Somehow my habit of wearing headphones renders me effectively invisible.
I live in Chicago now, as you may know. I lived here before for a number of years. It’s home just as Oklahoma is home.
I work sixteen miles from where I live. It takes me over an hour to get from one to the other. That’s a lot of time with my nose in a book and headphones in my ears.
My habit of plugging into my ipod as soon as I leave my apartment is a good one. It protects me from interactions with the many strangers I pass, it functions as a security gate that lets me permit or ban access. That’s something I learned in high school. Somehow my habit of wearing headphones renders me effectively invisible. People know I can’t hear them so they don’t speak to me. “I’m not participating,” is what I seem to be saying. And it’s true. I’m not participating in the life of the streets I walk. I’m barely playing a role on the trains and buses I ride.
But my use of headphones is more important than that. The constant presence of private music adds much needed texture to the absurdity of my travel.
I am a speck on the map of millions, you see.
I feel like a benign Travis Bickle. I rove around this place, weaving in and out of the grotesque parade of hideous people. I am hideous too. But we are not alike, we are not together. I have this shield of beauty buoying me toward my workplace and back to my apartment. I have a soundtrack that elevates me.
When I work a closing shift on a weeknight I have occasion to discover a couple of precious quiet streets in Chicago. This is a rare thing, indeed.
It’s strange that I moved back to a fairly crowded city. I love being alone. In spite of my love of persons, I have great distaste for people.
This is the best, though.
It’s late. It’s dark. It’s cold and wet. I am alone in this place that hours ago was pulsing and bristling with activity, with people and people and more people.
I am suddenly Charlton Heston in The Omega Man. I feel like I have the whole place to myself. Like I may never see another person again but that’s basically okay by me.
This happened last week. I was walking down 57th Street in Hyde Park. I was alone and Modest Mouse was shouting some atonal rant into my ears and I suddenly had the sensation that as I moved the pavement was moving because of my steps. I felt as though the very earth beneath me was at the will of my feet. The world had become a treadmill. If I walked faster the world would fall away behind me at the same pace. If I ran you all would have felt it; you would have been thrown from your beds where you tried to sleep or your couches where you sat to watch the pathetic also-rans of college football, stalled in your cars where you were driving west as I ran east, arrested and nauseated in your pursuits of a kiss or another drink.
I felt like I was boss of the world.
We were all lucky I wasn’t.