I’ve learned not to judge people by first impressions. This lesson has been reinforced many times in my life. I’ll mention only three instances that I use as reminders.
I was in the doctor’s waiting room with several patients waiting to be blessed by the appearance of a lady in white to announce my audience with the doctor. An elderly black man sat across from me. By his clothes he appeared to be indigent as he sat quietly starring at the floor. Floors get stared at a lot in waiting rooms.
This man in the waiting room was like me…just waiting patiently for his appointment. I struck up a conversation with him and was immediately impressed by his level of thought and diction. I immediately realized that he was more than his dress and demeanor indicated. It turned out that he was a retired scientist with credentials I could never match. I would have never known had I not talked with him.
I once owned commercial property and a store, gas station, car wash and deli operation. Every morning an elderly guy came in the store to buy a particular brand of Vodka in a small bottle. He returned again in the afternoon each day. I had the manager keep his brand and bottle size in stock for him. I asked why he only bought small bottles when he could save money on a larger bottle. His answer was that he didn’t want to take it home where his wife would catch him. He would take his little bottle of booze and his dog to the park and sit in his car and drink most of the day.
My initial impression was that he was just a burned out alcoholic, but I liked him and I spent a great amount of time talking with him. We became friends. As with the first example, this man impressed me with his intelligence and I eventually discovered more of his background.
He was the commander of the flight squadron in which Joseph Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s older brother, was a pilot. As we know, Joseph Kennedy was being primed by his famous father for the presidency, but he died when his plane crashed. John was his father’s second choice. My friend was most likely leading the squadron when Joseph crashed.
He hadn’t been in the store for awhile when I read his obituary in the paper. This man with the small bottle of liquor and his faithful dog had an amazing career. It took long newspaper columns to cover his life. He was a war hero, among many, many accomplishments. He had done more with his life than I’ll ever do. I’m glad I knew him.
During my time at San Jose State College, I played the trumpet at night to pay my college costs. I played every kind of gig imaginable and was once hired to play in a large band in a dance hall in San Jose. The “Rainbow Ballroom” was kind of a dingy place and a place where I thought the dregs of society went to drink, dance or sleep.
I showed up, took out my trumpet and met some of the band members. It was a large band that used three trumpets. The two regular trumpet men were older than I was. They were unbelievable players. Although I was the top player in college, these guys were better. My smartass college boy attitude rationalized their superior skill by thinking, “Man, I hope I’m not playing in a dive like this when I’m their age. I’m going to college and these poor guys will always be stuck in smoky dance halls like this.”
My eyes were opened when I found out that the guy sitting next to me with the black suit and white socks hanging around his ankles was a Stanford professor who was known as the world’s foremost authority on Shakespeare. The other trumpet player was a nuclear physicist and both men were the two best trumpet players I ever worked with. Interestingly, the piano player was also a physicist. I didn’t ask about anyone else. That was humbling enough and a valuable lesson that I’ve never forgotten.
It turned out that later the Shakespeare professor and I played trumpet together in other groups, including the San Jose Symphony. I based a character in my novel on this man with the white socks hanging in weary repose over his ankles. He obviously lived at an intellectual altitude where socks don’t matter.
These are just three examples that come to mind that reinforce my belief that one should never judge a book by its cover.