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the elevator superhero
captain america goes to portland
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
pop culture

The morning we're leaving for our family trip to Portland, Maine, my son discovers one of the hiding places where I've (obviously) failed to conceal an open Amazon box containing two kick ass 10" Marvel action figures. Through the open cardboard flap, he spies a Captain America shield, barely visible through the packaging - but it's enough to send him flying down the stairs yelling "DADDY DADDY I SEE CAPTUM ANMERICA CAN I HAVE HIM!?

He's three this month, and there's just no postponing gratification - birthday or not - when a toy of this caliber is unearthed. If he'd dug a little deeper, he would've seen the brain-melting awesomeness of the accompanying Iron Man figure. Luckily, I get to save that one for his big day.

Anyway, within seconds we've ripped Cap's box to shreds and he's free to enrich My kid's imagination. Along with being a well-articulated rendering of the classic Cap (bearing little or no resemblance to Chris Evans is a plus, in my book), he's got the shield, and it attaches to his arm in such a way that when you pull back on his extra buff plastic bicep, the thing flies across the room brilliantly, and a little microprocessor nestled deep inside pulls up and audio clip; Cap's uber-male authoritarian voice bellowing "YEAH! Nice take down!" Sweet.

So we drive to Portland, and it's a pretty easy trip from Boston if you don't mind the harrowing traffic of Interstate 95 and you've got a copy of the new Van Halen album handy. We cover our hotel room in Miller family crap in short order and soon after we head out to check out the local scene. The good Cap'n in tow, of course.

"Avengers, follow me!" he commands. We obediently file into the elevator.

One floor down, a woman about my age gets into the elevator, bearing the miserable weight of a laptop bag that says she's here on business. While I'm sizing her up with no small amount of pity, my boy is pretty much yelling at her I HAVE THIS CAPTUM ANMERICA AND LOOKIT HE SAYS...HE SAYS...and pushing the little button on Cap's belt that makes him bark orders.

I've got this woman sussed out pretty well and I can tell she's the patient sort, not terribly irritated by my geeked-out son, but then she says something that really gets my super-tights in a bunch. She says, "yeah, you like your, um...Super Man, don't you?"

Super Man? Are you fucking kidding me? Not only are you PAUSING between Super and Man (it's one word: Superman, you nitwit), you're looking at a highly detailed, red white and blue, unmistakable, inimitable, undeniably lifelike and charismatic 10-inch likeness of Captain America, leader of the Avengers and a goddam American hero!

Now, I'm standing there in my RUSH tour shirt, a 40-year-old man with his wife and two kids - my daughter is in the elevator too, singing made up lyrics to the tune of Spirit of Radio - I'm standing there in total judgement of this perfect stranger who's really done nothing wrong, exactly, but well, I'm not exactly sure she's got things quite right either.

Does she really not know the difference between Superman and Cap? This suddenly seems very important to me. Before I can voice such a ridiculous and likely perplexing question, the elevator doors open and the woman fairly flees her intimate Miller Family encounter.

Later, after an afternoon spent strolling along Portland's shop-filled, cobblestone sidewalks, I try to relate this little bit of annoyance to my wife. She caught Laptop Woman's foible too, and she's empathetic. After nearly 18 years, she understands her guy. I ask her, "it's not because she's a woman, right? Women know about this shit, don't they? You know the difference between fuckin Superman and Spider-Man and Cap, don't you?"

Of course she does. This is a woman who's first concert was RUSH on the Signals tour - clearly an exception among her peers. And she's logged lots of hours watching Marvel movies with me that, without my, um...influence, she'd probably skip in favor of an NPR interview. She knows the difference between Superman and Cap, "but," she's quick to point out, "it really only matters if you care about that stuff."


I guess I pretty much live in a fantasy world where all us kids grew up watching The Electric Company and Star Trek, listening to KISS, RUSH, and Ozzy, and reading comic books and Stephen King novels. We can all draw our favorite band logos, and even now as adults we're totally comfortable calling each other dude, and none of us ever grew up to be laptop-toting ignoramuses that don't know which superhero we're looking at in a fucking Portland hotel elevator.

I get it. I'm immature and delusional, and the whole world doesn't have to care about the same stuff I do. It's okay, of course, if hearing Paul Stanley's name doesn't immediately take you to a special place inside where rock and roll is sexy and eternal and powerful and never lets you down. It's okay if Tom Sawyer and Flying High Again aren't in your catalog of personal anthems. It's fine if the fact that Joss Whedon's in the directors chair for The Avengers - The Avengers! - doesn't keep you awake at night, giddy with anticipation, wondering how Mark Ruffalo's Hulk will be different from Ed Norton's - or for that matter Eric Bana's, even though Marvel likes to pretend Ang Lee never even made a HULK movie. It's okay if you've never checked out a graphic novel on your iPad, or if the phrase "Dark Phoenix Saga" means nothing to you. It's fine.

It's okay if you have no frame of reference for any of this nerdy, adolescent, fantasy-world stuff.

But, like my man Wooderson says, it'd be a lot cooler if you did.


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


something in the coffee
bean there, done that
by jeff miller
topic: pop culture
published: 6.19.01

the running man
so obvious it hurts
by jeff miller
topic: pop culture
published: 8.27.03


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