Faith is believing what you know ain't so.

Mark Twain

Each time I manage to drag my withering remains out of the proverbial crypt and muster the courage to face the looking glass head on, I get a little confused. Being that these primordial moments fall into the precaffinated grey zone I curse by the name morning, there is the possibility of a logical explanation for the phenomenon. Then again, I have a marked tendency to take the sometimes more interesting and usually more entertaining philosophical bent whenever possible.

Regardless of origin, this bout of uncertainty I suffer from each day comes from not being able to find the innocent, exuberant child I'm almost positive I was at one point. Instead, there's this mildly burnt-out old fucker looking back with jaundiced, bloodshot eyes wondering what the hell is so damned interesting.

Somewhere along the way, Peter and Wendy be damned, I grew up.

It's not so much the classic, "I'm getting older, and certainly going to Charleston off this mortal coil one of these days," feeling that's got me so bent out of shape. I'm sure that bit of angst is scheduled for a few decades down the line. Rather, it's the disheartening sensation of coming to grips with the fact that I failed in one of my great hopes in life; since the tender age of seven I was staunchly determined not to transmogrify into an icky grown-up. While the craggy exterior of the wayward soul in the mirror may not have necessarily pushed me out of the running for Picasso's thinking-young posterchild, one look in those jaded, cynical eyes tells me I surely blew it big time.

If me, seeing me, seeing too much wasn't enough, I've also got that whole "I look at everything differently these days" problem to further screw up my manchild status. Take the idea of personal heroes for an excellent example. Back in the Underoos era, I was comforted by knowing that Superman would be there to save the day, Mr. Sandman would dream me a dream and Good Ol' Santa, like some obese postal worker on LSD, would be dropping coal in the stocking of every kid like me all over the world come snow or rain or gloom of night. It wasn't much, but that was kind of the point.

Back in the days when my biggest worry was whether or not to eat the yellow snow, I didn't live in a universe so bent on self-immolation that it required more than a handful of imaginary spandex-wrapped übermensches to bail it out. I started out a child in New York, where the worst thing that another kid could do to me was blacken my eye on the playground before a teacher came along to bust up the fight, and I ended up an adult in a tamer city who's suburbs' kids fire .357's into each other over the color of their handkerchiefs. The Son of Krypton may be a more appropriate icon than ever, if only because he can bounce small-arms fire off his pectorals.

It gets worse, of course. I don't believe in Santa any more, and I found out the fat bastard only wore that damned crimson getup because he sold out to Coca Cola back in 1931. If it had happened today, the Saint formerly known as Nicholas would probably be wearing Nike's and pimping sleigh insurance at us like a chubby Marlin Perkins. I look around and it seems like somewhere along the line hypocrisy became hip, and the Disneyfication of all that's good and holy reached a virtually unstoppable pace. When I watched Kaldi's in New Orleans get steamrollered in the name of yet another Starbucks, only the knowledge that Anne Rice will be forced to live out that last of her gothier-than-thou nights drinking coffee that tastes like it was made from ground corpses was enough irony to put the sardonic grin back on my face.

I'm sure my childhood therapist is pleased as both Punch and Judy to find out just how badly I learned to play with others. In point of fact, the only childhood relationship I've seemed to maintain through the accident of my post-pubescence, other than an assortment of personal demons and ill-intentioned bogeymen, is a tenuous-at-best one with our studio's patron. Good ol' Mr. Sandman, who alternatingly grants me the gift of artistic vision, and makes me wake up screaming in the dead of night. Sure the perks are wonderful, but there are times when "working for Morpheus" can be harrowing; if you think you have issues with your boss, imagine being too afraid to sleep because it's when you have all of your meetings.

I'm convinced that it's all those sleepless nights that made me miss out on my eternal childhood. It's more than likely that during those ugly hours, between two in the morning and sunrise, aging actually occurs. Sure, I suppose it's possible that the human body grows up and old at a constant rate, but I'm fairly certain that the mind and spirit only mature during those endless moments before dawn.

