An Interview with SupermanbyFrancisMacomber©
He didn't look that weird when he walked into the room. Actually, he had a nice face with a pleasant smile, and it was clear that he worked out regularly. But there was no getting past the blue spandex suit, the red cape and, of course, the big S on his chest.
For at least the tenth time I silently cursed my editor for assigning me to write a story about a nut.
She'd called me into her office a couple of days ago. "Have you heard about the guy who's running around the city in a Superman suit?" she asked me.
"Nope," I replied. "Sounds like a nut job to me."
"Could well be," she admitted, "but the geniuses in the City section think there might be a story in it and they want us to get it. We've tracked him down and he's agreed to an interview. Guess who gets to do it," she said pointedly.
"Why do I always get the weirdos?" I asked, lifting my eyes to the heavens, but I got the assignment anyway. Whoopee.
All that flashed through my mind as I rose to meet him. I could only hope it wouldn't be too bad. "I'm Elle Finn," I said, rising to shake his hand.
"Alex Stevenson," he said, returning my handshake. "Pleased to meet you."
We sat down and I pulled out my recorder. "I'll be recording today's interview," I said. "Is that okay?"
"Sure," he said easily, "no problem."
I double-checked the microphone to be sure it was on. "Okay, this is Elle Finn, reporter for The New York Times, interviewing Alex Stevenson, a.k.a. Superman. Mr. Stevenson, let's cut to the chase here: do you really believe you're the Man of Steel?"
"I wish you'd call me Alex," he replied. "It would make this a lot friendlier." He gave me that easy smile, and I nodded my agreement. "Anyway, in answer to your question, no, I'm the farthest thing from a superhero."
"So why do you wear the suit?" I prodded.
His face took on a serious aspect. "I guess because I didn't want to be vulnerable any more."
I tried not to react, but that wasn't what I was expecting. "It sounds like someone must have hurt you pretty badly," I said carefully. "Want to tell me about it?"
He gave a little sigh. "Okay," he said, and began to tell his story.
The F train had that peculiar dank smell it gets some times in the summer, and I was glad when I finally reached my stop on Queen's Boulevard. But once I climbed the stairs into the merciless sun at street level, I almost wished I was back under ground. By the time I had walked to our apartment, I was dying to get inside and into the air conditioning.
Usually, Glenda beat me home, but the apartment was dark and quiet when I unlocked the door. After I'd cooled off and changed into shorts and a t-shirt, I went out into the kitchen and began preparing dinner. When I heard the front door open, I called out, "Hey, babe, I'm in the kitchen. It's so hot that I thought a salad might be nice for dinner. Is that okay with you?"
She stuck her head around the doorframe. "Before you do that, could you come out here and talk with me?"
"Sure," I said, and washed my hands before walking into the combination living/dining room. Glenda was sitting on the couch with her arms folded and her legs pressed together as though it was freezing. When I saw the expression on her face, I asked, "Is everything okay, babe?"
She raised her head but she didn't look me in the eye as I plopped down in the arm chair. "God," she said, "this is harder than I thought."
Now I was concerned. "What is it, Glenda? What's happened?"
She took a deep breath and then let it all out abruptly. "I don't know any other way to do this, Alex, so I'll just say it straight out: I want a divorce."
"What?" I asked stupidly. "Is this a joke or something?"
"No," she said quietly, "I'm not joking. I'm going to file for divorce."
I felt as though I had fallen into one of the bad novels I have to edit at work, except that the characters usually have witty comebacks. I had nothing. "But why? We have a good marriage. I don't want a divorce -- I love you."
She shook her head impatiently, like I was a child slow to learn his lessons. "No, it hasn't been good for a long time. I've felt it, even if you haven't." She shifted her position on the sofa and leaned forward as though she were trying to sell me something. "It's nothing you did, Alex, it's just that we've grown apart. It's nobody's fault – these things just happen sometimes."
I tried to protest but she held up her hand. "Please don't," she said. "There's nothing you can say to make me change my mind. I'm just going to pack a bag and then I'm leaving," she went on.
I was still in a state of disbelief. "Leaving? Where are you going? Can't we talk about this?"
