Illustrations by Elisha Cooper
We all need a mortal enemy the way that we need true love. True love is love that will sweep us off our feet. We’ll live our life happily ever after if we find it: we won’t need to pay bills, we won’t have a cold or any illness, we’ll never have to take the F Train. I’ve yet to meet anyone that has met this person. I’ve known a few people who have fallen in love with someone so rich that they don’t need to worry about paying bills, but I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get sick from time to time, and you’re just plain naïve if you think you can spend a lifetime in New York and never have to take the F Train again. I believe in true love, though, and I believe in mortal enemies.
Your mortal enemy is just as important as your true love because it can give you a cause celebre, which really helps in planning your day (first breakfast, then there’s the staff meeting, lunch, another meeting, and then maybe trying to kill your mortal enemy). The position of mortal enemy is actually much easier to fill than that of true love, the demands we place on the mortal enemy are far more attainable.
Even so, I personally didn’t have a mortal enemy until recently. All my feuds ended amicably or just petered out. But several years ago I came face to face with my mortal enemy is the men’s locker room at the Eastern Athletic Club on Clark Street in Brooklyn Heights. The reason it hasn’t fizzled or been resolved is that my mortal enemy has no idea of my intense hatred towards him.
I was having a good morning. No, it was a great morning.After completing my workout, I would shower, shave and get ready to go to work as I did most mornings, feeling invigorated from the gym. But after the shower I encountered my mortal enemy. I was wearing only a towel (they always know how to get you when you’re most vulnerable) and shaving, probably using a Gillette Atra in those days, before I had made the switch to the Mach 3 (oh, how the Mach 3 gives a positively divine shave! — I would recommend it to all but the blades seem to be in short supply, and they do cost considerably more than most). I was thinking how incredibly great I looked when this red faced, white haired man, wearing a worn out tan-green baseball cap, and fully clothed in sweats appeared in the mirror and said, “Can you turn off the water as you shave? We’re in the middle of a drought.”
“Bastard,” I thought to myself, where does he get the nerve to approach a stranger with a sharp object? I should have smote him with my Atra right there, but I didn’t, in fact I acquiesced. Like Lex Luthor knows Superman’s weakness to kryptonite, he must have known mine lay with my strong sense of civic duty. I smiled weakly, and turned off the faucet, only putting it back on when I needed to rinse my razor.
On the accursed F train on my way to work I looked at the paper and said under my breath, “Double bastard,” because there, on the weather page, I learned I had been doublecrossed. That’s what mortal enemies do, they doublecross you, like the Joker did countless times to Batman. On the weather page they tell how close to capacity our reservoirs are and this read 78%. Which I did think was quite low, until I read that the normal for this time of year was that very same figure, 78%! Oh, how I wanted to kill him or better yet punch him in the nose and make him feel what my brother calls the “ginger ale effect,” that strange vibrating sensation one feels after being bopped on the nose.
I quit the gym a few months later, for how could I work out and gain strength in the very lair where my mortal enemy was seeking to do the same?
Most of the people I used to see at the gym I haven’t seen since, but this is not the case with the Water Man. I see him all the time walking the streets of Brooklyn Heights without a care in the world. Unfortunately, there are usually people around so it would be inappropriate to punch him in the nose. I need to do it in an abandoned warehouse or on the docks, some site where Batman, Superman and even Spiderman fight battles with their arch-rivals. After all, I could get arrested for giving someone the ginger ale effect. Instead when I pass him I mutter just barely audibly, “Bastard Water Man.”
“What did you say,” my wife asked me one time when she and I encountered the Water Man. I had never told her about him, because I didn’t want her involved with this arch villain.
“Nothing,” I said.
“No, you said something, I heard you.”
I was caught and told her everything, because in later issues Clark Kent did reveal his secret identity to Lois Lane. I told her that I was pretty sure that he was secretly stealing the city’s water supply for his evil plans to take over the earth.
“You’re insane,” she said. I thought it was better she think that I was crazy than to have her involved in our war. “Some day you and the rest of the world will thank me,” I thought to myself.
My mutterings upon seeing him went on for years, always seeing him on the public streets, because he knows I have this civic duty side to me that would never want some innocent bystander hurt. But then a few weeks ago I saw him in a desolate area near the waterfront, near the piers, near where there used to be abandoned warehouses until the yuppies gentrified Dumbo.
I was going to get my car, which is parked in a lot about thirty miles from where I live. New York City is the only place where people get exercise by driving, because most of us have to walk thirty miles to get our parking lots. I saw him sitting on the curb wearing the same stupid hat, wearing the same stupid sweat suit and smoking a cigar. He didn’t bother to look at me or even acknowledge my presence, probably because he was anticipating feeling the ginger ale effect. And I was going to do it too, my teeth were grinding, my face became taught, tears of intense hatred welled up in my eyes, oh how sweet revenge was going to be.
I walked towards him with purpose, my fingers folded into a fist, my arm cocked and then he finally looked up at me, the sun reflected off his glasses into my glasses, I paused, dropped my arm, and walked past him and muttered, “Bastard Water Man.” I didn’t even look to see if he stared at me while I walked away.
Did I chicken out? In a word, yes, and with good reason too. I mean the guy is in his late forties at the youngest and probably his fifties and possibly sixties. How would that look if I punched him and made him feel the ginger ale effect? Or worse, what if I punched him and he hit me back harder. After all, it was evident from his sweats that he still works out and me, well I’ve spent the last few years becoming a little soft.
I’ll still mutter, “Bastard Water Man,” every time I see him, but he shouldn’t feel too confident. Some day I will thwart his plans of taking over the earth.