Superhero, Hollywood USA

by Heidi Sterling

The streets are never empty and it never rains. The wind blows stale and warm, like an alcoholic confession slurred between two friends. Night falls, but there is no rest. Cars and people continue on without regard to the hour. Violet-brown hills roll fat and heavy to the west, baked to a hot crust by the unrelenting sun. Hills, cars, and people, burnt red with desire. Hills, cars, and people, choked grey with expensive loss. 

Dirty streets, fallen stars. Nothing and nowhere and everywhere. Hollywood Boulevard, California, USA. 

How did it come to this? I ask as I bend over a public fountain early in the morning, splashing my face with cold water. How? Stupidity, psychotic breakdowns? Too much too fast and too real? I can laugh or pity myself. Roll my eyes, punch a wall, feel confused, feel shame. I can, and I have. I’ve done all of these things. I ask my questions. I respond in accordance with my mood. I shave. 

I slip on my Ninja Turtle suit, the one I found in a dumpster behind Kmart last Halloween, and make my way to the strip. Overhead the sun burns a milky orange. Smog collects like an enormous cobweb in the southeast, directly over downtown L.A.. I walk briskly along the sidewalks, stopping to examine my reflection in the windows of Humboldt Bank. I hate what I see—old man, big face, stained costume, an offense and a spectacle. I continue on. 

Outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the usual assortment of characters mills about, waiting for tourists to start flowing money through. Batman swoops his cape and walks back and forth in long, urgent strides. Iron Man talks animatedly, first with himself, then with Chewbacca. Wolverine joins in after he is finished reattaching a hand-blade knocked loose by some careless teenage assholes on rollerblades. Across the street I spot Pinhead leaning against the marbled columns of the Hollywood Starlet Museum. He lifts a cigarette to his lips, takes in a quick drag, and exhales a stream of smoke. Above, Marilyn Monroe watches with weeping cement eyes. 

“Hey!” I shout, crossing the street. Pinhead glances over to me, his speared face shimmering with the surreal glamour of Hollywood violence. “Hey,” I say again when I’ve reached him. “Pinhead doesn’t smoke. We don’t smoke when we’re in costume.” I yank the cigarette from his hand and drop it to the sidewalk, then crush it with my heel. 

“You fuckhead,” Pinhead sneers. “You absolute first-class fucking fuckhead. That was my last one.” 

I look around, then move in closer and in a low, tight voice explain to Pinhead that he can’t fucking smoke in character because he has to be a fucking ambassador to who he is representing, and there are kids around here, for fuck’s sake. 

He laughs for a long time. “You fucking think it matters if I smoke? Me? A character who mutilates his victims with hooks?” He laughs and as he laughs, his makeup splinters at the corners of his mouth and eyes, and the dozens of silver needles glued to his face quiver violently. 

I say, “Yeah, it matters.” I push hard on his chest, pinning him to the smooth beams of marble. I say through my teeth, “It’s one of the rules around here.” 

“Get your fucking hands off me, turtle man.”

I remove my hand and watch Pinhead straighten up, noticing for the first time how young he is, how tired and helpless and depraved. He stinks of ashtrays, pot and mold. He has exhausted, old eyes. I’ve crushed out his last cigarette. I am as delusional as this desert mirage I’m trying to uphold. And for what, I don’t know. 

I hand Pinhead a $10 bill so he can buy more cigarettes, but he drops it and walks away, spitting on the ground. “Fucking Ninja Turtle motherfucker.”

Someone taps my shoulder. I turn around and see Superman glinting in the sunlight like a wax figure. He says, “What’s going on here? Off day?” He stands before me, arms akimbo, his cape draped heroically behind him. His obsidian hair, sprayed to a polished sheen, is as black and shiny as a waxed bowling ball. His chest-plate “S” has a brown stain in the upper right-hand corner. 

“It’s nothing.” I wave my hand dismissively. “Just telling Pinhead the rules.” 

“You know how he ended up here, right?” 

“No, I do not.” 

“Well,”  Superman says uncertainly. “I used to know, earlier, when…” Then, switching gears, head snapping back as if he’s just received an uppercut to the chin, “Say, if he doesn’t want that $10, I’ll take it.”

“You made $50 yesterday, Superman,” I admonish, picking up the money and jamming it down the front of my costume. 

Suddenly Pinhead is back. He says, addressing only me, “Yeah, you wanna know why I ended up here, asshole? I’ll tell you why.”

A woman in a bikini stops to photograph our little freak show, then lunges drunkenly away. Oblivious, Pinhead continues, “Give me the $10. I need a smoke first. On second thought, keep the damn money. I’ll tell you this for free.”

He shuffles toward me, positioning his face inches from mine. “I didn’t lose anything. Didn’t run away. Didn’t hurt anyone like some of these psychopaths have. Nobody beat me as a child. I wasn’t gang-raped in prison. I wasn’t robbed or injured or tortured with hooks. You know why I’m here?”

He puts his hands on my shoulders, crushes his fingers in. “Do you know?” he says, pleading now. Superman buzzes off. Flies swarm to the refuse of the day. Pinhead and I are locked in something like mortal combat, only we’re in dirty costumes soaked with sweat and despair. For days, maybe weeks or years, we stand like this and the answer never comes. Why we’re here. Why we’re trying to save ourselves. Why we never can and why we never will.

Heidi Sterling resides in Oregon.  She runs a pet-sitting business and feels like an alien/weirdo most of the time.  Writing helps bring her back to the human realm.  She can be contacted at kittymeowmeow1@gmail.com.
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