A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann
The little boy came gamboling up to me when I was just over the ridge.
He was big for three, small for four, and cute by any measure. Brown
hair, blue eyes and a smile as quiet as firecrackers.
I was cutting across the park on my way to the library, and I'd come a little closer to the playground than I had wanted to. Unaccompanied adults have no business being at the playground. It spooks the parents, and it ought to. For myself, while I like kids well enough, I don't much like what comes with them these days...
"I'm Shotterman!" said the little boy. He struck a menacing pose. He was wearing little blue shorts and a black Mickey Mouse tee shirt. He had Ninja Turtle sneakers on his tiny feet.
"Hi, Shotterman," I said. "What are you?"
"What are your powers, Shotterman?"
"Oh," he said. "I can shoot." He cocked his finger. "Pshew! Pshew pshew! Pshew!"
"Shotterman!" I announced. "Strange visitor from another planet with an uncanny aim and accuracy. Shotterman! Able to compete for marksmanship prizes on five continents."
Shotterman laughed with delight, as I knew he would. This was entertainment he thoroughly understood.
And here's a little something I understood: he doesn't have a dad, not at home. Little boys don't crave male attention when they're getting enough of it. The nation is crawling with little boys looking for big boys to play little boy games, and I knew without being told that Shotterman was one of them.
"Who are you?" he asked.
I knew what he meant. "Nothingman," I said.
"Nothingman! A vanishingly small amount of substance, barely here at all. Nothingman! A homeopathic quantity of humanity."
He looked at me as if he wasn't quite sure if I was serious in my nonsense.
"Hunter!" called a voice from the benches over by the swings. Shotterman blanched a little.
"Is that your name? Hunter?"
"No, I'm Shotterman."
"Hunter Ryan Daniels! You get your butt over here and I mean this instant!"
I winced. I can get enough of that stuff. "C'mon," I said. "Let's motivate."
We walked back over toward the playground equipment and Hunter went "Pshew!" at anything that moved and a lot of stuff that didn't. He broke away and leapt, landing knees first in the dirt. He was surrounded by three or four plastic trucks, and he said, "C'mon, Nothingman. Let's go get the bad guys!"
There were two thick little women sitting on the park bench. I looked over at them, to see if one or the other wanted me to clear out. They ignored me and they ignored Hunter and they ignored everything except their animated conversation. He was on his own, and I rather expected he would be.
"Okay," I said, plopping down on the ground. Women sometimes play little boy games, but they don't do it well. I don't know if it's ineptitude or condescension on the part of the women or some subtle pheromone that adults can't sense, but little boys play little boy games with men and not with women. "Let's go get the bad guys, Hunter."
"You mean Shotterman," he said solemnly.
"But I'm not Shotterman anymore."
"Well, then, who are you?" I scrunched my shoulders and turned my palms up and Hunter laughed.
"I'm Mouseman!" he said.
"Mouseman!" I intoned. "A mysterious creature from a distant galaxy, he craves meat and vegetable scraps. Mouseman! Able to chew through walls in only several hours."
He went "Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw, gnaw!" to show me his impressive gnawing powers. His teeth were straight and white and perfect.
"Did I tell you my sister's moving in with us?" one of the women said to the other. I knew by her voice that she was Hunter's mom, the woman who had bellowed before.
"Isn't your sister an alcoholic?" her friend asked.
"And didn't you say she's a drug addict?"
The friend chuckled at that.
"But the thing is," said Hunter's mom, "I've got to do something to get more money in the house."
"What about Hunter's daddy?" the friend asked.
"You mean Mouseman," said Hunter, although they weren't listening to him. He was pushing his trucks around in the dirt. This activity must have required 100% of his concentration, since he would not look up.
"Oh, sure!" spat Hunter's mother. "He'll help, but only if I give him joint custody!"
The friend took her time answering, a cloud of doubt on her face. "...But you sister's a drug addict..."
"I don't care! I'm not giving that son of a bitch joint custody!"
"Wow...," said the friend. "You must really hate him..."
There was a ball on the ground and I picked it up and threw it hard. "Mouseman!" I said. "Go get it before the bad guys do!"
Hunter sped off and I turned to look at his mother. I said: "You hate your ex-husband. Do you hate your son?"
"That's who you're hurting..."
"Yeah?" she sneered. "And who are you to tell me how to raise my kid?"
I shrugged. "Me? I'm Nothingman, a vanishingly small quantity of civilization in a world turned to savagery."
She simply looked confused, which was just as well.
Hunter came dashing back and I stood up. "I gotta go, sport."
The sadness in his eyes was immense. When you never get enough male attention, it seems like the men in your life are always saying goodbye.
I fixed his mother with a glare and she squirmed uncomfortably. I said, "Little boys need their daddies." She wanted to protest but I held up my hand. "Little boys need their daddies. You don't have to like it, but that's the way it is. Give it some thought..."
"I like my daddy," said Hunter. "I think he's Superman!"
"I think mine is, too, Hunter."
"You mean Mouseman."