Saturday, April 30, 2011

Boy Wonder (3 of 5): Two Face

Van Halen, covering a classic. Robin costume: boots, tunic, cape, gloves, and mask. Eddie Van Halen lets it rip and I'm stretching, crouching, punching the air. Mouthing along to the mirror, watching Robin mouth back, "You got me so I don't know what I'm doin'." My arms are huge, rested, ready. My air guitar is great. I wish Lori could see this, but then again, probably not. I face the mirror like a gunfighter. Robin and Robin. "I only want to be by your side." Punches. I'm very ready. Lori, wow, long blonde hair, gorgeous. "You really got me. You really got me. You really got me. Oh, yeahhhh." I'm out the door, in Wayne Manor's crazy wealthy hallway, walking past Impressionist masterpieces, and still nobody can see me, punching the air out, "You really got me. You really got me." The hard rock behind me getting thin and quiet as I walk.

I walk through a big clock and down the stairs into the cave. Bruce is all suited up. He's Batman. Holy cow. He's tinkering with some tiny video camera. My heart is loud enough to hear. He's not going to look up. "Dick," he says.

"Deeck? Who ees… theese… Deeck? I am Bonaparte." I roll my neck through a stretch, and kung fu punch the air several times. He's not even looking. Oh, well, that was for me. "Robin," he says, still not looking. Hey, that was funny.

For my benefit, Batman spreads out the blueprint of the building. Batman's all black, of the night. He points out how we'll enter from the roof and where Dent's gang is going to be.

Alfred brings us drinks and I tease, "Ah, Alfred?" I point to the table. "Tic Tacs." Alfred smiles, but this time Bruce doesn't. Bruce isn't even here. I pick up Batman's mood, real quick, right now. Tactics. He goes over our route and what will happen. Twice. Then I repeat it back to him twice. Then he says it two more times and ends with, "There will be no deviating from this." Couldn't Two Face's gang make us deviate from the plan? I don't ask. It became night outside because Batman wanted it to become night. I keep that thought to myself.

I wish there were music in the car, but there isn't, so there must be a good reason why not.

The doors of the car slam shut, sounding expensive and perfect. We're standing in a dark alley and it's history just that we're standing here, but no one is here to see. Batman and Robin. I catch myself staring at the car, Batman's car. We'll climb the closer building, go across its roof, and then enter Dent's building from its roof and move down. Dent's headquarters, Batman calls "The Target." The building we climb before going to The Target is called The Stage. That's Batman's language. This kind of thing is obvious to Batman. He's been doing it for years and he always wins. My hands are sweating inside the gloves as we climb The Stage. My feet are sweating. If I had a mustache, it would be sweaty. I'm actually really good at climbing buildings. But this is combat, action, live performance. I'm a superhero, or I will be in about one minute. I've seen the best gymnasts in the world, but the way Batman glides from the rope to his feet is a symphony. He's better at this than I am. Even this.

On The Stage's roof, we share eye contact before he turns and takes a few steps forward. He pauses to turns back and spin his index finger in a circle. That's a hand sign that means "Stay sharp." Then he moves like lightning, smooth like a walk, but fast like a run. He looks huge, bigger than ever, and supernaturally smooth, like a mountain on ice skates. I can't keep up. I want him to stop and take it easy, but he speeds up and jumps through the air, landing on The Target. I'm already in the air behind him when he lands noiselessly. And that moment in the air is the greatest moment in my life, and in the history of Gotham City. They should put a plaque here. "On this spot, Batman and Robin first went into action. May 6, blah blah blah." One day, when I have Bruce's money, I'll buy this building so that they can never tear it down. I land and make a little noise. I rise into my walk and he's already picked the lock to the staircase, way faster than could possibly make sense. Maybe I misunderstood the plan. Maybe he came here earlier so that it was already picked. Even he couldn't be that fast. His fingertip repeats, "Stay sharp," and he disappears inside. I go in next. Batman and Robin.

Walking down a dark hallway is the new greatest moment of my life. Somewhere ahead in the black is Batman. We could run into anyone, anybody, and win the fight. He'd win the fight, so we'd win the fight. Two Face's gang, a lion, the Russian Army, anybody. He'd win. At this moment, I am the safest person in the world: Robin, following Batman. I think about all of the things that we do in training, all of the things that he's perfect at, and in this darkness I smile thinking about what's about to happen. To them. Crooks. I don't care if it ever ends, this walk in the shadows. Because he's there, leading me through the darkness.

