In Search of the Great American Hero

Almost a decade on, I still find this one of my favorite pieces. It was written for my college application essays and worked for Stanford and Yale. Harvard and Princeton didn’t find it nearly as charming and put me on their wait lists. I declined.

As I look back across my seventeen years on this planet, I can see that I am a soul in search of a hero. My first recollection of needing a hero was in my third year. Grandma came every Wednesday night to take me to her regular Bingo game where I dazzled and delighted the other grandmas with my witty nursery rhymes and clever songs. On the ride to the big game, Grandma coached me to answer, “President of the United States,” whenever one of the old ladies asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. In 1998, being the President has lost its appeal. I don’t want to be fifty-two, fighting both a Viagra addiction and a dysfunctional Congress that wants to impeach me. Being the most powerful man in the world just isn’t what it used to be.

I went through the normal selection process of the standard heroes, but as the years passed, I failed to make that special bond that leads to a lifelong commitment. TenderHeart is caring and sharing, but—like Hamlet—Carebears have trouble taking decisive action. Batman (chiropterarum homo sapiens) relates better with chiropterae than he does with homines sapientes. Michael Corleone lacks sensitivity. Han Solo is brave in Starwars; yet, in the final analysis, he is just a deadbeat who stiffed Jabba the Hutt. Last year, John Elway won the Super Bowl, but his own coach doesn’t trust him enough to allow Elway to call a single play.

In high school, it became painfully obvious to me that I was different: a man with no hero is always an outsider. The only car in the student parking lot without a bumper sticker was mine. All the other cars were decorated with signs proudly announcing the owner’s commitment to a sports figure, a rock star, or a political candidate; even the school bus had a “Go Broncos” sticker. I longed for that special moment in life when I could connect with a hero by performing that sacred ceremony of attaching my commitment with glue to the bumper of my car.

Last Saturday morning, I was answering my e-mail—with both the stereo and television playing to provide the proper amount of ambient noise to drive my parents out of the room—when the power went out. Deprived of electricity, I decided to entertain myself with pre-historic technology and began reading a book on Eastern religions. The first chapter convinced me to look inward for my hero; he should be someone like me, only better and more complete. He needed to be a thinking competitor who took joy in making a plan and executing it. He would be a modern hunter who stalked his prey with a combination of the latest technology and his own natural talent. A string of tragedies that would send a Greek hero whining blindly into exile would not dent the spirit of my American hero. He would always try again. Even if success never touched his hand, my hero would take satisfaction in knowing that the supreme act is the hunt, not the kill. Then the power came back on.

In a sudden, blinding surge of excited electrons that danced across the cathode ray tube, my own great American hero was finally revealed to me. He was strapped to an Acme rocket sled that was suspended in the air over the Grand Canyon. He even waved goodbye to me just before gravity sent him crashing to the bottom. In less than an hour, I was gluing my new “Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius” sticker to the bumper of my car. Life is good!

–Chris Landauer, Super Genius

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.