Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 3, 2013

Nathan Payne: Sometimes you have to go superhero


---- — When is it inappropriate to wear a superhero T-shirt under your work clothes?

That’s the thought that crossed my mind Thursday morning in the predawn hour when I hustled to get ready for work and helped my wife, Kate, get our boys out the door.

Hey, plenty of superheroes have donned brightly colored spandex suits under their work clothes, most notably Superman and Spider-man. So, it’s probably not that far-fetched to wear a simple T-shirt, is it?

I spent a few minutes justifying my undershirt to myself before Kate walked past, spotted the shirt, rolled her eyes and laughed.

“It’s not like I’m wearing my underwear on the outside and diving into phone booths,” I thought while she adjusted her Batman shirt.

Heck, she looked equally ridiculous and hers wasn’t going to be covered by another shirt all day.

Still, Kate probably had a more reasonable excuse for the Batman outfit since she was going to help at our son’s school Halloween party.

I stuck by the excuse that it was Halloween. But that wasn’t just a little fib, it was pretty much a bald-faced lie. I’ve been sneaking the man-sized comic into my undershirt rotation for a while now.

My oldest son, Spencer, looked up at me as I closed my button-down shirt over a massive image of Spider-man swinging from a string of web. He stood in front of the mirror for a few seconds, posing and pretending his palms were Iron Man blasters.

It can be tough to keep your composure with a 5-year-old dancing around the room pretending to fight bad guys. But I managed to maintain my professionalism and refrain from posing in superhero positions with him.

“Dad, I’m going as Iron Man, James is going as Hulk, mom is going as Batman and you are going as Workman,” he said.

That’s probably the most boring superhero I’ve ever heard of, but it will have to do. Somehow I don’t think the professional world is ready for suits bearing superhero emblems.

Meanwhile, our youngest son, James, stomped around our bedroom in the background shouting “Hulk smash” and pretending to crush his toys.

Sure, nobody would know the sliver of red shirt peeking out at the confluence of my collars really was the beginnings of an “Amazing Spiderman” shirt that bears a striking resemblance to one I wore when I was in grade school.

There’s a technique to covert superhero nerdyness. I learned quickly that a bright yellow Batman emblem on the chest of a dark T-shirt shines through light-colored fabric like the bat signal shines through a cloudy sky.

I learned that tidbit a few years ago when sitting in a police station talking to a lieutenant about a major drug bust.

The incident produced months of ribbing from the officer who I sat with on a daily basis for my cops reporting duties. Rather than let the relentless jokes drive me to switch to boring standard-issue white undershirts, I became much more careful about my wardrobe.

Years of practice helped me manage to get through the entire workday Thursday without anybody catching a glimpse of my secret.

Then I slipped. Standing in the parking lot across Front Street from the Record-Eagle I stripped off my button-down shirt to prepare to go trick-or-treat with my boys.

At that precise moment, a middle-aged man rounded the corner in his car and stopped in a parking space nearby. Feeling like I was caught with my pants down, I made a half-effort to dive behind the open door of my SUV, but knew I was caught.

He smiled and nodded toward me as he stepped out of his car.

“Nice shirt,” he said as he adjusted his tie. “I’ve got one just like it.”

Maybe I’m not the only nerd hiding in plain sight.

Reach Record-Eagle features editor Nathan Payne at