Origins of Aquaman

On September 4 of this year, a 25-year old woman working at a McDonald’s in Redwood City gave birth on the job then tried to flush her newborn down the toilet. It was an awful crime, inexcusable in every way, yet perversely fitting on Labor Day.

I did not know about this news story until almost two weeks later and might never have known if it were not for a link tweeted by comedian Anthony Jeselnik. I’ll be paying more attention to Jeselnik’s Twitter feed from now  on.

The story was on the website for Time magazine, a publication that may or may not be considered fake news depending on which side of the post-truth polarity you happen to slavishly adhere to. However, in this case there might be no contention as infanticide is roundly condemned on both sides of the aisle (Note to anti-abortion zealots: Shut up. Now is not the time).

This is the third atrocity from the Golden Arches that I’m aware of. Fortunately, each has been less horrible than the one preceding it. I don’t wish to trivialize what happened here, but there was a silver lining and it was her ineptitude at baby killing. Did she really believe that a newborn weighing possibly eight or more pounds would flush successfully? I’ve birthed bowel movements only half that big that didn’t want to go down.

The second atrocity in 1984 at McDonald’s in San Ysidro, CA was far worse. Unlike the third, there was a body count and an impressive one at that. Twenty one people died and another 19 were injured that day when James Oliver Huberty told his wife he was “going hunting humans” then drove to Mickey D’s to make good on his promise. If it were not for the eagle eye of a police sniper, the death toll would have been even more super sized.

The first atrocity was the McRib.

In meteorological terms, this third atrocity was a mere tropical depression compared to its hurricane-force predecessors, yet it is the one that looms foremost in my mind. It’s partly because the news is so fresh. More than that though, I ride the tech bus through Redwood City twice a day, five days a week.

I don’t know the exact McDonald’s where it happened or even if it can be seen from the freeway.  Still, I like to stare out the window when I think I’m in the vicinity and come up with little ditties like:

Crying, the baby won’t hush
Trying, it maybe won’t flush
Now society wants to expunge her
While I would have offered a plunger

I’m not proud of that. Poetry isn’t my strong suit, but what’s worse is that I’m being dishonest in my verse. If I had witnessed the crime (and never mind why I was in the women’s bathroom in the first place), I would be as horrified as anybody and I certainly wouldn’t be an accomplice. “Ma’am, that’s wrong,” I might even say.

You see, I’m not such a bad guy after all. The kid had a rough start, but I’m hoping he has a rewarding life ahead of him. In fact, I believe he should get a little something extra after all he’s been through. A superpower would be nice. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.

I’m thinking this superpower should be something Aquaman-related since his traumatic first experience occurred in the water. I’m no expert on DC Comics and I don’t know all the powers to choose from, so I’m limited to the ones I remember from watching the “Super Friends” cartoon show as a kid.

So what makes Aquaman so special? He can swim. Hell, I can do that. He can ride a giant seahorse. That’s not a superpower. That’s a possession. You don’t yell “Shazam!” and then drive down the road in a Lamborghini. What it takes is the money to buy one. So what else? He can also control the actions of sea critters with radiating concentric circles that come out of his forehead. Actually, that sounds pretty awesome. Let’s go with that.

Of course I don’t really think that’ll happen, but I’m growing increasingly weary of reality. Reality put a pumpkin-hued piece of shit in the White House. Reality tried to flush a baby down the toilet.

I don’t think I can call myself a realist now and I owe much of that to a Facebook friend I have known since we were 13. His posts are often an inspiration and by that I mean they inspire me to look them up on Snopes. The most recent of these was a shared meme about a heroic dog named Daisy who saved close to a thousand lives on 9/11, making several trips up a smokey staircase of one of the twin towers and not even stopping once to reward herself with Mohammed Atta’s charred penis nub as a Scooby Snack.

