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We Would Be Heroes

Young people don’t have a monopoly on fantasies of achieving superhero status. We asked a selection of older folks in New York City what kinds of special powers they’d love to have—then we illustrated them.

NOEL YOUNG, 76: “My body when I was 25.”

Who’s your favorite comic-book or cartoon character? I’m sure you haven’t heard of him, because he hasn’t been around for many years: Red Ryder.

I have heard of Red Ryder! Alright, now we’re cookin’!

What do you like about Red Ryder? He was just this really cool super-cowboy, you know? Rode motorcycles and all kinds of stuff. Flaming red hair, so they’d call him Red. Always doing the right thing, but he wasn’t quite an outlaw—more like an outlier.

Who is your hero in real life? Alexander Hamilton. Long before there was a musical. He was one of the most underappreciated of the true founding fathers. They used that he wasn’t born in America to block him from becoming president. But without him, we wouldn’t have a country. He made the credit system—made us a real nation that paid its bills. He was the exact opposite of Donald Trump.

What’s one thing you’re really good at? Picking the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t necessarily turn out to be profitable. I’m proud of the affiliations I’ve made and the choices I’ve made. For instance, I never liked Donald Trump from the day I heard about that son of a bitch in the early ‘70s. I didn’t like him. He was a pony then, and trying to let him convince the other 49 states out there that he’s a great guy—he’s screwed so many people in contracts and says he’s a great friend of the working man. How’s that?

So you’re an intuitive man? And a pretty smart one.

What superpower would you most like to have? I don’t know. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. I’d like to have back my body when I was 25, and my brain power when I was 25.

HELEN WANG, 68: “Commune with nature.”

Who’s your favorite cartoon character or comic-book character? I don’t know. I don’t really read them. I only watch ants.

The movie? No. Ants on the floor.

Between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, do you like any of them? I like them all. They are super!

Who is your real-life hero? In real life? I don’t think about it. Too bad. My mind is all over the place. [Someone suggests she pick a painter, because she paints a lot.] Oh, yes, I paint every day.

Who’s your favorite painter?

Myself. I just enjoy expressing the world I see. I’m just in search of nature. I think that’s my interest now: nature. Something is just enormous. I think God is something that changed my life entirely. I mean, I’m so blessed by knowing him, and that gives me pleasure every day. I’m in search of whatever he creates. People, nature, words, color, everything.

Do you think painting is a skill you’re really good at? No, I don’t have skill.

What?! Those paintings you showed me are beautiful. No, I’m just curious to search things that I don’t know. I tried different colors. I experiment every day. I saw on Facebook somebody had a class, so I said okay, I’ll go, but I cannot paint the way they teach me and I got so angry. So I just paint my own way.

If you had any superpower, what would it be? In search of nature. It’s so much, so profound. Just anywhere. I’d talk to animals. I went to Mongolia, and this dog followed me.

SELMA SCHEINBACH, 85: “Good health.”

Who’s your favorite comic-book character? I never watched cartoons, and I never watched comics. I used to like Mickey Mouse. He was just cute. And Minnie Mouse.

Who is your real-life hero? My husband. He passed away, but he was my hero. Because he was kind and generous and sweet and handsome.

What’s one thing you’re really good at? Singing. I was a young girl, very young, when I went to school; my first day, I was six years old. And when I walked into the room, the teacher said, “Who’d like to entertain us?” I raised my hand, and said, “I’d like to sing”—I remember this like it was yesterday—“I’d like to sing, ‘Did Your Mother Come From Ireland?’” And I did it in an Irish brogue. And then after that, in high school, I was the star singer, and the teacher said, “You know, Selma, you’re going to be very successful, and when you are, don’t forget us—I want you to come back.” I never went back.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Superpower? Good health. That’s a superpower. My body is still not too bad—I’m very grateful. But health, I’d like it to always be up—to live to 120.

ENEIDA RIVERA, 75: “I’d fly, to see all the countries.”

Who’s your favorite cartoon or comic-book character? Betty Boop!

Why Betty Boop? Oh, I love Betty Boop. I like it when she sings onstage, when she’s running around, when she makes love with somebody.

Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman, because she’s a woman, and I would like to be Wonder Woman.

Who is your real-life hero? It was my husband, but he died. He was good to me—he gave me his character, his money, his everything when he died. I stayed with him until he died. Now I don’t want to be alone, so I go to the centers, go to see shows, go everyplace.

