Waiting on Superman: In the Deli

Yesterday evening, I got hungry (as I often do) and, to be honest, in need of company (as I often am). I went to my usual “Cheers” (You know – the place you want to go because “everybody knows your name”). For me, that place is my local McAlister’s Deli. I eat there quite often, for many reasons. I first started going there for their amazing sweet tea (I AM a southern boy.) I like many things on their menu, but honestly it’s their tea that kept me coming back. But, besides their tea, it’s the people they hire that make me like to hang out there. It’s like a second home and they make me feel like a part of the family. Anybody who has been working there for any length of time knows me. When I go to one of the Subway’s that I often visit, I hear, “Welcome to Subway!” And that’s nice. But when I enter MY McAlister’s, I usually hear, “Hey Mr. Bruce!”

So I went to dinner there yesterday. I sat in one of my usual spots. On this occasion it was the table on the end, against the windows in the front, where I always sit facing the entrance, and past that, the front counter where you place your order. Amber brought me my food. She has been one of the assistant managers there for a couple of years, I guess. It’s hard for me to judge time sometimes because it has begun to move so quickly for me. She asked me how I was doing, and said, “Hey, I like your shirt.” I was wearing a black t-shirt with a modern Superman emblem across the chest, under a dark blue, unzipped hoody. I thanked her, and kind of laughed. I told her that I had two t-shirts with the same emblem on each (The other one was dark blue, rather than black.) and that, of all the shirts in my closet, those two shirts get the most compliments. I almost never get complimented for any other shirt. But total strangers will tell me that they like my shirt when I am wearing the “S”. Why is that?

Then Amber and I had a deeply intellectual conversation about our need for, and connection with, superheroes. And I shared my dismay about the upcoming “Batman vs. Superman” movie because I didn’t care for the concept of pitting superheroes against each other. And she shared with me her dismay for the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman.

We seem to have a need for superheroes. I think we need to believe that someone will come along and save us, and set things right. We need to believe in the power of good to overcome that which is not.

I guess it was a couple months ago (remember what I said about judging time). I was in my office/classroom at school. Size-wise it’s kind of between the two. I have a teacher’s desk, file cabinets and bookcases, and a row of tables against the wall opposite of my desk with five student computers on them. Students work with their backs to me so that I can see all of the monitors. Anyway…despite an effort to maintain professional decorum, teachers sometime slip and call each other by first name. When a teacher came into my office, and addressed me as Bruce, one of my students, with an over-developed sense of selective hearing, started to refer to me as Bruce Wayne from that moment on.

I have to admit, I kind of like the idea of being equated with someone with a secret passion to right wrongs and to protect the weak. It got me thinking about other Bruce’s of superherodom. Bruce Wayne, the Dark Knight, or Batman. Bruce Banner as the Hulk. Bruce Lee was…well, Bruce Lee. You can’t tell me he doesn’t fit in this list. I mean, the man had some REAL super powers. I mean, if Bruce Lee were still alive today, do you think that people would be telling Chuck Norris jokes? But, I digress. Then of course, Bruce Springsteen, the Boss; and Bruce Almighty. I further digress.

Batman, however, is a little dark for me. A big part of what drives him is a desire for revenge. Maybe that’s why, if I’m to be equated with a superhero, I’d rather it be Superman. Superman, though he deals with very human things, like a desire to love and be loved, sacrifices his own desires for the sake of others. His goals seem bent toward justice for all. He’s more relatable for me. Even the part about the Kryptonite weakness.

I may not be a real superhero. But if I were, I think I know what my superpower would be. Accommodation. Accommodation is the ability to be flexible in a situation, and to opt for the comfort of others (like my cat, Abby, in my first blog entry, “Why Disturb the Cat?”).

Being a special education teacher, it is a big part of what I do. I accommodate a student by compensating for their disabilities. An accommodation can be as simple as a pencil grip to compensate for a lack of fine motor control or muscle weakness, or special tinted overlays to reduce glare and make it easier for a student with vision problems to focus and read. Or, in some cases accommodations can be much grander. We are all accommodated much more than we think. That’s what customer service is, after all. I guess it makes sense that I would end up in a career field that uses my superpower.

