When “The Man” Comes To Town
Even if you’ve never visited, the phrase “South Central LA” probably puts a few drops of pee in your shorts.
Cue the, “Russ Has To Perform A Kid’s Birthday Party In South Central” theme music, please. Thank you.
To say that I was nervous would have been like comparing the tragedies of 9/11 to a blind date that ends with the two of you discovering that you’re cousins. I mean, yeah, gross, but at least you didn’t screw before figuring it out.
I remember pulling slowly into the neighborhood, searching for the address, wondering what the hell I was doing. Sixty bucks for an hour of work. THAT is what you’re doing my brain reminded me. You’ve learned to really like eating and having a roof above your head.
Stupid brain, always thinking.
I parked around the corner, as the house was in the center of the block, as I didn’t want to destroy the illusion. What illusion, you dare to ask? Let me tell you something:
BECAUSE SUPERMAN DOESN’T DRIVE A CAR - HE FLIES.
Yes. There I was, in South Central LA, dressed in a bright blue and red, skin-tight unitard and cape, wandering up a side street. The outfit was complete down to the curl of hair on my forehead (ah, the “hair days”), as the birthday boy’s mother had informed me that her son was insistent that the REAL Superman had a curl on his forehead. A few scoops of hair product later, and I had the sassiest forehead hair curl seen since Shirley Temple.
Not a very macho comparison, I know, but my internet is down, and that’s all I’ve got.
The kids were at the far end of the driveway by the garage, in a moonbounce, jumping wildly and screaming. What the fuck do I do? I kept thinking as I peered around the corner of the house. If Superman can’t fly or throw a car, there’s nothing “super” about him. I can’t shoot lasers out of my eyes or see through shit. I don’t even work as a reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper. I’ll just be some stranger in tights at your birthday party…
“Kids!” I yelled, as I ambled up. “Hey, kids!”
Ten or so 5 year olds came running to me, as I kneeled, slumped at the end of the driveway, my cape over my shoulder.
“Superman! Superman!” came the concerned chorus of soprano voices rushing toward my heaving carcass.
“Superman, what’s WRONG?!?”
“It was…it was…Lex Luthor…he put kryptonite in my bag,” I grunted, holding out my duffel bag jammed with party paraphernalia.
Good ol’ brain. Always thinking.
“No!” they yelped in unison.
They assisted me to the back yard, where I continued to stumble and groan. One boy pointed at the curl of hair I’d created on my forehead and screeched, “It IS him! It’s him!” The birthday boy had bought it. I was in. Because, as I’d been learning, if the birthday child believes you’re the real deal, everyone falls in line.
Once the kids had “helped” me regain some of my strength, I asked if they’d like to play some games with me, since I can’t do my normal show of lifting cars and bending pipes (and seeing through their mom’s skirts). An enthusiastic roar leapt from their tiny mouths, and I proceeded to have one of the single most fun children’s parties of my short career.
They were captivated. Entranced. Eager to have a super hero paint their faces like a kitty, or Spiderman, or whatever – as long as SUPERMAN was drawing it, it didn’t matter.
Sixty minutes later, after wrapping up, I revealed that their having such fun really helped me regain some of my powers. I couldn’t quite yet fly, but I told them that I’d walk for a few blocks and give it a shot, and that they should watch for me in the sky in a few minutes.
As I walked more confidently (and more “Supermanly”) away, I thanked them, and that tiny chorus of voices all coalesced, yelping and screaming their goodbyes.
Dropping my bag in my trunk, I took a mental photo of the moment: The boarded up houses, the dried out lawns, stray mattresses on the corners, the general disarray of the neighborhood, and I remember thinking how much that single hour likely meant to that group of little boys. Even now, as I type this, touching those memories, I’m filled with emotion.
And I do believe in my heart, at least one of those kids was positive he saw a red caped figure flying above South Central that sunny afternoon.