Sun Man Triumphant
Sleeping, Mike didn’t know that he had become a sensation. Heavy drapes kept the southern California sun out of the bedroom, and Mike slept away the exhaustion from his nights on the streets. Mr. Bromgren had called housekeeping and told them they were not to disturb suite 1142.
The morning news was full of the newest hero in town. Gone was the mocking tone of a few days earlier. Now everyone was impressed, because this hero had done something that everyone agreed was good. Nothing big and dramatic, just good. He had simply performed an act of human kindness for the most destitute residents of the city.
The video of the star-like figure carrying its enormous burden, taken around 3:14 a.m. that morning, was shown over and over again. His light illuminated the ground and the gathered crowd. Nothing could be discerned about the hero himself, he seemed to be made of light, and no one could look at him for long because he was so bright.
The praise from the media was unanimous. The morning news on KTLA was effusive, even the show biz reporter saying that maybe Hollywood would make a movie about the new hero.
They also now had a name to hang on the shining figure.
Mike was hungry. He had arrived in Los Angeles three days before, and his abortive attempts to launch his superhero career had made him cautious. He wasn’t going to activate his medallion and blaze into the sky if there was any chance he would be embarrassed again.
He hadn’t slept under a roof after the second night. The night after his money ran out, he got tired of walking and sat down in the doorway of a computer store on Highland Ave. He meant to get up after a while and find a better place to spend the night.
He hugged his backpack, which contained everything he owned. His notebook with his drawings of Starman, the superhero he had meant to be. A couple of extra t-shirts and one extra pair of pants were in the pack. There was also a framed picture of himself with his mother and father when he was nine.
He hadn’t said goodbye to them, and he wondered if they knew yet that he was gone. He often stayed out in the desert for a few nights.
L.A., like his home town, was built on a desert. Mike knew that it would get cold at night so he had a light jacket in his pack. He could feel the chill coming on as the sun went down over the unseen Pacific ocean. It wasn’t quite cold enough to put the jacket on. He would do it soon.
It seemed like only a second later that the sunset was replaced by dark skies, with streetlights the only illumination. Mike was cold and stiff from leaning against glass and sitting on cement.
Mike stood up and jumped up and down a little to warm up. He rubbed his bare arms. He didn’t know what time it was, but he must have slept for hours.
Mike turned to get his jacket.
His backpack was gone.
Thinking, “No, no, no, no...” Mike cast his eyes all around the area. He jogged a little ways up the hill to another store entrance and saw a man sleeping in that doorway.
“Give me my backpack!” Mike shouted and angrily turned the man over.
“Hey, what? I’m sleeping,” the man said, rubbing a dirty hand over his face. He didn’t have the backpack.
“GODAMMIT!” Mike shouted to the uncaring city. If he expected anyone to hear him and care, he was disappointed.
“I like this guy,” Bob Flannigan said on his morning radio show, which was syndicated in a hundred and fifty seven markets all over the country. "I “usually have a low opinion of these vigilante spandex-jockeys, but this one seems like he really cares, his first public act was to feed the hungry. I think he’s a class act.”
Flannigan repeated this remark on his evening TV show on FOX News. A flood of other commentators said almost the same thing. Sun Man was a hit.
The rest of the cold, sleepless night was spent walking, looking at the tourist attractions of Hollywood when all the tourists were snug in their hotel rooms.
Mike had a total of one dollar and seventy eight cents in the pocket of his jeans. It wouldn’t buy him breakfast when the restaurants opened for business in the morning. Prices, even at McDonald’s, were a lot more than he was used to at home.
The cold didn’t let up as long as the sun was down. Mike realized that even finding a hidden place and turning on his light wouldn’t warm him up. There was no heat in his light.
Dawn came overcast and dreary. So much for sunny L.A. At least it got warmer. Hunger replaced cold as Mike’s worst tormentor. He sat on a bench in a bus shelter to rest.
“Good morning,” a chubby young man said as he sat on the bench. Mike gave him a perfunctory nod.
