Our default

For a while now I have been promising some friends that I would construct a hat that included a sort of wing or tag off to one side, a la Minnie Pearl. I envision this chapeau to be less flashy than La Pearl’s but following the same premise. The hat would have an appendage that would always be out of my own sight when it was on my head. Move to one side, the tag would be out of my peripheral vision. Move quickly to the other side, same effect.

Everyone else would be readily able to see the tag. I would be able to see it, too, if I were to take even a brief glimpse of myself in a mirror.

minniepearlxThe point of this fashion faux pas? I want the hat as an illustration of our ability to ignore things in plain sight – of that gimmick we employ to not notice what is right in front of us. This habitual practice of ignoring what surrounds us deserves our attention. We are beginning to look foolish. We are clearly not taking that cold, hard look in the mirror.

Five or six years ago, I was walking up Wacker just west of Michigan Avenue in Chicago, when the young man strolling ahead of me took off all of his clothes, stepping out of them like he was getting ready to run across the way and dive into the river. But he didn’t. He just kept strolling along. I immediately broke into an all over drenching body sweat. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a precursor to a heart attack I would have the next day.

Then, a few years ago I was running with my little dog Dexter early one weekday morning when I spotted a completely naked young woman walking along the railroad tracks a block or so from our house. My quick assessment was that she was troubled or in trouble. Even as I called out to her the thought was racing to mind: How did she get here without being seen by anyone until now?

During the time I had an office on Holton Street, I often noticed young people changing clothes between buildings or in alley ways early in the morning. These teens didn’t seem to be doing that old school trick of rolling up the skirt to a uniform under a wide belt to show a little more leg. Nor did they seem to be putting on some slicker outfit they lifted from a store the night before. No, a couple of them were clearly changing up their gender presentation. More, however, seemed to just be getting dressed outside.

On Monday of this week, as I crossed Washington Street at Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I heard, then saw, a large man dressed in what could best be described as rags and hides. These covered his shoulders and torso, but only marginally his upper thighs and buttocks. It was 8:45 AM. The streets were packed with pedestrians and autos, he was screaming at the top of his lungs, but it seemed like I might be the only person who saw him.

Then on Wednesday, as the Amtrak Hiawatha train pulled into Milwaukee Intermodal station at about 4:45 PM, a young woman passenger seated in the assisted seating area changed her clothes. All of them. There were three or four men standing in line ahead of me waiting to exit. There were many people behind me, but these might have missed all but the most active parts of the scene that unfolded. The guys in front of me would have missed nothing, but only one seemed to take any notice at all. I could tell that he was going to get a severe eye strain from taking it all in via side-eye.

Mental illness, homelessness, sex trafficking – the signs of these are fairly commonplace in my experience. However, we appear to have decided to ignore these, to have taken them as a given. Have we decided on oblivion as our default?

3 thoughts on “Our default

  1. Is the split infinitive a trap to see if I choose oblivion?

    Seriously though, I think in most of these situations I would be afraid to say anything to people. I feel uncomfortable when people say anything to me if they’re strangers. I’m sure it’s a cultural thing, but when a stranger talks to me, I panic because I assume this is someone I’m supposed to know. I was raised as a matter of politeness practically not to talk to strangers, or “Mind your own business.” It’s probably my fierce independence, but I prefer to be oblivious to other people myself, but I’m sure that’s my own pathology from being raised in a world where everything was always supposed to be perfect all the time – and if it wasn’t, at least don’t make it look like it isn’t.


    • Of course it was a trap, but not for oblivion. I struggled with that little sucker for a few minutes and thought, “No one will notice, except maybe a linguist or grammarian.” Well, looks like I got a two for one snag!


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