Short Story by Richard Bleil
Back then I was barely a man. In my early twenties, it just happened so fast, a true case of being in the right place at the right time. They said that my actions saved the entire planet, and all life on it, but it didn’t feel like it. I just kind of acted out of instinct.
Back then, though, everybody knew me, and I mean everybody. Parents were throwing their children at me, whether or not they were of legal age. I rarely could pay for anything, whether I wanted to or not. Food, services, goods, it was all gratis because of my actions. I didn’t even want the fame to be honest with you, but the countless interviews and news stories and “who is the man who…” pieces. I mean, it was cool for a few days, and exhausting after that.
The funny thing is that there really was nothing interesting about me. I was an average man, with an average job, not even a significant education to speak of since I dropped out of college. There couldn’t have been a duller hero. But there I was. And every story, every article, every special, every poster had my face. Every single one.
Don’t get me wrong. I took advantage. I mean, wouldn’t you? I was the hero of the day. There were a few crazies out there, but for the most part, I guess everybody wanted to live. And I gave that to them. And the story was monumental. Worldwide. I doubt anybody anywhere didn’t know me. So, I reveled in the free stuff. It was pretty cool. It got to the point where I stopped carrying any money at all, although I had plenty to spare. A lot of people just sent me money. Gobs of it. Just appreciation for another day of life. But if it turns out that they didn’t just automatically comp me for the food or cell phone or whatever, there was always somebody in the store ready to jump up and pay.
The fame was a nuisance, but being a hero made me feel pretty good. I loved it. Until it seemed like people started waiting for me to repeat it. I started getting questions like, “what will you do next?”, like they were waiting for a sequel or something. But saving the entire world? You could say it never happens, because in all of history it has only happened once. Unless you’re in a movie sequel, the chance to save the entire planet just doesn’t repeat itself.
Things started, kinda, fading with the years. I was “comped” less and less, but there was usually somebody ready to jump to help. One day the restaurant actually called the cops because I didn’t have my money with me, and nobody offered to pay my bill. I guess it was about eight years later, and I seemed to be fading from memory. It was good having fewer and fewer people rush me as I was walking down the street, but that was embarrassing. Fortunately, one of the cops did recognize me and paid for my meal out of his own pocket, but that was when I started carrying my wallet again. The funny thing is when I went to buy a wallet, that they comped.
But it was thirty-five years ago that I saved the world. As it turns out, that’s a long time ago in the fame game. It’s rare that anybody asks for my autograph these days. I never used to have to stand in line, but today its rare that anybody offers to let me go ahead of them.
Today, I was buying groceries. I no longer expect to be comped, but I still have more than enough money to last me for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I don’t have things go wrong. After ringing up my purchases, I tried my debit card. But the chip didn’t seem to be working. I tried it again, still to no avail. So, I swiped, but that failed as well. And a second time. The cashier was waiting patiently, but not the people in the line. One of them started screaming for me to hurry up, which I was trying to do. A younger person then yelled a comment about how “old people” should be required to pay cash since they don’t understand technology. It turned out to be a problem with somebody trying to steal my identity, so the bank temporarily shut down my account. But it seems odd how one can go from hero to nuisance in a very short period of time. I guess once the younger generation is too young to remember, all bets are off.
I’m beginning to understand how veterans feel.