“Going downtown?” the young man asked. Mike closed his eyes. He was not in the mood for conversation.
“Do you want to do it?”
This made Mike open his eyes. “What?”
“We could do it over there.” The young man gestured towards some scruffy bushes along a nearby wall.
“Do what?” Mike asked.
“I’ll pay you.” The young man was all smiles, as if this was the most normal thing in the world for him. He waved a twenty dollar bill that he pulled from a pocket.
Mike looked at the twenty. Food for a few days, getting rid of the growl that was building up inside of him. He looked at the bushes.
“First off, dude, yuck,” Mike said. “Second, do you really think those bushes would hide two people?”
“No one would bother us. You must be new here.”
“Gotta catch my bus,” Mike said. One was approaching and Mike stood to wave at it. Please let it stop, he thought.
It did. With a hiss of air the door opened. Mike climbed the stairs with relief.
The bus driver started the bus, and Mike realized he would have to pay. He dug out his entire fortune and dropped it into the fare box. The driver didn’t say anything so Mike moved back into the crowded bus and found one of the last few empty seats.
He wondered how hungry he would have to get before he would seriously consider another offer like that.
“WE LOVE SUNMAN!” the sign said. Among the signs that said things like “I’m in New York, Mom!” held up by a cute eleven year old girl and “Go Aardvarks” held by four members of the cheer squad from Malcolm X high school in Queens, this one stood out. It was a banner more than a sign. It was held on ten foot poles, and was eight feet in length.
The Today Show’s current fat, jolly weatherman worked the crowd outside the studio window, and the Sun Man sign was so big he had to talk to one of the young women who held it up.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“We’re from L.A.,” the blonde woman told him, “and we’re just so proud to see a real hero come from our city.”
“I saw the tape,” the weatherman said. In fact, Today had been playing it almost as often as the L.A. morning news shows. “That was something, that he did.”
“I hope I meet him someday. I bet he’s a hunk.”
Working his way past a dozen or so other people anxious for their fifteen seconds or so of air time, the weatherman choose to talk to the other holder of the Sun Man sign.
“He’s a brother, I know it,” said the attractive African American woman.
“How do you know?” asked the weatherman. “No one knows what he looks like when he’s not all lit up.”
“He’s fine, I can tell.”
“There you have it,” the weatherman told America. “Sun Man is the talk of the country, from coast to coast.”
Downtown was the boring part of L.A. It was just tall business buildings, like every other American city. Mike got off the bus there because the driver said it was the end of the line.
People of all kinds hurried on the sidewalks and heavy traffic on the streets moved slowly. The people that Mike noticed were the homeless. He noticed them because he was one of them.
“Spare some change?” a rag wrapped and bearded man asked. He held out a hand.
“I’m as poor as you, guy,” Mike said. At least I’m not as smelly, he thought. Not yet.
Hunger soon took a back seat to thirst.
Mike turned a corner and found a street lined with small stores that sold electronics, souvenirs, clothing and almost everything else. Mike entered a doorway under a sign that said TIENDITA.
Two men stood near the cash register speaking rapid-fire Spanish. The store was tiny, and lined with shelves that held some brands of food that Mike recognized and others with labels in Spanish.
It all looked good to Mike’s empty stomach. He stood and stared at a wall refrigerator full of soda and beer. He craved anything liquid to wash away his thirst.
He didn’t need to be so hungry and thirsty. He could turn on his light and take what he wanted. He could tear the whole refrigerator out of the wall and fly away before the men in the front of the store could blink.
Mike breathed out slowly. He would be turning from superhero to supervillain for a cold drink. That’s not what he had dreamed about.
He could also grab a soda and make a run for it without his powers. He would probably get away.
Mike left the store, still hungry and thirsty. There had to be a way to make things better for himself. He couldn’t see it, but there had to be.
One thing he was not too heroic to do was to duck into an alley and pee against a brick wall. Why he had to pee so bad when his throat was as dry as the Sahara, he couldn’t imagine.
