A chapter from, My Last Days (the autobiography of a superhero)

Lessons from my Youth
Lou Rowan

I combat crime, and I always win. It is a mistake, I've learned, to fight sin; I fight crime, the crimes we Americans know are bad: I fight them, I beat them and I triumph over their perpetrators. You've all heard of me; I've done my level best to deserve the honors you've heaped on me. You've heard that I might retire. It's true: I owe you my public a full explanation. I will explain my life, and hope you'll understand why I'm leaving. I am the man of steel, but I have feelings.

My father was proud of me. That means everything, making Dad and Mom happy. They had big, kind hearts-big as this land.

They didn't have it so easy with me. It's difficult for farmers to experience anything outside normal days and folks, much less adopt it and call it your own child, and by golly there I was dropped from another planet, and there they were with a child when everyone thought they were too old. They knew there'd be lots of talk. Their lives had settled to focus on the crops, the livestock, the pets, their fellow church-goers; they had accepted the shame, the Christian judgments on their childless hearth-but there was I, a miracle dropped from the heavens! They loved to tell me all the "funny stuff" they experienced with me: it comforts me to hear their dear departed voices from my audio workstation, to see their wholesome faces on my screen-saver. I crave their love, their approval, their guidance: the only audience I want anymore. I need their pure spirits here now in my time of trials-I must be strong and positive in their honor.

Mom and Dad always helped me when I couldn't understand what was expected of me, especially at school. To succeed so mightily on earth, I put aside the confused perceptions and the debilitating feelings of my first six years. I do not permit my extra perceptions to trap me as they did when I was little and new on earth-at least not until recently. My parents couldn't know what I was feeling, they couldn't see what I was seeing, but they felt I was an upset and confused little guy, and they saved me and stuck up for me.

For I outstripped my fellow-toddlers by miles. Space comprised the easiest three of my five dimensions; motion through it at any angle was a snap. I walked as soon as I wanted to, and my instinct always drove me to reach my goals at once. Hills and stairs were fun. I worked right to the top, waited with a big smile. I laughed at my flabby chums begging their parents to carry them and steady them. But my physical prowess angered my fellow-babies and nettled their parents, for whom walking was a competitive issue.

I was sensing, awkwardly, the beginning of my mission to this planet. The babies' parents were constantly urging them, "Come on, it's easy. Stop that crying, you know you can do it!" So I stepped right in to show those babies their parents were right: I strode across the room or up the stairs and stood beside their parents with my big smile and my little welcoming arms open wide just like the grownups, but nobody appreciated my good example. My baby-friends cried and screamed at me-that hurt; it hurt worse when their parents blamed me for the nonsense and weakness. I was there to demonstrate proper conduct.

One hot sunny afternoon I strolled up Lazy Crick rise with little Janey Velt. The Velts were our Quaker neighbors, Janey the youngest of seven. Lazy Crick ran down along their property into ours, and Dad and Daniel Velt dug irrigation trenches from it together until I got old enough to do it for them. Janey, her Mom and I were toddling up the hill through the alder grove marking the property line. Gusts up to 25 mph blew dust at us. Their dappled cows ambled over to greet us. We emerged into the hot sun, and Janey stretched her little hands out to Mommie ahead, whimpering "Carryou Moomma, carryou!" I loved her cute little voice and her little curly bangs. I loved her even more than my faithful dog Ezra. I took her hand, swung it gaily, helping her right along with fast firm tugs. I was there for her; I felt so good, such a good guy. Janey panted and sobbed, so I picked her up, cradling her across my chest, smiling into her face. She struggled, her little green eyes wide over her little chubby cheeks; she screamed louder and pee-peed and did something else in her diaper. Taking a firm grip on her biceps, I held her at arms' length. I must have squeezed her fat arms too hard: the next thing I knew her mother was holding little Janey and screaming down at me, her cries loud beyond any dimensions of sound I could endure, echoes rattling and banging in my small soft skull, and everything around me resolved into hot red dots flying at me. I screamed back.

