Monthly Archives: October 2013

Batman versus Superman: Geek Food for Thought

I have long been a comic book geek.

Finally, at 45-ish, I have reached the level of self-confidence sufficient to combat any ridicule I might receive from hunters, athletes, mechanics or other stereotypical roles of masculinity regarding my love for the superhero genre.  Therefore, I am at last comfortable revealing that I know the difference in “a cyborg,” a being who is part-man and part-machine, and “Cyborg,” a member of DC Comics’ Justice League who is … well, part-man and part-machine.

Batman and RobinI can tell you the secret identity of almost any costumed, comic book hero – a gripping game I like to play on long road trips.  Believe it or not, my family very seldom wants to join me.  My youngest child Maddux WILL occasionally indulge me in a “name ‘em” game where we spread out a drawing of multiple comic book characters and then try to call the correct names of each one, no matter how obscure.

Look, I already said I was a geek.

One must admit that Hollywood, over the past decade, has validated MY position – that comic book heroes are the modern-day analogies of ancient mythological characters like Hercules and Beowulf.  Inarguably, Tinseltown has discovered that my fictional, spandex-wearing, new titans are very, VERY marketable.

I was way ahead of the curve on that one.

From pre-school days, I’ve been a fan of Batman.  Like many from my generation, I became aware of the caped crusader by watching him on television in the BIFF-BAM-POW campy creation that ran on ABC back-to-back weeknights from 1966 to 1968.  Even today, the show’s star Adam West, in his gray and blue long underwear, defines the Batman character for millions.

I was in elementary school before I found out that Batman was not just a TV show.  There were these picture books called “comics” for sale at Hopkin’s Big Star or Cunningham’s Grocery that painted a much fuller picture of the Batman and his teenage sidekick Robin.

RobinBatman was more, I found out, than a melodramatic, goody-two-shoes who chit-chatted with celebrities as he climbed Gotham’s buildings via the bat-rope.  The Dark Knight was a brilliant detective and a vicious but virtuous vigilante who could find ways to succeed regardless of the odds stacked against him – not comically like on television, but semi-realistically.  The bottom line:  comic-book Batman was cool.

Apart from the dynamic duo, I also discovered “others” out there, a whole DC Comics’ “universe” of characters.  And in that universe was, of course, the ultimate superhero, Superman, the granddaddy of ‘em all.

The red-caped, Kryptonian Man of Steel had a TV show of his own, too, I later learned – The Adventures of Superman – but his series was gone from the airways, along with its star George Reeves, long before my time.  I did eventually pick it up later in childhood, syndicated on Saturdays, but the strange visitor from another planet never could penetrate my psyche like Batman.

Frankly, I think it all came down to the idea that a regular person – if he was driven enough, talented enough, crazy enough – could theoretically BECOME Batman, at least as much as he could become Tarzan, or James Bond, or the Lone Ranger.  Because Batman was a man.

On the contrary, no matter how much Popeye spinach I forced down, I would never be able to defy gravity and fly or shoot red laser beams out of my eyes.  To be Superman was simply unattainable.

In the comics, I discovered another difference between Batman and Superman, more subtle but just as profound.

Superman sees human beings as inherently good, while Batman views mankind as untrustworthy, at best, and psychotically depraved, at its worse.

BatmanThat’s geek-food for thought.

One would want to see it Superman’s way.  From his vantage point above squeaky-clean Metropolis, a pinnacle of human civilization in the DC Universe, Superman looks down on people as generally noble beings, who in their heart-of-hearts desire to do right by one another.  It’s only the few bad apples – Lex Luthor, Toyman, Parasite, etc. – who are out there actively trying to spoil the bunch in the Man of Steel’s worldview.

On the other hand, Batman, whose parents were gunned down in an alleyway in gritty, dirty Gotham City, views mankind quite differently.  People are selfish, belligerent and dishonest or far, far worse – take the homicidal lunatic the Joker, for instance.

In black and white pre-school terms, Batman and Superman are both certainly out there vanquishing evil.  But the difference is Superman believes that ultimately he can win, that he can expunge evil completely.  The Batman, for his part, understands his quest is a never-ending battle against depravity which can spontaneously recreate itself anywhere human beings exist.

Batman’s realism versus Superman’s idealism is just one of the heady philosophical considerations that keep my status as a comic book geek intact after four decades as a fan.

