Inklings: The cloak of invisibility
By Janice Lindsay
I was browsing in a bookshop one recent chilly, blustery day when a willowy young woman breezed in. I noticed she wasn’t dressed appropriately for the weather: T-shirt and short skirt. Then I saw that she wasn’t, in my opinion, dressed appropriately for public viewing: flimsy, slippery beige T-shirt clinging too revealingly to her torso, her skirt like two black napkins stitched together. Model-perfect make-up, every hair in her puffy dark bob in its assigned position.
She was memorable.
I thought, “Well, kiddo, looking like that, you’d better not try to rob a bank.”
Not that she exhibited any intention of robbing anybody. But sometimes, when I’m engaged in recreational thinking, I glance at a person, or at an ordinary scene like people standing near a car parked beside the road — then look away and test myself, “If I had to describe this on a witness stand, how accurately would I remember what I just saw?” This young woman, I remembered.
But most of us walk around wearing a cloak of invisibility. We are, simply, not noticeable and not noticed.
There are probably two reasons for that. First, we tend to look and dress a lot like other people of our age and social circle. Second, others don’t really look closely at us, perhaps because they don’t wish to be rude, more likely because they’re just not interested, but immersed in their own thoughts.
I, for example, could visit the bank, the bookshop, the library, the pharmacy, the supermarket, and never leave a trace. Unless I saw somebody I knew, nobody would remember that I had been there. That doesn’t bother me. Apparently, though, it might bother some people, like the memorable bookshop woman.
Sometimes — again, when I’m engaged in recreational thinking — I wonder how witnesses would describe me if, for outlandish example, I robbed a bank.
“I’m pretty sure she was a white woman. Not particularly short,” the witness would tell the officer, “but not very tall. Not really fat, not thin. Not very young, but not really old. She didn’t have totally gray hair, some of it was some other color. I didn’t notice the color of her eyes. She was wearing maybe jeans and a shirt? Blue? Brown? Gray?”
They couldn’t pick me out of a police line-up because I’d be grouped with other middle-aged ladies. We would all, to the undiscerning eye, look very much alike. (Middle-aged ladies would make good bank robbers. Who really looks at us?)
How often does the clerk at the supermarket check-out really look at you? Isn’t she more interested in your items on the belt? How often do you really look at her? Aren’t you engaged in watching your groceries zipping through the scanner, and getting ready to pay?
Sometimes I engage in recreational thinking when I’m grocery shopping. I truly, deeply, gaze at other shoppers. I am, of course, wearing my cloak of invisibility; nobody notices me, they’re unaware that I’m being rude.
And when you really look — what an amazing variety of people! They don’t look alike at all! Even people of the same age and ethnicity are different! You notice their different facial features, read their different attitudes, see how they express their unique personalities in clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories. It’s an education.
As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
So if you see a middle-aged lady watching you in the grocery store, don’t be unnerved. She is just making sure that, to her at least, you are no longer invisible.
Contact Janet at email@example.com.
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