The ground shook, and the next thing I remember is Dad picking me up from the dust. My roars had driven away Janey's mother and all the Velt's cattle. Sobbing Dad worked and worked to stop my bellowing, his chest heaving as he hugged and stroked me; he was frightened as I was. Dust thrown up by the stampeding herd covered me, dirtying the cheery clothes Mom sewed for me. My eyes were scratchy with it. Dad shoved Ezra away from licking my face; the poor thing retreated whining with his black tail between his graying brown legs, causing me new spasms of fear and grief.

My native planet knows that sound is the fifth dimension. We were quiet and strong there, requiring no machines or technical devices to extend our physical and mental powers. We were strong listeners; we were in tune with each other, and with our planet. Being puny and noisy; humans require loud appliances and weapons, which they call technology, to achieve what they call power.

As Clark I call the pain from earthly loudness a "migraine" and seek treatment. In my real being I have learned to control the rage the noise-affliction triggers in me, channeling the resultant excruciating restlessness into even greater exploits. You have heard that one particular element weakens me. Until today I have never revealed how earth's unconstrained, aggressive loudness pains me.

The first Quakers in our county, Velts were isolated by their religion. Dan and Dad were close: they farmed as partners. Dan came by the house most nights. He rarely said a word. He never cut his black hair, or shaved his black beard. He liked to watch me play. Suddenly he'd laugh and slap his skinny knee when I did something unusual. His laugh would startle you: he'd be sitting there taciturn in his battered hat, carving some little toy for Janey or wolfing down a huge piece of pie, and suddenly he'd bark out through his bushy beard. Dad would say, "You OK, Daniel," and he'd say "Yep" and explode again. That night of my traumatic event with Janey he got down and played with me, barking again and again, letting me and Ezra pick the sawdust and crumbs from his beard until Mom stopped us. He'd stare and stare at me, but his gaze never embarrassed me like most grownup stares. He believed I was the coming of something, and he wanted to be there to see what would arrive. Perhaps Dan became close to me when, wandering about our fields with Ezra, I came upon him with his pants down, a knobby brown thing like a rope coming out of his pale behind, and I never told.

And so I entered school with unresolved formative relationships with my peers, and school proved an agonizing trauma. The little first-grade readers used a tiny vocabulary in odd combinations I'd never hear in daily life. Their copious illustrations were in a limited and repetitious palette of pastel hues I never saw. It was difficult for me to decipher the pictures or to construe the texts. With these schoolbooks in my hands, I felt like an alien.

For I took these readers in whole, in one deep look, following my perceptual heritage. As the words and images piled on top of themselves, I'd get into humiliating trouble. My teacher, Mrs. Handy, could not relate to my powers and patterns of perceiving.

She would write the words she thought difficult on the blackboard, and she'd demonstrate them with huge slow movements of her mouth. Then it was our turn, accompanied by her pointing to her tongue, teeth, palate and jaw to show us how to produce the sounds. I wanted to laugh at her funny working face, but all the other kids were imitating her so I tried to join in. My squelched laughter ruined my coordination, so I'd make foreign sounds and my classmates laughed at me. Then when we were reading out loud in turn, I'd be lost in my peculiar visual depths and say the wrong words. I made Dick and Jane sound crazy, and the class squealed, giggled and pointed at me. Even the kind Mrs. Handy became another grownup uncomfortable with me, straining to tolerate my apparent disabilities. She discussed the merits of Special Ed with me and my folks.

For Mrs. Handy loved her work; she was a progressive. She'd begin each school day by lining us up to kiss her on the cheek. She brought in her husband, a carpenter, to set up special projects for us. We spent happy weeks attaching walls of cardboard and rolled newspapers painted brown to a frame he built: we were doing a culture-unit on The Pioneers by creating a charming authentic log cabin replica. We brought in heirlooms from our attics to furnish it. We loved the taste of the white paste in the big glass jars, and we dumped gobs of it into each other's shirts. Mrs. Handy was tall: I was shocked to see her looming over Mom and Dad-to me the biggest people alive. She was pretty; she looked like a model from the Sears catalogue.

