How to Become the Gray Man
The Gray Man is invisible in plain sight. He is right in front of you but nowhere to be seen. He is acutely aware of his environment, of the people, the places, and the activities that surround him, but appears just enough on the periphery to never be included. He is polite, soft spoken, respectful, and humble. He never calls attention to himself, never points out, by action, dress, voice, or mannerisms, that he is there.
There will never be an introduction, a confrontation, or even a casual exchange of small talk. People walk by him, see him, maybe even acknowledge him, but never remember him. He looks like anyone, acts like everyone, and could be anyone, but he reminds them of no one. He is the Gray Man.
Most people have tunnel vision. They are literally focused only on what is right in front of them and nothing else. Their minds focus on and remember whatever stimulates it. The brain contains a filter that sifts through all the sensory input received from eyes, ears and touch.
Called the Reticular Activating System (RAS), it scans that input and determines what parts to filter out, ignore, and what parts to pay attention to; specifically, what parts to notice: shiny colors, sudden movement, loud noises, etc. This allows the brain to conserve energy by not having to process all the visual and auditory data all at once all the time. Thanks to hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, the brain will first look for threats.
Is something coming at you quickly? Do your eyes see a threatening stance, posture, or angry face? The brain looks for bright colors and lights, human and animal shapes, movement and other things that stimulate it. It usually ignores areas of continuous color, shadow, dull, natural colors, slow movement and off-vector movement. This is why zebras have stripes and leopards have spots, to blend in with their environment. Imagine how easily it would be for a lion to single out a purple zebra.
“The brain looks for bright colors and lights, human and animal shapes, movement and other things that stimulate it.”
Your brain is very adept at ignoring the usual and perking up to the unusual. It can disregard the sound of a ceiling fan or the refrigerator running while you’re sleeping, but you will bolt upright within a fraction of a second of hearing glass breaking or the screeching of tires on your street. That’s your RAS at work, and it is always working to keep you safe and aware of your environment.
The first step in becoming the Gray Man and disappearing in plain sight is to not trip the triggers that activate people’s RAS. Don’t be a purple zebra in a black and white herd. If you do not create a stimulus—color, sounds, threats, movements—which the predator can key in on, you become invisible to him.
The perfect Gray Man is ordinary in almost every respect. There should be no physical feature that people will notice. Obese, tall, fancily dressed, a big nose, baldhead, an epic beard, or an unusual hat or pair of shoes are all things that stick out in people’s minds when they look at you. You don’t want to be remembered at all, and there are ways of doing it.
According to an article by Kevin Reeve, founder of onPoint Tactical, an urban survival school:
“The standard uniform for military’s civilian wear consists of 5.11 Tactical pants, a khaki cotton button-down shirt with epaulettes, Oakley shades, desert combat boots, and a shaved head. Add to that a nice MOLLE backpack, and you have target written all over you. No one doubts that you have some very cool gear in that pack and they will want it.”
Clothing is a signal to others as to what you represent in life; wear a chef’s hat and people will assume you are a chef, but wear a non-descript baseball cap and normal every day sunglasses, and you’re a regular person who doesn’t fare well in sunshine. You not only want to avoid detection by those that might be after you, but you also want to avoid anyone remembering you by calling attention on any specific detail (agents against you will ask questions, maybe show a picture of you… you don’t want to stand out in anyone’s memory). Overly political statements, sports teams affiliation, or brand associations are to be avoided.
Wear clothes that lack logos, sports team’s names, or even colorful markings. Earth tones are always a logical choice in urban camouflage. Avoid bright colors or faddish styles. An earth tone or gray t-shirt with no brand markings is always a good choice. Keep it as simple as possible by skipping pins or pockets, stripes or patterns. If the weather calls for it, always wear a jacket. Not only will it not stand out (everyone notices the poor fool in the rain without a coat), but a lot of gear can be concealed under a jacket.
Your pants should be non-designer blue jeans or non-descript khaki casual pants, depending on your environment. Avoid expensive pants or fashion standouts, and avoid any kind of pants with cargo and/or zippered pockets or that are advertised as “tactical” or “operator” as they will no doubt have a military aura about them. If it’s hot, wear shorts, as you will most definitely not blend in if it is 100-plus degrees and you are in jeans and a jacket.
Comfortable shoes are a must, especially if you plan on walking any distance. Drab athletic shoes that match the theme of your chosen outfit are most appropriate, although quality leather loafers with rubber soles can be paired with jeans as well as khaki pants. The important thing to note is to not call attention to them.
The mannerism of the Gray Man are subtle, quiet, and reserved. Walk the same pace as the surrounding crowds, notice the things they notice, and react in the same way they would react. Blend into the group by enacting the herd mentality, even if the very things that are causing a disruption are your fault. Become one with the group. If forced to interact with people, do so briefly and quietly, but most importantly, politely without giving the other person a cause for concern. Avoid eye contact with people in the crowd. It has been concluded in studies that people tend to better remember a face if they were able to see the eyes.
“As the Gray Man, the equipment you’ll want with you depends greatly on your situation, where you are heading and what you are hiding from..”
While blending in, avoid any sweeping gestures, and displays of emotion or energy. The Gray Man is withdrawn and reticent, discrete in his movements to the point that he is camouflaged by those around him, an ability that will differ depending on the neighborhood he is hiding in. Reeve refers to this as the “baseline.” It refers to the sound, motion, and activity level of the neighborhood in a normal situation. The speed at which people move, the way they gesture, the volume and speed with which they speak. He writes, “The element of matching the baseline is probably the single most important element of personal camouflage. Learning to walk like the natives walk will hide you better than just about anything else.”
As the Gray Man, the equipment you’ll want with you depends greatly on your situation, where you are heading and what you are hiding from. Something as simple as a cell phone with a choice number of aps that can be found in any Average Joe’s possession (GPS, compass, flashlight, et al) might be all you need to stay out of sight.
Consider a series of clandestine pieces of equipment that can help you out of any number of scrapes. For example, handcuff keys sewn into the hem of your shirt, or one attached to the zipper pull of your jacket. However, when push comes to shove, you don’t want to be the only one in a gun fight without a gun, but carrying one under your jacket can be easily spotted, and carrying long arms in traditional cases will only attract the wrong kind of attention. Several companies produce diversion bags that look like every day bags for common items.
“Disappearing by blending in makes that person invisible for all practical purposes.”
The Gray Man is the person who moves around the periphery of our awareness without creating any stimulus, without calling attention to himself, and without causing a blip on anyone’s radar. Disappearing by blending in makes that person invisible for all practical purposes. He is neither here nor there, with us or against us, neither black nor white. He is the Gray Man. EDC
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter, 2019 print issue of EDC Buyers Guide.