Sunset came with Mike feeling a lot worse than he had twenty four hours earlier. Was the whole career of Whatever Man going to end when Mike died of hunger in an uncaring city?
The oncoming darkness revealed to Mike something that he had never imagined. He turned a corner and found that a sea of tents had sprung up. The homeless turned the sidewalks of one street into a camp with new and old tents, tarps, boxes, and blankets.
A woman with hair that stuck out in all directions bumped Mike from behind. She was carrying a baby and holding the hand of a four year old boy who was wearing clothes that were too small for him.
”She got water,” the woman said, as if to atone for bumping Mike by passing on this vital information.
Mike shrugged and walked in the same direction. Anyone who had water sounded like a good person to meet.
The mother of two stopped at the back of a line. The tent city stretched all around, transforming a downtown street into a refugee camp.
After the sun had set enough that Mike was beginning to feel cold again, he got to the head of the line. A young woman with long dark hair stood behind a large white van. She handed Mike the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, a plastic bottle of water.
Mike had the cap off and half the contents of the bottle were down his throat before he took two steps away from the woman. The warm water was delicious, amazing.
The rest of the bottle followed the first half in a second gulp. When Mike came up for air he felt much better. Now he was just hungry as hell.
“Move, young man!” a voice said. A very fat woman with a shopping cart filled with unknowable stuff was glaring angrily at Mike. He stepped to one side to let her push her cart past him. She was clutching two bottles of water.
The young woman was still passing out bottles to the people in line. A tall, fierce looking young man stood near her. When she had almost finished with a case of bottles, he took another one from the van and tore the plastic off of it.
Mike suddenly saw a memory, of the same young woman, running up the side of a building, as easily as most people run down a jogging path. She wore pants and a yellow blouse instead of a skin tight super-suit, but he was sure it was her.
“What choo looking at, homes?” The fierce looking attendant snarled at Mike.
“Nothing, I...” Mike said. “Do you know where I could get some food?”
“No. Step off.”
“Hector,” the woman chimed in. Mike hadn’t taken his eyes off her even when talking to the man.
She turned her eyes to Mike, and smiled. “Maybe there will be a donation later. I am waiting to hear. What is your name?”
Her voice clinched it. The same slight Hispanic accent he had heard from the girl on the skyscraper.
“You can’t be so friendly with them,” Hector growled.
“I’m Mireya. If the donation comes in, can you help us unload it?” she asked.
“Sure.” Mike said, trying not to grin like an idiot.
Hector glared at Mike. Mireya went back to distributing bottles of water to the people in line.
Mike found an empty piece of ground between two tents and lay down. He waited. Every time he started to fall asleep he jerked himself awake. With all the homeless people around, he didn’t want to wake up and find his shoes missing, or all his clothing. Besides, Mireya might need him.
“Wake up, pendejo,” a rough voice said.
“What?” Mike asked.
“You going to help out or not?”
Mike struggled to his feet. “Yeah, sure.” Hector stood there, in no better mood than earlier.
“My sister says we take you to help with the food.”
“Food?” Mike asked. “There’s food?” His stomach rumbled at the thought. Then he realized Hector had said “sister.” He smiled inside.
“Ok, I’m coming,” Mike said.
Mireya and Hector loaded four of the youngest and strongest looking guys from the homeless camp into their white van, including Mike. There were no seats in back, so every bump was a painful jolt.
They stopped in an industrial area with factories and warehouses all shut behind tall steel fences and gates, with razor wire on top to make sure everyone got the message. Mireya walked up to one that had a big sign saying FRANKS GROCERIES.
“Where is he?” she said.
“Where’s who?” Mike asked.
“This man, he said he will give me load of bread past its sell date.” She took out a slim cell phone and dialed.
“Why are we doing this late at night?” Mike asked no one in particular.
“It is under the table, stupid.” Hector answered. “It is illegal. Comprende?”
After a brief conversation in which Mireya became more and more angry, she clapped her phone closed. “He is not coming. It is Friday night, no one will open the gate until Monday morning.”
“What?” Mike said. “I’m starving NOW!”
