Something Invisible

Scotty McTape, the rascally-but-helpful, tartan-clad, kilt-wearing kid, was the 1940s era mascot for 3M’s adhesive products, which were named "Scotch" to invoke a stereotype based on Scottish nationality: the pressure sensitive tape had enough adhesive to make it useful for taping off sections of a car for detailing, but not enough adhesive to peel off the paint underneath.

The amount of adhesive was measured. Parsimonious. Cheap. A trait that the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company feels comfortable associating with an entire nationality.

*  *  *

A company can make a whole country disappear.

*  *  *

I daydream an alternate universe Scotty McTape named Fivel Tapestein, the scheming Jewish villain of the Philip K. Dick nightmarish The Man in the High Castle reality that seems to be creeping closer every day, and it makes me want to disappear.

*  *  *

Being invisible is different from disappearing.

The first time I wished I was invisible, I was in Kindergarten, sick of being yelled at for not sitting still, not done telling myself the story I was in the middle of telling myself, not done staring out the window, so I got up and walked over to our cubbies, climbed up on the lower shelf, and obscured myself underneath the brightly colored coats hung from wooden pegs, slightly wet from rain and smelling like crayons and stale applesauce.

I didn’t want to disappear, I wanted to be invisible. I wanted to observe, but not to be observed.

*  *  *

Over the years I’ve learned that Scotch Tape can capture fingerprints, ink from old newspapers, dust, animal fur, human hair, and the ash that flies around from lighting kindling under a campfire.

Once preserved, these items can be transferred to another medium (paper, a wall,  a window) where they can be preserved for as long as the adhesive lasts, which I used to think was forever.

*  *  *

I lie on my side in my High School bedroom and put layer after layer of Scotch Tape on the dark gray Formica wall of my bed, next to where I tape up photos, show flyers, and other beloved pieces of paper I collect.

After the layers start to look more frosted and opaque, I take an X-Acto knife and remove small, precise shapes of tape from the accreted mass. The high plastic smell of the cut tape is intoxicating. I discard the cut out pieces, continue to tape over and layer more tape, cut out more shapes, sometimes cutting  large sections all the way through to the Formica, drastically shaping the landscape, until I’m pleased with the result.

Laboring over this small, invisible piece of art that I only ever show to one person teaches me the value of keeping certain things to myself. Keeping them invisible.

*  *  *

I’m looking at an image on my laptop of a flyer that I made almost 25 years ago to promote a punk show that my friend Warren and I booked for a band called Still Life, at a Unitarian Universalist church in Bay Shore, Long Island, about 40 minutes east from my house.

Instead of being flooded with musical memories from the show, I’m instantly transported back to the night that I made the flyer. Not the event itself, but the random piece of paper I made to announce it, that ended up commemorating it.

*  *  *

I take the Still Life LP cover and several pages I printed out — the names of the bands, where they’re from, precise directions to the venue, my name and phone number, shit like that, and bring them with me along with a roll of Scotch Tape to the Exxon gas station with the giant tiger head statue in the parking lot. It has a mini Subway restaurant inside and a publicly available copy machine that operates on the honors system, making it much easier to scam than Kinko’s. Plus it smells like Subway bread and I have a fondness for the place ever since the cashier didn’t bust my friend when a cop was behind him in line and he accidentally pulled out a huge bag of weed when he was paying for his Gatorade.

I rummage around the copy machine and find an inventory form for the store that lists some items and their prices — “evidence,” I think to myself. I take the tape and start layering different words, the directions, the band names, using more and more tape until when I rub my hand back and forth I feel dozens of tiny sloping variations, my fingertips smoothly rolling over this calm icy plain. When I’m happy with the layout I start to make copies, rearranging things until they feel right.

I look at the result and notice that I can’t see the tape anymore — it disappears into the layers, the act of copying flattening space and time, creating a document that looks like it spontaneously grew on the paper like an elaborate inky rash.

*  *  *

Something invisible holds everything together.

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