idol friends and rivals | week 19 | 1570 words
In the heartless streets of the city, there was a man who devoted himself to keeping his fellow citizens safe. Unlike most, his dedication wasn’t motivated by money or a retirement package. His choice was far nobler.
That man was Barnaby Corbenblatt, and his story was one for the ages.
Barnaby's mother raised him singlehandedly from the time he was four. "His father just had to keep bettin' on the ponies," Barnaby's uncle Saul Varnak said. "All it got him was a pair of cement shoes and a ticket to the Undersea Ball, if you know what I mean."
Barnaby's mother used to tell her son that his father was upstate, living on a farm. Barnaby thought it must have been a nice one, since the family dog had gone there too.
In spite of those early years, or maybe because of them, Barnaby had very specific goals in mind. Even as a young child, he worked to bring about justice—whether it was on the playground or even public transportation.
At the age of five, Barnaby took to rescuing orphaned snails and keeping them in the bathtub until his mother made him stop. In the second grade, he told the class bully to give back his knapsack. The bully decided to give him a broken arm instead. Two years later, Barnaby lost the same argument with a neighborhood dog.
Undaunted, he looked for opportunities to serve his community and right wrongs. Many an afternoon was spent watching over the neighborhood. "Get off the roof before you hurt yourself," his mother would say, but Barnaby knew there was work to be done.
When he was ten Barnaby foiled a subway purse-snatcher with the aid of an umbrella. "Geez, now he'll never quit," said Mrs. Corbenblatt, in a quote to the Yonkers Tribune. Barnaby was already a Boy Scout, but in the next few years he also joined the Neighborhood Watch program and became a member of the school Traffic Safety Patrol. Those extra activities were his true mission. The hours he spent going to school and doing homework just served to lay the foundation for the “cover job” he would someday hold to help hide his secret identity.
He recruited several friends to join in his schemes. They spent hours discussing superhero names and special powers, drawing ongoing diagrams of city districts (or, “crime pockets”) and documenting plans for handling each area's problems.
“Get this mess off the table,” Mona Corbenblatt would say. “We’re having dinner in ten minutes!”
Barnaby's early partners, Steve and Buddy, grew more interested in baseball and girls during high school, and soon the Vengeance League consisted only of him.
In college, Barnaby found his calling in escorting coeds back to their dorms after dark, and performing a number of self-assigned duties that included being a one-man recycling-enforcement squad.
Barnaby toyed now and then with the idea of wearing a superhero uniform. He had tried and abandoned capes when he was eleven, finding that they just made people laugh. Tights were out, and masks made other people nervous. He'd thought he might at least get to wear a nice pair of shiny boots, but the boots held the same attraction for dogs as a wagonload of beef jerky. Being chased up and down the streets by hordes of slobbering mutts was even more embarrassing than the lessons he'd learned about wearing capes.
If nothing else, Barnaby wanted a superhero name. He'd thought about being the Blue Crusader, but those were the same initials as his real name, which seemed unwise. He tried Protecto-Man—his uncle Saul spit vodka all over the kitchen counter when he heard that one—and Sword of Justice. "Are you gonna carry an actual sword?" Saul asked. "Because if not, what's the point?"
Now Barnaby thought of himself as the Silver Shield. Not that he actually used a shield, because that would be stupid, but that was his function. He protected people from criminals.
Not that his efforts were always appreciated. Once, after tackling a robber who tried to escape on a crosstown bus, Barnaby was stuck in the hospital for two days with a broken arm. The mayor made a formal visit to thank him, but once the cameras were gone he said, "Kid, you've gotta stop doing this. We have a police force, let 'em do their jobs."
Barnaby nodded, but he said nothing because he knew the truth. The police couldn't be everywhere.
Recovering from the broken arm wasn't as easy as it had been when Barnaby was a boy.
Barnaby had never moved out of his childhood home. Without a job, he found himself stuck there day and night, always in his mother's way. Mona had retired a couple of years earlier, and spent most of her days watching soap operas or playing canasta with her friends. Barnaby had too much time and too little to fill it, and found himself re-examining his life.
Should he continue his dedication to fighting crime? Or should he focus on more common goals like finding a better job, and maybe even a girlfriend? So far, the second option seemed to be in direct conflict with the first one.
Even the rooftop view of the city—his city—offered no guidance. He was sidelined at the moment, and maybe knowing he couldn't help anyone made him see things differently. Down below, everything seemed to bustle or drift along on its own.
The city was just a city, not a problem that needed to be solved.
One night, after an evening in which Barnaby read "What Color Is Your Cape?" in his bedroom while his mother binge-watched Jersey Shore out in the living room, Barnaby suddenly woke up. It was dark, well after three a.m., and—
There. He'd heard a noise. Someone was in the house.
Barnaby opened his door quietly and peered out. He saw a small flashlight beam move slowly across the living room shelves, and stared into the darkness until he could make out the person holding it. Short, and not too big. Barnaby slipped out of his room.
He was sneaking up behind the person, almost within reach of an end-table lamp, when his mother's bedroom door opened. The flashlight beam was on her instantly, and Mona screamed.
Barnaby had no time to think about lamps or whether the intruder was armed—he lunged forward and whacked the person in the head with his cast. With a solid thunk and a cut-off yell, the intruder crashed to the floor.
Barnaby turned on the light.
He didn't recognize the man, who was in his fifties and utterly unconscious. The man's gear seemed more suited to burgling than anything, though he'd picked a lousy place to rob unless he really liked ceramic chickens.
"Who the heck is that?" Mona asked.
"Just a burglar, I think."
"Huh. Well, you sure got him! Pow!"
Barnaby laughed and looked at his cast. "I sure did."
"And look at this, you saved us this time. Isn't that something! My own built-in superhero." Mona came over and hugged him. "You did great. I'm proud of you, son."
The police came and hauled the burglar away. "Aren't you that guy who made a citizen's arrest on a robber a few weeks ago?" one of the officers asked.
"He sure is!" said Mrs. Corbenblatt.
Once the reports had been filed and the dining room window had been fixed, Barnaby's mother went back to her TV shows and visiting friends. Barnaby looked through the Wanted ads in the newspaper, trying to decide what his next move should be.
He still wasn't sure whether he was looking for employment as a side-job, or whether he was ready to walk away from crime-fighting altogether. But somehow, he felt that would sort itself out on its own.
He had accomplished… something. He couldn't describe exactly what it was, but there was a sense of "conclusion," as if he'd finished something important.
Maybe there were no right answers, or maybe he just hadn't found them yet, but whatever burden he'd been carrying had been lifted. He could keep being the Silver Shield or he could be Barnaby, or he might even find a way to be both.
Whatever happened, he would be satisfied. He had nothing he needed to prove to anyone now.
Not even to himself.
Voting info: I am in a team this week, where votes for the team as a whole count. Our poll is here, and all team polls for reading and voting are here.