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As I became invisible

“You see, ten years ago when I first came to the city, I had a job on the West Side as a pushcart vendor. In order to get my license, I was told to go to a certain municipal office, to approach a particular window and to pay a small bribe to a teller.

On most days, I would roll the cart from a parking garage to the same spot on Ninth Avenue, near the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel. I sold roasted peanuts and sodas in front of a discount electronics store and a used furniture outlet. Sometimes I was sent to other locations depending on the weather, or on other vendors, or on factors I didn’t understand. But mostly I parked in that same spot. And for a while that patch of sidewalk became my own.

I sold peanuts, I stood behind my cart and, after a few weeks went by, I became a fixture to some. And to others I became increasingly invisible. I discovered that simply by standing behind the cart and selling, I had put up both a wall and a window from which I could watch what happened on the street, on the block, on that long corridor of businesses and passers-by. And as I became invisible, I started to see things that had once been invisible to me.”

- Jem Cohen, Lost Book Found, 1996.

Originally published 7/12/2020

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