I think the only thing that keeps me from planning and constructing my own time machine is my fear of landing in the year 2205 and having my skin melt off my body due to some airborne illness that I hadn’t been vaccinated for.
So I stay a bum. And a bum’s not so bad to be, but sometimes I wish I’d just build my time machine already. I just sit at home and watch Kurosawa movies all day. No car. No job. Not going back to school until next semester. I’m fed and housed by my parents, but otherwise I might as well be a bum. I wonder what bums, real bums I mean, do most of the time. From what I see on TV, they just sit around and exist. Kind of like me, except I have a TV and stuff. They don’t need TV to exist.
I actually met a bum last summer in L.A. He gave me some advice that I will now pass along to you. “Yeah,” he said. “Sleeping in a dumpster ain’t so bad. Just bring old clothes.” It’s something to keep in mind.
I got a friend named Bob. He’s not such a slob. He’s got a job. See, I could be a poet, too. I was just messing around with that last bit, but I have some serious stuff that I write late at night when I’m supposed to be doing other stuff. I been thinking about putting together a book of some of my best work and sending it to some publishers. But poetry’s really gone out of style as a profitable art. Just my luck, huh? But remember my name in case you ever see it on a book cover at Barnes & Noble!
I woke up yesterday and thought about getting a job. That’s the hardest part, the getting. I figure once I get a job, I’ll work long and hard. I really don’t have anywhere else to go so it’d be just as well. But getting a job, actually talking to a guy and shaking hands and dressing up and smiling and …I don’t know. I’m no good at that kind of thing. I’ll think about it some more tomorrow.
So after I thought about that for a while, I got out of bed and made myself some breakfast since both of my parents were already at work. In between flipping things and toasting things, I picked up the newspaper from the front lawn. Laserman was on the front page again. He had thwarted another huge bank caper. I don’t know why people attempt any type of caper anymore, much less bank capers. They’re always being thwarted. Between Laserman, Grey Lightning, and The Fallout, there’s been more thwarting going on in this town than…something. While I was trying in vain to come up with a witty line for when I related this thought to Bob, my toast burned, setting off the smoke detector in a hilarious 1980’s sitcom fashion.
The afternoon brought similar hijinks. I sat around in my underwear watching Yojimbo for the nth time and marveling at Toshiro Mifune’s character. He was a bum, sorta like me. Only Mifune was able to walk into a town and completely obliterate the rival gangs and bring about peace, so I guess that’s where the similarities stopped. Although I don’t think it’s completely out of my reach to obliterate rival gangs and bring about peace. The opportunity just hasn’t shown itself yet. After the movie had completed, I decided to get dressed and take a walk.
It was a magnificent day, yesterday was. Clouds hung in the sky like fluffy bunnies…on hooks, I guess. If they’re hanging. I went to Bob’s house, but he wasn’t home so I just kept going south until I became really tired. Luckily, there was a park nearby with nice, warm benches. I found a good one with a nice view and sat on it. There was a pond nearby, with ducks. The park was eerily quiet for that time of day, but I mistook it at the time for peacefulness.
I should probably preface what happened next by saying that our neighborhood rarely gets any super-hero activity. They need to get maximum exposure in order to strike fear into the hearts of the cowardly and superstitious criminals of the world, so they only make their busts in high-profile places like Los Angeles and New York. It’s not like we need them or anything. I mean…we have cops and stuff. We just have a lack of mask-wearing spandex enthusiasts flying around and shoving a flamethrower up evil’s nose while posing for the cameras. So I really didn’t know how to handle myself when this costumed freak was thrown out of the window of a nearby building by a horde of robotic ninjas. That’ll startle you but good, every time.
At that point I did what any respectable citizen would do: I hid under my bench and watched. There were about five of the robot ninjas, and only one of the heroes that I could see, so from what I’d learned from watching movies and reading comic books, it was about an even match. The hero was wearing a black cape with orange lining, a black and orange body suit, a mask with spirit gum for adhesive and black spiked gloves. I’d never seen him before in the papers or anything, but he looked like an older guy; perhaps in his mid-fifties. The robotic ninjas looked just as you’d expect: black pajamas, red headbands, shurikens and katanas blazing. I could tell that they were robots because they were shooting lasers out of their eyes.
After a second on the ground, the hero jumped back on his feat and tackled one of the ninjas emerging from the broken window. They wrestled to the ground, super-strength against super-strength, until the hero finally ripped the ninja’s head off. Sparks flew everywhere in place of blood, which is what a real ninja would have been shooting out of his neckhole. Three of the ninjas scattered in different directions, leaving one to distract the hero. Punches flew, knives slashed, and grunts grunted. The ninja, whose hand had been torn off in the battle, quickly replaced it with a flamethrower, which nearly scorched the hero to death and would have done him in had he not uprooted a tree and smashed the ninja’s computerized brain with it.
Meanwhile, I was hitting myself for not bringing my camcorder. Bob would have freaked if I showed him a tape of such an epic battle. And so I set upon the difficult task of memorizing every single detail of what transpired.
With two of the robot ninjas out of commission, the hero began searching for the remaining three. Soundlessly, he withdrew some kind of laser pistol from his cape, and held it up in a very Cop Show-type manner. I guess he somehow sensed one of the ninjas behind a bush right next to the building, because he shot out a chunk of the roof above so that it would land on top of the ninja. It came down on it, but I guess that only made it angrier because the next thing ya know it’s up outta the bushes and jumping on the hero’s head! From the ground, the hero got a shot off and was able to separate the ninja’s torso from its legs, which went flying some ways off. The torso, however, flipped in the air, landed on the ground and continued to bash at the hero until he chucked it into the nearby pond. Water kills robots, you know. The ducks scattered in a humorous manner.
