"In my dream, the world had suffered a terrible disaster. A black haze shut out the sun, and the darkness was alive with the moans and screams of wounded people. Suddenly, a small light glowed. A candle flickered into life, symbol of hope for millions. A single tiny candle, shining in the ugly dark. I laughed and blew it out." - from Shadow of the Bat #37
Growing up I didn't have a lot of the usual kids' heroes; and the ones which could be called a-typical rarely had a-typical adventures when I played with them. My Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles usually ended up in scenarios such as:
one of the Turtles (whoever was my favorite that day) would return home only to find all the other "good" guys slaughtered by Shredder and his goons, thus triggering a bloody bone cracking quest for vengeance (there's nothing like
ripping Krang out of his robot suit and impaling him on Rocksteady's horn). However, I often found myself rooting
for the other side of line. I preferred Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker, Skeletor to He-man (especially after
Frank Langella's portrayal in the live action version), Cobra to the Joes, the Horned King to Taran, and just about every Disney villain. To say I fully understood why before I turned fifteen would be a lie. When I was younger the
villains just seemed cooler by comparison. For one thing, they had better style -- would you rather wear Darth Vader's armor or Skywalker's tunic? Villains also tend to be more dynamic than the, often self proclaimed,
"good" guys. Allow me to seem a bit pretentious in order to point out that heroes often represent a kind of
moral determinism: a reality where all are fated to one outcome which only the villains seem capable or willing to
contest regardless of a seemingly predestined conclusion.
Though I can't say I comprehended my appreciation of villainy that deeply until later in life, I knew by the age of nine I wanted one thing... dramatic pause... to take over the world. Most of my role models wanted to do it, so why shouldn't I?
But how? How does a nine year old begin to accomplish such a feat?
By trying every goddamn notion that comes to mind... or at least spending a few too many hours on idle fantasies that's fucking how! What follows is my progression through megalomania from age nine until I ceased my quest for global ownership around thirteen.
1. The Orphan's Grandiose Origin
As a result of being adopted I'll confess to having frequented a certain clichéd orphan fantasy: the possibility of having epic parentage. Usually this involves the belief that one's parents are someone incredibly famous or rich or even both and is a common plot device found in the works of Charles Dickens. However, my aspirations defined the concept of my parents as a path to superpowers.
I was the last son of Krypton, Darth Vader would land on the front lawn one day to claim his lost son ("Obi-Wan hid you well."), or perhaps inter-dimensional beings would arrive to activate my abilities (i.e.
pyrokinesis). In any event, my real parents would provide me with the means to subjugate the planet. I'd be the sinister Superman; from the deck of a star destroyer, I'd command conquering forces as the Dark Lord of the Sith; etc.
Regrettably, none of this ever came to pass, and praying for it devoutly only instilled a mild atheism. But I don't regret the times I plotted to ransom the world by threatening to hit with the moon or raining down flaming green death from a star cruiser.
Yes, this old chestnut. I defy anyone to claim that as a child they never wanted a robot in one form or another. Granted, most people wanted them as some kind of buddy, particularly for carefree adventures. I wanted the Terminator. Even in 1992 at the age of ten I thought John Connor was a pussy. You don't neuter a machine designed to kill, Johnny boy. Ignorant whiny voice cracking bitch... anyway, the idea of having not one but an army of killerific robots intrigued me.
Of course, I'd seen epically efficient fighting machines on cartoon shows and in comic books, but something about Stan Winston's creation, particularly the grinning skull, inspired me to want my own legion of sociopathic cybernetic assassins.
So I got every book I could on robotics out of the library. I learned about Tesla, logic gates, micro processors, mimicking
physiology, and ultimately came to the conclusion I had no fucking chance whatsoever of building a single, let alone legion of robots. What I read gave me hope for the future -- one day killbots might be available at the local hardware store for home defense -- but the impatience of youth forced me to move on to a new plan.
