Were I to tell you that our protagonist in the tale I’m about to tell you is tall, dark and handsome, you might ding me for falling back on warn out clichés but we would likely get past my literary laziness. If instead I described the leading character as short, fat and ugly, you would probably hesitate long enough to wonder if you are interested in what happens. But if I were to tell you that short, fat and ugly actually describes the villain in the tale, all would be well.
Were I to tell you that our protagonist in the tale I’m about to tell you has extraordinary personal skills, unique talents and access to exceptional resources, not only would you likely express no surprise, you would have been surprised if having at least one of the three (extraordinary personal skills, unique talents or access to exceptional resources) was not the case. That’s just what’s expected for any self-respecting protagonist. The villain in our tale may also have extraordinary personal skills, unique talents and access to exceptional resources but has to use them to indiscriminately pursue illegal, immoral or evil ends. The villain has to play bad guy to our protagonist good guy.
Were I to tell you that our protagonist in the tale I’m about to tell you is brilliant, clever and willing to skirt the rules to thwart the villain, I suspect you would be all in, ready to cheer and be amazed. It’s not a problem if the villain is also brilliant and clever but skirting the rules has a quite different flavor. Where our protagonist’s rule skirting can only serve to thwart the villain and close associates, all rules are off for the villain. Causing harm indiscriminately to whomever gets in the way is business as usual for villains. Even so, in the end the villain is not quite as brilliant and clever as our protagonist and indiscriminate rule skirting turns out to be the key to the villain’s downfall.
In the tale I’m about to tell you, the protagonist is not tall, dark and handsome; does not have extraordinary personal skills, unique talents and access to exceptional resources; and is certainly not brilliant, clever and willing to skirt the rules to thwart the villain. I share this with you up front with a good measure of concern and apprehension. What will you do as soon as you find out that our protagonist fits none of your preconceptions of the protagonist in any tale you know of or have ever imagined? Even worse, what will you do when you discover that this tale has no villain, with or without brilliance, cleverness or dastardly rule-skirting proclivities? I worry but know that there is not much else for me to do but to take a deep breath and trust that you will hang in there with me.
I might as well get this out of the way right now. Our protagonist has a name so continuing to say “our protagonist” is not necessary. His name is Bert. I know, any of us could have come up with a better name for the protagonist of most any tale but Bert it is. As I have taught myself to say when things don’t go like I might have preferred, it is what it is. So Bert it is and Bert it shall stay.
Bert is neither tall nor short. He is what they call about average. He is not particularly handsome or ugly either, although his mother still calls him her handsome boy. Go figure. Mothers do that sort of thing. He is also neither especially brilliant nor clever. Again, when I think of Bert, “average” comes to mind. When you get down to it, he is pretty much like the rest of us – somewhere in between. The same so-so works for Bert as works for me and perhaps for you.
Bert is not old but is not young either. He is in that comfortable time between being too young to be taken seriously yet or too old to be taken seriously any more. He has reconciled with his more or less unremarkable skills and talents and is really okay with just being Bert. When he was young, he fit in fine with others his age, sharing the same frustrations, the same challenges and the same fantasies. That hasn’t changed much over the years. He still has his frustrations, his challenges and his fantasies. The main change has come with new fantasies. Visions of being a super hero with amazing powers of some ilk have transitioned to not being in the middle any more. Bert daydreams of being the best, the most successful, the winner in whatever game he envisions for himself.
No, it wasn’t a dark and stormy night or even a bright and sunny day in the spring. It was just another run-of-the-mill cloudy day in the city, not too hot, not too cold, not much of anything worth noting. As is his habit, Bert was taking a short walk in the park across from his office during his lunch hour. He had brought a sandwich of some sort from home and was eating it as he walked. He finished the sandwich and stopped to toss the wax paper wrapper in a trash ben. An older gentleman was sitting on the bench beside the trash been as Bert stood there, trying to decide if he wanted to walk some more or just return to his rather boring office.
The older gentleman was in that group who have gotten too old to be taken seriously any more but good manners prompted Bert to nod and comment on the cloudy day. The older gentleman smiled and said,
“Yes, it is definitely another one of those cloudy days in the city. If you are not in a hurry, perhaps you would like to sit and chat a while. It might make this cloudy day seem a little less cloudy.”
