I’ve often wondered what would happen if I turned up somewhere in a different face –a younger one, say. One that would reveal who I was to those who thought they already knew… Or maybe not. Maybe I could show up as a stranger and fool them all.
And what would be the point? Why make believe I’m someone else? Why not simply act differently and confuse them that way? Pretend I’ve changed –found religion, or something… Maybe somebody would actually see me. Have you ever been invisible? Not, of course, in the sense of not being seen –more as in not being noticed. As in being smiled at like someone on a crowded street that happens to entangle eyes before passing out of mind? Out of thought…
I never really considered that it would come to this. Youth never does, I suppose –it’s only when age sits uncomfortably on the face like wrinkled clothes, and arouses no more curiosity than a leafless tree in a forest of falling colours, that the separateness, the difference, surfaces. But maybe I’m asking too much. Expecting too much. Maybe it’s not where the colours are, but that there are –or were- colours at all. Evidence of life even on bare branches.
It was Brien that told me I was invisible –well, actually he figured he was invisible, and I took it on as well. I only ever see him sitting on his porch, sometimes interacting with the world, but more often, I think, with his world. Since he retired, he doesn’t seem to have much else to do and so spends it profligately with his eyes –and with an occasional wave so people don’t suspect he’d died overnight. That’s what he told me, at any rate. Apart from the morbid curiosity that encourages people to stare at accidents as they drive by, he is a non-event in their days. An old man on a porch –nothing more. Nothing interesting, at any rate.
But I find him interesting, and I often join him in the only other chair -his visitor chair, apparently, although I’ve never actually seen anybody else visiting him. The trail leading from the road to his porch is littered with irregular shards of concrete from a disintegrated sidewalk, so I suspect that without a written invitation, the chair -like Brien, apparently- is likely to remain invisible.
I managed to inveigle him into a short walk to a nearby coffee shop one time by promising to pay. I’ve been trying to encourage him to exercise more, so I fully admit that it was a bribe.
“Wait ‘til I get my hat, eh?” he shouted at me, waving from the porch as I hesitated at the road. I am always looking for another, safer, route through the concrete minefield so I was interested to see that he avoided it altogether by walking through the weeds on one side.
“I didn’t even know you owned a hat, Brien,” I said when he had slogged close enough to me that I didn’t have to yell.
“Tired of being just another invisible old man,” he explained, with a satisfied look on his face and a green baseball cap with little orange flaps that hung down like fluffy earmuffs over the sides of his head. “Got it at the Thrift store few months ago and was just waiting for an excuse to show it off.” He twinkled his eyes and grazed my cheek with a hopeful glance. “What do you think…?”
It looked so ridiculous I actually wanted to ask him why he’d bought it in the first place, but instead I just rolled my eyes. “I think you’ll be noticed, Brien… But is it really worth taking off the invisibility cloak for that?”
He seemed unfazed by my question. “Can’t get respect without first getting noticed, eh?”
I tried to blink sarcastically, but I have to admit I’m anatomically ill-equipped for the gesture and he simply smiled in response.
“Why do you think people love clowns?”
All I could think of was Spielberg’s novel ‘It’ so I tried a more standard, non-committal blink this time.
“Because,” he started, sensing I was exhibiting a pre-demential vacuum on the subject, “clowns set out to be noticed.” Then he crossed his arms like a teacher who’d just issued a big clue, and was waiting for it to sink into the students hiding in the back row of desks.
“I… I’m not sure I understand, Brien,” I stuttered, somewhat taken aback by his confidence.
He cocked his head and shook it slowly, sadly, in response and then had to quickly stabilize the hat as one side listed to starboard. “There are two types of noticing. The first is for behaviour, but the second is for appearance. Which would you prefer?”
“I think I’d just like to stay in the background until I chose not to be…” I realized how shy that sounded, but Brien didn’t seem to care.
“A clown usually relies on appearance to gain an audience…” He stared at me for a second to see if I would accept that.
“Oh, I’m not sure I…”
“And once it has your attention, it’s able to use behaviour to make its point.” He added hurriedly.
I just looked at him in silence for a moment, assuming he was going to make his point. But when he didn’t, I shrugged to urge him on. And when he just continued to stare at me with a disappointed expression, I felt I should ask. “And what is the point the clown is making?” I said. I should have asked what point wearing the stupid hat would be making for Brien, but he looked so pleased at the explanation I just smiled innocently at my question.
“That it is special. That it’s not just an ordinary person standing there –and that it’s entitled to be heard. Watched. Admired…”
I stared at the ground for a second. “And the hat will do that for you…?”
I thought I’d put it sensitively, but he suddenly grabbed the hat off his head and stuffed it in his pocket with a chuckle. “I was only demonstrating that I’m not just another old man… Maybe I’ll put it on again in Starbucks.”
It’s interesting, sometimes thoughts are dissolved imperceptibly in the fluid that runs through our days, and then suddenly, over-saturation occurs with one thought too many, and they all precipitate out one by one and tumble quietly to and fro, making the whole world cloudy. I fool myself in thinking invisibility is something new –that once, when I was younger, I used to be noticed, or at least not ignored- but I’m no longer certain. It seems to me this cloak I wear is already old… And even now, the smiles are still lip-deep and difficult to hold for long.
You know, I’d forgotten the real reason Brien and I don’t go for many walks together – sometimes he hits a little too close to home…