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Translation: The Superhero

Daniel Alarcón: For our listeners who understand English, I want to let you know that one of my favorite NPR podcasts returned on March 9. It’s called “Embedded”. With host Kelly McEvers, “Embedded” is the best in investigative and narrative journalism. Here’s a promo in English…

Promo Embedded: Hey everybody, I’m Kelly McEvers, host of NPR’s “Embedded”. On March 9th, we are back with our new episodes about police videos. Find “Embedded” on the NPR One app or at npr.org/podcasts.

Daniel: Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Now that we are part of NPR we want to share some of our favorite stories with our new audience.

Today we’re going to Argentina…

Menganno: Well, I am…first of all; I am a normal person just like everyone…and I’m lucky to have some free time.

Daniel Alarcón: This man has a name he prefers we don’t use…so let’s call him Menganno. He lives in Lanús, a city to the south of the Buenos Aires province. And he wants to make something clear:

Menganno: I feel the need to clarify that I am not crazy, I am not crazy…

Daniel Alarcón: Today, The Superhero: the story of a man, his costume, and his fight against insecurity. From Argentina, Agustina Grasso tells us the story.

Agustina Grasso: Menganno is 43 years old, weighs 105 kilos (231 lbs), has a height of 180 cm (5’ 11”), and lives a double life. On the one hand he lives with his wife, his two kids, and he’s the owner of a private security company. But on the other hand, several nights a week, he puts on a costume and walks the streets of Lanús, fighting crime – dressed up.

Menganno: And so I go out in my motorcycle and travel around, doing little things, from helping a grandma carry her bags, to picking up a garbage bag that is on the street, to pushing a car…

Agustina Grasso: One second. To understand this well, you have to visualize his costume.

Menganno: Many say I look like Captain America, because I have the shield, but I decided on the shield because I thought, if I am going to be doing good on the street, there will be bad people, so the shield makes me feel safer.

Agustina Grasso: His first outfit was made out of a black bullet proof t-shirt on top of his Argentinean t-shirt. His face was hiding under a blue helmet and a gray mask.

Menganno: Little by little, I changed my costume until the one I own today which is a lot more advanced. I have many things, now I look like a superhero: like a nocturnal visor, and a whole bunch of cool accessories.

Agustina Grasso:  And his name? Menganno? Where did it come from?

Menganno: It means anyone, anybody. Meaning, anyone can do what I do. So I had to choose between Fulano, Zutano, Menganno, so I picked Menganno, I am not sure why.

Agustina Grasso: It happened on a summer afternoon in 2010. Menganno – who was getting ready to be Menganno- was painting the shield of his future costume at the back of his house in Lanús, when all of the sudden…

Menganno: There was a power outage in our neighborhood, when two thieves came into my house, and so, we confronted each other, I grabbed his firearm with my hand, and he blows my finger off, the left thumb.

Agustina Grasso: Menganno grabbed his finger, which was still hanging and had blue stains; he put it in a jar full of ice and called a friend so he could take him to the emergency room. There, they put a couple of finger splints and sent him home.

A month later, he decided not to give up to delinquency and started patrolling around Aldo Bonzi, the locality where he was born.

Menganno: I was with a friend, I remember, the only one I told, a friend who I hadn’t seen for over 20 years. I told him, “Look, I am going to spread being good and have great results”, I was talking about the neighborhood where my friend lives and where I was born…it was like a little town you know, like in the wild west movies, where they have a sheriff but a superhero comes to say he is coming to help fight crime.

Agustina Grasso: But as it happened to Batman, Superman or any superhero, not everyone trusted Menganno. Just imagine: a man roaming the streets dressed in costume. Some people were scared of him and complained to the police.

Menganno: It was obvious, no matter how I was dressed, people ran away from me, I was like El Zorro…I couldn’t walk around Aldo Bonzi. Police cars followed me; they wanted to catch me.

Agustina Grasso:  Until one day…

Menganno: They catch me, and I had to act crazy, seriously, I took the helmet off, I showed him the paper and said, “But why are you going to take me for a background check if I have my document here?” They spared me that day, they let me go, because I told them I was coming right back, but I left.

Agustina Grasso: But this wasn’t the only conflict Menganno had to overcome. He had to face his least expected archenemy: his own wife.

She was tired of him going out every night to patrol the streets. Until one day she threatened to leave him.

Menganno: She told me she would throw the costume out and burn it, she was really mad.

Agustina Grasso:  In June 2010 they separated. He was sad and didn’t want things to end, so he made a master move. He asked the radio for help, a local program called “Dogs in the street”.

Radio host: Is this separation the kryptonite of Menganno?

Menganno: Yes, at this time it is. It really is.

Radio host: So now Silvia, let me ask you something: Isn’t it like a fantasy, don’t you feel protected with Menganno?

Agustina Grasso: This is the voice of Menganno’s wife

Silvia: Obviously yes, I am very proud of him and would give my life for him, because, obviously I love him..

Daniel: After the break, what happened with Menganno and his wife…

–MIDROLL–

Daniel: Thanks for listening to Radio Ambulante. This month we’re asking you to tell your friends about a podcast you like. Call them, contact them through social media, and if they don’t know what a podcast is, well, explain it to them. And if they don’t know how to listen, teach them. Then let us know which podcast you recommended using the hashtag #TRYPOD. Thanks!

Before the break, Mengano, in a desperate attempt to reconcile with his wife, asked a radio show for help. Agustina Grasso tells us what happened…

Agustina Grasso: It worked. Menganno and his wife reconciled. He went back to patrolling the neighborhood, roaming the streets in his special costume…but something had changed. Apparently, many people heard the program in the radio and without knowing, Menganno became famous.

