Appearances — what lies beneath?

Today’s entry has two parts:  The Fable is a little tale inspired by a dream.  I wrote it a few days ago, but it didn’t seem complete enough to post.  Then, the True Story part just happened today.  It’s amazing how it completes the Fable!

The Fable

I got together with a couple of guys I don’t see very often.  In fact, we barely know one another.  Through a series of circumstances that are too long to tell, and not really important, we had come up with the idea of going to the racetrack together.  I need to tell you that I’d never been to the track before, but one of the other guys was a regular.

Horse racing is a dying sport in terms of attendance, at least with respect to actually watching horses run around a track.  Slot machines keep the business alive.  So there we were on our way to see this not so popular sport with a lot of rich history.

They sat waiting in the car too long when they came to pick me up.

“What kept you?” the one guy asked when I climbed into the car with apologies.

“I was all ready to go, but my wife told me my pants were too short.  She has a hang up about short pants.  Even when they look fine to me, she says they are too short.  She’ll only say they are the right length if I’m tripping over the hem.  So, I had to go find another pair.  But I couldn’t find a pair I liked.  At least the pair I ended up with pass the length test.”

There was a long silence as we backed out of the driveway.  Then the driver asked deadpan, “Did she check out your underwear too?”  Loud laughter from all three of us — a guys’ joke about overbearing women.  No response necessary.

At the track, the race fan led us to three good seats.  I was just getting used to the unfamiliar surroundings, when he nudged both of us to point out a middle aged man sitting right in front of us.  Turns out he was a well known, much loved, nationally syndicated sports writer.  “How about that?  He’s sitting right here in the stands with the rest of us!”  Even I was impressed.  I’m not a really knowledgeable reader of sports journalism.  But I had not only heard of this guy, I actually remembered his name and admired his work.  The guy was a legend.

Maybe he was famous, but he wasn’t much to look at.  His clothes wouldn’t have impressed anybody.  He was shorter than average, but pretty heavy set.  His hair was thinning and his face looked dangerously red.  Then he turned to his companion, and we heard the gravelly voice of a longtime smoker.  My mind clicked through a quick list:  lousy fashion sense, not enough time at the gym, possibly still smokes and drinks too much.  He laughed as he spoke, and there was confident joy and warmth in that voice.  It was easy to match it up with some of the best sports writing I had ever read.  Maybe this guy was perfect just the way he was.

The True Story

I was nearly out of gas and took an unfamiliar exit off the highway to a place that was definitely not a major destination.  The gas was expensive.  I went into the little store to buy a bottle of water.  As I approached the counter with my bottle, I glanced up at the person ahead of me in line, and did a double take.  Was that a hefty guy dressed as a woman?  Impossible, this was rural Virginia after all.  I got closer, and realized that I was behind a broad shouldered, thick waisted woman wearing clothes that were not the most flattering.  So, my knee jerk prejudice machine dug a little deeper:  geez, the hicks in these backwater places sure don’t know how to dress!  Then things started to change.  She saw me waiting behind her, and told the clerk to serve me first since she was going to take time playing the lottery machine.  Very considerate.  Then I put down the water bottle and offered my credit card.  The clerk told me the bottle was below the minimum purchase price for credit.  I told her I had no cash and was about to leave, when the large woman interjected:  “I’ll pay for his water.  Put it on my tab!”  I started to object, but she interrupted:  “It’s nothin’ but a little water bottle.  Take it;  it’s covered!”  Then she added, for good measure, “Have a blessed day!”  I mumbled my blessing in return, and left.  I left the store humbled, blessed and determined to pay it forward.  I also felt chastised by the knowledge that I had prejudged this considerate and generous person on the basis of her appearance.