A Lighter Note
MAN NOT SUPERMAN
All the things old girlfriends had found gross about me, Lois Lane found charming
BY JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN
She missed normal men. Lois wanted someone normal. That’s how I won over a class act like Lois Lane — it was the fact that I was a mere mortal.
She had had her fill of the night rides over Metropolis on Superman’s back. She had done the demystifying “I’m-letting-you-get-to-know-the-real-me” trips to the Fortress of Solitude. He had even taken her to Niagara Falls to see the statues made of wax that honored him there, and because she insisted, they took the train. That drove him crazy. At one point, as the conductor punched his ticket, he turned to Lois and said, “Do you have any idea how ridiculous this is for me?” And then he laughed. He laughed because he loved her. Despite all of this, she had still decided to leave him.
I first met Lois at a charity penny arcade event. At one point in the evening, as I stood hunched over a pinball machine, I looked over to my side, and there was Lois Lane just standing there, watching me. The left flipper wasn’t working, so I tried to keep the ball on the right, but when it came down the left, we yelled like a couple of kids rolling down the side of a mountain together. >>
“I’ve always wanted to reach in there and hold the silver ball in my hand,” I said.
“I never thought of it that way,” said Lois, and five minutes later she was ripping open an empty pack of Clorets and writing her number down on the white inside.
Lois was the kind of woman I had always dreamed of. Even her name — so cool and crisp — Lois Lane. It pierced my ear like an arrow. Lois was the kind of woman who made you feel like “I am a man who dates Lois Lane,” and as simple as that sounds, it is the best way I can describe it.
When I was a child, she was the girl who brought Oreos for lunch, the one who during recess held me cruelly aloft on the seesaw as I squirmed and begged to be let down. In high school, she was the popular girl who wanted nothing to do with me, who saw me as nothing more than a bad aftertaste — like the kind you get when you almost vomit, and can taste the vomit, but don’t actually vomit. In college, Lois was the bored coquette, languidly offering me her leg in the cafeteria, saying, “Feel how strong my calf muscles are.” Lois was all of these, but then, at the moment she handed me her phone number, she became something else entirely. She became a woman who had chosen me.
At first I was a novelty. In the beginning, Lois would kiss my forehead and tell me she loved how squishy my arms were.
“In a good way,” she’d say. “They’re so easy to fall asleep on.”
In front of Lois, I wasn’t embarrassed by my softness. In fact, all the things my old girlfriends had found unattractive and gross about me, she found charming.
Once, I even gave my nipples eyelashes and smeared lipstick around my belly button. Lois swooned as I made my fat gut sing her sweet songs of love.
I liked making Lois laugh. One evening I even purchased a jar of olives simply because one of them, pressed up against the glass, looked like an old man’s head, with a little skewed stroke-mouth full of pimento. I gave it a voice. I made it say things like “Get me out of here,” and “My ass is asleep,” and Lois appeared to find this delightful.
Although they were broken up, Lois and Superman decided to remain friends, and since they traveled in the same circles, I knew it would be only a matter of time before Superman and I met, and I knew that when we did, by any possible system of measurement, he would destroy me.
But in what way, I wondered. I mean, what could he do to me? Squeeze my hand really hard when we said hello? No: he could out-fight me, out-think me, out-run me, out-fly me — he could reverse time, for Christ’s sake!
Lois told me that I should expect a call from Superman. She said he was really anxious to meet me, and several weeks into our relationship, I got the call. When I answered the phone, I felt my chest tighten.
“I’d like to keep Lois in my life,” he said, “and I guess that means we should get to know each other. I don’t want to make this into a big deal or anything, but Lois tells me you’re sort of between jobs right now, and I could use a sidekick. I’m trying to change my image a little. I don’t want to come off as such a lone wolf anymore. It would be part-time, and I could teach you a thing or two.”
“Look, don’t get me wrong,” I said. “You do great things. Wonderful things ….”
“Silence,” he said, but he didn’t say it in the way you’d think, all capital letters; he said it quietly, sadly almost. “Silence. Just think about it.”
When I saw Lois that night for dinner, she had already spoken to Superman, and she was going on about my sidekick-ship like it was already a done deal.
“It’s just what you need to get back into the workforce,” she said, and she looked so pleased. Before I knew it, we were drinking glass after glass of red wine, and I was agreeing that it might be a good idea. Lois is just so beautiful when he’s pleased.
The next morning, I met Superman for lunch, and before I could sit down in the booth, he handed me a rumpled paper bag.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Your new outfit,” he said.
He shooed me off to the bathroom, and in the toilet stall I changed into what was essentially a skintight black unitard. There was no cape. The whole thing succeeded in making me look both skinny-legged and rotund around the middle. Across the chest, in small Courier font, was the word Stuart.
I pointed at the name questioningly as I walked back to the table.
“It’s your sidekick name,” Superman said. “And you’re not supposed to wear your uniform with underwear.”
I spent most of my time wearing my Stuart outfit in Superman’s apartment, ironing his costume, fielding calls from the press, and popping boils on his back with a nail and an atlas. In between, Superman had me doing nonstop sit-ups. He called my gut “a crime against humanity.” His favorite joke was to put his hand on my stomach and ask, “How many months?”
But he wasn’t perfect, either. Up close Superman stank of Brylcreem, and when he was being all solemn, he would use words like shall and vex. He was also really full of himself. At one point he even told me I should use the word super sparingly. He said its use was only appropriate when describing works of God or Superman’s own feats and properties.
