The Day I Was the Invisible Man

by Nate St. Pierre on September 5, 2011

I witnessed something fascinating the other day. I popped into this little diner to try their chocolate shake (alas, they had no malts), and I took a seat while waiting for my order. My seat happened to be on a high stool at a counter against the outer wall of the building, but here’s the thing – the wall was completely glass. Sitting at that counter, my face was about 8 inches from the glass. There was no glare from the sun or anything, so people standing outside could see me plain as day.

Immediately outside the wall was a busy walkway to the outdoor mall/galleria, with hundreds of people going by each minute. Many of them were curious about the diner and took a peek in through the window. Others stopped in front of me and started chatting with their traveling companion(s). I was right there, guys. When a group paused in front of me, they could’ve reached out and put their arms around my shoulders.

Nobody paid any attention to me, though. It was like I wasn’t even there. If I were to sidle up to a group of people, stand less than a foot from their faces, and just listen to their conversation, you can bet it would be socially awkward. But one thin pane of glass changes all that. It was so interesting, almost like I was watching their lives on some kind of reality TV. And conversely, what did they think about me? Evidently nothing – I was just another window mannequin.

It made me wonder why that small physical barrier shifts so much psychological behavior. Are we so used to window displays and creative, in-your-face advertising that we simply ignore everything behind the glass? Or is it something deeper within us that makes a mental note of the barrier and dismisses everything behind it as non-threatening, both physically and (evidently) emotionally? Personally, I think it’s a combination of both, of I’m still not sure. Maybe I’m missing something more obvious? What do you think?

(Image source: Horia Varlan)

  • R.

    “They had not noticed the magic…”

    Hi Nate

    Although the association might not seem obviuos, your post reminds me of “Nirvana” by Charles Bukowski:  (here read by Tom Waits).

    Warmth from across the ocean


    • Just listened, and yeah, it does have some similarities. I liked it – thanks for the link.

  • Sarah

    I think it’s a product of being in a big city. I think the invisible barriers are there to protect the little personal space we have in the city.

    But, we are in LA, land of the “controlled audience”, so you may have been treated to a little subconscious perfomance art.

    I think many people want to be watched, and you were the perfect chocolate shake-drinking audience. You might not have been as invisible as you thought.

  • Maybe it is personal space issue. The glass was there to separate you – so they didn’t feel threatened. Although you could see, you couldn’t hear or touch. (or so they might have thought).  I agree, maybe you weren’t as invisible as you thought. On the other hand, some people are completely oblivious to their surroundings and perhaps didn’t care or even realize you were there paying attention to them.  I *loved* this and am still thinking about it. 

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