Though I owned tights and weapons, I wasn't a superhero. By day, I was Ilise Carter, mild-mannered copywriter; by night, the Lady Aye, fire-eater and sword-swallower. After a lifetime of being obsessed with sideshows, I started performing in my 30s, appearing in variety shows wearing corsets and tutus and cheap gowns like a low-rent Marlene Dietrich. My stage persona gave me confidence. If I got a laugh or pulled off a stunt, I cared less about the size of my hips—or paycheck. But my night job didn't pay my New York City rent, so off to work I went, writing ads for ugly shoes and wrinkle creams. After work I'd go home, dress and paint myself then head out to entertain amid the cocktails and spotlights and seedy glamour. I'd get home late, sleep a little then go to the office, with its grim fluorescent lights and coffee that tasted like gym socks.

Not wanting to be teased by my coworkers, I kept my moonlighting gig to myself. (It gave me cold sweats to think of the button-down bros in sales finding out that I spent my nights in dive bars with tattooed, half-naked people.) It wasn't hard to keep my public appearances private since my colleagues and I never talked much anyhow. In three years, no one asked me why I always came to work covered in glitter, or why I sometimes toted a giant bag full of swords.

I started to see why some superheroes seem so isolated. You do something amazing and want people to know, but you can't bring yourself to shout, "Hey, I'm actually kind of the Human Torch!" But I wanted to be "Sweetheart of the Sideshow," not the office weirdo. So I decided to go freelance and work from my private lair. I quit, and on my way out, I emailed a goodbye and the secret coordinates to Lady Aye's website. I got one email from a girl who thought it was cool, and never heard from or saw any of them again. Still, I was happy to reveal my other life—and even happier to live it.


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