I have a secret talent that I’ve kept hidden long enough. I’ve been developing it since I was a child. It’s taken practice, required me to overcome social pressures that tell a kid they can’t do this, pressures that tell them they shouldn’t even TRY. Not just the practice required for building this skill, there’s also been the physical conditioning. Muscles need to be regularly exercised, physical body modifications that I’ve had to try and hide from my doctor because if they discovered what I’d done, they might try to fix it. I have developed this talent and this week for the first time as an adult, showed it to someone else. I can tell that they must be struggling to reconcile who they THOUGHT I was with the new reality. Imagine that you have a family pet that one day starts to speak english, you would be forced to go through your own adjustments, right? So when I did a Very Interesting Thing, I can only imagine something similar began for my son Alex.

The other evening, I was driving the two of us home when I realized it was Mouthwash O’Clock. This isn’t a time you’ll find on your watch, it’s that sudden knowledge that your mouth tastes like an appointment you’d rather cancel but can’t. It’s that special time where you think “I wish I had some mouthwash to clear this taste” and then curse the lack of forethought that kept you from putting a bottle of mouthwash in your central console. I don’t get to curse that lack of forethought anymore because one day, I bought a bottle of mouthwash that lives in my center console. It’s not a travel-size or anything because those are a rip-off and I’d be worried about emptying it after just a couple days of answering mouth-nature’s call. At the same time, it’s not one of those big industrial jugs of the stuff you pick up at Wally World because ain’t nobody got space for that in a car. It’s a very reasonable mid-size bottle that fits in the console and this week when that alarm went off in my head, I realized mid-swig that Alex was in the car with me and that my secret was about to be exposed because now I was committed.

If you’ve ever used mouthwash in your car, you know that the biggest problem isn’t the swishing or the gargling. It’s not the intense eucalyptus oils or peppermint flavors either because these are all challenges everyone faces no matter where they use mouthwash. Oh, it’s not the alcohol either because it’s 2019 and that’s just… just not a thing anymore. Those poor, dumb modern teenagers passing a bottle of Listerine around behind school… bless their minty hearts. No, the problem is disposal. Once you’ve finished swishing it around your mouth, you’ve got to spit it out. In no particular order, here’s what doesn’t work:

  1. Spitting it out the window. Even parked at a light, maybe half of it’s going out the window and the rest is splattering on the inside of your door. You might end up with some on your shirt and it’s bewildering because you’ve been spitting all your life, how can this fail so badly? One word: Volume. The half a cc of spit you usually hurl can fly free because there’s so little of it. You build up pressure, you expel air, there’s some lip stuff… gross story short, when you try this with a mouth full of mouthwash, maybe a fraction of that payload launches and the rest, well… it goes everywhere.
  2. Spitting it out a slightly open door. This seems obvious, right? You stop at a light, open the door a few inches, lean over, and… now it’s everywhere. Most of it’s on the ground and even if it looks like you’re barfing, you’ve largely gotten it free of your mouth except some is on the door sill, some might have stuck to your chin if you’re particularly incompetent, and also… it’s not ALL gone from your mouth. You’re now doing the frantic follow-up spitting that follows while looking up to make sure the light hasn’t changed yet. It’s a fiasco.
  3. Swallowing. Yuck. There are less unpleasant ways to coat the inside of your car with vomit.

This brings us to my talent, my special skill. For you see, I have learned a special way to spit. That’s right, I’ve unlocked an ancient secret that allows me to fire an uninterrupted stream of any non-viscous fluid up to 10 feet away, and there’s none of the volume limitations that come with normal spitting. If I can fit it in my mouth, I can firehose it with precision targeting until it is all gone. All of it.

This is my secret power.

This is my secret burden.

It is a burden because when you have a power like this, you might feel compelled to use it but… it comes with great responsibility because if I go around squirting fluids at things willy-nilly, well… they have words for that, and they’re unkind.

I’m not trying to suggest that my situation is “basically the X-Men Universe’s Civil Rights struggle for Mutants against discrimination by people without abilities” but if you choose to see it that way, that’s understandable. The thing is that I learned this when I was single-digit-years old and made the classic origin story mistake of doing it where someone could see me and they made fun of me for it for some reason so I learned the importance of secrecy.

Like the mutants, I learned to keep my ability hidden to protect both myself and those around me.

