• Carmen Marie Fabio

Books and covers

“People are afraid of you,” I told my boyfriend over 20 years ago as we walked through one of the seedier areas of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a very low-budget vacation.

“Good,” he replied.

It didn't matter that he was a really nice guy. His long hair, full beard, and dark sunglasses had a menacing effect that seemed to offer a layer of protection as people – like they're apt to do – judged the book by its cover. The fact that bank employees and small children were also afraid of him was an unfortunate side effect.

I was reminded of the Florida incident recently following the latest addition to our family, a Doberman/German Shepherd mix who, at 70 lbs. and 30 inches high, isn't huge but sizeable enough to make people think twice about approaching us when we walk him. Not only is his frame imposing, he was originally a rescue and suffered an unknown incident as a puppy that left a mass of scar tissue on his left side.

It doesn't matter that he's a really nice guy. In fact, he's so timid and gentle that I often refer to him as “Kitten.” But some people automatically sum up the scars and teeth before jumping to conclusions and crossing to the other side of the street when they see him coming.

By the time my first son was born, that long-haired boyfriend that I came to marry shaved off the beard and cut the locks, and with the style of glasses he had at the time, he ended up looking exactly like Mom Boucher.

“People are still afraid of you,” I told him.

“Good,” he replied.

I have no scientific proof but it's logical to suppose we're hardwired to make split-second decisions based on whatever visual information we can gather at the moment. Some vestiges of our primal brain had to ascertain whether whatever we encountered on a daily basis was out to kill us or not.

Being the biological creatures that we are, these reflex actions remain though we're less likely to use them to determine our survival than we are to go on a date, buy a bottle of wine, or – yup – even buy a book.

As recent media reports of a hijab-wearing woman who was attacked last week in Toronto would indicate, we still live in a world where people's characters, values, and intentions, are judged on their outward appearance which encompasses how they dress. Despite having thousands of years of history behind us from which we ostensibly have evolved, there will always be enough hateful cretins to fill the vacuum in the collective common sense.

As I watch that first-born son now grown to a long-haired young man, clad in a black leather jacket taking our scarred Doberman out for a walk, I remark on how intimidating a sight the pair of them make.

And if looking dangerous offers them a degree of protection when I'm not there to be Mama-bear, then good.

No one needs to know what nice guys they are.

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