Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Northwest Passage, by Mike Baron

THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE

Like many modern communities, Fort Collins has built some excellent bike trails. I can ride from my house all the way downtown, up Spring Creek Trail, which follows the creek, through Roland Moore Park, past the little free library box behind the firehouse, to Spring Canyon Park, then back through the Cathy Fromme Prairie. I always count horses as I ride. People keep horses in Fort Collins like dogs. You can walk to several horse properties from my house, and no one would call my neighborhood rural.

The other day I counted fifteen horses. Perhaps ten per cent of this trail is on public streets, none of which are crowded.

Fort Collins recently completed a new trail on the east side that goes south through Loveland and ostensibly hooks up with the North Trail coming up the West Side, so that in theory, I could complete the loop with very little time spent on actual streets. The grail shoots through prairies adjacent to upscale neighborhoods with beautiful houses and corrals. A sub trail, which I have yet to take, goes down to Boyd Lake and follows the waterfront until it spits you out at the north end of Loveland.

I headed west on the concrete trail as it cut between pastures in which horses grazed. It passes a prairie dog town where curious prairie dogs pop up out of their holes and whisper enticingly, “Do you want the bubonic plague? Kiss me!”

The trail wound past a trailer park. Most of these trails wind past trailer parks at one point or another. I think they’re easy to wind past. It went under Highway 287, came out by the Loveland Walmart and promised to connect with the North Trail via dogleg. I rode and I rode. I rode through freshly minted neighborhoods backed up against open space and the railroad line. But I could not find the Northwest Passage. I rode home the same way. I counted ten horses. I went online and looked at the Loveland bike trails and there it was, a tiny little portion of red dots, not the solid red line that indicates finished trail. It’s there. I just have to portage my bike.

The Art of the Insult, by Mike Baron

THE ART OF THE INSULT

The perfect squelch. The withering put-down. The witty slander that leaves folks gasping in disbelief and delight. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce: “Stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind.” Winston Churchill: “Unless the right honourable gentleman changes his policy and methods and moves without the slightest delay, he will be as great a curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.” Dorothy Parker: “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.” Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

High school, for me, was an unending search for the withering put-down. Like Eric Harris, I had no use for humanity and it had no use for me. Unlike Eric, I lacked that black toxin which caused him to mow down a dozen classmates before turning the gun on himself. I used to memorize what I considered witty put-downs. Many young men go through a phase where alienation causes them to judge harshly. Most of them grow out of it.

However, Facebook breaths new life into this adolescent movement. There’s something about Facebook that brings out the worst in people. They say things on Facebook they wouldn’t dream of saying to your face. You actually have to struggle to keep a thread on track without degenerating into I posted that Lady Gaga had killed it at the Superbowl, and within twenty posts it had degenerated into “Fuck you!” No! Fuck YOU!”

Serial insulters are witherers. Wither the witherer? The latest rage seems to be fabricating faux nineteenth century insults without the wit. “Hoofwanking bunglecunt” has a certain cachet, as does “twatwaffle” But it has no meaning. Oh insult, where is thy sting?

They will never replace the classics. “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!”

My friends, I have five rules for arguing on Facebook. 1: No sarcasm. 2: No personal attacks. 3: Be brief. 4: Keep your sense of humor. 5: Know when to quit.

Those Ads by Mike Baron

THOSE ADS

You click on an article. As you begin to read, an ad slithers in like the red tide, slowly, inexorably blocking the content. There is no way to delete the ad for about ten seconds, as the advertiser has paid big bucks to hold you hostage. You delete that ad. Another appears, creeping down from the top like some lethal fog. You wait patiently for the little ‘X’ to appear to get rid of that one. You delete it. As you read the article, another ad pops up, this one all singing! All dancing! You forgot to turn off the sound. And so on.

I understand that web content providers need to monetize their investment, but thus far, these ads have had the opposite effect. If I note the advertiser, it’s only to shun them. This is one reason I miss print media and the demise of the magazine. Magazine ads are not intrusive. They don’t block content. You can take them or leave them. Moreover, there is great satisfaction in holding the magazine in your hands and looking at the pictures. It’s not the same on the internet.

Then, when you close out the ad, a fucking survey appears wanting to know why. My only avenue of protest is to note that business and shun them.

