One of the sadder aspects of getting older is my increasing invisibility. It’s not just that young women don’t glance my way on the street nearly as much (what the hell, young women? Can’t you see the silver in my beard? Don’t you know I’m distinguished now?); it’s that whole aura of maturity. Despite my best efforts, I look like I have purpose now. I’d do more aimless wandering, but I’m too distracted these days for aimlessness. Who has time for aimlessness?
Not me. Not these days. There are meetings, appointments, deadlines, drop-dead dates, and the deli closes at 5:30. Unless it’s Monday, in which case the deli is closed, and all my rushing around for fresh basil is useless. And then there are all the things I’m not doing: not writing the novel, not working out, not living in a different city, not leading the absolutely ideal life I could lead. It’s hard to find the time for perfection. And every day there’s slightly less of it. Perfect takes practice, and practice takes time, and time is too short.
This is why crazy people don’t talk to me in the streets the way they used to. I look busy.
But yesterday I experienced a brief reprieve from invisibility. I was granted a stay, on 11th Avenue, by the empty storefronts and run-down hotels that border the downtown core.
I noticed a man behind me as I was walking. He was close enough to register in the corner of my eye, but he was also just close enough to register as slightly too close. So I did that ridiculous thing that people do when they want to get a better read of a person coming up behind them: I turned my head slightly and pretended to take an interest in the buildings across the street.
The funny thing was that I noticed a construction crane looming over the buildings across the street, which really did pique my interest. For a moment I forgot about the man behind me and concentrated on the crane. But as my head turned to keep my focus on the crane, I was coming dangerously close to looking directly at the man behind me - and at all costs, I wanted to avoid any direct acknowledgement of this person. I had to keep the pretense that I was interested in the crane, which really did interest me, but the more intently I kept my eyes on the crane as my head turned, the more apparent it became that I was really interested in the person behind me. This random guy was really messing with my appreciation of the downtown landscape.
I whipped my head back around and faced forward again, but the man’s faster pace meant that he would pull up abreast of me within half a block. In my brief backward glance I had caught something about the tilt of his body, some alert leaning-in that meant he wanted to engage me somehow. And there was nothing I could do about it, short of breaking into a run. I just had to keep my face forward and hope that whatever he had to say wasn’t too crazy.
Where did you get your hoops, man? he said. He was already next to me.
My - sorry?
Where did you get your hoops?
I was completely stumped by this. Hoops? He emphasized the word hoops like he was stepping on a spent cigarette. I thought of everything on my person that possibly be considered a hoop. I even wondered about the eyelets on my shoes for a moment. Then it hit me.
Yeah, your hoops. Where’d you get them?
I have one pair of earrings, and they never leave my ears. Every five years or so I buy a new set, when some circumstance necessitates their removal, which usually leads to lost earrings. I don’t even see my earrings when I look in the mirror. They’re just a part of my face.
I think… I think I bought these at Spare Parts in the Cornwall Centre. I had no idea if Spare Parts was still open, but it was the best I could come up with.
Spare Parts, hey?
I think so.
Oh good. It’s hard to find a place that’ll sell you a good pair of hoop earrings without any tricks.
I had no idea what kind of tricks might be attached to hoop earrings. Do unscrupulous practices rule in the earring industry? I wanted to ask him what he meant, but at that moment he suddenly picked up speed and walked on ahead of me. Maybe he wanted to get to the Cornwall Centre before it closed. Even crazy people run short on time.