But after these creative units we returned to traditional learning, and to my troubles. To me the words on which we focused were empty: I did not yet think in words. My thoughts were images accompanied by a music I've not heard since, even on Broadway-images with trailing tails like comets; thinking was like being an orrery. My thoughts and my memories were tactile surround-sound screens showing teeming planets of meaning circling each other and themselves, and when I wanted to do an earthly verbal search in there, to do what Americans call thinking, I couldn't know how to limit my inner experience to something so pinched.

A teaching assistant, Miss Batch, recorded a class; I said, "Castor's glove oiled the well tumbled up the sunbeam the dog's spots star shower the hottest heat the dark bucket rolled Jill. (laughter)" Miss Batch, who reminds me of Lois, wondered if I was an authentic genius from the heartland, and I became her project. She told me I was "beautiful," that my words were poetry. She sent me to counselors with heavy rims on their glasses who used weird words on me and asked me dirty questions. They gave me tests with toys and puzzles and codes to crack, which confused me because I thought reading was my problem. I was so adept at the tests they thought I could be one of those idiot savants, but they had never heard of a mental and physical idiot like that.

Miss Batch came out to the farm to understand my influences. Mom and Dad disappointed her: they lacked "authentic traditions;" our only book was The Bible, and we had no "folkloric" musical instruments like zithers or dulcimers or twanging saws. One day Miss Batch disappeared from school forever. I missed her; she was on my side like Mom. She wore long flowery dresses the way love-children did in the Sixties. Always clean of makeup, her face looked like a sugar-cookie.

Mom and Dad fretted over me until I achieved the strength and insight to give the school just exactly what it wanted. For during this momentous first grade I could feel myself growing both inside and out. I heard mothers and kids speak of "growing pains," heard parents embarrass kids exclaiming, "My how you've grown!" They made us ashamed, as if our whole bodies were public displays of something private. But I could feel myself growing not only physical strength but also will power.

Halfway through the first grade, after Sunday dinner during the Washington's Birthday break, I experienced the religious conversion that has sustained me throughout my mission: There was Dr. Norman Vincent Pill on the radio telling me I can win, I can do anything be anything own anything I want because I am a grain of mustard seed and I can plant myself and water myself from inside and I can grow to any height because my thoughts and feelings can switch from negative to positive. And at that moment, hearing that show, they did! A switch was turned, a button was pushed. The voice from the old wooden Philco was the authoritative narrator, the voice-over to the brand-spanking new newsreel of my life and spirit. A surging current of warmth flowed through my body and my brain. Negative complexes fell away like dead fingernails. Mom looked up from her needlework to say, "How that man does go on," and I knew then that she could never comprehend what I was experiencing-the decisive channeling of all my powers into will power, but I was nonetheless serene for I would make her proud. And Daniel eyed me and nodded in silence. There is a deep religious current that pulses through These States, and at that moment in the first grade I plugged into it.

And so I knew now it was now only a matter of expecting the best of school, and my troubles would vanish, overcome by positive energy. And they did! Playing "Fish" with Mom, revelatory lightning struck: school wanted me to "go fish!" To do a search in my head, what teachers called learning, I need only flatten, shrink, and hush my orbiting mental images, reducing them to a silent simple picture like a fish-card, or even easier, like a spelling flash-card. The multiple dimensions of my spiritual heritage faded. Learning became simple, easier than walking, the moment I gave up thinking. Dr. Pill snapped my brain into shape to play the game of school.

My new learning was like shuffling decks of familiar cards. The number of useful, normal thoughts was small, their surfaces flat. Suddenly I could read one page at a time, focus on Dick and Jane in word and picture. From that Tuesday I was happy and made friends and got straight A's.

These were basic life-lessons one and two: reserve my super-powers and my vocation to help until earthly society could accept them; suppress my imagination, thinking normally, so that I could function as an American. Next I would do puberty and master my sex-lessons in the eighth grade.

