Makin' It by Ben Compton
I was brought in originally as a temp, my first real job in the city. It was my responsibility to answer mail, make sure his bills were paid, roll calls, etc. This was way back before most people had cell phones or e-mail, so any time my boss got an important message from a head of state or the Commissioner or someone like that, I’d have to go out on the roof and use the flood light to project the message into the sky. Things got so much easier after we got a sponsorship from a cell phone company. And when they invented text messaging? Forget about it. A gift from the gods.
I remember being so nervous the first time I walked into the office. It wasn’t stuffy or anything like that. I mean, you figure a guy who’s been saving the world since the late 1930s would have a bunch of old crud hanging around the office. I imagined one of those old timey kind of offices, you know kind of like an Art Deco feel with one of those ticker-tape machine things? But, to my surprise his office as sleek as can be. There were a couple of retro things hanging around--- old pictures of him lifting up cars and jumping over buildings, but for the most part, everything was pretty modern.
Not what I expected from Clark Kent’s office. I mean this wasthe Superman’s base of operations. He wasn’t like the super heroes that I was used to back home. All we had back in South Carolina was Jug Whiskey Man and Hillbilly Incest Twins. Sure, they were impressive for a small town, but you always kind of got the feeling that they were just the kind of pseudo super heroes who had made a kind of half hearted attempt to “make it” at some point in their lives, but had found themselves unable to compete in any real competitive market.
When the agency sent me in, I was told that I’d be meeting with Helen, the office manager. I waited for what felt like hours in the Outer Sanctum of the Administrative Lair of the JLA. Finally, an older guy in bright green tights stuck his head out and said they were ready for me.
I centered myself for a few seconds, trying to hide my new-to-the-city-yokel awe I took a deep breath and walked inside.
I’m not sure if you are familiar with what the Administrative Lair looked like before it was destroyed by Lex Luther in, what was it, 2003? Yeah, I think it was 2003. It was a pretty much just this long beautifully decorated room with this gigantic table. I mean, the table was huge. All oak. The sucker must’ve been heavy as all get out. To give you an idea of the table’s size, it was the table where they would have those summits where all the super heroes would come and discuss issues like the rising problems of robotic villainy, the proliferation of red kryptonite, health insurance for sidekicks. So, like I say – huge table.
So I walk in, and who is sitting at the other end of the table? Clark Kent, nerdy glasses and all.
“Jesus Christ,” I said to myself, “it’s fucking Superman.”
I’m sure he heard me.. He’s got that super hearing and all.
Man he was fast. Suddenly he’s right in front of me. He sticks out his hand, says, “You must be Graham.” I shake his hand. He’s got this great handshake. Not hand-crushing, like you might think. Though I’d imagine he could have done that if he’d wanted to. No, it was this perfectly firm handshake that just made you feel confident in his ability to control any situation. Like a giant hug for your hand.
He indicated that I should have a seat and make myself comfortable. I sat down and he sat down across from me.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, “Would you like some coffee or water or anything?”
I remembered that someone once told me that you should always take whatever beverage they offer you at an interview. It’s supposed to make you look a little more relaxed and ensure that you don’t get dry mouth in the middle.
“Oh, yes. Yessir,” I remember kind of struggling to say, “some coffee would be great.”
He pushed a little buzzer and the guy with the tights came bounding through the door.
“I received your call Superman! What do you need?”
“Just some coffee for our guest here and a decaf for me, thank you Brian.”
The man bounded out the door with the same energy he came in.
“That’s Brian,” Clark said to me. “He’s not the smartest guy in the world, but he’s a hard worker. We’ve told him that he doesn’t have to wear the tights, but he still comes in with them every day. Can you imagine? Wearing tights because you want to?”
He began flipping through my resume.
“I must apologize that it took us so long to get this started. Helen went and got herself kidnapped by some mad scientist this morning. Don’t worry,” he had seen the color drain out of my face, “she’s fine, Hal…did you meet Hal? The Green Lantern?” I shook my head. “Well, Hal just popped over to the guy’s lab and saved her. She’s doing great, but we let her have the rest of the week off. So we’re just all kind of trying to pick up some of the loose ends until she gets back.”
