By Brian Wittenbrook
I find dimes. As a super power it’s not much, but it’s what the universe gave me. It started about two and a half years ago after a romantic disappointment. I wandered through my funk, obsessively running dialogues in my mind; I imagined – had they been real – that they would give me closure, or at least a little bitter satisfaction. Perhaps it was that my head was cast downward, making it easier for me to spot shiny objects on the grounds. In any case, I began finding them everywhere, in the street, outside my apartment, in the convenience store parking lot, in my office, at the gym. It was not a fortune – only fifty cents or a dollar a week – but many more than I would expect to find by chance. Perhaps it was my state of mind, frustrated with the injustice of sex and affection, but I sought meaning in the dimes. The universe had put the dimes there for me to find. But what was the symbol? Were the dimes meant as a small gift to let me know I was not forgotten? Or maybe they had a different meaning. Maybe in their trivial value the dimes were a symbol of how little the universe regarded me. If, after all, the universe wanted to reimburse me for my pain, it could do it in larger denominations. Maybe they were the universe’s joke on me.
The dimes continued to come long after the romance faded to insignificance. They came independently of minor ups and downs of my life. If there was a pattern it alluded me. I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Did the universe mean for me to spend the dimes? Or was I meant to save them as some sort of token? Maybe I should pass them on to the next person I saw. Would I be in trouble if I ignored the will of the universe? Perhaps the universe expected some service for its gift. I became stuck on this idea of an exchange. Maybe it meant me to use my power for the good of humanity.
Maybe it was because this was a familiar idea that I could not let it go. Throughout childhood I believed that I was meant to fight for right and to save the world. I don’t think this belief was especially egotistical or grandiose. I think most children imagine themselves as heroes. I only pity the children born well before the age of the atom and ozone depletion for they could not have constructed fantasies as elaborate and far-reaching as mine. I expected big things from my future. Of all the imagined paths to glory (scientist, actor, president, astronaut) the one that most captured my interest was SUPER HERO.
As a child I couldn’t imagine a better job than superhero. It would be exciting. You would have respect. You would get to travel. You would fight villains and save the world. What could better in a job than the opportunity to save the world? You would wake up in the morning knowing what you would do that day. After all if you could save the world, what else could you do that day that could be more interesting or important? You’d go to bed at night satisfied, knowing you’d done a good day’s work. People would buy magazines when they saw me on the cover. They would get little figurines of me to put on their dash for good luck. I have to admit even as an adult finding dimes in the street the idea that the universe wanted me to fight the big battles appealed to me. But as with most things, I’ve found that being a superhero is much less straightforward than I thought it would be in childhood.
For a while I hooked up with another superhero who had the uncanny ability to find good parking spaces under any condition and to could guess who was calling on the phone before picking up the reciever. Together we would drive around in he beat up old Honda looking for good deeds to do. Mostly we found bars and donut shops and the warmth of each other’s skin. Her name was Holly. I told her how I wanted to save the world and be on the covers of magazines and the figurines on people’s dash. She laughed a little, not cruelly, and said something I will never forget. She said you can’t spell “figurine” without “urine.” Holly didn’t take the hero-business as serious as I. Holly believed that the universe worked primarily by sense of humor. I enjoyed a good laugh. It didn’t acted not in good or evil but in it’s own comic logic. The only thing for us to do when struck with strange fortune good or bad was to laugh it off and to remember not to take the world too seriously. She didn’t believe that the universe meant us to do good with our powers. It was our choice. Our powers were a simple caprice of her Clown Gods. Our partnership didn’t last very long.
In the end I failed as a superhero. I hadn’t need a nudge from the universe to oppose evil. I have always opposed evil in all its forms. In fact, I’m doing it right now. I am not sure, however, that I’ve really done much good. I’ve tried to fight the big battles but the big battles were always more complicated than they were meant to be and the final conflicts were never final.
I succeed only in always remembering the one important thing. Most superheroes are only style or bluster fighting only for their own self-importance. The few who actually take decisive action, certain of their innate rightness, are much more dangerous. They fight evil with only lesser evil. They replace the villain’s corrupt or unbalanced priorities with their own priorities, which in turn, go out of balance and eventually become corrupt. Most superheroes forget that there really is only one real point to the battle. The only good is that which can only be measured in the comfort you bring to others. All battles-from protecting free speech to finding a cure for cancer to WWII-can be judged be this standard. There is nothing else to fight for. You cannot for permanence. You cannot fight against death. Only the comfort of another human is worth fighting for even when the battle is not glamorous.
Sadly, even by this standard, I have to admit that I am a failed superhero. Too often I let fear get in the way of touching other. Sometimes it is desire that hold me back or ignorance or ambition or just simple routine. I do fail all the time, but success is the rarity. Distance is the norm.
I decide that if the universe did in fact want me to be a super hero then maybe it was asking too much. What does the universe expect from me? If is really wanted me to be a superhero, it wouldn’t have given me such a shitty super power. It would have given me super strength, or the ability to fly or to read minds. If it really wanted for me to be a super hero it would give me more than a little extra pocket change. What am I supposed to do with that? How am I even supposed to meet my needs on a lousy stipend of fifty cents or a dollar a week? Maybe Holly was right and the Clown Gods were laughing at my foolishness.
But I still find dimes.
I find the dimes and I think maybe it’s not a superpower, but I wonder is meant by them.
It’s not a satisfying end. I wasn’t strong enough or maybe I expected too much. All that’s left for me to do is to write it again, and get it better this time. I’ll write a new story. I’ll reinvent myself again and form a new universe around me. The new universe will be much the same as before only this time I think that I will try to get along better than the clown and I will spend their dimes with more ease. I will try harder.
Copyright 1999 – Brian Wittenbrook