By the time he got on his feet again, the hero’s chest was heaving. I hoped he could hold up against the remaining two ninjas. Unless the ninjas were the good guys, fighting against the evil scientist in the orange tights…in which case I hoped the ninjas stuck a shuriken in his eye. With an eye patch or a glass eye, it would be easier to tell that he was evil.
The fourth ninja was in invisible stealth mode so it was very hard to see it if you weren’t looking right at it, which I was. Fortunately, I think it was broken from fighting earlier, because its circuits seemed to be emitting a strange buzzing noise. The hero must have picked up on it, too, because he started running in the general direction of the buzzing. I guess at his age his hearing mustn’t have been at its peak, so what ended up happening was embarrassing and sad. I watched this guy chase around a robotic ninja for what must have been five minutes. I didn’t know that artificial intelligence technology had advanced enough to program such cruelty and disrespect for the elderly into such a tiny, ninja-shaped body. Finally, one of the spikes on the hero’s glove snagged on the ninja’s costume as he flailed around. I don’t think he knew exactly what to do, being stuck to an invisible robotic ninja, so he just flailed and tugged until the pajamas were ripped off by his super-human strength, rendering the ninja visible again.
You have not lived until you’ve seen a super hero battle a naked robot ninja. I have never in my life been so horrified, yet so unable to look away. It was of course inevitable that the ninja would die, either from the fierce pummeling at the hands of the hero or from some weird form of robot shame, but I was disappointed, after seeing the last robot shot in half and flung into a pond. All he did was throw him to the ground and shove a knee in its metallic sternum. Sometimes ya have to take what ya can get.
As one might expect, the last ninja was the most deadly. I wasn’t able to track where it’d run off to like I was with the others, so I was just as surprised as the hero was when it jumped out of the tree, onto his back, and stabbed him in the stomach. The hero’s final act of heroism was to throw the hunk of metal off of him and crush its titanium skull with a rock. This was done mere seconds before he collapsed to the ground.
At this point, I scurried out from under the park bench and kneeled beside him. The wound was deep. He needed a doctor.
“Hey mister,” I said. “Lemme call a doctor…you wait here!” I got up, but he caught my arm. I could feel his super-strength dwindling.
“No,” he said. His voice was wavering, perhaps on the verge of tears. “I’m gone, son. I’ve no fight left in me. That was the last of five hundred of those –of those things. I’m…I’m done.” As an afterthought: “…How long have you been watching?”
“I just got here,” I lied. I didn’t want him to know I’d seen him at his most comical. “What’s your name?”
“No, I mean your super-hero name.”
“Oh. Then Tim.” Tim flipped open a console on his belt and pushed a few keys. His suit transformed into traditional street wear, his cape dissolving completely. His mask also vanished, and I could see his face was old and tired. He then removed the belt and handed it to me. “I want you to keep this,” he said. “I don’t want to die in-costume.”
I didn’t know what to say. “I…why?”
“I had the hunger to fight crime long before I became a super hero, son. It was in my blood. I witnessed a caper being thwarted when I was sixteen, and I was hooked. I had a taste of the almighty justice sandwich, and it tasted sweet. I started out when I was around your age, maybe a little older. I would take money out at ATMs in the middle of the night, hoping that I’d get mugged. When I finally did, I gave the poor sucker the beating of his life. He didn’t deserve what I gave ‘im then, just like you don’t deserve what I’m givin’ ya now. But I’m not in the shape or mood to take either of them back, and I never will be. I’m gonna be dead in a couple minutes, and you’re gonna be on a phone callin’ an ambulance. And then you’re gonna go home, and you’re gonna think about what you want to do with the rest of your life.” He paused to spit up some blood.
“Kid,” he said through reddened teeth. “Are you gonna sit around all your life pretending like any of it matters, or are ya gonna make some of it matter? After a scientist made this belt and gave it to me on his death bed, I spent the last twenty-five years in the servitude of justice, moving from town to town, trackin’ down and destroying every last one of these robot ninjas, and now my life’s work is done. No longer do the people of the world have to live in fear of robotic ninjas coming into their bedrooms late at night and murdering their children. I did that.” I didn’t mention to him that I had never even heard of a robot ninja threat before that afternoon. “What are you gonna do, kid?”
I started to answer.
“Don’t answer me, boy!” yelled Tim, whose real name was Frank. He spat some blood onto my face as he talked. I think he did it on purpose. “Just live.” With that, he died.
I wasn’t entirely sure of what to do at that point. I was kneeling in a park with the corpses of five cybernetic assassins and an obsessed crime fighter who had just instructed me to put on his belt and become the next Tim. I was in the most unlikely situation that I could possibly think of, and this old cadaver had me contemplating my existence. What was I going to do with my life? This was a serious question that people wouldn’t stop asking me. I usually just closed my eyes until it went away, but this event kind of stirred something within me. What was the difference between the bum with good advice and the Yojimbo who saved the village from rival gangs? What was stopping me from wearing the belt and traveling through time in my time machine, putting right what once went wrong and publishing books of amazing poetry about it?
I don’t think I was prepared to answer those questions that afternoon, or maybe any afternoon. What I DID know was that fighting crime and time travel and publishing poetry were hard, or dangerous, or both. So I threw the belt into the pond, called an ambulance anonymously, and went home to take a long nap. I woke up that evening and thought about getting a job.