“That’s not what I’m saying,” Jason said. “What I’m saying is that if you could choose any super power, any one, the coolest one would be invisibility. Because you could sneak anywhere and hide anywhere and do whatever you wanted. And no one would ever, I mean ever, catch you, if you’re quick and smart enough. But you have to be quick and you have to be smart.”
“The only thing you’d do with invisibility is spy on girls in the shower,” said Cindy.
“He already does that on Facebook,” said Tim.
“Hey, asshole, let’s keep what I might do and what I could do separate. What I’m saying is that, if, and that’s a very big if, anyone had the power to do what they wanted with any super power, they’d be best off with invisibility. I’m telling you.”
Cindy shifted in her seat. Tim put his arm around her waist underneath the table. “What about infinite strength? Wouldn’t you want to crush an ugly crook’s skull with your bare hands or lift a train off the tracks?” said Tim.
“Aw, come on,” said Jason. “What kind of morals would you have then?”
“What do you mean by morals,” said Tim. “I’d have a lot of fun with infinite strength, like doing lifting competitions for money, but I’d do good stuff too, like rescuing a few puppies from caves and shit like that. I’d be like Superman except less vulnerable to Krypton.”
“Kryptonite,” said Cindy. “Krypton was Superman’s planet.”
“Yeah – that’s what I meant. Kryptonite,” said Tim, scratching his face.
“Superman knows nothing about what it means to help people,” said Jason.
“Is that why you think he doesn’t have any morals – because he doesn’t help people?” said Tim, raising his eyebrow in scorn.
“Do you really think he’s sacrificing anything by saving people falling from buildings? No. He fucking grew up strong and lifted tractors when he was a kid, while the other toddlers just pissed their Huggies and ran away on the playground.”
“Were you one of those toddlers?” said Cindy.
“Hold on, Jason. Just because he’s from a distant planet in outer space,” he wiggled his fingers, “Doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about us humans. He was raised by them, after all.”
Jason sighed. “He has no idea what it’s like to be like a human – to really be one of us ordinary bored and tired people. Even his alter ego, Clark Kent, is a weakling who’s shy with girls. It’s easy enough to care when you know you’re not in any real danger. But it takes guts to fight when you’re scared. Batman is scared. He’s human. But, no, Superman is arrogant. After all, his name is fucking Superman, which is one big ego trip.”
“Wait. Hold on a minute. What do you mean, ego trip?” said Tim.
“Ego trip. Think about it. He calls himself Superman. Super-fucking-Man. He not only calls himself a man, and he is most definitely is not one. He’s actually some weird alien loner from a destroyed planet. But more than that, he thinks he’s better than us people,” said Jason. “He’s an asshole.”
“Yeah, well… Of course he is better than people. He’s strong.”
“Yeah, but is that the only standard that one person is better than another. This superman, who’s not even a man, goes around town with his arrogant title, until he gets a little moody and has to hide in his fortress of solitude. He must be narcissistic. He saves a few kittens from a tree and all of a sudden he wants parades so he can fly around in his specially made tights, thinking he’s king shit, doing good deeds. Then when he gets into real trouble, he takes a fucking vacation in outer space until he can get the upper hand again,” said Jason. “He’s like a hack celeb hiding from the paparazzi until he can score some free publicity with a shitty B-movie.”
Tim shook his head. “You’re getting waaaay ahead of yourself. It’s smart to hide till you think up a good strategy to beat your enemy. There’s no point in running head first to your own death. And he might call himself Superman but he’s not a stupid man. You’re not giving him any credit. And, back to your own super power. Let’s not forget that. You think you’re morally better because of your invisibility. Your invisibility cloak is a super power too! Or have you forgotten that? You’re sacrificing less than the average guy does when you fight crime. You even said it yourself that invisibility was the best thing to have. So, by your unrealistic standards, you’d have less to lose like the superman you hate so much.”
“Swoosh,” said Cindy.
Jason shooed her away with his hand.
“Oh, but you’re forgetting one important detail, Timmy boy. I didn’t always have the invisibility. I’m still vulnerable to bullets, unlike the man of steel, and I have to sneak around like a god- damn ninja. Some mob boss could easily sprinkle powder and track my footsteps, get heat seeking devises or whatever he wants. I got to not only be brave but I have to be smart. Unlike Superman, I have to deal with different dangers instead of the oh-so-rare Kryptonite. Plus, he wears tights. If I were a superhero, I wouldn’t prance around in red and blue tights. I bet he chafes.”
