I have a superpower. I can become invisible. Less so than I did when I was young but I can still do it. The problem is that I could never control it.
Before you start thinking "Douglas has consumed a bit too many adult beverages", let me explain about this superpower.
I first noticed it when I was in my teens. I would walk into a dance, or a party, or a classroom and no one would notice. I'd walk down the hall at school and have to dodge people constantly, even those looking directly at me as they walked. It wasn't all the time, of course, just randomly. I know what you are thinking, that this happens to all of us from time to time. Other people are simply involved with other things and don't notice you. I thought so, too. For awhile. I also thought I just tended to blend in with the background. So average, so bland.
In the Navy, it was understandable. Most of the time, you are entirely un-unique. Large groups of people are dressed the same, few stand out. And, when they do, it's because of size, rank, or trappings. There is a reason for all the gold braid, the flags on cars, maybe even the shiny buttons on the officers' uniforms. Among the enlisted, there is virtually no difference. You are simply a drop in the ocean.
But I began to notice it when I was in civilian clothes and later when I was a civilian. I still thought I was just blending in. Or being deliberately ignored because I was scruffy, bearded, and long haired.
It was at restaurants that I began to realize what was really happening. Being not exactly overflowing with money, I patronized cafes and chain restaurants. You are rarely seated at these places, you just pick a table and sit. A waitress or waiter drops by and hands you a menu, maybe along with a glass of water. Not for me. More often than not, I would be sitting for a long stretch of time before an approach by any staff. And something would happen in my vicinity just preceding it. Something to draw attention toward where I was sitting.
Sometimes, I would have to make that something happen. I would stop a waitress walking by on her way to attend to someone else, someone who had sat down only minutes before (and several minutes after I had). There would be a look of shock in her eyes, more often than not, and a quickly mumbled "Oh, I didn't see you there, I'll be right back."
It was then I realized I was invisible at times. I began to notice it in stores while waiting for someone to ask me what I want, or take my payment for an item, or help me find something.
The most memorable incident happened in Columbus, Ohio. In a bar called The Wharf. An odd name for a bar in the middle of a mid-western state, far from any ocean, even far from the only large body of water, a Great Lake... but I digress.
I was to meet a couple of friends there and we were headed to somewhere to eat and drink. We were students at a training facility for telephone companies in nearby Dublin. I came into the place and found my friends at the far side of the horseshoe shaped bar. It was not crowded but far from empty. I took an empty seat to the left of Rick and waited for the barmaid to ask me what I wanted. Rick seemed not to notice I had come in but he was deep in conversation with Bob on his right so I didn't think anything of it. It was only when the barmaid came over and asked Rick if he wanted a refill and then asked Bob if he did and ignored me looking right at her that I realized what had happened.
I had become invisible. Still, I wasn't sure. I waited, I even spoke, she passed by a couple more times, even looked my way but through me, if you know what I mean. I decided I needed to take some action or I would remain invisible. I pushed the plastic ashtray gently toward the inside edge of the bar, toward the area in te middle of the horseshoe shape. Toward the ice machine just a foot or so below the bar surface. I did it slowly so I could stop it if she noticed me.
She didn't. She was passing by again and was just a few feet away, her back turned toward me when the ashtray hit the metal panel of the ice machine and made a rather loud noise. She jumped about a foot in the air and spun around.
I was visible again. She spotted me and said, "Did you do that to get my attention?"
"It seems to have worked," I replied. "Could I have a draft, please?"
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago