(Transformation is the ongoing series about Stanley Coggins and his hero persona, Imperfect Action Man!)
Stanley Coggins sat alone at his favorite coffee shop, nursing his coffee and danish, and procrastinating going into the office. He performed this same ritual nearly every workday.
It’s not that he hated his job, particularly, but he found it rather an effort to go into the office without his morning jolt of caffeine and sugar.
He looked at his watch: 8:04 a.m. He’d get up in sixteen minutes, walk down the block to his office building, ride the elevator up to the 11th floor, and reach his cubicle exactly at 8:30. Like most things in his life, he had his “to the office” routine down to a science.
Stanley looked up from his watch just as a woman came into the shop, her young son in tow. He was perhaps eight or nine, and trailed behind her, his nose stuck in a comic book.
The mother placed her order, and they took a seat on the other side of the shop from Stanley’s regular table. The boy sat quietly, his eyes never leaving the comic.
Mother picked up her coffee and what looked like a milk for the boy, and returned to the table. The boy drank his milk dutifully, but his attention never wavered. The comic was all-consuming.
And then it was done. The boy closed the book and set it on the table, drained the last of the milk, and stood up. He asked his mother something, and she pointed to the bathrooms. The boy wandered off.
Stanley went back to his danish.
A short while later, Stanley was aware of the woman rising, tossing her empty cup, and moving toward the bathrooms to collect her son.
Stanley waited for them to return to the table, for the boy’s comic still sat where he had left it. Another few minutes passed, and neither mother nor boy returned.
Stanley tried to return to his coffee and his own business, but he couldn’t. He crossed the shop to the table, lifted the comic from it, and walked back to the bathrooms. He entered the Men’s Room, but found it empty. Had they left? The shop was on the corner, so it did have a side door—maybe they’d left that way?
Stanley went out the door, looked left and right to see if he could spot the mother and son on the sidewalk or in a car.
They were gone.
Stanley returned to the shop, and to his seat, the comic still in hand.
He set it down on the table in front of him, and looked at the front cover.
“Captain Fantastic” it said across the top in sweeping letters, with “Man of Action!” in slightly smaller letters right below it. The cover illustration was of a muscled man in red and blue and yellow, locked in a fierce struggle with a large humanoid robot whose head was a giant brain encased in a glass dome. At the bottom the cover declared “The Fury of the Mind Titan!”
Stanley flipped open the book and started to read. And before he knew it he was again nine years old, reading comic book after comic book in his secret fort in the shed in the back yard.
He’d almost forgotten what it had been like to be so immersed in the world of heroes and villains, where his favorite heroes (including Captain Fantastic, he remembered) had faced off, month after month, against the strangest and deadliest villains ever to plague the Earth.
He finished the comic in perhaps 20 minutes, and tried not to be disappointed that the story left on a cliffhanger: the Mind Titan had torn apart the train trestle over the gorge, and Captain Fantastic raced the train full of passengers to stop them before they went over the edge.
He was about to put it in his briefcase, close the lid, and take it with him, when he stopped.
Shouldn’t he turn it in? Wasn’t that the right thing to do?
Another part of his mind was ready with a host of rationalizations for keeping the book:
The comic was only a few dollars – the boy could always buy another.
If the boy was so neglectful, he didn’t deserve to keep the book.
If the comic was important to the boy, he wouldn’t have just left it here. He wouldn’t miss it.
That last rationalization rang in his head as he looked at the comic in his hand.
This was not a collector’s comic, all bagged and boarded and pristine.
This was a reader’s comic.
He could see—in its folded corners and its curved cover and the tears at the staples—that this book had been read, and read often. Stanley was reminded of his own childhood, when a comic book or three were his constant companions. He imagined this book had seen the same sort of love: folded and jammed in a back pocket, stuffed in a book bag or duffle. Taken to school and read at lunch, taken on road trips, taken to camp. Read on a bedroom floor, or under a shady tree on a sunny day, or with a flashlight under the covers at night. Read and reread and reread again. Absorbed to the point that each phrase and image was etched on the mind, and became part of one’s essential self.
Stanley saw it again for what it was – not a mistreated, neglected, throwaway thing, but a prized possession. He hoped the boy could convince his mother to come back to the coffee shop for it.
And so instead of placing it inside his briefcase, he walked it up to the counter.
“A young boy was here a while ago with his mother, and he left this here—by accident I’m sure. Would you please keep it safe in your lost and found until he can come and reclaim it?”
The barista nodded and smiled, and took the book carefully. “Thank you, sir,” she said. “Have a nice day.”
“You too,” Stanley managed, and beat a hasty exit.
Stanley didn’t notice, but as he strode down the sidewalk to his office, his walk was a bit less hunched than usual, even in the cold weather. And he stood a bit taller and straighter as he waited for the elevator. He even said “Hello” to the person he shared the elevator with, and said “Have a nice day” to her as he stepped off the elevator onto the 11th floor.
And for the first time in many, many months, as he entered the office of his employer, CGE, Inc., the hint of a smile was on Stanley’s lips.
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image courtesy of Chris Phillips (cc)