Sebastian spots Spiderman among the costumed characters and caped crusaders. We’re mingling with Elmo, Despicable Me, Woody and Buzz. There’s a grimy Batman who’s making the rounds and then I spot another Elmo. That’s two Elmos. But Spiderman, that’s Sebastian’s hero.
We’re on the pedestrian island in the middle of Times Square where spray paint artists create art for twenty bucks a pop, or five if you negotiate, where hobos wearing self-created costumes made from stained spandex grope kids for tips. Where his face lights up, but all I see is the stink and the filth, the counterfeit guys, the Halal stands and the TGI Friday’s. This is where I almost lose him, here, where heaven on Earth is in reach for this three year old.
I take a picture of him in his mother’s arms, sandwiched between Elmo and Minnie fucking Mouse.
Spiderman’s too popular and the line is stupid long. Every child wants a whiff of smelly, homemade Spiderman. Sebastian is wide-eyed. Dried tomato sauce forms a crusty ring around his mouth. Pizza. He’s high. New York, jet-lag, sugar, costumed characters, LED screens. He’s a kid. He wants to play. He wants to run around and play catch me if you can.
Heaven on Earth.
I pick him up and look him in the eyes.
“You can’t run around here,” I say. “Too many people. Look at the cars over there. It’s dangerous.” I use my stern parental voice, the one I’ll never feel comfortable using. I want to wipe the crusty tomato sauce from his mouth but I don’t. I want to carry him away and save us from this place.
“OK Daddy” he says. I give him a kiss on the cheek and put him back down.
He takes off towards Broadway. Never even hesitates.
“You can’t get me!” he squeals as he turns his face. Happiest face I’ve ever seen. His eyes are smiling, his teeth are smiling, his nose is smiling. He squeals once more just as the horde of yellow cabs accelerates ahead on Broadway.
A path opens up in front of him. As if God, or whoever, wants him now, right then and there. The distance between us is insurmountable. I scream his name so loud I seem to rupture my vocal cords.
He keeps running. The taxicabs keep accelerating. Any moment now. Where are all the Superheroes? Where are the Elmos? The Captain Americas, the Batman’s, Minions and Buzz Lightyear?
Where the hell is Spiderman?
I don’t remember much of what happens next because my Spider Sense is tingling. I switch into tunnel vision and somehow close the thirty foot gap in a split second. I trip Sebastian just as he hits the curb. He stumbles into the street. I jump between him and where the cabs should be. Any moment now. I don’t hear the screeching of their tires. I don’t hear the gasps of terror from the mob behind us. I don’t hear my heart pounding against my chest. I don’t hear a thing.
I pick him up and jump back on the curb. His legs are wiggling as I press him against my body, feeling him, making sure he’s really with me. He’s laughing. He’s alive. He’s ecstatic.
“You crazy-ass motherfucker,” I say as I carry him towards his mom. Nothing better comes to mind.
A path once again opens up. Frozen faces are staring, wide-mouthed and muted. I hand Sebastian off to mommy and the cacophony of Times Square returns as if someone un-muted the scene.
I begin to shake. I turn my head back towards the curb. Cabs are stampeding past where it should have happened, where blood and guts should be splattered on the concrete, where I should have been wishing it had been me instead of him.
I spot Spiderman in the crowd. We lock eyes for a moment. I think he’s thanking me for bailing him out. I can’t quite tell because of his mask.
Note: I updated this post from Bad Papa West’s personal archives. It seemed like a good fit after Bad Papa East’s last post. And fuck Times Square.