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.