“Well, I’m very happy to hear that she’s doing well. Does that kind of thing happen often?” I asked.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Graham. Lying is not something that Superman does. No one who works for me lies. Even the kids in the Junior Super Corps don’t lie. Things like this do happen occasionally. I mean we have a pretty good security system, complete with sentinel robots and a metal detector, but it can be a rough business. Every so often someone gets kidnapped by some villainous so-and-so, but we usually have them back within the day. Of course, you’ve heard about the incinerations. Terrible thing. My assistant, Marsha, had been with me for quite a few years. Awful to have to take her ashes back to her parents. It’s always so painful to see a child get incinerated before their parents.”
“I can imagine,” I said.
“But that’s all in the past. I can assure you that the traitor who was in our midst has been taken care of, and we have undertaken most stringent screening procedures to prevent sure an event from happening again.”
“Well, that’s that. Let’s move on from such depressing talk. Ah! Our coffee!”
Brian returned, still bounding, this time with two cups of coffee in his hands.
“Thank you Brian! How you jump around like that and never spill a drop of coffee, I will never know.”
“Just practice sir!” said Brian as he put down the coffee and bounded out the door.
Clark just shook his head, “Such enthusiasm, you have to admire it. I always tell him not to call me ‘sir’, but he never listens.”
I just smiled.
“Now, onto this dastardly business of the interview.” He said as he began to take a sip from his cup. He frowned, “Is your coffee a little cold? That happens sometimes here, the Mr. Coffee is all the way on the other side of the ice chamber. I keep telling them that we should buy another one, but you know – expenses.”
He looked down at his cup, zeroing in his heat vision. Lasers shot out of his eyes. Lasers, in the shape of red bolts of lightning. They didn’t quite look real, but almost cartoonish.
His coffee quickly began to boil.
He closed his eyes and took a long sip from his cup.
“Just right! Can I warm yours up?”
Not being sure what the long-term effects would be on those without super powers, I politely declined.
He nodded. “Now, let’s begin. I see you’re a small town boy.”
“Oh, well yes sir.”
“I’m a small town boy myself.” He said, pulling a picture out of his wallet. “See here, these are my parents. Good honest farming folks, they were. Backbone of America. Did you ever farm?”
“No sir, my grandfather had a farm, but he lost it to the bank.”
“Terrible thing that. I can’t help but feel like America dies a little every time a farm goes under.”
He was tearing up now.
“You know Graham. One year my parents couldn’t pay their mortgage. The bank was beating down their door. Pa Kent went out to meet the man. I could hear them arguing from my bedroom. Do you know how painful that is?”
“Well I’ll tell you. It’s painful. So do you know what I did?”
“I strangled that man and I melted that bank with my heat vision. Sometimes that’s what you have to do to save America. Sacrifices must be made.”
He could see that I was getting a little uncomfortable.
“Look Graham. I don’t want to waste your time here. I like you. You don’t come from much, but you’ve got high hopes. That’s what I like. High hopes. Is this a job you’d be interested in?” Clark was looking at me. Looking through me, really with his x-ray vision.
I stammered, “Of course sir. It would be a dream come true.”
“Well then”, he said, “let’s get you all set up with a key card and a bullet proof vest.”
And that’s all. That’s how I got my start in this crazy city. Can you imagine it? A small town kid like me making it here? You know, when people talk about Superman, they usually spend their time focusing on the “super” side. But that’s not the side I saw of him that day. I saw him as a man. A man who was warm. A man who could cry. A man who would melt a bank to save his family. A man like any other man. Thank you Clark Kent. Thank you Superman.
© Ben Compton, 2012
Ben Compton is a writer and improviser living in Brooklyn. His stories have appeared in Lambeth Literary, and on stage in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. He’s trained at Second City, Annoyance Theatre, iO (formerly Improv Olympic) and performed sketch and improv comedy throughout the country. Like many writers, he has a folder full of brilliant unfinished novels and wandering poems. He’s currently pursuing a Master’s in English Literature and one in Educational Theatre.
Makin' It was read by Jonathan Harford on 5th September 2012