Every other year my children, Martin, Malcolm, and Harriet, and my seven or however many there may be grandchildren, vacation at our family home outside of Palmyra, Virginia in Fluvanna County.
My kids and I own ninety acres of farmland that we lease out and a grand old farmhouse that has been remodeled and added onto so many times that it’s a complex maze of hallways, stairs, hidden rooms and secret passageways. I grew up in this house, and I’ll testify that it is the best hide-and-seek venue I have ever found.
One of the several outbuildings, a tractor barn, has been converted into a dormitory with beds for ten and showers and toilets. This helps us accommodate the family mob and their friends. The grandkids always seem to find friends to spend part or all of the two weeks with them. My kids will sometime invite their friends and families to join us.
I enjoy the whole event for the first hour or two. By the time the circus is in full swing, I retreat to a shady spot down by our pond and do a little fishing.
At eighty, I think I deserve a little R&R. However, my grandkids don’t necessarily believe that. They seek me out and pester me with questions I can’t answer, with petitions to intervene on their behalf with their parents, with observations about the world that I find nearly incomprehensible. Or, sometimes, they come just for fishing lessons or a quiet moment.
This vacation’s no exception. The first incursion is made by my intense, thin, dark-skinned, granddaughter wearing glasses and twin braids. Accompanying her is the giggly, small, brown skin granddaughter with a head that seems a bit too big for her body and round eyes that seemed oversized for her face. These two eight or nine-years old are BFFs. I’m never sure of their ages or names.
Braids fires the opening salvo, “Grampa, are you catching anything? We have a question for you. If Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were real which one would be the best superhero?” She settles down on my left-hand side.
Big Eyes plops down on my right-hand side, “I think Superman has all of the advantages and the question, therefore, is moot.”
“Is it now? I think it is a tough question. Ask your parents or aunts and uncles or your older siblings or just ask Siri or Alexa.”
Braids wrinkles her nose in distaste, “My dad said that you’re the expert. He said you grew up reading superhero comic books. He said that you would give a ‘thoughtful and insightful answer.’ He said—”
“Okay, I get it. You two run on up to the house and tell Malcolm that I need to have a word or two with him, okay?”
The girls show no inclination to follow my directions.
Big Eyes, nods her head, giggles, and pokes me in the shoulder, “Uncle Malcolm said you might say something like that. He told us to be persistent that you were ‘a font of wisdom.’”
“Yeah, I bet he did. You girls need to understand that I’m retired, and I’m only available for consultations in exceptional cases. In those cases, my fees are extraordinarily high. Do you understand?”
Braids looks very serious, but she always looks serious. “Grampa, this is very important. We really need your help. Honestly. For real.”
Poking, grabbing, Big Eyes tugs at my elbow, “We’re writing a story for publication. Like you could get in on the ground floor of something really big. It might just jump-start your writing career.”
I bite my tongue to keep from laughing. “Well, I won’t insist on being listed as a co-author, but I insist that you acknowledge my contributions. And, despite our family relationship and my great fondness for the both of you, I’ll still have to bill you. Do you still want my input?”
The serious braided one’s quick to respond, “We can cut you in for ten percent of whatever we make. I think that’s more than fair.” Big Eyes nods in agreement.
“Girls, I wasn’t born yesterday. Always, always get your money up front when you are doing consulting work. There’re a lot of fly-by-night operators out there. I’m not saying that you two are fly-by-night, but there’re a bunch of crooks and cons in the publishing game.”
Big Eyes giggles, “Uncle Malcolm sent us down here. You should bill him for your consulting fees.”
I turn and look at the curly-haired granddaughter on my right, “I do believe that you have a valid point there. Okay, what is it you want to know? Oh, it is who would be the best superhero? That’s it, right?”
They nod their heads in agreement.
“Well, one problem with Superman is that he’s too super for his own good. That would be a severe handicap for him.”
“What! Grampa what do you mean?” squeaks Big Eyes, eyes growing even bigger.
“Well, take flying for example. Superman would have to get an FAA clearance to fly across controlled air spaces. That would require him to be registered and have a tail number and even before that he would have to be certified as airworthy. He would have to pass an inspection and obtain a pilot’s license.”
Braids looks smug, “Yes! Grandpa, ‘you tellin’ it like it is.’”
I smile. Braids picked that phrase up from me.