Then he's out in the light, and then I am, up a level above Dent and his henchmen. They could see us, but they don't look up. We make no noise – even I don't. Batman makes bullhorns of one hand to point to my mark. I have the noisemaker in my hand and hope that I don't mess up. My heart is going wild, and so is time. I imagine I can see myself, and I think I probably look cool. Blazer to superhero. Dress-up. Don't mess up.

This level is a catwalk over the floor below, where Dent and three tough guys are standing, talking. I'm right in the open, near the rail, looking at them. They would have to notice me pretty soon, except that the plan is about to happen to them. Batman runs around to the right, going into motion that won't stop until these guys are on the floor. He jumps the railing, which would be crazy if absolutely anybody else were doing it. I squeeze the noisemaker, which makes one loud metallic pop, and my job is done. Dent looks right up at me, the world's new number one smart-aleck. I'm smiling in my superhero costume while Batman is grabbing the steel pole, ten feet into a sixteen-foot drop, swinging by his left arm, at crazy velocity through a one-eighty in the air, right into the two guys who were just starting to look at me. And in zero time, those two are done. I have no idea what Batman did to them. He only has two hands; I guess he used both of them. Those guys are falling. Batman turns to make two fencing lunges at the third guy, then lets loose a big left hook. Three down. I want to enjoy this but it's happening way too fast. I wish Dent would look up to see me still smiling at his half-ugly face.

It's almost scary how much time Dent has to reach for his sidearm. If it weren't Batman, Dent would get the shot off. Batman walks just slowly enough to make it seem like Dent will get the shot off, but of course, Dent doesn't get the shot off. "Harvey…" Batman says with fake tenderness, like they're old friends, which they are, and then a right hook slams Dent, and that makes four.

Batman said there would be five, and I start to think that he was wrong when Batman cocks his head and hears the fifth guy who is just now walking in, below where I'm standing. The fifth guy is now one-on-one with Batman, which is neither smart of him nor lucky for him. This is the first time in the fight that I see Batman's face, the first time I see that evil demon scowl anywhere outside of a nightmare. It's one of a zillion things that Batman knows how to do to make his unfair advantage unfairer. The fifth guy has to know that he has no chance before he absorbs two punches to the face. So that was five. Gotham City has a lot of problems, but Batman winning fist-fights is not one of them.

Batman's the only one left awake downstairs now. He cocks his head again, and listens, and when he knows that there's no sixth man, he looks up at me and surprises me by grinning, a big stupid kid grin. That was Bruce, Bruce is here now, but I didn't know that he had that in him. The only surprise of the, oh, ten seconds that it took us (him, us, him) to defeat the Dent gang. It'd be pretty cool if Lori could have seen how I did that, how I clicked that noisemaker. Dress up, no mess up.

I jump the railing and land on my feet. Batman is showing me how to collect evidence when the police show up to take Dent's people away. Batman talks and the cops listen. I figure someone will ask Batman who I am, but people don't ask him obvious-seeming questions. Batman doesn't say the word "Robin." He refers to us as "we", then "we" jog up the stairs and disappear back into the dark hallway. His fingertip says "Stay sharp." Why?

On the roof of The Stage, we debrief.

"Robin. Who was the most dangerous person in the room?"
"Who else?"
He laughs. This is the best life anyone could possibly have. The answer is Dent, because he wasn't scared, because Dent's warped. But the important thing is that I said "Me" and Bruce laughed. And at no point did I mess up.

"Batman. Was that five nines?"
"Fifty nines."
"They had no chance?"
"No chance."
"What's the most guys you've ever beaten up at once?"
"Eighteen." Not bragging, it's just got to be true.
"Was that five nines?"
I thought everything that he did had to be five nines. I don't understand, but his tone cut it off. There must be something better for us to do with the rest of the night. Batman will lead me to it.

We rope down The Stage back to Batman's car, and when he's on the rope, I feel what nagged at me before, how it stings that Batman has replaced dad and how I enjoy that he's invincible. He's not going to die from this rope breaking, or from five guys with guns. Or from eighteen guys with guns. He's as big as Mount Everest and moves like a panther and paints Renaissance masterpieces with his left hand while defusing nuclear bombs with his right hand and solves riddles in his mind. He's everything that would have saved dad's life, mom's and dad's. And I'm so proud of Bruce's invincibility that it hurts that dad wasn't what he is. It hurts that I have to think about this. But that's not Bruce's fault, and it wasn't dad's fault. Now I'm on Bruce's rope, following him up, down, anywhere.