3. Time Travel: to literally get it done yesterday.
I could start a bank account in 1840 and accrue billions with which to finance an army of mercenaries and corrupt politicians, or travel back to start a technological revolution in the Dark Ages thereby accelerating advancements in robotics to get my magnificent murder machines by1992, or just take a few modern guns back to... Predicting the future to feign divine powers of foresight thereby starting a cult of slavishly devoted millions, altering history to my every advantage... visiting the future to get advanced weaponry... I could go on forever. And if time travel had simply meant riding my bike down a hill as fast as possible then this would be page one of your overlord's memoirs. However, the Fates are rarely that kind. I never stumbled into a wormhole either, though I often kept an eye out, sometimes jumping towards heat shimmers... much to my Mother's chagrin; and my research into time travel only exacerbated my sense of technological inferiority. My quest for global domination has led to the emphatic fact I am in no way mechanically inclined -- if I have to build the machine it will either not exist or fail horribly.
4. Operation Fire King.
My plans to seize the world consistently met with failure. And in good villain fashion I never accepted defeat as a sign of
impossibility, just improbability -- I'd been hitching my horse to the wrong rail. What I needed to do was focus
on my talents and utilize those to achieve success. Waiting for some deus ex machina meant I'd never own the globe. So I turned to fire.
Not literally. But as a youth I found myself uncommonly attracted to flames. Fire felt like life one could conjure up at the strike of a match. It lives, it breathes, it moves, and though it can be confined, fire will act independent of its conjurers intentions. More so, as a child I thought I understood the flame. It wanted to burn for as long, as far as, and as bright as it could, and what human can't say they've felt the same? So I started hording gasoline. Whenever I filled up the lawn mower, I'd pour some off into an unused trashcan behind the shed. A few times at night I took a hand pump and siphoned some gas out of my neighbors' cars. My plan was to slop it around the block and get a good size inferno going.
The first blaze would be to get people's attention. I'd then mail a letter to theChicago Tribune informing them that the
fires would continue and increase until... so on and so forth, all in typical supervillain fashion. "The Great
Chicago Fire will seem like a burning match after I bring the Sears Tower down in a screaming column of flames."
This was all clearly the not entirely thought out machinations of a frustrated young boy. How exactly I planned to take control of the world by burning it all to ash is still a mystery to me. I can only suppose I carried the optimistic hope my actions, born of bitter frustration, would somehow lead, no matter inadvertently, to success.
In the end I gave up on Operation Fire King after nearly incinerating myself.
5 & 6. Hypnotic Suggestion: Drug Your Love
One afternoon I was fiddling with my brother's stereo when it dawned on me that 1) the cassette player had two banks and 2) one compartment could play while the other recorded. At eleven, I figured this meant I could record my voice onto one cassette while blending it with music played by the other tape. In other words, I'd be able to plant subliminal hypnotic suggestions into mix tapes.
So I compiled a collection of a songs I figured people wouldn't mind listening to in the background (i.e. while waiting in a doctor's office). The music available in my house was limited at the time. However, I managed to put together some easy listening composed of classical masterpieces and jazz performances. But if one turned up the volume loud
enough one would be able to hear me giving whispered instructions.
I figured I could start a small media empire selling the tapes as a relaxation technique, best listened to when trying to sleep. The fact they'd been conceived and manufactured by an eleven year old would be the secret to getting mass attention. At night my infomercial would run advertising, "A chance to stop thinking," and people would buy tapes turning them into Manchurian Candidates ready and willing to submit to my will.
With this, as with other endeavors, my family naturally served as unwitting guinea pigs. I would play the tapes and later attempt to activate the hypnotic suggestions. I met with mixed results but nothing I'd qualify as success.
I wondered if perhaps I needed to make sure the tapes were heard when subjects slept. Subliminal, after
all, means "without awareness." So I decided to take the project in a new direction. After shop acquiring a few bottles of sleeping pills, I rode home and crushed the pills into a sizeable amount of powder. On several occasions I slipped small handfuls of the powder into my family members' drinks without them being aware. I accomplished this simply by being a good kid. "Would you care for another beer Dad? I'll go get it." "You need more ice tea Mom?
