Days Before High-Risk Open Heart Surgery, Casper Man Just Wanted to be Batman One More Time
"It's not who I am underneath; it's what I do that defines me."
- Bruce Wayne
They call him Batman.
Don Goodman was 17 years old when he donned the cape and cowl for the very first time.
It wasn't much of a costume, at first. Just a helmet that looked like Batman's mask, a cape, and some tennis shoes. He put the costume on and he and his friends went to the old McDonald's on CY Avenue and put on a show. His friends entered the restaurant first, referring to themselves at Batman's arch-nemeses: Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin, et. al.
"Then I ran in and stood there in the breezeway and just said, 'Where's Robin? He's never around when you need him!'" Goodman remembered. "And I mean, I gave a full frontal pose. And so I thought, 'I'm gonna have fun with this; I could do this all summer!"
And so, he did.
But he knew that if he really wanted to channel his inner-Dark Knight, a simple Batman-esque helmet and a cape wouldn't suffice.
"I dressed up like Batman throughout the summer and the new school year," Goodman said. "And word spread that I was Batman. So I asked my grandma to make me a costume."
He laughed at the memory. "I'm 17 years old and having my grandma make me a Batman costume."
It wasn't, exactly, "cool." But it made people happy. Most importantly, it made him happy.
"So I started going to pep rallies and I started going to the football games," Goodman reflected. "And I'd dress up as Batman and that's just what I became known as in school. So , at our 10th or 20th or 30th or 40th high school reunions, everybody would ask me: 'Is Batman here? Did Batman come?' My classmates loved Batman."
And, so does he.
Some people will tell you that Batman isn't a real superhero; he doesn't have any superpowers, after all. He wasn't born with super strength, or the ability to fly. He can't speak to fish or yield a magic hammer. Batman, for all intents and purposes, is just a man. But Don knows the truth: Batman isn't a superhero because of who he is; he's a superhero because of what he does.
And what Batman does is nothing short of extraordinary.
When Bruce Wayne was 10 years old, his parents were shot in front of him. That was the moment his life changed forever; it was the moment his trajectory shifted. It was at that moment, the worst moment of his life, that Bruce Wayne had a decision to make: he could let this night ruin the rest of his life, or he could use it to make the lives of other people better, safer.
Bruce Wayne could have let that moment destroy and define the rest of his life, or he could do everything within his power to take the worst thing that ever happened to him, and make sure that it never happened to somebody else.
He chose the latter and, in that decision, The Batman was born.
Batman isn't a superhero because he can fly. He's a superhero because he took the worst thing that ever happened to him, and tried to use it for good.
Since he was a kid, The Dark Knight hasn't only been Don Goodman's favorite superhero; he's been the man's biggest mentor. Which is why, on a Saturday night at The Office Bar & Grill, he wanted to be Batman one last time.
Just in case.
Goodman, as he would later reveal to K2 Radio News, is having open heart surgery on July 7, 2022. It's a very high risk operation and Goodman isn't sure if he's going to make it through the operation. Because of that, he had two wishes: he wanted to spend a night at The Office with his friends and family, and he wanted to be Batman.
"I pitched it to Karen and Jim [owners of The Office Bar & Grill] that this could be my last hoorah," Goodman shared. "I was like, 'Just think of yourselves as a Make-A-Wish Foundation, because this thing could go really south and, if it does, this is my last Saturday.'"
He said that he chose The Office Bar and Grill because he knows Karen and Jim and because he's had so many good memories at their place.
"The last time we were at The Office, in April, I had my sons in town and we came in here and we were doing shots and we were doing karaoke, and the next thing you know, I'm taking my shirt off and we're singing ACDC. All three of us had our shirts off and we were just jamming. It just holds good memories."
So, Goodman spent the evening surrounded by friends and family; some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to be with him.
"If there's one thing about me, it's that I have a loyal friend base," he shared. "My friends are loyal to me to a fault. And that makes me feel good."
Goodman also sang karaoke, including multiple 70's sitcom theme songs, and even danced the Batusi. He donned the cape and cowl for what could have been the last time. And he did so with his wife at his side.
Because what is Batman without his Robin?
In Goodman's case, he met the other half of this dynamic duo decades prior, at Catholic School. Don Goodman met his wife, the former Mary Lara, in the second grade.
"We went to Catholic grade school," Goodman shared. "We met in 1967 in the second grade classroom."
