The Invisible Man At Target

I’m sitting in the parking lot of our local Target, way out on the edge, far away from most of the people.

I always seem to be in a parking lot, and I am almost always as far from people as I can get.

It’s hot today, hot and hazy. I’m out for my usual Sunday drive, and I stopped here to think, which I’m not all that good at.

A beautiful woman just got into the Jeep in front of me. There seem to be a lot of beautiful women here.

There seems to be a lot of them everywhere I go.

Even way out here on the edge.

Even though I drive a bright yellow car, I have long felt I was basically invisible. I drive to the local Target and I see hundreds of people, but I’m pretty sure none of them see me. So I’m ideally placed as an observer: seeing, but never seen.

You can see by the attached photo what I look like — if you noticed it at all. In real life, you’d walk right by me. Everybody does, except the people who actually know me.

As case in point as to my alleged invisibility, the woman with the Jeep proceeded to change her shirt in it, after looking around to be sure no one was there. I looked away when I realized what she was doing, but she hadn’t noticed me. I’m just talented that way.

There are fewer of these parking lots every year. Retail itself is changing rapidly, of course. I could see places like Dollar General putting Target out of business. That, and online distributors. But something will come along after those, as well.

Nothing human is permanent; we all know this. But we invest things with a type of permanence reflective of the intensity we feel about them.

I used to bring my kids here, and they loved it. Of course, they all loved Toys R Us, too, and now that’s going away. Just as I loved Sears, and my mother loved Woolworth’s, both of which are now gone.

A beautiful woman in a sundress just looked this way and smiled when she saw me. It’s one of my coworkers, out shopping with two of her children: I wave and she waves back. I’m sure we’ll talk about this at work tomorrow.

Well, it’s time for this invisible man and his bright yellow car to go. Not sure where, but they’ll no doubt be beautiful women there.


I have ghosts.

These ghosts aren’t the people from my past who I’ve known and lost. They aren’t even people from the past I’ve only read or heard about.

These ghosts are younger versions of me.

I look out the window of my office and I see myself, hurrying around the little walking trail adjacent, trying to figure out what to do about my drug-addicted twenty-year old son.

I walk out the front of the building, and I see myself, pacing before an exam, staring up at the tall building I now work in where the exams were administered.

Across the street, I see a much younger me eating at the old diner, in the very first week after we moved here – with a different wife (my ex) and our then-infant son.

A lot of our lives takes place within a few square miles: our joys, our heartbreaks, our meltdowns, even our sex. There are groceries stores we’ve walked miles in, church pews we’ve occupied, a couch we’ve watched 10,000 hours of television on.

But we change as we age. The play goes on, but our part changes, and the players change, as well. Sometimes we walk out on stage, only to realize we are in a whole different theater than we remember starting in. Or growing in.

My ghosts aren’t malignant. They don’t even notice me. They are fully wrapped up in the problems or experiences of their day. I’m just there observing. In a few short hours (it’s lunchtime right now), I’ll be back home, holding my baby granddaughter, who is very close to being able to crawl. I know she won’t be a baby much longer. One day I’ll see ghost me, holding her, smiling with her.

She, on the other hand, won’t remember.

Because, you see, what makes these “ghosts” is that I’m the only one who can see them, and I’m the only one who will ever see them. I write (and maybe you do, too) to try to recreate a little of my experience for you, in the hope I can’t faintly project a little bit of my ghost-world onto the walls of your cave.

But I can’t really expect you to look for long. All of you have ghosts of your own.


Down Broken Willow

Those two summers, we swam every day in the bayou “down Broken Willow”, as we said back home. There were different people there on different days, but always the three of us: my brother, his friend Danny, and me.

Being younger than the two of them by five years, I was assigned the lowest role in whatever games we were playing. The most common of these was to be a lookout for ski boats if we were playing too far from the tree or the shore. I also “got to” (it was a privilege, you see) chase and retrieve overthrown footballs, bring each of them towels, and go to shore to receive messages on behalf of the two of them (usually “come home”), and so on. I spent the better part of those two summers almost completely sunburned; the Florida sun pretty much laughs at things like t-shirts and sunblock.

