Heroes, the Guardian Angels are called. Vigilantes, they’re called.
Magnify the details, though. The night manager faked his own kidnapping, beating, and dumping into a river. It never happened; it was pure fantasy. Stories of wandering gang members raping, pissing, swindling, robbing, and shooting — all deterred by Guardian Angels — flow from Guardian Angels’ mouths; but in fact these stories are small lies, exaggerations, or wholesale fabrications from the Angels’ members. Some of those crack dens with splintered doors, it turns out, were normal apartments, the inhabitants working-poor citizens, lawful people, abused, and now so fearful of authority as to never seek redress of their civil rights. Some of the “known dealers” were nothing more than bystanders, pulled and pushed, hassled, their pockets surrendered, and the contents strewn over concrete in search of evidence that never existed.
The Guardian Angels and professional wrestling link together. The Big Bossman, a wrestler, becomes, for the World Championship Wrestling league, “The Guardian Angel,” and wears the signature red beret. A wrestler named Vampiro heads the Mexico City chapter of the Guardian Angels.
To the Guardian Angels, lawfulness exists as a definite line, much like those drawn on the subway maps or streets, bounded under their protective patrols. The line delineates right and wrong, legality and illegality, whether those offenses they fight are real or imagined, whether actual or fictional, as in pro wrestling, often faked; stories born of fantasy.
This is what vigilantes and superheroes are in the sunshine of day: imagination become flesh.
The Nag only ever existed online as a MySpace page. His nagging of cops and criminals occurred only in his own mind. But just as the Magnificent 13 outgrew their combat boots and became the Guardian Angels, our lowly security guard, the Nag, eventually outgrows his online persona. He buys superhero masks and becomes Mr. Xtreme, his first superhero persona who operates out in the world. He walks among us still.
His reception is typical of his previous existence, marked by both polite and impolite refusal of his presence. Mr. Xtreme dons a mask emblazoned with a skull. He drives the hot blacktop — past flowered offramps and beige weedy hills — from a small house in East San Diego, the Xtreme Cave, to the twists of concrete curbs and painted metal signs of the city center and the maze of streets called Hillcrest. He walks in the hot bright sunlight, exposed on the white sidewalks; he’s in his death’s head mask and genial Hillcrest denizens, tugging on leashed dogs, jogging in flimsy shirts, and concluding meetings over lunch tables, take a moment as he passes. Of course, people stare, as they stared at him in elementary school, as they stared at him in high school. He encourages that. He seeks attention that might discomfit others because it is a part of him.
He attends a Hillcrest community meeting and is asked to leave. The meeting organizer tells him that the skull mask disturbs the meeting and frightens people. Our man, however, persists. He wants to inform the police of the real-life superhero network, the World Superhero Registry, and how they’re here to help. He wants to interact with law enforcement, get information from them as to where he might be needed and how he can serve. Again, he is asked to leave.
He buys a new mask, a camouflage one with large mesh eyes, similar to Mexican wrestlers’ Luchadores masks.
Over the next year, he attends other community meetings. The meetings are arranged for citizens to speak to councilmembers and police about crime and blight in their areas. Mr. Xtreme attends to do the same, and over and over again he’s politely asked to leave.
Enter 2009. On January 10, the second Saturday of the year, the sun postpones its rise until 6:52 a.m. standard time, the latest hour it will rise this year. It reaches full height at midday, but the air is still crisp. San Diegans blow steam into cupped palms. Tides recede to their lowest point; people follow the waves out to inspect flora and fauna usually submerged. The sun sets at 5:01 p.m. Appearing now, the “cold moon,” January’s full moon, the brightest and largest of full moons for all of 2009, as the oblong dance between it and Earth reaches its perigee. A peculiar night with frigid and cranky air.
Mr. Xtreme patrols downtown.
If everything and everybody were equal, a bland gray socialist utopia where nothing is emphasized or shiny and nothing is particularly dull, downtown today would be a different place. But the Gaslamp is our bright center. Glass and steel towers gleam in hot light, upwardly salient. The inhabitants glow in their shiny clothes. Below lurks a surrounding ring of sludge and slime, the tent cities and chemical communities of vagabonds and junkies.
Down 16th Street we follow a skateboarder. He enjoys an extended adolescence, because from the looks of his graying, shaggy beard he’s seen 30 or more winters, but from the tiny wooden toy beneath his feet and the backward hat resting on his shaggy head, he looks to be pretending he’s 17. Past Market Street, he slaloms his board along the yellow line, down the center of the street. He passes a church adorned with a blocky asymmetrical cross made from a string of Christmas lights tacked to its front wall. The vagrants depend on darkness, away from the lighted cross. One darts into the bushes, a lighter flickers. An ozone smell of burning drugs billows, and then a small pennant of white smoke rises. Around the bright cross sits no one; the addicts skirt its luminous range. Farther down 16th Street now, the skateboarder passes J Street, and in the abandoned forecourt of a former auto garage scurry more fiends and outcasts, dipping into their tents to retrieve God knows what. The windows of the former garage have been relieved of their glass, and it’s been sprinkled about in semicircles on the forecourt, and the chips of it twinkle on sidewalks and pavement, under the beaten tennis shoes of the vagrants and on the cement floors of the tarpaulin shelters. The skateboarder rides into the cold dark, heading toward K Street. The full moon backlights dense clouds. Teenage girls hide their beers as the skater approaches. At K and 16th, the skater passes the intersection without noticing that on the corner, standing in a pool of yellow sodium light, is a man in a bright green shirt, a bulky black security guard belt, and a camouflage mask: Mr. Xtreme. He’s on patrol in this, the ugliest of neighborhoods.