There is a Superman statue on my desk. I’ve had it for years. It always sits beside my computer, staring at me intently as I write mediocre columns.
The statue is 14 inches tall and expertly painted. Superman’s abs look like a No. 9 washboard. He has arms bigger than my thighs. Supes is striking a mighty-man pose. Fists clenched. Stern expression on his face. Eyes like narrow slits. “I got this,” Superman is saying.
I’ve had this statue since I was 11 years old. I look at it every single day of my life.
At age 11, my father was freshly dead from suicide. I was a wayward kid.
One afternoon, I went to the mall with my mother to buy school clothes. And I really hated buying clothes because I was a fat kid.
For many years I have called my childhood self “chubby” because this sounds so much better than “fat.” But the doctor actually called me fat when I went in for my physical.
The doc said, “For heavensake, this boy is fat.” Then he paused, and lit another unfiltered Camel.
So anyway, one day my mother and I were going to the Sears to buy specially designed fat-kid pants for an 11-year-old chub. Sears was the only place you could buy such special jeans.
These uniquely tailored trousers were called “Husky” pants. And these pants are responsible for most male psychological problems in this country.
On the way into Sears that day, my mother told me to wait on a bench while she went to get high on scented Yankee candles. And I spotted a comic book store.
I wandered into the store. And that’s where I found this Superman statue. I stood before the figurine, staring at it, caught in a kind of transfixed wonder.
Superman. He was unbreakable. Unstoppable. Unbendable. And all the other un-words you can think of. Everything I wanted to be.
Supes got his power from the “photonucleic effect.” He was a Kryptonian, his DNA was designed for the red sun of Krypton.
But when he came to earth the light of the yellow sun caused his body to undergo extreme cellular changes. Every electron in his being, every carbon or electron atom in every molecule of his body got stronger on the quantum level.
He developed heat vision, X-ray vision, superhuman speed, uncharacteristic strength, the ability to fly, and super breath due to increased lung capacity, which made him capable of freezing objects just by blowing on them.
I stood staring at the Man of Steel for at least 15 minutes. And I envied him. Why couldn’t I be strong like him? Why couldn’t I be unbreakable? Why was I a porky little boy without anyone to love him? Why was I a freak?
“That’s a nice statue,” said a voice behind me.
It was my mother. She stood behind me, looking over my shoulder.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Do you like it?” she said.
I shrugged. “Yeah.”
My mother said nothing else. She simply plucked the statue off the shelf and took it to the register. The clerk said it was $40.
Forty dollars? A ridiculous price. I didn’t own anything that was $40. But my mother bought it just the same. No questions asked. She counted out four crisp Alexander Hamiltons, and the figurine was mine. It sat in my bedroom for years.
The statue had a place of honor beside my bed. Sometimes I’d wake up with bad dreams in the middle of the night and I’d look at this inert piece of porcelain.
And I often wondered about Clark Kent. I’ll bet he got scared sometimes, just like me. I’ll bet he felt like a circus freak, too. Just like I did.
After all, Clark Kent was an outsider. He was strange. He was unusual. But somehow, through a twist of fate, Clark Kent turned all his problems into gifts. And these freakish traits made him into a hero.
I’ve thought about it a lot. Clark didn’t HAVE to help people. He didn’t have to save anyone from burning buildings, or trainwrecks, or mill explosions, or flaming zeppelins.
Nobody forced Clark Joseph Kent to wear red-and-blue pajamas and go around looking for folks who needed help. Nobody put a gun to his head and compelled him to rescue kitty cats from trees.
He just did all these things because he wanted to. He did it because only circus freaks know what it feels like to be a freak.
Sometimes, even at my current age, I still gaze at this Superman figurine, sitting on my desk, and I still feel like a little, plump boy all over again. I feel like the world’s biggest fool.
But Superman just continues to strike his strongman pose, like he’s been doing for four decades. He looks at me and says, “You’re much stronger than you think you are, kid. Trust me.”
And in the same breath he reminds me:
“No matter how bad life gets, son, you’ll never have to wear Husky pants again.”