Even though they used me as a lackey, a nine-year-old boy is pretty lucky when his fourteen-year-old brother will let him hang out, and I realized that at the time. All of that ended sometime during the next year, as my brother withdrew into his own world, a place he’s never really returned from in the forty-six years since.

My wife asked me last night why my brother and I never talk; I don’t really have an answer, other than that we’ve been having the same conversation for decades, and it never really varies. He tells me little to nothing about his own life, even when asked specifically, and has no interest in mine. We can relive the old days, though, laughing at the old stories; he still thinks its funny the errands he used to send me on, and the fatuous reasoning he’d use to justify it. And it is kind of funny.

Sometimes, you love someone, like a brother, but can’t really connect with them, except on some old ground. Maybe if he and I went swimming, back in our old neighborhood, we could still interact as though our lives had some ongoing commonality. But there doesn’t seem to be one.

Not every estrangement in life comes from anything bad really happening: sometimes, it’s just distance and difference, and you find yourself facing a stranger — one you love, but, who you no longer really know — if you ever really did know them.

With my brother, I’m not sure I ever did.

If Liberty Means Anything…

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell, the Original Preface to Animal Farm

I feel about political parties the way a cat feels about various packs of dogs. None of them are friendly, and none of them would ever want me as a member.*

I don’t like political parties because I don’t like gangs. I don’t talk about politics much on my blogs because you are either in a gang, or you are its enemy, as I have repeatedly found throughout my life. I belong to no gang, which makes me the enemy of all of them.

That being said, there is a political issue I do feel strongly about, and that is people’s right to express their own opinions. If you feel moved enough by a given issue to speak out about it, speak out. If you feel safer doing that with a large group of others, do it, that’s your right.

I won’t be comfortable around your large group, but I believe in your right of free opinion and speech, and free assembly.

In fact, I’ll probably be as far away from your assembling group as my noncomformist cat self can get.

I don’t like any part of political discourse that consists of trying to stop the other side from speaking. In fact, I despise it.  It can be right wing talk show hosts telling people to “shut up and dribble” (or shut up and whatever), or it can be left wing sheep saying “Four legs good, two legs bad”**.  All these tactics are reprehensible.

For those of us who live in the United States, we either believe in freedom and in government by the people, or we don’t.

And it’s the ones who don’t who are always the enemy.

* I used this image for a poem recently, but this was the sentence (and context) as I originally intended it.

** This is also from “Animal Farm”. You probably should reread it, eighth grade was a while ago.


I get all of that. But why was she there?


Why was she there, with you? What was her story?

I was seventeen, and hanging out at a hospital waiting for my mom. They said it would be about three hours, then she’d be out and I could drive her home.

Restless, I decided to take a walk through the hospital. I passed a large waiting area, and saw a face I recognized: a blonde girl from my Analytical Geometry class whose name I didn’t know. Her foot was in a cast.

Walking back by again a few minutes later, she saw me, so I stopped.

“Hi. What happened to you?”

”I run cross-country, and broke my ankle training,”she said ruefully. “It’s Tom, isn’t it? Your name?”

“Owen,” I said. “And you’re — Sherri?”

”Louise,” she said.

“Louise — you’re the girl who finished 2nd in the state, aren’t you?”

”Yes. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to really run on this again. And aren’t you the guy who got into a fist fight with Charles in the lunchroom last year?”

”It wasn’t much of a fight, right next to the coaches’ table,” I said. “I think his one punch hit me in the shoulder.”

“We all hated you,” she said. “Charles would never hurt a fly.”

”Unless it was on my shoulder,” I said.

She laughed.

”The fight certainly wasn’t his fault,” I added. “Fights happen. Do you have brothers?” I asked.

