“Well that’s great! You have the whole weekend before you have to start!” The idiot doing all the yelling was my high school buddy, Arnold Jacks. We hadn’t been in school for years, but Arnie still acts like he’s in high school most of the time.
“Shut up, Arnie,” I said. “It’s your fault I’m in this jam in the first place.”
Arnie sat back on his couch and looked confused. The confusion may or may not have been because of my statement. Arnie spends most of his time dangerously drunk, so it’s hard to say what it is that has just confused him. After a bit of contemplating, he decided to look hurt.
“Man, why would you say that? What did I do?”
“You’re the one who made me go out drinking. I was just going to watch some TV. And also, you’re the one who said we should walk through the park mooning couples.”
“I did?” Arnie started laughing. “That’s so me. I wish I could remember the looks on their faces.”
“You’re getting off the subject. The point is, it’s your fault that I ended up in jail in the first place.” But the looks on their faces…priceless. Well, unless by price you mean serving something like two thousand hours of community service as a pansy hero.
“Well at least I bailed you out, right?”
“Wrong! I was in jail until this afternoon, and then…have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying?” I had come directly from the courthouse to Arnie’s house, mostly because I was in need of comfort. Southern Comfort. There’s always tons of liquor at Arnie’s house.
“No, man, not really. I mean, what? You went to jail, right? Yeah, I was listening.”
“The judge sentenced me to something like two thousand hours of community service, dressed in tights and fighting crime, you jackass!”
“What’s so bad about that? That was always your boyhood dream.” Arnie tried to lean back on the couch and take a drink of his martini, but it didn’t work out. First of all because he was sitting on the arm of the couch and second of all because his glass was empty.
He toppled onto the floor without ceremony.
You get used to Arnie falling off of things, so even if it should be funny, it’s mostly just monotonous. “Look, you made me spill my drink.”
“First of all, that was your boyhood dream, not mine. I’ve never wanted to help people, Arnie. Do you understand me? Never wanted to help people. And second of all, your glass was already empty.”
“It was a good dream while it lasted,” Arnie said dreamily. I had no idea if he was talking about the boyhood dream or the drink. It must have been the drink, though, because he poured himself another one and cheered right up. “So do you get to fly around and stuff?”
“You’re an idiot.” I took his martini away and drank it. I hate martinis, but sometimes it’s fun to take them away from Arnie just see to the sad face he makes when I do it. “They aren’t giving me super powers, they’re just giving me community service. It’s just like a job that you don’t get paid for doing.”
“I think super heroes do it for the reward of justice being served, not the reward of money.”
“If it was justice, you’d be the one doing the community service!”
“Well you should have had the good sense to pass out. I mean, come on, Howie, you have to know when to call it a night.”
“You didn’t ‘call it a night,’ you jerk. You passed out while you were taking a leak.”
“Details, details. Alls I’m saying is, I’m not the one who went to jail.”
“And all I’m saying is that it should have been.”
“You’re pretty hostile for a super hero. You’ll probably turn into a super villain at some point.”
“I’m not super anything, man! Unless you count super-screwed!”
“Well,” Arnie said, winking and tipping his glass towards me, “You’ll always have that.” He took a drink.
One thing about Arnie is, you rarely ever know where he gets his drink. I’ve seen him break probably a hundred martini glasses, I’ve seen him tip entire pitchers of liquor over onto the carpet, I’ve seen him drop beer, knock wine glasses off the table, and once I even saw him catch a bar on fire. All of this on accident, of course. But no matter what, he always has a fresh drink in his hand. That time the bar caught on fire, it burned down the whole building. We’re all standing there, desperate men half-full of liquor, watching our only source of happiness go up in flames, and there’s Arnie, a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a shot glass in the other. It’s pretty amazing, if you think about it, but I never do because it gives me a headache.
“What am I gonna do? This is the worse thing that has ever happened to me.”
“Really?” Arnie asked.
“What about that time your grandmother walked in on you and Rebecca Nelson?”
“Okay, this is the second worse thing that has ever happened to me.”
“What about the time your grandmother walked in on you while you were all by yourself?” He laughed and gin came out his nose.
“Shut up, Arnie.”
“It came out my nose. That really burns.”
“Listen, you need to quit moping around. You have two days to party before you have to start this hero thing, you might as well make the most of it.”
Listening to Arnie is generally a bad idea, but sometimes he makes a pretty good point.
“Oh, good grief, what is that smell?” The judge didn’t look too pleased to see me, which was fine, because I wasn’t all that pleased to see her, either.
I sniffed my armpit and almost gagged. “Ew! That would be me, I guess.”
“You smell like the vomit of an alcoholic.” I think she was trying to be insulting, but after the weekend I had just gone through, I figured she hit that nail more or less on the head. I didn’t remember much since the last time I had been in this courthouse, but it had all seemed like a good time while it was happening, I bet.
“You are the most disgusting man I have ever met, Mr. McKay.”