“This is a stupid conversation,” said Cindy. “You guys are stupid.”
Tim nudged Cindy in the ribs and then said: “Ok. Forget about Superman for one second. You talked about the Bat. He doesn’t have any real super powers, but he does have the skill. Would you choose skill and smarts over invisibility? He hides out in a cave, has technology up his ass, and shows off his cash at all the high-roller parties. I’d trade that life for your invisibility,” said Tim. Cindy rolled her eyes and then stabbed a stack of waffles with her fork.
“Batman’s got issues,” said Jason. “His parents died when he was a kid, and he hangs around like a father figure to a circus orphan. Plus he’s compensating for his own dad’s death with a dinosaur butler. And he wears tights.”
“What’s it with you and tights?” said Cindy.
Tim tapped the table to get Jason’s attention and then said, “He might have a few mental problems but who doesn’t? He might compensate, but he can ride around on speed bikes and swoop down catching crooks. The Bat has a pretty awesome thing going on, if you ask me.”
“I have no sympathy for either of you.”
The hostess held the front door open so a customer in a dark suit could enter. He was tall with white whiskers, holding a worn hat in his hands. A waitress with a tan apron waddled over to the man and seated him with his brother, who finished his last sip of lukewarm coffee. He folded his newspaper and shook his hand.
“I’m sorry I’m so late,” Ralph said, red-faced and numbed from the air outside. “Do you mind if I order a cup. I’ve been working all day on a new contract with the Marshall people. You know how it is.”
“I ordered for you. I hope you don’t mind. It’s been a while. How are the wife and kids?”
Ralph said, after brushing his jacket off, “Well… my youngest of the two is having trouble.”
“What kind of trouble? It’s nothing serious I hope,” said Dave.
“Well. Michael’s been having a lot of issues lately.”
“What kid doesn’t have issues these days?”
“That’s what I thought….”
“What kind of issues are we talking about here, if you don’t mind me asking?”
A chubby waitress walked up to the two men, “Need anythan’ hon?”
“A slice of pumpkin pie. Thanks.”
She filled their two cups with boiling coffee, black and steaming, before walking to check on the other tables. The three students behind the men laughed loudly in the diner like rusty trumpets in a broken orchestra. The restaurant had a steady murmur of conversation, a smell of crispy bacon and fried ham. The hostess opened the glass door again. This time she seated a new table of three, one with an oxygen mask on his face. They thanked her and hunkered down into their seats like skeletons dangling their bones in a dance. The waitress walked up to the new table, expecting them to leave her a bad tip as the old generally do, and introduced herself by writing her name on a napkin. They called her “dear” and thanked her and asked questions about the specials. She pretended to be interested in what they had to say and laughed politely at their comments and then walked away to grab three menus.
“That was a really nice service,” said Martha.
“I don’t know how nice a service can be,” said Al.
“Jill looked nice, at least. They really made her look like she used to.”
“She was ugly before she died.”
“Oh, quiet, you. You’re just upset you lost your watch.”
“That watch was in my family for three generations. My great grandfather wore that watch in the war. Won it in a hand of poker. My father’s father gave it to my father who gave it to me it when I turned twelve, back in ’08. Said it was a family heirloom. Best of its kind,” said Al. “Now it’s gone.”
“I,” breathed the wrinkled man into the oxygen mask, “think,” he said.
“Rest yourself, Edgar. You’ve had a long day.”
“I… I…I… ” said Edgar, slumped over in his wheelchair like a roll of wet toilet paper.
“If the man wants to say something, let him say it,” said Al.
The waitress with three moles on her chin walked up to the booth behind the three top. She placed a brown pie on the table, filled with whipped cream and a cherry. Dave and Ralph looked at each other and talked quietly as their coffee cooled. The waitress grabbed a steel container and filled their cups up before walking into the kitchen.
“Listen Ralph,” said Dave. “Has your boy told her yet?”
“No, but I’m afraid he will. He hasn’t spoken to me since he saw.”
“All men slip up,” said Dave. “You are still a man… I suggest you come clean with Jesse. You can’t lie to her forever.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that? I made a mistake, but I still love her. I don’t want to hurt her anymore than necessary.”
“Did you want to hurt her when you…” Dave leaned closer and then stopped.
Ralph looked away for a moment into the reflective glass and then sipped his coffee.
Dave sat there and waited.