She shook her head sadly. "I'm going to stay with a friend until we can get everything finalized here. Please just accept it. Neither one of us wants to say anything that will make this harder than it already is."
With that she disappeared into our bedroom, and as I stood there in shock, she reappeared in a remarkably brief time, rolling her suitcase behind her. It was as if she already had it packed and waiting.
"Please, Glenda, what about counseling? Can't we find somebody . . ."
She brushed by me and opened the door. "I'm sorry, Alex, there's nothing to talk about. It has to be this way." With that she rolled the bag over the threshold and pulled the door shut behind her, leaving me standing there in stunned silence.
I slowly walked back to the sofa and collapsed on it. In the kind of novels I edit, the main character goes into a towering rage, or heads off to the nearest bar to get drunk, or leaves to try to get laid. I did none of those things. Instead I sat there in the growing darkness and tried to find answers to the questions swirling through my head. I simply could not comprehend what had happened, much less why.
My relationship with Glenda had not been remarkable. We'd gone to the same college and had been part of a group that hung out with each other all four years we'd been there. Most of the time none of us actually dated each other; it had been easier to do things as a group rather than pairing off. But during our senior year, Glenda began going with a guy who wasn't part of our group, so we didn't see her as much as in the past. I think she was hoping he'd pop the question, but he opted for grad school in California and they broke up at graduation.
I'd been an English major and, like so many others, wanted to get into the publishing business after graduation. Therefore, like so many others, I moved to New York City and started job hunting. Five hundred resumes and forty interviews later, I was working as a waiter and living with five other friends in a two-bedroom apartment in a bad section of Brooklyn.
Then I caught a break. It turned out my grandfather actually knew someone in the publishing industry, and when he found out about my dreams he called in a favor. The upshot was that I managed to land an internship at a real publishing company. The bad news was that the internship paid only the minimum wage, so I still had to wait tables at night after I got off from my day job. The good news was that I was now actually working in the industry to which I aspired and had the chance to learn what publishing was all about from the inside.
I was now working two full jobs and earning one meager salary (including tips), but the wonderful thing about youth is that you have both the energy and the naivety to put up with such conditions for longer than anyone not in actual slavery.
It was on a Tuesday night when I wasn't scheduled to work at the restaurant that my roommates and I decided to head to a midtown Manhattan bar and waste some of our precious earnings on overpriced alcohol. As we were talking boisterously, I glanced up to see none other than Glenda Preston walk into the bar with two girlfriends.
He stopped his narrative suddenly. "Can you leave her name out of this?" he asked.
"Why?" I asked curiously.
He looked at me a bit sheepishly. "I guess I'm still trying to work my way through all this. Somehow, starting open warfare with her doesn't seem like it would help."
I was surprised; it seemed my nut case had more depth than I'd suspected.
"Actually, that will make it easier on me," I told him. "That way I won't have to track her down and get her side of the story. More to the point, this is supposed to be about Superman, not his ex-wife."
"Okay, good," he said, and resumed his story.
When I spotted her, I almost knocked my roommate's beer bottle out of his hand as I rushed over to greet her. But as I neared her little covey, I pulled up short, suddenly hesitant. Would she be as eager to see me as I was to reconnect with her? But at that instant she glanced up, and when she spotted me she squealed, "Alex!" and rushed to embrace me. We hugged, then she drew back, looked at me carefully and kissed me on the mouth. I wasn't sure where that was coming from, but it felt wonderful so I really didn't care.
She put her arm around my waist and introduced me to her girlfriends. I, in turn, dragged them over to meet my roommates, thereby earning innumerable brownie points with them, since none of us was that comfortable trying to pick up girls.
Glenda and I had a great time that evening; it was as if we were still back in college. Much later than I had originally intended, we finally had to call it a night, and after exchanging phone numbers she gave me another kiss, this one full of promise.
We began seeing each other every chance we could get. The only difference was that this time there was no group to distract us or buffer our interaction, and thus the relationship seemed to take off faster and burn hotter than I think either of us expected.
One of the realities of poverty-level living is how difficult it is to find a time and place to be alone together. My apartment was a disaster as a rendezvous: one or more of my roomies was always appearing out of nowhere, usually at a most inopportune time. Even when I planned ahead and "reserved" one of the two bedrooms for a few hours, someone was likely to walk in suddenly, oblivious to our desire for privacy.
