“. . . the possible world of narrative is the only universe
          in which we can be absolutely certain about something . . . 
          the credulous believe that El Dorado and Lemuria existed . . . 
          skeptics are convinced they never existed; but we all know 
          it is undeniably certain that Superman is Clark Kent . . .”
                                                              — Umberto Eco

The best part, I offered, was the hotdog.
The plays and score were unelucidated,
and the fan spirit, mass roar and jump
in the vertiginous Husky Stadium,
overwhelming and mystifying too.
I knew the breathless sportscaster patter
from weekend radio while my father
in his armchair somehow graded papers,
but they spoke in tongues.

I wasn’t asked what part I liked best 
when it came to church, but again it was
the after-feast. The call and response 
at Manning’s cafeteria at least
was intelligible and I could answer
“Meatloaf” with little embarrassment
“and chocolate pudding” in its faceted 
little dish. In our orange upholstered booth 
we were unbracketed by a pew’s strange 
worshippers, uncompelled to stand and sit 
and bend on arcane leather kneelers
to some baffling cue, some whimsy 
of the rotund droning minister, 
red hymals in the slots ominous, 
melodies known to all but me.

There was something terrible in the massed voices,
the expectation of brotherhood in the joyous club.
Things were believed which clearly to me 
did not exist, and what I knew true 
was unacknowledged. It wasn’t just 
that I was faithless, but also that I didn’t buy 
buying in just because others 
had and seemed happy about it. 
Their acquiesence, their unity reeked 
of credulity and the over-dressed herd.

I reckon now those fanclubs are the glue 
fulfilling our need for community 
despite certain differences, even if 
it’s just a shared illusion. But this 
is the disgruntling truth, 
that the same painting, song, idea 
can please both a Hitler and a saint.
Your pew-mate a depthless mystery.

So much was under the surface: the love 
our clubs evince for their idols 
has a foul side. Each one assumes 
its villain, and a commitment to Our Hero 
predicates one against Theirs.
Atheists, Socialists — hell, Wazoo Cougars, 
mods or rockers, pick your nemeses . . . 
you pile on the quarterback, picket 
or proselytize, you campaign
with a vengeance.

Less dangerous to agree on simple facts: 
who Bruce Wayne becomes
when the Bat Signal appears in the sky — 
a fiction but indisputable and universal. 

My folks vetoed comic books, 
despite my fathers youth having been 
indelibly permeated by the Funnies —
Casper Milquetoast, George Bungle, Krazy Kat. 
He was a card-carrying member 
of Barney Google’s Brotherhood 
of Billygoats. But they were funny
and superheroes had an agenda; 
and agendas, like sports and religion 
and politics, were nothing to fool with.

So my hero was Groucho, and like him 
I still don’t want to belong to any club 
that would have me as a member.
No Moose, Elk, Eagles, Owls, Boyscouts, 
Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo,
Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos.
Me, I am the odd fellow in the brotherhod of one
that this morning watches the flock of mallards
gliding on the slough as serene as decoys.
Below the surface, nothing but feet 
pedaling for all they’re worth.

Sean Bentley | Contents
Mudlark No. 72 (2021)