His feet hit the alley, and then mine do. Batman sits in the driver's seat again, reads something on the computer and says gravely, like we're in immediate danger, "Robin. Get in the car." He's actually upset. Something is more important than Dent. I'm in the car, which peels out and turns, pinning me against the door before I can get the seatbelt on. Batman's an extremely dangerous driver. Or maybe a really good one.

Boy Wonder, Part 4: The Second Girl

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Boy Wonder (2 of 5): The First Girl

Under the school blazer, my arms and chest are buff, but rubbery. I face the mirror square on, then turn to each side a little. The school uniform. The one that says money. The one I'll wear tonight says – what? Crazy?

Alfred tells me that I'm impeccably groomed. I'm sure he'd have a nice way of saying it if I weren't. Walking reminds me that under the khakis I'm just as rubbery. My lungs are hot, too. This is how it feels to start to become Batman. So as Alfred drives me to school, I ask like I usually do, about him, about how he did what I was doing when he was my age. But he did it alone. He didn't have a Bruce to teach and lord over him, just the idea of Batman that he discovered like Lowell discovered Pluto. It was always out there in the dark, and he found it, and now I'll be the second one, eventually. Alfred must think I'm obsessed with Bruce, but of course I am; his dreams own me. He let me go with him to haul in Zucco. I wore the cape and mask then, but I was untrained, and I did nothing but watch. I'm afraid to ask Alfred about why, it seems too frank, an open secret.

Bruce had me go with him to see my parents' killer brought to justice. Alfred nods. But it was for him, wasn't it? Not me. It was what he wanted to do, but never got to, not as a boy, because when he was a boy, Batman was just an idea, not fists. Alfred asks if I'm studying psychology at school, which ends the discussion. And there's enough to think about just breathing and feeling that burn, and the six subjects I study at St. Mark's and the fifty I study with Bruce.

My right arm's so tired that I want to shift the bookbag to my left shoulder, but it's just as tired. The books are so heavy. When the school year started, Bruce thumbed through each of the books, looked like he was making a careful decision, then said, every time, "This is important." I can't imagine what he wouldn't say is important. So everything must be important.

Mr. Newman talks about trigonometry, and I realize that nobody, not even Wainwright, cares about it as much as I do. This is one of Bruce's subjects, angles of coming at someone in a fight. Bruce does the math, he preaches it like it's religion, and he adds in the subject matter of the limits of human perception and action. If you swing in on a rope (ro-ro-rope) fast enough, at the right angle, a guy with a drawn gun cannot humanly shoot you before you kick him in the face. And isn't that a little better motivation than knowing how much roofing material you'll need for a roof that Mr. Newman invented on the whiteboard? But this is still time to use to my advantage, to make sure that I know what sine and cosine mean. To really, really know. I'll take your tests, Mr. Newman. You can pass or fail me. I just don't want to see disappointment in Bruce's eyes. Not ever. Wainwright, you're not going to beat me in this course. You only love math. I know about five nines, Bruce's rule that in every risky situation, the probability of coming out OK has to be 99.999%. Then he can do his thing for 10,001 nights and still make it – probably – to old age. He can tell you in every situation what the probability is and whether or not a risk is warranted. So what's motivating you, Wainwright?

Gym, ridiculous that I have gym. I move like a sloth, I'm so dead. It has to be part of his plan, that I'm so tired that no one will suspect that I'm Robin, once Robin is famous. On a windsprint, I fall down, and there's a little blood in my mouth, and Coach Miller thinks I'm a klutz. Love the hard part. I can't shoot a basketball, either. Everyone notices. Love that. Love running stairs. Love it!

It's a chem class for the ages. Miss Larsen announces her plan to place one splint of wood in air and one in a beaker of pure oxygen, and she's got sixteen boys' undivided attention. Bender chants, "Fire, fire, fire!" It is pretty great. For someone who doesn't see the things I see with Bruce. Even I want a good view, so I'm standing on my desk, then Bromley's desk up front. She lights the one in air, for no purpose that any of us care about. It's called a control. We're standing on desks, cheering. Which one of us looks like he wants control? Then the one she pokes back into the oxygen and hey, now! It almost explodes. It looks like the sun. The other guys riot. I can't stop staring at it. And then there's not much wood left and we harmonize on a long "Noooo!" She tells us to sit down and then talks about atoms and how the splint in air is still burning, but nobody's listening except me when I realize that Bruce is the splint in pure oxygen and that his beautiful amazing life is going to burn him out too fast. Maybe the five nines will save him. And if not, what would he do? Stop being Batman and live a long life in the ordinary air with all the other billionaires?

