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My Brush With Super Heroism

06/30/2011 12:41 pm 12:41:58 | Updated Aug 30, 2011

Sorry -- the Green Lantern movie isn't on my "go see" list, now or ever. Not trying to imply that GL is lame or dorky, but that ring just never impressed me very much. Let's get real here: if you're going to imagine yourself having amazing powers you've got to think in bigger terms than some power-enhanced finger jewelry. And thinking big is what I did at a very early age.

There was a brief moment in my life when I honestly, truly thought I could be Superman. No lie. It happened in nursery school, circa. 1958, and like many young Americans of that era I was filled with self-confidence and believed in a future of unlimited possibilities.

I'm also part of the first generation that grew up watching TV, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing George Reeves portray the Man of Steel on the small screen. For me, the TV set seemed like a miracle device, and this sense of awe led me to assume that all things portrayed on television must be real, including Superman.

One of my most prized possessions was a t-shirt with Superman's impressive red 'S' on the front. I have no idea where it came from. It was simply there, in my wardrobe, and wearing it made me feel special and, I'm not embarrassed to say it -- POWERFUL. Sometimes I enhanced the feeling by using a red towel as a cape.

One advantage of being small is that Superman's flying technique can be easily imitated by placing one's self on a small stool or foot rest and extending arms and legs straight out. Later in life this activity can be difficult unless you're in training to become a cast member of Cirque du Soleil, but at age five it's a breeze.

An aspect of Superman's life that fascinated me right from the start was the notion of a person having two different identities. On the TV show, George Reeves made no attempt to alter his voice so Superman would sound different from Clark Kent. Clark's black horn-rim glasses were the only element of disguise, yet they were enough to fool Lois Lane, Perry White, and all his other co-workers at The Daily Planet.

I could translate this concept of dual personas into my own life because of nursery school. It took me away from my private home setting and opened a doorway into the outside world. One boy and two venues of operation. Superman and I had something in common. It was like pieces of a big puzzle slowly fitting together.

Reality reared its ugly head on a day when one of my peers in the neighborhood disputed my contention that everything on TV was real. Shaken, I went to the person who I knew would possess the knowledge required to settle such an important matter. This person was, of course, my mom, and she immediately confirmed what the other kid had told me. Some things on TV were NOT real and Superman was part of the fictional programming schedule.

I took the news calmly, but I didn't fully accept it. If the crime-fighting visitor from Krypton wasn't real, something had to be done to change the situation. In my rapidly developing mind, it didn't take long to arrive at the obvious solution: I would have to become Superman.

Or rather, I'd have to convince people I was the S-man. The super powers were going to be a problem but I didn't see that issue as an immediate stumbling block. The main thing was to get the notion of Superman being real and me being him out into general circulation, and I knew exactly how to start.

It was all done covertly, of course. No one in my family could know what I was doing ahead of time. In retrospect, I'm amazed that I was displaying such decisive executive skills right out of the starting blocks.

One morning I carefully donned my Superman garment, concealed it with a long-sleeve button-front shirt, and headed to campus filled with confident anticipation.

Just to be on the safe side, I decided to start my publicity campaign slowly and then, if things went well, ride the momentum. And this is the part that I remember vividly, as if it happened yesterday. Opportunity knocked at recess time, when all the kids went outside and I found myself in a corner of the play area staring at a girl who had climbed the jungle gym.

She was sitting alone at the top, and I approached to within about six feet so I was looking up at her. I didn't know her name and I don't think I had ever spoken to her before. But at this moment I acted without hesitation and said, "Superman is real."

She didn't hesitate either. "No he isn't," she said. There was no derision in her voice. Her tone was matter-of-fact. So I took the next step and un-buttoned my shirt, pulled the two sides apart to reveal the big 'S' underneath, and said, "I am Superman."

"No you're not," she replied.

There was a pause, and then I turned and began buttoning my shirt as I walked away. I never said another word to anyone about my super plan. Nobody else at school ever mentioned it, so I assume the girl didn't consider our close encounter important enough to discuss with her pals.

I, however, learned two important lessons that day. Number one is to go ahead and aim for the sky when you're setting personal goals. Number two is that if you want an honest, unvarnished opinion about an idea, and you aren't afraid to have it come crashing back to Earth, run it past a woman first.

The fact that I didn't sulk about my inability to become Superman is probably evidence that I wasn't seriously committed to the notion in the first place. Sometimes I wonder what I would have done if that girl had said, "Prove it!"

But she didn't, and I was saved from major humiliation. Superman would have appreciated the moment. He knows what it's like to dodge a speeding bullet.