Real-life 'superheroes' take to the streets in US

By Michelle Stockman (AFP)
NEW BEDFORD, Massachusetts — Inside a hotel room in this New England port city, a superhero assumed his disguise before hitting the street.
Dressed in a black fedora, white shirt with skinny black necktie, and a studded belt, 24-year-old Chaim “Life” Lazaros looks like any other hipster from New York City. Except for his black mask.
In real-life he’s a radio personality at a college radio station, but in superhero mode, Lazaros spends his time comforting homeless people.
And his eye-catching uniform helps his cause.
“You will get stares, questions on the street from people who are interested and curious,” Lazaros said.
“They are always inspired. I got emails from soldiers in Iraq saying ‘It’s so inspiring to me to see people back at home helping each other.'”
Three years ago, Lazaros and Ben Goldman, a documentary filmmaker, created “Superheroes Anonymous,” an organized group of real-life superheroes.
Lazaros said there are now roughly 200 fellow superheroes across the country — costumed civilians who patrol the streets behind self-made superhero personas.
Their missions are varied, from conducting homeless and sex worker outreach and picking up litter to looking out for crime and teaching first aid skills.
In early September, about 20 members gathered in New Bedford from across the country for a three-day event that included a hip hop concert, beach clean-up and workshops on how to disarm an enemy.
“Scavenger,” a 28-year-old social worker, stood outside a local coffee shop during a break.
Dressed in a velvet bustier and black tassled bodysock, the tight spandex revealed only her eyes. She said crows and vultures inspired her costume, as they are the recyclers of nature.
“They clean up and they use things to live. So I take garbage off the street,” Scavenger said, explaining that money she earns from picking up litter goes to buying things for homeless people.
At home, Mike “KnightOwl” Johnson is a firefighter and emergency medical technician from Ohio.
This towering 26-year-old in a bright yellow jersey with an owl logo and a black head scarf said he became a superhero as another way to make a visible difference in the world.
“I think anyone who looks around will fastly realize there’s something seriously wrong with the direction that people are going in,” said Johnson.
“We try to reverse a little of that, and ease pain and suffering anyway possible.”
Toutou and Dave Marsden from nearby Walpole, Massachusetts were in town for a Sunday sightseeing tour. They dropped into a mask-making workshop with their two children.
“I think it’s great,” said Toutou, 34. “I think we should have everyday superheroes. I think it’s great that people are out there helping out.”
In their effort to do good, the superhero community may skirt the lines of safety.
Lazaros said he and other superheroes confront drug dealers, armed only with a camera.
On the “Superheroes Anonymous” blog, writers describe how to construct a practical crime-fighting costume — including a bullet proof vest.
It also suggests strategies to win over the local authorities, suggesting, for example, that on Halloween you pay an initial visit in costume to the local Wal-Mart. Repeat often thereafter so people get used to a superhero presence.
Dressed in a burgundy and orange jumpsuit and white-framed sunglasses, New Bedford local David “Civitron” Civatarese, 28, said despite their odd appearance, superheroes have simple, altruistic motives.
“I’m sure not many people are going to take Civitron himself very seriously,” said Civatarese.
“But once I start talking about the things that we’re doing, whether that’s helping out the homeless, helping out families in need, or just cleaning up the streets, they start to think about how can they help out whether they want to put on a costume or not.”
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