If we had time, I would catch you up on the older gentleman. You might want to know that he used to be a Professor at the University and wrote eleven books back when he was not too old to be taken seriously any more. He has three children but they are all too busy to come around much these days. His two best friends both passed on a while back and he recently had to move into a facility down the street a ways. There is a lot more to tell but you know how it goes: we don’t have time to pursue getting to know him better.
More to be polite than from any real interest, Bert said,
“Sure, I can sit for a bit. I have to get back to my office pretty soon but I can chat for a few minutes.”
He put it that way so he would have a ready excuse to leave when the chat got too tedious, which he knew it would fairly quickly. The gentleman was obviously getting too old to be taken seriously and he for sure wasn’t going to say anything useful to Bert. It was just a nice thing to do for the old man.
As Bert was sitting down and getting comfortable, the older gentleman said,
“Thank you for joining me for the brief time you can spare. Please excuse me for not taking us through the usual social ritual of hello and how are you doing today, but I know our time together is very limited. Let me get directly to the point I hope to explore with you. Please tell me about your super power. I was watching you walk this way and could tell that you have an important super power and was eager to hear all about it.”
As you might expect, Bert was taken aback. He stammered some as he said,
“Who, me? What super power? I sure don’t have a super power. Pardon me but that is a really odd question. I don’t have any idea what gave you the notion that I have a super power but far from it. I’m just an average guy with zero superpowers. At my age, I’m not sure I even want a super power any more. I fantasized about that as a child but then I came up close and personal with the real world. There are no super powers to be had in the world where I live.”
The older gentleman smiled as he said,
“I thought you might not know about your super power. Many people don’t. That’s why I was eager to spend a few minutes with you. I thought I could at least let you know that you are a person who definitely has a super power. I thought I would take the chance that you would like knowing that you have always had a super power and can be very proud of it. It’s yours and no one can take it away from you. It’s there for you to use any time you believe that the situation calls for your special super power.”
Bert resisted the temptation to say something rude. Instead, he said,
“Okay, you’ve got me curious. Just what do you think my super power is?”
The older gentleman turned thoughtful as he said,
“ I don’t know what your super power is. I haven’t seen you use it yet. In fact, I don’t think you use it much any more. It’s still there for you but seems to be suffering from disuse.”
Bert thought to himself that he might as well go along with the super power thing for the few minutes he still had before heading back to his office. There was no point in arguing or upsetting the old man. Bert said,
“That’s probably it. My super power has been unused for so long that I have forgotten about having it.”
The older gentleman was not deterred.
“you may have forgotten about your super power but more likely is never realizing that you have it. It is just there, not forgotten but rather never recognized.”
Bert picked up on this. He said,
“I only have a couple of minutes but really want to know how I get in touch with my super power and how do I use it? What can I do with it?”
Although Bert was poking a little fun, The older gentleman was completely serious.
“Like any super power, you use it to do good and fight evil. When there is good to do, your super power is there for you. When there is evil to fight, your super power is there for you. The key to finding your super power when you need it is realizing that doing a little good is as important as doing good on a grand scale. Standing for the right when there is only a small wrong is as important as freeing the world from evil. The scope of what you do with your super power is not nearly as important as always using your super power when the situation calls for more good or less evil, no matter how much or how little is called for. You are always there to take action when your super power is needed. It’s no harder or no easier than that.”
Bert wondered if he had just been told something profound but was out of time. He said,
“I’ll have to think about that one. Thanks for the chat but I really have to get back to work.”
The older gentleman just smiled and said,
“Thanks for the time you have given me. Please use your super power for good and never for evil. It’s very powerful and can easily be misused.”
He was still sitting quietly on the bench beside the trash ben as Bert hurried away, pondering the possibility of his super power.
Were I to tell you that our protagonist transformed into the super hero from his youth, I would be stretching far beyond anything I actually know. The same holds for knowing whether he got in touch with his super power or whether he ever actually did any super power stuff. This is what we call an interactive tale. It’s the point where I stop and you pick up to tell us how the tale ends. Does the tale turn out to have a hero or a villain? Does Bert activate his super power or does he just continue through his average, ho-hum life? Is this a tale with a message for us or is it just another anecdote from the busy city? I anxiously await to find out how you finish our ongoing tale. – It’s your turn.