We live in an image-obsessed culture--there's no way around it. I get disgusted by the constant media coverage of the shiny people, the vapid smiles, the team-built hair, the high-finance wardrobes. I like to think I'm above all of it, that appearance doesn't even register in my assessment of the world around me.
I'm wrong, of course.
Every once in a while I see a person so completely outside of the culture of beauty it shames me, forces me to realize that I too am a participant in this superficial society.
Back when I worked at Book Store I saw a woman who stopped me cold. She looked so bizarre, so unbeautiful, she occupied a space entirely outside any aesthetic continuum. Some of her appearance had to do with choices she had made, but most of it was natural, unchangeable. For instance, the closest comparison I can make to her face is this:
That's right. The woman looked like Iggy Pop. She couldn't be blamed for an Iggy-face. The woman was unbelievable. But that wasn't even her most striking feature.
Her head was shaped like a tire, and her face was on the forward tread. She was taller than me, probably six-four, six-five. She wore a jean jacket and had bear paws tattooed on the backs of her hands. Her hands were something else. Like loose bunches of long brown bananas. Her fingers were thick, and each had at least one ring on it.
She walked like Alice the Goon. When I saw her across the store I thought, "That dude has terrible posture." She came closer, so she and her baby-faced husband could ask me where the martial arts books were. I said something and she laughed, her mouth opening wide, revealing an absence of teeth behind her upper canines. It made the laugh "horsey."
She was a very nice woman, and her husband was the strange one. He was short--five-six maybe. His facial hair was pure starter-kit: scraggly mustache and a fluffy, sparse goatee. He was pudgy and soft-looking, the polar opposite of his leather-strap wife. He said they needed the books because their sons kept getting beaten up at school and they needed to protect themselves. When I showed them the proper shelf, with rows of books on karate, taekwondo, aidiko, kickboxing, and wrestling, he said, "I had most of these books, but they took them away when I went to jail." He looked like he'd last about ten minutes in prison--like the guy the guard beats to death at the beginning of Shawshank Redemption. She, on the other hand, looked as though she'd rule her cell block. Make him her bitch. Maybe she had, but she seemed too good-natured for that.
I suggested some books on aikido--solid self-defense that worked well to avoid hurting the attacker. They both nodded, thanked me for my help. I walked away, but I couldn't help watching them. What kind of kids could those two have? They'd have to look like Grendel, and who would mess with them? I decided the woman's posture was so bad because she had to bend down to talk quietly with her husband. They commisserated in front of the books for a while and then left without even taking anything off the shelf.
Strange. And for no reason, whenever I'm in a Book Store I think of those two. I think of how appearances really mean nothing, and even when I realize that I'm just at a different, slightly less shallow level of speculation. I'm still making unjust assumptions.