Janet Sheridan: Fooled by first impressions

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When I met the new teacher from Chicago everyone was buzzing about at the back-to-school reception for employees of the Carson City School District, I thought he looked like a pampered rich boy. Perfectly dressed, groomed, and tanned, he was tall and impossibly handsome with impeccable manners — and dimples.

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Janet Sheridan

My scornful thoughts continued as I watched him work his way around the room: “I’ll bet he attended and taught in private schools, discussed philosophy or opera with his snooty parents, and has never, ever cursed.”

Two months later at a Halloween party, a stern teacher whose smiles were as rare as a mild winter in Craig, batted her eyelashes, smiled coyly, and cooed as she asked Mr. Perfect about his background. Flashing his dimples, he responded he was from a middle-class suburb near Chicago, went to college on a hockey scholarship, and taught on the city’s tough east side.

He then assumed a hockey stance, scowled menacingly, and flipped out his false front teeth.

I worked with Jim in a variety of roles for twenty years, and only one part of my initial impression of him held true: he never, ever, uttered a bad word.

My history is littered with similar mistakes: a girl new to my high school, who seemed a bit goofy and perpetually boy-struck, turned out to be a math whiz and clarinet virtuoso. The man I thought was a brawler and derelict proved to be neither and became my first husband. A parent who came across as critical and demanding turned into my supportive partner as we worked together to educate her special-needs child.

So now I try to curb my leaps to judgment; instead, to amuse myself, I make up stories about strangers who wander my way. What do they believe, do and/or enjoy? What quirks do they have that I’d never guess, based on their appearance and public behavior?

Does the harried mother in the supermarket — who manages to lose her wallet, glasses and toddler while waiting in the check-out line — operate a successful home business selling items she finds at garage sales on Amazon?

Could the businessman in the airport — who talks nonstop on his cell phone while checking the time on his expensive watch and eying attractive women — be a different person at home? Does he wear fuzzy slippers and treat himself to a mashed banana and peanut butter sandwich before going to bed?

Might the elderly gentleman who shuffles and snuffles across the doctor’s waiting room be a renowned mosquito expert who knows the altitude and name of every prominent North-American mountain peak and makes applesauce in October?

If we each had to reveal our private thoughts, oddities, or less-than-pretty habits, what would we say? What do we do or think that might surprise friends, acquaintances, and strangers if we were given truth serum and questioned? Would people change their minds about us?

I wonder if I’d lose friends by confessing that I believe in the benefits of garlic consumption, the superiority of Apple products, and tipping twenty percent regardless of the service. I also think that if you say you’ll do something, you do it; and if you choose to attend, you’re on time.

I sulk, ignore the phone, never drive if someone else will, and resent the time I spend taking care of my teeth. When alone, I sometimes wear pajamas all day and eat cake with a spoon.

As a writer, I like to delete until my words fit together like puzzle pieces. As a cook, I’m more comfortable with a recipe; and as a reader, I sometimes read the last page first.

And I hope you still like me.

Janet also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.

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