The Girl with the Sunflower Yellow Hot Rod Limo
Except for the Superman costume he
wore under his street clothes, the petitioner
was an ordinary looking man of about
thirty-five or so who wanted to change his
name to “Clark Kent.” He was doing so at the Desierto County Court House for an ill-affordable $172. But it was important to him, the name change. He didn’t need a lawyer to do it, but he did have to fill out a form and go before a judge.
The judge, who happened to be an elder in Desierto’s Kingdom Hall of Jehovah Witnesses, followed his usual practice in such petitions of asking perfunctorily the reason for the name change. The petitioner said that his “epicene birth name,” which was Caelan Sage Kent, had been the source of continuous “anguish and consternation” and that for the sake of his “mental health” he wanted to change it.
“Hum,” said Judge Cutlip, whose first name was Carol, “and, uh, ‘Clark Kent’ is—how shall we say?—unmistakably masculine?”
“Absolutely,” said the petitioner, “strong, virile. . . you know, the alter ego of Superman?”
Judge Cutlip, who was about as old as the comic book hero and prided himself on always interjecting a relevant biblical allusion or two into his hearings, then asked the petitioner if he realized that in paradise people would fly around like Superman does. The petitioner didn’t know that, but he said he couldn’t wait. It wasn’t clear whether the petitioner meant that he was waiting with bated breath for that glorious, winged day to which the judge had just referred or that he couldn’t wait to be nominally like Superman. Judge Cutlip didn’t ask for clarification, granting the petition in a process that took five minutes, more or less.
Flight, in fact, had no appeal to Caelan Kent. Never had. You might even say he feared flying the way Superman feared kryptonite. He had never flown in an airplane, let alone in a hand glider, a helicopter, a hot air balloon, a parachute, a blimp, or a kite. Indeed, a few weeks after he officially became “Clark Kent,” a girl who was fond of the synchronicity of their names went so far as to pronounce him bataphobic and that as such probably the closest he’d ever get to flying was his watch. “You know,” she said, “time flies?” He said he got it.
The girl said that, about Clark being bataphobic, when she interviewed him for an article she was writing for the Desierto Dowser. The girl did just about anything a community paper like the Dowser covers—crimes, deaths, births, school sports, weddings and engagements—the usual topics. The Dowser had a photographer, but irregularly, so sometimes the girl also snapped photos—of Miss Drumstick in the fall and Miss Sweet Corn in the summer, and such—and in between she stuffed circulars, mostly for Nunnaly’s market and Lie’n Sleep mattresses. The girl liked the job okay, although she’d recently answered an ad for “models” at some place in the San Fernando Valley. She’d bolted when a hairy, fat stinkard in dark glasses asked her to interview in the nude and then started to smother her with wet, wooly kisses. No way was she going to strip for some—some fustilarian. The girl had learned that word, fustilarian, and others like it, for the GRE. They never appeared on the exam and the girl had never used the word before, but it applied to the—fustilugs.
The Valley fiasco wasn’t a complete loss, however. When the Dowser’s owner learned of the interview, he became concerned. He didn’t want to lose the girl. So, to keep her around, Mr. Perry gave the girl a modest raise and the paper’s “Local Notables” column.
Mr. Perry was the owner/publisher of the Dowser. He’d hired the girl after Aristo Cisternino at Desierto’ main paper, the Record, had turned her down for a job. AC—that’s what everyone called him—AC was co-publisher of the Record along with Dani Cadwallader, his long-time paramour. They called her DC.
DC had bought the paper two years earlier from a big conglomerate back East with a fat divorce settlement at the height of the dot-com bubble from J.J. Cadwallader, a wunderkind who made a bundle from a company that never had revenue. DC struck the girl as a flibbertigibbet who knew even less about newspapers than did AC, who once had a thriving business servicing porta-potties as far north as Turlock and east to Barstow. AC was about to bring out a line of lush cloacas when he met DC at a power lunch in Desierto. The rest as they say is history. In a “stinger-bedizened tipsiness”—Mr. Perry’s characterization— the pair decided a newspaper was just what they needed for instant social cachet. So, publicly vowing to provide “honest, fearless, independent local coverage of news,” DC bought the Record and made AC co-publisher.
