January 26, 2020

How Not to Make a First Impression

• By John F. Chisholm •

Invariably I make the wrong first impression. I don’t mean to. I try hard to put my best foot forward. Alas! My efforts always seem to backfire.

You don’t believe me? I have an example.

I take care of our household trash. It’s a weekend job that I take seriously. We all generate waste. Somebody has to dispose of it properly. In our house that’s me. We recycle as much as possible. That means I separate the glass by color, plastics by number and sort the corrugated cardboard from the other paper products. Of course we recycle our cans, too. I stack everything carefully in my old Dodge pickup before whistling for Shawnee. Then off we go to the transfer station together.

We both look forward to it. Shawnee gets dog biscuits. The staff has fun feeding her. For my part, you never know what I might find.

The guys at the station are great. They know me and make kind exception for my idiosyncrasies. For instance, I don’t wear my Sunday, go-to-meeting clothing to the dump. No. They stay home in the closet. All my other clothes are sacrificial lambs on the altars of farming, mechanics or household maintenance. Welding holes, grease stains, hay chaff, manure and various unidentifiable substances always adorn my attire. Yet my clothes are always clean that morning. I promise.

While at the transfer station, I enjoy perusing the metal pile. Car doors, broken furnaces and old exercise equipment lie mangled and heaped in tangled disorder. They’re interspersed between lawn tractors without engines, wheels or even mowing decks. Rusted chrome glints in the sunshine. Green copper piping juts out at odd angles. Twisted cable ties the entire conglomeration together.

This last Saturday a woman approached me as I surveyed it. “Is that a Chesapeake Bay Retriever in your truck?” she asked.

I smiled, trying hard to be polite. “Why yes, indeed. Would you like to meet her?”

We walked over to my Dodge where Shawnee indulged with delight in the attention. She wagged her tail ecstatically and even threw in a few licks.

“The only other person I know with Chesapeakes is my vet,” the woman commented.

I looked her over more carefully. Slim and graceful, her hair was graying but freshly cut. Her eyes sparkled with interest and intelligence behind wire-frame glasses. She wore what she would doubtlessly call old clothes. Slacks. A madras blouse.   Loafers.

I’m not bragging but I wore the real McCoy. I didn’t have to look to know my boots were scarred and battered with frayed blue jean cuffs only partially concealing their ripped tops. My T-shirt was unspeakable. Neither my wife nor my daughter would be thrilled claiming me in my present condition. “Who’s your vet?” I queried, trying to buy time.

She got around that one neatly. “Who’s yours?”

Shuffling uncomfortably, I admitted, “Yeah. That one.”

“You got your dog from her?” My questioner sounded perplexed.

I removed my holed duffer’s cap, rubbed my bald scalp and pointed. “That’s her dog.”

Her eyes lit up in incredulous disbelief. “You’re saying your wife is Dr. Shepard?” Before I could even nod, she continued, “and your daughter is Dr. Chisholm?”

What could I say? That appearance makes the man? Or, in my case, unmakes him.

Her hand flew to her forehead. “What are you doing here?”

20/20 hindsight suggests that I should have asked a question in return: Surely even the husband and father of veterinarians has to take care of the household trash? But the truth is a hard master. Instead I waved to the metal pile beside me. “Today’s my wife’s birthday. I’m shopping.”

She uttered a tiny shriek as though she’d just stepped in something. With both hands covering her mouth she ran to her vehicle and, jumping in, sped away.

I hung my head and addressed the metal pile. “Sure, both statements are true. Today is Wendy’s birthday. I am shopping. Recycling, really. It’s the only way I can afford to farm.” I sucked a tooth for a moment. “Still, I suppose that I should have separated those statements.”

But you see what I mean?

Invariably I make the wrong first impression.