Changing technology and culture has resulted in the demise of the monthly all-purpose motorcycle magazine. Cycle World and Motorcyclist have gone quarterly with predictable results. Where once they featured road tests and new models, they now feature artsy-fartsy photo spreads. Close-ups of concrete. Race paddocks. Articles on the Miracle of Titanium. When new bikes appear, they are often electric. Whoever invents a device to replicate the sound of gasoline engines will make a fortune.

Only part of the blame goes to shifting tech. We now have a risk-adverse generation that views motorcycles—and even cars!–as potentially lethal objects to be avoided at all costs.

Jazz by Mike Baron

JAZZ

I was Music Editor of the Boston Phoenix back in the day. It was my job to go out night after night, talk to musicians, and listen to their bands. One night Les McCann was playing. Most people know his brilliant breakout hit, “Compared To What,” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. Eddie wasn’t with Les that night. At the end of the first set, he introduced his side players. “On drums, Wilson Smith! On bass, Todd Jones! And on guitar, #!@$Q@##$ Q#%#ESFAD.” The guitarist was Polish.

During the break, I talked to Les. “How do you spell your guitarist’s name?” I asked.

“Well isn’t that interesting,” Les said. “I have three side players and you only want to know the white guy’s name.”

I looked at my notes. “On drums, Wilson Smith. On bass, Todd Jones.”

Les blanched a little bit. After that, he could not have been kinder. https://www.google.com/search?q=les+mccann+compared+to+what&rlz=1C1GGRV_enUS751US751&oq=les+mccann+com&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0l4.4284j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Neil Hansen

NEIL HANSEN

I became aware of Neil Hansen, aka “Spyder,” aka “Bannen,” when he began drawing Whisper for First Comics. Neil had a unique, dynamic style and I wanted to work with him. When he became available for Badger, I was thrilled. His Badgers, including “Kruisin’ With the King,” are among my favorites. When I wrote Punisher for Marvel, Neil did several issues and yearbooks. His work is instantly identifiable, like that of Steranko or Norm Breyfogle.

Neil visited me at my home in Madison and sat house while I was at a con. “As long as you’re here,” I said, “please draw a story.” The resulting eight-pager, “Hair of the Dog,” will finally see print in Ozzy Longoria’s horror anthology Gods and Monsters. You can find Ozzy on Facebook. Neil penciled, inked, and lettered. He created his own Epic series, Untamed. It is worth checking out for the jaw-dropping art.

I have hounded Neil over the years about drawing more comics, but as time passed, he drew less and less and the last time I asked him he said, “I’m sorry, Mike. I sat down to draw and it just wouldn’t come.” His last work was a series of Badger covers that appeared from IDW about ten years ago.

In the meantime, he worked as a caretaker for an old motel in Canada.

These days, Neil makes his living trading in domain names. He makes a good living.

Disco Chapter One, by Mike Baron

DISCO CHAPTER ONE

Donnie Waits crouched by the rear bumper of Ralph Speece’s pickup, cradling a baggie of pot to his chest and listening to his mother and Ralph go at it through the open windows of their second-floor apartment. The four-unit apartment building sat on the outskirts of Gunderson, Wisconsin, a nowhere burg to which they’d moved three weeks ago when Kate got a job as executive secretary to Frank Werner, CEO of Werner’s Meats. The redbrick building was plunked down at the edge of a cornfield across the street from a farm. Its nearest neighbor was a tire wholesaler a quarter mile toward town. Donnie wondered why a developer would build in such a spot.

“You don’t tell me what to do!” Ralph was raging inside. He was a cut telephone lineman Kate had met at the gym, the latest in a long line of losers.

Donnie heard Kate talking low and intensely, the word “marijuana” rising in volume. Ralph had promised not to bring marijuana into the house or smoke anywhere around them lest Donnie find out. Too late for that. Ralph had offered Donnie a toke the first time they were alone.

Donnie felt bad about swiping the baggie from Ralph’s truck, but Ralph should have listened to Kate. The argument escalated. A door slammed. Kate was giving Ralph the heave-ho, as she had so many others. Kate was destined to go through life being disappointed by men, and that included Donnie.

Donnie ran for the cornfield and had reached the back of the apartment building before Ralph emerged. He heard Ralph start the truck and peel out, with a rooster tail of gravel striking the dumpster. He’d be pissed when he found his reefer gone.