”I have three sisters, and one little brother,” she said. “My parents stopped when they finally had a boy. What about you?”

”One of each, both older.”

”So you’re the baby?”

”We were all babies at one time, even my parents. We sort of took turns.”

She laughed again. “You aren’t at all what I expected.”

”Oh, and what am I supposed to be?”

”The angry, brooding, dangerous type, you know. The kind that drives the girls wild.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “You’re not exactly who I pictured, either, for our State runner-up. I had no idea that was you.”

”I know I’m not exactly built like a runner. I’m a lot more top-heavy,” she added musingly.

I blushed. She certainly was.

We talked for two-and-a-half more hours.

So, I was easy to talk to, and I could make her laugh. 

You don’t think she thought you were good looking?

My mind doesn’t work that way.

You don’t think she thought you were good looking?

Yes, I believe she did. I had changed my look that summer, and I was feeling pretty good about it. I was a complete surprise to her.

How long was it after that you started dating?

Let’s see… that was June, and our first date was Homecoming, which was in October. I had never been on a date, at that age, although I went on my first one within a week or two of that conversation. We had Calculus together, although we still sat with our old crowds in class. Our friends seemed surprised we were friendly, or even knew each other. We would talk a little, some days, after class.

What did she see in you?

I wrote about that, you know I did. I was all wrong for her: an underachiever, a rebel. She was from a family of high achievers, and she was tired of always being a ‘good girl’.

So you were her ‘bad boy’?

I think so, yes. Funny, really.

“Are you going to Homecoming?” she asked me, as I stood by her locker while she exchanged one set of books for another.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I said. “I’ve never been to a dance of any kind, school or otherwise.”

“They’re fun,” she said. “You should try it.”

Some silence as we headed towards her next class.

“Would you like to go to Homecoming with me?” I heard the words, but didn’t realize my mind had formulated them. The next few seconds were agony.

“Sure,” she said.

I can’t believe that just happened, I thought.

Why couldn’t you believe it? I mean, she was a girl and you were a boy, and she obviously liked you…

I don’t remember it being obvious. It all just kind of seemed surreal.

When did it become real?

Driving her home from the dance, we turned into her neighborhood. I will never know what question I intended to ask.

“Is there –”

“Yes,” she interrupted. “Go straight here, past my house, and then turn right. There’s a place down by the water.”

This is happening, I thought. This is really happening.

Another magical night we spent was out at the beach, a few miles from where my wife and I are staying as I write this. That night, during winter break after graduation, was our last night together. I had set up a fire and a picnic out on the beach, with wine and music. We were shielded by dunes on three sides. I had friends watch it, then move off as they heard us coming, so as we climbed over the crest of the last dune, it was like a fully sprung nighttime picnic has showed up on the beach, with blankets and a fire. But that was the end. She went back to school and got with the guy she’s still married to almost forty years later.

Did you love her?


Did she love you?


Why didn’t it last, then?

Love… married love is about building the other person up. We couldn’t do that for each other. She found someone with whom she could, and so, eventually, did I.

So, no regrets?

If you have no regrets, it wasn’t really Love.


I’m out here, in the one place where uniformity of opinion makes sense, that is, by myself. And I still can’t manage it.

The air is ashen with the smell of woodsmoke, floating over from distant chimneys. My skin is ashen from the unaccustomed cold; it’s 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees Celsius). It is supposed to warm up rapidly later today, rising above freezing by around noon.

This being the southern United States, and the roads being frozen, my workplace was closed yesterday, as was the local government. I had a few conference calls that went on, but otherwise, I stayed inside, writing poetry for the other site.

Our sleepy neighborhood has had more than its share of excitement this week, with one of my neighbors being shot at (seventeen times) and a car having skidded off the road yesterday uphill into our yard and back down again, which left an interesting set of tracks. Neither my wife nor I heard it when it happened; I was in the back writing, and she was one room over, watching a movie.