Lunch. When nobody's talking, I think about Bruce. Is he awake yet? Is he planning my training? Is he looking at fingerprints? From the girl's grave, maybe?

I meet with my advisor, Roberts, in his classroom. He talks about my grades, which are great, and my goals, which are made-up. I always figured I'd be a poor circus performer or that I'd leave to be a sell-out. So I could be a doctor or something to keep myself busy, but actually, Mister Roberts, I'm going to be Batman when I grow up, and the whole program here is nothing compared to what I do weekends, mornings, and evenings. And, oh, yeah, we have enough money to eat. I just tell him I want to get into a good college. He says nice things about my progress. He couldn't handle two minutes in Bruce's program. Heart of gold, though.

I'm staring out the window while Ms. Keller talks about William Blake, and I imagine Bruce writing essays about poetry. It seems so unlike him, but obviously, he'd be great at it. Tyger, tyger, burning bright, in pure oxygen you're going to die some night. He has to. I look at the green leaves outside, green like the Robin gloves. Does Ms. Keller have anything at all to teach Bruce? Did William Blake? We're doing something nuts, aren't we? I'd like to see Bruce's essay on Tyger, Tyger.

Alfred will pick me up at 3:40. He knows that that I actually get out at 3:20, but he insisted. This is the one slice of the day that's not planned. It's a gift from Alfred to me. Anybody doing a sport, debate club, the yearbook, the school paper, or the spring musical is already busy. I don’t do any of those things. I sit on the steps and talk with the nicest guys, kids who are just squeaking by. Chester's talking about how he hates it when his parents fight and then compete for his approval and how messed up it is, and I agree, obviously, but I'm looking at the girl and not really paying attention. And I feel bad for walking out on Chester but I say that I'm going to go talk to her, and he endures the rejection.

I notice that I'm not actually nervous as I walk right towards her. I have way too much in my life to be nervous about to let a girl shake me up. Her name is Lori, and she goes to St. Mary's, and her mother is late. I hope her mother ends up later, at least 3:41, but I don't say that. I could tell Lori all kinds of things about her that I can deduce from cat hairs and so on, but that would be creepy, wouldn't it? She reminds me that there'll be a St. Mark's – St. Mary's dance tonight and asks if I'll be there, and I tell her I won't, and I feel the cost in every part of my fine form under the blazer and khakis. It is sad, isn't it? She asks how old I am. Fifteen today. She's nice. Alfred pulls up, and I wish he'd drive past but the gift is twenty minutes, not twenty-one. I look at Lori again and really enjoy it, and she says, "Happy birthday, Dick Grayson!" I tell her that I hope that she doesn't go to the dance and she says, "Maybe I won't." Then I love the hard part and get into the car.

Alfred says "Special night tonight." I tell him about the pure oxygen and he frowns. I spend the rest of the drive watching green leaves like Robin gloves going by.

In my room, there's this insane new bed. The simple but functional bed is gone and there's this museum piece, dark wood carved into flowers and vines, looks old. On my dresser there's a card that describes the bed, designed and crafted in 1804, six artisans, wood from the Vosges region. Florence this and Malta that. The card is like a history lesson. The bed is like something out of mythology. The card is printed in some crazy expensive way, lavender and lilac, gold lettering. The card alone must have cost more than the whole circus where I grew up. At the bottom, it's signed over the fancy printing, "Happy Birthday! –Bruce!" What kind of a bed deserves a card like this? It's mine now.

This is my bed. It used to belong to Napoleon.

Boy Wonder, Part 3: Two Face

Monday, April 4, 2011

Boy Wonder (1 of 5): The Workout

"Two." Sharp breath. "Hunned." Elbows on knees. Hands on head. Ribs ache.
"Four hundred and eighty-seven," he answers slowly, showing every breathless syllable. We both know that this means that for the first time, I finished before he reached five hundred. And I have no idea how he can count my sit-ups and his at the same time. He's already on his feet walking towards the outdoor rope structure. His yard is so big that guests don't even get over here to ask why he has it. I get on my feet, thinking again how impossible this is. I'll never be Batman. Without looking back he says, "Good job." He's a silhouette walking through the night. I catch up.

