Really Boring Powers
We were all sitting around the living room in Katie’s new apartment (she was a couple years older than me, graduated and living on her own but never alone since she and James started dating). Alan was prepping the ceremonial bong. We did this every time one of us discovered a “power”. We’d get out the tall, blue bong with the Superman crest on it and pack it full of weed, not that we ever had any good shit, because, go figure, nobody got the power to grow really dank bud. No. That would be too practical. So let me get this out of the way: our “powers” are anything but super.
So we sit around and get blazed and talk about our powers and how they could never be exploited for good or evil in any way. I mean, we were all college kids, so we talked about social and political issues and how these powers we discovered might be used to influence them. The issues, yaknow?
We called them “coming out” parties. See, we didn’t all discover our “powers” all together at once - they aren’t exactly obvious and the reflexes that activate them are usually just as annoying to figure out – and James was the first to discover his and it was a complete fluke. His was the first coming out party, not that we knew it’d become a regular ceremony at the time. He just called us all up one night and we sat and he said “you guys’ll need a drink or a smoke before I tell you about this shit,” so we smoked up and he told us what had happened to him.
His brother Tyler was trying really hard to be “gainsta” at the time of the incident. He’d saved up long and hard to buy this shitty, thin, platinum chain and he’d break into James’ and my dorm our sophomore year yelling “yeeah boi” like Flava Flav. One night while I’m out at a chem204 lecture Tyler breaks in and starts getting on James’ nerves again while he’s trying to study. Tyler is just waving that platinum chain in his face while yelling Lil’ Wayne lyrics, so I guess James snatched it from him but it broke in the process. The shitty little chain snapped. “Tyler comes back from the jeweler the next day with it fixed,” James was telling us. “Same jeweler that sold it to him. The guy fixes it for him but tells him it isn’t the same chain. He says it couldn’t possibly be because he sold Tyler a platinum chain and the chain he just fixed was made of silver.”
We didn’t really understand at that point. Alan and Katie and Ben and Eric and me, we all just called “bullshit” on what he was trying to tell us – that he was the reason it happened. So to prove it, James had us all go to a jeweler’s in the city with him where he tried on a platinum watch. He gave it back to the jeweler and said “I’m sorry, but are you sure this is platinum?”
“Quite certain, sir.”
“I don’t know…” James handed it back and said “you might want to double check, cuz it feels like silver.”
We all watched the jeweler examine the thing and get wildly frustrated with himself. “I’m sorry, there must’ve been a discrepancy in the shipment. Might I interest you in a different time piece?”
We watched James depreciate the value of six watches, all platinum to sliver. No effect on gold watches. No effect on silver. The watch dealer just about cried in front of us.
We took to calling James “Midas” in an ironic sort of way. All our code names were sarcastic or deprecating or both. Katie was the second to discover her useless ability back when she was a senior and still slumming it with us dorm kids. That’s when she and James started seeing each other. They were the “freaks” and had to stick together. Then Ben rained on their exclusive parade by holding the first official coming out party in his dorm after he discovered his rather embarrassing “super power”.
Almost a year later we all found ourselves sitting in Katie’s new place on the edge of our seats waiting to hear about a friend’s newly discovered ability. It was my coming out party and also Alan’s. I was psyching myself up for the big reveal and Ben and James were butting heads about which of them had the lamest “power”.
“Oh, please. Come on, Midas,” Ben pointed at James with the business end of a beer bottle. “You could be like, a supervillain. Going around… ruining the world’s economy. One platinum store at a time.”
“What good would that do me?!” James shouted in disbelief. “No personal gain!”
Alan took a rip off the bong and snickered. “Worst. Villain. Ever,” he chuckled as smoke bubbled out from his lungs.
“No, man. You,” James countered Ben. “You could probably do more damage.”
“How?!” Ben was actually offended. “I make moist things dry. IT’S A FUCKING CURSE!”