The gunshots I had heard the morning before last, a little after 5:30 in the morning. Our neighbor interrupted four or five men robbing his truck and was shot at for his trouble. He hit the deck in his carport, and his wife closed the carport door from inside; luckily, no one was hurt.

The real world is violent, ugly, and messy. So I write a couple of highly stylized blogs, and use exquisite watercolors like the one attached to this essay (© Maryna Kriuchenko |; I also listen to beautiful music, and spend a certain amount of time hoping the outside world won’t impinge on my world of escapist fantasy.

But it always does, in the end; for me, and for everybody else.

In my twenties, I developed the following theory. I ask for some indulgence from any of you who may have heard this before.

There are two types of people in the world: those for whom life is boring, and who therefore seek excitement; and those for whom life is stressful, and who therefore seek peace.

For reference (although most of you will know this already) I am in the latter category.

These categories do not exactly correspond to extroverts and introverts, nor to night people and morning people, nor any other division I know of under some other name.  There are, however, some large areas of overlap.

Because I was frequently looking for dating opportunities at that age, and because the proportion of people in each category seemed to be roughly 3:1, I came to the same conclusion that other young people like I am had come to; namely, that I needed to go where the excitement was if I wanted to meet women. The most popular of these types of place was, where I lived, dance clubs and bars. So I went there.

There was just one problem — I hated being in those places: too loud, too competitive, too stressful. I was self-conscious as a dancer and no good as a drinker.  I was extremely unconfident about my own appearance, or, rather, I was confident that my appearance would win me no contests among women. While I did occasionally find someone who’d dance with me, I got no phone numbers, and, essentially, met no one.

My therapist then gave me, at around age twenty-eight, some really good advice. He said to go somewhere where I could meet women and men, and which involved an activity that I wanted to do in and of itself, regardless of whether or not I met anyone I could date. This resulted in me getting into community theater as a pianist or musical director. I like theater and love to play, and I’m decent at it, so I was actually there for a reason and not just hoping to hookup with somebody.

I made a number of new friends and met some people I ended up dating, including the woman who became my (now ex-) wife.

To people more advanced, socially, than I was, the advice I got might seem obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to me, and so, it was good advice. It got me out of situations where my concentration was on how uncomfortable I was, and into a situation I was enjoying for what it was.

A few years ago, when probiotics were first introduced to the wider market, my son made the joke that he thought

“… we could at least all agree on being antibiotic. I mean, has the pro-bacteria lobby really infiltrated our society to such a degree that people and products are now proudly displaying their probioticism?”

Which I thought was hysterical. I’ve often repeated the joke since.

When the Internet first came into wide use, its proponents touted its capacity for “bringing people together”. This has no doubt been true, in many senses; politically, however, people are as polarized as ever, and, arguably, more so.

Because of the oddities of maintaining a fictitious identity as a writer, I have two Facebook pages under my real and pen name. Between the two pages, while there is some overlap, two diametrically opposed views of the world are dominant, and neither even acknowledges that the other view exists, accept to parody and vilify it.

All views are accessible to all. Yet, I find that many people have no real idea of the reasons (where there are any) that political figures they admire are criticized.

And this goes for both sides.

The conclusion I draw, oddly enough, has nothing to do with politics, which is, to my eyes, as it ever was. The conclusion I draw is about technology. Tools, of whatever kind, are not intrinsically good or bad; its their use that makes them so. All power to do things can be used either way. The Internet is neither good nor bad, except insofar as how it is used.

Another way to say this is that the Internet has made both facts and propaganda more accessible, and contains no better mechanism to distinguish the two than we had prior to the Internet.

I was notified a few minutes ago that my office is opening this morning in spite of the roads still being frozen over, because it has been long enough, I guess. Being the cautious type, I may wait a little longer before venturing out, as my two-wheel drive bumper-car would probably go straight off the road the first block.

But I’m kind of two minds. Even when I’m by myself.