It's during these agonizing hours, which always seem just an eyeblink behind the daylight, that everything sinks in. All of the wonderfully wicked things happening in this brave new world start to worm their way into my consciousness, forcing me to deal with all of the things I've been desperately trying to avoid. Like some creeping sickness, everything I'm frantic not to see, think or know find places to settle irrevocably into my psyche, and, just a little bit at a time, I change forever.

Finding out, as a young adult, that the world didn't work the way I thought it did, or more importantly the way I was told it did, was the very thing that made the icy slide into anger, bitterness and disillusionment so terrifyingly easy. While there is, even in the Twilight of the Soul, still a need for heroes, the requirements I put upon my personal champions changed drastically once my own shadows began to overtake me. Caped boy-scouts like Superman became supplanted by darker knights in less shiny armor. Once I truly began to understand the kind of evil that lurked in the hearts of men, I no longer wanted to strike fear into them; I wanted to be a real superhero like Andrew Vachss or Houston McCoy, so I could give the real monsters of this world a proper ass kicking.

Of the trappings associated with the end of my young, and admittedly somewhat nihilistic, adulthood, I miss the white-hot, razor-sharp thoroughly enraged feeling of righteous indignation towards the ironic state of humanity's inhumanity the most. That anger consumed my early twenties, and granted me the boon of seeing the world as a bipolar continuum; a universe cleanly split into that which was worthy of the esteemed rank of "cool," and the rest which fervently required violent eradication.

I'm still just as hair-rippingly pissed off as ever, and perhaps even a little bit more so because of the harsh lessons my fellow man has seen fit to teach me. However, without the clarifying rage of post-teen angst, I find myself mourning the loss of the ability to so easily discern life in such a simple, monochromatic spectrum. Somewhere along the way, the adrenaline finally gave out.

When the last ember of it died, a horrifying creature took its place. A grumpy old beast which looked exactly like the nasty man in the looking glass. One look in it's burning, all knowing eyes told me that it had seen far more than I could ever hope to comprehend, and as it opened it's maw to speak, I knew that the wisdom of the ages was about to be imparted upon me. It said one word:


The grin on it's face told me two things that put it all into perspective. One was that the reason it was gray was not so much due to age, as it was just the color of the world it lived in. The other thing I gleaned from it's sarcastic leer was that Mark Twain was right, the only sight sadder than an young pessimist was an old optimist.

You see, I had it all wrong. Just because the monster in the mirror looked old and tired, it didn't mean that he had stopped fighting battles. On the contrary, more than likely he was fighting battles that were more personally critical to him than all of my chest thumping and raging had ever meant to me. A black and white world full of monsters had led me to replace my childhood protectors with furious antiheroes, and living in a chaotic moral morass, comprised of more shades of grey than Citizen Kane, forced the older me to retire the testosterone-fueled avengers I called champions in favor of icons more capable of coping in a land of fewer ethical absolutes.

In a world where stable ground only exists when you put your foot down, the old beast chose these new heroes with the utmost care. They had to carry him not through the pretty trials of the world, as he had long since learned how to get through a day without crying for Superman to save him. Rather, this new pantheon of small gods had to lend him their powers for the greatest battles a man can ever know; the wars of his own choosing.

Of all the names he invoked, like some neo-tribal urban shaman, on that long, dark night when the shadows finally caught up with him, there was one which I'm convinced I'll only be able to truly appreciate when the beast and I are finally the same age.

It was the same errant knight Cervantes chose back in the early 1600's, Don Quixote. Lost in his fantasies of protecting his beloved Dulcinea, this crone of a hero makes little sense in the world of my past. However, in the world in which I increasingly find myself awakening, the Lord of La Mancha's willingness to fight the unbeatable foe, even if all around decry the enemy's very existence, is something to respect. The more the monster in the mirror and I become the same, the more I find myself challenging people to accept the possibility that the windmills might in fact be giants, and that if they do not have the bravery to pick up a lance themselves, to at least consider acting the role of an honorable Sancho and respecting those who do.

It's funny when you think about it. I started out believing in fairy tales and superheroes, put them aside when they no longer suited the rapidly darkening world I was forced to live in, and ultimately returned to them in my hour of need. The difference, of course, being that now I'm old enough to know the difference between a childhood dream and harsh reality, but smart enough not to care.

06 / 05 / 2009