In 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina, I found myself on my knees in the Baton Rouge Convention Center, praying hard for size 4-6 Spiderman underwear. (Look, this was not for a touchdown, so don’t go there.)
In 2004, I had returned home to New Orleans after spending several homesick years in the Midwest. The following year Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and I luckily stayed with friends in the capitol, Baton Rouge, while volunteering with the Red Cross.
For a number of weeks, I bobbed and weaved around streams of other volunteers, running to and from the loading docks in the convention hall to fill plastic bags with bare necessities for storm victims.
One afternoon, I was making my rounds on the huge, cot-filled, convention floor, with socks and underwear for children. I learned, after my first few days, that these items were indispensible in emergency situations.
Some thoughtful donors (THANK YOU ALL AGAIN) sent super-hero underwear for kids and I raided this huge box at once, knowing they’d be a hit. At one point, a cute mob of small children pinned me in a small circle and attacked my poor plastic bag.
By the time I reached the front of the arena floor, I had only Batman with me but I thought, “ Everyone loves Batman anyway.”
I approached a young mother and what appeared to be her cute, 4 or 5 year-old son, who was missing two front teeth. His big, elfish, sparkling, brown eyes were filled with joyful anticipation as he searched through my bag. His expression quickly faded.
“Don’t you have Spiderman?” he asked innocently with unsettling, large, sad eyes.
It wasn’t only the fact that he was a rabid, fanatical Spidey fan, or the fact that he had left behind his Spiderman bedspread, bed sheets, clothes, backpack, etc. It wasn’t only that his mother told me about his Spiderman-themed birthday party with a Spiderman cake, Spiderman piñata, plates, napkins, cups, etc…or that he even had a Spiderman kite stored away in their attic. All that was gone.
It was his Christmas-morning hope and joyful expectation that faded to nearly tearful disappointment that moved me.
I had run out of Spidey underwear and this kid loved Spiderman. I even searched my plastic bag again, as if by doing so, I could will something into existence.
I knew in my heart I couldn’t disappoint this child and in a matter of hours he and mom could easily be loaded onto a bus. Shopping would have been a joke. The population of Baton Rouge had tripled in only a few days. The desperation for gas was surreal and the traffic was insane. I quickly tried to reassure him that I’d go back to check for more undies.
Like a crazed lunatic, I ran through the convention hall and onto the loading dock. I found the box of comic book-underpants and nearly dove in. I excavated the huge cardboard tub of Hulk and Batman underwear. Green, grey, black. No! Bat insignia, purple ripped shorts, black boots. No! Bat ears, bat insignia, black cape, green body! Nothing! Nada! No red. No cobalt blue. Nothing. Just green, purple and grey. With growing desperation, I searched through several huge boxes of underwear: children’s, men’s, women’s and girls’. No Spiderman! I had just given at least three or four packs away. There had to be something left.
Suddenly, I had a thought: Humble yourself and ask for help. My friends in Baton Rouge are atheists but I will say without shame that I prayed for those pants. It went something like this. “God please forgive me for asking for this but all I need is one pack of Spiderman underwear in size 4-6. I’ll even take just a single pair of briefs. Please. Please. Please.” I was dead serious.
I searched on. Nothing. Another box. Nothing. I tried some random boxes and I spotted some plastic packages; then that blessed red and blue. I found it. I found one pack of three pairs of Spiderman underwear in size 4-6! I felt like the Lord of the Rings and I had reclaimed possession of the only one left. I found magic!
I sprinted across the convention floor as if I had life-saving medication to administer. I braked near the family’s cots, which were pushed together to make a full-sized bed. “Look!” I shouted, nearly as excited as he was about old Spidey. He grabbed the small package from me and examined it, like an expert jeweler looking for a flaw. Then suddenly, he leaped onto the bed and thrust his arm into the air like Thor with his mighty hammer, Mjolinir, and screamed, “SPIDERMAN!!!!!!!!”
As if this hadn’t been enough joy to behold, in a flash, the boy scrambled beneath the comforters; clothes and all. The few people watching must have been just as confused as I was. We could only see his small head, peeking out of the comforter, moving from side to side in an awkward fashion. He appeared to be squirming. Just as swiftly as he had jumped in, he flipped backed the covers and stood, arms proudly on his hips, like a Superman with his chest out, and a huge nearly toothless smile, in only his underwear.
New Orleanian in Minnesota