wasn't always clear or easy. I guess that's what Pete was trying to teach me but my stubbornness got in the way.
            Such camaraderie meant revealing my abilities to others and I wasn't ready for that, if ever. Being a loner made it easier to avoid. I got up to stretch out, raising my hands high over my head and my jeans damn near slipped off my narrow hips.
            “Yeah well, I guess I can put these weird tricks to use some day I suppose.” I really wanted to drop the subject.
            “Some day you will be a hero, whether you like it or not and I'll be there to say I told you so.” His loyalty left me speechless. Pete paused and gave me the strangest look.
            “What?” I asked, his stare making me uncomfortable.
            “Nothing.” He shrugged.
            Phil's snoring broke my reverie once more. I went to the bathroom to douse my face and the emotions the memories stirred up. What's the point of having these abilities if I can't use them?  I desperately wished I could talk to Pete.
            I was shattered when he and his father were killed in a car accident when he was barely eighteen. I heard the news while at the school library and stared out the window, seeing his house in the distance looking empty and forlorn in the dull gray light of the snowy landscape.
            I lost my best friend and my childhood in the same moment. It was the first time I had encountered death. Once again, I was alone.