(Editor’s note: This is a “classic” Scott ‘Q’ Marcus column. He’ll return with a new column in two weeks)
After ordering my submarine sandwich, I placed myself at the corner table and, when given the luxury of some extra time, engaged in one of my favorite activities: people watching.
On the sidewalk outside the window in bustling downtown Seattle walked a non-descript gentleman. He appeared to be on break from one of the local offices and was walking a leashed beagle when he stopped outside the restaurant. Unfortunately, the only accurate description that comes to me is “average.” He was about 40, dark hair, six feet tall, normal build, dressed in black slacks, a blue button-down shirt and sport coat.
Deciding he was as good as any other subject of my momentary observation skills, I watched as he approached another man I assume to be homeless. I could not hear the conversation through the glass. The dog patiently waited, his brown eyes glancing back and forth between the faces of the two men.
When the conversation ended, the man of the street pushed his stuffed shopping cart against the building and entered my restaurant with Mr. Average (and his dog), approaching the counter as a threesome.
Being the guardian of an energetic Schnoodle, Wille, and our orange cat, Tiger, I have nothing against the more furry members of our families. However, I was raised in a different era, and I am under the impression health code regulations prevent pets from entering restaurants unless deemed as “service animals.” Based on this (correct or incorrect) assumption, I became judgmental. “How dare he bring an animal in to this restaurant!” my inner dialogue harrumphed. “Who does he think he is? Does he have no respect for the other patrons?”
Due to my perception of this seemingly inconsiderate action, I made up from whole cloth an unfavorable back-story about a man I had not even met. Moreover, I managed to extrapolate it to the general sorry state of the world. It went something like this:
“He only thinks about himself. What’s wrong with people today? Why don’t they respect laws anymore? What’s the world coming to?” It’s actually mind-blowing how many pre-determinations are unleashed from one simple observation, isn’t it? (Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m sure you’ve done the same thing.)
Both men (and even the dog) were staring at the menu board when the man I assumed was homeless asked of the other, “Anything?”
“Yes, anything.” He replied.
“Even a foot-long?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“How about a drink?”
“No problem; get some chips too. And order something for later.”
The unkempt gentleman spoke to the clerk, who began slicing bread and filling the space with various ingredients. Upon completion, Mr. Average paid the clerk, bid adieu to his compadre and pulled on the leash for his dog to follow him out the door.
The other man stopped him, shook his hand, taking one hand in both of his own, and said, “Thank you. That was very kind.”
“It’s my privilege that I have enough to give. Good luck to you.”
With that, the two (dog in tow) exited, each going separate ways.
I realized that the inconsiderate, rude, unfeeling miserable excuse of a man who would be so uncaring as to bring a dog into a restaurant had simply taken a break from walking that dog to treat a stranger to lunch. In that new realization, everything changed. He was kind, caring, altruistic and now morphed into my role model. “What can I do that honors his actions? How can I keep this going?” became my new inner dialogue.
It’s odd, isn’t it? We assume far more than we can ever know from far less than we really observe. We see. We decide. We act — many times without checking our perceptions.
It just might be time to change what we see. (Although I’m still not so sure about bringing dogs into restaurants.)
Scott “Q” Marcus is the CRP (Chief Recovering Perfectionist) of www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com. He is available for coaching and speaking at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you live in Humboldt County, he’s performing in the Northcoast Repertory Theatre’s version of Agatha Christie’s “Spider’s Web” from Sept. 13 through Oct. 6.