Menganno: They called me from all the channels you can imagine, Brazil, Venezuela, United States, China, a newspaper from France…

Agustina Grasso: The character of Menganno reached new heights. He filmed a video for Coca-Cola and amongst many things; he gave interviews to the Argentinean TV, the BBC, and a Colombian channel.

Colombian channel: “And speaking of the phenomenon that has been the subject of superheroes in the world we can’t ignore Menganno, a patrolman and superhero of the streets of  Argentina who is with us … ”

Agustina Grasso: After all this fuss, his followers in Facebook multiplied. The page “Menganno, your superhero” came to have 30,000 followers. But the popularity was not only virtual. In Lanús, the police asked him for autographs, and he even ordered dolls of himself, which he offered for sale through his Facebook page…

The purpose of his character had changed. He participated in solidarity campaigns, fought for street dogs. And he wasn’t happy with being a public figure. No. He decided to take advantage of his fame and founded a school.

Menganno: I inaugurated the only superhero school in the world, and many ask, “A superhero school?” what? Kids go there and try to fly?” No. I teach them to use a fire extinguisher, call 911, what to do if a grandma falls down, if her blood pressure drops, very simple.

Agustina Grasso: The Menganno school operated out of a plaza in Lanús. He would call the kids and give them a mask and a cape. It was his dream: dozens of superhero kids walking the streets. Little Mengannitos patrolling around his new Gotham city.

Weeks after our interview, everything changed. Menganno shared a shocking image with his 30,000 fans en Facebook. In the photo you could see the windshield of his car with many bullet holes and an inscription that said “this is how they left my car”.

The next day, he explained he had been a victim of an attempted robbery and gave an interview to the local news:

News: “Three guys came, one on each window and the other one in front, of a garage you all saw. They point their fire arms quickly at us and I had my firearm right above my thigh. One of them saw me moving and shot my hood. I threw myself on top of my wife, shot the glass above us. The guy took another shot. He fired like eight shots…”

Agustina Grasso: Listen again to what he said. “I had my firearm right above my thigh.” And that’s the problem: not anyone can walk around carrying a firearm in Argentina. The news made a big deal about this detail and the authorities found out about it.

A prosecutor charged Menganno for illegally carrying a firearm. For the first time, after three years, journalists started asking who this character really was.

Journalist: “This man worked in a security agency…”

Agustina Grasso: And that’s how, overnight, the dream of being a superhero was gone.

All along he had been able to keep his identity hidden. Nobody knew his face, or his real name. Now, Menganno became Oscar Natalio Lafose, an ex-official and inspector of the Argentinean Federal Police, whose authorization to carry weapons had expired on February 2012. To make it clear: for over a year, when he was a civilian, he carried a firearm illegally.

Because of this, he became the only one charged in a robbery that he had denounced himself.

A few weeks later, Menganno announced his retirement for what he called “psychiatric reasons.” He disappeared from public life, stopped patrolling and giving interviews to the media. Those were months of silence. Everything indicated it was the end of his story. Until, he reappeared and accepted another interview from us. He wanted to tell his version of the story.

Menganno: If you think about it, all the superheros…not saying I am a superhero, but all the superheroes have problems with the police and the media. It’s a fact. And I had a time of depression, of two months or more, and I didn’t want to go out.

Agustina Grasso: He tells me that the intensity of the scandal took him by surprise. That the treatment the way the media reported the incident really affected him.

Menganno: They wanted an interview. They were all at the door, right? You couldn’t even go out. So what do I do? Stay here for three days? So I go out to confront them, I wear my mask and they start asking questions, and they start harassing me: saying I was a criminal, a debtor, a crazy man who fires shots, one that possesses an illegal firearm. That was the message they got.

Agustina Grasso:  He clarifies that, in reality, he fired a shot inside his house, not outside, and that’s what helped him in the case. Nonetheless, he still doesn’t have a permit to carry a firearm.

He seems sad, subdued. Very different from the man I had met months earlier. And I remember something he told me one of the very first times we spoke.

Menganno: I always said: the only power I have is to get noticed.

Agustina Grasso: That’s your superpower?

Menganno: Yes, I always said that. If I don’t say that, then I am really crazy.

Agustina Grasso: But to be noticed is not in Menganno’s plan anymore. Not like before. Still, some neighbors say they see him dressed in costume walking the streets of Lanús.

Daniel Alarcón: Since we released this story for the first time in November 2013, Menganno has been busy. He published an autobiography —“¿Quién es Menganno?” (“Who is Menganno?”)— and he also released two episodes on YouTube of a series he called “The Argenters”, a parody of Marvel’s “The Avengers.”

He has also teamed up with other superheroes and has spent a lot of time helping a hospital’s blood drive campaign. He puts on his suit and he goes donate blood, or he goes to different football pitches during games to ask people to donate. This 2017, during Argentina’s summer, he’s promoting a blood drive campaign in the coast.

Agustina Grasso is a freelance journalist. She collaborates with several media outlets in Argentina and Latin America, and still lives in Buenos Aires.

This story was edited and produced by Camila Segura and by me, Daniel Alarcón. It was mixed by Andrés Azpiri.

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Silvia Viñas, Luis Trelles, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, Barbara Sawhill, Caro Rolando, Melissa Montalvo, Désirée Bayonet, Ryan Sweikert, Luis Fernando Vargas, and David Trujillo. Andrea Betanzos is our intern. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.

Learn more about Radio Ambulante and this story on our website: radioambulante.org. Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin American I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.

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