Glenda's place was a little better because there were only four roommates in total and all were girls who understood and observed the rules of social etiquette much more scrupulously. Nevertheless, their place was tiny and the interior walls were thin, so true privacy was nonexistent, especially when we were in the throes of passion. It was unnerving enough to hear giggles coming through the door; hearing a running commentary on our coupling was really too much.
Despite all the obstructions our relationship continued to flourish and we began to talk about finding a place for just the two of us. But the realities of New York City real estate and entry-level salaries made that just another rose-colored pipe dream -- until fate stepped in once again.
Out of nowhere there was a shake-up at the publishing company and a junior editor position became available. I guess I had made a good impression because the job was offered to me. It only paid about what I could earn in a good month as a waiter, but it came with employee benefits so I didn't hesitate to turn in my waiter's uniform and become a real book editor.
No sooner had we celebrated my good fortune than Glenda had a similar windfall. She had been temping at Denison and Lowser, one of the many big law firms in town, and when a paralegal job came open, they hired Glenda full time. She too was low man on the totem pole, but law firms pay better than publishing houses and her starting salary was higher than mine.
More importantly, when we added our take-home pay together we realized that we just might have enough to make our dream a reality. After a lengthy search we found a small apartment on the sixth floor of an old building out in Forest Hills. The only reason we could afford it was because the building was almost a mile from the nearest subway stop. We took it on the spot.
After that we went shopping for used furniture, and on the day we moved in I got down on one knee and presented Glenda with the ring that a loan from my parents enabled me to purchase. From the look on Glenda's face you would have thought it was the Hope diamond.
The first few years of our marriage were good. Even though our funds were extremely limited, we found ways to enjoy the Big Apple and each other. Because we were so far from Brooklyn, I lost touch with my old roommates but I made new friends from among the other junior editors at the publishing house. Soon, a small group of us were hanging out over lunch or happy hour, and it felt a lot like my old gang back in college.
Glenda stayed in touch with her roommates but didn't seem to make as many friends at the law firm, probably because they seemed pretty stuffy, at least as far as I could tell. But if her work wasn't a source of social opportunity, it was definitely rewarding from a career perspective. Glenda showed a real aptitude for legal matters, and her talent was recognized and rewarded. She began to be given more demanding assignments, which she relished, and after performing well she was promoted and assigned to a more senior partner in the firm. Inevitably this resulted in longer hours for her, but she welcomed the opportunity to show what she could do, and I was delighted for her.
And that brought me back to tonight and Glenda's sudden, unfathomable departure. I went to the refrigerator, pulled out a six-pack of beer and returned to the sofa to try to figure out what had happened. I hadn't seen it coming. Sure we no longer had that I-can't-stand-to-be-away-from-you-for-a-minute feeling of first love, but nobody stays that way forever. Sure our jobs had been keeping us apart more of late, but wasn't that the price you had to pay to get ahead?
What was driving me crazy was that we hadn't had any big fights, no clash of goals or values, nothing I could point to that might explain her decision. Okay, I admit that there'd been times when she was impatient with our standard of living, but I felt the same way. And anyway, weren't we on a path that would lead us to more of the things we wanted in due course? Glenda was already moving in that direction, and as soon as one of the senior citizens (as we called the older editors at my company) finally decided to retire, I'd be in line for a nice promotion too. So what was the problem?
The more I kept rehashing events and the longer I drank, the more chaotic my emotions became. I grew maudlin at the thought of my marriage dissolving. I loved Glenda, and it hurt like hell to learn she didn't love me anymore. What was I going to tell my parents? They loved Glenda too and could hardly wait for us to start having grandchildren. That thought made me angry: how could she be so impetuous and selfish? Didn't she realize how many people she was hurting, starting with me? That, of course, plunged me back into another round of depression at her inexplicable departure.
When I reached for another beer and discovered that I'd just finished the last one, I staggered back to the bedroom and collapsed on our double bed without bothering to undress. "Fuck it," I thought drunkenly. "It doesn't matter anyway."
