I'm a professional freelance writer, perhaps mainly due to my youthful reading of thousands of comic books. But one night back in 1986, I actually became one of my favorite comic book superheroes – the Batman. And I’m not sure, but I am pretty aware of the fact that I probably also became his best friend, Superman, as well.
My true story goes like this: I woke up that morning in June thinking, "Today is the day of the arson fire." I have no idea why I was thinking that, and wondered if it had to do with my relationship with God. I had asked God for some things, and they had come true for me. I had asked Him to send me where I was needed by others, and I had ended up working for the disabled in the Seattle area; plus, I had asked to be able to fight fires, due to my time spent in the YACC fighting a small forest fire that was accidentally set when we burned a huge pile of slash.
We’d been clearing out an acre of slash on Bainbridge Island that was built during WWII in order to have a bunker from which to spy on any Japanese ships invading the area. This concrete bunker was completely buried under trees and other brush, which we cut down and burned in a pile in the center of the bunker area. But the slash pile burned so well, it being a very dry year in 1980, that the fire looked like it might escape the deep pit we were burning it in; it was leaping skyward, making a huge pillar of fire some 50 feet high.
I helped the others to contain it, and then found myself liking this. I wanted to fight more fires, especially big ones that encompassed huge areas. I turned down one chance offered to us YACC kids soon later to leap into or alongside such fires, as I thought it was too dangerous. I was right; some teenagers I knew who were dumped into such forest fires did die due to this dangerous practice. But that other day six years later, I suddenly found myself one morning thinking, "I have to fight a huge arson fire today."
So I took the Metro bus all over Seattle, looking for the likeliest source of the fire. I finally ended up near a very large forest-like area, the Arboretum in Seattle, down a ways from where I lived. I got off the bus while it was approaching nightfall, and began walking downhill from my neighborhood, entering a new one I'd never seen before, in a mostly Black area of town. This place was full of small, run-down row houses, all of which could easily be tinderboxes that year; it was a hot, dry summer with no rain being predominant. And there was no fire department anywhere close to that neighborhood, too; only a recently built brand-new police department. I kept walking downhill, and off in the distance, I heard what sounded like a fire alarm wailing – like hellish jazz.
It couldn't be a fire alarm, so I pondered what it meant. I thought I was probably crazy to be doing this, and wondered who’d set off the alarm. But I kept walking downhill towards it, and finally the house with the alarm sounding off came into view. Back in 1986, there weren’t that many houses outfitted with burglar alarms in Seattle, so this was something new to me. While walking, I decided this wasn’t any of my business. It was obvious that someone had broken into the house, and that the alarm had scared them away.
My memory turned back to when I was 14 years old. I was reading Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” all about how a Black man was spurned by the entire white race, and there’d been a short passage concerning how Black people were murdering each other, Jack the Ripper style, doing terrible things – without the white police interfering with it the right way. At that moment, I swore that if I ever came across such an event, I would do my best to interfere with it, and to somehow end it. So going back to 1986, I had two events I had requested for God to assist me with: stopping a large wildfire and assisting with ending a Ripper-style attack.
I went all the way down to the end of the street, though; I was scared, and thought it wasn’t any of my business by then, pretty much forgetting my earlier promises to God. I went up a cement stairway to exit the neighborhood; night suddenly fell, and the noise up at the top of the stairway increased until it was a Hellish roar, and from where it came I couldn’t tell. I stopped halfway up, sitting on the cement steps and wondering what to do next. God or the Devil or something wasn’t into letting me out of that neighborhood!
So I got up, thinking that I had enjoyed enough Christmases, and ran back up the hill all the way to the house with the alarm going off shrilly – continuously. As I walked up to the house, not knowing what else to do or how to handle this, I banged on the front door. But pivoting at a noise behind me, in the street lights I saw the house’s owner pulling into her driveway. She was Black, and she electronically opened the garage door and drove on in. I scrambled down her porch steps, banging on the garage door, to ask her about things.