To AC-DC all journalism was society journalism, which meant two things. The “booboissie” got favorable coverage; everyone else— well, they were either disdained or demeaned. True to form, on the very day that AC turned the girl away, the Record had run a front-page photo of a 20-year old Hispanic busted for DUI while cradling her 2-year-old in her lap.
The picture caught the attention of Mr. Perry over at the Dowser. Actually, it did more than catch his attention. It sent him, as they say, into high dudgeon.
When, moments after her meeting with AC, the girl walked into the Dowser’s one-room office, she found Mr. Perry violently waving around a copy of the Record like a man frustrated by a pestiferous fly, all the while denouncing those “polecats over there.” At first the girl thought that the apoplectic Mr. Perry was referring to “pole cats,” like the ones Eli used to talk about seeing dance at the clubs in Las Cruces on Saturday night.
“This poor soul,” the girl heard Mr. Perry saying, as he brandished the paper.
He had a thumb hooked in a suspender, which was stretched to the limit by a beer-barrel of a belly that exploded out of the unbuttoned jacket of a wrinkled blue seersucker suit. The girl would soon learn that Mr. Perry always wore a blue seersucker suit, with either white bucks or blue shoes, regardless of season or weather, and a self tie bow tie, which all but disappeared under an outsized double chin that rolled right up under his ears.
“This poor soul,” Mr. Perry pleaded with flashing grey eyes to an invisible jury, “she doesn’t have enough trouble, but those polecats over there have to trash her all over the front page!. . . Doesn’t that beat anything?”
The girl stood in the doorway stupefied. Mr. Perry’s eyes darted this way and that until finally, under a lock of grey hair pasted to his forehead, they suddenly froze into a heavy stare at the girl, and he said: “Well, don’t it?”
The girl thought it best to nod, which she did. Then she got her tongue and said, “Have they no decency?” which turned out to be an inspired choice of words, for Mr. Perry boomed: “Exactly!” The girl was sure his thunderous voice could be heard in the offices of the Record, just six storefronts away. Then, with a thwack of the paper on his wooden desk, Mr. Perry said, this time in a solemn, low voice, “They have no decency.” And then audibly, as if concluding his courtroom peroration, “which once again proves Mencken right. . . .You know who Mencken was?”
“H.L. Mencken? Absolutely,” the girl said, “the journalist.”
“Well, I’ll be damned!” Mr. Perry said, snapping his suspenders and casting the Record into the wastebasket like a losing lottery ticket. “I’ll be damned!” he repeated. “If I haven’t found someone in this Bumblefuck who’s actually heard of H.L. Mencken. Will wonders never cease!” Then he said, “You want a job?” and the girl said, “Sure,” and he said, “You got one.” Then Mr. Perry said, “Mencken said ‘Don’t overestimate the decency of the human race’. . . . Every day those polecats over there”—he jerked his thumb to the right and shook his head in disgust—“they prove the man right.”
That’s how the girl got the job.
One day, after the girl had been at the paper eighteen months or so, Mr. Perry said to her, “There’s a guy over in Hila—” he rummaged his ever-cluttered desk for the address—“Judge Cutlip says—you know what old H.L. said a judge was?”
“No,” the girl said, “what?”
“’A law student who marks his own examination papers,’” he said with a guffaw. Then, “Where was I? Oh yeah, Judge Cutlip put me on to him . . . he thinks he’s a . . . uh. . .yeah, here it is.” Mr. Perry picked up a pale green post-it with an address scribbled on it. “He’s a Superman wannabee is what he is. Or may be—the judge isn’t sure. . . . Who knows, it might make a nice piece for your column. Check it out.” He then handed the girl the post-it and said, “Don’t bother phoning, he’s not listed
. . . Probably out flying.”