Big Eyes responds, “That’s crazy.”
“And, there’s the privacy issue. People might be concerned with Superman flying over their homes and yards. After all, he has telescopic and X-ray vision. He represents a clear privacy threat.”
Big Eyes is grabbing my elbow again, “Wait. Hold on, Grampa.”
But I don’t hold on. I move on. “I’m sure there will be many injunctions filed against Superman to prevent him from using his remarkable vision in villages, towns, cities, and suburban areas.” I turn to Big Eyes. “I don’t think you would like someone living on your block that could see under your clothes and through the walls of your house.”
Braids is almost cheerful, “So Superman would be almost grounded, and he couldn’t use his X-ray and telescopic vision around people, right. Hey, like, he couldn’t use his super hearing for the same reasons, right?”
I give Braids a quick nod and continue with my analysis. “However, the big problem for Superman is that he’s an alien. He’s an undocumented alien. Some would call him an illegal alien. To the best of my knowledge, Superman has never applied for citizenship or even a green card.”
Big Eyes, eyes are impossibly big. I fear that they will pop like balloons. “GRAMPA!”
I pat her on the shoulder.
“And to compound that problem, Superman’s not even human. I can see our government imprisoning Superman and running millions of tests on him. I can see old, Jeff Sessions arguing that Superman does not have the protection of the law because laws are intended for human beings – homo sapiens and their ilk.”
I put my arm around my granddaughter who looks like she’s going into shock. “Hey, don’t feel so bad. Superman’s a pretty smart cat, I think he would fly away to a planet where he’s appreciated. And there ain’t a damn thing the government can do about that.”
Braids moves around to the other side of her cousin. She also puts a consoling arm around Big Eyes’ shoulder.
“Well, at least Superman can escape. I think Batman’s doomed from the get-go.”
“What? Batman’s not an alien. Batman’s a human being. Batman’s a citizen.” Despite her indignant and positive assertions, Braids looks alarmed, as she should.
“You right as rain. However, Batman attracts the most dangerous human criminals in the world. Lex Luthor, the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, the Mad Hatter and those other bad cats are not just a crime threat they are out to destroy the whole city of Gotham. Batman attracts super badass criminals like dogs attract fleas, like poop attracts flies, like honey attracts bears—”
“No! He protects Gotham from those bad guys. Otherwise, they would have taken over—” Braids looks as serious as I have ever seen her.
“Look, the Joker, Lex Luthor, and those others never show up in Los Angeles or Chicago or Baltimore or Seattle. They’re in Gotham because Batman’s in Gotham. No one wants to live in a city where every week there’s a threat of annihilation by super bad guys beyond the control of local or national law enforcement. In the real-world Batman would have been banished and outlawed about the time the second super bad guy showed up.”
Braids’ waving her hands in protest, “But, he hasn’t broken any laws. He’s helping Gotham. He’s saving Gotham.”
“Of course, he’s breaking the law. The Batmobile’s not registered with the DMV. It does not have state license plates. We don’t even know if it’s insured. The same with the Batplane. And Batman has an arsenal of weapons that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would be extremely interested in. Many of those weapons may be illegal.”
Big Eyes is making a rapid recovery from her shock. “Well, Grandpa you’re absolutely right. It’s so dangerous and irresponsible to drive an unlicensed vehicle without proof of insurance. Is the Batmobile even smogged?”
I turn to Braids. “I would not want Batman within a hundred miles of the city I resided in. I’m sure about that.”
The braided one’s shaking her head in dismay, “I get it. I mean, I see what you’re saying, but nobody ever bought this up in the comic books. What about Wonder Woman? Is Wonder Woman okay?”
“Well, she’s not a US citizen or a citizen of the EU as far as I can tell. She’s from Themyscira and l doubt if she’s a licensed representative of her nation. She could be convicted of espionage because she disguises herself as Diana Prince and meddles in US military and political affairs.
Big Eyes has a revelation, “Wow! Wonder Woman is a spy? Oh, my, Superman is an alien with a false identity too. That’s not good.”
“You got that right. And Wonder Woman also operates an unlicensed aircraft. I never heard her file a flight plan. And then there’s her costume.”
“What about her costume?” The granddaughters ask in unison.
“For some people in this country it’s a little too skimpy or revealing, and it mimics the flag which is an insult to others. Some say it turns her into a sex object. I can see the Bible Belt states outlawing her costume in public.”
