Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It has misery, loneliness, low mood, abandonment issues, alienation from hometown, serious prejudice against soups, and other challenges. Also, the positive interactions and upstanding shown provide a little lift, but not an actual happy ending. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.
"Why Can't We Accept It?"
Wallace was miserable,
but he hated to admit it,
because of the reason.
His nemesis had moved out
of town, and that made him lonely,
which then made him feel guilty
for missing a supervillain.
Every time the wind stirred the dirt,
Wallace reached for his Protean suit
and looked around for Dust Devil,
but there was never anyone there.
The wind was empty.
He loved his home town, but it
just wasn't the same anymore.
He couldn't even blame Dust Devil
for leaving town. Rapid City had gotten
more and more hostile toward soups.
Never mind the supervillains,
they didn't even like superheroes.
You had to be a long-handled campfire fork
to cuss out someone who had just pulled
your drunk ass out of a wrecked pickup truck,
but it had happened to Protean twice already.
His mood dipped a little lower every time
someone made a snotty remark about soups.
Then he saw the safety sign outside the factory
with a crossed-out cape on it, and he couldn't help
thinking that "no capes" was pretty much the same
as "no Indians" which wasn't ... quite ... history yet.
So Wallace pulled up his big-boy shorts
and put some coping skills into action.
He went to Evans Plunge, which was
just about empty on a weekday morning,
and he swam for a couple hours in
the warm, mineral-smelling water.
Swinging across the pool on the rings
always gave him a little thrill of achievement,
ever since the first time he'd managed
to get all the way across at fifteen.
There had been that awesome time
he knocked Dust Devil into the water,
which admittedly was a dick move,
but he had won the fight.
Somehow, that memory just
made Wallace sadder today.
Then he visited Dinosaur Park,
which always made him smile for
the sheer nostalgia of coming here
for every birthday until his teens.
His family had been so patient.
He hiked up to see the apatosaurus,
but this time his lips barely curled.
He couldn't stop thinking about the time
that he and Dust Devil had an epic battle
up and down the long staircase there.
Wallace shook himself off and
headed out to Reptile Gardens,
its distinctive dome rising
high above the yellow wall.
Inside, it was lush and beautiful
with jungle plants and little lizards
that scuttled away from his feet
as he walked the looping path.
One crawled up the leg of his jeans,
and that should have tickled,
but he felt nothing.
Once, a couple of years ago
when it rained for two weeks straight,
Protean had actually caught Dust Devil
gently drying off the outdoor reptiles
with his superpowers.
That time, he didn't intervene.
Wallace went back outside
and wandered listlessly around
the grounds until he came to Barney
showing off Topaz, an albino python.
The big friendly snake was currently
crawling over two adoring tourists.
Normally Protean would have
joined the fun, but today he felt like
there was a sky-high wall between
him and everyone else.
After the tourists headed for the dome,
Barney turned to Wallace and said,
"Hey buddy, are you okay?
You don't look so good."
"I don't feel so good," Wallace admitted.
"Walk to tell your woes to Topaz here?"
Barney offered. "She's a great listener."
It took a surprising amount of courage, but
Wallace let himself be coaxed into petting
the beautiful yellow-and-white snake and letting
her crawl up his arm and over his shoulders
as he told her the terrible things he'd seen.
She was warm and sleepy from the sun,
and didn't seem to mind listening.
"I know that feel, bro," said Barney.
"What do you mean?" Wallace asked
as Topaz stretched out to crawl over
Barney too, her powerful muscles
drawing the two of them together.
"We're supposed to welcome the stranger,"
Barney said. "I'm good at that. I love
the tourists. It's my neighbors that I
have trouble loving. I guess I'm
not a very good Lutheran after all."
"Better than the ones at St. Paul's,"
Wallace said. "They just expelled
a kindergartener for declaring
himself to be Peter Pan."
"That sounds a bit extreme,
even for them," Barney said.
"He might have gotten away with
dressing in body paint and a wolfskin,"
Wallace said, "but then he flew."
