She was probably the nicest lunatic we had ever encountered. Tony and I were waiting in line for an ATM outside of the subway station, and she glided into our lives as though drifting on a low-flying nimbus. For twenty minutes she prattled onto us in a sort of garbled English-Korean pidgin, one barely decipherable even as I actively translated her more difficult turns of phrase. Whenever we would correctly identify one of her glistening, bewildering gems of human language, or nod as though we understood, she would wave her hand down and smile, as if to say, “Oh, you crafty kids. You know just what I mean.” Her nails were painted the colour of a sour milk, and she spent at least three minutes searching fruitlessly and without explanation through one of a dozen notebooks she had stashed in her purse. If we repeated a certain Korean mantra, she informed us thoroughly and at length, all the favours of the universe would rain down upon us. Money. Jewellery. Fame. Beautiful wives. Numerous children. Stupendous houses. Ivory pianos. Enormous wangs. All of them were a Korean chant away, and it was critical that she told us this.
Because she felt the need to tell someone, and when you’re a crazy magnet, you’re the one she’s going to tell.
At home, I kind of prided myself on being unnoticeable. I dressed in bland colours, I purchased and constantly wore cheap-looking earphones (even when not actively listening to music), and I developed a pronounced, surly slouch which I allowed to carry me through life. Solicitors and fliers rarely came my way, because I just looked so boring as for people not to bother: I was forever encased in an impenetrable shield of uninteresting. He probably doesn’t want to join this gym, or purchase this series of novelty kitchen knives shaped like puppies, or accept Xenu into his heart because it doesn’t actually look like anyone’s really home.
On the Toronto public transit system, a den of basically constant interruption by a bevy of both standard-issue and weapons-grade crazy, I was practically invisible. I’ve watched fights break out inches from my face, seen proselytizers of every faith saunter past frothing and impassioned about their various hells, had withered old husks of humanity masturbate and spit and scream at the heavens across the bus at me. Never have they tried to engage with me, because my earphones are in, I am reading a book, and I am buried deep in whatever seat I claim, as much out the window and inside of my own brain as I am in the bus or subway. It is impossible to draw my attention. It is impossible to engage me in any way. If approached, I will feign deafness, or the inability to speak English, or a sudden and complete comatose fugue. And people seem to sense this, and don’t even bother: the inconspicuousness is too powerful.
I am exactly too average, and so unwilling to interact with my environment in public lest I become dragged into nonsense that no one even bothers. Once while riding a bus home, I sat directly across from a woman who vomited with the force of a mighty Atlantic hurricane all over herself, her bag, and the floor. The bus rang with the sounds of her heaves, the scent of her orange and textured emesis. After a time, she daintily unfolded some newspapers and placed them gently over her pools of puke so that others might step over it. Others nearby recoiled, debated telling the driver, were waved off by the woman declaring herself perfectly fine, and generally made a fus. Conversations erupted everywhere, loud and involved. I never once looked up from my book. I am unshakable.
But what happens when the environment forces conspicuousness upon you? When no matter how much you try, others can’t help but see you?
Moving to a largely mono-ethnic nation and being not of that particular ethnicity makes me sort of stand out. I dress different, I walk different, and also there’s the whole business of my face. People notice me: most people notice and then go on not caring, as is the way of humans everywhere, a reaction I deeply cherish. Some people take interest for a few seconds longer, and think deep thoughts, and then go about their business.
But if there’s crazy around, I’m going to be the target. Because when wacky people who desperately want attention start getting in other peoples’ grilles, they pick who to target carefully. What will draw the most attention, who will they weird out the most, or just what is most likely to cause the weirdest interaction possible? Probably the foreigner.
It’s taken some adjustment to get used to it, though thankfully it is mostly harmless. Zealots and solicitors and people aiming to make a weird scene will pick me out, and inasmuch as I’ve grown accustomed to my unearned celebrity, I’ve grown to embrace these brushes with the weird. They just want me to know that they are crazy, or really, really love Jesus, or think that maybe my race is filthy and unclean, and if they share it with me, they’re going to get a lot more play than if they had shared it with someone using my home strategies.
But then sometimes the crazy is, well, crazier. As fun as it can be to have weirdoes constantly talking to you and making your life interesting, the more unhinged and scary can also find you just as attractive and titillating, too.
I met a few friends in a subway station just before going to a lamb restaurant. We were excited, and talked for just a moment, before a man who had been skulking nearby approached. He slouched droopily to our sides and muttered something, in one language or another, or possibly in his own secret one, made entirely of base humming noises and recitations from HP Lovecraft novels. His hands were buried deep in his pockets, and at length he drew them out. In one hand he held a fistful of fried chicken, gnarled and sawed and half-eaten; in the other, he held nothing, because his hand was soaked in blood and gore and dripping all over the place. He continued to mumble at us, but thankfully we were already running away. (Quoth Tony: “WHOA It’s time to go!”)
But such is the life when your anonymity is abandoned. I can try to maintain my inconspicuousness, but conspicuousness just tends to find me. And when other people want to be as conspicuous as possible, or just feel the need to dole out whatever mystery of the universe they have divined, being effortlessly the weirdest person in the room means I’m going to be the recipient.