Discover more from CAFÉ ANNE
Captain Bayonne: Small-Town Superhero
Paper-pusher in the office; spandex savior on the streets
Welcome to Issue #12 of CAFÉ ANNE!
I met a 50-year-old recently who’s lived the most pedestrian life one might imagine. He attended a single Catholic school from kindergarten through senior year and is about to celebrate his 30-year wedding anniversary. He’s worked the same clerical job since 1992 while living in a NJ two-bedroom rental. So it’s even more surprising that this man, whose name remains a secret, maintains an alter-ego as a small-town superhero.
Meet Captain Bayonne, the subject of this week’s feature, below.
IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE…
• Weird Trash Heap #9
• One Star Reviews: Central Park
• Feature: Captain Bayonne, Small-Town Superhero
Weird Trash Heap #9
The trash heap below was photographed by Stephanie J. in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, who spotted it on Beverly Road between East 16th and East 17th Streets.
The elements: dessert sprinkles, a banana peel, a pair of mismatched socks and, if you zoom in, something unidentifiable but vaguely sinister: “Yeah, the tan things look fleshy, but they weren’t pieces of meat or chicken,” Stephanie writes. “I thought fortune cookies, but they weren’t that either.”
Perhaps we’re better off not knowing.
Please send your weird trash photo to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will include it in a future issue.
The Horrors and Miseries of New York’s Central Park
One of my favorite pastimes is reading the one-star reviews folks leave online for mankind’s greatest treasures. Everyone’s a critic!
This issue’s topic: NYC’s Central Park.
“There's a horrible smell of mulch.”
—Melanie F, Tripadvisor
“My farm is bigger than this place, and better maintained.”
“I walked through this park for six hours trying to find the help desk.”
“The blue jays have gone”
—Dayana Blanca Quiroga, Google
“Too hot to be enjoyable”
—Todd Wiedemann, Google
“Swing sets could be more fun”
—Noel Price, Google
“It was terrible with all the animal smells. Horse poo, bird poo…and bird feathers flying everywhere”
—Carol T., Tripadvisor
“No parking anywhere”
—John DeNic, Google
“Full of city clichés”
—Chengyuan Zhao, Google
“Worst hot dogs!”
Joanne S., Tripadvisor
“No one enforces the bike lane rule.”
—Frank Rodriguez, Google
“I encountered a very selfish person who refused to move out of the way for me to take a photo”
—Lennox Wright, Google
—Niv Asayag, Google
—Javiel vasquez, Google
“Filmed from a helicopter, it might be interesting, but you will not be able unless you have military permission. Boooring.”
“I'll never get back those 3 hours of my life that I spent walking around this park.”
—Richard H., Tripadvisor
Captain Bayonne: Small-Town Superhero
When I spotted Captain Bayonne approaching our designated meeting spot at Columbia University last week, I burst out laughing. In addition to his usual Mexican wrestling mask and spandex tights, he was sporting a furry pink onesie.
“I’m just staying warm,” he said.
No one passing by seemed to notice his interesting outfit, and he said he’s used to being ignored. Most folks are glued to their phones, and they don't notice everything else around, he said. “Like, there could be a dragon flying in the sky—they would have no idea.”
Where he does get plenty of attention is in Bayonne, NJ, the small city 13 miles south of Manhattan where he is widely celebrated as Captain Bayonne— the local superhero performing fantastic feats and good needs.
But more on that later. At Columbia, he’s known simply as “the water bottle guy” for his daily sessions in front of the library practicing a curious sport of his own invention. The activity involves grasping a plastic water bottle between his feet, kicking back and launching the bottle into a trash bin 40 feet away.
“I'm happy to say I created this,” he said. “I call it either ‘bottle rockets,’ or ‘flipping out,’—one or the other. Or ‘bottle rockets flipping out.’”
He invented the activity to promote another of his favorite pastimes, picking up litter.
“I thought an interesting way to try to get garbage into the garbage can was doing it with your feet,” he said. “I'm trying to get it to be a sport, like an Olympic sport. I've even pitched it to Gatorade because they're my favorite bottle. And not much response.”
Flipping out is harder than it looks.
The day’s first attempt fell five feet short of the trash can, as did the second. He paused to empty some water from his Gatorade bottle.
“Everything comes into play. The temperature, the amount of water, the wind,” he said. “If it’s too heavy, it’s hard to go the distance. If it’s too light, the wind blows it around. It’s like a lesson in physics.”
Eight more attempts produced eight more misses. The Captain tries to make ten baskets every day before he ends a session. Sometimes it takes more than 200 attempts to make all ten shots. The fewest was 75. He’s never made more than two in a row.
On the eleventh try, the bottle landed in the “glass, plastics and metal” bin with a satisfying thunk. I cheered, as did a nanny and her charge watching from afar.
The Captain’s skill is even more remarkable given the fact that he has two different size feet—his left foot is three sizes larger than the right.
When he was young, the Captain had a hard time maintaining his balance. Now, his foot skills know no boundaries.
“I’d like to open up a pizzeria where the pizza is made only with feet,” he said.
I observed that his chosen sport is perhaps the most pointless activity one could imagine.
“But when you think about it, most of life is pointless,” he said. “It really is! You work, you work, you work, you die. So what what happens in-between? What are you doing that brings you joy?”
