I still remember the day I learned I was different from the other kids. When my life changed forever. It was on the old family farm in Smallville, Kansas, the day our barn mysteriously caught fire.
My father happened to be drinking and smoking in the barn. Luckily I arrived just in time, and pulled him from the blaze.
Later that night he sat on the edge of my bed.
“It’s time I told you something, Jimmy.” He spoke carefully, like he’d been preparing for this moment his whole life. “You aren’t from here.”
“I’m from another planet?”
“No. You’re from New Jersey.”
“Oh my God!”
“And you have a rare superpower: You can explode.”
“Like when I’m angry?”
“No, randomly. There’s no controlling it. At any moment you could blow, instantly vaporizing everything around you.”
I guess you could call it destiny. I decided to fight evil wherever it went, no matter the personal cost. The thought of this supreme generosity made my whole body glow red.
“Wait Jimmy, not now, noooo –”
College was no picnic. For some reason the other students didn’t want to hang out with a poor Midwestern orphan prone to violently exploding.
In my Junior year I fell in love with a Swedish study abroad student named Björk Malm (her parents named her after the style of Ikea bedding on which she was conceived). I convinced her to go on a few dates, but only by hiding who I really was. Three weeks in, while making out on my bunk bed, underneath my M. C. Escher poster, I finally confessed.
“Before we go further, I have this…thing,” I explained. “It’s actually more common than you’d think.”
“Is it contagious?”
“Not if we take the proper precautions. Besides, it only flares up a few times a year.”
“I wish you told me sooner, but I’m glad you were honest.”
“Oh but also, don’t like Google image search it or anything.”
I guess you could call it destiny. As we kissed, I knew I was in love, and I’d stay with Björk for my entire —
I spent my 20s working various temp jobs in the city. It wasn’t the life I had envisioned. You grow up dreaming of becoming a respected superhero, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to take a crushing day job to pay off your student loans and work at your passion in small, unsatisfying increments at night. I was usually too tired to fight crime.
Sometimes while at work, a friend would link me on Gchat to a Gawker post, about how Superman got a multimillion-dollar book deal, or how he was producing a loosely autobiographical TV series. Each article filled me with jealous rage. He wouldn’t even be anybody without his powerful father and all those publishing connections.
Most nights I’d microwave a burrito and play Call of Duty, and think about selling out. I could become a supervillain, or worse, apply to the NYU School of Law. Instead, I’d pass out on my half-deflated air mattress, ignoring any distant police sirens.
I started hanging out with other aspiring superheroes, in the basement of a Bay Ridge VFW hall. We called ourselves the Just Nice League, named for our ability to be friends with just about anyone.
Sitting around, watching Battlestar Galactica, there was Turtle Man (“I’m invincible, but only when hiding.”), Caffeine Deficiency Man (“You don’t want to battle me before I’ve had my coffee.”), Writers’ Block Girl (“I have all this talent, but no inspiration.”), Swamp Woman (“Sorry, I can’t stay long, I’m just totally swamped this week.”), Well-Rested Dude (“I just need a solid ten to twelve hours of sleep, then I’ll be good to fight crime.”), Ontological Man (“What if my alter ego is my actual identity?”). As usual, Sloth Boy was late.
The phone rang. Everyone looked up excitedly as I answered.
“Just Nice League, how’s it goin’?”
“Hey, just wondering,” I could hear stifled laughter on the other end of the line. “Can you fly around the earth so fast that you can turn back time to save your dead girlfriend?”
“No, Superman. I can’t.”
“Well, I can, and let’s just say I’m now well-acquainted with Björk’s ‘fortress of solitude.’”
“What a jerk,” Turtle Man muttered. We watched TV in silence.
A few months later, while bored at work, a friend sent me a link about trapped miners in Pennsylvania. I thought about them stuck deep underground, slowly dying in a job they hated. I guess that’s what set me off. Emotionally, that is.
Without telling my boss, I left my office, and took a cab to LaGuardia. I got tickets for the first flight to Pittsburgh, and slowly navigated through the security checkpoints. I squeezed into my seat in coach. I sat next to a man resembling Chris Kattan, who hogged the entire armrest, until I told him about my rare superpower.
Up in the air, we hit some turbulence. When I looked out the window, I saw Superman flying beside the plane, shaking the wing. When he saw me notice him, he made an obscene sexual gesture and flew off.
When I finally pulled up to the mine in my rental car, a large crowd was already cheering for the rescued miners, and celebrating Superman. A high school marching band was playing “Taking Care of Business.” I could see Superman openly flirting with one of the miner’s wives.
I squeezed the steering wheel until my knuckles popped. What’s the point in trying? Unless you’re born wealthy or good-looking, everything is rigged against you. And eventually you’re too tired from the daily humiliations to aspire for anything other than ducking your head down, and quietly riding out the rest of your short time on earth comfortably alone and unbothered, hopefully with the latest video game console. My body glowed red, I hoped for the final time —
It’s silly to think about, all these years later. Who would have guessed that that explosion would have struck oil? That the papers would christen me “The Human Divining Rod,” as I only explode when near valuable oil and minerals? Now I travel the world, helping impoverished people access buried wealth. It’s not what I planned for myself, but few things are; I’m mostly satisfied with my life.
Best of all, I’ve gradually acquired the largest collection of Kryptonite in the world, which I’m saving for one very special person.