What’s one thing you’re really good at? Dancing.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I’d fly—I’d see all the countries. I don’t have the money, but I’d like to go to France, Italy, Germany, all the countries.

ACOSTA REJINARDO, 86: “Eliminate Donald Trump.

Who’s your favorite comic-book character? Superman, or Dick Tracy.

What do you like about Superman? Right now, nothing. This time, I don’t know—maybe my father gave me the books.

Who is your real-life hero? Obama. The president is good! Clinton is good! Obama defends our interests. The world changes, and Obama changes with the world.

What’s something you’re very good at? Dominos. Right now, dominos.

How long have you been playing dominos? Here, two or three years. But my grandfather taught me how.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Eliminate Donald Trump.

NATALIE COHEN, 80: “Adding some happiness to everybody’s life.”

Who’s your favorite comic-book character? Wonder Woman!

That answers my next question! She’s fearless—tremendous power. Her vision was magnificent. Very powerful, very energetic, and fearless.

Did you read any of the Wonder Woman comics? I did, and I read more when my children were growing up. So I read with them.

Who is your real-life hero? My children, both of them. I’m going to cry. Because they are the greatest force I’ve ever seen. Jeffrey is in sales and Larry is an industrial psychologist.

What’s one thing you’re really good at? I write! Comedy—I like to write comedy. I’m funny. I have a sense of humor. I use it wherever I go and I try to apply it to everything. I write skits, and some of them are really good. I’ve been doing it maybe 30, 40 years. It’s a lot of fun. Good therapy. Piss and vinegar, as they say.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Make the world a better one, especially now. I’d add some happiness to everybody’s life.

JORGE JUAN GRACIA, 82: “Mind powers to convince people to believe in reality, not fantasy.”

Who’s your favorite cartoon or comic-book character? When I was a kid I used to read all comics, but then I became an adult, so what can I tell you? I used to read Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie. Sad Sack. And I liked them all.

Who is your real-life hero? John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King. I really like them. Because they were really—I believe they were open and sincere. They were fighting for good causes. As a matter of fact, they’re not the only ones. I really love the way Obama worked, as much as I don’t like Trump.

What’s one thing you’re really good at? Well, I’m good at housework, because I was an orphan. I had to do everything myself. I was nine years old and I had nobody, so I had to learn how to clean, feed myself—a lot of things that your mother did for you, I had to learn. And when I went to the Army, I already knew how to do washing.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Convene people to reality—reality, not dreams, or anything like that. So they would be able to decide what they should—because I believe in science. Everything you do has consequences; there is no action without reaction. The best thing is to handle things with the mind, and realize we are here to do the best thing you can. That is why you’re alive. And then you go, and you’re like everybody else.

Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman? Neither. It’s fantasy. I don’t like fantasy—I like real things.

NATALIIA REYNOLDS, 78: “Make people wiser.”

Who’s your favorite comic-book character? Natasha Rostova in War and Peace. I played this role when I was in Moscow.

Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman? Wonderman? What is this, Wonderman?

She’s a superhero—she has lassos of truth. Maybe him.

Who is your real-life hero? At first, you asked me a person from the book—you know I can’t answer this question. Because if I say it, it’s from my previous life. It’s different.

What’s one thing you’re really good at? Can I give you several? Teaching, singing, drawing, sports, dealing with people.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I would put wisdom and knowledge into people.

JOHN MICHAEL LOVETT, 77: “To be able to stand up for what’s right.”

Whos your favorite comic-book character? Dick Tracy. It’s suspense, and he’s always doing the right thing and solving problems.

Who is your hero in real life? My sons—I love my sons. They’re very successful and they’re very loving. I should say it the other way, and they’re my life.

What’s one thing you’re really good at? I’m very friendly with people. I know how to converse and I embrace people.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I wish I had more of a stronger character in dealing with bad situations. I’m not good at confrontations, and sometimes my values—I reduce my values just to be liked. And I don’t like that part. I love people who are strong and have courage.

MORAIMA VERA, 85: “I would help the poor.”

Who’s your favorite cartoon or comic-book character? Mickey Mouse.

What do you like about Mickey Mouse? His movements, and he’s happy. I like the music. I used to play basketball in Peru.

That’s definitely your superpower! Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman? Superman. His positivity and his power!

Who is your real-life hero? I like Donald Trump. He is valiant—he is going to make America great again.

It sounds like you’re good at basketball. When did you start playing basketball? Since I was seven. My family is into sports—soccer. My son came to the United States to teach soccer. He plays center. It was in our blood.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I would help the poor.

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