I don't want you to think I'm the kind of person who sneaks around and listens to other people's conversations and writes them down; but I do. I've arrived at that age--60--where, man or woman, you're invisible. You're wearing Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak whenever you go out. You no longer matter to anyone "out there" because of course Americans only have time for pattern-recognition, and your surface no longer has anything to offer. You can feel resentful about this, but that's self-defeating: the truth is, you're going to die sooner than the people who don't see you are. They know that. You're a vague reminder of what's in store for them, too, and they don't like it. They want to go get some coffee. I think we invisible ones appear on the eyescreens of younger people as a set of pixels that immediately flash an alarm to the brain. The brain then takes over, directing further action. For some, this means whisking themselves out of our presence, posthaste. But others just don't see us; we're allowed to hang out in their comfort zones for a while, blessedly invisible again, listening.
I think I'm better than most at this invisibility thing, because I've been invisible most of my life. This isn't self-pity talking; it's true. I'm sure at some point in life I was pissed: I wanted to tell my story, not listen to some buffoon tell his. But the problem is, when I did tell my stories they were pretty boring. I'm not a good storyteller; I'm a listener. Perhaps not even a good listener, but a listener. Even when my friends would generously wait for me to tell my stories, I came to realize they were being polite until the conversation could come around again to their stories. However miffed I might have felt, I had to admit I enjoyed their stories much more than my own. I know this goes back to identity issues I probably should have fixed a long time ago. But I'm sixty; give me a break. You know that Hollywood saying, You've got to own the room? I've never owned a room. Ever. If I were a camera I could photograph an atom, because I wouldn't displace anything. I'm like a light rain.
So I'm standing in a light rain, outside a bookstore, near closing time, looking at possible remaindered mysteries. But they're the guys I don't like: Dean Koontz, a detective whose cat solves crimes. I'm leafing through a paperback of Walter Isaacson's Kissinger when I hear the following. The man's voice moves me with its own outsiderness, I guess; he has his own issues with books. I can understand that: books mock us. But a sweet feeling for Doris overcomes his fear, and he ventures into perhaps alien territory. I copied the conversation down verbatim and put it in my notebook later that night.
"Hey! What you doin' here, lookin' at the books?"
"I thought maybe I'd get Doris a book. She always sayin' how she love books. I thought maybe I get her a book."
"You still got that book I gave you?"
"Yeah, I still got it."