When Ben came out it was because he noticed that he stopped needing to towel off after taking showers. Then he learned he could make wet towels or damp clothes or anything like that dry just by touching them. It wasn’t a heat thing. The water didn’t really evaporate. He couldn’t influence fluids directly. He literally just made damp things dry.
“I sat in a tub for two hours last night,” Ben went on. “Two hours and the water level didn’t drop a single centimeter.” He chugged the rest of his beer and pointed back at James with the empty bottle. “And you know what else? I’m having an impossible time getting laid. Do you have any idea how weird it is pulling out a bottle of lube in front of a girl and insisting that she will, in fact, need it?” We’d given him the codename “DrySpell”, as did almost every nubile female in the tri-state area. We laughed at his expense quite a bit, mostly because he was obviously the best-looking guy in the group but might as well have had leprosy on his cock for all it was worth now.
Eric was sitting across from Ben drinking a Seven and Seven. “Smarter than a paper towel,” he said dramatically to poke fun at DrySpell. “Faster than a speeding Shamwow!” Even Ben laughed with us at that. Eric sipped his drink with a smile on his face. After that night, he’d be the last of us without anything uselessly special about him.
“At least you two can influence the state of other objects,” Katie said to Midas and DrySpell. She was smoking a cigarette and sipping vodka and lemonade.
“Aw come on, babe,” James rubbed her knee. “Your power is pretty cool.”
“Oh yeah, totally,” she rolled her eyes. “I have the power to put a hair stylist out of work. You know Jessica Saunders pulled my hair yesterday? She thinks I wear wigs.”
Katie’s codename was “Vanity”. It wasn’t ironic because of her usual looks. Don’t get me wrong, Katie’s a knockout. But she’s a feminist. Not the annoying kind that gets offended by everything, but she never felt the need to stress over her physical appearance just to appeal to cultural standards. You could understand her frustration when she learned that her ability was to control her hair and finger nail length. The way she explained it at her coming out, all she does is fall asleep thinking about a hairstyle, or maybe she’ll have a dream where her hair and nails are different lengths. She wakes up the next morning and her hair and nails have either grown or shortened to match overnight. No matter how hard she’d focus she couldn’t change anything while she was awake, though.
“It’s still kind of cool,” James reassured her. “People can actually see your power.”
“It’s kind of sexist, is what it is,” his girlfriend snapped.
Alan just sat on the ground chuckling next to me, laughing at the others, skunky smoke pouring from his mouth.
“Alright, Giggles, pass that shit and tell us your power,” I said to him as I took the bong and began to light up.
Alan let himself calm down long enough to say “I’m psychic” and started giggling again. I choked on smoke and started coughing in a seriously violent way.
“Bullshit,” said Ben flatly. “Bullshit. Prove it. Read my mind, you lying faggot.”
“Hey,” Katie warned.
“Don’t hey me. We don’t get real powers and neither does the stoner.”
“I…don’t have… any… powers,” Eric squinted at Ben, trying to add some perspective.
Ben looked back to and pointed at Alan. “And if he’s saying he’s psychic, then I call bullshit and he’s a lying faggot.”
Alan started laughing his ass off again and said “dude, chill out, DrySpell!”
“Don’t call me that right now.”
“I can’t read your mind, dude! Just take a rip off the bong and chill out!” he just kept laughing at how angry Ben had become. “What I meant was that I can sort of make a psychic connection with another creature and… well… heh…”
“Well?” Katie leaned into the question.
“I can sort of taste whatever it’s tasting.”
Now, it’s customary for the rest of us to stare in silence and say “bullshit” whenever one of us came out with a power, but this was really fuckin’ weird, so the silence lasted a little longer and everyone’s gaze was narrow and focused on Alan to see just how full of shit he actually was, as if we all had x-ray vision. As if we were that cool.
“That is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard,” Ben had to chime in again.
“Dude, you make vaginas dry.”
James and I jumped to hold Ben down before he strangled Alan, who, high as a goddamn kite, kept laughing.
“I can taste the alcohol on your breath, man! Or, Katie – Vanity – I can taste your cigarette!”