"Oh," said Barney. "That would
not go over well at St. Paul's."
"Yeah, no," Wallace said. "Soups
just aren't welcome here anymore."
Barney looked away, then set his jaw
and looked back. "I never said anything
before, but I think you need to hear it now.
That day a snatcher stole my new phone
and got caught ... I know it was you."
"You must be mistaken," Wallace said,
trying to ignore the clench of his belly.
"No, you've got these three little freckles
in a triangle on the side of your neck,"
Barney said. "When you tackled that guy,
your mask slipped a bit, and I saw them."
Wallace sighed. "What did you want to say."
"Thank you," Barney said. "I reckon
you don't hear that enough, so there it is."
Wallace was trying to remember
if he had ever heard it as Protean.
He was so bemused, it took him
a minute to remember that he was
supposed to say, "You're welcome."
"Also, I kind of envy you a little,"
Barney said. "You were so fast."
"I, uh, can adapt to challenges,"
Wallace admitted. There was no point
in trying to maintain his cover when
he was already blown. "I envy
your ability to have a normal life."
"I keep reptiles for a living,"
Barney said with a smile.
"I think normal might be
a bit of an overstatement."
Wallace stroked Topaz as
the last of her tail slipped away
to drape over Barney again.
"Closer than I am, anyhow."
"White people now tan to get darker,
and black people wear their hair like
white people. Naries dress in capes
for Halloween, while soups come as
football players," Barney said. "We are
all confused. Deep down we admire
each other, but why can’t we accept it?"
"I don't know," Wallace said.
"It makes me sad, though."
"Me too. I love working here,
but my coworkers get on my nerves,"
Barney confessed. "Sometimes I just
go home and watch Television Maldives
until I can finally fall asleep."
Maybe Wallace was not, as he had
thought, the only one feeling crushed by
Rapid City's increasingly oppressive atmosphere.
That idea stirred his superhero half.
"I'm not sure it matters why," Protean said
to his secret admirer. "I think that what matters
is finding the courage to stand up against
that nonsense, even if you stand alone."
Barney put a hand on his shoulder,
warmer and softer than the snake
had been. "Not alone," he said.
It wasn't enough, but it helped.
* * *
Protean (Wallace Fedderson) -- He has fair skin, blue eyes, and short curly blond hair. He is nearsighted and wears glasses. He is a people pleaser, which is sometimes an asset and other times a liability. He hates being alone or cut off from supportive people. Wallace grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota and really loves the place. But it has gotten so bigoted and soup-hostile that he finally gave up and moved away.
Protean is the nemesis of Dust Devil, and has also tangled with Midnight Blitz. Because his superpower is primarily defensive, he relies a lot on his utility belt for offense, and stocks it with many useful gizmos.
Origin: As a child, he had some sensory issues and fussy behavior. Therapy intended to help him tolerate things triggered his Adaptation powers.
Uniform: White dexflan and krevel suit with black trim and a matching mask; plus a black utility belt that follows the V-line of the black trim at the hips, white gloves, and white boots. Off duty, he likes comfortable clothes, usually in dark colors.
Qualities: Good (+2) Agility, Good (+2) Geek Friends, Good (+2) Gizmologist, Good (+2) Honorable, Good (+2) Thinking Outside the Box
Poor (-2) Being Isolated
Powers: Good (+2) Adaptation
Motivation: To be liked.
Dust Devil (Tomi Grummons) -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and long brown hair with a little wave. He has a sweet, sad singing voice and a good memory. His heritage includes Lakota, Dakota, German, and Irish. As a young boy, he was taken from his family under dubious circumstances and placed in foster care, but never adopted. Being raised primarily by white people has made it difficult for him to reconnect with his past and his people, although he has tried.
Dust Devil is a supervillain who lived in Rapid City until it became intolerable. Unsiiciyapi is the virtue of humility; he doesn't get above himself. He enjoys making beaded bracelets and chokers, but his skill is no better than average. He is particularly vulnerable to alcohol, and gets even moodier when drunk. Dust Devil is the nemesis of Protean.