Please, I’m no hero, just another human who has to guard their special ability from making them or their loved ones a target. And now it’s the evening and now I’ve got a mouth full of minty freshness and now I’m sitting next to my teenager and now…. it’s time to expose my secret.

I realize that he’s going to learn my secret and see my power for the first time, so I take a careful deep breath and begin speaking.

“So, you’re going to see something-” I begin before some mouthwash pours out the side of my mouth by accident. I dart forward, slamming my mouth shut after catching the rest of it. The car hardly swerves out of my lane at all during all of this and Alex is gripping the door handle as I veer back into where we’re supposed to be. I can only imagine that at some level, he’s somehow picked up on the seriousness of what I’m about to tell him even though I was cut off by spillage almost immediately.

Tilting my face up so it doesn’t slop out the side of my mouth again, I take another shot. As I’m doing this, I’m rolling down the driver side window. We’re slowing down for a light so this will be about as perfect as a time as any.

“You’re about to see something totally normal”, I tell him in that special enunciation that people use when they’re speaking with a mouth full of mouthwash. We glide to a stop and he looks over at me skeptically.

“Behold!” I intone, then turn my head…. and let loose with an almost 5 second-long, 10+ foot stream of used-up mouthwash. Like some sort of curving laser, it arcs upwards into the sun before dropping down to the unoccupied land next to us. With one final special flex of perfectly tuned tongue muscle, I eject the last little bit and turn back for the amazed praise I know is coming. Friends, I cannot emphasis enough just how perfectly this demonstration went. My mouth: absolutely empty and fresh. The car, completely unmarked by the unsightly little specks or droplets of mouthwash a less-refined approach would leave. My mouth: fresh and pure! I turn to my son, ready for his questions. I know he’s going to have many. I’m wondering where he’ll start… will it be wanting to know how long I’ve hidden this from everyone? Or will he ask whether or not it’s too late for HIM to learn this skill? Maybe he’ll want to know about the different adventures I’ve had with this, the problems I’ve solved. I can’t wait to tell him about the-


Wait, what?

“Did you just spit that all out the window?”

Ok, maybe I’d misheard him in the beginning, this sounds more like it. Enthused, I nod my head. “Yes, ALL of it!” I wanted to fill him in on the secret, that there was no followup spitting needed and I wouldn’t have to swallow any of it and to draw his attention to how I didn’t need to open the door or-

“Kinda gross.” He looks back at the car behind us where I’d noticed the wide-eyed, open-mouthed admiration from its occupants in the mirror after firing that glorious arc of mouthwash out the side window. “I can’t believe you just did that.”

Uncertainly, I think about what he’s just said. When he can’t believe what I did, is it… is it because he didn’t realize the human body was capable of such an achievement? Is he amazed by the… no, he’s giving me mixed messages because he also said it was ‘gross’. Perhaps this is slang. Maybe… he’s saying it’s 144 x cool? I’m going to roll with that for now. I laugh it off, best to stop while I’m ahead. There’s a part of me that wonders if I’m too late for that, but I ignore it.

The important thing is, he knows so when he’s finally ready to learn about the exercises and minor dental modification required, he can come to me. It feels like it would be sad if this secret died with me, after all, but then again, maybe it’s a lot of responsibility for someone so young. It certainly was for me, anyhow.

Since this happened a few days ago, I managed to somehow dump the entire mouthwash into my center console so my car smells like a koala threw up. Every origin story has downturns, that’s part of what shapes one’s character before they face that great challenge in life where their ability comes in handy.

Regardless, I have this talent ready and some day, it’ll come in handy in a way nobody can anticipate. Maybe I’ll save the day with a mouthful of something important. I’ve used it with flammable liquids to great effect, for instance, and only burned off part of my mustache. Perhaps a jet of water will arc out to extinguish a burning fuse that can’t be reached by hands that are tied to a railroad track or something! Ok, that’s probably unlikely, more of a cowboy/wild-west situation. I’ve got it, same scenario, but Monorail track.

Anyways, this talent will find uses that are more important than just mouthwash disposal from a moving car, and that day, everyone else will also recognize how ‘gross’-cool it is.

That Younger Ben who lives inside of me who was made fun of this will be happy to see that this skill has made me a cool guy after all and not just some weird little squirt.