Gritty in Pink

In a quest for fame and fortune, a unicycling superhero battles the stigma of a troubled past.

Although Berkeley has been tough, it's where Maxfield found his high-profile sponsor. One day while he was pinking University Avenue, he met a man who said he was a friend of computer game designer Will Wright (who created The Sims) and that Wright was a big Pink Man fan. Maxfield wondered if there was something to gain in that, but did nothing.

Then in 2002, his brother Andy died of complications of muscular dystrophy, and his mother died of cancer. Maxfield was devastated, and began to reevaluate his life. What did he really want to do with his talent and his passion? The answer was easy. He wanted to pink the world.

Soon after this revelation, Maxfield tracked down Wright's home number, asked him to lunch, and gave Wright a proposal. "How about Tokyo?" Wright asked. Maxfield immediately reached across the table and shook his hand.

Wright also sponsored a trip to Paris for Maxfield. "He's the only real superhero I know," he says. Pink Man's whimsy, his emotional empathy, and most of all his playfulness also appeal to Wright, who believes playing is underrated in American culture. "It has a lot of value," Wright says. "It opens possibilities you didn't see before. It can solve real problems." Wright says he's aware of some of the details of Maxfield's past, but believes the guy handled it as well as anyone could: "Other people have life stories that aren't that dissimilar, and the way he chose to deal with it was such an optimistic approach."

At the end of the day's adventure in San Francisco, Pink Man runs into a man who recognizes him from Eugene. That could be a stressful situation, but regardless of how much the man might know, he expresses delight. The idea that somebody might know Pink Man's past, but still want him around — well, what could be better than that?

When asked why he likes running into people from Eugene, he takes a long pause, then says, "It holds a special place for me in pinkin' history," and carries the unicycle the rest of the way down the escalator.

On the train ride home, Pink Man peeks intermittently at his gut in the train window and jiggles it disapprovingly. He needs to lose that, he says. He also needs a new unicycle, and some new suits. He has every intention of continuing his superhero double life for as long as he is physically able.

He once briefly considered retiring Pink Man and living a less public life — one removed from the scrutiny of his history — but that just feels like giving up: "It doesn't sit right with me to not be who I am because of what I did in the past."

With the Obama birthday connection, he believes now may be his time. There's a San Francisco–based documentary about him in the works right now, and its producers are aiming for Sundance next year. His autobiography is almost ready to go. He has other ideas, too. A Pink Man pizza-cutter. A Pink Man pop-up book. Pink Man bubble gum, with a comic strip wrapper. That way, when people are rude to him, he can toss them a piece and yell, "Blow me!"

Maxfield believes his impending success will allow him to buy his own home, and he already knows exactly how he'll decorate. He has some outstanding footage of people's reactions to his pinking, which he loves to watch again and again. There's one particular shot from Tokyo of a woman so beautiful, she could be a model. When he rides toward her, she turns to the camera with this expression of joy and awe. "Like she just saw a unicorn," he says. Maxfield wants to freeze-frame her face, and others like it, and hang those images up around his house.

There's something in those faces that Maxfield can't seem to get enough of. Sometimes they seem to be talking to him, even though their mouths are closed. They're saying just one word, one very simple word, and they're saying it over and over. It's yes. "Yes, yes, yes, yes," he hears. "Yes to what you are doing. Keep it up."

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