By Sarah White
When we meet a person, we make an assessment based on a few signals—the coat they’re wearing, the car they’re driving, the state of their hair. But can we ever trust the accuracy of that snap judgment? And conversely, what can we ever know about the judgments others make about us? We’re mostly ships passing, completely at sea in our attempts to see and respond to each other.
My mother had been hospitalized the week before and it had snowed the day before. Cars all over town were white with road salt. With a worried head, I stopped to fill the tank and purchase a car wash. My thoughts ran along the lines of, “Whatever reasonable preparations I can think to make, I’ll always do something unnecessary and leave undone something crucial. But I can be fairly certain I’ll need gas, and since my mother bought the car for me, I should take care of it.” At the pump across from me was the cleanest vehicle I’d ever seen. It was a shiny black GMC step van. Painted on the side was, “Madison Custom Polishing and Plating Service.”
To distract myself from my worries, I started a conversation with the rough-looking fellow who was gassing it up.
“In a business like yours, you must have to keep that thing really shiny,” I said. He replied, “Would you believe it’s got over 400,000 miles on it?” Then he said, “I do custom plating. Want to see an example?” He reached into his pocket, then extended his closed hand toward me. I bent to look as he opened his fist.
In his palm was a shiny silver object. Slowly I recognized the shape as two elephants making the beast with two backs. There was excellent detail picked out in the conjoined shapes, and yet they were as smooth as a silver-plated buckeye.
“Nice!” I said.
“Did you see what it was?” He must have been used to more of a negative reaction.
“Elephants fucking,” I replied. “Nice work.”
Encouraged, he reached into his other pocket and again presented me with a closed hand. In his palm: Two hogs in coitus, plated gold.
One time is funny, two times a little creepy. “You’re naughty!” I said, wagging my finger. “Madison isn’t safe with you on the streets!”
He laughed, finally satisfied with the reaction he got.
I turned back to my gas pump and shut off the flow, climbed in and drove off to the carwash, leaving the plate-metal pocket pornographer behind.
How long will I be wondering about why he picked me to reveal his pocket treasures to, and how far off from truth am I in my perceptions of him?
© 2020 Sarah White