“To tell you the truth, Dave, it wasn’t the first time I slept with her, even in our house, even in my wife’s own bed. Little Mike saw me touching her in the garage, if you want to put it gently. I don’t know how much he saw, but he couldn’t even look at me anymore. I yelled at him, I told him to fucking leave or I’d belt him. I wasn’t thinking. I asked him later what was the matter to see what he would say, but he kept coloring in his damn book. He wouldn’t even look at me. I really screwed this whole thing up. I have nobody to talk to anymore… You’ve got to help me. I need somebody to help me.”
“How am I supposed to help you?” said Dave, feeling anger rising from his stomach to his throat. He didn’t even want to be here, but Ralph was his younger brother and he had to stay. There was no way he could go back to work, not after this news. But his monthly reports were due later that day. His boss wouldn’t be as understanding. He felt guilty for even thinking about his work when his kid brother had screwed up again. But this was the kind of thing Ralph did often.
Dave struggled to find words for a moment. Then he said:
“Listen, Ralph. Maybe he didn’t really know what he saw.”
“Oh, he knew. Mike might be young, but he’s not that young.”
“Then you have to tell her,” said Dave. “It’s the only way.”
“How can I blow fifteen years of marriage?”
“It was her sister, for Christ-sakes!” said Dave, feeling a splash of fury inside his chest. The three students looked over at the table and began to whisper. The waitress eyed the two men, but went back to placing a check on the table.
In the booth behind Ralph and Dave, Martha leaned over to Edgar’s face, her large bosoms flapping in her polka-dotted undershirt. “Would you like me to feed you, dear?” Edgar curled his mouth and looked away from her as he breathed through the tank.
“Leave the old man alone,” said Al. “Can’t you see he’s still upset over Jill’s wake.”
“I was only trying to help,” said Martha, looking down.
“You’ve helped enough.”
“Humph! You have no manners,” said Martha.
“You wouldn’t know manners if they bit you on the behind.”
“I’ve had about enough of you. You’ve been rotten this whole trip.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m with such pleasurable company.”
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you. You really don’t know how much I slave after you even if I told you. You don’t give me any thanks. Clean this, clean that, like an old grizzly bear by the T.V. set. At least Edgar knows how to treat a lady.”
“Edgar doesn’t even know what planet he’s on half the time.”
“I-I,” said Edgar.
“Keep it up mister. I swear I’ll leave you like your first wife.”
“Don’t mention her name to me, Martha. You know how I hate that name.”
“Irene. Irene. Irene.”
“Will you shut it?”
“You started it.”
“Children,” said Edgar.
“What,” said Al.
“I get it,” said Al.
“I don’t,” said Martha.
“Hey, Martha. Why don’t you sit over here by the light, where the seat is much warmer?”
“Why are you being so nice all of a sudden?”
Al and Edgar exchanged glances.
“Umm. Well. Can’t I do something nice for my lady without a whole damn investigation?”
“I guess not.”
Al pulled Martha closer to him, feeling her warm wrinkled hand cupped inside of his. The waitress passed their table and walked over to another booth, where the three students were talking excitedly about nothing. She balanced three of their plates on her arm and strolled into the kitchen, while whistling Beethoven’s Sonata off-key.
“I’m so tired of the lame way kids use slang nowadays,” said Jason.
“You mad,” said Cindy.
“Exactly,” said Jason, pressing his finger hard to the table. “Back in the 1920s, American slang had style, it had class. You could walk up to some dame with a trench coat on, light her cigarette, and tell the other kids to beat it, before you asked her off to ‘make out hill.’ Now all you hear these days are fucking kids talking about ‘noobs’ and ‘YOLO’ and ‘epic fails.’ If your life revolves around a silly acronym on a T-shirt, then you need to get another life.”
Tim cleared his throat and then said, “You have a point, but you shouldn’t romanticize the older generations. For example, mothers used to buy and smoke ‘healthier’ cigarettes when they were pregnant because the doctors said so. How ignorant were we then?”
“We’re still plenty ignorant,” said Cindy. “Exhibit A.”
She pointed to Jason. He smiled mockingly at her.
“We’re so ignorant we think we’re not. Wait. Does that make any sense?” said Tim.
“No,” said Cindy.
“Are you saying that we think we are smart and wise but we aren’t,” said Jason.
“I agree in a sense. Except with my case for invisibility.”
“Let’s not start that again,” said Cindy.
“Agreed,” said Tim. “I guess what I’m saying is that every generation thinks they have all the answers but those answers prove to be lacking or just plain wrong, in a lot of cases. People used to think the earth was flat, for Christ Sakes.”
“That’s true, but without working toward something with what we have or at least think we have, we’re working toward nothing.”
