When I make the papers and all the cable networks, they don’t use my real name. They call me Mr. Green, like I’m some minor Marvel character with mysterious abilities. Believe me, there’s no superhero with a configuration like mine. As a kid I certainly never dreamed Mr. Green is who I’d grow up to be.
I’ve never figured myself a house husband either, but it’s what I’d become, essentially. And a pretty damn good one. Above-decent cook, too. Our place, I kept it nice, fun, functional, I thought. For two long years. I’d landed a wonderful catch who was into me. This was the one to hold onto. Life was a regular happy-balloon. I’d lucked out. What more could I ask? We played things rougher as time went on. Something I learned to live with, awakening to excitement found in the borderland of danger. When there was pain, I told myself, don’t be a wuss, it’s part of the game. When lines were crossed, I forgave, maybe too soon. My other half was on a streak that I feared would puncture the balloon, and finally it sort of did, fizzling at first, then gyrating uncontrolled. The descent was a mess, as such things tend to be.
So I had to get me a new start. Not just romantically, but in a bigger way. Finding a new, solid job, with no degree, no experience, suddenly became job one. All I’d done before, a few years out of high school, was delivery gigs and ubering at 21, which I found very transient.
I’m a big guy, real big. Tall — not so much. That hurtful three-letter pejorative I shall not use voluntarily. The extent of my size makes people apprehensive. Nothing much good anyone ever expects of me. I’ve never been able to shake feeling anxious and self-conscious. Being alone, suddenly, is not my biggest fear. Or starting from scratch, but it’s this sense that nobody quite takes me seriously. And that I see myself put down time and again and may not get a genuine ounce of respect, that’s my unease. If, God forbid, they see me nosh a potato chip, it confirms all their predisposed bullshit bigotry.
I start as a stocker at Fielder’s Market. Four months into it, Mr. Fielder, the boss, notices me more and finds me good to laugh at as I huff and haul things back and forth and put them neatly on shelves. His little taunts irritate the hell out of me. But I will not respond by nudging a box of marinara jars to crash on his fancy footwear or brush against a pile of pickle jars to explode over his suit legs. In spite of having plausible situational opportunities. I’m not the bully kind, I tell myself, but better not expect me to play the bullied. Just focus on the store, I keep thinking, which looks neater already. Perhaps he’ll notice someday.
Then, one morning, we learn that Alvin the septuagenarian veg-man has passed. Mr. Fielder is in a bind for a fill-in to run the produce department. For moments I debate. I’ve not been the greatest initiative-taker, but I‘m sick of acting the flunkey part.
“I’m full of ideas,” I raise my hand enduring snide glances and unsubtle scoffs.
“Full of something, that’s for sure,” Mr. Fielder chuckles and everybody laughs. But he lets me try it for a month. He’s all about numbers, I figure, and dare ask for a budget to shop the farms. To him that’s a shocker. I get a modest allotment, for starters. Soon twice a week. He won’t spring for gas money.
One night I reconfigure the department layout on my own dime, surprising Mr. Fielder that maybe I’ve got drive. “Let’s call it GREENS,” I say. We paint things, put up signs. Brightening up what has looked dreary and convoluted.
Shocked by a flurry in business he gets me a reward, for laughs — the first of several identical polo shirts. MR. GREEN, they read, loud, intense-green, smart, snug, triple-XL. The store logo embroidered underneath.
There you have it — I’m Mr. Green.
Looking at me I’m never quite what you expect. That’s my superpower.
I forget who said it first, probably my ex. I take it as a compliment. Never quite what you expect — my secret weapon. I’m growing slightly more comfortable, but always fearful as to when my latest happy-balloon will blow to pieces.
“Our walking oxymoron for healthy eating,” beams Mr. Fielder one morning, as we’re all assembled before opening. Like I’m a big, *** laughing stock. He points out how well the rich, yet dark shirt color, as an added bonus, tends to hide my armpit stains. “Honest work, honest sweat,” is all I can think of, my cheeks blushing in anger. But he lets me run GREENS like an event space. We’re becoming a big deal, definitely high-end for the barely medium-brow neighborhood. Two deli helpers prepare salads, sandwiches and soups following my directions and recipes. They jabber in Spanish when they see me taste-test more than a few samplers.
Mr. Fielder catches me marking unsightly fruit and veg to half price and throws a fit. I tremble up a storm wondering is this it? Should I just walk out or slug him first? Hey, I tell myself, moving greeneries before turning brown for a little cash is the right thing to do. Luckily, he’s at the store just about once a week and our spoilage minimal. I even devise a Past Prime Bin that holds freebie items about to turn. Still good for stew. Only of course on days he’s not in.
Realizing that his bottom line is growing by leaps and bounds, the bossman has got nothing to complain.
Few other folks make cracks about my bulk. I excel as an easy roadmap for husbands on a shopping-list scavenger hunt for rosemary, fennel or sage.
