Even though he might not be faster than a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, my friend, Chris, has one superpower that would make even Superman envious. Everywhere he goes people feed him. Once I was visiting and couldn’t help noticing, “Chris, in the week I’ve been here I haven’t seen you pay for a meal once.” And it wasn’t just because he disappeared into the men’s room whenever the waitress brought the check. Chris’s neighbors feel sorry for him, poor bachelor guy, and bring him plates of cooked food. He goes down to the 7-11, run by some guys from Kabul who love to hear him talk about all the waste in America, and comes back with bags of day old bread and pastries that they were just going to have to throw out. At work, even though his boss sometimes forgets to pay him, he always buys Chris lunch, and they go out to eat in a city that has some of the best ethnic and urban-hip restaurants in the world. Even his cat tries to feed him. At best most cats might bring a mouse or a sparrow to lay on their owner’s welcome mat. Mittens comes home with a full grown rabbit.
When I was a kid, some of my friends had superpowers. Bennett could shoot milk out his nose, at first by accident but later — and even more impressively — on demand. He was sure that when he did this during lunch period the girls would finally start to notice him. I think that was true, but not necessarily in the way he was hoping.
Then there was Kevin who had the ability to take a multiple choice test without ever studying and somehow always pass just by guessing correctly. While this was a wonderful skill to possess it never really translated into an adult profession, as there are not many jobs where you don’t really need to know anything but how to guess right on a multiple choice test. But his other superpower has proved useful. Kevin knows exactly when to slow down just before any speed trap on the highway. Kevin has used his skill for years as a long haul truck driver. I think the last test he had to pass was the multiple choice to get his driver’s license.
My friend Yvonne is a fashion maven, always on the leading edge of style. In the days before the pandemic anything she would wear would suddenly become so wildly popular that you could no longer find it in any store. But this year, due to the closing of so many retail and resale shops, Yvonne was forced to find the latest fashions in her own closet. She suddenly became a minor internet phenomenon by mixing and matching old silk scarves and pastel bucket hats with lavender satin jumpsuits and ’90s knitwear. “The most important thing about this year’s fashions is that they be comfortable and look good on Zoom. People don’t have to go to work every day but they still have to meet people, and they don’t want to look like they’ve been living in their pajamas for nine months.” Although I’m sure that if she started wearing pajamas all the time that would be the next trend to sweep the nation.
My cousin Max has the amazing and strange ability of being able to show up at the bus stop a minute before the bus arrives. He doesn’t do this by following the printed schedule, because the buses are almost never on time. He just seems to have this innate ability to know exactly the right time to show up to climb on the bus. My friend Terry, on the other hand, always seems to show up a minute too late to catch the bus and winds up having to wait 20 minutes or more till the next one finally comes. But this is OK because Terry has the superpower of enjoying waiting. He can happily and patiently while away hours a day waiting for public transit, standing in line at the post office, or sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms. He loves to read and often carries a paperback around with him to pass the time but even without one he is perfectly content to meditate, hum, strike up conversations with other folks stuck in limbo, or just stare off into space.
Other folks I know have other unusual superpowers. My cousin Bob can notice when a food in the fridge is just about to turn bad and eat it before it happens. My daughter-in-law can notice when something is even slightly out of place and is able to know exactly which of her kids was messing around where they shouldn’t be. My friend Joan can cure a headache just by laying on hands. This is a particularly useful skill to have around whenever my cousin Harry has recently visited, as he has the ability to cause a headache just by appearing at the front door.
Then there’s Uncle Moe, who can understand any language. Albanian, Navaho, or Bantu, you name it. Not that he can speak any language but he can understand whatever a native speaker is trying to say to him. This is confirmed when you ask someone who can translate the other language and Uncle Moe’s understanding proves to be accurate. His superpower would make Uncle Moe the perfect person to travel the world with except for the fact that his other superpower is the ability to get into an argument by insulting anyone no matter where they’re from or what language they speak. So rather than encouraging either of his superpowers the family tries our best to keep Uncle Moe away from any foreigners with access to sharp objects.
I was out in a park this week with my grandsons who had just seen a Superman movie for the first time. Benny, the three-year-old, noticed an old beer can and picked it up shouting, “Kryptonite!” I happened to have a plastic bag in my pocket. “Here Benny, throw it in here so we can keep Superman safe from losing his superpowers!” Soon he was tossing out every piece of trash he came across and shouting, “Kryptonite!” Maybe Benny’s onto something. If we could just clean up all the garbage that’s polluting our world and our minds maybe each of us could re-kindle our unique superpowers and remember our greatness. And possibly even get someone to buy us lunch.