by Tim Sommers
I was lugging several superheavy boxes of dishes up the concrete stairs from the sidewalk to the front door when a guy in a silver suit materialized in front of me. The first rule of moving is that when you pick something up, you don’t put it down until you have it where it goes. This is because picking it up and putting it down are half the battle. So, I tried to go around him.
“What year is it!? What year!?” he shouted at me. I told him as I pushed past. “Oh, my god, I can do it!” I was almost inside when he grabbed my shoulder. “I come from fifty years in your past.”
“Aren’t you amazed?”
I sighed and put the boxes down. This was going to take a minute. “Not really.”
“You’re not amazed? Don’t you understand? I have discovered that I have the ability to leap forward in time by sheer force of will. Do you not see?”
“Nice outfit,” I told him.
“I made it.” He seemed a little embarrassed. “Just in case.”
“You know you can’t go back, right?”
“What do you mean? I can leap through time at will.”
“Forward in time. Not back.”
“Wait. What? How can you know that?”
“You can’t go back in time. It’s like physics or something.”
He clenched his fists and looked strained – like he was trying to go back in time, I guess. He started to sweat. Then he appeared to give up for the moment. “How can you possibly know anything about my abilities?”
“Lots of people can go forward in time. No one can go backwards. Like I said, it’s physics or something.”
“Lots of people?”
“Well, not most people. You’re from fifty years ago, right? I guess it was just getting started then.”
“Everybody is born with some kind of superpower or another now. It’s like a mutation or something.”
“Everybody?” He sat down on the stairs at put his head in his hands. I guess I knew how he felt. I sat down beside him and put my hand on his back.
“That’s still amazing,” I said. “That you can leap through time. I’m just a little cranky because I’m tired. I’ve been moving these people all day.”
He looked at my t-shirt. It reads, “2 Mutants and a Truck”.
“You’re a mover? Is that because you are superstrong?”
“No. I just need the money.”
“Aren’t there superstrong people now?”
“Yeah. My friend Ed is superstrong. He was a defensive lineman in high school. But he’s a banker now.”
“But if he’s superstrong why would he be a banker?”
“Pays better. You think I wanna be a mover?”
“What’s your superpower?”
“Oh, my god! Why aren’t you a doctor?”
“I wish. I never went to college much less Med school.”
“You could work at a hospital – just using your Xray vision.”
“There are liability issues. Plus, like record keeping. Mostly they take the same old xrays they always did, then have people in countries with lower labor costs read them over the internet. Some people with Xray vision do work as EMTs or stuff like that. I was gonna try it, but you still need to go to school. Plus, I’m not that keen on blood and the hours suck.”
“I don’t understand a world where everyone is a superhero and no one uses their superpowers.”
“It’s considered rude to call yourself a super ‘hero’, by the way. You know what I mean?”
Something whooshed between us and inside too fast to see. “What was that?”
“That’s my helper, Joe. He’s superfast.”
“Now, that’s a power that makes sense for a mover!”
“I guess. But he can’t carry anything heavy. And, god knows, I can’t let him touch anything fragile.” Joe whooshed between us again this time towards the truck. I waited. He did not reappear. “Plus, he seems to require frequent breaks. I don’t if that’s part of his superpower or if he’s just superlazy.”
“Can anybody fly?”
“Oh, lots of people. But it’s illegal to fly outside of regulated recreational areas – unless you’re a policeperson or fireperson or whatever. And, oh, yeah, you’re not allowed to be invisible anywhere outside your own home.”
“I don’t understand how that’s enforced.”
“There are pretty good invisibility detection systems out there, believe me. Sensors, I guess. People are invisible to different parts of the spectrum, anyway. One guy I know is only invisible under UV. Really pale guy, you know?”
“If these detection systems are so great, why aren’t invisible people allowed to use their powers outside their house?”
“Touché. Personally, I can’t stand invisibles, anyway. Creep me out.”
