N train, Brooklyn to Manhattan, 7:32 a.m. Wednesday

I’m watching this guy across from me, slouched on the subway bench, slogging away with the rest of us through the morning commute, eyes closed. He’s dressed in black pleather off-brand sneakers, faded jeans that are faded neither for fashion’s sake or irony, and has a belly rivaling my dad’s hanging over his belt.

I guess at his story. He’s a union guy, probably some kind of contractor—the kind of guy who rolls into the deli ordering his egg sandwich on a hero and coffee light and sweet. He owns a house, deep in Bay Ridge. His wife’s name is Louise, but he calls her “Lou,” or, when he’s with the guys, “the old lady.” His accent is Brooklyn, through and through, and it is thick.

But he has a Moleskine journal open on his lap, a blue ballpoint pen in his hand. It’s a sketchbook. The spread he’s open to is as blank as can be. Not even rule lines guide his musings. But I can see through this page to the one behind, and there’s a drawing there. Two distinct vertical lines and some detailing to the side. Only the broad strokes bleed through the page, but this faint impression of his work is enough to totally alter mine of him.

His eyes have opened. He’s now watching me scribble frantically in my own Moleskine, considering him, as he considers his blank page. Two people, considering one another, creating, at 7:32 a.m. Here’s my stop; time to go. As I pack up my Moleskine, now all the richer for his story in it, I wonder if he’ll sketch me in his. I wonder where his stop is. I wonder how often he draws. I wonder if it’s his career, his passion or both.

Ceasing assumption and choosing instead to wonder, I set about my day, all the more creative, thanks to the man in the black pleather sneakers.


4 Responses to “Perception”

  1. 1 Jeff Crabtree 30 March 2011 at 18:36

    Excellent excellent excellent. Beautiful in fact.

  2. 3 Jackie 30 March 2011 at 19:37

    Jen, I really like this! It is SO easy to perceive someone incorrectly. It happened to me most recently in Flagstaff about 2 years ago. Scott and Sara always have such a wonderfully diverse crowd at their parties. I was chatting with a man from Brazil, his English was good, if somewhat accented, he was wearing jeans, tee shirt and “jean jacket”, very “ordinary looking” guy. I asked “Do you work for the Flagstaff Unified School District”? and he said “yes”. Thank goodness I did not ask what popped into my mind “Do you work for building maintenance”? Instead I asked “what is your position there?” Turns out he is a long time educator, works with gifted students from all over the world, had traveled to many countries ….. need I go on??? Because many of Sara’s friends are members of her English class and have recently come to this country, I “assumed” he was a blue collar worker of some kind. Not that there is any shame in being a blue collar worker!! But it really taught me to stop “assuming”!!

    • 4 travelinglightjs 30 March 2011 at 19:51

      Jackie, we had “diversity training” at that luxury retailer where I worked that included “People in sweatpants have money, too!” Amazing how much we assume. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” has an interesting perspective on the fact that a lot of these “assumptions” are helpful shortcuts for our brain to process all the information we’re faced with on a day-to-day basis, but so much of it is just wrong. I think it’s so helpful to be aware of our stereotypes, good or bad, so we can adjust for them when needed.

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