At midnight I climb out the window and run through the city, staying in back alleys and unlit streets. I keep an eye out for any and all enemies who dare to venture into the night. Though they are many and I am one, I will fight the battle alone

Fifteen years ago, at the moment of my spawning, no one could have guessed the potency of my hybridity.

"What are you goofing about now?" Luc asks me. He is quick to interrupt my meditations, dismissing them as daydreams. He shoots a rubber band at me from across the table. It bounces off my right lens. When I tell him to quit, to stop or I will kill him, I am shushed by the librarian, who frowns at me like an archenemy whose plans I have just foiled. "You're zoning out again," Luc says, sliding his grammar book over to me. "You said you would help me, so help." Though Luc is the most intelligent and perceptive student in the ninth grade (and the only other person I've ever known who is able to comprehend the theories of an anti-matter universe), his counselor insists that he take ESL classes. His English, standardized testing says, is not up to speed. In grade school they said the same thing about me. I knew the words -- I had a tenth-grade vocabulary by the time I was eight. I just chose not to speak.

We muddle through the textbook examples of passive voice, and I even devise my own exercises, in comic-book format. "Superman has been killed mercilessly by me," proclaimed Doomsday. But today I am in no mood to be a champion of standard written English. "Later," I promise. Luc shrugs his shoulders, thinking that I have given up, that surrendering is a possibility. So I rescue the moment by suggesting "Dystopia?," and his frown morphs into a smile. In a flash we cram books into our backpacks, slip on our raincoats, and pull hoods over our heads. As we exit the library, the words "psychos," "faggots," and "losers" reach us from behind study carrels. Luc and I stop to face our accusers, giving them looks that we will substantiate when the time is right. Then we are out the library door, off the campus, and under the afternoon drizzle. We stand at the bus stop, two secret heroes on the fringes of winter, waiting for the sun, any source of rejuvenation, just one outbound bus away from here and into the city.

DYSTOPIA Comics is the only all-used-comic-book store in Daly City. Most stores file their back issues away in neat alphabetized rows, each one sealed in a plastic bag with rigid backing. But Dystopia lives up to its name. Comics are stuffed into shoddy cardboard boxes, and Luc and I spend hours rummaging through bin after bin. We always win in the end: in the past half hour Luc has found issues of Justice League and Sandman, even a water-damaged issue of The Watchmen, and I've started a small stack of old issues of Green Lantern, precisely what I need for my research. I sometimes think that Luc and I possess an extra sense, an instinct for finding small treasures among the slightly torn and the discarded.

"Closing time," a husky voice mutters from behind and above me. I do a quick one-eighty, fists clenched and ready. I face the cashier, who stands just inches away from me. His globular, fleshy belly is even closer, oozing over the elastic waistband of his Bermuda shorts. "If you're going to read it, then buy it."

I give Luc the signal and then shift my eyes back to the cashier. "Pardon me, sir," I say, "but your volume is infringing upon my space."

He blinks. "My what?"

"The amount of space your cubic units are occupying."

He blinks again. "So?" Already I've confused him, thrown him off, and all he can do is point to the clock. "Just hurry it up, all right?"

My eye catches the exposed belly once more. With the proper serrated edge I could carve into the flesh, cut a tunnel right through it.

I smile at the mass before me. "Let's go, Luc."

We walk out the door and turn the corner into a narrow alley. We crouch down to the ground, shielded between Dumpsters, and Luc unzips his backpack. From between textbooks and folders he pulls out our stack of comics and gives me my half. "Distract him longer next time," he says. "He almost turned around too soon."

"No backtalk from the sidekick." I tuck my comics away in the secret pocket of my backpack.

The rain has stopped, but we don our hoods anyway. We proceed into the street, outside the crosswalk lines, defying the blinking red hand before us. "Nice work," I tell Luc. "See you tomorrow, oh seven hundred hours."

"Oh seven hundred hours," he confirms.

ON sad nights my mother listens to her 45 rpm of "Johnny Angel" over and over again until she passes out. Tonight is going to be one of those nights. Before I can even lock the door behind me, she starts screaming, asking where I've been. "Nowhere," I tell her. "Just out."

"And what should I do if something happened to you out there?" she asks, one hand on her hip, the other tugging at the neckline of her Las Vegas sweatshirt. "What should I do then?" She takes heavy, staggered breaths and begins to empty out the kitchen cupboards, throwing food we need over the fire escape, weeping, uttering profanities about men and why they are the way they are.

I give her five quick shots of Johnny Walker and put her to bed. I take off her shoes, pull the sheets over her, and press replay on her turntable. She puts her arms around my neck and pulls my face to hers, telling me what a good boy I've been. "Don't you change," she whispers. I can feel the tears on her lips wetting my ear.

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