I think it is the hope of untapped potential. Like potential energy, deep within each of us there lies dormant a superpower of some sort - superhuman strength, invisibility, flight - that, if we could just tap into it, would free us from this mundane 9-5 existence and allow us to really do something. Like the Kinks said, "Wish I could fly like Superman "
In Men and Cartoons, Jonathan Lethem revisits the realms of the super-powered and the surreal. Not all of the stories concern themselves with the Cartoon aspect of the collection's title. Some deal squarely with Men, or more specifically, boys becoming men and learning about life, loss, and yes, love. All of the collection's stories, however, bear the stamp Jonathan Lethem's trademark wit.
Lethem dips into his Science Fiction roots in "Access Fantasy," a future in which apartment-people and street-people exist in one space, yet are separated by a "one-way permeable barrier," that denies them access to the other world, the other population. Street-people live in their cars, on gridlocked streets and highways upon which actual movement is only a dream ("Why hadn't he gone downtown at that last turn-off months ago?"). They can only gain access to the world of the apartment-people if they are picked up by the advertising robots, who scour the streets daily for the young and the beautiful among them to take across the one-way impermeable barrier for the purposes of advertising.
Other stories remain securely in the realm of realism, introspective tales that follow their ordinary male narrators through time, shedding light upon the fleeting nature of our relationships. "Vivian Relph" is woven from the disconnected and chance meetings of a man and a woman who seem very familiar to one another and yet aren't. "Planet Big Zero" is a tale of loss, in which the melancholic narrator is struck by the divergence of his life from that of a childhood friend.