“That depends on what you’re working toward,” said Tim.
“I’m working on a new plate of waffles,” said Cindy. “Waitress, over here,” she gestured.
“How do we know we’re working toward anything good,” said Jason.
“We might never know, but we could, at least, suspect that what we’re doing might have good results, if we see its close effects.”
“What do you mean, close effects?”
“Well,” said Tim. “Einstein didn’t know there would eventually be GPS devices when he was working on his theory of General Relativity. He was working on it for entirely different reasons.”
Jason frowned for a moment. “He also didn’t know that E = MC^2 would lead to the atomic bomb.”
“I didn’t know Freaks and Geeks would be cancelled,” said Cindy.
“I didn’t know that you didn’t know that,” said Jason.
“Now you know.”
“Ok – so back to the close effects I’m talking about. We can’t be absolutely sure in knowing everything or even some of everything, but sometimes, we can make reasonable guesses based on how little we really know, if that ‘little’ is something we actually know, or at least, what we use to find out more.”
“Huh,” said Cindy.
“Wait. I got it. But sometimes those guesses are horribly wrong,” said Jason. “Sometimes we fuck up and BAD.”
“What would happen if I put syrup on this stack of waffles? Would I eventually end up in a ditch somewhere, asking myself how life could be so bad if I only used butter?” said Cindy.
Jason smirked. Tim nudged her in the ribs but she pushed him back. Tim backed off and then said to Jason, “That reminds me of what we once learned in philosophy, back in undergrad, about time paradoxes.”
“What about them?” said Jason, feeling his sideburns.
“Well. From what I remember, if you went back in time and killed your grandfather, would you end up killing yourself, or would you even be there in the first place, because you already killed your grandfather and wouldn’t exist because you weren’t born, or would you kill your grandfather in another timeline and then exist in an alternate one?”
“Um,” said Cindy. “I’ll go ask Doc Brown.”
“How can you, if you are you, kill your grandfather if you don’t exist because you killed your grandfather?” said Jason.
“Exactly,” said Tim. “Paradox.”
“Maybe the answer comes from a different idea of what time is. What model are we using?”
“I don’t know,” said Tim. “I was thinking about linear time from classical physics – entropy accelerating in a closed system, if the universe is a closed system. But maybe it isn’t. I don’t know.”
“Maybe if I hit you in the head with a hammer, the answer will come to you,” said Cindy.
“She’s so violent, so, so, violent. Timmy boy. You need to get her to stop watching those Tom & Jerry Re-Runs.”
“Itchy & Scratchy,” said Cindy. “And don’t you forget it.”
The waitress walked up to these three, somewhat flustered in the face. She let out an exasperated sigh and said, “We’re closing in 15 minutes. Would you like your check?” Cindy, Jason, and Tim looked at each other. Tim stood up and said, “I’m going to the bathroom.” As soon as he left, Jason said, “That guy said he would love to pay for us. Just put the bill on his side of the table.” Cindy sniggered. “Let’s get out of here before he comes back.” Jason said, “Tim isn’t known for controlling his temper.” Cindy said, “I’ll handle the big klutz. It’ll be funny.”
The two men in dark suits sat inside their booth and talked for what seemed like hours, days, months, years, decades, ticking slower and slower, until freezing in one instant. Dave unrolled cash from a silver clip and tossed a folded bill on the table.
“We’ve been here a while, Ralph, going over the same thing for no reason than to just talk. We’re not getting anywhere with this. You already know how I feel. You can choose to listen or you can hide the truth. I’m going back to the office. If you feel you want to change your mind, stop on by. If not, then I don’t know what else I can tell you.”
“I will,” said Ralph. “But I’m still unsure.”
“Let’s think about this some more tomorrow. How about you come to my office anyway?”
“That sounds fine.”
Ralph slumped over and rubbed his face with his hands, the bags under his eyes transparently showing the blood underneath the skin. Dave stood up and walked out of the restaurant doors. He did not look back. The lights in the kitchen switched off. Bussers and dishwashers whipped each other with wet towels in the back room. One of the waitresses was telling the cook that she had a lousy night. She was on the schedule for another double tomorrow. Maybe she could take off and bring her son to the carnival if she called Amanda to work in her place. The cook didn’t like her but nodded anyway. The kitchen staff scrubbed the floor and wrapped the food and unbuttoned their uniforms and clocked out. The red and white tables smelled of cleaning fluid. Shadows fell across the restaurant in still silence, until a few hours later, when it all would start again.