Invisible Man

The Thing I’m Doing This Year #23

About once a week I eat lunch at Poor Richard’s downtown. It’s a pizza place connected to an award-winning toy store, which is connected to a coffee wine bar, which is connected to a bookstore. I like going downtown. It makes me feel closer to the arts community and my art friends (even though I always go there alone and never talk to anyone). In fact, I even go as far as taking off my glasses, which I do so I can read the Rolling Stone or the Independent, but I also do it for another reason.

When I take off my glasses, I can’t see anything more than a foot away. More than even my personal manner, it isolates me.

Taking off my glasses makes me feel invisible.

For someone who is almost constantly alone this is a fairly stupid super power.

Anyways, one day I took off my glasses, felt invisible, ate my pizza slice and my salad (no bell peppers) and drank my soda … two-thirds Diet Pepsi, one-third Cherry Pepsi. Then I went into the bookstore and find a book off my nerdy books-to-buy-next list, “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino. People who are in the know consider this book a post-modern masterpiece.

In a conversation with Kublai Khan, Marco Polo describes cities from Khan’s empire and/or cities Polo visited on his worldwide travels. A couple of things got me off track, first the “Khan” described here is not the same Khan I found wildly entertaining in a couple Star Trek feature films. No, totally different guy. The other thing … I kept waiting for the story to start, but this story has no story. It’s 55 short chapters describing 55 cities. Some refer to the 55 chapters as 55 poems.

That’s a lot of poems to read, you know, describing made-up cities.

I felt kind of dumb that I wasn’t enthralled. It took me a month to slog through 165 pages.

But it’s not the first time I’ve felt dumb or was dumb.

MASS-MoCA-sign-4-13-00

I first became aware of the book when I visited the very cool art museum, MASS MOCA in North Adams, Mass., with performing venues and galleries built in a refurbished series of 19th century factory buildings. I was getting a personal tour by the institution’s founder. One of the original exhibitions they had up was based on the book. An artist or artists, I don’t remember, built artistic interpretations of several of the imaginary cities described in the book.

Oh, I was getting a tour because I was up for a job that I – OBVIOUSLY — didn’t get.

Electric Paper City_sm

So I put the book on my books-to-buy-next list. Double points because the book was written by an Italian and translated into English, so it qualifies for a reading list for a Comparative Literature class.

Twice now I’ve met Comparative Literature professors from Colorado College and both times did not start out well for me.

At a community event at CC, I decided to strike up a conversation with a woman helping herself to the hummus. Now I usually don’t ask people about themselves as I’m typically preoccupied with what hilarious story about myself I might tell. I listen closely enough to hear whatever topic or theme is being talked about and then I canvas my memory banks for some related story from my past.

It’s the opposite of active listening.

But I must have asked what she did OR maybe she was wearing a nametag, BUT either way she said that she taught Comparative Literature.

And I said something like, “Wow, talk about a small world, we’re practically related because I majored in English Lit. I bet we could have hours of fascinating conversations due to all of the things we undoubtedly have in common.”

She replied with something like, “I said ‘Comparative Literature,’ you ethnocentric swine.”

I’m like, “Wow, that’s kind of harsh.”

She didn’t say that exactly, I’m paraphrasing, but still …

“Comparative Lit is nothing like English Literature.”

Comparatists, as they called themselves, study the works, cultures and languages from faraway lands and clearly all I did was read books by old white guys from America.

Then at another function I ran into another Comparative Lit professor at a downtown bar. Once I found out what he did, it happened again. I stupidly mentioned the whole ‘I read books too’ thing and got the same, ‘we do so much more than other literature departments, it’s not even fucking funny’ response.

Well, I thought, if I’m the jabroni here, if I’m the uncouth townie, I will play the part. I launched into an entire soliloquy about how I had recently conducted a survey of the entire AC/DC catalog – a non-American rock band – and found that the early work of Bon Scott to be clearly superior than the more recent lead singer, whatever his name is.


I also postulated that Elvis Presley would still be alive today if I had been his manager, a frequent topic for me at downtown bars when I’ve had a few drinks.

Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker was an asshole!

My ploy backfired. I was so ready to start discussing the intricacies of the gentleman’s sport of bowling, but that egghead professor agreed with me on all counts. He got into the topics. He listened and contributed and agreed with my conclusions.

I thought, “He could be my new smart friend, who reads books written elsewhere.”

But, goddammit, I wasn’t really paying attention when we got introduced. I didn’t catch his name. I just thought his name was, “That Guy Who Thinks He’s Better Than Me.”

P.S. My review of “Invisible Cities” … didn’t care for it.

The next installment … “I Got Nowhere Else to Go”

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