FEATURED ARTIST – Nick Manske
STORY by Nathan Manske
I guess I always knew, but it wasn’t until my late teens that I really came to terms with it: I had special powers.
It was summer in Texas and I was hot, sweaty, tired, and sore. My shoes had holes in them from over-use and my socks were wet from who-knows-what. I had a smudge of habanero sauce across my cheek and sweaty hair sticking out from my cap. The restaurant smelled good like peach cobbler and bad like an overflowing septic tank. There were competing sounds of trays falling, drink girls crying and silverware clinking. It was packed with bellies full of barbecue and laughter, and grumbling complaints of a 3-hour wait. My entire section was asking for a refill on the all-you-can-eat plate of meat, desserts we didn’t have, drinks we had run out of, and more bread. The customers were trying to pay by check, traveler’s checks and credit cards when we were cash only. It was The Salt Lick BBQ on Saturday evening.
No sooner than a busboy wiped the last bean off a table, the hostess sat a table of six out and proud gay men. Back in that day, I’d almost rather be surrounded by a bunch of bigots than a gaggle of gays. Not because I disliked gays, but because of the threat I thought they posed. What if they sensed I was one of them? What if they exposed my horrible truth? What if their gaydar blipped and beeped and sang on high, and their sharp tongues and precise wit called me out in an onslaught of accusations and revelations?
Not an option.
Of all my powers, invisibility is the most annoying. It requires constant focus and concentration. I took their drink order, made recommendations, served their food, and cleared their plates all without making eye contact, but still being as friendly as could be. They didn’t see me, but felt my presence. They knew I was there, but not who I was. They knew I was friendly, but not gay. But I almost blew it.
“How big is a piece of pecan pie,” one of them asked.
I went from looking at my small notepad I used for writing down orders, to my hands where I was going to show him how big a slice of homemade pecan pie is. “Oh…about this big…”
I placed the tips of my two thumbs so they were just touching, then outstretched my two index fingers until their tips were touching, making somewhat the shape of a triangle. Or a slice of pecan pie. Or…
“About the size of your pussy!” one of his friends said to him.
Oh god. Brilliant. But I was in my invisible form and dared not laugh too much and draw attention to myself. But now the entire table was laughing, looking around at everyone else who’s laughing, looking at me. They’re looking at me. Quick, Nate, think of something…
“Uh…we also have pecan pie with chocolate chips. Delicious! How about one of those?”
I was invisible once again.
After the long shift sloppin’ barbecue, my oldest brother, who also worked there with me, and I went to the gym in Austin, 30 minutes away (Driftwood is as small as it sounds and certainly doesn’t have a gym of its own). His girlfriend met us at the gym, we finished our workout, then drove over to Kerbey Lane Cafe for some hearty protein–black beans, eggs, and what the hell, some extra crispy bacon. I wasn’t out to anyone except Kevin–my boyfriend at the time–and his friends. I had introduced Kevin to my family, but only as my friend.
My brother, Nick, was intricately removing pieces of onion from his migas with a fork when he brought it up.
“Nate…do you think…I dunno, do you think Kevin’s gay?”
Uh oh. Invisibility is obviously useless in this situation. Thankfully, though, my other power activates, as always, automatically. The feeling is unmistakable–a warm feeling inside my body, starting at my heart then coursing outward through my veins. Nick continued, oblivious as to what was about to happen.
“We don’t care if he is. But, really…last week when we were playing Outburst, the topic was Barbara Streisand movies, and he nailed all 10. He even got the bonus points.”
I chuckled a bit as my power was growing stronger, soon to be unleashed. Sarah suggested with a smirk that Nick was just mad because he lost.
“And, you know,” he continued, “even if you’re gay, none of us would care. Don’t tell Pat or Matt, but you’d still be my favorite brother.” He smiled and Sarah giggled.
How adorable is that? But no time to enjoy the moment. It was go time. I looked up from my plate of protein as time slowed to a crawl. Mental Hypnosis was the most taxing of my abilities, but unfortunately, the most often used. I fired off two Hypnotic Bolts simultaneously, one for Nick, and one for Sarah, both piercing deep into their minds. I hate using my powers on friends and family but if I use them correctly, they’ll never know. After forcing their minds to be more receptive of my following words, I went to work.
“Ha, thanks, but nope. But I’m pretty sure Kevin is, though. That’s why I’m worried about going to Florida with him this summer. I think he likes me. I haven’t led him on or anything, and he’s a cool friend, but I just hope it doesn’t get weird, y’know?”
Hook, line and sinker. Again.
After our late dinner, we said our see-you-laters, and I was back on my way towards Driftwood. From just about anywhere in Austin, it takes about 40 minutes, as well as two highways, one Ranch Road, and two keen eyes watching for deer, to reach our mile-and-a-half, dirt road “driveway.” And there’s just something about driving that helps clear your mind and solve your problems. I reckon they could increase my taxes as much as they’d like if the money went into fixing roads. It’s a heckuva lot cheaper than any therapist and I assume more effective. So there I was, lost in thought with the windows down, hearing only the steady hum of my 1988 Dodge Ram Charger and the wind. The highway was mostly empty, besides the occasional oncoming car, as well as years of questions, problems and contemplations I had asked, solved and pondered, all lying defeated on the side of the road. I figured Hwy 290 West and I have solved all sorts of problems in the past, so why not this one, too. And we did. I decided I didn’t want my powers anymore. I didn’t want to manipulate my brother’s mind. I didn’t want to get headaches from being invisible for long periods of time. I didn’t want to shapeshift, create illusions or control thoughts. All this trying to be “normal” has made me so abnormal.
I knew how to get rid of my powers. It’s both the easiest and most difficult thing I’ll ever have to do. Just utter a few tiny, monosyllabic words and I could be done with them forever, along with all the stress and pain they brought.
When I got home, I went upstairs to my bedroom, signed into AOL, and I wrote an email to Nick telling him that, actually, yes, I am gay. BAM! My powers took a beating. And it was only the beginning. A couple months later, I called my mom up to my room and ZAP! POW! my powers continued to weaken. My mom, with my approval, told my other two brothers the next day ZING! KRA-KOW! and then sent a mass email to my extended family, both informing them KABLOOEY! and thanking them in advance for their understanding and acceptance KRAK! FWOOSH!. I then asked Nick to tell my dad and step-mom BAP! SLAM! and my powers continued fading away, faster and faster.
And now, years later, just when I think my powers are completely gone forever, I come out to my new employers. Or a new friend. Or I’ll hold hands walking down the street surrounded by strangers. And I realize that while these powers keep shrinking, they’ll never really be gone forever. I’ll always have the option of using them, but every time I don’t…every time I instead whisper the words “I love you” to another man or say the words “I’m gay” to someone who doesn’t know or shout the words “Gay Rights Now!” to those who need to hear them, I’m helping shape a world where no one will need to use these abilities, these curses, ever again. And in doing so, I’ve learned a new ability: how to alter reality.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
His latest project is a coloring book titled ‘Animals of Iraq’. Beautiful animals indigenous to the middle east are juxtaposed with horrific scenes of the war. It’s a coloring book that is not quite for children. He received a 2008 Regrant Award from the Brooklyn Arts Council. His work, as well as an option to purchase ‘Animals of Iraq’, can be found at nickmanske.com.
NOTE: I kept this one in the family–The Featured Artist is my brother, the one mentioned most in the story. I’ve since apologized to him for all the Hypnotic Bolts.