6.17.2008

Inconspicuous

This probably won't come as a shock, but I pride myself on being inconspicuous. I like to blend in to the shadows, to remove myself from any group or situation and simply observe, to be a watcher. We are each of us the center of our own universe, and it would be paranoid to believe all eyes are on us at all times. It would however be equally foolish to think ourselves invisible. I've been guilty of both errors in perception over the years.

Sunday evening, after a three hour Italian procession, I made my way down the steps of a church when I was approached by a pretty girl. “Excuse me!” I heard her say, but I kept walking, assuming she was addressing somebody else. “Excuse me, sir?” she said, and I was certain she was addressing someone else. “We'd like to hire your group for some of our events.” she said, looking directly at me.

I stopped, keeping one eye on my father to make sure he didn't wander in to traffic as the sun had set but he was still wearing his post-cataract surgery protective sunglasses. The “sir” definitely threw me, especially since I was easily the youngest member of the band by decades in most cases. I recovered quickly enough and pointed out our leader to her, directing her to get a business card from him. I continued down the steps and caught my dad's sleeve before he stepped off the curb.

On some level, I still see myself as the boy I am in my brain. I haven't grown up on the inside, but the outside is telling a different story. As my hairline is retreating, I seem to be gaining more of an extra chin to compensate. If I smile for photos, my cheeks form two giant, fleshy slug shapes on either side of my greasy, bulbous nose. I look at old photos from times I distinctly remember being self-conscious about my appearance, and wish I still looked like that. I'd wear a cloak in public if it would actually make me inconspicuous. Somehow, I suspect it would have quite the opposite effect.

It was cloudy on Monday, enough to keep things cool, so I chanced walking. With the recent heat wave, my last avenue of exercise had been lost to me, and I found myself driving at lunch again. I felt a drop hit my arm and, fearing rain, decided not to venture too far. The closest place to my office is a Subway, and as I walked along a shopping center I heard a man telling a woman that there were a lot of vacant stores in town because they already had everything they needed. They don't have a Quizno's, and I considered telling them as much. Instead I minded my own business and continued on to my lunch destination.

The place was packed by the time I paid for my food, so rather than share a table with other patrons I headed outside. The clouds had turned to haze as the sun burned through, and I realized if I walked too far, I was going to start sweating. I remembered a couple of park benches in a gazebo, and made my way there. But as soon as I sat down, I noticed a lot of ants crawling on both benches, I stood back up without removing my sandwich from the bag. I can imagine what the people in the bus across the street must have thought seeing me sit down and jump back up again.

I was halfway to the local beach with the picnic tables and shaded dining area, so I decided to finish the journey. I had a pleasant lunch by the water, but as I began my trek back to the office, the sun burned all the way through the clouds. I could feel my forehead grow moist, and tried to think cool thoughts. Once during a fire drill at my old job on the hottest day of the year, I stood drenched in sweat while theGreek, who was inexplicably dry, imparted some wisdom about state of mind controlling perspiration. To this day, I don't know how he did it, and as I felt liquid trickling down my back, I knew I was failing miserably.

I had a meeting right after lunch, and there was no way I was going to walk in with sweat stains on my back. I had some time to kill, and there was a supermarket on the way back to the office. If I ducked in there for a bit before I really started to sweat and cooled off a bit, the final leg of the journey wouldn't do as much damage.

I felt the difference in temperature as soon as I walked in. I strolled the aisles, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, every once in a while pausing to find some item on a shelf fascinating. When I reached the frozen foods aisle, I decided the waffle section needed closer inspection. I opened the freezer door and considered a box of chocolate chip waffles. I looked at a few other varieties before closing the door and noticing that my very aura of heat had fogged up the glass of the door I'd opened as well as the doors on either side.

“Sir?” asked one of the supermarket workers, “Is there something in particular I can help you with?”

“No...” I said, embarrassed, “No, I'm...it's...nothing.”

“Are you sure,” she said, in a tone that implied security was on the way. I mumbled something and continued through the store and back to the exit. Ten minutes later, I was in a restroom in the office running cold water on my wrists to cool down. Soon, I had a pen and pad in hand and was walking down a deserted hallway to a conference room. “Heading to the meeting?” asked my boss, catching up to me. If there were wet spots on the back of my shirt, he didn't let on, and any hint of amusement in his voice may or may not have been my own perception.

I still need exercise, but until the thermometer gets back below 80, ideally below 70, walking is not a good idea. I'll have to start jogging in my basement at night or somewhere a little more inconspicuous. As for the whole “sir” thing, I guess that's something new I'll have to live with.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Mary Khan said...

I like to blend in to the shadows, to remove myself from any group or situation and simply observe, to be a watcher. We are each of us the center of our own universe, and it would be paranoid to believe all eyes are on us at all times. It would however be equally foolish to think ourselves invisible.

6/18/2008 1:08 PM  

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