“I am so sorry, Mike, was it?” Mireya said. “I will try to find something else over the weekend.”
“Where is it?” Mike asked. “Is it in there? As long as we’re being illegal, let’s go in and get the stuff.”
“It is that container, there.” Mireya said. She pointed to a big steel shape, the kind of container that semi trucks haul.
“You want to slice yourself up on that wire, go ahead, homes.” Hector said. “We’re going back.”
Everyone else got back into the van. Mike put his fingers through the fence and stared. When Hector shouted at him to come on, Mike shook his head. He could hear the van pull out.
Soon it was silent. It wasn’t fair, Mike thought. He was a superhero. So was Mireya, for that matter. She could have walked up a building, and down the other side into the gated yard. She probably couldn’t move that container, though.
Well, Mike could. He wasn’t going to starve for three days when a ton of stale bread was waiting for him less than fifty yards away. This was a job for...whatever his name was.
He waited for a few trucks to pass by, then turned on his light. He felt the power flow into him. The whole area was illuminated, all shadows were banished.
He hopped over the fence, dancing on air towards the container. It felt so good to be using his power, after denying himself for the last few days. He landed at the front end of the container, the end with the door.
He wasn’t sure how to pick up such an awkward shape. He didn’t think the weight would be a problem; he had picked up some enormous boulders in the desert back home.
Lifting one end, Mike moved himself under the container. The bottom was wood, he was surprised to see. There was nowhere to grab that would support the weight of the thing.
Finally he balanced the whole thing on his shoulders, and hoped it would stay balanced. “Up,” he thought, and he was up. But not for long. The contents of the container shifted and the weight all went towards the rear. The whole thing crashed down to the yard, landing on its back end and standing vertically.
This was going to take some thought. No one came rushing out to see what the noise was, it was good that it was late. Mike found a steel bar on the top of the container. He hoped it would hold.
Then something happened. Mike felt his power flow out, surround the container. He could feel that it would be stable now, it was supported all around.
“Didn’t know I could do that,” Mike said, and he was up again.
He even knew where to go, how to find the homeless camp. He homed in on Mireya, she was an energy blip he could follow. Mike grinned. He felt great.
Hundreds of upturned faces of homeless men and women greeted Mike as he delivered the container. Then they scattered when they realized he was going to put it down. He settled it right next to Mireya and Hector’s white van.
Flying down to the door of the container, Mike ripped it open, and dropped the torn door on the pavement.
Mireya strode up to him and said, “It wasn’t locked. Now we’ll have to pay for that.”
“Oh, sorry.” Mike said. Then he tried to adopt a lower voice. “Sorry about that, ma’am. Just trying to help out.”
Mike’s stomach growled. He really wanted some of that bread, but the heroic thing to do would be to fly off, not grab a loaf and start stuffing it in his mouth. So he flew high in the air and let his light shine for everyone to see. That part was very dramatic on the video that was shown everywhere the next day. He landed behind a building, and meant to turn off his light and run back as himself to join in the feast.
He was startled when the headlights of a car hit him. It was a big car, a limo. It stopped and a man in a very neat gray suit got out.
Mike could have flown away, things might have been different if he had. He was so surprised, though, that he just stared at the man.
Holding up his hand, the man asked, “Can you turn yourself off? It’s hard to see.”
“Um,” Mike said. “If I do, uh...”
“I will see that you are Michael Santis, of Casa Linda, New Mexico.”
Mike was so surprised his light died because he couldn’t mentally hold it. “How, uh, did...”
The man held out his hand. “Stuart Bromgren. I represent a group of citizens who like to support the powered community. When we see a new hero in town, we inquire if we can help in any way.”
Mike shook the offered hand. The meeting was surreal, but his hunger and returned thirst were very real.
“Buy me breakfast and we’ll talk,” Mike said.
“I can offer you a hotel suite with room service. Will that do?”
“Why are you doing this again?” Mike asked.
“This is Hollywood, Mr. Santis.” Bromgren smiled. “Everyone needs a publicist.”