The girl glanced at the note and said, “Some coincidence, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean?”
“You Perry, me Lois, him Superman.”
Mr. Perry furrowed his brow and said gruffly, “Yeah, makes me all tingly.” Then he said, “Get right on it, Lois— toot sweet, there’s a lot of coupon stuffing to do when you get back.”
Lois couldn’t resist saying, “Right, chief.”
Mr. Perry said, “Harrumph!”
Lois hustled outside and hopped into her—well, what can you say about Lois’s automobile? It was long, really long, maybe twice as long as your conventional car, or longer. Stretch limousine long—as long as a Toyota Crown hearse, with stretched wheelbase, if you’ve ever seen one. But it certainly didn’t look like any limousine.
For one thing, it had no roof, not because it was a convertible—it just had no roof, which had made the drive out from New Mexico, well, a skosh breezy around Topock. It had a seating capacity of a mid-size Sikorsky helicopter, which is to say it was big enough to seat fourteen, if it had seats, which it didn’t, except up front, where it could comfortably accommodate a driver and three passengers, perhaps four if they were tiny and the fourth brought their own seat. It did have a trunk, though, but no hood. Lois’s cousin Eli called the old jalopy a Model-T on steroids. He had given her the car when she left for California.
Eli owned a junkyard near Las Cruces that, depending on atmospheric conditions, could smell like rotting fish or dead mice. Usually it just secreted a musky, skunky fetor, like a brew of oxidized blood and birch tar. The junkyard did have, though, a sweet smelling coppice of thick scrub pines, under which grew enough amanita muscaria for Eli’s personal use, with plenty left over to sell to nearby Arcadia Botanicals. It also abutted a golf course that had a lot of pools, which Eli would plumb for lost golf balls that he’d scour and sell.
Eli’s junk consisted mostly of vehicles—dilapidated cars, pick-ups, motorcycles, stuff like that. It also had two decrepit taxis: a black one from Belfast and a blue-striped one from Kolkata. A cyclo from Hanoi that was wide enough to fit two adults in front of a driver was good to go. Some of the automotive derelicts were in running condition, others not. The stretch jalopy was. When Eli learned that his cousin was heading west, he gave her the car as a going away gift, although he didn’t quite understand why she was leaving.
It turned out that Lois had quit graduate school in a pique after getting an “F” on a paper about something called the ontological proof of God’s existence. She’d argued that the ontological argument did no such thing, proved God’s existence, that is, but that it in fact could be used to prove the opposite, which Lois had attempted to do. Well, you can imagine the reaction of Professor Maseln, the noted lobster-faced theologian at the state college, who not only failed the paper but suggested that Lois reconsider her commitment to the religious studies program. She did, and quit.
Eli had no idea what the ontological argument was all about, but he was sure it couldn’t be any good if it disproved God’s existence, which he figured it must do if Lois said it did. Lois was about the smartest person Eli knew. And the most ornery. Always had been and, as far as he could see, always would be. Who was she, after all, to tweak the tail of her professor like that, him being an expert on such matters and all, who probably knew about everything there was to know about the Almighty, even if he was wrong in this matter about the Almighty’s existence.
So when Lois told him what she’d done, quit school and decided to head west, Eli asked her what he’d asked her many times before: “How come you always have to stick your finger in the eye of authority?”
Lois was quick to answer. “To knock the log out of it, of course,” she said.
There she goes again, Eli thought, talking in riddles.
Sometimes Eli thought Lois was just flat showing off—even told her so. But mostly not. He figured that sooner or later it would catch up with her—being such a smartass. But despite it all, he loved her, and wouldn’t let anybody, or anything come between them—most assuredly not some musty old fight about God’s existence. And why in hell were they looking to prove it in the first place? Why, he no more needed proof of the deity’s existence than he needed proof that he loved his cousin, which was the real reason he gave her the car in the first place, although he didn’t say that, of course, probably never would. He just called it a going away gift. Eli could be generous that way. Lois sometimes wondered if the pot he smoked made him so. . . you know, generous like that, the way alcohol makes some people merry? Eli just said he was glad to get rid of the jalopy to make room for expanding. He didn’t specify the nature of the expansion.
