Thursday, May 14, 2009

Familiar Strangers at J.M.H.S.

Once again inspired by The Friday Challenge. I had already decided to forego this week's challenge when this idea suddenly sprang fully-formed into my head as I was brushing my teeth one morning. I think a certain column by Henry Vogel is partly to blame.

“I hadn’t been looking forward to my ten year high school reunion. Of course, I’m glad I went, now, but initially I wasn’t very excited. Being herded together with acquaintances of distant memory and then gassed with nostalgia—you can see how I’d find that less than appealing. Particularly with the ruffians who went to my school.

“It all becomes this bizarre ordeal of making small talk with familiar strangers. You feel obligated to recognize some deeper connection than what actually exists. Sure, Needle-Nose Ned may have been my chess club partner for the tournament junior year, but now I don’t know him any better my neighborhood postal worker.

“Any old friends from the elite preparatory academy with whom I truly have any intention of maintaining connections, I do. A small pool of rapscallions makes it all the easier to choose favorites. And that’s how I got a call from my pal, Cid.

“ ‘ `Ey there, el bandito, how’s it hanging?’

“ ‘Hiya, Notorious. You going to make it to the weekly Game of World Domination match on Saturday?’

“ ‘Actually, I was planning on heading out to the old stomping grounds and seeing our old school chums. Ten years, man! Aren’t you coming?’

“ ‘I dunno, man. A buncha reprobates like you, making conversation devoid of substance and filled with 2012 Doomsday Reunion wisecracks that will soon become as stale as the decade-old friendships? I think I’ll pass, man, and work on seizing Siberia as an icy fortress stronghold.’

“ ‘Dude, aren’t you at least curious to see what Brock the Bouncer or “the Great Ganglia” are up to these days? It’s not like you have to travel or anything; it’s right here in town, man. Besides, I’m friends with Minerva Minx online in the MugShots network and she posted that she’ll be coming. I know you’d be interested in seeing her. Eh, eh? How’s about it?’

“ ‘Okay, okay, Cid, fine. I’ll see you there.’

“And so on another otherwise perfectly stormy Saturday morning that provided an impeccable milieu for implementing a brilliantly insidious plot to invade Greenland, I found myself driving my climate-changing SUV into the northern suburbs to the prestigious campus of J. Moriarty High School, home of the Black Hats.

“The school had obviously grown since my days in its dishallowed halls. The haunted forest had been cleared to make room for a set of portables, and the swampland had been drained in order to set up what looked like a deadly obstacle course. I parked my car in the massive parking lot next to the stadium modeled after the Coliseum; boy, could we have used that in our Classics Society re-enactment of feeding Christians to the lions.

“Across the stadium entrance a banner hung with the words ‘Welcome Back Class of 2002!’ Black Hat Sam, Moriarty High School’s mascot, grinned down maniacally from either end, either teasing the end of his mustache or rubbing his hands together in joyful ecstasy regarding his sinister schemes—I could never tell which.

“Inside the stadium I quickly spotted the Notorious C.I.D. from amongst a crowd much smaller than the available space and quickly made my way to join him.

“ ‘Yo, Bandit, you made it!’

“ ‘Heya, Cid. Have I missed anything?’

“ ‘No, just the organizers trying to defraud our secret cash holdings for the Booster Club. They’ve announced a reception for the decenniels in the old science lab after the game.’

“ ‘Who’re we playing?’

“ ‘Some ritzy academy from Massachusetts. Real freaky kids. Fortunately the Black Hats have rigged the field in our favor. You shoulda seen their running back fall into the punji pit at the five yard line.’

“ ‘Uh-huh. Well, it doesn’t look like so many people have shown up, Cid.’

“ ‘Oh, come on! Look, how long has it been since you’ve seen Full-Nelson there? Multiple Man and Faxy Femme take up two full rows. Even the Hermit showed up! And this is just the game, man; there’ll be more at the reception and the dance.’

“ ‘Whoa! Is … is that Marvin Ellis?’

“ ‘Yeah… he calls himself the Masked Marv-El now…’

“ ‘What is up with that garish costume? Looks like he took the “colors clause” of the Evil Overlord List to heart. Still, I think the tights are a bit much.’

“ ‘Er, yeah, about that… he’s batting for the other team now, my friend.’

“ ‘Really? Eww. Aw, man! Now he’s looking this way and waving. Let’s get out of here before he comes up and tries to lecture us on the importance of a pure heart.’

“The game was nearly over anyway, so Cid and I slinked off to the reception being held in honor of the Class of 2002. Cid excused himself to join a practice session for the one-night return to the stage of Los Diablos, the old class mariachi band. I ended up standing next to the punch bowl, alone. Ah, the memories. As I was contemplating whether to leave and execute a flawless bank burglary, a familiar-looking behemoth of a man came stomping up.

“ ‘Hey, the punch okay?’

“ ‘I tested some on the rats and they didn’t die or mutate into vicious monsters, so I’d say it’s safe enough. Don’t touch the brownies, though.’

“ ‘Thanks. Say, you’re The Bandit! Wow, I didn’t expect to see you here.’

“ ‘Brock?! Brock the Bouncer!?! I almost didn’t recognize you in that suit.’

