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NEW FICTION: Mid-life Crisis (Part 1)

December 12, 2003

It's been a while since I've written any new heroic fiction. Oh, I've plotted quite a few tales over the last year--close to two dozen. But, my life being in a seemingly endless state of transation, I've had nary the chance to actual write or develop these outlines. One of my goals has been to return to writing on a regular basis. I'm hoping this is the start of achieving this personal goal...

Fifteen years is a long time. It may not seem long when measured against, for example, the age of the universe. To the universe, which scientists estimate to be approximately 11 to 15.5 billion years old, 15 years is the cosmic equivalent of a yawn, the batting of an eyelash, or the lick of one’s lips. But to those of us not involved in the study of globular clusters and Hubble constants, 15 years is a long time. And 15 years ago, when I first entered into the “profession,” I was, like most of us, young, egotistical, and seemingly invulnerable.
Twenty-seven gunshot wounds, trace radiation poisoning, twelve fractured bones including two compound fractures, a shattered collar bone, the loss of vision in my left eye, six concussions, a complete blood transfusion, and sporadic lower back pain caused by advanced degeneration to my lumbar spine have pretty much disproved the “invulnerable” theory while simultaneously sand-baring the H.M.S.. Egotist. I’m young, relatively speaking, but not young like I was fifteen years ago.

In 1988 at the age of 24, having completed a “formal” education at a respectable east coast university, I relocated to New York where I found work as a mild-mannered accountant for a major metropolitan newspaper. I couldn’t live within Manhattan proper but resided in a modest, one-bedroom apartment in the suburb of Far Rockaway. I commuted into the city daily, usually taking the 31 bus or the A train.
Despite what is often depicted in the world of four-color funny books or “graphic novels” as the creators of such adolescent masturbatory fantasy fiction would have you believe, those individuals like myself, who lead dual lives, do not “fly” to our day jobs and make rooftop changes into civilian clothes. While this sort of cavalier behavior may have once existed in the past, today’s cities are too crowded, with too many people owning too many camcorders and cameras with telephoto lenses, to permit such recklessness. It’s indeed a dangerous predicament to find ones double-life exposed before a curios, invasive public and a corporate-controlled media whose only function is to destroy and debase the lives of others.
So yes, like the multitude of men and women who comprise New York’s vast work force, I commuted to the office each day in traditional commuter fashion. Although I preferred the bus, I typically took the underground A simply because it was more efficient. But I seem to be diverging too much into the past and over silly specificities not really relevant to the advancement of this particular narrative.

During the summer of 1988 I became Crisis. The peculiarities of this metamorphosis are unimportant, and if you’ve read a half-dozen action hero tales in your lifetime then you’ve probably heard it all before anyway. And like those muscle-bound, long-underwear-sporting do-gooders, I chose an alias—Crisis. It seemed appropriate, and to the best of my knowledge, no one else in the business was using it. So I took it. I didn’t decide upon it right away. I’d been saving lives in disguise for two, perhaps two-and-a-half weeks, before being struck with the notion of concocting an pseudonym.

One of the first New York Post articles to report on my activities featured the headline “Crisis Averts Crisis” with a subheading of “Who Is Crisis?” The incident occurred during the morning rush of September 21, 1988, and involved an explosion in the inbound lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel. The blast ripped through the overhead support structures and would have likely caused the entire structure to collapse. But I fixed it in four, maybe five seconds—it’s been a while and my memory is, at present, less than perfect.

And that’s the point.

Last night I stood at 405 Lexington Avenue, specifically, atop the Chrysler Building. The 1046-foot skyscraper is a haven for people like me. You’d have to be in the business to fully understand, I guess, but it has a lot to do with the isolation of standing atop the huge metal gargoyles, the rush of the skyline at night, the feeling of being, if you’ll pardon such an obvious cliché, on top of the world. It’s a feeling that few will ever experience, an exhilaration like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve been there dozens of times. It feels…sensational. At least it used to.
The world is different to me now. It looks different. And don’t bother making the joke that it’s because I’m seeing it with only one eye—the vision loss occurred in 1989. No, something’s different. I’ve done the hero shtick for a long time. Fifteen years. A cosmic nose twitch to those at the European Southern, Carnegie, and Mauna Kea observatories, yes, but a long time nonetheless. The adrenaline rush I once felt flying through the city’s subway tunnels at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour at 3:00 a.m., the friendly warmth that radiates across my jaw whenever twin bolts of electricity escape from my fingertips with William Tell precision to bring down an enemy, the elation I once felt upon saving the life of an innocent—these sensations now hold as much interest to me as watching Nick At Nite.
So I don’t do it anymore. Instead of metal skyscrapers my landscape consists of palm trees and sand. Instead of fighting adversaries and healing my wounds I landscape lawns and read Michael Moore, Studs Turkel, or William Shakespeare. And I guess what I find the most ironic is the realization that I, Crisis, at mid-life am in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

Who says the universe doesn’t have a sense of humor?

