I guess it was the 1,200 paper bats that finally taught me the true meaning of the Caped Crusader.

The bats were for this game at the grade school fall festival. You know the sort of thing: pay your quarter, go into the Bat Cave, pick a bat, win a prize. Very hip game, everybody agreed. But, of course, somebody had to cut out the damn paper bats.

After a couple days of snipping, our family quota started looking a little steep, and my wife, Sue, started looking for reinforcements. We wheedled people over to eat; after dinner we got them started on their favorite anecdotes, listened adoringly, and slipped them some scissors. That worked so well that Sue started adding afternoon sessions. She’d get her pals over, listen to their problems, and rack up a few more bats.

I figure it’s probably how the pioneers lived: all gather around and husk corn or make quilts, and talk about what your shrink has to say about your asshole new boyfriend. Bat therapy, as we called it, got kind of popular. I ran into a friend one night and invited him over; “I ought to,” he said. “I have black bats in my soul.” He’d have been good for a couple hundred at least. The champion producer, a pal of Sue’s with boyfrienditis, probably cut 600 all by herself.

The funny thing was, when we finally got around to seeing Batman the movie, right around that time, it turned out that this woman’s boyfriend was a ringer for Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne. And maybe it was just all those hours of bat therapy, but Sue and I could never get it through our heads that this picture wasn’t really about this woman’s relationship. Bruce won’t call. He doesn’t show up when he’s supposed to. He’s too private. He doesn’t open up. It was eerie.

Finally I decided that this is the true meaning of Batman. It isn’t about revenge and psychosis and the impossibility of justice. It’s about dating.

And especially it’s about men. I mean, look at this guy: Total split personality. Has a bunch of expensive electronic gadgets and a fancy car and he needs them for his work. Too skittish to let anyone in his room, and even so, keeps his clothes in a vault. (No, you can’t borrow a shirt. Forget it.) And why can’t he change his ways, lighten up a little? Because without his personal attention, the whole world will collapse.

That sounds like most men I know–or at least that’s how we think of ourselves. The message of Batman is that this image we carry deep down inside is true and important. We really do need those computers. The world really would collapse if we acted civilized. That’s not the usual message we get, these days, and that’s why record numbers of us are plunking down $6.50 for the experience. I mean, this was the movie of the year–how many women do you know who liked it?

Maybe Sue’s friend should dump her Batman. Maybe she can learn to get along without him. Probably she’ll just end up going out with some other joker.

The fall festival was a success, by the way, and the Bat Cave was a real smash. After about an hour the whole school gym was full of little boys and girls with prizes they won from us: bat hats, homemade capes, bat visors, fuzzy rubber bats, little plastic bat rings. As a group, they’d been pretty batted up even before they arrived, so it gave the place quite a visual theme. Somehow, it made me sad. “They grow up so fast,” I thought.

For the life of me, I couldn’t have explained to them what I meant.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/John Figler.