“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.” Jim Croce made that abundantly clear, in addition to a host of other don’ts in his classic song from 1972. As it turns out, his advice reminds me of an interesting choice I made as a youth. And frankly, it’s something I keep in mind when my children make poor decisions.
Allow me to explain.
In my neighborhood, there was a place where children could run wild, pump tokens into machines, and crawl through plastic tubing. Sure, the occasional used bandage or strange goo would appear, but they were hardly deterrents. It was just too much fun. This kid paradise akin to Chuck E. Cheese was known as Caesarland. I can’t remember how old I was on this visit, but I remember the next part, vividly.
My brother and I had this incredible idea to sneak up behind “the Caesar”—the iconic mascot—and tug on his toga.
It was extremely juvenile, I might add, and ill-conceived. We were primed for one exciting moment, or so we thought. Our plan was fraught with potential consequences, none of which we bothered to consider. We were kids. And so with great stealth, we approached the Caesar, our bodies in unison as we extended our arms.
After securing our grips, we yanked—hard. I’m embarrassed to admit this next part, but after the sound of toga stitching tearing away from the Caesar’s peach-colored flesh, I experienced fear—real fear.
The shock from this jarring toga tug was enough to compromise the man’s balance. He didn’t fall, but he quickly turned toward us, taking a huge swipe with his plush, oversized hand.
I ran. And when say I ran, I mean like I’ve never run before ran. It was an angry swipe. I’m not sure what I expected him to do, but in fairness, who wouldn’t be upset to be on the receiving end of a stunt like that?
Quickly, I sought refuge in the play area. I was young and relatively small so the escape was easy. The Caesar in full garb had no way of pursuing me as I wormed my way through the maze of tubes. Though the details are fuzzy at that point, I do remember waiting. I was afraid to show myself. And so, after a few moments of heavy breathing and static cling, I emerged.
I turned to see a small child staring at me. He startled me. His abrupt appearance was like something out of a Stephen King novel, or a Stanley Kubrick film. Just picture the scene in Kubrick’s The Shining when those two creepy twins greet a tricycle-peddling Danny in the hallway. Yikes. With dead eyes and not a trace of vocal inflection, he uttered words that still—even at 36—give me chills.
“The Caesar is looking for you.”
Just when I thought it was safe to come out, this little kid frightened me in unimaginable ways. Was the Caesar really looking for me? In the moment I sure thought so. And why was this kid so creepy? Talk about a panic-induced moment. I can’t recall how long we stayed, but I was anxious for the duration of my time there. I saw the Caesar before leaving but had no desire to venture anywhere near him.
That poor guy was simply trying to do his job, and my brother and I went too far. It’s crystal clear, now. Actually, it was pretty clear then—right after we did it. There was a line, and we crossed it. When I was a kid, my Mom’s instruction was an effective shenanigan deterrent, most of the time. The incessant throbbing in my throat and pangs of fear I felt in my stomach post-toga tug? Now that was a lesson learned. Experience is an invaluable teacher.
As a father, I sometimes find I’m too quick to scold my kids for every little thing, as if my expectations are too high. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to make odd choices.
But eventually, they’ll learn there are certain things you just don’t do, and they won’t even need dear old dad to tell them. They’ll know.
“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old lone ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim.”
Those are the lyrics.
My version has an addendum: you don’t yank on the Caesar’s toga.
You just don’t.