It was Sarah’s idea to leave New York, to say das Lebewohl
to the east coast and the seasons. It’s not that I was reluctant, it’s that I was adamant about staying in New York. The city was to me as it was to Woody Allen in Annie Hall or Manhattan. But if you knew Sarah, you’d understand. She has a certain sly persuasiveness beneath her seemingly innocent green eyes. When she suggested we visit LA last December it never occurred to me there was an underlying reason. When she recommended we say adios to the big apple I assumed she was joking. I said in my best Alvie Singer voice, “Who would want to live in a place where the only cultural advantage is that you can turn right on a red light?” Her life was New York as much as mine. She knew what New York meant to me—what it meant to Crisis. She knew and accepted my lifestyle, rarely showing fear or concern, always, like myself, confident that at the end of each night, like the rising of the morning sun above the Atlantic, I’d climb through the skylight and spoon against her sleeping body. And I did, usually. Though I of all persons should have sensed the raison d'être for her flight reflex.

Two months before the LA visit I underwent an MRI. I’d been having intolerable back pain following a rematch of an altercation with a super-criminal known as the Bad Seed that occurred one week prior to Halloween. The Bad Seed and I had a bit of a history. Not a history akin to Elliot Ness and Al Capone, Ahab and Moby Dick, or Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless for that matter. No, the history between Crisis and the Bad Seed was brief, albeit magnificently violent.
During our first encounter, several years earlier as I attempted to prevent the robbery of the First National Bank of Manhattan, he shattered my collar bone and fractured my left femur—there were other injuries, but those were the ones that mattered. I’d inflicted similar damages, puncturing his right lung and shattering his spine atop a wrought iron fence. The Bad Seed (a.k.a. Francis Shippington) was tried in Federal court following a lengthy rehabilitation, and subsequently sentenced to 40 years in a maximum security prison.
However, a few years later and one week prior to Halloween he escaped, and immediately began searching throughout the city for me. There was no subtly to his actions. On the third day following the Bad Seed’s escape he fashioned a banner across the intersection of West 42nd Street and the Avenue of the Americas, adjacent to Bryant Park. The hand-painted sign boldly proclaimed “CRISIS SHOW YOURESELF.” We met the following evening in a blistering rain above Park Avenue at East 88th Street. I held my own for all of seven seconds, just long enough to compliment his spelling acumen and land a solitary blow to the jaw. He was neither amused nor fazed. His first blow sent me spiraling out of control several blocks north west where I crashed through the rear windshield of a Pontiac Grand Prix idling in a gridlock on the Central Park East Drive. I’d not nearly recovered when he struck again, lobbing me across the green and into the Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis Reservoir with as little effort as a child might discard an unwanted doll. A moment later he struck a third time, gloved hands around my neck as we sank to the reservoir’s murky bottom. He wasn’t trying to drown me so much as snap my neck.
I didn’t know what would happen, but realized I had but one option. As my lungs began to fill with mud-water I released the electricity from my fingertips. It wasn’t intended to be a killing charge, merely enough to escape the madman’s stranglehold. I fought my way ashore and collapsed, coughing up water and blood onto the lawn. When I looked up he was there, standing above me, his body swaying. I braced myself for the killing blow, but soon realized he was no longer capable of delivering it—the electrical charge had caused respiratory paralysis. A moment later the Bad Seed dropped to the ground in cardiac arrest. I hadn’t the wherewithal or strength to perform CPR, and none of the onlookers seemed interested in helping. It was all I could do to remove a six-inch dagger of windshield from my side and stagger away. I remember phoning Sarah and asking for help. I don’t remember much after that, aside that a close friend and physician was awakened from a presumably sound sleep. She sutured the lacerations, more than fifty in all, and recommended the MRI, the results of which were less than favorable.
I was advised to avoid “heavy lifting” and “strenuous physical activity,” which would have been fine had I been side-kick to the American Dream. But as a headliner, I realized I’d little choice but R&R followed by intense physical therapy sessions.

Sarah’s demeanor changed following my fatal altercation with the Bad Seed. It wasn’t an obvious, glaring change. But a change nonetheless. An air of concern shone through her pale green eyes, a look of doubt resonated in her smile. So I should have known there was an unseen reason when she suggested we visit LA. Yet when she flatly suggested we relocate as we sat in the crowded coach seats of the U.S. Air 737 en route to LaGuardia, I think my acquiescence was largely due to giving her a break from it all—from the heroics and theatrics, from the death and danger. To just be myself, without the mask. To let she and I be ourselves. To, perhaps, at last, start a family of our own.
“Please, let’s go,” she pleaded.
“Yes, of course.”
What else could I say? And how could I imagine how my life was about to change?

NEXT: Mid-Life Crisis continues.

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