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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Column: Dressing up as Superman

It’s Halloween, and since our pre-game has lasted until 1:30 a.m. after all the parties have been broken up, this would technically qualify as show time: Vanna and I drinking leftover beers on her dining room table talking about 500 Days of Summer.

“I don’t think she was happy in the end,” Vanna says.

Yes, believe it. We are spending our Halloween night debating the meaning of some low-budget indie flick. In the movie, this fictional character, whom we refer to casually as Zooey, carries the whole 90 minutes by teasing this guy into a relationship with her even though she doesn’t believe in love, and then breaking up with him and getting married to another guy at the end.

Vanna doesn’t buy that Zooey finally met the prince on a white horse that will take her away. I say she did finally believe in love; Tom just wasn’t the one to prove it to her.

“You can tell by the way she was smiling,” Vanna says.

Yes, believe it. We are debating about what the angle of a fictional character’s smile says about her personal life. Because tonight, she is more than fiction. We are setting out to answer some of life’s greatest unanswered questions. Who is she? Why is she so depressed? And why does this make her so hot?

She represents the abstract force we can only attempt to understand by attributing human characteristics to it. This force, the Zooey, has manifested itself in various incarnations throughout history, from Mary Magdalene to Cat Power. Not unlike the Dalai Lama, the spirit of the Zooey is one that continually perpetuates itself, always on the lookout for unsuspecting young girls with daddy problems.

This is what the Zooey has become in the 21st century: the pill-popping, self-proclaimed bisexual who takes pictures of people’s feet with her Lomo, and tells all her potential boyfriends she has a habit of destroying things because it makes her feel alive. This would make her a complete social pariah forced into a life of anime if she weren’t hot. But she always is, and guys go crazy over this.

“No, I think she really was happy in the end,” I say. “No one believes in love until someone proves it to you.”

What I just said is the maxim of the Superhero. I know this because I used to be one. Those with the Superhero complex actively look for train wrecks with the intention of cleaning them up.

We are the ones who go out of our way to fix girls’ computers even though all we intend to do is run System Restore. We are the ones who run across freeways to get to the gas station when girls are stuck on the side of the road without gas, even though they have AAA membership.

Superheroes and Zooeys don’t get along.

Superheroes say, “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Zooeys say, “Bitch, why you trynna act like you know me?”

An hour passes. All the parties we planned to hit up but never do are 30 minutes from getting rolled out, and we are still sitting at the dining table.

I ask Vanna how she sees relationships, and she tells me she doesn’t ever want to get married. She doesn’t find it necessary.

“Well, one in two couples cheats right?” she says. “Everyone gets divorced these days. People are selfish, and you can’t blame them.”

This is when she tells me about how in the sixth grade, she won a scholarship for writing an essay on world peace – but when she was interviewed, the interviewer was way more interested in talking to her mother than about what a middle schooler had to say about international relations.

She and her sister then began noticing their mother leaving the house at 11 p.m., and then coming home at one the next morning. To find out where she was going, her sister told her to hide in their mother’s minivan one night. So she did, and she waited in the back trunk as her mother drove to a hotel.

“I don’t hate her for it,” Vanna says. “I never did. We’re all human, what can we do?”

By 1:30 a.m., it clicks to me. In the same way recovering Superheroes never get rid of the urge to fix things, recovering Zooeys never get over their romantic pessimism. And that’s when you find The Joker drinking with Damaged Goods on Halloween night, feeling too old to walk around Davis dressed up as people they no longer identify with.

GEOFF MAK wants to thank his friend Vanna for letting him perform verbal surgery on her in public. E-mail Geoff at gemak@ucdavis.edu if you have an idea of what he should write about next.

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