Donnie was seventeen, facing down the gun barrel of senior year at Gunderson High, the third high school he’d attended in as many years. Maybe this time Kate would like the job. Maybe this time they could settle down. Donnie whizzed through the corn stalks feeling the swish of silk and leaf on his cheeks and bare arms, smelling the rich, almost overpowering scent of ripe corn. It was a flawless hot blue day near the end of August. Next week he would undergo his annual ordeal, registering at a new school.

But today was his to get high and dream about becoming a millionaire rap star. Or maybe a country singer. He didn’t really like rap, but it seemed like a pretty surefire way to fame and fortune. Just spittin’ rhymes, and he’d always been good with words.

Or maybe he would draw comics.

Donnie burst through the far end of the field, where a sagging barbed wire fence separated the cornfield from Johnson’s Creek, which meandered east-west through town. Donnie loved the creek. It was peaceful there, cool in the shade of ancient oak and cottonwood. He sat on a flat rock by the sandy bank, pulled out the baggie and some Zig-Zag rolling papers. Someone told him Jesus had smoked pot and if he doubted it, all he had to do was look at the image on a package of Zig-Zags.

With nothing to roll on, he took off his Grendel T-shirt, stretched it flat across his knees and rolled on that to produce a fat doobie. He put his shirt back on and felt his pockets. Oh no. No lighter, no matches. How could he have been so stupid! He thought of sneaking back to the apartment, but Kate would be there seething and loaded for Cape buffalo.

The closest source of fire was Nate’s Bait and Tackle, a ramshackle general store at Bateman’s Landing where County Road HR ended. Nate was an amiable drunk who’d taken a liking to the young man, and taught him how to tie a fishing fly. Donnie had last encountered Nate passed out behind his own counter, TV blaring. It would have been the perfect opportunity to clean out the cash register and make off with several bottles of gin. Instead, Donnie had somehow manhandled Nate into his bed in the back room, closed the store and sat with him until he came around.

There was a black-and-white photo on Nate’s wall of him and some Army buddies in Nam. Some of those kids looked as young as Donnie.

Nate’s was on the other side of the creek through a pasture. Donnie found a spot where steppingstones allowed him to cross without getting wet. He gingerly climbed over the barbed wire separating the pasture from the creek and headed diagonally toward the bait shop. Maybe Nate would lend him his little aluminum skiff.

Donnie looked around. The pasture was empty, but he stepped carefully to avoid the cow pies. He caught a hint of wood smoke, loving the day.

“Hey!” someone shouted. “Hey, kid!”

Donnie froze. Busted? By whom? For what? He turned and saw a man in a ball cap, overalls and a beard gesturing from fifty yards away at the fence.

The man pumped his arm. “Get the hell out of there!”

An explosive snort sounded from alder and gorse down by the creek. Donnie turned.

A black bull pawed the ground, staring at him with the gravity of a small planet.

Oh shit!

Donnie took off. He was quick enough to make the track team and poured every ounce of energy into the rush, feeling the squish of fresh cow pies beneath his feet as he pounded for the fence, the bull’s hoofbeats sending shock waves through the ground. Donnie ran, limbs pumping, lungs wheezing as the beats got louder.

Donnie had no idea how he got over the fence. He had no memory of leaping, only landing and rolling, twigs digging into his flesh until he came up against a tree and looked back to where the bull had pulled up and was now peacefully cropping grass.

Groaning, he examined himself: ripped jeans, scraped elbows, a little blood. He swatted his pockets. Still had the baggie and the doobie. Donnie got to his feet and confronted the now sedate bull.

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

The bull fixed him with one brown eye and slowly chewed. Donnie turned and made his way through the forest to Nate’s Bait.

How I Ended Up in Colorado by Mike Baron

HOW I ENDED UP IN COLORADO 

I started in karate at the Ja Shin Do Academy in Brighton, Massachusetts, in 1975. Andy Baumann, Joe Demusz, and Jane West were the instructors. I’d always been curious about karate. I had no natural athletic ability. Zero, zilch, zippo. Nada. Every physical contest was a chore to me, from tossing a ball to running. I was as coordinated as a tornado. I could barely lift my leg above my knee in front of me.

I could only get better and so I did, but every stage was a struggle. I had little confidence in my self-defense abilities. After a year training, I was in excellent shape. I can’t believe what we did in that class, in terms of sheer physical effort. For example, “Thousand Kick Night” was a regular feature. There’s no way I could keep up with that regimen today. If anything, Andy has become even more fanatical about rigorous physical training—you can check him out atbaumansextremetraining.com.