“That’s pretty disgusting I bet, seeing as how you have to judge degenerates all day.” I scratched my head and rubbed my eye. I wasn’t nearly as upset about coming back as I had thought I would be, mostly because I was still pretty drunk and the world seemed like a pretty happy place at the moment. “Do I get a trophy or something?” I laughed and winked to the bailiff who was standing in the corner. He didn’t smile, and he didn’t wink back.
“Pay attention, Mr. McKay.” That was the judge again, being all serious. I quit laughing and went back to scratching my head. “You will begin your community service every evening at six p.m. and you will end each night at midnight. If you are unable to perform your service, you must obtain permission from this court beforehand. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Like if I can’t go out and play super hero, I have to ask you first?”
“Exactly. If you fail to comply with this rule, it will be considered a violation of your sentence, and you will go to prison for three years. Do you understand?”
All of the sudden, everything wasn’t so funny. “If I miss a night, I go to jail for three years?”
She handed me a list. “Those are your duties. If you fail to comply with any of them, you will be dealt the maximum sentence. Three years in prison.”
“Wow. That really…” My mind was blank, and for once, my mouth couldn’t come up with anything on its own. “That really sucks.”
“I’m glad you think so. Maybe next time you’ll think twice before mooning people in the park.”
“Are you nuts? I won’t think at all! I mean, thinking once would be enough to make me change my, uh. Oh, yeah, right. Think twice, got it.” I gave her a thumbs up. “Okay, so is that it? Got my rules, my little list. Guess I’ll be going.”
“Not so fast, Mr. McKay.” Not so fast. Just like a James Bond movie. You know when people in power start talking like Bond villains that you’re screwed. “There’s still the matter of your costume.”
“Um, yeah, about that. Me and my friend were thinking about it over the weekend, we came up with some pretty good ideas, something with wings, maybe. Until we hash it all out, I can just wear a trench coat or something, Punisher-style, you know?”
“No, Mr. McKay, we have your costume already.” She did that smile thing again, that really evil smile that I had seen her do right before she sentenced me. That smile, it did horrible things to my stomach and to my testicles. Mostly because when she smiled like that, my testicles actually crawled up into my stomach, and there’s really no stopping the digestive system, no matter how much you would like to.
“Dennis, get the costume, please.” The bailiff opened a closet in the corner, and that bastard was sure smiling now. He pulled something out, but by then I was blind.
I fell to the ground, screaming, my hands over my eyes and a ringing in my head. Florescent is like the worst thing you can do to a guy with a hangover.
“Oh, quit being dramatic,” the judge said. “And get up. You’re stinking up my carpet.”
I climbed to my feet and Dennis the Sadistic Bailiff handed me the costume. I scanned my list of rules, and sure enough, rule number two was that I had to wear the costume. Damn.
“Okay,” I said. “Well, I guess I’ll be going now.”
“You’ll need to try it on.”
“Does your husband Satan know that you’ve left, or did you just kind of sneak out?”
“He knows better than to question me. There’s a bathroom down the hall. You have five minutes.”
I stared at myself in the mirror, even though it hurt me to do it. It hurt my eyes, yes, but it hurt even deeper than that. It hurt me down to the core of my being, you might say. There are some things that just aren’t right, you know? There are rules of nature, rules that we have to abide by as human beings, rules that have to be there in order to keep the world running smoothly. As I looked at the mirror, I realized that at least two, but probably more, of these rules were being broken.
I am not a small man. You don’t spend your life drinking beer and eating fast food with the hopes that it will get you into shape. Unless the shape you’re hoping for is that of a partially melted marshmallow or a ruined Jell-O sculpture. What I am is, I’m fat. And people who are fat in the ways that I am fat should never, ever, ever wear tights. It’s one of those rules I was talking about.
Every roll, every handle, every dimple of my body was displayed and highlighted. Every curve that wasn’t supposed to be there, every bulge, every lump. All of it shrink-wrapped in a fluorescent yellow body suit. I looked like a radioactive lemon with a weight problem. Even radioactive lemons have their dignity, though, and whatever dignity the bodysuit left was taken away by the rest of the outfit.
The rest of the outfit consisted of bright pink plastic boots that went up to my knees, like they were picked out by a color-blind stripper, and a pair of fluorescent pink running shorts to wear over the top of the body suit. In theory, I guess the shorts were to cover up my private areas so as not to offend anyone. I felt like I should be able to leave that part of the costume on the floor since people shouldn’t be looking at a man dressed like I was, anyway. Rule number two, though. To top it all off, there was a powder-blue mask, Lone Ranger-style, that I had to put on my face.
I walked down the hall, back to the judge’s office, shaking with rage and withdrawals. I opened the door and was once again blinded.
There are times in your life when you know the horrible truth behind what is happening, but your mind just won’t let you recognize it for what it is. I saw all of the people, I saw the tape recorders, I saw the cameras. I saw the evil judge and Dennis the Sadistic Bailiff, both of them smiling. And my first thought was that this was all just a big put-on. It was all a big joke to scare me, ha-ha, fooled you, now don’t be mooning people anymore, okay? That was my first thought, because the truth was just too terrible to accept.
