He came out of nowhere.
There I was getting my hair cut, absorbed in the blissful experience
of being pampered and beautified, when suddenly I noticed a tall,
chiseled man in the mirror right over my head. Hello? But he wasn’t
looking at me, he was scrutinizing himself, and he was talking to my
“So, Brigitta…” The stranger smoothed his almost nonexistent hair
(which looked like a crew cut that could hardly be cut further) back
above his right ear. With his head cocked, he continued to study himself
in the mirror. “Do you think I’ll be ready to come back next week?” he
said. “I do want the top to be—I want to have enough for you to work
with.” Who the hell is this guy? Do salons need bouncers now?
“Ah, sure,” Brigitta replied in her elegant Latvian accent, “You will
probably be ready, I think.” She paused in mid-air over my head while
she gave him an obligatory scan. One of her hands held the scissors and
the other the comb.
I gaped at the man. “Hey! I’m sitting right here!” I wanted to yell. He
was still gazing at himself in my mirror, his face about two feet above
mine, and he was turning his head this way and that, touching his hair.
Brigitta started snipping away at me again, trying to ignore him. He was
obviously a regular customer, so she could not very easily tell him to
“But you see this here…” he said, and he brushed his hand over the
top of his bristly head and smiled devilishly at himself. I looked
pointedly up at him, my eyebrows raised as far as they would go, in what
I hoped was questioning disdain. At last his eyes met mine, and I
detected a faint hint of embarrassment. “I’ll come back,” he said
After he left, Brigitte apologized and said the front desk should
have waylaid the man. But I couldn’t help wondering: What was it that
made me invisible? Until I finally got his attention, I was just an
object, like the chair. I do not believe he was acting primarily out of a
sense of entitlement, like someone who butts in front of you because
they believe their business is more urgent than yours. It was simply
that he was oblivious.
Obliviousness is not uncommon in urban life. We’ve all had the
experience of waiting for a cab when someone steps right in front of us
and grabs it. But the truth is, most of these taxi thieves are not
thinking, “If I move quickly, I can get that cab first.” They really do
not notice the other people waiting. As New Yorkers we constantly need to cut out noise and stimuli or go
crazy, so we develop tunnel vision, and everything nonessential tends to
recede into the background—including, sometimes, other people.
Sometimes we can’t see others even when we really want to. Recently I
heard about a friend and his wife who were both trying to meet up on
42nd Street. They were walking in opposite directions toward each other,
on the same side of the street, yet they walked right past each other
without realizing it. The crowded city itself affects awareness.
But certainly there are situations in which we are more prone to
becoming invisible. When we hand our bodies over to be worked
on—primped, trimmed, massaged, whatever—there is a sort of disappearing
that happens, since we become almost entirely passive. We become a thing
upon which something is being done. Isn’t this why manicurists talk to each other while they are doing
your nails? And (ever more increasingly, it seems) why checkout clerks
talk to each other while they are checking you out? You, the customer,
are not real. You are a shadow, a blur going by.
Of course, I could (as is my wont) blame the salon incident on the
insensitivity of our technology-saturated society—on the theory that
everyone is so insular that others seem just a part of each person’s own
reflection in the mirror. But I suspect it might be simpler: The guy
was a classic narcissist.
Certainly, while my Narcissus was obsessing over his hair, his
reflection and mine merged in at least one way. Whether it was because
Brigitta was distracted by his interruption or she was influenced by
looking at his cropped head, she ended up clipping away much longer on
me than necessary.
So now, thanks to this short-haired interloper, I have much shorter
hair than I wanted. And, funnily enough, invisibility no longer seems
such a bad idea.