Each month, we pitch a new question to our staff and readers. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, email it to us. This month we asked: What is your hidden talent?
I have an uncanny ability to annoy women. Not in the cute way that babies or George Clooney possess, but the kind of aggravation a woman feels when her lunch has been stolen from the office fridge, or when she “accidentally” finds 7,000 emails between her husband and a chick in Belarus, or when she reads remarks like this in a public forum. This power has a surprising number of advantages: I never have to field two-hour phone calls about guy problems (because I’m the guy), I never have to rearrange the Netflix queue to suit others, and Yale University keeps sending me tuition rebates. Related or not, I’m also able to stop gas pumps on exactly the amount I want, first time every time.
I can make anything—anything—into a percussion instrument. Thickness, density, size, and material are, well, immaterial. If it has mass, I can tap a rhythm on it, find an adjacent object for a backbeat, and instantly pick out what song would best suit those particular vibrations. I often find myself chomping my teeth along with Charlie Watts or Clyde Stubblefield (incisors for the bass, molars for the snare—only works with an overbite). Did I channel this power into a career as a musician? No. Childhood drum lessons didn’t take. Drumming on something that was meant to be drummed seems like playing a fixed game. I fear I may have missed my calling as a Foley artist, which entails banging one piece of crap against another piece of crap and seeing what sound comes out. Except that for me, it’s always the frenzied introduction of Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child.”
Jessica Francis Kane
You know how sometimes when you’re trying to pour something from one glass into another, the liquid mostly just runs back down the edge of the first glass and spills all over the counter? Well, not for me it doesn’t. Not a drop. I’m the daughter of a chemistry professor and this is my superpower. You have a half-pint you want to finish up in your pint glass so you don’t look like such a lightweight? I’m the one you need. The trick is speed, angle, and confidence. You have to go fast, not tip slowly. You have to hold the emptying glass high, not touch it to the lip of the filling glass. Maybe it’s a little thing, but aren’t superpowers what we make of them? Lots of very thirsty people have been grateful for my help.
Lauren Frey Daisley
When I travel, I carry a small suitcase that is not a suitcase. It is a clown car. But instead of clowns, I fill it with garments (that do not, under any circumstances, look clownish). My superpower is packing super light. For two-week vacations, of which I’ve had one in the past decade, forget it: I suck it up and check bags. But for a long weekend or even a week away somewhere warm, I can fit a handsome array of nicely coordinated clothes and shoes into something that looks like a bowling bag. Early-ish in our relationship, this impressed my now-husband because it made me look low maintenance without sacrificing on class. Now it just saves us more stuff to lug, which is equally good.
Very much to my own surprise: trap shooting. One is rightly nervous meeting a large group of his girlfriend’s old male college buddies—all of whom are extremely protective of her—for the first time at a gun range. Until, that is, one discovers a preternatural ability to obliterate flying clay objects with a 12-guage shotgun and is subsequently bestowed the title, “guy we give the shotgun to if we ever have to shoot our way out of anything.” Then one feels kind of badass.
By tightening my lips into a firm line across my face and then forcing air between them, I can make a sound that is indistinguishable from an elephant’s.
I am fast: I am punctual, and rarely late, having never missed a train or plane. My quick reaction speeds serve few purposes, but come in handy around the dinner table and when playing games that involving grabbing. I’m in and out of the shower before it steams up, dry before the water has drained. I know all the shortcuts and share them with an evangelical pride. But I do have weaknesses: I must sleep long and late to recharge the batteries. And everything passes by in a blur.
I have a gift for hula hooping. I can hula hoop around my neck, waist, knees, wrists, and ankles, going back and forth from each area without interruption. I can hula hoop while eating a bowl of cereal, while doing a crossword puzzle, while taking a shower. In fact, I am hula hooping right now. Sometimes while hula hooping, I brainstorm practical and innovative applications for my seemingly useless talent, such as a line of hula hoop-powered light fixtures or kitchen appliances. But more often than not, I get lost in the rhythm and flow of the activity, becoming second to the hoop. If nothing else, it’s totally zen.
I am an expert child-wrangler, and can interest nearly any under-11-year-old in sitting down to read a book. I have taught six-year-olds to use computers, 18-month-olds to tie their shoes, and five-year-olds to read in their second language. Through the power of Roald Dahl, I turned a recalcitrant 10-year-old into a reading enthusiast. Somehow, I’ve even helped children up to fourth grade with math problems. How? Mostly by speaking to them as if they were my peers (without all the swearing, of course); even the least amenable, most cynical kids do tend to respond to your empathetic pragmatism with acquiescence (eventually). Also, they all love colored markers.
I make a lot of margaritas. The secret is using good tequila and adding nothing to it. Fresh lemon juice, fresh lime juice, a little Cointreau or triple sec, maybe mixing two different kinds of good tequila, but that’s it. I wasn’t born with this superpower. I learned it years ago at Maria’s in Santa Fe. I’ve tweaked the recipe since, most recently to make room for pickled habaneros. But the perfect margarita does not wear strawberry earrings. She doesn’t come frozen with a floater. She is simple, superpremium, and she is mine.