In ’77 I moved back to Madison, Wisconsin and began writing for Isthmus, the alternative weekly. I introduced myself to publisher and editor Vince O’Hern, who had been training with Jim Henry at Choi’s Karate on West Washington in the Fess Hotel, which also housed Rod’s Place, Madison’s premier gay club. I got as far as high red when Choi’s closed its doors and Jim left for sunnier climes.

I worked out sporadically with Vince, Bob Dodd, and Al Reichenberger at the University Natatorium. Then I broke my hip. I’d designed and built my own house, and one of my clever innovations was to put a trap door in the floor of the bedroom closet. One opened the door and there was a little ladder going into the basement. One night under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, I stepped into the closet intending to grab a jacket, forgetting that I had left it open to impress my date. I fell through the opening and broke my hip. My date was duly impressed.

My comics were selling and everybody wanted me. I was hot for fifteen minutes, but I didn’t know what I had, or how to keep it. My writing lacked discipline. I would snort coke to write. I tricked myself into thinking this made writing easier, but it didn’t. It just robbed me of judgment.

The hip injury put me on my back for six weeks. When I once again began to walk I realized I was seriously out of shape, so I turned again to martial arts, although I had very little ability and was now hampered by a gimp leg. I have a titanium brace screwed into my right femur, and a metal ball in the hip socket. My calves have always resembled boneless chicken wings. I wouldn’t be caught dead in shorts. My stretching had improved, however. I began training with John Fehling and his kali/escrima boys in the basement of the Vilas Neighborhood Community Center. John is extremely knowledgeable about Filipino martial arts. We trained with sticks and lock-flow. Unfortunately, after a year, John decided Thai boxing was the way to go and he stopped teaching everything but how to hit and kick.

I had married. As my career nosedived, Madeline’s health began to deteriorate. Nasal infections lasted for months. One snowy winter night she had an accident on the Beltline and damaged her neck. She suffered from fibromyalgia, a form of arthritis. One day she said, “I can’t take another winter here. I’ll die.” Okay, I said. We took a massive road trip throughout the southwest, and settled on Fort Collins as the most suitable. My sister Jill and brother-in-law Dennis live here. Dennis and Lee Casuto urged me to spend more time at Karate West.

Things were bad at home. Madeline was in constant pain, which sent her to every pain specialist on the front range. There were other problems. She was fired from her job for failing to show up and lost her health insurance. She suffered from depression. I suffered from depression. Once, back in Madison, I came very close to killing myself. And again, after we moved to Fort Collins, I fell into the Marianas Trench. (William Styron’s Darkness Visible was a hopeful guide map to these dark times.)

Karate was the only regular feature in my life. I looked forward to it every day because when I was on the floor, I was not aware of my home situation. I’ve discussed this with other students and we agree that one of karate’s benefits is that it requires such attention as to preclude dwelling on your troubles. Although I’d been granted a black belt by Joe Demusz, one of my original instructors, the performance gap between me and the standard Karate West black belt was instantly apparent.

I just put my head down and kept coming. While the rest of my world was in free fall, there was karate, noon every day, Monday through Thursday. Then a funny thing happened. I began to improve under the eagle-eyed tutelage of those sadistic bastards Lee Casuto and Brad Suinn. In fact, every higher belt with whom I’ve come in contact has gone out of their way to help me, particularly Mike Martin and Wayne from Budweiser.

One day I went to karate and when I came home Madeline was dead. I tried mouth to mouth. I heard the air rattle through her bronchial tubes but there was no response. I called 911. I was numb. My friend Pete accompanied me to the police station for the interview. Another friend spent the night at my house to keep an eye on me. The next day I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t write. So I went to karate. It helped me deal with overwhelming grief. My psychiatrist urged me to keep going. “Tell the truth, Mike,” he said. “Aren’t you a little bit relieved?”

Gradually, my grief began to subside. It was as if I were coming to the end of a long tunnel. I believe I’m a basically optimistic person, and my natural optimism, so long buried beneath an age of crisis and despair, surfaced.