Late morning, I have my five-shelf cart fully loaded with a dozen bowls to populate our midday attraction, the Lunch’N’Salad Bar.
Suddenly, some stunning acoustics that instantly shock your whole system.
One piercing, echoing pop and I hope someone’s dropped a gallon-size soda nearby meaning major pick-up mess for Claudio. Then it’s bunches of thunderous bangs, frantic screams and scurrying. I don’t need to look to get the picture.
You never know how you’ll react if you abruptly see yourself dunked in a war zone.
Too many thoughts hitting the brain all at once.
I look around for a spot to hide out of sight. There’s nothing. No nook to fit in, no overhang for me to squeeze under. An onslaught of thoughts. Schools do active-shooter drills with hiding places under desks and in closets. Talks of arming teachers to the teeth. Assaults on supermarkets won’t stay chiseled in memories. El Paso, Boulder, Buffalo. Besides, nobody wants their cashiers or baggers, especially those with an attitude, to carry Smith and Wessons under their T-shirts or smocks whatever the store dress code. Few get to wear an elegant polo like me, let alone a superhero one.
I find myself staggering toward the shooter freak, not away, a tense, wiry fella, forties, about thirty feet from me now, toting one of those semi-automatic AR-somethings. I’m stumbling forward, not retreating, behind my overloaded stocking cart, chest-high.
Me running off unscathed, my calculation goes, would carry piss-poor odds. The cart isn’t much of a shield. That I know. My only option seems getting down on my knees or… taking a stand.
Another unnerving salvo. I’m in his field of vision now.
Don’t be a wuss, I tell myself.
Totally scared, nonetheless.
There’s nobody in my life now, just me.
The next round shatters bowls. Very upsetting. Lunch is off. Worse things happen. Shaking badly. Two people down, I see, blood splattered about. They’re my people. I hope they’re playing dead.
I see red near my navel. It can’t be spill from the dishes. Had I paid better attention in biology, I’d know where I got struck, if it’s essential or just filler material. I’ve got a lot of midsection to hit. So many thoughts quietly screaming at me now. Going down, acting knocked down and out seems the smartest ploy with blotches of blood an excellent prop. But could also invite a gratuitous round blasted just at me to ensure dead-certain demise, shredding cells, skin, organs, as seen in too many movies — appetizing it’s not.
Instead, I’m bracing against my decimated stocking cart. Wobbly, barely upright. Lightheadedness and adrenaline duking it out. Tumbling closer forward.
Me, promoted to target number one.
The semi-automatic, close now, aimed at me, high. Where everything is vital! But just for moments. Some trigger hiccup he’s frantic to rectify. The stress of a shooter freak!
Ramming the cart into him, toppling forward. Behind him the rotisserie chicken display case. He’s wedged in. His weapon facing down. Me and the cart over him — ballast from hell.
This is it, I’m thinking, bleeding more now. The grossest sweat stains too, I notice from up close. Air hissing steadily from my balloon, eyes flickering to stay lit. I’ve taken the bastard on. I’m the anti-bully. Mr. Green signing off.
Where’s the pain?
My ex won’t ever hail me. As a hero. That would reflect despicably on his decision-making. Having brutalized and failed me, a courageous, caring citizen who’s pressed onward when most others ran for the hills. Maybe I end up on a mural, oh God, really? I’m never quite what you expect. But shoppers probably resent a big, handsome elephant face smiling down. Who needs a reminder of one dark, hideous day?
The SWAT team makes its way in, I’m told, blowing his lights out as he’s unloading ammo into the floor attempting to free his rifle. I come to at the hospital. Glass and porcelain shrapnel colluded in a miracle, the doctors say. They search and find and sew me back up. So much better, count your lucky stars, than assault ballistics.
Two dead, plus the shooter, five wounded. Won’t classify as a mass shooting by most definitions.
One thing I know is, I can’t be Mr. Green again.
They make me Honorary Grand Marshal at the Pride Parade. I’m recuperating well. They prop me up to sit high on a decorated pickup truck and mostly wave. Two handsome nurses by my side. There’s cheering and clapping, as we pass by, folks pointing at me, someone they don’t quite expect. A wall of thumbs-up, there’s two-handed heart signs flashing my way that I’ve never faced in real life. “Hey, big bear,” somebody coos. Like sunshine for the heart.
The other grand marshal, some influencer diva, is gracious. My fame has hers beat, she says. Not quite what I’d ever expect. She’s tossing cut flowers and beads into the crowds as I do my royal wave.
The parade pauses for a minute of silence in front of Fielder’s Market. It’s still closed. Official vehicles upfront, bright yellow Do Not Cross police tape. There’s this pile of flowers framed by wreaths and signs that I find myself staring at, heavy and somber to see in person. Some of the bouquets badly wilted by now. It’s how it goes. And then I see him, Mr. Fielder. Our eyes meet up briefly, his hand up by his head in an odd, yet elegant wave that I read as actual respect. And all of a sudden, my eyes, they’re moist. See me for who I am. What an ask.