5 Unknown Schmucks Who Turned Into Superheroes in the Clutch
Superheroes save the day, rock stars entertain us and soldiers win our wars. We don't get too worked up when the experts come through in the clutch because, well, that's what they're supposed to do. But sometimes the perfect person for the job isn't available, leaving the barrier between the fan and the flying feces totally unguarded. This tends to be bad news for anyone in the room, but occasionally a nobody--an unknown and by all accounts unqualified schmuck--steps in and saves the freaking day anyway.
A New York City Housing Authority supervisor. Plays catcher on the company softball team (remember that, there's a quiz later) but as a pencil pushing government employee, it's hard to imagine a man more well protected from heroics in the line of duty.
While doing some paperwork in his office, Felix received a call that one of the apartment buildings he oversaw was engulfed in flames. Like any reasonable individual, Felix promptly called the fire department and an ambulance. Then, like a rather unreasonable individual, he got up from his desk and bolted off to the scene of the fire, arriving before emergency services got there.
If you've ever been willfully ignored by a DMV clerk, or simply watched Saturday Night Live this weekend, you know that government employees aren't known for their proactive problem solving. Not only did Felix respond to the problem, but he did it faster than 911. Since reports didn't specify whether he drove to the scene or sprinted there leaving little trails of smoke in his wake, we're forced to assume it was the latter, mostly because of what happened next.
A woman on the third floor was waving what looked to Felix like a towel, before he noticed it had limbs and was wailing. Ever calm under pressure, Felix deduced that the woman was waving a baby out the window, and asked her to kindly cut the shit while he and his fellow caretakers prepared a landing. Somewhere between "don't throw" and "your baby," the woman, likely panicking or on fire, threw a wild pitch.
Amidst the hysterical cries of "Catch my baby! Catch my baby!" Felix moved. As the baby hurtled towards the ground, Felix sprinted, paused midway to leap a fence, landed on the other side and caught the child. How fast can you leap a fence? Because it's somewhere in the realm of 20 minutes to never for us (depending on how our asthma is reacting); for Felix, it's equal to or greater than an object achieving terminal velocity as it hurtles to its tragic death.
Upon catching the baby, the woman's panic became a lot more understandable when Felix noticed that the baby wasn't breathing. Deciding he hadn't quite achieved "guy they name comic books after" status, Felix proceeded to perform CPR on the baby until he began breathing again, and the legend of "Vasquez: Supervisor of Caretakers," was born. After being named the baby's godfather, Felix also received New York City's Bronze medallion--the highest award a civilian can get for being a freaking superhero.
Alia Muhammad Baker
A 50-year-old librarian in Basra, Iraq. Has a better book collection than you.
When the Iraqi government installed a huge anti-aircraft gun on top of her library in 2003, Alia--sensing that fully armed and operational libraries are not exactly the norm--started to get the feeling that some shit was about to go down. As a child, she had heard the story of the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in the 13th century, where the invaders burned the libraries there, and threw the remaining books into the Tigris until the river ran black with ink.
Like the collection that had been lost in Baghdad, Basra's library contained many unique, rare and old books that could never be replaced. Because of this, Alia had asked the government prior to the gun installation if they wouldn't mind transporting their nation's precious cultural heritage somewhere that wasn't about to be a pile of cinder and ash. That's when they explained the books were the precise reason the library had been incorporated into the war in the first place. Their historic value was a kind of protection; American or British forces would be hesitant to launch rockets at a significant landmark like the library because of the bad press that might follow.
Having learned of America's "booms are awesome and books are for dorks," ethos from the first Iraq war, Alia began secretly stuffing books under her clothes and making numerous and repeated trips to her car. Each day, she carted home another load without any of the armed government official and soldiers noticing.
This was around the time that the British entered Basra on April 6, and everything, including the shit, hit the fan.
Alia called the library that morning only to discover its brave defenders had about as much faith in that whole "nobody-will-blow-up-history" plan as she did: The place had been abandoned. So, with gunfire ripping through the air and bombs detonating all around her, the bastard love child of Master Chief and the LaVar from Reading Rainbow went back to work. Toiling through the night, Alia managed to save around 30,000 books--about 70 percent of the library's total collection--before the library was burned by looters.
The owner of a neighboring restaurant whose help she enlisted recalled her saying, "What could I do? It is the whole history of Basra." While the obvious answer is "Run and hide from the bombs like everyone else," Alia's obsession wasn't totally insane. In addition to being the third largest city in Iraq, Basra is the supposed location of the original Garden of Eden. But above saving what might be some of the most priceless documents in existence, Alia just takes her job really, really seriously, which is both admirable and a little terrifying when you consider what she'd think of all those late fees we owe.
An ordinary American teenager from Iowa. Bought his ticket to see The Who from a scalper and showed up 13 hours early to get a good seat.
