My first nemesis was a bespectacled fellow in his mid thirties who worked as a cashier at the U-SAVE liquor store on Mission Street in Santa Cruz. In the two years of ringing up my Slim Jims, Red Bulls and Smirnoff, he refused to make eye contact and only spoke to me when absolutely necessary. Something about this behavior, which was in stark contrast to that of his coworkers, a friendly and gregarious lot, always made me feel lousy, guilty, less than.
And so, at some point I began to think of him casually as my nemesis. I began to challenge him with bits of conversation, a joke or two, even a question now and then that should have forced him to at least glance in my direction while answering but nothing would break him. When we moved off campus and up into the mountains, we were forced to leave U-SAVE Liquors behind and I had to admit that I’d been bested.
My next great foil came in the form of a girl at the coffee shop downtown. She’s maybe twenty-two and her mouth is perpetually askew. This creature replaced lip-ring girl at the coffee-shop counter last year and despite the fact that she has taken my order three times a week for the last twelve months, she looks at me each morning with the same stabbing lack of recognition.
With her pen poised over the order pad, she asks, “And what can I get for you?” in such a polite voice that i don’t dare to be rude. “And your name is?” she finishes off with, utterly oblivious to the fact that I’ve told her my name approximately one hundred and fifty-six times. It’s not this, not just this though that makes her my foil. No, it’s also that time she wrote my name down wrong, completely wrong, and the boy who prepared my coffee stood at the counter calling “Daffy?” over and over until she pointed to me and said, “There’s Daffy, right there!”
But it’s difficult to think of this girl as an arch-rival, a true nemesis. After all, a possible hearing problem and lack of short-term memory are hardly the well-honed superpowers of a worthy opponent…a true nemesis.
Enter Rex Mantooth.
To be fair, I did not know his name was Rex Mantooth when I first encountered him at the bank where his cover is that of a mild-mannered bank teller. He was merely a lanky boy with a high forehead and a mess of dark curls. And I didn’t know his name was Rex Mantooth when I next encountered him out on the street, walking casually from the clocktower to Zoccoli’s. Still, I didn’t like him and when he smiled, either from recognition or merely that “hi, i’m cute so you should smile at me” thing, well I flat-out refused and I gave him the very same disinterested passing glance that the coffee girl gives me.
Now, on my weekly visits to the bank, I invariably end up at Rex Mantooth’s window and nine times out of ten, he has to call a manager over to sign off on the amount I’m depositing because he hasn’t clearance for more than ten thousand dollars(office money, not mine). He’s ever so polite, which of course, I hold against him, refusing to be swayed by nemesis niceties.
My brother-in-law says I should go into the bank, lay both palms on the counter, lean forward and hiss menacingly “So Rex Mantooth, we meet again.” I’ve considered it, but I’m a secret kind of superhero and for now, I think it best that the supervillans don’t know who I am.
(from the Lily White archives 06.2003)