“ ‘Yeah, I work at a large corporation as a Henchman Manager. Pretty boring stuff, but I get paid several hundred grand to look tough.’

“ ‘Sounds like a pretty sweet deal…’

“ ‘Yeah, company health care plan and life insurance policy are top notch. I may not be the guy making the decisions, but considering the perks, who’d want that responsibility, anyway! Hey, what are you doing these days?’

“ ‘I work at a local non-profit law firm, The Injustice Foundation.’

“ ‘Whoa! A lawyer, Bandit?! Now that’s some Grade A villainy of the sort I’d expect from the salutatorian of our class!’

“ ‘Er, actually… I’m a Development Officer. I help them come up with ways to fleece funding to support the firm. Um, I’m in it more for the Cause than anything…’

“ ‘Oh yeah? What sort of work does The Injustice Foundation do?’

“ ‘We represent villains in the court of law against abuses of power perpetrated against them by superheroes. Do you know that sixty-eight percent of villains arrested by heroes aren’t read their Miranda Rights? Don’t even get me started about the violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by unlicensed vigilantes!’

“ ‘A visionary, huh? You always had a mind for the big things, Bandit. So where are you holed up these days? Got yourself a nice mountaintop fortress or a gothic skyscraper? I bet you’ve got some sort of orbital station or something!’

“ ‘Um, well, actually… I’m renting an apartment in the medical district….’

“ ‘Oh. Um, nice neighborhood?’

“ ‘It, uh, has a lot of local freelance henchmen for hire.’

“ ‘Sounds classy. So what do you do when you’re not working hard at the Injustice League?’

“ ‘Heh, clever. Um, I… well I’ve been doing some writing lately.’

“ ‘Really? What sort of stuff do you write?’

“ ‘Monologues, mostly.’

“ ‘For your capers?’

“ ‘Um, no. Fictional monologues. I like to explore themes and ideas in the free world of my own imagination. I’m hoping eventually one of the ideas I have in there will take root into something I can share with the world. It’d be really neat if my style caught on with the public and then I could make a living writing monologues for other villains.’

“ ‘Hey, that ever happens, you let me know. I’d be willing to hire you. You’d make me look smart.’

“ ‘Yeah, sure, Brock.’

“ ‘Nice catching up with you, Bandit. I’ll see you at the dance.’

“Yes, the dance. As if the reception, with all its awkwardness and embarrassing revelations weren’t enough, we were going to compound all of that into a stunning replication of the high school dance. Fortunately, I had used the years since my graduation developing many useful skills, one of which was the art of the foxtrot. Unfortunately, the first thing that happened as I entered the gym was Minerva Minx prowling up and asking me to dance.

“ ‘Hey there, Love Bandit, care to take an old flame onto the dance floor?’

“ ‘Minnie… wow, you look as beautiful as the day I last saw you.’

“ ‘So you’re the guy who’s been peeping through my windows at night.’

“ ‘What? Oh! Ha ha! No, I just mean… yeah, wanna dance?’

“ ‘Lead away, just don’t steal my heart.’

“ ‘As if I had fingers nimble enough for such a task.’

“It’s an odd thing, speaking with a beautiful woman you once adored. In high school I would have been so entranced by the proximity of her beauty that my melted brain would squelch out my ears with each thrum of my pounding heart. Now, having broken her spell years ago, it was surreal speaking to the same face while remaining calm and un-intimidated. Maybe it’s because I’ve carefully developed the ability to know when something is beyond my reach.

“ ‘Your feet seem to be pretty nimble, Bandit. I’m impressed. Done anything interesting in the past ten years?’

“ ‘I spent some time in Communist China, studying from the masters.’

“ ‘Oh? Did you learn to speak Chinese?’

“ ‘Yes, but embarrassingly I’ve forgotten most of it. I only remember a few key phrases like “thank you” and “not the children!” and “dear god please have mercy.” ’

“ ‘Any girl in your life? …ha, what’s with that sigh?’

“ ‘I recently orchestrated a terribly romantic proposal to Shelly Prince, complete with a symphony orchestra playing on threat of a bomb, only to have her stolen from my arms by Max McAwesome, or as he put it, “saved from my dastardly clutches.” ’

“ ‘Aww, I’m sorry. She doesn’t know what she’s missing. You always knew how to show a girl a good time, Love Bandit.’

“ ‘Heh, a lot of good it did me.’

“ ‘So, what do you do to keep your mind off your lost love?’

“ ‘I work for a local non-profit. But I’m thinking of going into politics.’

“ ‘Oh, c’mon, you’re not that evil.’

“ ‘Gee, thanks, Minnie.’

“ ‘No, I mean you’ve got great plans for the world. You’ve always been a hero to me.’

“ ‘That’s it, just keep laying on the insults.’

“Then she laughed and thanked me for the dance. What little remained of the evening was more of the same. I left before Needle-Nose unleashed his army of sentient ferrets.

“But in the end, I’m glad Cid got me to show up. My high school reunion provided a much-needed metric of my satisfaction to my current life path. And you know what I decided, McYawnsome? I decided that I wouldn’t be satisfied, I wouldn’t be a real villain until I saw you immediately dumped in a vat of acid or nuclear waste.

“And that is why I broke into this chemical facility and lured you into this trap above the storage cylinders. Goodbye, McAwesome, and good riddance.”