However, my superpower is often also my undoing – my Kryptonite so to speak. I may exercise my power by choosing to accommodate your wants or needs. You, however, may view it as a weakness that you can manipulate and use in your favor. What I do as an expression of love, becomes what is simply expected. The gift is not received with gratitude, but is taken with contempt. “Why didn’t you do more?” “Why did you pick that color?” What took you so long?” “But I was expecting…”. True givers often are treated as, and perceived as, doormats. But accommodation is a power exercised from the heart (The Bible teaches us that Jesus “laid down his life” willingly). And, when treated as anything other, it feels like rejection and an act of futility. If you want to see how much power accommodation has to change the world, simply be grateful (at least once in a while). Accept it as a gift willingly given. Keep your Kryptonite encased in lead (and buried). Maybe more superheroes will emerge.

As I got up from my table on the end last night, I made my usual pass by the front counter on my way out the door, stopping for one last refill of sweet tea. As Amber turned her back to me to fill my cup from the dispenser, Eric (the other assistant manager at my McAlister’s) who was behind the counter to my right, said, “Hey Bruce! How you doin’ tonight? Hey, I like that shirt!”

In case you didn’t catch the wordplay in my use of the now-familiar title “Waiting on Superman”…I was at a deli, wearing a Superman shirt…and, though they don’t really have waiters there in the truest sense, Amber did bring me my food and refill my tea…thus, she was waiting…well you understand.

Winter Storm Leon: The Paralyzing of the South

Mission Log: January 28, 2014

As darkness sets on day one of the devastating ice storm that has paralyzed the South, I am glad to report that we are doing well. Our dwelling has retained it’s strength under the weight of the icycles, and has so far been able to hold in warmth, and keep frostbite at bay.

Since the South was closed today, I was able to stay nestled under blankets till at least 8:00 AM.

I was able to make contact with both people who were suffering through the same trials as I, and those on the outside. The situation was dire. Bridges were being closed all over the city. People had to use the more primitive feeder roads for travel. People were encouraged to stay off the roads if travel was not required. My transportation was encased in a thick layer of frozen moisture that I had no desire to chip away at. I thought best to follow their pleas.

I tried to lose myself, if but for a short time, in the recorded travels and thoughts of a fellow adventurer. His stories gave me renewed hope in the goodness of people.

After a short time, my need for physical nourishment, as well as my felt responsibility for my shelter mate, kicked in. I had to hunt and gather for sustenance. I was able to scrounge enough, using only the ingredients that I purchased yesterday from my neighborhood Kroger, and the rudimentary pots, pans, and utensils that I was able to locate in my kitchen cabinets and drawers, to prepare a goodly portion of chili, sufficient for 2 people to survive a couple of days.

Having filled our bellies sufficiently, I sat down for a cup of coffee and to catch up on the happenings outside of the frozen tundra in which we now found ourselves. More road closures. And the announcement that most of the South would remain closed for another day. We’ll have to ration what is left of the chili, and the PB&J.

I ventured outside of the shelter as it began to get dark this evening, to see if what they say is really true, that, “neither rain nor snow…nor gloom of night…”. I tread slowly, testing to see where the ice might pose a walking hazard. I ventured the distance of the drive without incident and opened the correspondence receptacle, removing it’s contents to see what matter of life I may have missed since the beginning of this great storm. I gathered also the contents of another box to hand deliver it to it’s owners who were hold up inside their own shelter from the storm. As I walked the distance back to my shelter, I sifted through my box’s contents that I now carried. A 15% off discount from Kohl’s. If only I could get there. And a $10.00 off card, as well. Such cruelty of the universe to deposit this in my box on the very day that the South is closed for business. And what is this? A birthday gift from Victoria’s Secret. Really? Oh, never mind, that’s not my name on the envelope.

Having arrived safely back inside my still-warm abode, I put away the dishes from our meal, kicked off my shoes, and decided to journal my survival to this point in case I don’t make it out alive. The temperature has already dropped back down to 33 degrees. This could be bad.


Please note that this blog entry was done in fun and out of boredom, and just to break the drought of writing. It’s actually kind of humorous how a little ice can close our city down. We’re just not equipped to keep all our bridges and overpasses de-iced, and our citizens have so little experience driving in ice. It’s better to stay safe. It won’t last long, after all.

Breaking Resistance at Barnes & Noble

So…it’s been a while. Remember me?

