Red Justice, left, and Direction Man, so-called real-life superheroes, on patrol in Times Square.
Dressed for Halloween? No, to Clean Up Times Square
By TRYMAINE LEE
October 29, 2007 New York Times
She calls herself Street Hero, says she is a former prostitute, knows martial arts and takes to the city’s underbelly to protect women who work the streets. Her uniform includes a black eye mask, a black bustier and black knee-high boots.
A Brooklyn man who calls himself Direction Man prefers helping lost tourists and locals. He wears a bright orange vest, a pair of thick black goggles and has numerous maps spilling from his pockets.
Then there is Red Justice, a substitute teacher from Woodside, Queens, who wears red boxer briefs over jeans, a red cape made from an old T-shirt and a sock with eyeholes to mask his identity. He trolls the subways encouraging young people to give their seats to those who need them more.
They call themselves real-life superheroes, and they were just a few of the do-gooders who gathered near Times Square yesterday for what was billed as the first meeting of a group called Superheroes Anonymous. They all declined to give their real names because they said they wanted to protect their identities.
The meeting was part news conference, part documentary film shoot and part patrol duty. There were locals and out-of-towners, most were in uniform (don’t dare call them costumes) and all said they were serious about helping make their respective communities cleaner, safer and kinder places.
The 13 or so who gathered yesterday are part of a growing community of activists across the country and beyond who use the Internet to communicate.
Chaim Lazaros, 23, a student at Columbia University and an independent filmmaker, founded Superheroes Anonymous to bring to New York as many superheroes as he could for interviews and to record them for a documentary he is making about the movement.
“I found these people on MySpace,” Mr. Lazaros said, referring to the social networking Web site, “and I knew I had to tell the story.”
Shortly after noon yesterday, Mr. Lazaros stood at a lectern in a park on West 48th Street where the attendees gathered before going on patrol in Times Square to pick up litter and hand out crime prevention literature.
“This is a serious job,” Mr. Lazaros said. “We are out in the streets fighting crime in a legal way. But most of all we are fighting the worst crime of all, apathy.”
“We’re not these crazy people,” said one man, Geist, who traveled to New York from Minnesota. “We just have an unorthodox approach to doing good.”
As the group walked down Broadway in Times Square, a Manhattan woman known as the Cleanser picked up soggy debris and errant paper bags. She wore a white cape and yellow rubber gloves.
The woman who calls herself Street Hero was with the group. She says she decided to stop being a prostitute after she was arrested. Now she offers to help prostitutes in whatever way she can. “I do it on my own,” she said. “Mostly after dark. Around the city.”
The Super is a superintendent of a building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who fixes faucets and does electrical work for people in need. Yesterday, he wore a red cape, a yellow shirt, green suspenders and green tights under black soccer shorts.
The Super, who also declined to give his real name, said he took on the alter ego after a friend was hurt by debris that had fallen from scaffolding. “I said to myself, if we have to wait around for the city or the mayor to fix everything wrong or dangerous in this city, it’ll never get done,” the Super said.
He acknowledged that his self-proclaimed role — as well as what he wears — has drawn derision.
He said he had been laughed at, stared at, egged and stoned. Once, he said, someone in a high-rise apartment building threw a frozen piece of meat at him.
“I don’t have many friends,” he said. “A lot of real-life superheroes stumble along the way. And part of it can definitely make you feel isolated, like nobody understands you.”