I wanted to hide in my delusion, hide from the truth forever, I’d seen people do it in movies, and I was pretty sure I could pull it off. But that rotten judge, she ruined that, too.
“And here he is now!” She cried. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to present to you: Portly Boy!” That explained the giant blue “P” on my chest. I had just assumed it stood for the slang word to describe a woman’s genitalia.
As the cameras clicked and whirled, all I could think about was how I could make the judge suffer for this. I knew there had to be some way. Public humiliation, calling me fat to the press, this outfit. Oh, I was going to make her pay.
Then the questions started. I didn’t answer any of them. I just stood there, my mouth gaping, wondering what I had done to deserve this. I mean, sure I had mooned some people, but what the hell? The judge jumped in and started answering the questions, and you could tell she was trying not to laugh the entire time. I didn’t hear most of what she said because I was in shock, but I do remember she said it was my idea to carry out my community service dressed as a hero. Me and my big mouth.
In case you’re wondering, I never could sue her or anything, because technically, it had been my idea. I was being sarcastic, of course, but it didn’t matter. This is why you should take care not to be a smart ass.
It felt like the press conference would go on forever, but thankfully it ended when I threw up on the floor. Between all the liquor, the public humiliation, and the outfit, I guess my stomach just couldn’t handle it anymore. Dennis the Sadistic Bailiff hustled everyone out before they could get any more pictures, and the judge kept saying something about nerves.
“You’re going to pay to get that rug cleaned,” she said when everyone was gone.
“No, I’m not. I get nervous when I’m surprised. It’s your fault.”
“You’re the worst person I’ve ever met in my life.”
“I feel the same way about you,” I said. I felt a lot better. I’m not sure if it was because I had purged my body of all the booze I had been ingesting throughout the weekend, or because I puked on the judge’s rug, and I didn’t care. “Don’t I get a utility belt or something? Rule number four says I don’t get to have a gun.”
“Give him his ‘utility belt,’ Dennis.” She was trying not to look at her rug, but it was hard for her to look away from the damage.
That bastard Dennis was smiling again, and I was thinking about how my mouth had once again betrayed me. What he pulled out of the closet this time was a fanny pack, the same powder-blue color as a balloon that says “It’s a boy,” and the same color as my mask. I opened it up and examined the contents. There wasn’t much in there, which was kind of cool because at least I would have room for a pack of cigarettes.
There was a whistle, like the kind you’re supposed to blow on if you’re being assaulted. Going out dressed like this, I figured I would be getting assaulted plenty. There was a flashlight, some cheap thing you would find at a dollar store and would either leak battery acid all over the place or just explode when you turned it on. And there were three cans of low-grade pepper-spray. Not even the good stuff.
“Hey, what’s this?” I pulled out one of the cans of pepper-spray. “Knock-out gas or something?”
“It’s pepper spray,” Dennis the Sadistic Bailiff said.
“How does this work?” I pointed the nozzle at my face and acted like I was about to push the button.
“No not like that,” he said. He stepped closer. I flipped the can upside-down, so now it was pointing at him. “No you idiot, like this.” He reached for it, all frustrated with the moron who doesn’t know how to work pepper spray.
I hit the button with my thumb and pepper-sprayed the hell out of old Dennis. He screamed and stepped back, and I started apologizing all over the place, telling him how I didn’t realize how it worked, which way do you point it, are you okay.
He was still staggering around with one hand over his eyes, yelling all kinds of curse words, and the judge was telling me just get the hell out of here before I made it worse or before Dennis could see well enough to shoot me. That’s when Dennis stepped on the rug.
In case you don’t know, vomit is pretty slippery. You don’t want to be walking around on it even when you have your wits about you. And you sure don’t want to be stamping around in it when you’re half blinded by pepper-spray and enraged. Dennis slipped, and his legs went flying up into the air, just like those bad guys on Home Alone. Puke went flying all over the place–I’m not sure if it was from the bottom of his shoes or because it splattered when he landed in it–and that’s when I bolted. I couldn’t hold in my laughter any longer, not for a million bucks.
I was halfway home, still laughing, before I realized I was still wearing my stupid costume. The way I remembered was because someone threw a can of Pepsi at me as they drove by and called me some really hateful names.
The first thing I did when I got home was strip down to my underwear and throw the costume into the corner. It was still too bright for my dumpy house, so I threw some dirty clothes over the top of it. The second thing I did was check out my list of rules. At the top of the list was a short paragraph.
“As per order of the court,” blah, blah, blah, “your sentence includes,” blah, blah, blah, “service begins,” blah, blah, blah. And then I saw it. I’m pretty sure it was a typo, but it didn’t matter. That first paragraph said I didn’t have to start my duty until the next night, and that was good enough for me. I tossed the list on top of the pile of dirty clothes, took a shower, and went to bed.
And that was my first day as a hero.