It's ten years from now… I am the head creative for Insurance Corp. A solemn saxophone blows in the distance.
On one side of my cubicle is a poster with that cat from the “Hang in There” posters, but time has passed for him too, so he's just drunk, crawling down an alley with his two-thirds of an ear, as wolves loom in the distance. On the bottom, it says, in shiny Lisa Frank letters: “Things Could Be Worse.” The shimmer is blinding.
On the desk is a mug from my stepson that just says “Fuck off, you're not my real dad.” Of course, I have a stepson. He's named Stephen, with a “ph,” like he's a fucking acid or a base. We don't really have chemistry.
He hates that joke.
Of course, I marry a woman with a kid, because that's what's gonna be left by then: all the women who, while I was out chasing my dreams, also made bad decisions.
Every morning I'm one just bad day and a chemical spill away from becoming a Batman villain. This, to be fair, is fitting, because in ten years I will be moved to the branch in Gotham, because nowhere else is hiring because it's all been automated, but in Gotham, the newest technology outside of Batman's mansion is an abacus, so I'm not replaceable. Yet.
One day the boss calls me into his office, stares me down with his soulless eyes, like a mannequin with hostage demands. In Gotham, we call that “Tuesdays.” He says, “spreadsheets. Data data spreadsheets algorithm spreadsheets envision the future spreadsheets pie graph yumyumyumyum put a pin in it benchpress raise the bar data data data client visit vavvoom!”
I hate that I know this means I'm supposed to go on a site visit. I'm scared, because the people who do client visits don't always make it back. Not because of all the new weekly villains, no, Gotham's oldest enemy: health and safety code. The last time Gotham health code was updated, there weren't even 13 states. How do people keep falling into pits of bubbly wubbly goo in the city where the hero's one real power is planning? Yeah, plans for if Superman loses his cool are useful, but what about updating to OSHA compliance? How is the Batcave, a literal cave, the only place in Gotham with modern plumbing? Building maintenance seems way more cost-effective than having to poorly rebuild the city after a new villain every week, but what do I know? I work in advertising.
So anyway, I'm at the site visit, and for some reason, the only way to the manager's office is up rickety rusty stairs and then across a wooden bridge over live bubbling, uncovered chemicals… because Gotham. That damn sax is still playing in the distance. As I'm getting ready to make it to his office, I get a call from my stepson's school because he's snorting Pixie Sticks off his friend's ass again. The vibrations of my phone release a loose rock from the ceiling which falls down, slicing through the rope bridge… and for the next ten years the Grump terrorizes Gotham.
I put the petty in petty criminal.
I start out small, mislabeling the prices at church flea markets so people waste their money on tzatchkes, but all that does is fund the church, a rival villain. I start sneaking into diners at night, switching out the salt and sugar, so in the morning all the coffee tastes like tears, and the fries cause diabetes. I endorse edgy protest candidates, unironically. Still, somehow, Batman, much like my wife of then ten years, doesn't notice me. So I take out a post in the Craigslist Missed Connections section.
At first, I consider starting with something like a joke, or a riddle, but here in Gotham those markets are cornered. It's hard for a guy just starting out to find his niche. Maybe a limerick? “There once was a man with no parents, who had a butler probably named Clarence….” No, I should just speak from the heart:
Hey! Tall Dark and Leathery.
Saw you swinging by doing nothing as I painted every parking spot “handicapped” the night before Black Friday. I dunno man, seems like the type of thing you should've responded to. If you think you've seen fights on Black Friday before, whoa nelly. Instead, I heard you say something about the Joker. Whatever, he'll still be there for you he gets out again next week. This was our chance to be together.
The following week it snows. I move traffic cones out of claimed parking spots so neighbors start fighting each other. A riot ensues. There're like, at least six crotchety old guys, all named Tony. The Batcopter lands to stop the fight. Finally, Batman gets out and looks me in the face. His only visible skin are those professionally shaven, collagen-enhanced lips.
I throw a traffic cone at him. Yeah, I'm big-time now. He laughs a scratchy baritone laugh. I don't hear any saxophone. Was he the one playing it? God, what a multi-talent. He laughs some more.
I slip in the ice and break my back. He leaves the scene. My spine is still recovering. I'm learning Gotham doesn't just need OSHA, it needs Medicare. These healthcare fees are murderous. If I ever walk again, I'm going to need to rob a bank.