Ask any teenage boy what super powers he would like to have, if he could have his choice of anything in the whole comic-book universe, and he will most likely respond: the power to be invisible, and x-ray vision.
Let's face it. Neither of these abilities would probably be the first choice for someone truly interested in battling hardened criminals or saving the world from an alien invasion, but one time (so long ago now), when I was a teenage boy myself, I reasoned they could certainly increase my, uh, understanding of various creatures who fascinated me — namely, the teenage girls in my neighborhood.
Besides, no matter how fervently I wished for these powers (and let me tell you right now, those x-ray spectacles advertised in the back pages of comic books do not work), I never acquired these abilities. So my "appreciation" of girls came about the usual way — by talking with other teenage boys, comparing notes, and sometimes drawing diagrams.
So it strikes me as supremely ironic that nowadays, as I am rapidly approaching senior cootdom, I have finally developed almost unheard-of levels of invisibility. The x-ray vision never came to be, I'm sorry to report, but it's painfully evident that, on a daily basis, I am completely invisible to many people — whether I like it or not.
This happens most frequently during retail or business transactions. Say I go to the drive-thru at my local bank and end up (as always) behind another car. The driver in front of me may glance into her rearview mirror and appear to notice me waiting behind her. But I know she cannot see me. How else to explain that, when her transaction is finished, she then spends up to a half-hour re-arranging her purse, balancing her checkbook, applying her makeup, and finishing phone calls to every friend she knows before she finally pulls forward?
It's even worse at drive-thrus where there are multiple stations, such as Walgreens. I can be parked right in front of the window, but the clerk inside will always — always — look right through me and wait on the cars in the adjacent lanes. Then, when those lanes finally empty, the clerk will turn away and begin waiting on the customers inside. The ones she can see.
Thinking perhaps that — like Wonder Woman's jet — it was my vehicle that had become invisible and not me — I have even ventured inside many establishments, only to encounter the same phenomena. I haven't consulted any physicists for a scientific explanation, but it's a fact that no matter what fast-food establishment I visit, the young men and women behind the counter always overlook me. I will step up to the counter, money in hand, my mouth watering for a Super Taco Burrito Supreme Mucho Grande, and the clerk will seemingly look right through me and ask, "Can I help anyone here?" Pushing my money towards them makes no difference. If I start to say, "Yes, I would like . . ." they invariably wait on the person behind me, or just close their cash registers and go on break.
This power, I've noticed, seems to increase in direct proportion to the youth and beauty of the people around me. If I enter a restaurant, all eyes may turn when the door opens, as the twenty- and thirtysomethings of the world want to see who has joined them. If it's someone who fits into their world, they will stare approvingly, perhaps even greet them. When it's me, they don't conceal their disappointment, and turn back to their table, thinking that a wind must have blown the door open. Nobody there. Nothing to see.
I used to dine at some of these establishments, but now that I am invisible, what's the use? I can't get seated by the hostess, and if I find a table by myself, my shield of invisibility is so powerful that no waiter will serve me. So I started placing to-go orders, but even that was a problem. I tried to pick up a pizza one time at a crowded midtown establishment, where to-go orders were handled at the bar. I held my credit card high, in the time-honored position that indicates "I would like to give you all my money," but no one noticed me. I was spun this way and that by waiters and customers fetching drinks from the bartenders, jawing with their friends, or trying to get a better view of the television mounted above the bar. Meanwhile, there was my pizza, growing cold in its greasy box, just a few feet away.
What's truly strange, however, is how this amazing power just switches off at the most unfortunate times. Back in the summer, I went to a beach, slipped into my snug new Speedo, and began to waddle towards the water. Within seconds, it seems, I was surrounded by police and arrested on various charges, from "public indecency" to "crimes against nature." In the courtroom, I tried to explain to the judge that I was invisible, but I got fined anyway. He just didn't see it my way.