She did not reply, going back into her house suddenly. I heard an inner door shut. It dawned on me that whoever had set off the alarm might still be around, waiting for her to come home. I climbed back up her house steps, sitting on the porch and thinking about what I could do. Surely this was the scene of the arson fire – it was an older Black lady, a row house alongside a lot of other tinderbox houses in the awful heat of a dry summer night, and I thought that an older lady like her would probably keep a gasoline can in her garage. It wouldn’t be that hard to break in, under cover of darkness and also the loudly clanging alarm, and to “humiliate” and kill her while setting the house on fire!
The whole neighborhood would go up, including the Arboretum just down the street. I looked around, stood up on the porch, but didn’t see anything. A plan came to mind; I had some training in martial arts, and could possibly take on whoever it was that was planning this attack. I got up, went over to the overhang above the Black lady’s garage, and hung from it like a bat, upside down. It was very dark by then and I wasn’t completely sure what I was doing, but I knew I had to lure the terrible people who had broken into the lady’s house out into the open, so that I could take them on or at least scare them off.
I hung like that for twenty minutes, looking down at the ground and gauging my chances; then I launched myself downward, after tucking my head down into my shoulders. I landed all right, rolling in a perfectly executed back flip down at the very end of the driveway. There they were! It was two young Black teenagers, standing there in awe of what I’d done, and holding a basketball. But it was nighttime, not time for any pickup games, and there were clearly no basketball hoops in any of the driveways around. Still, I knew I couldn’t take any chances on their not being the perpetrators; what if they were innocent, and I broke their necks or ruptured their stomachs by attaching them with my karate?
So instead, I loudly yelled at them, and they swiftly set off running. In the dark, as my teachers had taught me to see behind and all around me in my university martial arts classes, I could tell they were running back around the house, maybe to another house down the street. The Black lady suddenly popped her head out the window, asking me if I wanted her to call the police. I yelled, “Yes! Call the cops!” at her loudly, so that she and the boys could hear me – and she pulled her head inside and disappeared. I knew then that if the police discovered me, they would arrest me for the break-in, as they didn’t know about the two boys. I would have to find them somehow, holding them until the police came.
They were down the street somewhere. So I walked down there, somewhat slowly, and found them sitting on a porch in front of a house. I was still very scared, but I confronted them, and apparently my karate wasn’t as good as I thought. They quickly surrounded me, pinned me down, and were about to do various unspeakable things to me involving using the screwdrivers they were both carrying. They apparently had used these to break into the house, as it turned out later – shades of Bernhard Goetz! But fortunately for me, two police cars appeared noisily out of the darkness. The cops grabbed each of the boys, pulling them off of me and standing them against a nearby tall rock wall.
Mrs. C-----, as her name turned out to be a year later when I revisited that Black neighborhood, had called the cops just in time. I was safe, and relatively uninjured. But I discovered soon that I had a mild concussion from landing on the driveway previously, even though I had tucked my head in for the back flip. It felt like a throbbing pain, and it soon went away. But the police took me to a hospital, and like it has happened to Batman many a time, they thought I had done something illegal. This was although I’d found the real crooks for them, who otherwise would’ve entered Mrs. C-----’s house and done hideous things to her and the entire neighborhood. Those boys were clearly waiting for her to come home.
They turned out to be pretty young, so I was glad that I hadn’t attacked them before, although I was somewhat injured myself. The police grilled me for hours, but I kept to my story of having only wandered onto the scene to be a “good neighbor.” I checked the county police records months later, and the two boys had gotten into subsequent trouble, although juvenile detention had released them after they committed their initial crime. During my interrogation, I found out it was definitely them who had broken into Mrs. C-----‘s house, and one of them is still in the King County Jail system, last I checked.
Eventually the police let me go, after the hospital nurse sewed up the small wound on my head. I was fine, but felt sad that I’d not gone ahead and used my karate skills when I had the chance to come from in front of the boys and surprise them. Well, that’s the real-life story of the night I became both Superman (fighting the probable arsonists, as it was an extremely dry, hot night and a likely house fire was involved) and Batman (saving Mrs. C-----, a nice Black lady in a tiny Black neighborhood, from Jack the Ripper once more having his way in the worst possible style with a woman).