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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Oct 28 1998
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Night Crawler
By Silke Tudor
Superheroes in Our Midst

It's a bright, sunny Friday afternoon in South Park. The grass is green, the birds are boisterous, it promises to be a lovely weekend. Shandra Nibock and her best friend, Justine Fischer, sit in a warm patch of sun. Neither is anxious to return to the office, but the lunch hour is waning. They begin gathering their trash and lighting cigarettes, grumbling about their bosses who, though different, are similarly irritating.

"I wish I could play hooky," says Nibock, blowing a loose tendril of jet-black hair out of her eyes with a great exhalation of resignation and smoke. Fischer snorts in agreement and pulls a manila folder out of her oversized handbag, squinting as she tries to read the data in the glare of natural light.

"You are all superheroes!"
Nibock opens a small tortoise-shell compact and begins carefully reapplying her lipstick. Fischer frowns down at her folder, absent-mindedly rubbing the bridge of her nose as if she were wearing glasses. She snorts again, this time at the folder.

"You are all superheroes!"
"What is that?" Fischer finally asks, looking around.
"You are all superheroes! Save yourselves!" shouts Warrior Girl, organizer of the second annual Community Space Walk -- a 24-hour display of interactive art and performance, presented on public streets, for free.

In keeping with Warrior Girl's preferred theme -- life as comic book art -- she is outfitted in a bright-pink wig and a red-white-and-blue spandex superhero costume with stars running down the legs. She stands out among the mostly black-and-neutral tones of San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch, but as the minutes pass, other superheroes begin to arrive -- Power and Greed Man, Argyle Man, Distracticus. They hang off the park's jungle gym and shout, "Do not be afraid of the artists!" They also pass out illustrated maps of the Financial District with a vague schedule for the "superhero's journey."

"You people are being unduly influenced by artists!" shouts Distracticus, a superhero antagonist with a bullhorn. "Do not pay any attention. Go home and watch TV."

"Save yourselves!" shouts Warrior Girl.
"Watch TV!" shouts Distracticus.
The bemused regulars of South Park smile as they munch.
"Your life is art!" shouts Warrior Girl. "Live lustily!"
"Lust is dangerous," retorts Distracticus. "Watch lust on TV."
Fischer snorts.

"There's more to life than eating lunch in the park," shouts a concerned superhero. "There's art all around you, if you'd just open your fucking eyes."

"Some of us have to work for a fucking living," snaps Fischer before abruptly leaving the park, and her map, behind.

"She's a sculptor," explains her friend with an indulgent smile. "She kind of hates the whole 'artist' thing."

On Third Street, several pedestrians and a couple of Spacewalkers gather around a giant chunk of marble sitting in a wheelbarrow. Each is handed a pair of safety goggles, a chisel, and a mallet. The "artists" are invited to work on the stone for as long as they wish, shaping it slowly, until the head of a large dragon begins to emerge. Although there is a vague design, the project is collaborative and the artists diverse. Some first-time carvers are careful and meticulous, while others hack away furiously, seeming to relish only in the sensation of rock giving way under steel. A few of the pedestrians pick up maps and become Spacewalkers.

Nearby, a shiny white van serves as a mobile canvas, the driver offering cans of paint to passers-by.

A parade of odd bicycles and odder cars meanders through the Financial District. Meanwhile, an ever-growing procession of superheroes and superfreaks makes its way to Bryant and Second Street, where heroes and freaks alike play wind instruments through bullhorns and prepare root beer floats for commuters stuck in rush hour traffic. Folks are encouraged to tune into Radio-Free Space Walk (103.3 on your FM dial) to participate in the citywide rave. A game of Spin the Bottle erupts on the sidewalk.

At the Powell Street cable car turnaround, a game of Twister is played. A dour-faced security guard is flashed by a young woman in a corset whose private parts read "Censored." A stretch of red cloth is unrolled for an impromptu fashion show in which tourists become models. On BART, superheroes entertain weary travelers with excerpts from the Superhero Soap Opera.

As night falls, bands begin to pop up on street corners and in parking lots. Headlights become stage lights for acrobats and singers. Fire-breathers, fire-eaters, and fire-twirlers perform between buildings. Films are projected on the underbelly of the I-80 on-ramp. People sing and beat on mailboxes. The Sphere of Influence, a giant steel ball sporting a television and a viewing seat, makes its rounds. The Space Walk grows. The costumes become more and more outlandish. The cops begin to take notice. They tell the growing number of Spacewalkers to move along. They are unaware that moving along is the whole point.

A group of bridge-climbers prepares to rappel off the underside of an overpass. The cops don't see them. The Spacewalkers wait and watch the rappellers. The cops wait and watch the Spacewalkers. The rappellers wait and watch the cops watching the Spacewalkers. It's an impasse. More cops arrive. Forlorn, the Spacewalkers drift away, muttering.

"We're already getting priced out of San Francisco," points out a sad man in striped tights and a top hat. "We'll be gone soon anyway."

By 3 a.m., the Spacewalkers have dwindled to less than a hundred. The city is quiet; the streetlights are blinking yellow as nightclubbers pile into their cars and lurch home. At Yerba Buena Gardens, the remaining Spacewalkers play Red Rover Red Rover in accordance with the traffic lights. The cops come and go. Then a giant red phoenix appears on stilts.

He leads the Tip Toe Parade, San Francisco freaks of every shape, size, and color inching their way through the Financial District, completely silent but for hushing noises. The parade winds down Main Street to an underpass near the water and up a steep dirt embankment with only a chain-link fence to provide handholds. At the top of the hill, amid an outcrop of trees, the Spacewalkers find several large beds laid out with pillows and blankets. The superheroes and their converts collapse in exhaustion as old black-and-white cult films flicker on the side of the Bank of America building.

Ariel Yanda, a 20-year-old from Santa Rosa who was drunkenly passing the time at the Greyhound Station when the Tip Toe Parade went by, looks out across the bay and up at the movie projection.

"I've never seen anything like this in my life," she says.
"Too few people have," is the answer she hears as she curls up in her friend's lap to watch the approaching dawn.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor
Published:The Oct. 28 Night Crawler column inaccurately stated that the Sphere of Influence was part of the Community Space Walk art and performance display. SF Weekly regrets the error.

About The Author

Silke Tudor

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