was listening to a podcast with Robert Downey Jr. the other day. He gained worldwide notoriety for playing Iron Man in the Marvel universe movie franchise, his superhero character representing a beacon of good. Listening to him, it crossed my mind that the defining difference between our world and Marvel’s is that real humans are not under constant threat of annihilation by plots concocted by evil superior powers.
This in turn got me thinking of my childhood. I used to sit in my room staring at my balcony doors, hoping all the while I’d suddenly been endowed with control over some element, like air, so that as the newly anointed empress of air I could make the doors swing open or shut on a whim. Clearly I lacked megalomaniacal tendencies since I never got much beyond opening and closing doors.
With modesty in mind, and imagining a world in which superpowers do exist (but without Marvel-like perils), what kinds of “budget” would I give human heroes to make the world a better place? Here’s my own little list.
- The ability to instantly and exactly know how fast you’re driving. Sound mundane? If so, you’ve never been with a passenger who tells you, “Um, the speed limit is 38.” Can this well-meaning soul actually see the speedometer? Of course not, at least not clearly, which means the car feels like it’s going faster. If humans had the power to say, “Don’t worry Mom, we’re traveling at 33.967 MPH” or “56.1, which is an allowable 1.2 MPH over the speed limit,” that would be a great start. Imagine how many dinner table arguments wouldn’t even start. (I did say I had low maintenance superpower goals.)
- The ability to not overthink things, or turn off that function when it kicks in and becomes obsessive. This power would cover the likes of, “Should I send it now or wait until later so it doesn’t seem like I knew all along she was wrong? Is that rude? Maybe it’s better to let her make the mistake to not seem nosy. Or maybe I should be a better friend and sending that conveys that message…?”, I’m sorry, why does vanquishing tentacled hydras (a handy enough skill) not even rank with the Overthink Nemesis. Banishing it forever would really let us enter a brave new world. Since even the most heroic of human women overthink at frightening levels, its absence would truly change the world. No more trying to do the nice thing, then worrying it isn’t nice, then doing it, but wanting the recipient of your “thing” to know you thought deeply before acting, then feeling sad when you think they’ve missed that part. Ending overthinking would usher in a new era of confident social interaction. You’d feel better about yourself without even needing to boast about all the monsters you’d slayed.
- The ability to transform rude drivers into pillars of salt. Road rage is a real thing. Imagine the social improvements that would permit fair retribution to road wrongs. Example: you’re driving fairly and squarely on the freeway with some good citizens behind you. One of those good citizens passes you on the right at the first opportunity only to find a row of parked cars. The next move is obvious: barge back into the left lane, not thinking to give you the right of way. You don’t even have the time to produce “the” gesture. Instead, you enraged, and there’s not a thing you can do. But, with your new power all this is taken care of in a second. You pass the offending car and see only a pile of white ash on the driver’s seat. That’s my kind of world, and the kind I want my children to grow up in, filled with hope, justice, and the ability honestly to reply to my kids when they ask, “What’s it mean when I look in a car and it’s filled with salt?”
- The ability to self-diagnose skin rashes. Over 7 billion people suffer from them. As for people who haven’t at some point developed one, that number is, I think, closer to 10, if that. At one time or another, we’ve all gone to bed only to wake up and find our skin covered with weird clusters of red bumps or with isolated raised patches. We rush to WebMD, type in our symptoms, and are summoned into a terrifying world. Is it a bed bug rash or a brain tumor that that will soon spread to ears and tongue. Maybe it’s skin cancer or liver cancer. Maybe it’s shingles or West Nile Flesh-Eating Syndrome acquired from gelato. The web is also good at asking questions: Is it itchy? Does it really hurt? Is it throbbing pain or stabbing pain? This often leads you to a dermatologist who hands you some cortisone cream and tells you to stop overthinking. If we could look the affected areas and assess them instantly, we’d truly be superheroes.
Call my wished-for powers mundane all you want, I call them apps in search of a developer, to be placed under the category “simple tools for a better future.” And if you think turning mean drivers into salt is a bit much, we could add a proviso that they come back to human form in a year. But if they slip back into their old ways, it’s salt forever.