"The ropes. Your thing. As a gymnast. Are you glad that the sit-ups are done, and now we're going to do the ropes, the thing you're best at?"

"Most definitely."

"Don't think that way. Love the part you're worst at." I'm the worst at all of this, Bruce.

"If you dread the hard parts, it eats your will. It forces you to make the decision a hundred times a day. That's too hard. You just make the decision once. The rest flows like water."

"Born again," I say. "Hallelujah. Wash me in the water."

"You're ready for the ropes."

"Well, you know," I breathe, still catching up on oxygen, "my dad always used to say, 'If you don't know the…'"

Bruce vanishes behind Niagara Falls. My legs start to give out. What the hell is happening? I was going to say "ropes" but I didn't, and I can't breathe. Did I say "ro"? Why can't I breathe? It's the spasming breaths that help me figure it out, that I'm sobbing, and that Bruce is holding me. No, the ropes aren't the easy part at all. The ropes are where my mom and my dad were when some rattlesnake of a mobster cut the ropes and I saw them hit. I heard it. And I'm still asking why as sobs and snot wet the bicep of Bruce's expensive workout top. He's got me but Mom and Dad are gone, still, forever, and he knows what I'm thinking, like he knows everything and owns everything and he says the right thing over and over again. And for a minute I just know he's talking, so I wait for the crying to stop and while I'm waiting I listen and hear him say, "You can't bring back the dead." Is that really the right thing to say to me? It must be, or he wouldn't be saying it. It must be, because I do great in the rope workout and when I'm running the last lap of the 3200, Bruce already cooling down, having run nine-something, I'm loving that this is the really hard part, worse than the sit-ups. I'm kicking ass at all of this, and one day I'll be Batman.

We cool down, then we walk. During both, he talks and I listen. He tells me things that would ruin anyone's day. A liquor store robbery that put the clerk into the hospital. Bruce got the crook. That wasn't so bad. A car thief. Bruce got him, too. Not bad at all. Searching the shallow grave where a child molester buried one of his victims; that was just brutal. He's just giving too many details about the girl in the grave, and it's too sad. Bruce's rules in my head tell me what to feel. "You can't bring back the dead." "Love the hard part."

The sun's coming up. Even in my expensive workout top, I'm freezing out here at the table, but I know that Bruce would say it's exhilarating, and he's always right, and I never complain. We play the face game. Bruce flashes a photo at me, then snaps it out of sight, and I have to describe it. It's not even a half second. Thick neck, short hair.

"We did this guy already."
"I don't know."
"Like two weeks ago."
"Morning or afternoon?"
"Afternoon, because I could see it better. It was light."
"It was a Sunday, because I didn't have school, and we ran in boots."
"So what was the Sunday two weeks ago?"
"The sixteenth."
"So you did know. You just didn't know that you knew. Now tell me about him."

I notice two things about the guy that I didn't notice before, then Bruce tells me six things that I didn't notice either time.

I'm so hungry. Bruce goes into every last detail about how he tracked and subdued the two crooks. He has photos and video as visual aids.This section of the morning is called "tactics." Alfred brings a tray with breakfast. He'd sooner die than say something to interrupt Bruce. I announce with fake annoyance, "We're studying Tic Tacs." Then as fast as I can, I look at their eyes. Bruce smiled. He smiled! That's the best part of the morning. So I hate it. I love the hard part. I want to marry the hard part.

I'm too late to catch Alfred's reaction. Another failure.

We part where we met up, in the hall outside my bedroom. At 5 a.m., I felt guilty, as usual, because he was coming off a night's patrol, and I was coming off a night's sleep. I was fresh and rested. Now my arms are heavy and my side aches. I know too much about the murder of a girl my age. My throat hurts from crying. Bruce beats me at everything. I still feel guilty, but a different kind of guilty.

"Dick. You did great. Have a good day." His hand weighs more than a steak.

I'll go to school. The redhead will give Bruce a professional massage and then he'll go to sleep.

Tonight will be the first night. Out there, with him. Bad guys with guns. If Bruce doesn't say "good job," I'll ask one to shoot me.

Boy Wonder, Part 2: The First Girl

Friday, April 1, 2011

Forum: Batman, Inc.

This page is just a place-holder for now. I'm looking into placing a forum at this site. I'll update this as soon as possible.