The Karate West mottoes are keys to successful living. Attitude determines whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. Those who see the glass as half empty are in danger of slipping down the drain. Without something outside themselves to pull them forward they fill their time with the pursuit of pleasure or wallowing in self-pity. They have stopped growing. Why bother? Those who see the glass as half full see possibilities, a reason for living. They have enthusiasm, which is the keystone of a good attitude. Karate is a bridge toward something bigger than the self.

These days I look forward to karate with the enthusiasm I used to reserve for New Comics Day. Achieving second degree seems premature to me. I’ve only been at it thirty years.

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Walkin’ in Milwaukee, Mike Baron

WALKIN’ IN MILWAUKEE 

Capital City Comics, an outgrowth of Capital City Distribution, was our first publisher. I used to go out to their warehouse on the beltline the nights the comics came in and watch the employees pack the boxes like Santa’s helpers to loud rock and roll. Sometimes the employees took something to help them stay alert through the long night. A ferocious rivalry developed between Capital City and Diamond Distribution to see who could get their comics to markets first. It was louder than a Limp Bizkit concert. There were enough old blues musicians working there to fill a festival. James Eisele. John Davis himself, a mean blues guitarist. Drummer Billy McDuffy, guitarist Tom Flinn, bass player Tom McCarty, and sax player Bob Corbit.

One day I was out there and Milton was showing around a half dozen Chinese businessmen in dark suits, with an interpreter. I asked John what was going on.

“It’s a group of Chinese businessmen and publishers. They wanted to visit Dark Horse, but they accidentally booked tickets to Milwaukee, Wisconsin instead of Milwaukie, Oregon.”

Mike Baron, Nexus Novel

ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE WORDS FROM NEXUS NOVEL IN PROGRESS  

CHAPTER FORTY “Beast”

Horatio dined at Impresario every night. He was mistaken for Hugh Sayso three times, once by a woman who fainted. He dined alone in an alcove beneath a glittering dome that reflected the sky, surrounded by caricatures of famous customers. There were two caricatures of Clonezone the Hilariator, one by Pete Emslie and the other by Steve Rude. He worked his way through the menu from Ahi tuna to zebra cutlets, with stops along the way for kale souffle and quinoa a la mode. He was a generous tipper, and competition for his table was fierce among the waiters.

The waiters always said the same thing.“Excellent.” “Perfect.” Like ordering was a difficult acrobatic routine he’d managed to stick. The waiters kept changing. He was a good tipper.

On his fourth visit, the manager, Liz Horton, a long drink of water with Morticia Addams looks, told him that from then on he would eat for free in recognition of his selfless act.

“No more bills for you, Mr. Bartol. Maya opened up an account in your name.”

“That’s very kind.”

“You’re good for business.”

People stopped by his table, introduced themselves, and posed for pictures. Each time Horatio chortled, complied, and complained. “I’m no celebrity.”

He posed with a Cub Scout Troop from Milwaukee. He posed with the Girl Greek Grenadiers from Venus. He posed with a man running for the City Council and instantly regretted it.

People sent him bottles of wine, which he donated to the soup kitchen on Forty Second Street. He visited the soup kitchen every night after dinner and helped serve. All the food came from surrounding restaurants, most of them five star. The indigent dined on patois de faux gras, kippered herring, buffalo steaks, barimundi, and fostedor leaves. The staff split the wine.

One night Horatio found himself working next to a jumbo black man named Dr. Dirt, who was a stockbroker for Diggs Brown during the day.

Dr. Dirt laid a grilled pheasant breast on the plate of an old woman whose filthy gray hair hung in her face like Cousin It.

“You would think,” Dr. Dirt said, “that after nine thousand years of civilization we would have no more homeless. You would think so, but you would be wrong.”

Horatio re-upped a supplicant’s mussels. “There’s no cure for the human condition.”

“Splain.”

“Human nature is immutable. There will always be the weak. There will always be the strong. No amount of social engineering is going to create a class of people who are all equal in all things. You’re always going to have more losers than winners. There are no easy answers. Life is messy and complex. That’s why so many people go into mathematics and psychiatry.”

Dr. Dirt grunted. “I’ll have to think on that.”

They worked in a companionable silence. The soup kitchen was on the ground floor with a misted glass wall looking out on the theater district. Sometimes, drunk swells leaving the theater would press their faces and hands up against the window. Sometimes drunk theater goers would stand in line along with the indigent. Horatio always asked for a donation.

A dozen people lined up at the counter clutching their biodegradable hemp plates. The big room was humid, filled with tantalizing and appalling smells. The food. The people. Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” played through the speakers. It was October 15.

