This is a superhero story.
It’s about a kid who is growing up in Hollywood. He lives alone with his mother in an apartment that was once a cheap motel. She cleans houses in Whitley Heights and gets up early and comes home tired, so he has most of his time to himself.
When he was younger, he would spend his evenings reading comic books, but he doesn’t do that anymore. Now, after school, he wanders over to Hollywood Boulevard. He walks along the line of stars that are set into the sidewalk, chipped and grimy and labeled with names of people who used to be famous, names he doesn’t recognize, names that look nothing like his own name.
He passes liquor stores and stores that sell junk souvenir keychains until he arrives at that city block where everyone goes, with the old movie theaters and the shining mall, with the crowds of tourists from China and Sweden and Colorado, crowds of people clutching Sephora bags and selfie sticks, pushing their way through Grauman’s Chinese and the Roosevelt Hotel, and taking pictures with superheroes. People love having their picture taken with superheroes. Hollywood Boulevard is cluttered with costumed Supermen, Batmen, and Spidermen who drive in from the Valley and work for tips. Tall or short, skinny or fat, brown or white, nobody cares. The tourists queue up for a chance to stand next to all of them.
While they do, this kid picks their pockets.
He takes whatever he finds, wallets, mostly, and phones. Sometimes sunglasses. Also gum, chocolate, breath mints, condoms, cigarettes, pills, pot. Sometimes he takes car keys, even though he can’t take the car. Sometimes he keeps the keys to add to his collection. Sometimes, if it’s a really nice car, he drops the keys into a storm drain.
Today is different. Today, the kid is going about his business like he always does, moving invisibly through the crowds, and he’s already made more money than his mom will make tonight. He doesn’t need to keep working, but you never really know what you’re going to need, so he finds his way to where people are lined up for this one Superman, this guy who’s been on the Boulevard for years, for so long that he’s become a kind of superhero himself, coming here day after day, wearing that stained blue suit stretched out across his skinny unmuscular body and posing for pictures, thousands of them, millions. This Superman is on cameras all over the world. This Superman’s picture has traveled to places that this kid can only dream of going.
And maybe it’s dreaming about this that distracts the kid, because the next thing he knows, he’s caught. There’s a big guy with his giant hand wrapped around the kid’s wrist, and he’s yanking the kid all over the sidewalk and screaming, and the kid is screaming, too, because it feels like the guy might tear his arm straight off. They’re both screaming while the crowd of tourists stares on, and the kid can’t get away and he can’t imagine how this night is going to end.
Then, there’s Superman. Superman steps right up to the big guy, who is a whole head taller, and he explains it was an accident, it was a misunderstanding, it’s all okay. Superman says be cool, and the guy lets go of the kid’s arm, and Superman and the kid look at each other and the kid sees he is not alone. There are others like him who know what he knows: that no one is going to inherit a Batcave and no one is going to get bitten by a radioactive spider, and the only way to become a superhero in this villainous world is to make yourself one.