Origin: As a tween, he was playing in a trench at a construction zone where he'd been told not to be. Part of it collasped on him, and he nearly smothered. His superpowers manifested, allowing him to blow away the dirt and escape.
Uniform: On duty, he wears a brown krevel suit with fringe, and matching krevel boots. Off duty, he wears grungy blue-collar men's clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Singer, Good (+2) Thief, Good (+2) Unsiiciyapi / Humility
Poor (-2) Moody
Powers: Good (+2) Dust Devil Powers (Signature Stunts: Blinding Cloud, Thieving Wind)
He can control both the wind and small particulate matter. His use of Dust Form is still only at Poor level.
Barney Redenbaugh -- He has fair skin, hazel eyes, and short brown hair with a short beard. He works at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota. Tolerant and outgoing, he loved working with people of all kinds. His coworkers get on his nerves, though, because the city is getting more bigoted all the time, and he disapproves of that. So Barney prefers the tourists.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Herpetologist, Expert (+4) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Inclusion, Good (+2) Lutheran, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Allergic to Fur
I was intrigued to discover that the Calvary Lutheran Church in Rapid City, South Dakota has a very progressive pitch:
Calvary Lutheran Church is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) whose own mission statement, “marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are claimed, gathered and sent for the sake of the world,” is a part of our foundation. As members of the ELCA, we believe that we are freed in Christ to serve and love our neighbor. With our hands, we do God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities in Jesus’ name throughout the world. [...]
Wherever you are in your journey with God, you are welcome here.
The Lutheran faith also offers these ideals on inclusion and participation:
We are committed to being inclusive and enabling the full and equitable participation of women, men, people of all ages and people with disabilities.
Our commitment to inclusion encompasses church life and society, and the decision-making processes, activities, and programs of the LWF itself.
We understand that power dynamics, cultural norms, access to resources, and other factors create barriers to participation and we work to overcome these.
These are the kinds of things that Barney thinks of as Lutheran.
Peter Eagleton -- He has pale skin and arresting sky-blue eyes. His straight blond hair is short and shaggy over a heart-shaped face. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota. He is five years old and just got kicked out of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran School for declaring himself to be Peter Pan. He might have gotten away with dressing in body paint and a wolfskin, but then he flew.
Uniform: Body paint, a wolfskin, and a flower crown. Annoyingly, his parents keep insisting that he wear ordinary clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Energetic, Good (+2) Leader, Good (+2) Story Listener
Poor (-2) Civilization
Powers: Good (+2) Flight
Limitation: Requires happy thoughts, but no pixie dust.
Motivation: "I won't grow up!"
Self-actualization in psychology refers to a high level of personal growth. In the traditional pyramid of needs, it appears at the top, meaning it gets met only after other needs; but many people have a different order, for example, a slave who runs away from free food and greatly increases danger in search of freedom. Here I'm using it in the sense of manifesting new powers out of oneself as an act of will and insight, as in "Kid's Story" from The Animatrix. It has taken me 1,491 pages of character notes before the first instance of this as an official origin story. I suspect that there are other instances of it, but it's very rare. Compare this with the Buddhist goal of enlightenment.
Although it is widely recorded that the original version of Peter Pan made no mention of fairy dust as a material requirement for Flight, I could not find a copy of it online. They're all later editions, which mention the dust. Peter Eagleton's mother has the original.
Fairy Dust was added later for health and safety reasons. Originally Peter and the Lost Boys could fly unaided, but after several reports of children injuring themselves attempting to fly from their beds, JM Barrie added Fairy Dust as a necessary factor for flying.
St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, School, and Preschool has a much heavier perspective which is typical of my observations.
* * *
"White people now tan to get darker; and black people wear their hair like white people…We are all confused…Deep down we admire each other, but why can’t we accept it?"
Abandonment issues are typically thought of as coming from a bad childhood, but this can happen to teens or adults as well. In this case, Wallace feels abandoned by his peers and his society. His family seems to be healthy. There are ways to work through feelings of abandonment.