He hopes he is inspiring others. “If someone can do this—or finds something comparable to bring them happiness and joy—that’s the key,” he said. “Stop seeking out things that make you angry and upset.”
While the Captain has been “flipping out” on campus since 2015, few who study or work at Columbia know that the mysterious figure, who keeps his identity secret, is an official university community member. The 50-year-old has worked in operations at the undergraduate admissions office for 30 years. He’s the guy who makes sure the right transcript is paired with the right application, for instance.
I asked if he is a hero in the office.
“I tried to wear this at the office once,” he said of his spandex tights and mask. “And my supervisor at the time freaked out a little bit. He just wasn’t comfortable with it. So I didn't put it on again. It’s only when I'm on my lunch hour.”
But he’s a work hero in other ways, commuting 90 minutes morning and evening from Bayonne by the train and subway, often arriving at 6:30 am to get a jump start on the day.
I asked how long he plans to continue at Columbia.
“I have another 50 years, until I hit 100,” he said. “I don’t want to work beyond that.”
The Captain continued practicing his shots. By the time he got to his thirtieth attempt, I was cold and hungry and suggested lunch at the diner around the corner.
Everyone at Tom’s Restaurant was amused and happy to see the Captain come in, including the waitress.
The Captain ordered mozzarella sticks, one of the few dishes he can eat with his mask on. “They’re easy to jam in my pie hole,” he said.
He told me his back story over lunch. He grew up in Jersey City which was, at the time, a rough town. His dad, a truck driver, stopped working altogether; mom was a bank teller. He attended the same Catholic school from kindergarten though senior year, then spent a year studying theater at Florida State. He dropped out for financial reasons.
Back home, he got a job peddling a directory of consultants. “You had to pay to get in this book, and the book cost $1,000,” he said.
The gig lasted less than year, but he met his wife, a receptionist at the same company. They got married at city hall and will celebrate their 30-year anniversary in March.
He landed at Columbia soon after, and moved to Bayonne. He and his wife, who is disabled, have occupied the same two-bedroom apartment for 28 years.
If you haven’t been to Bayonne, population 65,000, you really should. It’s like a small, blue-collar town filled with loudmouth New Yorkers. There are few national chains—every store on Broadway, the main drag, is a donut shop or a barber shop.
“It’s got its quirkiness, but people are very honest,” the Captain said. “They tell you how they feel. There's no sugarcoating. Whether you like it or not, you're gonna get it, in a blast! And I can appreciate that.”
In 2010, overweight and out of shape, he started marathon training by taking daily runs around Bayonne (he’s since run seven). He was nearly hit by a car one evening, and the driver advised him to wear something more visible. His solution: the now infamous mask and tights.
His runs in superhero garb attracted attention as Bayonne residents tried to guess the identity of this strange masked sprinter racing cars between traffic lights.
“My favorite is I beat a red Ferrari. You don’t see many red Ferraris in Bayonne,” said the Captain.
Two locals, including a Bayonne firefighter, launched a Facebook tribute page and gave him a name: Captain Bayonne.
And then a funny thing happened. Residents started posting comments on the page, asking Captain Bayonne for help. He said yes.
He now works with local businesses running an annual toy drive for local kids. He’s sold Captain Bayonne teeshirts and mugs at the farmers’ market and used the proceeds to help folks like the Bayonne mom who needed help buying a special van and wheelchair for her handicapped son. He’s raised money for fire victims and crime victims. He distributes candy at parades. He sat in the dunk tank to raise funds for charities at the county fair.
And in return, he’s been celebrated by his neighbors. The Bayonne Bleeders, a rock band, wrote a tribute song, the Ballad of Captain Bayonne. Shorty's, a local bar, named a drink after him, the "Captain Bayonne Cocktail." Kids dress as Captain Bayonne for Halloween.
I asked about the difference between Captain Bayonne and the man behind the mask.
“Just pretty much the outfit,” he said. “The personality is the same. The things we laugh about, the things that we think are funny are the same. I just probably get more determined as Captain Bayonne, locked in as to what I need to do. It’s very helpful.”
I asked how his life might feel if he didn’t have a superhero alter ego. He dodged the question.
“Above all else, when people see me, I hope it gives them joy,” said the Captain, who has nieces and nephews but can’t have kids. “I hope it makes them laugh. I don't care that you're laughing at me. Yeah, I laugh with you.”
“I think there's a lot of people that just suppress who they are to conform to what the worldview or what other people feel that they should be,” he added. “I don't care what anybody thinks. Accept me, don't accept me. You move on, I move on, we all move on. But to suppress who you are? I don't get that.”
Can anyone be a superhero?
“Everybody, every single person has something unique about them, that can be not only beneficial for themselves, but beneficial to people around them, if they just explore it and not suppress it,” he said. “That’s basically it.”
He is, by the way, not the only small-town superhero around.
“There was a Hoboken Batman for a while,” he said.
Any other rivals?
“I’m not sure he’s my rival, he lives in Pennsylvania, so I don't see him too often. You can look him up. Fart Man. He's got like a green suit. He's originally from Bayonne but he moved to the Poconos. He sells time shares.”
And what’s next for the Captain?
“I'm not sure, but I'm excited to find out,” he said. “And you know, I haven't gotten hit by a car yet. So it definitely has worked.”
CAFÉ ANNE is a free newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!