Up,Up, and Away!

by Michael Channing

In the neighborhood where I grew up, all the fathers had different specialties. Some dads were good at fixing cars, while others were good at fixing barbecue. My dad was really good at fixing heroin. And because he was my dad, I had to take pride in something he did. When any kid on the playground sounded the age-old boast, "My dad can beat up your dad," I would reply, "Oh yeah? Well, my dad died twice. He's immortal."

I looked everywhere for an escape. I read comic books in my Granny's attic and dreamed of being able to fly away like Superman. I just knew I was an alien. But my parents refused to acknowledge they'd found me in a smoldering crater swaddled in blue and red clothes.

Super meSo I figured if my super powers weren't going to evolve naturally, the only other way to get them was with, according to comic book lore, radiation. Turned out there were very few sources of radioactivity in my hometown. No nuclear power plants or toxic waste dumps. With all the protests and talk of nuclear winter that went on in the 80s, you would have thought there'd be leaking barrels of the stuff sprinkled everywhere like a church Easter egg hunt. There was the hospital where my mom worked, and the glowing promise of the x-ray machine. But even if your mom is a registered nurse and you say you're bringing her a present, hospital security will not let you carry live turtles and a jar full of spiders up to the fifth floor.

One Christmas I opened the gift that seemed to be the answer to my super power prayers. A chemistry set. But the experiments outlined in the manual that came with my chemistry set did not make me invisible, strong, or bouncy, nor did they produce webs, explosions, or ninja smoke bombs. There was an experiment in which I created a solution of water and cobalt then performed a test that confirmed the presence of cobalt. Proving beyond doubt that real-life science sucks.

So I went to the library and checked out a book certain to yield more interesting and eyebrow-singeing research. I found a book on alchemy. If you don't know what alchemy is, it's what chemistry used to be before OSHA came along and screwed it up. I read about the guy who discovered phosphorous. Phosphorous glowed in the dark and was explosive, which made me wonder why Nickelodeon wasn't already selling this stuff next to the Gak. The guy found this miracle element by combining two ingredients and baking them at high temperatures in a crucible. I put those same ingredients in a test tube and held it over an open flame. I should reveal that those two ingredients were sand and urine.

I failed to take two things into consideration. One: the scent of boiling urine. And Two: the speed at which that scent would fill a trailer home.

My mom caught whiff of my experiment and burst into my room yelling, "What the goddamned hell are you doing in here?" Now, my mother is and always has been a staunch Christian. Normally, the strongest phrase she'd ever utter would be "John Brown it!" Even "gosh darn" was sinfully close to the real thing. But in this case I believe God will overlook this trespass; after all, her house smelled like a bus station bathroom that was on fire.

"Mom, don't," I said. "You can't get mad. I'm doing science. Look, I made this." I held up my newest creation. "It's blackened sand. That smells like piss. Eureka!"

When I realized I wouldn't be able to obtain powers through chemistry like my dad, I decided a safer route would be to simply pretend.

Dungeons and Dragons entered my life pretty much the same way masturbation did. I had heard frightening rumors about this mysterious activity in movies and at church. There were books to aid in its execution, but you didn't want anyone to catch you reading them at school. And when I finally figured out what it was, I wondered why I hadn't been doing this all along.

My mom was worried by my new hobby. Her pastor told her the game would lead me to worship Satan, sacrifice my brother in a dark ritual, then commit suicide. Of course he also said the same thing about The Smurfs. But then Mom actually witnessed me and my friends playing D&D at the house, and thought to herself, "Oh. My son collects dice. And keeps them in a cloth bag along with his virginity. He'll be fine."

The Marvel Super Heroes role playing game offered me the chance to create and act out my own hero. With a few rolls of the dice, I created a character that had exactly two powers. One was Hyper-Swimming, and the other was--get ready for it--Sonar. That's right, I randomly rolled a super dolphin. Because I always wanted to be Aquaman, but without all the usefulness and respect.

Yet this character was still better than real-life me. He could see with sound and outdistance a speedboat in open water. I had glasses slightly smaller than aquariums on my face and could barely walk eight feet without stumbling over air. So I played Dolphinman to the hilt. When facing the scum and villainy of the city, I would shout, "Stand back, evil-doers, or face the high-pitched squeak of Justice!" Then I would jump through a flaming hoop to prove I meant business.

Me with arms wide open

Not much has changed since I was a nerdy kid out of place in every school I attended. I still don't fit in at work or at the sporadic social gatherings I attend. The biggest difference is that though my peers still find me weird, they rarely give me wedgies or put gum in my hair. The need to escape is still there--and as an adult, there are so many more things to escape from--but the portals are easier to find. I can obtain books or games much easier now than I could when I was ten. I still can't fly, and I'm not very strong, but at least I've learned not to cook my own pee. Though I probably shouldn't have put that on my resumé.

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Chokes and Warbles
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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing