superhero

I feel restless, at home today. I don't have any plans for the evening, and know that I'll go bonkers if I spend the entire day and night cooped up in the apartment. So I grab a sweatshirt and head to the metro station. I have no idea where to go. I have no idea what to do. I should have started this adventure earlier; I could have gone to the beach. Now it's already three o'clock.

I'm languid in my movement, even though the temperature is dropping. I'm in the mood to sit back and observe, but against a change of scenery. I wish a moving sidewalk would unroll in front of me, like a red carpet. I don't need the pomp. Just some circumstance.

Below ground, I decide to take whichever train comes first. North Hollywood it is.

Hollywood and Vine. Tourists. Anxious-looking men smack star maps agains their palms and thrust them into the hands of passerby. They ignore me. What is it? The fact that I'm alone? Something in how I'm dressed? My headphones? Or, probably, the disengaged look on my face. I'm strangely flattered, to think I'm passing for a local. Wait, passing? I am a local. I live in Los Angeles. Some day it'll sink in. Probably the one I move.

The walk of fame. Star after star after star. I glance at the names along with everyone else. I know very few, which makes me feel ashamed. I should pick one, learn his or her story. Occasionally, an empty star. Nameless, ready to be stamped with glamour, making all the fame hounds drool.

I snap a few photos, wander, listen to The Walkmen. Heaven, on loop. This is depressing me. This was a mistake. There is nothing novel or noteworthy on this stretch. Head shops. Tattoo parlors. What am I doing here? There must have been a million interesting cultural events happening in the city today, that I could have gone to.

There's a superhero on the sidewalk up ahead of me. He's standing alone in front of a costume store, coaxing foot traffic inside. Only, there isn't much to coax. I suddenly realize that I know who this man is. He catches my smile of recognition - though he doesn't know its source - and steps towards me. I'm expecting the advance; from what I've seen, one of his superpowers is salesmanship.

I allow my smile to broaden as I slow to a stop in front of him. "I saw your documentary," I say in as friendly a way I can. It occurs to me that he must hear this all the time, and I hasten to add, "It was great. I think what you guys do is great. You're a fixture in Hollywood, and you make a lot of people smile..." I trail off dumbly, with no idea how to express what I'm trying to say. What am I trying to say?

Superman rescues me. "Oh, thank you. That's very kind," he says. "What's your name?" He shakes my hand, and we start to chat. His resemblance to Christopher Reeve is even more astonishing in person. The jet black curl on his forehead, his sharp but delicate facial features. The care with which his costume has been constructed - and is obviously treated each night upon removal - is moving. It's been a few years since I saw the film about him and the other men and women who make a living portraying famous characters on the streets of Hollywood. But I remember finding it fascinating - finding him fascinating, especially - and I'm delighted to now be speaking with him, face to face.

We talk very briefly about his work, and about the lawsuit he brought against the city to fight for his right to work the boulevard for money, before moving onto the topic of skincare. I've made some flattering (and genuine) remark about how youthful he looks, and he's now reviewing his daily cosmetic regimen for me. He doesn't just use soap, he explains. He uses conditioner, too. On his body. He lets it soak into his skin while he's washing his hair. "See, feel," he commands, lifting the back of his hand for me to stroke.

The graceful way he's holding his arm, and the papery, smooth texture of his knuckles make me think instantly of my mother. But it's more than his skin. It's his dark hair and crooked teeth. It's his whole general physicality, in fact: ectomorphic, fragile in spite of his height. She was the same way. His comportment echoes hers as well. Gentle. Vulnerable and a little bit broken, but with a latent strength. Someone who's had to bear a lot of pain, but is nowhere near ready to give up.

She was the same way in that regard, too.

I'm tempted to tell him how much he reminds me of her. I don't think he'll be offended. I think, in fact, he'll understand that I mean it as a compliment. He seems deeply empathetic. I think that if in trying to explain exactly how he's like my mother, the words become stuck in my throat and I can only shake my head helplessly as my eyes well up, that he won't become alarmed or uncomfortable. That he'll put his superhero arms around me, there on the sidewalk, and give me a superhero hug. And I think that hug might just transfer some of his power to me, in the same way that hers used to.

I think all of that, inside of an instant, as I'm looking up at this kind, engaging, couragous, dedicated, and somewhat tragic soul, whose story charmed me when I paid the DVD store $3.99 to learn its more intimate details four years ago. I have nothing in common with him. I have so much in common with him. We both pretend to be something we're not. We're both a little bit crazy. I want to tell him that he actually is a fucking superhero, for having the tenacity to get up every day, put on a cape and tights, brave the jeers of homophobic assholes, and live at the mercy of people considerate enough to tip him for a picture.

I've worked for tips, too.

I've worn some pretty ridiculous get-ups, too.

I envy his spirit in the same way I envy my mother's, because I'm not always sure I inherited it.

I realize I'm chewing up his time; there are tourists glancing over with interest. I excuse myself to go, thanking him for the chat. He encourages me to visit him again, next time I'm in Hollywood. "I'm here at the shop on weekends until Halloween, but weekdays you can find me at Grauman's. Come say hello," he says, using my name and smiling warmly. I promise to do just that. As I move away, I see a bottle blonde in a tube dress shake out her hair before squeezing against him, so that a bald forty-something in Oakleys can snap their photo.

I'm pretty sure she's not going to tip him.

I'm also pretty sure that the only thing she's going to get out of her superhero encounter is a shitty, posed cellphone pic.