“So you’re saying,” Dr. Dirt said, “that paradise is unobtainable?”

“Well no. Attitude is everything. You can have a miserable life but if you have a good attitude, life can be beautiful. Not everybody is capable of a good attitude. I’d go so far as to say most people aren’t capable. Life is tragic. Most people are going to be unhappy.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto,” Horatio said.

“Huh?”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto.”

“What does it mean?”

“Prosperity is just around the corner.”

They worked in a companionable silence.

“So what you’re saying is, misery is the lot of man.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Yet, some people are capable of happiness.”

Horatio looked into the limpid brown eyes of a hungry girl. “One lump or two?”

“Two, please.”

He gave her two lumps. “A great many people are capable of happiness, but a lot of them are evil. You know what makes them happy? Power over other people. Most people are motivated by envy and resentment.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“What it is.”

The following night he was at his table in Impresario sipping a Stoly martini, when a new waitress approached, a young woman, her hair finished in seven brightly colored Cadillac fins extending from hairline to the back. Left to right, the fins were magenta, turquoise, ecru, jet black, lavender, fuchsia, and candy apple red. She looked like a George Barris creation.

“Good evening, Mr. Bartol. I’m Kim. I’ll be your server tonight. May I tell you about our specials?”

“By all means.”

“Arugula, goat cheese and cranberries appetizer, broast beast brain, ancient grains with future grains…”

“What is the beast?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Is it warm blooded?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Be it fish or fowl?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Please continue.”

“Chopped spinach from frozen Bluebell containers recently discovered in a survivalist stronghold in Alaska, oscillating ocelot eggs, newburg of chewburg, and deep-fried Hostess Twinkie reenactments. Flute flies sauteed in granola oil.”

“That sounds so enticing. What else?”

“Last but not least, drizzled drongo chops with kiwi bird mayonnaise and grunt cakes made from our own special antediluvian recipe.”

“It all sounds so good. I’ll need a minute.”

“Of course.”

The waiter gestured and a transparent sphere of water hovered over Horatio’s glass.

“What happened to the man you replaced, Gustav?”

“Gustav was taking liberties with the lasagna. He had to be let go.”

“What kind of liberties?”

“You don’t want to know. Can I refill your drink while you’re waiting, Mr. Bartol?”

“Sure.”

She took his glass. He insisted on a tumbler. There was something about this girl that was oddly familiar, as if he’d met her before but couldn’t quite remember where or when. She returned, placing is drink in front of him on the round polished oak table. The martini came halfway up the glass, two olives speared on a toothpick.

“Have you made a decision?” Kim said.

“I’m feeling lucky. I’ll try the beast.”

“Excellent.”

“You’re not going to tell me.”

“You must wait and see.”

Horatio accidentally elbowed his white linen tablecloth to the floor. He and Kim both reached for it at once, their forearms touching.

And then they both knew.

Bat Fan vs Fat Ban by Mike Baron

BAT FAN V. FAT BAN

By Mike Baron

This was it. Ragnarok, Armageddon, and Doomsday rolled into one. This was the premier of Batman: The Killer Croc’s Revenge, the latest installment in the greatest movie franchise of all time. Christian Bale as Batman. Gary Oldman as Chief Gordon. Lindsay Lohan as Rachel Dawes. And Sean Penn as Killer Croc.

Wayne Callard stood in line with 1500 other Bat Fans waiting for the Cinegrande Cineplex to open its doors. Wayne had been waiting in line for nineteen hours. He’d camped out on the sidewalk the previous night, swathing his bulk in two double-sized down-filled sleeping bags on a foam mattress. Wayne was five feet seven and weighed 350 lbs. He’d been born Cicero Wayne Callard.

“Man,” said Manny Ramirez standing next to Wayne and blowing on his hands, “I hope they open the doors soon! I could use a tube steak!” Manny wore Bat sneakers and a Batpack.

“Haven’t you heard?” Wayne said. “They pulled all the hot dogs. The fat content was too high.”

Manny regarded Wayne dubiously. “You’re shittin’ me.”

“No sir. The mayor signed the executive order yesterday. He doubled the food tax on all fast food items and mandated the removal of such items as hot dogs, French fries, jalapeno poppers, and deep fried cheese curds.”