“Let’s just say,” he said to Lois, holding the tip of a joint halfway between his thumb and the tip of his finger, “I need the room.”
“You mean shroom room?” Lois said. Then, jerking her thumb toward a mini-excavator sitting at the base of an easterly facing hill with lush, green vegetation, she said, “Is that what the Cat’s for? You planning some excavating, Eli?” Before he could reply, Lois said, “Just make sure you don’t go messin’ with our sacred burial ground, y’hear?”
The sacred burial ground—a grassy patch of land in a wooded area bordering a field not far from the Bobcat.
A lifetime ago, when they were kids and the world was new and old at the same time, Eli, inspired by the traditions of the local native Americans, had decided they should bury their “choicest treasures” the way the Mescalero used to bury objects with their dead—a bow and arrow, a war-club, perhaps even a horse. Lois, who worshipped her older cousin, thought that was about the coolest thing she’d ever heard of.
They had decided that to be interred, their chosen objects needed to mark a life milestone, by their own measure, hers and his, not by custom or convention. Neither one had to share their selection with the other or, if they did, offer an explanation. That they thought their object of choice represented a kind of personal rite of passage was enough to merit it a sacred burial. They could bury their meaningful stuff alone or together. In either case, when they did, separately or apart, they were to take special care to preserve the objects they buried, such as by sealing lids and using special bags, and carefully labeling all items with a soft pencil. As part of a burial ceremony, like the Mescalero they too had to wear their poorest clothes and cut off a piece of their hair, and hang it in the old live oak, the one which stood a good twenty feet tall and had a swing hanging from one of its heavy limbs. They were fully persuaded, she and he, that, if they kept to rite and ritual, in the end, when it was all over, the souls of their stuff, his and hers, would join their own and make them whole in the land of spirits.
Eli laughed and took a big hit, which he held for about five seconds. Then, opening his mouth and letting the glaucous smoke flow out slowly, he said of the yellow, pumped up jalopy, “All I can tell you is it runs,” adding in a high, thin voice, “Oh yeh! . . .You sure you don’t want to toke up?”
Lois then took out a map and carefully unfolded it on the vehicle’s trunk.
“What’s that?” Eli said.
“California,” she said, smoothing the map. Then she closed her eyes, twirled her right index finger around like a wand and placed it at hazard upon a name. They both leaned in to read, “Desierto,” just after Lois had said, “Life’s a crapshoot.”
“Never heard of it,” said Eli.
“Sounds like desert,” Lois said.
Eli, his finger pinging off the car, said, “It’ll get you there.”
He was right. The performance enhanced Model-T took Lois all the way to Desierto, in the Central Valley of California, a sullen stretch of land flatter than a gander’s arch about fifty miles wide and five hundred miles long—of oil derricks, truck stops, country-western music, conservative religion and politics, and just about every known non-tropical crop, cultivated and harvested by generations of migrant field workers.
It didn’t take long for the locals to dub Lois “the girl with the sunflower yellow hot rod limo.” She went along. With her first paycheck—earned from working mornings at Joe n’Grits, Desierto’s popular namesake breakfast spot—Lois headed for Rad Thrift, where she bought a sunflower jersey stretch-cotton t-shirt that showed off her long, lean legs. She was in that outfit when Mr. Perry had hired her, and when she headed for Hila.
