Sometimes I wonder if I’m really alive. I don’t mean I wonder whether I’m really living life to its fullest — squeezing every last drop of juice out of the ripe peach that is the human experience — but whether I’m actually a living, breathing person or more like (spoiler alert) Bruce Willis in “The Sixth Sense.”

A scene: I am waiting in line to board a flight. It is a long line — Boarding Group 4 — and it stretches out of the gate and into the terminal’s crowded corridor, forcing passengers headed to other gates to cut through our line at a 90-degree angle.

The point at which every single person chooses to bisect our line is right in front of . . . me.


Why? Is it because I have a friendly face? Is it because I look like a wimp, someone who won’t complain, the literal path of least resistance? Or is it because I’m not there? Is it because I’m just a slight gap in the line, perfect for penetrating.


Another scene: I am in the men’s room, trying to wash my hands. I put my hands under the faucet, expecting the water to come out automatically. Nothing.

I look for a knob. No knob. Yes, this is a motion-sensitive sink, as is increasingly the case in public conveniences. I wave my hands under the faucet, then above it, then on either side. I look like a man playing a silent theremin. The water never comes.


I suppose the automatic eye could be broken. But isn’t it more likely that I do not possess a corporeal presence, that I am a ghost?

I am in a restaurant. I’ve finished my meal — proof of life! — but something seems to have happened since the dessert course. I want to pay my bill, but I have become invisible. I know that all I need to do is execute the universal shorthand for “Check, please” — the mimed motion of a receipt being signed in the air — but what good is doing that if I can’t even catch his eye?


Yes, it’s as if I’m not even there. Was I raptured away after the crème brûlée? Is there nothing left of me but a dirty fork and a crumpled napkin?


Being invisible does give a person time to think. Lately, I’ve been thinking about my shoes. They squeak. All of them. The loafers. The boots. The black lace-ups. The black wingtips. The brown wingtips.

It’s gotten so bad that I’m embarrassed when I walk anywhere: from the elevator to my office, from my office to the coffee machine, from the coffee machine to the bathroom, where I will desperately try to wash my hands. Each step sounds like someone has a mouse in both fists and is squeezing them like a pair of furry stress balls.

And all I can think is: What if it isn’t my shoes that squeak? What if it’s my feet?

And what if my squeaky feet are the only way that anyone knows when I’m around?


Dickens’s ghost announced his presence with the clink of chains. In “Poltergeist,” the spirits rearranged the furniture. Me, I have squeaky feet.

I imagine some future employee at The Washington Post — a newcomer — turning to a colleague and saying, “Listen? Did you hear that?”


“That squeak.”

“Oh, that’s Kelly. He used to work here, in that office near the corner. They say his spirit still stalks these halls and on certain days you can hear him, the squeak of his dress Rockports echoing off the cubicles.”

“Ahem,” I say. “You do know that I’m standing right here, don’t you?”

“Oh, hi, John.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

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