“You gotta be shittin’ me!” Manny wailed. “What kind of dumb fuck would do that?”

“An overreaching municipal, state, and federal government that seeks to control all aspects of our lives and treat us like children.”

“I been thinkin’ about that hot dog all night! It’s the only thing that kept me going!”

“Hang, bro,” Wayne said. “I got you covered.”

A shout. A huzzah rose up the line. They had opened the doors. It was ten-thirty in the morning. Excitement was palpable among the faithful, overwhelmingly comprised of adolescent boys with a few sullen adults shepherding their cubs and hapless girlfriends in tow.

Two security guards met them at the door. “Please deposit all liquids, foods, and recording devices here. Sir, would you mind opening your coat?”

Wayne dutifully spread wide his bulky pea coat revealing a round mound covered with a nicely pilled argyle sweater that had belonged to his grandfather. The guard looked away and waved him through.

“Sir, would you mind opening your backpack?” the guard said to Manny.

Manny slipped it off and flipped open the lid. “It’s a Batpack.”

Tickets were nine dollars for the eleven o’clock matinee, twelve dollars for shows after noon. Wayne got his ticket and waited for Manny in the lobby where the snack counter was doing a brisk business in popcorn made with sunflower oil and available with virgin olive oil, tofu on a stick, and fruit smoothies.

Manny entered the lobby. “Ahmina get a Coke and some buttered popcorn, okay?”

“There is no buttered popcorn. It’s available with sunflower oil and olive oil.”

Manny’s jaw crushed a toe. He looked toward the refreshment counters which resembled festival seating at a Who concert. He resigned himself to water. Wayne took off at flank speed. It was imperative to GET YOUR SEATS FIRST and fish for food second. By the time Wayne and Manny gained the theater, the plum rows eight through twelve were taken with sniveling, squirming, texting, snarfing boys and men in a state of perpetual shiftiness emitting a low rumble of conversation punctuated by invective.

Wayne took the third seat in the 13th row except it was labeled the 14th to avoid the onus of superstition. Manny sat on the aisle. The big screen showed a ruddy, cheerful Santa Claus in coitus with a reindeer, guzzling Coke and shouting, “Shake, it Prancer, you hot bitch!” It was a Very Special Christmas.

During the trailer for Punisher IV, Marvel 0, a flat top and his date, who look4ed like Betty from Betty & Veronica, entered the aisle causing Manny to swing his legs to the side. Wayne had to stand and even then it was like squeezing by a mattress stuck in the doorway.

“Do you smell McDonald’s” Betty whispered to her date.

“Shhh!” Wayne shushed. Dude gave him the stink eye but Wayne ignored him. The troublesome couple sat three seats away. They watched a trailer for Zits, the new Will Ferrell comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family summer camp. They watched a trailer for Grits, the new Adam Sandler comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family plantation. They watched a trailer for Pits, the new Ben Stiller comedy about black holes.

Finally, after ads for plastic surgery and whole grain crust chicken and sun-dried tomato pizza, the lights lowered and the feature began. Manny stared at the screen in fascination until the smell of a Big Mac got his attention. Wayne nudged him and passed over a Big Mac.

“What? How?” Manny said, pleased and delighted.

Wayne reached down and pulled a portion of his belly away from himself like a lid. “Prosthetic belly,” he whispered. “Costume store. Got the Big Macs last night in Jersey. Kept ‘em warm with body heat.”

“Shhhh!” Betty shushed harshly.

I know what you’re thinkin’, Wayne thought to himself. In all the confusion, did he pull out two burgers, or three? The question you’ve got to ask yourself, lady, is do you feel lucky?

Batman had a utility belt. Wayne had a prosthetic belly.

Wayne and Manny ate their burgers. Dude immediately in front of Wayne turned in his seat. He had a buzz cut and a ring in one ear and through his nose. “Dude, like that burger you’re eating is totally horrendous. Take it outside, why don’tcha?”

Other young men swiveled to see the object of wrath. Wayne deftly tucked the rest of the Big Mac into his cavernous maw, chewed and swallowed. Reaching into an inside pocket of his pea coat he withdrew a canned Coke, popped the lid and drank copiously. He belched like the Mother of All Bullfrogs. He rolled it out like a black furry carpet. It just kept on rolling. The belch caromed off the ceiling frieze and tumbled ‘round the room.

Onscreen, Batman foiled an attempt by the Punisher to crash his movie.