I can grab some." The drugging worked, briefly inspiring considerations regarding chemical hypnosis,but the tapes continued to be a failure.
Ultimately, I scrapped the whole project and moved on to more realistic notions.
7. Developing Telekinetic Powers a.k.a. Project Head Hammer
Growing up I consumed a steady diet of the paranormal. My favorite programs were reruns of shows like Ancient Mysteriesand Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World. These shows and others like them provided me with a sense the world is a place full of supernatural potential.
Around twelve I stopped waiting for my powers to be bestowed upon me and actively began working to hone any potential abilities I might have. This meant hours in the basement staring at paper clips and matches, straining to will
some reaction. Yet, no matter how intensely I pictured the match head flaring up, or the paper clip even just jittering a little, I couldn't effect any reaction. I tried using lighter materials. Instead of paper clips I strained over tiny snippets of rubber band and string. I dipped matches in lighter fluid to make them more combustible. But still nothing even felt close to occurring.
However, I started to wonder... looking at portrayals of mystical practitioners throughout history I noticed a theme.
All of them wore some kind of ceremonial accessory. There is rarely a depiction of a shaman balls ass naked.
Even primitive tribes have ritual tattooing to set the witch doctor apart. I wondered if perhaps mystical symbols inked in skin or the right amulets would lead to victory.
But I also reasoned that contemporary mystical modifiers might not be worthwhile. For instance, in physics a simple ring of magnets does not a particle accelerator make. Ergo: what if the beads on a shaman's necklace weren't in the right order, color, or proportion? What if an amulet needed to be made of a specific amount of various metals? Just because some modern practitioner of magic claimed to have a talisman didn't make the thing genuine, and I didn't want to waste time rooting through the phonies.
What I needed was an apprenticeship with someone... or something that knew the truth.
8. The Infernal Question
Being raised Catholic doesn't necessarily incline someone to leap at the prospect of demonic assistance. The religion tends to frown on such practices and discourages them not only vehemently but broadly. Satan and his minions get attached to a variety of pursuits and actions making them seem not only omnipresent but highly influential -- beware the Devil, he makes you dance too close. This can be an oddly tempting combination for a young megalomaniac, though the prospect of extra crispy damnation doesn't inspire one to act immediately.
I struggled with the notion of conjuring and utilizing demons for several months. More than anything I worried about calling up something that I wouldn't be able to control. I wanted others torn to pieces or dragged screaming into Hell, not me. Also, the well known concept of the demonic double cross loomed constantly (i.e. make a deal with a devil for eternal life and get turned into a statue). Eventually, I decided to try a little bit here and there to get my feet wet, see how things went.
But the same problem that befell my initial magical foray occurred. What might be real and what is simply mumbo jumbo frequently quashed any dabbling in the dark arts. Blindly fumbling with supernatural forces just seemed like a bad idea, and the more I experimented the more I couldn't help thinking, 'So this is all just bullshit.' This new aspect of my atheistic inclination led me to an interesting conclusion.
If there is no god and as such no devil then there are no consequences to one's actions.
9. Straight Murder
It's a lovely day when the world outside doesn't seem to have rules. You can open the window, toss a water balloon full of gasoline on your neighbor, and yell, "Liar, liar," before shooting her in the pants with a flaming foam dart. There's a house at the end of the block where a few teens sit on the porch smoking cigarettes and weed and like to sick their pit bull on whatever kids happen past. With my brother's .22 rifle shoot the dog from my bedroom window and walk over to see what all the fuss is about... stab, stab, stab with a pair of box cutters. By the time anyone knows what's going on it's all over.
... then I wake up. It's a pleasant dream but just a dream.
