The two greatest fallacies that the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe teach us is that achieving a physique even remotely resembling their cast members is possible without unlimited resources and extreme dehydration, and that superheroes only exist in comic books or on screen. They are real. They are all around you. You merely need to take notice. While it’s true that none of them can fly, become invisible, or move objects with their minds (no matter what the person who just sold you DMT may claim), they may still use their latent powers hidden in their personality to come to your aid at your most dire time of need.
A closing bar shift in New York City is an arduous, spiritually crippling series of tasks. As if the evening itself hasn’t been enough of a struggle: preparing and serving drink upon drink to Wall Street ne’er do wells in the making, tourists on a rampaging bar crawl, and everyone in between and beyond, combined with the added bonus of coworkers, it is a lesson in physical and emotional exhaustion that is bested only by night shift medical staffs. It should be stated that I would certainly lump myself into the begrudgingly referenced coworkers category. When I bartended in smaller towns, I was the nonpareil. An absolute rock star. A valedictorian. In a major city? The most major of cities in these increasingly inaccurately named United States? On my best night I was a solid B. Being from Oregon, I have never been able to stomach ludicrous formalities, interpersonal competition, and the egregious touting of one’s social resume. At times it seemed like everyone was trying to make sure that their online persona matched with how they saw themselves in real life. Millions of performers playing the part of the silent aristocracy/swimsuit model they see themselves as on Facebook or Instagram. It got to me. I was often irritable. Angry. Easily annoyed. Cacophony in particular makes me feral, and when everyone is talking at the same time both literally and spiritually, I become a teeth gnashing lightning rod for all of the worlds stress and bitterness that would certainly make me a less than desirable coworker. To my coworkers in the past, and, hell, to everyone I know, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for not killing me yet.
Finally, mercifully, all of the weary, disgusting tasks are done. The bar is wiped down. The trashes and recycling are taken out to be nibbled on by the rats. The till is settled, and the staff has locked the doors and gone next door for the quick three to five shots of whiskey before heading to their train stop. Mine was the Essex street station at the gateway to the East Village: an unnecessarily complicated labyrinthian braiding of staircases that in a city that demands that things make sense and serve their function is incongruous at best. I somehow managed to get lost no matter how many times I had utilized this malcontented station’s alleged services. Yes, yes, a hot take, isn’t it? A New Yorker with a complaint about the MTA.
Awaiting the J train heading back towards the border of Bushwick and Bed Stuy before the break of dawn was one of the better chances that I had to do some of the best people watching in the world. There are innumerable energies swirling in the air at that time of night on the border of Brooklyn and Manhattan. There are couples fighting. Vermin on dawn patrol for abandoned or discarded French fries to bring back to their young. Potentially new couples flagrantly touching each other’s genitals without a single care to be found in this universe or the next for onlookers judgment. Hell, it may be helping them both on. There are confused tourists. Impatient riders that are foolish enough to believe that this is their fastest ride to JFK. Beggars. Drunkards puffing their chests and instigating any onlookers to test their mettle. And many, like me, who are simply deliriously tired and looking to get home to reunite with our first and only love: our bed.
4:13 in the morning now. The gold tinted cataracts on the eyes of the train are coming through the oil drenched pipeline. My midnight special is shining it’s ever loving light on me. The train comes to a halt and gives any potential passengers a comparatively cruel twenty seconds maximum (when weighed against the thirty-minute wait between trains at this time of night) to board the train before the doors shut. Inevitably a half dozen or so people can be seen sprinting towards the departing train, literally running a fool’s errand as the steel chariot exits the station. If you’re being honest with yourself, a sick part of you takes a small but unignorable amount of pleasure in watching their reaction to their failure. Other than labor, dollar slices, electricity, and fossil fuel, a large part of New York City runs of schadenfreude.
And so, the train departs. The horizon over Atlantic Ocean has the beginnings of a navy-blue wash promising the arrival of dawn. A welcome sight to some, a grisly light shined on the efficacy of their decisions made that night to others. The trip over the innocent East River that through no fault of its own is little more of a raging torrent of sludge, corruption, and centuries worth of corpses is somehow oddly pastoral. However, then you arrive at the Marcy street station, the first stop to service Brooklyn and much like the train you’re on, the aforementioned tranquility comes to a grinding halt.
It is necessary to mention that along with superheroes, supervillains are also real. They are all around you. However, unlike heroes that one must actively choose to see, villains have a tendency, a compulsion to make their presence very well known. In a sense, they’re what make it harder to see the heroes around you. Their weapon of choice? Noise. Bombast. Hot air. Their cries, like a banshee haunting an oft warned of bog in Irish folklore can so effectively drown out all of the other sounds of the earth that without proper training and fortitude, one can become convinced it’s the only thing that exists; that the only people that surround you are cage rattling ghouls sent to bring fourth their relentless bounties of disharmony and bluster. They are not surrounding you. They’re just extremely loud.
So, it came to pass that the archnemesis of the throngs of exhausted night laborers heading home to sleep boarded my train in the form of a bucket drumming busker. Bedaubed in their shabby, plaid regalia, he began his villainous monologue as so many are prone to do. Goldfinger, and seemingly all of the elites (with the exception of Oddjob) in 007’s rogues gallery simply had to pinch out a descriptive monologue before commencing with their evil plan. We are informed that though it is late, this man is driven by his love for music and of this city to play for us and he hopes that we like what we hear. The detonator is set. There are seconds left. Millions (figuratively and emotionally) could perish in the wake of what this gruesome malefactor has in store for us.
It was then that a hero arose. The radioactive spider bite kicked in. The dormant mutant powers were awakened by the trauma. And I saw it happen in real time. A tall man in a hay colored pea coat, a thick scarf and tattered jeans with a small chin and enormous eyes lifted his head off of his chest and let out his heroic call.
“NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT,” our avenger dauntlessly bellowed. “Everyone here is just tryin’ to fuckin’ chill. I will personally give you five fuckin’ dollars to not play that shit.”
“Yeah?” The cretin inquired.
“YES. HERE!” My knight followed up. He then reached into his pocket, grabbed a five-dollar bill and handed it to the dastardly busker who thanked him and slinked off into the depths of less fortunate train cars to the back. I realize in this moment that this might be the closest thing I’ll ever experience to what the allies must have felt when news reached them that the Third Reich had finally been toppled.
After a momentary pause, the rest of the train car, in a flash of gratitude began to applaud this person’s deeds. It was then that he truly became a legend to me.
“No! Stop clapping! Everyone shut the fuck up.” He roared.
I have never been so impressed by another human being in my entire life. My inner child wanted to introduce myself so I would know where to send letter after letter of sketches I intended to draw of him in various capes and form fitting spandex uniforms, however, I knew to honor my champions request for silence. It was, after all, the gift that he bought us. Peace amongst chaos. Quiet amongst pandemonium. It would have been disrespectful at best to shirk the boon at the end of this hero’s journey.
And thus, the remaining six or so minutes that I had on the train were exquisitely hushed. A takeaway that I will keep with me from this life altering experience is ultimately something I knew all along. Gift of Gab, the unparalleled wordsmith MC of Blackalicious once astutely mused that, “Everything you learn you’re only remembering.” That being, you can both be and find the heroes you need in your life, you merely need to take notice, and rise to that occasion when you feel the knowing call in your soul.
The other takeaway is that it’d be just great if everyone shut the complete and total fuck up more often.