Through all of his talk, I would try to maintain eye contact with him, and as I did, I would think to myself, “I have seen Lois in her underwear, and tonight, when I go home, I might see her in her underwear some more.”
I wouldn’t put it past the bastard to read minds.
As horrible as it all got, in the evening there was Lois, and she seemed so proud of me. Still, Superman was a constant, unspoken presence between us. I always knew he was out there, feeling better than me. And when I looked at Lois sometimes, I knew she knew I was thinking it, and I guess it made her want to think about it a little herself.
It all came to a head one Thursday night. There was this Thursday-night tradition where all the superheroes got together for beer and chicken wings, and on this particular evening, Lois was going to join us. The superheroes sat together at one table, capes all undone, laughing and slapping each other on the back, while the sidekicks sat at another table, commiserating and trash talking.
I looked around my table. There was the angry-looking hunchback the Green Lantern worked with, and Wonder Woman had brought along a sad-eyed, mousy college-aged girl who sketched on napkins all night. The Flash had taken on this grizzled old sack of bones whom he called Benjamin and who smelled of cabbage and urine. Superman told me Benjamin was the Flash’s father, and he needed some looking after. The Flash mainly left him in the car.
And then, of course, there was Batman’s sidekick, Robin. Robin told me that the Caped Crusader was such a control freak he had continued to bathe Robin well into his late teens.
“I can scrub my own ass,” Robin would yell, but Batman was so strong. When he put his hand on Robin’s shoulder, Robin wasn’t going anyplace.
I looked over at Superman chatting with Batman, the best of buddies, and I imagined what their conversation was like on the night they had heard about me and Lois.
It was as I sat there, imagining the two of them laughing at me, their massive upper torsos jerking in an impossibly manly manner, that I saw Lois walk in. Superman caught her eye, and she made a beeline for him. Instinctively, I rose from my seat. Superman turned to me, and our eyes locked.
Much has been written about Superman, but there is an aspect of him that is very difficult to describe. There is a certain feeling one gets when looking into his eyes, and of all the articles I have read, there isn’t one that touches on it. It’s inhuman and hypnotic, but it’s not just that. Being looked at by Superman makes you feel more there than even a dozen TV cameras. And it’s not simply that you’re there, but that you’re there swaddled in fur coats while sipping warm cider. It’s comfy and cozy, and I cannot explain it well enough.
When she kissed Superman’s cheek hello, I got up and walked out of the bar. Because I was in my Stuart outfit, I didn’t even have pockets to dig my fists into.
Some time after one in the morning, Lois showed up at my place full of apologies. She said she had gone over to sit with me, but that I had already left. She had spent the whole night talking with Superman. She said that he was really depressed.
“I’ve never seen him like this. I’m actually a bit worried,” she said. “He’s obsessed with the emptiness of the universe. He said that after we broke up, he went looking for God — literally looking for God, zipping across the universe — and he came up with nothing.”
I wasn’t in the mood for a big Superman-is-a-man-of-constant-sorrow routine, but she was clearly on a roll, and I didn’t have the heart to stop her.
“I never realized how obsessive he can be. He told me there was once a certain way I flipped my hair that so beguiled him he spun around the earth reversing the moment 75,000 times. I never knew that.”
I felt myself grow queasy.
“He’s just so intense,” she continued, “and this planet can be so cold. Did you know that on Krypton, when two people fell in love, they became inseparable? They even had special clothes they wore together, and they learned to move together in unison. He said that on Earth these kinds of garments have names like Fundies and are sold only in the pages of pornographic magazines. He said Earth is a sick, sick place.”
My fear wasn’t that Lois would get back together with Superman — because by this point I knew it was only a matter of time before she would — but that she would describe the summer we spent together as the most miserable, depressing, and disgusting time of her life. I already knew how it would infuriate him. I could hear him making his stupid jock jokes with her: “You don’t need super-vision to see through that sap,” he would say.
After she left my apartment, I decided to take a walk to clear my head. I did so while cursing Superman until there were tears in my eyes. I had walked only a couple of blocks when I ran into Clark Kent.
I had been introduced to Clark at a couple of Lois’s soirees and, although I hardly knew him, he was someone I really liked. He possessed what I felt — from my citified point of view — was genuine small-town warmth, and I just enjoyed being around it.
He told me I looked terribly sad. Terribly sad. People didn’t say stuff like that anymore. Having him call me terribly sad instead of depressed or bummed made me start to feel a little bit better. He asked me if I wanted to grab a beer, and I said sure.
I told Clark all about the evening, and he listened to me. That was all I really needed just then: to be listened to.
“How do you know she’ll go running back to Superman?” asked Clark.
“You should hear her talk,” I said. “‘Do you have any idea how much Superman can bench press? Superman once went back in time and beat up Hitler.’ I mean, who can compete with that?”
Clark started laughing so hard that people at the other tables turned around to look at us. I was on a roll. With his laughter egging me on, I told him all the things that over the last few weeks I wished I had said to Superman.
“You’re such a phony,” I said. “You have this idea of what it means to be human, but it’s a parody. Humans feel pain, and you don’t understand what pain is. You may be super, but you are certainly not a man.”
Clark thought that was just perfect. He put his arm around my neck and rocked me back and forth as we both laughed. &
Being smart is knowing the difference, in a sticky situation between a well delivered anecdote and a well delivered antidote - bear.