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In grad school, the de facto point man for my group of friends, A___, assigned us all superpowers and corresponding code names.  C___ became ‘The Deconstructor,’ able to use his aporetic powers to destroy bullets by demonstrating that they’re simply texts with irreconcilable and contradictory meanings .   I was ‘The Persuader,’ who could cajole almost anyone into doing his bidding.

It’s an old parlour game, of course — a chestnut amongst college students who like stretch out hypothetical questions before them like a red carpet.  But for nerds, geeks and dweebs alike, the question takes on a particular resonance.  A superpower isn’t merely a neat trick one — it’s a replacement for an identity.

Take the X-Men.  I was reared on them.  At one point, I had a subscription, and every month, I waited patiently for the mailman to deliver my copy (I was also concerned that he might fold the comic in order to fit it through the mail slot, which would irrevocably diminish its resale value; eventually I found it easier to visit a shop — plus, that way, I wouldn’t have to wait a month).  And I daydreamed about – – as most young comic book readers do, I imagine — about what superpower I would have.

But just one!  How to choose?  I was able to narrow it down to three:  1) the ability to walk through walls, à la Kitty Pryde (a manifestation of a desire not to be excluded?); 2) the ability to turn invisible (a desire to go unnoticed?); 3) the ability to fly.

Indeed, in Brazil, this third ‘superpower’ is what low-level bureaucrat Sam Lowry finds himself daydreaming of:  his mechanical wings gliding through the clouds so that he can rendezvous with a diaphanous woman.  It’s the desire for escape.  (In the documentary What Is Brazil?, Gilliam describes how he came up with the idea of Brazil:  on a visit to Port Talbot in Wales, he noticed that the sand on the beach had been blackened by years of coal shipments trundling across it on conveyor belts.  He went on to imagine a man at sunset, sitting on that beach, surveying the black expanse around him as the song “Brazil” comes on the radio next to him.)

I didn’t have a dystopian, bureaucratic state-corporate apparatus from which I wanted to escape — high school in Aurora, Colorado had its drawbacks, but mistaken renditions were not a daily worry.  But what high school student doesn’t dream of escaping his surroundings?  Of flying above the familiar landscape towards something more exotic?

Of course, flying would have its drawbacks.  How do you keep bugs out of your mouth?  What about the lack of oxygen?  If you’re flying fast enough, wouldn’t the air pressure keep you from breathing properly?  How quickly would your arms tire of flapping?  But that’s the thing about daydreaming:  it arrives unencumbered by reality.  It’s only when you try to bring those dreams into reality (like poor sam Lowry) that the trouble sets in.


Known time bandits:

· horror movies.  This falls under the ‘guilty pleasure’ category if I felt any guilt about it.  Any Manichean struggle is incomplete unless it involves decapitation via machete, high-pitched screams, zombies, or fingernail-related trauma.

· cats.  Please play with me.  Please feed me.  Please let me outside.  Please rub my belly.  Please lie down next to me on this bed that I have thoughtfully make comfortable by pre-kneading the cushions for you.

· vacations.  Not the vacation itself, but the hours of planning beforehand.  For a year now, Matthew and I have debatedlocales for our upcoming summer sojourn:  Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Croatia, Britain.  Today, the current front-runner is Portugal, but tomorrow — who knows?  We briefly talked about Greece, but between the civil unrest and insolvency, I leave it to Randall, the larcenous dwarf in Time Bandits,  to sum up the situation:   “Stuck in Greece.  Lowest standard of living in Europe.”

· student papers.  It will make many more lifetimes than I have to teach everyone that therefore and however are not Superglue conjunctions to hold sentences together.

· talking about films.  After watching a film, I spend at least four hours thinking deep thoughts.  During that process, I draw fascinating parallels, make startling observations, ponder earth-shattering existential questions — but still end up writing about cats.

· refinery burn-off.  On the way home from Philadelphia tonight, after a midnight show of The Human Centipede (see:  horror movies, above), I dealt with the usual impediments in Center City:  girls wearing skirts too short to sprint across the crosswalk; guys pulling up their shirts to flag down cabs, their hairless bellies sliding prematurely into the flaccid rotundity of middle age.  They would have had better luck suctioning ‘Baby on Board’ signs onto their stomachs.  On I-95, just past Exit 4 towards Chester, a factory burned off waste gases through a smokestack.  The evening was hazy with fresh rain; the lights overhanging the highway were smeared with mist.  But the fire lit the clouds behind it orange, a clear flame bright enough to make the horizon glow neon.  It was trying to burn a hole right through the night, to reveal daylight on the other side.  I wanted to rush home, grab my camera, and rush back, park on the shoulder, and stand on the roof of my car and take pictures.  But I realized:  that’s ridiculous.  A waste of time.  Better to leave it as a fleeting image — one impossible to capture.  Merely another moment stolen out from under you — that second you take to ease your foot off the gas pedal and turn your head to watch the sky flicker with fire.