On a Saturday afternoon, amid the throngs of shoppers, protesters, and spare changers, a local superhero glides through Pioneer Square, leaving a wake of mesmerized onlookers. "Hey, it's Wonderman!" sputters an over-eager and misinformed member of the populace, nearly wiping out his toddling daughter in an attempt to lurch at our hero. "Hello, citizens!" the superhero periodically screeches, waving.
Saucer-eyed children abandon skateboards on the pavement and approach reverently, as if drawn in by magnetic force field, breathing, "You're SpiderMan," to which our hero grins and replies, "Yes. Yes I am."
If you haven't met local crime-fighter Spider-Man, seek him out among the streams of human traffic downtown and at the Waterfront, where he keeps a vigilant eye while busking for change. Sometimes you'll find him with the banjo guitar he built himself, but he prefers to tote a more compact instrument: a tiny soprano saxophone, on which he improvises tunes inspired by his mood and the passersby.
As he walks past them, a pincushion cluster of punk urchins erupts, "Holy fuck shit! It's Spidey-Man!" Spider-Man sighs, "It can get boring, because people have the same general reaction to me. So I use the improvisational format to express my versatility and range. Sometimes I feel darker, you know. Moody." Despite its toy-like size, Spider-Man says of his sax, "Nothing else cuts through street noise like the " He is interrupted by a shy pre-teen girl reaching out her hands, murmuring, "I like your outfit."
Every day is like this for Spider-Man. Most are enchanted with his reassuring presence, and troublemakers are easy to spot by their inherently evil reactions to the halo of Good Guy energy hovering over this costumed hero. "When I first came to Portland, I was frequenting lots of coffee houses and school cafeterias. I realized it's such a friendly town that there's not a huge demand for superheroes," he explains. "Besides, busking pays better."
On this particular afternoon, Spiderman patrols the recesses of Pioneer Place, encountering two potential villains at the Gap--villains cleverly disguised as preppies. While unblinking sales girls assist Spiderman in locating the men's hosiery, the puffy-vested culprits peer venomously at his back. "That's it," hisses one to the other. "I have to leave the store. I can't deal with this. I am so turned off." They huffily abandon their items atop clearance sweaters, turn on their heels and stomp out.
It might seem hectic to juggle busking improv sax with being a superhero, but to Spider-Man, it was a natural progression. "I've always been a huge, huge fan of old-skool Kenny G.," he grins shyly. "I'm even thinking of growing out my hair! I've decided to pursue my inner artist through improvisational study. I'm a very improvisational person when you get to know me. Like with crime fighting, I just have a knack for being in the wrong place at the right time. It's usually on accident."
When asked about the upcoming movie Spider-Man and any involvement on his part, emphatic tears line the corners of Spider-Man's eyes.
"They didn't even offer me a cameo! That movie isn't even about me! I'm a musician!"
With that, Spider-Man cuts up the urban grid once again, wafting mournful notes that penetrate the din of a four-block radius.