Lois couldn’t understand why an ersatz Superman would be living in Hila. If Desierto was Bumblefuck, then Hila was East Bumblefuck, a hardscrabble town of desiccated trees and low, tar and gravel roofed buildings with walls of pink stucco or grey cinder block that showed best in winter’s cold greasy fogs. Two signs stood at the Hila city limits. One, peppered with buckshot, read “Sun, Fun, Play Stay.” Lois thought that “Abandon hope, all you who pass here” would be more fitting, given the city’s punishing unemployment, crushing poverty, and head- snappping argosy of clinical addictions and behaviors. Still, Hila’s three miles of canal toxicity had provided stunning images for a recent photographic exhibit at the nearby community college. And, in a paean to broad-mindedness, only last week the local chamber of commerce had sponsored a black South African who spoke approvingly to a respectful audience on his country’s program of “corrective rape,” the practice of raping gay persons to “cure” them of their sexual orientation.
The second sign boasted more evangelical churches than any other town its size. Lois calculated that to be, roughly, one church for every five hundred inhabitants, or about thirty two churches in all, excluding of course the aforementioned non-evangelical Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were no Catholic churches, synagogues, temples, or mosques in Hila. Nor were there any black residents, which was understandable. Hila used to be one of those so-called “sundown towns,” where blacks weren’t welcome after dark. Nowadays blacks still weren’t welcome, but they were tolerated—and not just as guest speakers. Hila’s Joe ‘n Grits 2, for one, actively solicited black workers willing to dress up as Aunt Jemima and ring bells—costume and prop provided at the owners’ own expense.
On the way out to Hila, Lois had pretty much roughed out the puff piece in her mind:
The subject probably got hooked on Superman as a kid. Maybe somebody gave him a Superman costume. He liked it a lot. Slept in it. Wore it birthdays, Halloween, dress-up day at school, etc. Friends, family, neighbors, teachers—everyone got a kick out of it. He liked all the attention. Probably read the DC comic books. Later smitten with Superman movies of the ‘70s and 80s, then Smallville in the ‘00s. Continued to dress up for parties. Loved the laughter and the cheers when he ripped open his shirt and showed the big red S. Decided to refine the act. . . . Perhaps had an authentic Superman costume made. Cost? Maybe a hundred bucks. Red boots included? Probably not—fifty bucks extra, but well worth it. . . . Update: Ready to dress for the local premiere of Man of Steel. . . . A couple or three pictures—ripping open shirt, posed to fly with upraised fist, that sort of thing. . . then bye-bye EB.
Lois was thinking that an old wooden phone booth with hinged doors would make a nice touch when a vehicle marked The Record skidded by her spraying gravel. “Damn,” she said, steering into the single carport marked “Visitor Parking Only –All Others Will Be Towed.”
It didn’t go exactly as she had expected, the interview. It would have, though . . . it could have, if she’d just left when she was going to. . . . Where did it veer off, her graceful exit? How?
As she passed through Barstow, headed east on 66, she tried to reconstruct the conversation that had led to Clark’s revelation.
She had been kidding with him, she recalled, teasing really, almost flirtatiously. She asked him if he were made of steel. Yes, that’s how it began. You made of steel? she’d asked him. She was wrapping things up at the time, satisfied with what she’d gotten, ready to head back to Desierto.
No, nothing like that, he said.
Then she asked him about flying. Do you fly, Clark?
That’s when he told her about his intense fear of flying, and she called him a bataphobic. She remembered because he’d never heard that word before, and she said the only reason she knew it was that she’d learned it for the GRE. Then she asked him about his strength. What about super-strength, super-speed? is how she’d put it. She remembered that he shook his head self-consciously from side to side as she went on in a rush: Any x-ray, telescopic, or microscopic heat vision? Anything like that? … What about super hearing, super breath
. . . to go with the super eyes? Anything like that?
No, but I can hold my breath under water pretty long, he said.
About two minutes.
They both laughed at that unremarkable feat before she said, What about leaping? You much of a leaper? . . .Yes, she remembered that distinctly because he mistook “leaper” for “leper,” and she’d thought it odd that he didn’t laugh at the lapsus linguae but simply said, No, I can’t leap a building in a single bound, not even in two or three bounds.
That’s when she asked him how bright he was.
He said, About average, why?
Superman was really smart— super smart, she said, and a fast reader. What’s your reading like, Clark?