I liked boys and girls, men and women. It was awkward for me to separate from the opposite sex and giggle about it like my buddies, but I worked at it. Some girls made me feel warm and happy, like little bits of Mom. The boys I liked made me feel that I belonged, that I was normal, like Dad. When I didn't like a girl or a woman I felt nauseous. When I didn't like a man I felt a prickly heat, a restlessness. I experienced no attraction to doing all those disgusting things to girls the boys told me about, nor did I want to mature and sire little ones the way Dad explained it and demonstrated Barney the bull doing it to me in the paddock-especially since Dad hadn't sired me.

I struggled to find the positive in the pubic rituals my classmates observed. It was awkward work for me to learn how to tell dirty jokes about the girls and to tell loud lies about sex-things I'd done to them-I couldn't work myself up, not matter how hard I tried, to share that obsession with my friends. I wrote a letter to Dr. Pill asking for guidance through these sensitive issues, and received a kind, beautifully-printed reply about the sanctity of the body.

The next day I mounted the school steps in phalanx with my buddies, systematically imitating their swagger, pitching in to shout dirty words, cackling grunting and roaring towards the girls gathered at the top of the steps shit look at that Janey Velt bitch huh, man those bumpers, I'll bet you've been over in her barn eh huh Clark huh? fuck yes shes got a very well-developing pair of mam erbitchin knockers we go way back huh huh aah haa haa har mmhMMMuhcool ohfuckin yeahman. From giggly huddles beneath the American flag snapping in the breeze by the concrete portals, girls stole glances at us, nudging and whispering, scornfully chewing and popping Juicy Fruit at us squish squish pop pop pop. And then and there on a crisp autumn morning before the doors of Rural HS 23, I was granted my sexual revelation: Our stances-our aggression and braggadocio, the girls' simpering and scorn-freeze-framed and morphed in my mind. In my vision the girls' breasts and hips grew, and each girl was an actress in a soap opera or a guest revealing herself on a talk show; the boys' hair grew wilder or their skulls were shaven; their muscles and bellies filled in, and they too looked like soap actors and daytime panelists-and some like wildly-degenerate rock idols.

And I realized the secret of American sex: puberty sanctifies and focuses our vital human need to show off. Like school, sex is a simple game with a few repetitive moves. By now I was the fastest and most powerful man ever known on the planet, and it would easy for me to perform feats beyond any boy's capacity for showing-off: my only problem would be holding back girls attracted by my prowess, but that would be easy, and so much more pleasant than being ostracized and struggling to belong.

I take a private, quiet satisfaction in myself and my feats that is far more potent than the pleasures my fellow-beings get from their sex-acts. I know this for sure; often my work entails surveiling them doing sex. I am proud to say that I have never had an erection.

The warmth I feel for women, especially Lois, impels me to even greater exploits. My brotherhood with men, and its opposite, my kinetic anger, spurs me on. My other me, Clark Uberman Kent, is the confused, sensitive semi-alien appearing to be a normal productive American, and his identity traces back to the traumas of these life-lessons. On the front steps of Rural HS 23, invisibly to my preoccupied classmates, I completed my transition into maturity, transfigured and ready to accept my mission. My identity was formed, my powers in place. I would thence force grow serenely and process the information I need to fulfill my mission. My publicity has focused on my physical exploits; few realize the extent to which I embody this millennial information age. But please do not think I am over-proud: the information revolution is, like laying railroad tracks, a trivial game, compared with the insight and imagination I forswore in Mrs. Handy's class.

I am aware of only One in human history greater than I, and like my parents and Dan Velt, I worship His mighty example, and His insights into life's issues.

I chuckle at the paltry accomplishments of the sports heroes Americans worship-but the Scriptures chasten me: star athletes are my little brothers, and I nod my approval. Michael Jordan died recently in Las Vegas , sadly neglected after serving out his declining years as an itinerant greeter at the worldwide Von Umph casino empire. I joined his modest cortege, stars of lesser magnitude, escorting his coffin through Forest Lawn. We threw a pile of authentic nets from each of the 200 hoops of the World NBA onto his final resting-spot, and I burned the Nukee swoosh into his sculptured headpiece-Michael eternally getting air-with the heat of my eyes.