There are three cheese shops within a short walk of my apartment building. One sits just around the corner on Arthur Avenue. They have a nice assortment of cheeses from which they let me sample freely. Basically, my tastes run toward the sharp, hard, and nutty, which may have deeper psychological implications, but I’ll leave that for another post.
Sometimes, I go to the shop and sample cheeses with fire-roasted red peppers, olives, and bread, which they also sell. They let me try cheeses like Pecorino, Locatelli, Parmegiano, Feta, Gruyere, Prima Donna, and Cabot as if I were at a buffet.
The only thing missing is a glass of Pinot Noir or Montepulciano, neither of which may go well with these cheeses, but I’ve never paid much attention to pairing. To me, “pair” refers to shoes and couples. Beyond that, I’m not interested, although I did exclaim “What a pear!” once to a buxom clerk at a local deli who stood beneath a large, framed oil painting of a pear. I couldn’t resist.
One day this week I went to the cheese shop earlier than usual after having spent the morning at the library. Instead of the usual cheese man, the owner came out to wait on me. He carried a knife shaped like a scimitar. When I commented on it, he assured me that they had even bigger knives in the back, which I took to mean he didn’t want any funny business. I don’t know. Maybe I have that face.
He asked where I was from. I told him around the corner. “I’ve never seen you before,” he said. I had been thinking the same thing about him but didn’t say so. This got me thinking about a phenomenon that has been going on at least for the past year, perhaps longer. For some reason, I am becoming invisible. I’m only slightly joking about this.
People I know do not recognize me even in familiar surroundings. I can understand not seeing me at something like an Islanders’ hockey game. I’ve only been to one hockey game in my life. It was in Philadelphia and Kate Smith came lumbering out in a sequenced gown on a red carpet to sing “God Bless America.” But if you know me, why wouldn’t you recognize me in those places where you’d expect to find me?
People who don’t know me try to walk through me like a ghost through a wall or simply do not acknowledge my existence. Since I am not one to blend into the background or hide, I interpret this to mean that I am invisible. Why else would a delivery guy nearly run me down in a crosswalk only to apologize immediately after for not having seen me? If what you see in the crosswalk looks like a human, acts like a human, and walks like a human, chances are it’s a human. This is simple. We’re not talking thorium nuclear reactors here.
All of this could be the result of living in New York, where, I admit, invisibility has a few benefits. I am not a target of panhandlers, salesmen, street vendors, punks on bikes, or Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can move about without having to explain myself or my motives. I can gain access to restricted areas and property just by blending into the environment and acting as if I belong there. In my mind, this raises a larger question about invisibility and its relationship to two things: appearance and materiality.
Appearance has to do with our expectations about what we see. You might say that the guy who nearly ran me over did not expect to see anyone there. Instead of looking out for an objective reality (me), he was fixated on his own reality. The world he inhabited rendered him incapable of seeing me until material reality almost smacked him in the face in the form of my derriere. Talk about a delivery. This is the problem of ideology and those who see only what they want to see, sometimes out of blindness, sometimes out of laziness, sometimes out of fear.
By materiality, I mean the physics of vibration. At the risk of sounding nutty (see cheeses above), I wonder if I am vibrating at a different frequency from my neighbors. Unlike most New Yorkers, I eat, walk, write, pray, and do everything else slowly. That puts me out of step, literally, and it seems that I am more out of step every day.
A friend worries that I may vibrate into another dimension one day. I don’t know about that. Neither do I know why the cheese shop owner did not recognize me. It’s possible we weren’t on the same wavelength, but I couldn’t exactly ask him, not with a scimitar in his hand. I may be invisible but I’m not stupid. So I simply took my pound of Swiss and slipped out of the shop, unnoticed.