In Providence: Stuck with Superman

On the second floor of an apartment on Parade Street, there’s a man with no shirt standing in front of a window trying not to draw Superman.

“It’s hard when something gets inside your head and you feel like you have to get it out, but it’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of time to just sit here drawing Superman over and over, even though that’s what I’d like to do. Some people procrastinate by watching TV; I draw Superman. One year all I did was draw Superman. If I did comic books, that would be one thing, but I don’t. I just like superheroes, but that’s not something I’m focused on — that’s not what I’m trying to focus on right now. Now I’d like to do something different.”

It’s a Saturday evening, and we’re midway through Rhode Island Comic Con — an event that seems to expand every year like conventions identical to it all around the country. It brings an infusion of creativity and fandom to Providence for a few days, but the man on Parade Street isn’t aware of it.

“Must be a lot of people downtown then. Let’s go for a drink,” he says, already scanning what appears to be a pile of rags near his bookcase looking for anything resembling a shirt. “It’s good to be around people when you’re stuck. You ever get stuck? Go find some people to unstick you. That’s the only way to do it.”

We wind up at Trinity Brewhouse where I find out that he’s much more social than I am — introducing himself to people, swearing he’s met them before, acquiring free drinks from total strangers after only a minute or two of small talk.

“You have to look like you’d be fun to have a beer with,” he says. “That’s how you drink for free and that’s how you get elected. Some tricks work in all kinds of places.”

He strikes up a conversation with two guys attending the Con — one is a screenplay writer and the other is an artist. Once the man from Parade Street realizes he’s in the presence of a colleague, he tells him all about his Superman conundrum.

“What the f— am I supposed to do with Superman?” he asks, and I envy whoever might be eavesdropping on this discussion.

Ten minutes later, after the two men have returned to their hotel, he stabs at the salad he’s ordered with a punctuating insistence, and I admit to him that I’m surprised he didn’t order a burger instead. I confess that he comes across as a carnivore.

“I haven’t eaten meat in 17 years,” he tells me, “Drinking’s the last thing I haven’t given up. I quit smoking two years ago. I don’t miss the meat, but f— if I don’t want a smoke every f—ing day of my life.”

A girl with an “Adventure Time” t-shirt approaches us and introduces herself to him. Then it becomes clear she’s going to have to re-introduce herself, because he doesn’t remember her.

They met at a friend’s wedding last summer on the Cape, and after they talk about what a nice ceremony and reception it was, she goes back to her group on the other side of the bar, and I ask him if anything … interesting happened between them.

“We got high and talked about what a f—ing prick Bill de Blasio is,” he says, jabbing his fork into a cherry tomato. “She used to be from New York, then she moved to — somewhere else. She’s back in New York now. I like her, but I did the long distance thing once, and it never worked out even though things aren’t as far away as they used to be.”

The last time he tried to love someone, the woman lived in Florida on the edge of Daytona, and the two of them made it work for a year and a half before the battery ran out. He says he’s fine with it, but three beers later, it’s a slightly different story.

“She liked that I was so good with kids, because she had one of her own, and the kid loved me. He really did. His dad was a cop — and I mean that, like — he was a cop all the time. Here’s me this big f—ing idiot being an a–hole trying to get the kid to laugh all the time. I taught him how to draw, and I’d bring him with me when I did landscaping. That was how I made a living down there. Now I work at the shop, but back then I liked being outside. The kid really caught on with me, and everything was starting to look like it was going to be a family — me, him, and his mom. Then, I got restless. That’s how I am. I hate it — to tell you the truth. It’s not what I like about myself, but I get that tickle in my gut and I know it’s time to go. I didn’t want to lose them, but I couldn’t see myself sticking around. We thought about a compromise. The plan was I come up here, try New England, set up some stuff, and then they were going to come up and move in with me, but…I don’t know. I think part of me knew that wasn’t how it was going to go. The kid’s dad put up a big stink, and the phone calls just stopped coming so much — from the mom I mean. She liked me, but I don’t think she loved me like I loved her, and that’s a good thing, trust me. I called the kid on his birthday last year, and he didn’t pick up. I figured that was the end of it.”

How does a guy who can’t stick around get stuck with Superman in his head and inside all sketchpads and on his walls and in front of everything else he’d like to draw?

“The funny thing is,” he says, “I was always a Batman guy. Never really liked Superman. Always thought he was boring. Didn’t seem to be much to him.”

Later that night when I’m home and in bed, he sends me a photo of a pencil drawing — a woman with an “Adventure Time” t-shirt. The message he sends with it reads–

“How’s this?”

I tell him it’s not Superman.

And that’ll have to do for now.

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