The story smacked of bullshit and a quick trip to bore out my suspicions. Daisy was as big a lie as our reasons to invade Iraq. But here’s the thing. It’s not a harmful lie and I would even go so far as to say it does some good. Other than the great jokes it inspired on “Family Guy,” 9/11 was a real downer. Daisy the wonder dog lessens the tragedy with every life she saved. As fictions go, she is as comforting as God and not nearly so wrathful.

So plausibility be damned, I decided that I would one day offer to my services to help this kid come to to terms with his superpower. Be a mentor, and not in an El Duce sort of way. I don’t know precisely what kind of help I could offer, but there is plenty of time to work that out. Twenty years, I’m guessing.

I have no desire to approach him while he’s still a child. My intentions are in no way sexual, but his adoptive family and the law enforcement might see things otherwise. I don’t need that.  And to be honest, children make my skin crawl in general. Teenagers are even worse. They improve as adults, not much, but a little.

You might think such a gesture is out of character and you would be right. I’m usually less interested in giving back to the community than I am in getting back at it. Altruism usually doesn’t drive me and it isn’t what’s driving me here. You see, my death is far from imminent, but it’s not so far off in the future to render it an abstraction. I’m afraid that when the day comes, I shall die with four score and nothing to show for it. My plan for 20 years hence gives me some sense of purpose and if it works the way I want it to, renewal as well.

Between now and then, I have my work cut out for me. The biggest obstacle I’ll need to overcome is my lack of people skills. Don’t get me wrong. I can be quite witty and folks who know me usually consider me harmless. The problem is my lack of empathy, made worse by living in a world where empathy is worn like a politician wears a flag pin on a lapel. If yours is not clearly visible, there must be something wrong with you.

Maybe it’ll be different in two decades’ time. Maybe apathy will be the new empathy and uncaring shits like me will be held in the highest regard. Even if that turns out to be the case, empathy will be a valuable skill to have and I believe it is one that can be learned.

I imagine a lot of people are under the impression that empathy is this ingrained thing and you either have it or you don’t. This likely comes from a misconception about what empathy really is. More often than not, those who claim to possess empathy are merely in tune with an accepted range of thoughts, opinions, and emotions, and find themselves connecting with those who operate within that range. Empathy is not about common ground. It is about venturing into uncharted territory and that is what I intend to learn.

To reach that end, I plan to use every tool available to me. Psychology, hypnosis, mysticism, psychic projection, you name it are all on the table provided they produce results. I realize that my methods might raise some ethical questions, but I must remain undeterred. Getting a toe hold in someone’s brain, so to speak, is not something that comes naturally to me. And given what I hope to accomplish, the end does justify the means.

So let me give you how I expect this to play out. In 20 years, it will be 2037. Technology will certainly have advanced, but I have no idea how much and in what way so my actions will not be dependent on that. The planet will have changed to some degree. I’m guessing it will be warmer on average and the ocean level will be higher. Again, I don’t know how much on either front or how ecological steps like low-flow toilets that make babies harder to flush might slow climate change.

I too will have undergone significant changes by then. I’ll be 75 years old so that is to be expected.  As for how much, my estimate is to take the amount of decline over the past decade and multiply that by two. That should leave me frail but ambulatory and in possession of half my teeth but most of my wits. While not exactly spry, I’ll be in good enough shape to get the job done so here goes.

I am walking on a trail along Bair Island, a wetlands preserve on the shore of San Francisco just north of Redwood City. It is my first time here, but these marshes and islets are familiar to me because before I retired, I used to gaze upon them from the bus when traffic on my northbound commute had slowed to a crawl.

My septugenarian knees aren’t what they used to be, but I’m able to soldier on. At least I’m no longer a smoker. Quitting close to 30 years ago was the smartest decision I ever made. If I still smoked, I’d either be dragging an oxygen tank with me, or more likely, wouldn’t be here at all.