It started to rain then, out of a clear blue sky, but just in a twenty-foot circle. The silver-suited guy looked around. “What’s happening?”
The husband of the couple we were moving came out onto the porch. “It’s that jerk across the street. Thinks he’s funny. He can control the weather, but only within a twenty-foot area.”
I looked up and, sure enough, the guy across the street was smirking at us. My client raised his hand over his head and an invisible shield, um, appeared? over our heads deflecting the rain. His wife came out at said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I need you guys to get to finishing.”
“Yeah, sure.” I tried not to look at her. If you looked at her straight on you were transfixed and fell under her will until she released you. Which, really, who needs it? She was supposed to wear special glasses or something, but I wasn’t gonna check.
I stood up and picked up the dish boxes. I checked them with my Xray vision. Broken plate. I’d let Joe know to whoosh it out of the house and hide in on the truck somewhere before they saw it. Far as I’m concerned, that’s what superspeed is good for on a move.
The man from the past said, “I can’t take it here,” and dematerialized.
“Another one from the past?” the husband asked.
“Yeah,” I told him. “Seems like you see more and more of them lately.”
“Yeah. Eventually there’s going to be a lot of them somewhere up there in the future.”
“Yeah. Most useless superpower ever.”
“I don’t know,” the husband said, “there’s a guy at work who can balance anything. So, he has a stapler balanced on a pencil balanced on a ruler on his desk all the time. I like to bump his desk just to see him scramble.”
I laughed. “I heard about a guy who can read the minds of fish.”
“That’s made up,” he said.
“Maybe,” I agreed and went inside with the boxes.
The only thing more annoying than how often everyone around you is always on their smartphone these days is how often people feel the need to comment on it. So, about the ubiquity of superheroes, I shall say nothing. Though seemingly every possible permutation has been run through, at this point. What strikes me more though is how often the real implications of the possibilities involved are neglected.
Two examples. Saturday Night Live did a bit many years ago asking the question, “What if Superman had landed in Germany?” Superman, of course, landed in Kansas and adopted the values of his foster family. So, what if? The best part of the skit was when Superman, who worked, of course, for the Ministry of Propaganda as mild-mannered party functionary Klaus Kent, ripped open his shirt to reveal the “U” with an umlaut underneath. The most uncomfortable part was when he used his Xray vision to out Jimmy Olsonstein as a Jew.
Or consider the scene in the Dark Knight when Batman ties up and leaves some Batman imitators for the police. One of them shouts after him, “What makes you different from me?” Batman’s amusing answer (“I’m not wearing hockey pads”) is more revealing than he seems to think it is. It’s been oft remarked that a billionaire with such ease of access to, for example, the mayor and his fellow .1%ers, could probably find more ways to have a salutatory effect on his community than dressing up in a costume and either getting in fist fights with low-level criminals or deploying military-grade hardware against harder cases. But the real point is that Batman just does have more expensive hockey pads. How is he not Charles Bronson in the original “Death Wish”? Did you know, by the way, that in his earliest incarnation Batman, in fact, carried a gun and regularly killed his adversaries rather than arresting them?
Which brings me to the spate of more “realistic” superhero movies. [Mild spoiler alert for “Glass”] M. Night Shyamalan’s trilogy, climaxing with the still-showing at a theater near you movie, “Glass”, starts with the conceit that there really must be people somewhere who have superpowers or else why so many superhero comics, movies, etc? That’s a dumb question, of course, but never mind. The movie swerves at the end to hint that, maybe, really, we all have some superpower or another. What would a world like that really be like though?
This has been my response.
That being said, if I am honest, the real genesis of this story may be that I used to be a mover in New York City. One time a client noticed me limping a little in the middle of a move and asked me what was wrong. When I told them, I had a bad knee, they asked, with obvious surprise, “Then why are you a mover?”
I told them: “Because I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of my lifelong dream of lugging other people’s crap around.”