He said that he’d taken an Evelyn Wood course once.
Superman didn’t need no stinkin’ speed-reading course, she said, and then asked him if he could read In Search of Lost Time in the blink of an eye.
He said he’d never heard of it. She told him it it was a novel by Proust over a million words long and that Superman could read it in the time it takes to snap your fingers. In a heartbeat he could tell you all about its hundreds of characters, she said, adding: Can you do anything like that?
She was just about out the door and gone when she kidded him that, despite his inadequacies, he shouldn’t worry, she wouldn’t blow his cover. He laughed at that, in a kind of wry, mocking way that froze her. What? she said.
Oh, I don’t know, he said. It’s just ironic is all—blowing my cover.
How so? she said.
He regarded that for a space, as if communing with himself, before saying something about Superman not being real. That he existed only in our minds. That the only powers he had were the ones we attributed to him.
Even that she could have let it lie right there, and kept moving, but didn’t. Why? Why did she stop at the door and say, Sounds like we’re the ones with the super powers.
He agreed animatedly. She backed away from the door. Superman can’t exist without us, he said, our minds, our imaginations. Then he said, Without someone to imagine him, Poof!—
No Superman, she said. Without an audience--
You get it then, he said.
She just nodded and smiled.
Neither one said anything for awhile.
Was it too late by then? she asked herself just outside Needles. Too late to turn back?
She had sat down again and asked him if he had anything to drink. Beer, if she wanted it. Beer would be fine.
She asked him if he knew that the original Superman DC comic depicted his earth father outside a farmhouse drinking a beer. He didn’t know that, never having read DCs Superman. (She’d have to remember that detail about him for the article.) He said that people offered to buy him beers all the time at various functions, but he never drank when wearing “the cape.” She said that seemed like a good policy—never drink and fly. It sounded like he respected his role as Superman, she said.
Superman was sober-minded, he said. Honest. Truthful. Fair. Humble even. Being Clark Kent reminded him to try to be like that, he said.
And courageous, she said. Don’t forget courage.
Uh-huh . . . and wise.
Yes, wisdom, she said. That above all. Prudence.
And that could have ended it. Even then, there, it could have ended. She had more than she needed for the piece. An elegant ender to boot, about Superman’s qualities that Clark, née Caelan, admired. But instead, instead of leaving . . . what prompted her to ask him what was the most courageous thing he’d ever done? Idle curiosity? The scent of a story? Too much suds?
She remembered he took a big swallow of beer before saying, Off the record?
And that’s when it all came out. At Topock.
He said he was a transgender male who two years before, while living in Oklahoma, had attempted to change his name from Caelan Sage Kent to Clark Joseph Kent. He said he tried to be forthright about it, like Superman would be.
You know, he said, a bit wistfully, truth, justice, and the American way? . . . I told the judge damn near everything—about how health insurance didn’t cover transgender-related services and how tough it’d been saving up for hormone treatments and all. I mean I tried to be totally honest about it . . . you know, like my hero? . . . I told him I wanted to change my name for my sanity. Which was the God’s-honest truth.
What did he say?
He asked me if I had a letter from a psychiatrist. I told him I couldn’t afford a psychiatrist. He said the last transgender case he ruled on had a file three inches thick. I told him I didn’t have coverage for a file a half-inch thick. . . . He was more interested in fraud.
He said I was asking him to cooperate in a fraud. He quoted from Genesis about how God created male and female in his own image and how the DNA code shows God meant for them to stay male and female . . . . And for good measure, he said it seemed to him that I was doing an end-run around the state’s ban on same sex marriages.
The ACLU took up the case once they got wind of it, he said, but he didn’t want to hang around a couple of years for it to settle. So, he headed for California and ended up in Hila, broke but still determined to change his name. That’s when it hit him. He’d go for a name change because, if asked, his given name was androgynous. That way the whole transgender thing wouldn’t even come up. Maybe he’d mention Superman, but casually, sort of in passing, so it wouldn’t raise a mental health flag.
