Friday, August 29, 2008


An American friend of mine recently got shot. Paul was having a beer on his front porch and two thugs showed up to rob his neighbor as she was parking her car. He began shouting and so they shot him in the neck. After Paul was released from the hospital he had to hide out at hotels and friends’ homes for two weeks, which is how long it took the media to quit staking out his house.

Now the media says he’s a hero. I called to tell my dad, who also knows Paul, and he remarked, “Geez, what an unfortunate son of a bitch.” Hero or unfortunate son of a bitch? In America, it’s a fine line that separates them.

Americans have a lot of heroes. In addition to Paul, they’ve got Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Catwoman, the Incredible Hulk, and the Green Lantern. Heroes in America—or superheroes, as the case may be—are more than just guys in silly costumes; they’re manifestations of the belief that Team America can right the wrongs of the world and that there is still hope for the world’s huddled masses and wretched refuse. Not a bad sentiment, actually.

I have to admit I miss superheroes, and I wish Estonia had a few. Even one would do, and he doesn’t need to fly. I’d send him out on missions to foster simple kindness. He’d inspire men to hold doors for ladies (and the ladies to say thank you). He’d champion all that stuff President Ilves says about wanting Estonians to be more supportive of one another. And if I’m allowed to give my hero super-strength, I’d have him overturn the cars of arrogant drivers who park wherever they please, starting with that blue Ferrari which I often see on the Radisson’s sidewalk.

I’d send him over to Estonian Air to have a conversation with the claims rep who told me my flight was cancelled due to a “flight safety problem in the Moscow airport,” instead of admitting it was a malfunction of the plane’s air pressure receiver gauge.

My Estonian superhero would shake up the builder who took my money, disappeared for sixty days, and then reappeared claiming his chronic alcoholism was a “virus.”

And I’d send him downstairs to counsel my wife’s nutty aunt, who chases social workers away by screaming at them because they bought the wrong potatoes, the wrong mulgikapsas, or the cherries which she believed were too sour.

Later on, once he’s tackled the simple things, I’d give him the power of flight and send him down to Georgia to do and say the things which are too frightening a job for the superheroes from the superpower. Then, having wrapped that up, he could fly back home and have a word or two with Edgar Savisaar.

Perhaps a superhero is too much for Estonia. However, the ideas represented by heroes aren’t out of reach. Estonian journalists seek them, scouring the earth for heroes with the tiniest percentage of Estonian blood. An editor once asked me to profile a Canadian businessman with an Estonian grandmother. “But why him?” I asked. He didn’t seem special to me—just another garden-variety rich dude. “Because,” the editor replied, “we have so few good role models in our own country.”

It may be un-Estonian to seek the spotlight and take credit for good deeds, but any nation capable of Hea Teenindus Kuu (Good Service Month) can surely create a modest superhero, or at least promote the common man who does uncommon things. There’s no need to get carried away like the Americans who find heroes under every rock. “They’re all heroes,” Bush once said about the victims of 9-11. But the American president has never owned a dictionary. Most were simply people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like my friend Paul, the unfortunate son of a bitch.

I’ve argued about this topic with my wife, Liina, and she says Estonians don’t have the same worries as Americans and therefore don’t need heroes. Liina says only nations with superproblems require superheroes. She may have a point. While Estonia may not have superheroes, you’re also not likely to get shot in the neck while sitting on your own front porch.