Of course, I also like to see Lex Luthor and the Joker just get punched in the face.  So there’s that, too.

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Readers, Ping Pong & Pee Wee Football

Coaching pee wee football is currently my favorite thing to do.

I have been assigned a group of 5th and 6th graders in a league at Saltillo, and we’ve notched two division wins so far in 2013 against only a single, out-of-division road loss at Tishomingo County (5th and 6th graders are still fed on cornbread in Tish County).

Three BroncosWe’re the Broncos.

My 10 year old son Maddux plays quarterback, flanker and outside linebacker … with gusto and confidence.  He almost perfectly reflects what I look for in a player.  He studies the game, he plays in the yard every day, he is aggressive far beyond what his 85-pound frame suggests he should be, and he has talent enough to succeed.  He has already run for, thrown for and caught multiple touchdowns, and if he doesn’t lead our team in tackles, he’s close.  I’m very proud of him.  You probably picked up on that.

But beyond being able to spend time with my youngest child, I just generally like coaching.  To see a group of varied and unique individuals come together for a common purpose is satisfying in itself.  To have that group be successful is more.  To gather up a team from a “park league” environment – always a hodgepodge of budding athletes, non-athletes, and those who are frankly unclassifiable – and somehow win football games is the ultimate.

Park leagues take all comers.  If your child wants to play football or baseball or soccer, you simply go fill out a registration form and pay a fee.  Soon, your offspring will be roaming a field at the W.K. Webb Sportsplex in Saltillo, in Baldwyn’s Latimer Park or in some other municipal venue.  It’s a great community service.  Kids need it.

Sports teach things that you don’t get anywhere else.

Wanting something does not guarantee you will get it.

A good friend off the field, where life sails along smoothly, is not necessarily the guy you want with you in a conflict.

Sometimes you can pick your battles, but sometimes they pick you.

When you get knocked down, the proper response is not to cry, but to get up.

How to win with grace (if you have a good coach).

How to lose with dignity (if you have a good coach).

Learning is not confined to the players.  I contend that it is impossible for even coaches, at least open-minded ones, to go through a season without gaining new insights.  If nothing else they will get to know the kids who play for them.

Football is a loosely-controlled, physical battle for the acquisition of territory, and the bodily stress of such a demanding sport reveals what a person is made of.  Over the course of a single football season, a coach will likely learn more of a person’s true nature than a classroom teacher will see through years of instruction.

Now, the parents on the sidelines are the real hard-cases.  It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks.  Mom’s and Dad’s protective parental instincts almost always override visual evidence, sometimes comically so.

Lee County Bronco Pre-Game“He’s holding him!  He’s holding him!” said the mother, whose son was being tackled … while carrying the football.

If you don’t realize why that’s funny, don’t fret.

I was games director at a children’s church camp a couple years ago, and I mapped out an elaborate schedule of games for 1st through 6th graders.  Each group of boys and girls would go through “stations,” where an assigned camp leader would manage their activity.  While Group A was playing Noodle Hockey on the softball field, Group C would be playing Frisbee Golf along the hiking trail, and so on.  One of the stations I set up was Ping Pong.

I assumed that playing Ping Pong – table tennis – was universal.  Generations of my extended family had long battled in pursuit of made-up “championship belts” in my parents’ carport.  The competition was always intense.  My son Gabe and his cousin Grant garnered reputations as paddle-throwers.  My brother Clay and I broke many a table by diving on top of it, trying to prevent some cousin’s game-winning point.  Even my mother would join in on occasion before finally, intentionally losing to some pre-teen family member, who none of the rest of us would let win.

At church camp, the deacon’s wife I had assigned to Ping Pong duty came to me holding her score sheets.

“I’ve got this ‘Ping Pong’ thing, Clark.  How do you play that?”

In response to the stunned look on my face, she continued.

“Now, Clark, you know we are not ‘athletes’ at our house.  We’re readers.”

Maybe it goes without saying.  Maybe it doesn’t.  But I do not consider Ping Pong an “athletic” endeavor.

However, I do very much appreciate “readers.”  I have a few playing for the Broncos.

But when they button on their chinstraps and jog onto the field next Saturday to take on Marietta, they’ll be football players.