My hidden talent: I “know” what dishes to order on any menu, regardless of my familiarity with the restaurant, cuisine, etc. On the upside: I eat well and often create a bond with the staff, who can recognize a fellow traveler. On the downside: suffering the jealous grumblings of dining companions who chose poorly.
I’m not sure whether this qualifies as a superpower, but I regularly have one experience that is at least super-consistent and, it’s fair to say, super-odd. It happens when I choke on anything—whether it’s my spit, a Tic Tac, pork chop grizzle, or Corona unwisely swigged just as someone delivers a killer punchline. Whatever the trigger, my resulting respiratory distress is immediately followed, always, by a conversation-stopping, elevator-clearing, movie-disrupting, no-holds-barred sneeze. As a sideshow, my tear ducts open, releasing a warm, salty flood that leaves me effectively if temporarily blind. It seems my bronchial plumbing has been exquisitely designed to reduce me to blubbering idiocy for a good two minutes after even the tiniest foreign object violates my windpipe. This is just one of life’s little jokes. I’ve come to accept it, just as I’ve grown accustomed to waving people off as they try to assist me in my state of utter helplessness. Thanks, really, but there’s nothing you can do. The day I choke without sneezing afterward will probably be the day I meet that great, unfunny plumber in the sky.
It may not be obvious—I don’t wear a shirt with a clock on it, though I do have a watch on my wrist—but I am expert when it comes to estimating the amount of time it takes to do things. Pick up a package in Midtown, hop a train to Brooklyn and meet someone at a bar at 7 p.m.? I’ll be walking into the establishment on the dot of seven, having neither rushed nor dallied. Need me to pay bills, balance my checkbook, go for a run (without a watch), shower, and make lunch—all by 12:30? Done, and without a breath of worry. But I fear my skill may be in jeopardy: This month, I married a man with his own superpower, a skilled dawdler. Perhaps I should get a shirt with a clock on it.
I have a kind of architect’s sense for where the bathroom in any given space is. This is a skill honed out of necessity, desperation, the result of nearly three decades spent regretting that last Diet Coke. I can walk into any public space and sense the location of the bathrooms like a criminal can spot surveillance cameras and exits. The problem with this superpower is that occasionally bathrooms show up in truly dunderheaded places—in Manhattan apartments, for instance—and I will continually stride with utter confidence into, say, a walk-in closet only to discover my folly. I also spent a few years of my childhood thinking I could hear the private thoughts of stuffed animals. This turns out to be less “hidden superpower” and more, well, wrong.
I admit it—my hidden superpower invites envy whenever it is discovered: usually during three-hour movies, or while taking care of small children and other uncontrollable beings, but most often on long road trips with only suspicious-looking truck stops at our disposal. My friends will exit the restroom, looking harried by the state of it; I’ll wait until we get to our destination. Three stalls out of order? I’m good. Super-long line at the ladies’ loo? No thanks, I’ll be perfectly comfortable through the second and third acts of this epic play, even though the second act begins with an entire scene done in the rain. Really, I’m fine. I’m super.
No one can forget things quite as effectively as I, and with quite such a perfect blank look of hopeless befuddlement. Anyone can forget why they went upstairs; I forget why I even walked toward them. Anyone can forget the name of the person they were just introduced to at a smart dinner party; I shall manage to forget them instantly and thoroughly, and later forget I’ve even met them and be confused when they refer to meeting me before. Anyone can forget to do things and adopt a system like GTD to ensure they manage their lives more effectively; I create to-do lists and promptly forget to look at them. I forget to take things out that I’ve put in my don’t-forget-to-take-these-out pile. I forget deadlines, birthdays, anniversaries, and what day it is today. I’ve forgotten what the point of this is. No one can forget things quite as effectively as I, and—
I’m not sure if it counts as a superpower, because I certainly wasn’t born with it, but if you’d met me in the past few years it was probably at a friend’s karaoke party—and I was dominating the mic. I used to be really shy and timid and would never have dreamed of singing in front of anyone, much less strangers. But after playing backup in several bands over the years, I decided that if I was going to have any creative control in a band, I needed to be able to be its lead singer too. And what better way to learn the ropes than karaoke? I think the first song I tried was “Do You Wanna Touch Me?” They had live-band karaoke at a place that used to be called the Shim-Sham Club in New Orleans. I was terrified, but it worked. Now I feel like I practically become Elvis when I’ve got a mic on hand and the opening guitar of “Suspicious Minds” starts in. Thanks to karaoke, I also finally figured out what Meat Loaf wouldn’t do for love, and what it means to rock the “Hair of the Dog”: Now you’re messing with a son of a bitch.
You just had a dinner party for 14 people. There were appetizers, then salads, then main courses, a selection of desserts, and a cheese plate. Cocktails for everyone on the way in, water and wine during the meal, coffee afterwards, then fresh cocktails after that. No beer drunk from its bottle, no dish eaten by hand. I’m going to fit that into a single dishwasher load for you.