Buzz Cut jabbed a finger at Wayne. “Why don’t you get up off your fat ass and go sit somewhere else?”

“Yeah!” said his sidekick, Li’l BC.

With a sigh Wayne heaved himself to his feet and motioned for Manny to do likewise. He had not come to rumble with Nazis. He had come to see the movie. He and Manny moved further upslope until they found two seats in the narrow aisle next to the wall.

Onscreen, terrorists had taken over Gotham Tower and were jamming all radio, internet, and short wave transmissions. In the theater, a gang of twenty-something boys sitting behind Wayne and Manny had seized control of the 18th row and jammed transmissions from the screen by hooting, making noises, and throwing Junior Mints.

A Junior Mint bounced off the back of Wayne’s basketball-sized head. Wayne slowly swiveled with a steely glare. The obstreperous ones studiously watched the screen on which Bruce Wayne was fending off Poison Ivy’s attentions.

Another Junior Mint sailed past. Giggles emanated from the 18th row. Wayne didn’t bother to turn and look. With a sigh of resignation, he gripped his arm rests and heaved himself from his seat. My city bleeds, he thought. He ponderously made his way up the aisle toward the 18th row.

“Oh oh,” they joked. “Look out now, here he comes!”

“Beware the Fat Fury!”

Wayne wondered if the benighted ones were even familiar with Herbie Popnecker. Without looking at them Wayne reached the 19th row and turned in. He sat behind what he took to be the ringleader, a dude in an Oakland hoodie, pants down his ass and BKs on the back of the seats in front of him as if he weren’t the issue of wealthy white mandarins on the Upper West Side.

“You smell something?” the White Negro said.

“Yeah,” said one of his minions. “Something stinks.”

The White Negro turned to confront Wayne, whose knees were up against the back of the seat. “Whassup, you fat faggot? Why don’tcha move your bulk somewhere else, know what I’m sayin’?”

Wayne reached into his belly prosthetic and brought forth a halogen flashlight and a water pistol filled with dog urine. “Please turn around and enjoy the movie for which you paid nine dollars.”

Onscreen, Batman confronted a crazed Killer Croc in the act of planting a bomb.

Offscreen, the White Negro said, “Or what? You gonna make me?”

Wayne turned the flashlight on the White Negro’s face. He squirted dog urine on the White Negro’s shirt.

“There,” Wayne said. “Now you have a smell to complain about.”

The White Negro heaved himself over the back of his seat and attacked Wayne with both hands, delivering blow after blow to Wayne’s prosthetic belly. The White Negro’s fist penetrated several of the twelve thumbtacks Wayne and pushed through the front of his sweater. Stinking of dog urine, the White Negro stared in horror at his bleeding fists.

The manager, a pale young man with a ponytail, came up the stairs with his own flashlight which he shined on the whole sorry scene. He sniffed. “Okay, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you all to leave. Your ticket money will be refunded out front in the lobby. Let’s go.”

The White Negro turned on him in wounded innocence. “But we didn’t do anything! This fat fuck started messing with us!”

Wayne remained seated. “They threw Junior Mints at the back of my head. I’m sure a police search will reveal the Mints.”

“What’s that smell?” the manager said.

“Smells like dog piss,” one of the minions said. He had the makings of a fine detective.

“All right, that’s it,” said the manager with newly found authority. “Out of here right now or I’ll stop the film, turn up the lights and call the cops.”

There was some grumbling but when two more ushers appeared with flashlights on the landing below the White Negro resignedly got to his feet and led his minions out the door. “It sucks anyway.”

The manager turned his flashlight on Wayne. Wayne turned his flashlight on the manager. “You too,” the manager said.

“Moi?” Wayne said. “I have troubled no one. I have thrown Junior Mints at no one. I merely seek to watch the movie which is ruined for me now, ruined I say because of incessant interruptions and the obstreperous and contumacious nature of your clientele.”

“Let’s go,” the manager said. “You can get a refund in the lobby.”

Wayne rose with dignity. “Fine,” he said and waddled down the stairs, pausing only to glance at Manny, who dutifully joined him. The two lads soon found themselves nine dollars richer individually and out on the street.

“Now what do we do?” Manny said.

Gazing at a poster for The Bourne Natural Killers, Wayne deduced their next move. “Come on. We’ll make our own movie. We’ll shoot it on my phone.”