Depression can be a mental illness (arising from within) or a mental injury (caused by an outside force). Loneliness causes changes in the brain which increase the risk of mental issues in general, and it is as deadly as smoking. There are many different ways to overcome depression and to support someone through it. Understand how to overcome loneliness, help a lonely friend, and reach out to a lonely stranger.
Bigotry is the rejection and persecution of some group, which causes many problems. Know how to speak and act against bigotry, and wear down your own prejudices.
The "no capes" sign is the same kind of casual cruelty seen in "no indians," and yes, the latter is still around. I saw one myself in local-Rapid City, hence my portrayal of Terramagne-Rapid City.
Prejudice can cause low mood, stress, and loneliness. Sometimes your environment makes you miserable, and you need to leave. Coping skills and emotional regulation can help people deal with such challenges, to a certain extent. There are things you can do to cheer yourself up if you find the state of the world depressing.
Because nothing is ever as simple as it seems, this poem contains some of my happy memories of Rapid City, South Dakota. It had some lovely attractions which I greatly enjoyed exploring. But the racism tainted everything -- it was like biting into a beautiful apple and finding half a worm.
Evans Plunge is the world's largest indoor hot spring. It really is huge. That straight waterslide is sickeningly steep, so don't try it unless you love freefall. The squiggly one is fantastic. I never could brachiate with the rings, but I had fun trying. The water is perfectly warm, and the pool is lined with smooth rocks. Also, it's mineral water, not skin-eating chlorine. Best. Pool. Ever.
Dinosaur Park is a roadside attraction built during one of the times the government was hiring lots of people to make awesome stuff. I know, the dinosaurs (and dimetrodon) are dorky-looking by contemporary standards, but they're antiques so don't diss them. They're scattered along a path, and by the gift shop. We had fun hiking around to see them all and taking pictures of them. If you don't have a camera, there are postcards. Actually, there are postcards of everything in Rapid City.
T-America has a lot more roadside attractions than L-America does; many towns have some fun little tidbit to visit, and tourist towns like Rapid City have a ton of them. One reason for this divergence is T-America's much greater investment in the arts and other public works, but another is they still have advice on how to make a great road trip, which does NOT involve speeding down the interstate as fast as possible. On our epic summer road trips, we used Off the Beaten Path (which has since been revised and updated) and an RV membership as inspiration to find out-of-the-way places.
Reptile Gardens is a gorgeous compound spanning indoor and outdoor exhibits. The dome, visible from a substantial distance, houses a tropical paradise. Yes, they have reptiles roaming around loose in there, so watch your step. All of these are harmless, but you don't want to mash them. I love reptiles, so I adored this stop, even though the heat had me panting in seconds.
When people are struggling to cope, it helps to know the warning signs of real trouble. Regardless of all the advice telling people that they "must" get help, the first step with any problem is trying to solve it yourself. Without that, you become dependent on other people to fix everything for you, and that rarely ends well. If your attempts don't work and you run out of ideas, or the problem reaches emergency level, then seek help if it is available and reliable. Know how to help a friend during a difficult time, what to say and not to say. I was particularly charmed by Barney's use of "I know that feel," which emphasizes understanding a common emotion, without claiming to understand exactly how Wallace feels. Emotions are universal; subjective experiences are unique.
Anxiety and depression can both feel like a wall between yourself and others. For other people, depression feels like nothing. Wallace's low mood isn't as serious as depression yet -- for instance, he still has enough energy to visit three different places without faceplanting into the pavement, and he's not avoiding people -- but that deepening disconnect between him and his home is a grave concern. Wallace is left with the ugly dilemma of either staying and trying to fix Rabid City while it continues to erode his health, or abandoning his home to protect his sanity.
Television Maldives is the public broadcasting system of the Republic of the Maldives.
Upstanders intervene when they see something wrong happening. Know how to interrupt racism, bullying, or other problems. Here are some general tips on social justice. Barney is basically doing the same thing for superpowers.