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MARTHA SEZ: Scruffy-looking old dude in baggy shorts?
May 11, 2017

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A group of seven people witnessing the same event will come away with seven different impressions of what went down.

I am not referring here to those instances in which I am clearly in the right, and the person who is giving me grief, while clearly in the wrong, clings to the belief that just the opposite is true, laboring under the misapprehension that it is he who is in fact in the right, while I am in the wrong. No, those are not the instances to which I am referring, although lord knows they are common enough.

I'm referring to the disparate ways in which individuals will view any event, large or small, so that you would hardly know they were talking about the same thing.

As people used to say back in the 1960s, different strokes for different folks.

Actually, did anyone ever really say that in ordinary conversation? Did you ever hear anyone say it?

Words have different meanings for different people. Take Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), for example. He was practically choking trying to get out the word BuzzFeed in a televised news interview, as if he were being asked to speak French or something, and it occurred to me as I watched him struggle that he would be more comfortable saying feed and seed instead.

In fact, I would bet money that Grassley's problem with pronouncing BuzzFeed was that it was foreign to him, while the term feed and seed, as familiar and comfortable to an elderly Iowan as a well-worn pair of bedroom slippers, was right there in his mind ready to go; he was fighting the urge to say it.

"B-buzzFeed!"

Once he got BuzzFeed out, he had some very good ideas to impart, although I can't for the life of me recall what any of them were.

Now, taking this as an example, I would suggest that thousands of other television viewers who were watching the same show in their own homes made very different observations.

"Atta boy, Chuck!" one viewer would say. "You tell 'em."

"My goodness, Senator Grassley is holding up very well for his age," another might comment, while a third might worry, say, that maybe it was unpatriotic for the senator to question statements made by the FBI.

This same principle is at work in many diverse arenas. Usually we assume other people are seeing things the same way we do, or that they are coming to the same conclusions, but nothing could be further from the truth. I was out shopping with a friend when I spotted an acquaintance some distance away.

"Oh look, there's Godfrey MacEldowney," I said.

"Who, that scruffy-looking old dude in the baggy shorts and the baseball cap?" my friend asked.

I was taken aback, because this "scruffy-looking old dude" is in fact one of the wealthiest Summer People who owns property in Keene Valley. (Summer People, first letter caps.) The MacEldowney family has been summering here (summer as a verb) for generations. Godfrey is not scruffy.

He is clean-shaven, for one thing. You will never see a MacEldowney, man, woman or child, with facial hair, excluding eyelashes and eyebrows.

Second, his clothes, while casual, are of good quality, probably woven from natural fibers: cotton, linen, wool, silk, possibly flax. His shoes may be 20 or even 30 years old, but they are beautifully made from the finest leather.

Yes, Godfrey's shorts are baggy and unironed. Yes, his cashmere sweater has a hole in the elbow. That's part of it. He doesn't have to prove anything to anybody, nor would it occur to him to do so.

This is summer attire. Of course, the MacEldowneys dress for business and for dinner and so on, but they don't put on the dog. The women may be beautiful, or they may not, but they don't try to look sexy. They are East Coast. They don't go in for Hollywood glamor. Who wants to look as if she is trying?

Godfrey told me that his grandmother keeps a chest in the attic where she stores her clothes. In winter it holds her summer clothes. In summer she takes them out and puts away her winter things. He said she hardly ever buys anything new. I got the feeling he wasn't exaggerating much.

With everyone's take-away so different, it is a wonder that any two people can come to any kind of agreement. Not to mention the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Have a good week.

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