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Big Dave

David Lewis, “Big Dave,” has been involved in carpentry and construction a long, long time.  Over the past 30 years, he’s been everything from a general handyman tackling odd jobs to a supervising crew chief erecting steel.  Currently, he’s foreman to the eclectic crew of men renovating several buildings for Quail Ridge Properties in downtown Baldwyn.

Big DaveNow, Baldwyn is a small town, and certainly through the years any firmly-planted Baldwyn native, like Dave, will occasionally cross paths with peers of similar status, like me.  But it seems that Big Dave and I have intersected more often than can be chalked up to mere coincidence or proximity.

A few months ago, the very capable Mr. Lewis came to work at Quail Ridge, saying he wanted to get in one good week’s work before he re-located to Texas.  A few months later, he still mentions Texas but with less, and hopefully decreasing, interest.

On a Saturday night a few weeks ago, I was eating at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen in Tupelo, scanning their cool, new eatery for design ideas that might be useable in Baldwyn’s historic district, when I received a text message.  From the content, I assumed it must be Big Dave.

“What about this on the beam?  I was just thinking a little Italian gothic.  Hope I didn’t bother y’all.”

Following the message came a camera-phone picture of a hand-drawn sketch, a beam design that Dave thought would work well in the gutted opening of the storefront that was formerly M. Gorden’s Department Store.

It was no bother.  In fact, David provided a welcome, totally-different look than anything I had contemplated.  Now, when Baldwyn-ites stroll by 101 East Main in decades to come and appreciate the deep wooden beam with decorative quarter-arches at each end, they can thank Big Dave.

As we stood on the south side of Main the other day and admired his handiwork, Dave hedged his bet and told me that I should know, despite his considerable capabilities, he seemed to have the unlucky knack for doing the worst possible thing at the worst possible time.  I nodded as though he was giving me new information.

When he was a boy, David Lewis lived across the street from my future bride, the lovely Rothann McGee, and my first knowledge of Dave was a tale she told.  David, by age 11, had developed the enviable skill, among kids, of being able to spit without letting the liquid completely separate from his lips.  In other words, he could spit at you but suck it back in.  This faked out many a 6th-grader and always entertained whatever gang looked on.  One fateful day, David’s mechanism failed, and he made the cataclysmic mistake of spitting on Rothann.  “In my face,” she says.  Unluckily for Dave, the younger-version Rothann – best described as a tom-boy, or perhaps as a viciously-vengeful, pony-tail-wearing hellion if you were really shooting for accuracy – knee-jerked at her neighbor’s misstep and hit Big Dave (who really wasn’t that big then) with a baseball bat.  The million times I’ve heard this tale recounted, I’ve always thought, “I bet he really doesn’t think it is as funny as she does.”

Fifteen years ago, when Quail Ridge Engineering was new and had just started attempting steel fabrication, a customer of ours, a Chicago-based engineering firm, dropped a big-time problem in our lap – our lap being the parking lot behind B-Quick across from the old Baldwyn Co-Op.  They had botched the design of a power plant conveyor, and they called on us – small, flexible, willing company that we were – to fix their mess.  We had to call in several favors to get the job done.

Bimbo Griffin’s Bidacaga Enterprises, for whom Big Dave worked at the time, agreed to unload and disassemble the defective unit.  QRE could then fix the pieces, and finally Bidacaga would reassemble it.  The whole process would be observed by our customer’s engineering manager, who stood around stunned in culture shock most of the time.  As error after error materialized, the procedure became extremely frustrating, so much so, that eventually Big Dave summed it up, loudly.

“I’d like to know what stupid Pollock designed this piece of crap!”

Our customer’s engineering manager – George Blazejowski – answered, “Well … I did.”

Logically, this should not have been funny to me.  But frankly, I can’t help but smile at how cruel fate could bring such an odd mixture of factors together in a Baldwyn parking lot, and how Big Dave, true to his assessment, could say the absolute worst possible thing at the absolute worst possible time.

Nonetheless, I told Dave this week that I thought his impressive run of late warranted a story.  Was there was anything in particular he would like to contribute to the effort, I asked?  He thought about it, and texted me this:

“Not really … wait, maybe my attention to excellence and perfection, my uncanny ability to somehow always overachieve, my undying commitment to quality, my great sense of humor and last but not least my supreme great looks.”

I’m going to let that go as-is.  You’re welcome, Big Dave.

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