Somewhere outside Flagstaff she remembered that while he was telling her all this she was thinking about the car that had passed her on the way in to his place. He asked her if she wanted another beer. Sure, she said, and they each had another.
Did you give the Record any of this?
He looked at her in astonishment. No, he said, but you can’t use it.
Of course not. . . not without your permission, she said and gulped her beer.
Well, you don’t have it, he said. He got up and began to pace the room nervously. This was all off-the-record . . . you said so yourself.
Of course, of course, she reassured him. She gulped her beer some more. We go with whatever you want. . . . .It’s just that--
She said nothing.
He asked her for a cigarette. She said she didn’t smoke. He didn’t either, he said, but strangely felt the urge for one. She understood, she said.
Well, she said hesitantly, it seems to me that . . . uh … well, it just seems that it’s easier to become Clark Kent as Superman than as a transgender male. . . . That’s the real story here, if you see what I mean. The rest is just . . . well, so much fluff. And the Record can have it.
Neither said anything for a time, then Clark said, Do you have any idea what they require for a transgender name change? She didn’t. Well, you should check it out sometime, he told her. She would, she assured him, if they did the real story.
You know what they put you through? he said. She shook her head from side to side sympathetically. The costs involved? Not really, but she’d be sure to research and include it, all of it, if they got the story right.
Neither one said anything for awhile. Then she said, Look at it this way. If you go with the fluff, you have a story that’s warm and fuzzy but . . . well, it’s incomplete, isn’t it? Not nearly the whole story. In a way it’s—what? Well, it’s sort of disowning your own experience, don’t you think?
You mean like denying it, he said, like someone used to denying. She nodded. You know how dishonest that is? he said.
She sensed some self-disgust in his words. “To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life,” she said.
“It is no less than a denial of the soul,” he said.
Oh, you know Wilde? she said.
Are you kidding? he said. I practically have De Profundis memorized.
They were quiet for a long time. Enjoyed another beer. Just sat there like two
old friends, each content to be silent in the presence of the other.
Then she said, Look, imagine two headlines. One is some warm fuzzy about a local who can’t get enough of Superman. She paused and took a swallow of beer.
And the other? he said.
The other is a cold prickly—she held up a pretend banner--Superman, Yes—Trans-Man, No.
Real balls-out, huh? he said.
You could say, she nodded.
They sat silently for a while longer. Then she left.
That’s what she remembered.
The Record ran a puff piece under the head Name Change Brings Local Man Closer to Caped Crusader. Mr. Perry was laughing scornfully about how “those polecats over there can’t even keep their super heroes straight” when his phone rang.
It was Clark. He said, “Tell Lois to go with the cold prickly,” and hung up.
“You have any idea what he means?” Mr. Perry asked Lois. She told him. He was ecstatic. “We’re gonna rip the hide off those polecats,” he said. “And if we’re lucky, our piece will appear the same day they print their correction.” Then he turned to Lois and said, “All right, Lois, as old H.L would put it: ‘Spit on your hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats!’” Lois had already mentally composed the last sentence of the article: “It takes a man, maybe a super man, to do the right thing.”
To Mr. Perry’s delight, the article appeared on the same day the Record apologized for confusing Superman with Batman.
About two weeks later, a badly beaten body dressed like Superman was found in a roll-off dumpster on a construction site just outside Hila. In what both the Record and the Dowser described as “a tragic mix-up,” the coroner released the body to the wrong funeral home in Desierto and within an hour-and-a-half it was cremated.
Lois claimed the ashes.
From an online business, she ordered a 12-inch cremation urn action figure: Superman, with legs slightly spread apart, arms folded over chest, with a face likeness of Clark Kent made from photos she had taken. It cost $87.50. She couldn’t really afford it, but it was important to her. A sealed chamber within the head of the figure held a small amount of Clark Kent’s ashes.
Now, as she headed south out of Albuquerque on 25, she knew what she was going to do with them, the ashes, but not much else.