How long was he invisible?
If only the pile of books where he sat could whisper the secret of his rough fingers, or crack open the emotion in the white-whiskered, wrinkled face that framed his deep-set, dark blue eyes! But this room is silent, except for the two behind me who discuss in hushed tones: sales figures.
"Don't give me any of that altruistic stuff," the suit speaks, "It's all about money."
I remember when the elderly man shuffled in hunched inside his red flannel coat, inside the faded blue denim shirt, inside the dark blue sweater, cocooned inside the layers of his few possessions. Outside the public library, the New Orleans sun beats down a constant, 80 degree heat.
They know each other here. The security guard waves to the cripples and the suits. Do they know the old man? I want to know.
But an empty seat remains.
I'll never know.
I ought to go back to the Hyatt, to the power suits, funky beards, bare midriffs, and lavender lenses of the National Collegiate Honors Conference. I should go back, find that Croatian biologist with the lovely curls, and buy her a beer. Or, I could do something that remains true to my character; I could, like the geek I am, go museum-hopping with friends.
The guard helps an elderly woman to her car. They laugh. A man in faded overalls carries a teetering stack of books to a table. On the top is a New Oxford Dictionary.
I stay for a while.
I can't go back to the recursive isolation of the Hyatt, the talk of culture and diversity, of science and progress, the talk that turns the flannel man into an invisible.
I linger for a while and pay to use the Internet. Behind the desk is an amazing thing: a beautiful acrylic sphere that plots the meridian lines and calculates the night sky for a given evening. They let me play with it. Precision mathematics and the poetry of the stars merge and spin like soulmates.
"So, why are you interested in this globe thing?"
"Oh, I'm presenting a spherical sculpture at the National Collegiate Honors Conference this weekend. It's about ethnic, lower-class life in mid-19th century Philadelphia."
The sphere! I need to finish attaching triangles, I realize. Heading back to the hotel, I pass a beggar who asks money for food. I offer him an unopened bag of trail mix. He refuses.
On the bright side, I was able to present twice at the conference. The presentation of my geodesic narrative montage(I think it is the first ever hypertext sculpture), went extremely well. I call it Philadelphia Fullerine.