A Cloak of Invisibility

New Yorkers’ parting words to each other usually aren’t “See you later” or “Good night,” but “Get home safe.” I don’t know if this is a hold-over from the “bad old days” or more of a big city security blanket. It’s like sending friends on their way with Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility.

Though I’ve come to realize some people really want to be noticed. (Thus the advent of reality t.v.) On Thanksgiving, I called my mom to wish her a happy holiday, and she took the opportunity to remind me to be safe. “Haven’t you heard about the Al Qaeda plot to bomb the subway?” she asked. “Keep your wits about you and try to blend in with the crowd.” I told her I would do my best to be careful. It makes her feel better, but of course we both know that there is not much I personally can do. This doesn’t mean that unreasonable anxiety doesn’t get the best of me sometimes. (I mean, I do live in New York, where we hold Ph.D.’s in unreasonably anxious behavior.) But your number is up when it’s up.

Maybe it was on this philosophy that my neighbor decided to live every moment to the fullest. Right out of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the backs of our apartments face each other above a courtyard, he on the third floor, me on the fifth. It was late on Thursday night and it was as I was closing my blinds when I saw him. Or I saw the lower half of him, I should say. From my angle, below the shades he lay on his sofa wearing only tighty whiteys. He scratched his bulging belly. Probably that second helping of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie had done him and his pants in. Now he was even too tired to find his way to the closet to get his sweatpants.

Then I suppose in an effort to work off some of the extra calories, his hand slipped beneath his waistband, and…let’s just say he was no longer the master of his domain.

When I related this to a friend, his first question was one of bewilderment, not that the guy hadn’t pulled the shades all the way or turned off the lights, but at his technique. “With his underwear on?” he asked.

“That’s what gets you about this story?”

“It is unusual. Maybe he liked the possibility that someone could be watching.”

“So he’s turned on by the idea of being caught but not so much that he wants to be totally exposed,” I said.

“Right. Like that couple I saw a few years ago having sex on the F train platform. There they were, doing it as trains were coming and going, but they were trying to hide behind a garbage can.”

It’s too bad they didn’t have that cloak of invisibility, but if my friend is right, that would defeat the whole point – to be noticed. I guess the Al Qaeda plotters would agree.


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