For Goodman, it was love at first sight.
"I was in boy scouts with the guys that she was in school with," Goodman divulged. "And I'd be out on boy scout overnights and I'd always say, 'Mary Lara, I love you!' We'd be in the middle of the wilderness and I'd be screaming into the stars and everybody would say 'Goodman, shut up! She likes Sal Pauletta now, don't you know? Just shut up!' But I would just shout 'Mary Lara, I'm going to marry you someday!'"
And, eventually, he did.
It took some time though. Goodman and his family moved away after the third grade, and because this was in the days before text messaging and Facebook stalking, the two fell out of touch.
"I was still friends with all the guys that she was still going to school with, but I didn't ever see her again," he said. "It was like, 20 years later; we were at one of the fiestas that the church put on. And one of my best friends. who went all through grade school and high school with her nudged me and said 'Guess who's coming up behind you right now about.' And I said, 'Mary Lara.' And he goes, 'Yep.' And I turned around and it was her."
Goodman said that Mary didn't immediately recognize him but, when he told her his name, she immediately wrapped her arms around him in a hug and the rest, as they say, is history.
Mary had two sons from a previous relationship and was, at that point in time, somewhat vulnerable. Her heart had been bruised, but not broken, by another man. But that's okay, because her heart was never that other man's treasure to begin with. Her heart always belonged to Don.
"We met, like, 20 years later [after he moved] and went on a date to the wedding of a mutual friend," Mary remembered. "And then we just started dating. We talked, like, four hours a night on and he was just helping me through a tough time with my son's father. And so we would go play tennis and do other things, and he just held my hand through the whole thing. So, a year later, he asked me to marry him. And then a year later, we got married."
It's a tale as old as time; a story of Boy-Meets-Girl-Meets-Batman.
"When we re-met after 20 years, I realized how much he was in love with being a part of Batman and how happy he was to be Batman," Mary said. "He just had an affinity towards the Batman personae. I didn't learn it right away, but he just increasingly talked about it. His grandma even made him a suit when he was very young and he wore it through high school, and he spoke at NC's graduation, and pep rallies, and all sorts of events."
Mary is a former teacher, a hero in her own right, and she would have Goodman come to her class and speak to her students while dressed like the Caped Crusader.
"I love being around kids," Goodman said. "I love being a role model."
And, part of being a role model, is knowing that it's okay to be vulnerable. It's being able to admit when you're scared.
And at that moment, just a few days before open heart surgery, Goodman was scared.
"If she's here," Goodman said, gesturing towards his wife, "I'm feeling really good. When she's not here, I'm scared to death. You know, the first [surgery] was seven years ago. I'm seven years older now. Anything could happen. So, let's just say that I've already written my obituary. But I'm trusting that whatever happens is His will."
That's what Mary is doing, too.
"I'm on that balancing beam," she said. "I have faith and I trust that he's in the best place he could be, in terms of a geographical area. We've met the doctors, and seen the facility, and met the people, and it's all wonderful. But I'm saying I'm on the fence because of course I'm nervous. Some days I'm fine and I feel so good about it, and then other days I'm scared to death. But it's out of my hands. It's in the control of God. And [Don] is a strong freakin' man. He's Batman. And he's withstood so many adversities in his health and he's come out good."
Courage, true courage, isn't the lack of fear. It's facing something, and being afraid, but persisting anyway. Don Goodman is a man of courage. He's a man of valor. He's a man of integrity. He is, in short, a man that Batman would be proud of.
"I used to be a bartender," Goodman explained. "And I'd get off work and then have a shift drink, and the people around me would always say, 'Don, you're much different on this side of the bar than you are on that side of the bar.' And I said 'That's because that's my stage. That's where I can hide. I can act. That's my stage.' And that's what being Batman is like. I'm a quiet and shy person until I put the Batman mask on. And then it's like I'm ready to go."
Whatever happens on July 7, Don Goodman is ready to go. And, no matter the outcome, he can rest easy knowing that he has left his mark on this town and on the hearts of the people who inhabit it. He's has entertained people. He's made them laugh, he's made them smile. He's made children happy. He's been a friend, a husband, a father. He has lived fast and loved well. He is a hero, with or without the mask.
"Whenever I'm dressed like Batman and I'm talking to someone, one of the things that I usually say when we're done with a conversation is this line," Goodman said. "'It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.'"