It’s the afternoon before Thanksgiving. I’ve been off of work since about 1:45 on Friday afternoon, and I’ve accomplished very few of the things that I’d intended to get done this week. I HAVE gotten some personal banking work done, some bills paid, laundry done. I’ve gotten some house-cleaning done, a little reading, and time on Facebook (I won’t say how much). I’ve even gotten a little extra sleep for the last couple of days, and been to the gym a couple of times. But I haven’t yet been back up to the school to work on filing and stuff that I need to get caught up on. And, until this moment, I haven’t worked on my blog.

It took a lot for me to start this blog in the first place. It would never have happened if a friend hadn’t expressed belief that I had a talent for writing. I’ve never been overly confident in my abilities, and it (at least in the past) didn’t take much criticism (or even lack of affirmation) to make me give up trying anything. I’ve had to learn to be my own cheerleader. But I’m clumsy, and feel awkward with pom poms. I AM grateful for a few good friends (I’ve learned to value quality over quantity) who know how to affirm me in ways that make me believe them.

I did have a few hurdles to get over. I have perfectionist tendencies. And my work is NEVER perfect, and rarely good enough to share. I’ve reserved at least 3 blogs before this one. I could never decide on a title that I thought was catchy and ME. I wanted a name that would follow a theme. But I wanted to be able to be random in my writings. This stretched over months and years. I finally settled on Disturbing the Cat, because it was a good metaphor that I had mentioned to some friends to describe my life. THEN I had to decide on a look, a picture to describe it, a bio, yada yada yada. Then I decided to do the only thing that I can count on to work for me…I told some people what I was planning to do, and that I was going to start it before the summer break was up. I even told my friend who had given me the belief in my writing abilities in the first place. Now I had to do it, or risk letting people down.

I reserved the title, and solicited some friends for input on the look. This still took way too long, so I decided on a very simple look that could be changed at a later date. I asked for some pictures of cats that would fit my theme. The winner came from my friend Lance (who is also one of my chief goaders). My friend MaryEllen took the profile pic for the bio, and things were starting to come together. I even bought the domain disturbingthecat.com because I hate to waste money. I figured if I spent a little money, I would have to publish.

My first post was reasonably easy because it just explained the metaphor. However, it took me a while because I had to get it perfect first. Then I accepted the fact that that moment would never come. I had my friend Kathy check it for grammar and readability, and I published. And I am thankful for a few who read it and gave positive feedback.

But that was in August…

It is now November (and barely still that)…

When school began again in August, things just got really busy. Much of my job is spent in front of a computer. I worked an hour from home for the first 3 weeks of school, before transferring to a school in my hometown. I never seemed to be caught up, so it was hard to find time for writing. But when I started my blog, I asked a few friends to provide a little goading; to remind me to write. I need that accountability. And some have been very faithful to do so.

Why am I writing now?

1. I told a friend that I planned on writing during my break from school;

2. One of my solicited goaders gave me permission, via a quote from Joseph Campbell, to “…be reckless when writing. Be as crazy as your conscience allows.” (I’m fighting my perfectionist tendencies.);

3. And Donald Miller called me out. (Actually, Don doesn’t know me from Adam. But he said on his FB page earlier this week, “Hack writers write when they’re in the mood. PROFESSIONAL writers write whether they feel like it or not.”) Of course I can’t consider myself a professional writer (yet), but I’d like to be a serious writer, at least.

So…this is my reintroduction. My name is Bruce, and I am a blogger. Expect me to write more often. My entries may often be short, and seem pretty random. But, hey, I’m just trying to establish a new habit.

Now to show that I aim to conquer my perfectionism, I have written this blog in the course of a few minutes at a table in Barnes & Noble. I have not had anyone look at it for errors (and I am quite sure there are several) and I am launching it out into cyberspace.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I am grateful for all of you!

Why Disturb the Cat?

I’m an animal lover. Really, I am. Not the kind that has a houseful of pets that resembles a small zoo (that would be next door), but the kind that respects, and tries to treat all living beings with kindness. Did I say ALL living beings? Okay, I’m still working on “all.” I will catch lizards and moths that get into my house, and gently release them back into their elements. I’ve done this with field mice and grass snakes as well. But I’m not quite there when it comes to flies, mosquitoes, roaches, or spiders in my home.

