A Madison Magazine Reader’s Memories Become a Published Memoir
Feb 25, 2013
12:06 PMFrom Memory to Memoir
The Day I Became Invisible
In September 2012 Madison Magazine and I teamed up to offer a reader the chance to see his or her life story become a book. We received so many great entries that we are sharing a few with readers of this blog. This is the second of three entries submitted by April Hoffman, receiver of the third place award. Enjoy April’s writing!
– Sarah White
Asking that we not do anything that would require her to post our bail, our Edgewood sociology professor, Sister Esther, explained the assignment. For her Social Deviancy class we each had to perform an ‘ethnomethodological’ experiment. This meant doing something highly deviant in public. The point of the experiment was to illustrate that when an action is socially unacceptable, onlookers pretend, even to themselves, that it isn’t happening.
As we tried to come up with experiments, we enjoyed hearing what behaviors our classmates had performed. My personal favorite was Bev’s. Like me, Bev was an older student, in her thirties. Unlike me, she was wealthy. What Bev did was to take her furs out of storage, don elegant high heels, and then, dressed in her finery, go to a large Madison grocery store. She took along a can opener, a bowl and a spoon.
Once in the store Bev solemnly pushed her cart to the canned fruit section. When she reached the peaches, she opened a can, put some in the bowl, sat down on the floor, and proceeded to eat them. She reported to the class that although many shoppers walked by her as she did this, not one acknowledged her presence.
I thought long and hard about what to do for my experiment. By 1976 the Hippie movement had begat a more relaxed attitude toward earlier conventions. Outrageous behavior was not that uncommon, especially on college campuses, where many young women had traded their bras for birth control pills.
At that time our two children were four and six. My husband, John, had recently purchased a new camera. We spent many weekends in Madison’s Museum of Contemporary Art, then housed on Gorham Street, where John enjoyed posing the three of us around the often wacky artwork.
The next time we visited the museum was on a cold, blustery Saturday. John carefully arranged us on a couch in front of a colorful sculpture. As other visitors trooped through the gallery, I sat primly between the two kids, while John checked the lenses.
Suddenly, I knew what I would do. “Wait,” I said, as I took off my parka. John waited. “One minute,” I said, removing my sweater. “Hold on,” I said, as I whipped off my shirt. “Just a sec,” I said, finally unhooking my bra. Then, smiling demurely, I looked directly into the camera as John hurriedly snapped the picture. The other visitors continued walking past me, each one staring intently above us at the paintings hanging on the walls.
As I put my clothes back on, John said, “My God, April, what was that?”
“That,” I said, “was my experiment for Sister Esther’s Social Deviance class.”
“Oh, boy,” John said. “I can just see tomorrow’s State Journal headlines: 'Local school teacher arrested for taking pornographic photos.'"
“You needn’t worry one little bit,” I assured him. “My deviant behavior rendered me invisible.”