Now both girls look a little shell-shocked.
“And there’s the whole vigilante thing. What if the vigilantes make a mistake and get the wrong person? What happens if they injure somebody while pursuing the alleged bad guys? Vigilantes always send a chill down my spine. They sound too much like the Klu Klux Klan to me.”
Now, the girls look like I slapped their mothers.
I put my arm around both, “Listen, all is not lost. You could be on the verge of one of the biggest articles on superheroes ever.”
Braids asks, “What do you mean?”
“Your father’s a Yale law school graduate and has one of the finest legal minds in the nation. If I were you, I would write up the issues that I have presented in my consultation, take them to him and request that he assist you in preparing briefs and counter-arguments for all of the issues.”
“Dad never has time—”
“He has two weeks. Tell him it is the least he can do after he sent you to me for this rather disappointing consultation. You tell him I’ll be extremely displeased if he doesn’t provide you with pro bono services as I have done.”
Braids is quick, “Wait, does this mean you are consulting with us for free?”
Big Eyes brightens up, “My dad’s a philosophy professor. He can come up with some arguments about what it means to be human.”
“What a wonderful idea. And your aunt Harriet’s a congresswoman. You should get her involved in what kind of legislation would adversely affect superheroes. I’m sure she would have hurt feelings if she were left out of this wonderful summer project.”
There’s a light of excitement in the girl’s eyes as they start to chatter about the possibilities of their project.
“Listen, granddaughters, I’ll waive my fees if you’ll tell your parents and Aunt that I am walking over on the other side of the fields if they should ask, and if you will bring me down a couple of beers and a sandwich in that little red cooler.” I point to the cooler off to my left.
My granddaughter’s kiss me on the cheek before they depart with my cooler and a very demanding schedule for my kids. God bless grandchildren.
I’ve just dozed off for a minute’s nap when I’m awakened by wild shouting, screams, and laughter.
The noisemakers are Harriet’s twin boys, Frederick and Douglas. I know their names, but I can never tell them apart. They are about a year older than the granddaughters that just visited me. The rascals are tugging and tussling over my little red cooler.
“Hey! Cool it. You’re scaring away the fish. Be careful with that cooler.”
One of the twins trips. The other falls over him, and they both come rolling down the slope with my cooler taking its own path toward the pond.
After getting thoroughly soaked, becoming tangled in my fishing line, and almost drowning my cooler they retrieve my lunch box and stand before me laughing and giggling, pushing and shoving each other.
The one with a trickle of blood out of his left nostril addresses me in an accusatory manner, “Gramps, we want in on the superhero project. How come Melba and Nike get to work on this as an exclusive project?”
I try to answer, “I think you—”
The other grandson, the one with the bloody bruise on his right knee, has his say, “Like, it’s gender discrimination, Gramps, if they can participate and we can’t. That’s so unfair.”
“Well, I suggest—”
Bloody Nose cuts me off, “Besides, superheroes are so lame. I mean, where were the superheroes doing the Civil Rights Movement? They didn’t save MLK, Jr. or Medgar Evers or Emmit Till—”
I try to explain, “They are fictional—”
Bruised Knee interrupts, “Like, they never address issues like poverty, racism, domestic violence, human trafficking, and the environment. They are fake and phony.”
“I share your concerns—”
Bloody Nose has a conspiracy theory, “I think that the superheroes are all part of a plot to distract us from the real bad guys that start wars and make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Why aren’t they attacking those guys?”
The boys bump fist, slap hands, and dance a little jig.
I’m interrupted by one of the other grandkids yelling down the hill that the twins have two seconds to get their butts up there and explain what happened to the little kid’s wading pool.
Bruised Knee says, Gramps, we got to run. But, we want in and—”
Bloody Nose adds, “Hey, maybe we can blame this on the Flash. He may have accidentally punched a hole in that pool. He was moving so fast that he was invisible to the human eye.”
Bruised Knee response as they climb the hill, “Maybe, just maybe Green Arrow is responsible for an errant invisible arrow. See you, Gramps.”
Not if I see them first, by golly. I need to move to a different fishing hole. This is like being on the LA freeway during rush hour. Damn grandkids.
Next year I’ll bring a “Do not Disturb” sign or hire a super hero bodyguard or both, but even that might not be enough.
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