We didn’t necessarily believe him, so we set up a test. Ben insisted on being the guinea pig and stood in the kitchen of the apartment waiting to put random things in his mouth. Alan stood with his back to DrySpell, facing us. I was already pretty high from the one good bong hit I took, and watching Alan name everything Ben put in his mouth without ever seeing it was… a lot to handle.
“Chinese noodles… Milk… Lemon juice?” Alan called everything dead-on. He started smacking his lips together and swirling his tongue around his mouth and grimacing. “Ben, this is gross and you’re gonna make yourself sick, dude. Ice-cream and olives. No bueno.”
We we’re flabbergasted. It’s a silly-ass word but it’s the only one that works.
“I woke up to my dog licking my feet,” Alan began his discovery story. “Then he got bored and started licking the pillows on my bed. Then he started licking the wall and stopped to look at me as though the snozberries did, in fact, taste like snozberries. And I’m just thinking ‘I’m sorry. Did I miss the memo that said we were supposed to do E and start tasting everything?’ There was something weird going on in my mouth but I figured it was just morning breath or whatever.
I didn’t really make the connection until I was at McDonalds later that day. I was looking at people eating and just thought I was imagining all the flavors of things I’d tried before, but it was… yaknow… way too real. And, I mean… there’s limits. I have to know where the person is to connect, and they have to be in the same general area, and it’s just taste. I tried to focus on other senses, but it’s just taste, man.”
We all looked at Eric. He was clever and witty and gave Ben and James and Katie their codenames, but for Alan… for Alan he was at a loss. “I’m with Ben. That is the dumbest fucking power. Ever,” he added as he downed his whiskey and soda. “And I don’t even have powers,” he reminded everyone to make a point.
The Superman bong went around the entire circle in celebration of Alan’s coming out, and then everyone’s high-as-fuck gaze was planted firmly on me, and I got nervous and self-conscious.
“…well?” Katie said. “I really don’t think you can do worse than that, Kev.”
“I – yaknow what? It’s late and my thing isn’t even worth the - ”
“What’s your ability, Kevin? They made me taste things. Expired things. Nut the fuck up,” and if Alan was getting pushy, nobody else was going to be dealing with my avoiding the issue either. Ten eyes were locked onto me, burning holes of pre-judgment through my soul.
“I’m a shape shifter,” I said. “I mean… I can only shift into one thing, and it’s not really worth showing you guys, so…”
“Fuck off,” James said, taking his turn to be aggressive. “Do it,” he said.
So I stood up and squared my shoulders and took a deep breath and looked at all of them looking at me and I said “You guys have to stay cool, okay?” but all I got in return was more staring. “I’m serious,” I said. “I don’t really feel okay with this thing so just stay cool. Alright?” And I looked at James and he said “Yeah, man, just fuckin’ do it!” and I know I didn’t mention that James was the only black guy in the room before, but that’s because it didn’t matter then. It mattered after I said “Okay, here it goes,” because then there were two black guys in the room, and that didn’t really go over well at all.
“What the fuuuuuck…” Katie gaped and Alan choked on more smoke and Ben’s eyes twitched as he shifted nervously and uncomfortably in his seat.
“The Wigger,” Eric chimed in without blinking. “That wasn’t even hard, he’s The Wigger,”
“No!” James yelled. He stood up and shook a stern index finger in my face. “No.” He told me I wasn’t allowed to ever do that again for a lot of reasons, and I know everyone else felt weird about it, too. Fuck if I didn’t feel awkward as all holy hell about it, but I didn’t choose my “power” any more than the other four chose theirs.
After the party – after everyone cooled down – Ben came up to me and said not to worry about it. He said mine was the first legitimate power, even if it didn’t have many benefits. He said that’s why James was so livid about the whole thing. He said that the reason James was really mad was because my power, “when you break it down,” he said, was “the ability to be white and yell ‘the n word’ in public without getting in trouble.”
…Ben is kind of an ignorant asshole.