In November of 1973, The Who kicked off their Quadrophenia tour in Daly City. The U.S. tour was supposed to promote their new album, released a month prior. That pretty much went down the shitter before the first haphazard microphone swing.
Keith Moon, the band's drummer--and not too well known for his restraint, sobriety or indeed, sanity--had just accepted huge doses of tranquillizers from a fan, after shouting, "Of course I can take it! I'm Keith Fucking Moon!" because he had absolutely no respect for foreshadowing.
Because, in all fairness, he is Keith Fucking Moon.
Then he imbibed a generous quantity of brandy. Just because.
What Keith may not have known at the time was that the drugs were not the "just chill out and have fun" kind of tranquillizers; they were the "holy shit that lion is charging us, let's put him down" kind of tranquilizers. Impossibly, witnesses say the effects weren't even noticeable until more than an hour into the concert.
After 70 minutes of playing, Keith slumped over his drums. A cold shower and shot of cortisone later, and he was back on stage... where he quickly passed out again. Noticing the conspicuous lack of bitchin' drum solos, Pete Townsend asked if there was anyone in the crowd who could play drums.
Scot Halpin, 19, hadn't played the drums for nearly a year. Nonetheless he bravely stepped up and... stood by while his friend screamed, "He can play!" The concert promoter took notice, and, after a shot of brandy (with a conspicuous lack of tranquillizer chaser) Scot found himself on stage, behind the drums, playing for The Who.
Townsend gave Scot a few instructions, introduced him to the audience, and then jumped right into "Smokestack Lightning." While faltering a little here and there, attendees say Scot kept his calm and played pretty well for the duration of the concert . At the end of the show, he took a bow with the band, was invited backstage, and given a Who jacket.
It was promptly stolen later that night.
Wife of John Corbin, a soldier in the American Revolution. Cooked, cleaned and occasionally took care of the wounded like most camp followers.
Four thousand Hessian mercenaries were marching on Fort Washington. In preparation for the attack, an artilleryman named John manned his cannon atop the ridge. And, like any loving wife, Margaret helped her husband to clean and reload between shots.
Not a sexual euphemism.
The battle was fierce; the Hessian mercenaries were backed by an additional 4,000 British soldiers. It wasn't long before John was hit and killed. Her pitiful female sensibilities overcome with emotion, the dutiful wife cradled his head and sobbed for the loss of her soul mate. Or at least, she would have if she played that kind of shit.
See, Margaret didn't have what you'd call a "normal" childhood: It was more the kind where your father is killed and your mother is kidnapped (and also killed) when you were five-years old.
You know. This kind.
So she pushed aside her feelings (and her husband's useless corpse) and armed the cannon herself. She stayed at her station and gave the approaching enemy hell, even after taking gunshots in the arm, shoulder and face. The face! Ultimately, the Battle of Fort Washington was lost, but Margaret survived (a shot to the frickin' face!) and kept on serving in the military, despite injuries that basically left her crippled. She would become the first woman to receive a soldier's pension and is currently the only soldier of the Revolutionary War buried at West Point. Her giant balls are buried next to her.
An office assistant with the U.S. Government. Surprisingly, the origin of the term "Lenny Skutnik."
On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 struck the 14th Street Bridge, crushing several vehicles on its way into the icy Potomac River.
Many people, including Lenny, exited their cars to watch the disaster unfold. Emergency services couldn't get to the crash site due to an early rush hour and an impending storm. As a result, only a few rescuers arrived on the scene, and they weren't properly equipped for immersion in the frigid river. Inflatable boats were useless against the ice chunks floating around the downed plane. Eventually a helicopter arrived to fish the survivors out, but this took time and the frigid river was taking its toll.
When one of the crash victims, Priscilla Tirado, was given the tow line, she was too weak to hold onto it. Firefighters, soldiers and paramedics couldn't do anything but sit back and watch as she floundered about in the icy water, quickly approaching death. That's when some guy in the crowd got a brilliant idea: He'd just jump in the river (the one that was deemed too dangerous for professional rescue crews in rafts) and swim right the hell over there.
OK, so maybe "brilliant" isn't the right word, but our spell-checker keeps asking us to correct "humungoballs," so it'll have to do.
Stripping down to a short sleeved shirt, Lenny Skutnik dove into the Potomac and swam like a maniac for the drowning woman. Against freezing water, frigid air and the river current, Lenny succeeded in bringing Priscilla Tirado to shore, where she received the medical attention that saved her life.
And hey, for once the hero did not go overlooked: For his bravery Lenny had a day named after him, received several awards (among them the Carnegie Hero Fund Medal), and he was even included in the State of Union Address that Ronald Reagan gave a few weeks later. Afterward, any hero included in the State of the Union became known as a "Lenny Skutnik." What did he do with all these well-deserved rewards? Kept his job as a federal employee.
Aquaman is more of a "hobby" than a "job" for Lenny, anyway.
More stuff by Paul at http://iwritewords.ca
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