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With so much latitude for judgment calls, people must trust their leader, and Motor Mouth is certainly controversial. He weaves animated tales of telling a 6-foot-7 man to "Move the fuck back!" in Berkeley (it worked). Or of saving businesses during the Oscar Grant riots by sparking his stun-gun blast knuckles at the mob. His teammate Cheshire Cat says Motor has a "gift" for de-escalating situations, and after the Oscar Grant riots, Motor says he received a leadership award in the mail from a Superheroes Anonymous meet-up.
Yet Motor has also spawned two splinter groups. "Motor Mouth tends to rush in where I would hold back," says Rock N. Roll. She and her husband, Night Bug, broke off to start the rival California Initiative in July. While Motor Mouth is a "firm believer that anyone can do this," with no fighting skills or superhero physique required, the Initiative's members train in first aid and martial arts, and are seeking nonprofit status.
Likewise, Do-Luck broke away from Motor Mouth this fall after Motor yelled at him for not fighting back when a man punched Do-Luck while out on patrol: "That was red flag." Motor says he just wanted Do-Luck to make a citizen's arrest, and kicked him off the team. Do-Luck's tactic might better fit a hero named Mr. Passive Aggressive: he left rough edges on his steel body armor so anyone who hits him will tear up their own hand. "It's not me; It's them hurting themselves." In August, Do-Luck and his crime-fighting partner, Sarge, broke off and started the San Jose-based Citizen Constables League. Do-Luck says Motor Mouth responded by blocking him on Facebook.
Back on the Tenderloin patrol, Motor got his chance to charge in. The group watched a Latino man accuse an older black man brandishing a cane of selling him bad drugs. Mutinous strode out in front of the buyer, while Motor took the seller. The superheroes spoke to them in low tones, with Motor holding his hands up in a "stand back" gesture. The two arguing men didn't know what to make of the intervention, but seem worried about the SF Weekly photographer on the sidewalk: "Don't take pictures of me, bro!" After a few tense seconds, the Latino man entered his car and slowly drove away.
"It was either gonna happen or not happen," Motor says of the potential brawl. "And we made it not happen."
For now, The Ray and Motor Mouth are done with Occupy. Motor had an ideological falling-out with the movement over its temporarily occupying an Oakland building. Sorvari's attorney, Jeffrey Kaloustian, suggested The Ray stay away, too, at least at night. But after Sorvari's arraignment, in which he pleaded not guilty to an obstructing an officer charge, Sorvari returned to the Oakland encampment to search for the duffel bag of gear he had stowed in a planter the night of his arrest.
"You may be a little bit of a superhero down there," Kaloustian joked.
"I'll sign a few autographs," Sorvari said.
Instead, as Sorvari, still sporting two black eyes, entered the camp in Frank Ogawa Plaza, it was more like a wounded war hero returning from the front lines to base camp only to find everyone too battle-weary to care. Roy introduced himself: "I come here as Ray, a Real Life Superhero, do you know that?" No one did.
"The difference is spooky," Sorvari said, comparing the camp to the one he'd volunteered at a week earlier.
A skinny hipster approached in black nerd glasses, a black suit, and a red shirt. Finding out Sorvari was a superhero, he spoke at a clipped pace as he dragged on a cigarette. "There was a crew here of young black kids from around here mostly — apolitical. They were going around saying 'The cops are coming in 10 minutes, everyone get your shit together!' It's my firm belief they were then robbing tents because everyone was leaving." The hipster said another crew of kids did the same thing the night of the general strike.
"Are these kids that were mostly black, too?" Sorvari asked.
"Yeah, as reticent as I am to say it."
"I'm from Antioch," Sorvari said. "I know how you feel."
The hipster continued, now about a neo-Nazi skinhead spotted suiting up in black bloc gear the night of the general strike, and "built, military people" in plainclothes smashing windows. Back on the subject of thieves, he said, "There are professional rings of thieves in the camp living here, bro. I mean living here."
"Gosh, I wish the police didn't steal my costume," Sorvari mused.
He reflected as he climbed into the backseat of his parents' Taurus. "I like going out better as a superhero than like this. People seem to recognize me more." He laughed good-naturedly. "When I come here as a Real Life Superhero, I can dive in and help. But when I come here like this, I can't."
"Isn't that like Clark Kent?" asked his mom.
Just two hours later, a 25-year-old camper named Kayode Foster was beaten and shot dead on the sidewalk alongside the encampment. Oakland officials used the homicide as proof that the Frank Ogawa encampment had gotten out of hand, building momentum to evict it four days later.
Later, Roy explained how things might have gone if he'd have been there. He would have "jumped right in," he said. "If I saw the guy who did the shooting, I would tackle him to the ground and take away his gun."
He paused, thinking. "Maybe shoot him once in the leg, so he can't run away."