The Secret Life of Superman

In 1939 The New Yorker published The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber.   In this classic short story Walter Mitty, the middle-aged, hen pecked, everyman goes through the motions of an ordinary day, daydreaming that he is, in fact, a dashing hero  –  but what if the heroes dream of living a more ordinary life.



“I got your favourite cookies today, they’re waiting for you in the kitchen.”   His wife’s voice came drifting through the open window, like music to his ears.  He was wearing his old, comfortable jeans and a t-shirt, the one Danny had made him buy at Comic-Con last year. Danny loved Superman, and Danny thought his dad was a Super Dad.  He looked down at the t-shirt.  The red S on the yellow diamond shield shone brightly in the sun, and the sun shone brightly down on the flowering, suburban garden.  The birds were singing and he could hear Danny playing in the yard.  He flicked the switch on the lawn mower and its familiar mid-summer sound filled the air.

He walked methodically up and down the grass in neat, straight lines.  He saw Mrs Kaye wave at him from the driveway next door, and flicked the switch again.  He said “Hi”, and she reminded him that there was a PTA meeting after school tomorrow.  He said there was no way he’d forget; it was his turn to take the school run.  He loved the school run, and Danny’s big, goofy smile when he saw his dad waiting for him.  Mrs Kaye got into her car and he thought, ‘I’ll go get one of those cookies after mowing the lawn, and maybe grab a cup of coffee.’  A teenage boy came cycling into view and threw the morning paper right at him – “catch that Mr Kent!”.  The paper hit him on the side of his head – thwack!   He laughed in surprise, but then the pain hit………………

…..”Kal-El!  Hey Kal!  Did I lose you there?”   He saw the clenched fist pull back and his head filled with pain.  General Zod was standing over him, a looming presence.  He looked around in amazement.  The lawn had disappeared; where am I, he thought.   Slowly he got up from the ground, nearly falling into the chasm that had appeared along the length of 5th Avenue.  He looked down and saw  the blood stained S on the yellow diamond shield.

“Anyone at home?”  Zod was looking straight into his eyes.  Suddenly, back in the moment, he launched himself at Zod.  Together they rushed towards the Empire State building, high above the heads of the crowd, locked in a violent embrace.  They flew past a church.  A poster on the notice board advertised an Art Class.  Someone had drawn a brush lying across an artist’s palette…………..

….”Well, young man, you’re a quick study that’s for sure.  I’ve never seen a beginner produce such an accomplished piece of work.”   He looked at the vase of flowers on his canvas, then up at the slightly over-weight, middle-aged woman and smiled;  his special, super-hero, 1000 watt smile.  She visibly melted and passed on to her next pupil.

Tall, dark and handsome, eyes a piercing blue; he sat at the easel, intent on mixing red and yellow.  The women around him became transfixed by this greek god in their midst.  He decided he would give this first painting to his wife for Christmas.  He imagined the look on her face when she opened the wrapping  –  momentarily distracted, his hand slipped and the palette knife caught his wrist………

….”You’re making this far easier than I expected Kal-El.”   They had slammed straight into one of the windows of the Empire State building.  A shard of glass was lodged in his wrist and the blood was beginning to flow.  They tumbled and rolled through the building like a whirlwind, shattering more windows and smashing through walls.  Zod laughed like a maniac;  Kal-El fought on in silence.  Why was he doing this, and who was he doing this for?  The noise from the crowd in the street down below reached his beaten and bloodied ears  –  “Go, Superman, Go!”…………….

“Go, Danny Go!”,  his wife was shouting excitedly from the sidelines.  It was his eight year old son’s turn to face the pitcher.  Danny swung the bat and the ball rose high into the air, then his son was running like the wind, on his way to the home plate.  He felt so proud of his wife and his son. ” That boy’s as fast as Superman!,”  someone shouted from the crowd…………………..

….”Zod’s as fast as Superman!”,  someone shouted from the crowd.  “Cool!”    Their vicious dance came to a sudden end at the top of the Empire State building, and Danny’s home run faded before his eyes. Wasn’t this just a game to the crowd down below, he thought.  A real life video game, played out in the Manhattan skies.  Superman?  Where had being Superman ever got him?  What good were super powers, when you were essentially alone………………….

….He was standing alone on the porch, watching his wife hang out the laundry.  First her favourite dress, then Danny’s baseball gear, then his flowing red cape  –  wait, that wasn’t right  –  he didn’t own a red cape, did he?  His wife pegged the cape to the line and didn’t miss a beat.  It billowed and furled in front of his eyes……………………….

….General Zod was standing on the antenna of the Empire State building,  Superman’s red cape wrapped around his shoulders.  It billowed and furled in the Manhattan breeze.  Kal-El felt the torn material around his own shoulders.  He noticed a door on the observation deck – it read NO ENTRY.   

“I am Superman!”,  Zod roared at the expectant crowd.  “Behold your new Superman and kneel!”………………

…He was kneeling beside a white picket fence, painting the last of the posts.  The fence surrounded a quaint New England home, complete with roses trailing up the sky blue walls.  His wife was inside preparing dinner.  He stood up and walked along the garden path to the front door  –  it read NO ENTRY…………..

….He stood deep in thought and the crowd became eerily silent.  Why shouldn’t General Zod rule this turbulent planet?  Would it really matter if he just walked away?  Suddenly Danny stepped out from behind the antenna.  “Hey, Dad, hit a home run for me and mom, will you”

No longer alone, Superman stepped up to the plate, ready to save the world.



Source material:  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber.  The New Yorker.

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