The fact is, I don’t even have a pet in my home at this time. Again, I love animals. And when I’m around them, many of them (the smaller variety, anyway) find their way into my lap. I choose not to “own” a pet because of the great responsibility in caring for them. I hate to know they are all alone when I am not at home. And I’m not crazy about having to find something to do with them when I need to be gone for an extended time (like vacations – I’ve heard rumors of such a thing). But there is another reason as well. I am a recovering people-pleaser. And, in the past more so than the present, even the smallest of creatures have been able to usurp my will with something as simple as a purr or a nuzzle or a whimper.

When I was in college, a very young, married man, I was a full-time student with two very full part-time jobs. When I would get home at the end, or middle of the day (I had some night classes too) I would almost pass out from exhaustion. To be honest, I often fought sleep in class as well. We had adopted (or bought, from one of my wife’s co-workers) a Chinchilla Persian cat. She was a beautiful cat that seemed content to live her own life, mostly. That is, until I would stretch out to catch a little nap before my next responsibility. It was then that she would come out from hiding. I would be lying face-down across my bed, with my lower legs hanging off the side, when I would feel Abby (the cat) jump up on the bed and make her way to my lower back and knead herself a nice little nest. It never failed that she would get all cozy and content just in time for me to grow increasingly uncomfortable. I needed to turn over, or otherwise reposition myself. But I couldn’t. At least not without disturbing the cat. So I would just lie there, exhausted, uncomfortable, badly needing some quality rest. Time seemed to move slowly. My legs were going to sleep. For as long as I possibly could, I would endure the pain and discomfort. Then – when I just couldn’t stand the pain any longer – I would gently roll over, dislodging the cat from her comfy perch, and forcing her to go find another place to rest.

I noticed much later in life that I had done this with people too. I would let others’ comfort be an excuse for my lack of movement. I think the mistake was innocent enough. I’ve always believed that truly loving someone is to put that person’s needs ahead of one’s own, to put his/her comfort first. Love means sacrificial living. It is caring more for you than me. It is showing deference for another. All of this is well and good (and scriptural) and I think this world would be a much better place if we could learn to live this way. However, I have found that this posture can easily open a person up to much manipulation and abuse, if we do not learn and practice keeping proper boundaries.

Now first of all, let’s face it: to love is to risk. There is no way to truly love another being without putting yourself at risk. Love is not always returned. Neither is respect, concern, compassion, grace, kindness. You get the idea. What I’ve learned is this, though:  We are supposed to love our neighbor AS ourselves. The implication is that we should show love, respect, concern, compassion, grace, kindness, etc., to ourselves as well. It is not wrong to care for ourselves, just wrong to put our needs first.

It is kind to give up dessert, or a second helping, so that someone else can have it. It is NOT kind to yourself to give up eating, (even if this benefits others) for you must eat to live. It is caring to let someone else decide the movie to see, the restaurant to go out to, the channel to watch, or the vacation destination. It is quite another thing to give up the things that actually make you you. Or to let someone else define you.

It’s the age-old story of the parents who want their child to be a doctor, or a quarterback, but he or she really wants to paint or sing. To truly love someone (including one’s self) you must allow them to fully become themselves, and not who you want them to be.

Now I’m not talking about drop-kicking the cat out of the house. I’m not even talking about denying the cat her food and water, shelter, or even some tender petting. What I am saying is that you should not allow your life’s calling to be derailed simply because every time the opportunity to exercise your own unique blend of giftedness (the things that make you feel alive, like you make a difference) comes along, you have to say, “I can’t now because the cat is comfortable. Maybe later.”  Just remember that sooner or later those acts of selfless love can become seeds of bitterness if they are allowed to keep you from the things that you feel you were designed for.

You’re not resigning your cat to a life of outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. You are merely saying, “You’re making me uncomfortable,” or “I have something I need to do right now. You need to find another place to get comfortable.”  Sound cruel? I don’t think so. And, what if the cat would benefit as well from who you could become (and what you could do) if you weren’t the sole source of comfort for her?

I want to be thought of as a genuinely loving and kind person  – to both people and animals. But I will have failed at the greater things of life if it is said of me, at the end of my life: “Well, he never disturbed the cat.”