I see Bob in the distance. His mother was too busy trying to kill him to give him a birth name so the only one he has was provided by his adoptive parents. From a splendid evening spent in a bar with the father, who is a talkative drunk, I learned the name is unofficially short for “Bob for road apples.” Of course, neither parent let Bob in on the joke because it would hurt his feelings and they are good people.

Bob is standing motionless with his shoulders slumped, staring out upon the water. He is a large young man, brutish but not athletic. The water holds some fascination for him. Is he thinking about Aquaman? Unlikely. His earliest experience was a traumatic one involving water and even though he has no memory of that, he is unconsciously trying to come to terms with it.

“Have you ever seen any of the Sharknado movies?” I ask as I walk up to Bob.

“Look, you old perv. I ain’t gonna let you suck my dick unless you buy me a case of beer first and probably not even then,” he says.

What a charming lad he is.

“That’s not why I’m here. Let me assure you of that,” I say. “For one thing, my sexual orientation is…well, let’s just say that at my age it’s none of the above. So you haven’t answered my question.”

“What, those stupid old movies? Yeah, maybe I saw one or two. Didn’t they make like 12 of them?”

“There were 14 in total. And yes, I agree that they were stupid. You always knew that the sharks were going to lose because they had no strategy, no game plan. Now what if they had a leader like Aquaman and his fishy mind control to command them? Those sharks would kick some serious ass.”

“Yeah, I guess that would be pretty cool. So what.”

“What if you had the power to control those sharks?”

“Nothing, because sharks flying around in tornadoes aren’t real.”

“You’re right, but people go swimming. Isn’t there someone you hate enough to command your sharks to go in for the kill?”

“With my Aquaman powers.”

I nodded.

“OK, old man. You’re full of shit, but yeah, there are a few people I wouldn’t mind turning into shark chow.”

“Like who?”

“My boss at Arby’s. I’d love to feed his fat ass to the sharks. And that bitch in high school who wouldn’t go to the prom with me. I’d get a great white to bite her titties off. Bitch wouldn’t think she was such hot shit then. And maybe you because you’re starting to piss me off.”

“That’s the spirit, but there must be someone else. Like your mother, for instance.”

“What the fuck? No way, my mom is totally cool.”

“That isn’t your mom. Have you ever wondered why you don’t look like either of your parents? Your mom, your real mom, tried to flush her baby down the toilet at a McDonald’s in Redwood City. You must have have heard about it at some point. That little baby was you. She’s out of prison now and it’s high time for you to get even.”

“You shut the fuck up.”

“You won’t be able to do it alone. You’ll need lieutenants to command the sharks at all the beaches she is likely to go to. They’ll need your powers, powers you don’t even realize you have yet. Like what happened to you, you’ll have to hold them under water. If it doesn’t drown, you got yourself a little Aquaman.”

“You shut up right now, old man.”

I walk up close to him and spit the following words right in his face.

“You can steal them while their parents are at work. Their nannies making minimum wage aren’t going to care. I’ll even abduct the first few just to show you how easy it is. You can dunk them in the water right here. Nice and secluded. No witnesses except for me and I won’t tell. Don’t be squeamish, Bob. You know you’ll love it. After all it’s in your blood.”

Two meaty fists grab me by the shoulders and I am pushed down into the water. He is as angry as I hoped he would be. Now comes the hard part. What I had spent the last two decades studying how to do had to work now. I wasn’t completely sure it was even possible, but it’s too late to turn. I can only hold my breath for about a minute so there isn’t much time. I concentrate and go through all the steps with an unwavering clarity of purpose.

I see my face below the surface of the water. There is a brief look of surprise in the eyes before they go lifeless. Bubbles trickle from the old man’s mouth. I let go of him and stand upright.

I look around and there is not another soul to be seen. My lungs fill with the warm afternoon air. I haven’t felt this good in years. Walking away, I spot my reflection in a shallow marsh. I may not be much of a looker, but at least I’m young and healthy.

“Mama’s boy,” I say to the reflection and laugh. Bob might not have appreciated the joke, but I do.

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