“I’m serious!” Robbie spread his hands wide as he said it, slowly, so as to not spill his fourth beer for the night.
The other two were laughing. Their fourth and fifth beers, respectively, helped to make the laughs a little more loud and freely given. Both the laughs and the alcohol helped with their ruddy glow and the flow of stories.
“‘Going somewhere, citizen?'” Neil laughed, repeating Robbie’s punchline.
“No way, man! He did *not* say that,” Kevin could barely sit upright.
Robbie took another sip. He was almost done with this glass and probably should leave a bit at the bottom for a while “Hey, it’s Gotham City. Everyone has a Batman story. You mean to tell me you guys don’t have a Batman story?”
The laughter trailed off just a bit, so eyes could narrow and search for memory. Kevin kept on chuckling, “No, man. No.” Softly, as if he was a bit ashamed by that and didn’t want the others to notice.
Neil remembered, though, and was ready. Setting a now-empty glass on the bar top, he got off the stool, slowly, raising his hands and taking the stage. “Huh, a ‘Batman story.’ Well, it’s not a ‘Batman story,’ exactly, I guess. But, damn. Just … damn.
“OK, you see, I was really into the guy when I was a kid. I think everyone was, you know? You’re in Gotham; you gotta root for the home team. It’s a point of pride. Our city may be shit that’s shit out of other shit, but we got the goddamn Batman, you know?”
Kevin and Robbie clinked their glasses together. Damn straight.
“But I mean I was *really* fucking into it. I even made my own cowl-type thing and cape out of a pillowcase. Like you do. Ya gotta cut them just right, you see, along the sides to make it an actual-to-goodness long cape. And I wore the crap out of that, like, *all* the time. Loved it. Well, except I never liked the way the fabric just sorta hung there. That never seemed right to me somehow. I mean, the news or someone will capture a photo every now and then, and you can see the cape, like, flowing. I swear there’s got to be like wires or some shit in there.”
Robbie couldn’t hold out. He drained the last sip and waved for another. After all, Neil was settling in to the story big time by now.
“OK, so, it gets bad. Like so bad. Before long, I’m wearing this cut-up pillowcase-thing under my shirt to school everyday. I’m making this rope-like thing to try to swing across whatever the hell it was that we called a garden. And, ah dammit. I actually stole Ray Fogle’s ninja stars after that one sleepover.”
“Shit!” Kevin pointed his pinky at Neil. “That was you? Fuck, I loved those damn things.” He turned to Robbie, “‘Cause why the hell else would you hang out with Ray the Gay Fogle?”
Neil went on, “Yeah, but I felt so goddamned worried or maybe guilty or whatever that I put them in a cigar box under the bed and never once tried to throw them. Anyway, the whole thing got so bad that I was actually staying up late, for hours, just hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I would lay down, just so, so I could stare out my bedroom window, and see this open space of sky framed by either side of the apartments. I knew the best I could hope for would be some split-second shadow as he leaped from one roof to the other, just a snapshot really, so I dared myself not to blink. But at some point, I would. And then I’d open them and it would suddenly be morning, time for school.
“Well, that wasn’t working, so naturally I started sneaking out at night. I got away with it for a little while, too. Or maybe my folks knew about it all along, and let me do it, as long as it was all still pretty innocent. Hell, it probably wasn’t even prime time, but to me it was like dead of midnight. And this goes on for like, days. Weeks.”
“No way!” Robbie said.
“And it starts getting later, and later. I swear by this time I’m probably spending more time out of the house at night than I am anywhere else. Until, after all that, who the hell do you think I run into, halfway around the corner, by the dumpster for the liquor store?”
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Kevin said, “Batman? You’re kidding.”
Neil leans in, his voice low and even. “It’s fucking Batman.”
The other guys pause, unsure. Then reel backward, laughing. “What!” and “Stop dickin’ around.”
Neil joins the laughs, but his are quiet ones, more sobering. “Yeah, yeah. I’m shitting you. Of course it’s my *dad,* in some pretty cool ass costume I have to say, because, damn. Little-kid-me was convinced that ‘Batman’ had caught me sneaking around my block. He gave me some speech about doing the right thing and staying safe and what the fuck ever. It was all I could do to stop pissing myself because I had *Batman* escorting me back home. Finally, we’re there, and I don’t want to go up those lobby steps. I turn and look back. He gives me one of those finger-pointing things, with his head cocked and one eye squinted, and says in the most cheesy-ass ways possible, ‘Be good, son!’ And then? Ducks and runs.”
Neil stopped the story and turned to the bar and his beer glass, waving so the bartender could see it was empty. Kevin and Robbie were laughing hard now– Robbie not sure whether to dry his eyes or give a slow clap, Kevin not sure whether to use Robbie to hold himself up or to keep slowly punching him in the arm.
Neil let the laughter go on for a while. The story needed some of it. Hell, Neil needed some of it, but could only reach the level of a wry smile.
“Damn!” Robbie kept chuckling. “Damn. Your dad was awesome. Who the hell wears a bat costume in Gotham City?”
“Exactly,” Neil was deadpan now. He received his drink as the laughter died to silence.
“You mean,” Robbie asked. Kevin looked down.
Neil raised a toast. “‘Be good, son.’ You can’t pick your last words better than that.”
“Everyone has a Batman story in this city. Can’t all be good ones, though.”
The three friends clinked their glasses one more time, then settled in to wait a while for the time the stories could start flowing again.
by Danny Wall (March 2015)