I know what my super power would be. Not invisibility. Not speed. Not flying. I would be called ‘What’s the Point of This Story’ Girl or ‘Could You Wrap This Story Up’ Girl. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a co-worker and I’ll see that glaze come over their eyes. You know what glaze I’m talking about. It’s the one where they appear to be listening to you but what they’re really doing is thinking about what they’re going to have for lunch. That flusters me as much as someone rolling their hand in the air in a “Jesus, will you finish talking already?” So I usually end up tripping over my words or my gum falls out of my mouth and I might blurt “That’s why I’m not allowed to eat oatmeal in Target anymore.” I sometimes panic in the middle of talking. Much like this entire paragraph.
G. Browne’s Less than Hero focuses on a group of men who are professional guinea pigs for pharmaceutical companies. They enroll in drug test trials. Everything from Viagra to blood pressure medicines. You know those pharmaceutical commercials on TV, the ones where they mumble the drug’s possible side effects that sound worse than the ailment? Those are the drugs tested on Less Than Hero’s leading man, Lloyd Prescott and his friends. Need an antidepressant? This pill may cause suicidal thoughts. Bladder control problems? This pill might send you into renal failure. Did your son take an anti-convulsing drug? He might grow boobs. Need to lose weight? This pill will make your IQ drop 20 points.
Lloyd Prescott isn’t a slacker. (On second thought, he is a slacker. I identified with him and didn’t want to call myself a slacker but hey, if the shoe fits…I probably won’t put it on because I’m too lazy to bend down to tie the laces). He’s been to college and has a marketing degree, but he’s nearly disabled by his own inertia. Being a guinea pig is easy money, even with all the horrendous side effects. Lloyd also pan handles in New York City’s well-traveled parks. But it’s clever pan handling. He holds up a sign that says ‘Will Take Verbal Abuse for Money.’
So would I. The junk food in the vending machine at work is getting more expensive.
When Lloyd isn’t being a guinea pig or panhandling he’s hanging out with other guinea pigs. There’s Charlie who is young and naïve, Randy who fancies himself as a ladies man (whether in his own head or for real, I don’t know), Frank who is a sturdily built dude who fights his weight constantly, and Vic who used to be a public school teacher and got fired. Vic doesn’t care for people much. There are a couple other guinea pigs they hang out with once in a while, but for the most part it’s Lloyd, Charlie, Vic, Frank, and Randy.
Life starts getting really weird really fast.
Lloyd is yawning one day, just idly staring at a girl as he opens his mouth wide. Next thing he knows the girl is out cold in the street, taking a hard nap. He asks himself did he do that or was it a bizarre coincidence?
One day while riding the subway with Randy, Lloyd notices a group of punks that have gotten on and are harassing people. And by punks I mean pants hanging halfway down to their ankles, wife beaters, and a meanness that gets people beaten to death. Randy stares at the punks, stares so hard that they begin to itch and claw at their skin which begins to erupt into welts and hives.
Lloyd begins to suspect that he and the other guinea pigs are manifesting the side effects of the drug trials.When they confess to one another that they’ve each been experiencing supernatural side effects they decide they’re going to use their powers for good and not evil. They go out at night and save homeless people from being beaten up and threatened by street kids. They don’t do it for the recognition but soon enough the media starts following their exploits.
Lloyd can make people spontaneously nap. The media nicknames him ‘Dr. Lullaby.’ Randy can give rashes. He’s called ‘the Rash.’ Vic can make people vomit. He’s ‘Captain Vomit.’ Charlie can cause seizures. He’s dubbed ‘Convulsion Boy.’ Frank causes people to bloat until their clothes pop off. He’s known as ‘Big Fatty.’ Their real identities are safe….for a bit. But are there other guinea pigs out there who aren’t super heroes? News reports pop up about people having amnesia that lasts for a few hours. They come to find their wallets and valuables gone. There is definitely someone out there not fighting for justice.
What seems to give their lives purpose and meaning in the beginning begins to take its toll on the group. There are heavy physical and mental dues to pay. Relationships begin to break down. Panic begins to sweep the city as supervillains rise. Lloyd starts to think being a professional guinea pig and panhandling in parks isn’t the way to spend his life. He doesn’t just want to settle down. He wants to be happy. That’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Less Than Hero is a book for all of us who feel like losers, who feel like we haven’t found our way yet in life while everyone else has their lives together and you’re just sitting there thinking ‘I’ve been at the same job for almost 20 years. Didn’t I have dreams? Didn’t I have plans?’ Oops. Sorry. That got personal. Less Than Hero is about the everyday small things in life and how we treat one another while we’re here.
And it’s about making assholes vomit until someone screams for an exorcist.