The likelihood of my going on a killing spree at thirteen was so implausible I barely entertained the notion more than eight or nine times. In addition, I'd begun to recognize when optimism was trying to transmute desperation into acceptable actions. This was another Operation Fire King all over again. A killing spree wouldn't lead to any real success. Sure, I might feel better once things were done, but would I be any closer to taking over the world? No.
World owner? No.
And a childhood spent without goals and aspirations is a truly wasted youth. One must aspire to something in order to develop into a full human being. Simply settling for any easy way out is just a veil masking failure.
Resigning such grim fantasies to the back of my head (though I would call on them from time to time to relieve mental pressure) I found a new way to achieve domination.
10. Bow to His Imperial Majesty
Every elementary school student is taught, though few fully comprehend, the nature of government -- the tacit social contract; That the government has power over the people but only so far as the people are willing to allow the exercise of said power. In other words, the government exists so long as the people acknowledge its authority. Our leaders are those whom we accept.
A little after turning thirteen I read (I can't for the life of me recall where, though Mark Twain comes to mind) about a man named Joshua Abraham Norton, Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico. The details of his life are interesting enough, but the one that intrigued me most was that in 1859 Joshua Norton declared himself "Emperor of these United States". He didn't make this proclamation quietly. Norton mailed the announcement of his imperial ascension to several newspapers stating, "At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S.F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U.S." The San Francisco Bulletin printed the letter believing it to be a joke. However, it marked the beginning of a rather intriguing twenty-one year reign.
For two decades the "Emperor of these United States" ruled from his adopted home of San Francisco. Despite having no apparent power, the people of San Francisco generally humored Norton's eccentric behavior. For example, Emperor Norton issued currency which was respected at businesses he frequented. To this day his currency is considered a collector's item. When a self righteous policeman arrested his imperial majesty in order to force him into a madhouse for treatment, the public response was one of such outrage that not only was Emperor Norton freed but police chief Patrick Crowley issued a formal apology for the arrest.
Over all, it might be said the people indulged a man who'd lost his grip on reality. Or perhaps Joshua Norton had struck an odd chord with a dissatisfied populace. He routinely tried to dissolve the United States Congress, which regularly ignored his imperial decrees. On one occasion "being desirous of allaying the dissensions of party strife now existing within our realm," Emperor Norton ordered the end of the Democrat and Republican parties. Even today such a command might resonate with a part of the population.
Oddly enough, one of his decrees did come true, though it took some sixty years. The 17th of September 1872 saw the imperial edict that a suspension bridge be built across the bay. That being said, it is unlikely the San Francisco government will ever acknowledge it was finally following this edict when they constructed the Oakland Bay Bridge in 1933.
When Emperor Norton died on 8 January 1880, two newspapers devoted the front page to his obituary. Both solemnly eulogized the departed emperor under headlines such as "Le Roi es Mort" (translation: the king is dead) and "Norton the
First, by the grace of God and Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico departed life." At his funeral, nearly thirty thousand people came to pay their respects.
So what does all this mean?
Well, in the mind of a thirteen year old boy whose megalomaniacal aspirations had yet to meet with success, it meant victory. I had spent four years and six months plotting to overpower the world, to terrorize it into submission... when all I really needed to do was declare myself the "imperial grand master" of Earth.
Unfortunately a crippling realization crept into mind. If taking over the world is a simple matter of declaring one's self emperor of all terra firma, then anyone at any time can make the same declaration thereby nullifying another's rule -- everyone can be king/queen by a mere solipsistic conceit. Granted, the people have the final say by following only whomever they recognize as ruler. But even at thirteen (thanks to middle school politics) I knew that gaining the favor of the mob is a simple matter of giving/promising them whatever they want which isn't often what they need. People will not accept a leader who does not promise a bright tomorrow or who is unwilling to give them ice cream Friday every Friday. Pragmatists are rarely beloved by the people.
Finally, I decided to fuck all. The world had been getting along without me at the helm for billions of years. I figured it would do all right without me. And as I've gotten older I've come to the realization running the world is more work than I ever wanted to do.
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