The trouble with beer is that it creates an undeniable demand for relief, one so strong that it managed to wake me in the early morning hours and force me to the bathroom. I barely made it, and relieving my bladder was so painful that I almost cried out loud. When I finally finished, I found that I was wide awake. My stomach felt like I'd been drinking battery acid, yet it also felt like I hadn't eaten in a day, which was, I realized, almost true.
Cursing, I yielded to the inevitable and got up, showered and shaved. Then I headed for the subway station, stopping at a little coffee shop to get some breakfast. There was only one other customer there at that hour. Similarly, when I got to the office I was the first person there.
I tried to bury myself in work but I found my mind constantly drawn back to what had happened. Not knowing why she'd left kept eating at me, and I found myself growing increasingly angry as the time passed. Finally I convinced myself that I deserved some answers and I decided to act.
Glenda and I never visited each other during working hours – our jobs were sacred, not to be disturbed. Today would be an exception. I knew when Glenda normally went to lunch and I carefully timed my trip to arrive just before she would go out. I even splurged on a cab to her office to make sure I wasn't late.
When I entered the law offices of Denison and Lowser, I didn't recognize the receptionist, but since I'd met very few people there, that didn't surprise me. "Hi," I said, "I'm Alex Stevenson, Glenda Preston's husband. I'm here to take her to lunch."
The receptionist looked up at me with startled eyes. "Um, okay, I'll just call her to let her know you're here."
"No, no," I said hastily. "It's a surprise. I'll just go back to get her."
She looked at me doubtfully, but I strode confidently passed the desk to the entry door, and she dutifully buzzed me through.
As I walked through the aisles, I thought I saw a few curious stares, but I ignored them and marched straight back to Glenda's cubicle. She was chatting with another young woman, but when she saw me she stopped abruptly and her face went pale.
"What are you doing, Alex?" she demanded. "You can't be here -- I'm working."
"Well, I am here," I said combatively, "and I intend to stay here until you tell me why you walked out on me last night."
"Keep your voice down," she hissed at me, her face turning bright red. "I explained to you last night why I was leaving."
I found myself growing more and more angry. "You didn't explain anything, you just gave me a bunch of platitudes that meant nothing."
She glanced around, and I realized that we had drawn a small crowd. Others working in the area had clustered in a semicircle round her, as if to help her repel an attack. I began to feel very uncomfortable but I couldn't back down now.
Realizing that she couldn't avoid a confrontation, Glenda seemed to embrace the opportunity. "You want to know why I left you?" she said, making no attempt to keep her voice lowered. "Well, I'll tell you: I'm leaving you because you're a nobody. You're a weak little man who's content to hold on to your pitiful job in hopes that some day someone will die so you'll get a promotion. You're dull and uninteresting, and you've grown fat and sloppy. That's why I'm leaving you!"
I stood there in shock with my mouth open. I felt like I'd been slapped in the face. Who was this woman?
"But," I protested weakly, "you never said anything before."
"Well I just did, loser," she snapped back at me. "And you want to know something else? You suck in bed, and not in a good way!"
"Oooh, good one!" I heard someone in the crowd exclaim.
I was stunned and my pride was wounded. "Well, fuck you!" I said vehemently.
She just laughed. "'Fuck you?' You work for a publishing company and 'fuck you' is the best you can do? That's just pitiful!"
"Ow! That had to hurt!" came another voice from behind her, and the whole group burst into laughter.
Humiliated, I glowered at her, then turned and stalked out as the laughter continued. When I went through the door into the reception area, the receptionist looked up in surprise. "Aren't you going to lunch with Glenda?" she asked.
"No," I said curtly.
"Oh," she said, and gave me a big smile. "Well, have a nice day."
Mercifully, the elevator door opened at that moment and I rushed inside to make my escape.
There was no hope of my getting any work done, not after all that, so I called the office and told them something I'd eaten had disagreed with me. Then I caught the subway out to Queen's and went home. Changing into some jeans and a t-hirt, I went back downstairs and made the hike over to Flushing Meadows and the old World's Fair site. I found a place to sit near the Unisphere, and as I stared at the huge metal sculpture of the globe, I wondered what in the world had just happened to me.