Superheroes in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s in the way it feels to be out on the ghost town streets, patrolling, dressed up as a superhero and handing out food and supplies while infrastructure shuts down one step at a time, and the city gets quiet by degrees. It’s in seeing the way the sky’s colors shift, the spectrum altered, and seeing and helping the same people but recognizing the shift that’s happened all around us. It’s in passing out and applying hand sanitizer, and keeping recommended distance, and realizing that I always thought something like this would happen in my lifetime, but I didn’t know when. It’s in reading up on the spread, and vectors, and risk factors, and adjusting patrol style to account for social distancing and avoiding large crowds. It’s seeing that just about everyone is inside, except for those who have no inside to go to and are stuck, now with even less recourse than before, stuck because of a fearful line of thinking that excludes and separates, with gutted shelves and more supplies sitting somewhere “just in case,” and it’s not that I don’t understand that you can’t pour from an empty cup, I do, but I’m literally watching as our most vulnerable population is left behind. I divvy out MREs and supplies, meet up with my patrol partner and try to make sense of global pandemic with him, going out just about every night now for outreach patrol, and often feeling the weight of this thing, this boulder for Sisyphus. But I still suit up, and put on a smile, and meet people where they are, like I always have. I allow myself to feel this strain, this stress, just a bit before going out and doing it all over again. Before it was just the aches and pains of carrying food and supplies every night, then the mental strain of having to put myself in danger, breaking up fights, de-escalating situations. Now it’s an existential threat, something that’s already tearing at our social fabric and spreading panic. I remind myself and others that in times like these, we especially need to remain calm and look out for others, that we are defined not by what we do when situations are ideal but by what we do when we are tested. What we do now matters. It creates a ripple effect down the chain of causation, on and on into a future we cannot see but which we are constantly creating with our choices. Let’s make these deaths matter. Let’s do what we can to create a better future the only way possible–together.

Expiration Dates

I saw the way we danced in the wobbly reflection of a public transit bus as it passed, and I laughed, and it was like laughing could expel both air and consequences, and the way my bones creak and ligaments strain and muscles ache, I feel like I’ll need a robot body if we ever get that far technologically in my lifetime, and you smile and call me old, and I know it’s a joke, and I know I’m 30 and you’re 25, but it stings just a bit because I’ve been realizing lately that all my pop culture references are dated now, and I go out of my way to eat healthy foods, and now I’m mentally reminding myself that when I get home, I need to open up the fridge, and feel the cool air for just a second, and check all my expiration dates just to be safe.

 

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Superhero Days

 

I’m remembering my superhero days, tying old blankets around my neck and imagining them as capes, kindergarten baseball cap turned around and pulled down so I was looking through the hole in the back, and it was the cheap adjustable type with the plastic pegs, so I had it set to the last peg so it could be my mask, and the way I’d come home from school and park myself in front of the TV for an episode of Darkwing Duck before going outside our old apartment building and playacting what I’d just seen.

It was using the plastic coin bank bust of Michael Keaton’s Batman–the one with stickers to approximate facial features–not as a coin bank, because I didn’t have any money, but as an idol, a totem, something to watch over me when I went to sleep. It was the dollar store Wolverine costume I put together for Halloween, and using butter knives to approximate the claws’ snikt. It was seeing a neat and tidy world where the needy were helped and injustices were set right within the confines of a cathode-ray tube.

I carried these stories with me into and through adolescence, gravitating more then for the edgy, the dark, but still stowing away those ideals, those values, those blueprints for a better life and a higher calling. It was things like going out for daily runs in preparation for a Batman fan film I was going to do with some friends, the budget slightly higher than those childhood dollar store days but barely, and putting on our version of the cape and cowl, and sweating terribly as we shot one setup after another, but feeling the weight of being that type of character–that type of person–if only for a short film. It was, after the shoot was over, going back to my job at the movie theater and working to get myself through community college–next stop film school.

After a pivot from film to fiction, and some success in publishing, it was working to get myself into fighting shape, using the fiction to inspire the fact. Krav Maga first, then MMA, drilling and drilling, hitting bags, sparring, cardio, more drilling, and realizing that there is reality to these hero-journey stories we consume on the regular, rather there is if we let there be, and no matter how tread and re-tread the stories might be, there is gold there.

And for me, it was that first night going out, and being able to actually help, that did it. It was in the nights that followed, showing up, and getting to know the people in my community as I helped them. It was being able to reach back in time and let that little kid dressed as Wolverine know that one day he’d do it for real. He’d feed and clothe the needy. Protect people. Help them. Literally fight crime. He’d make good on that dream he always had.

 

(If you’d like to read/see more about my journey as Night Watch, you can do that here!)