Things are not always as they seem. For instance, Sara Bareilles’s chart-topping hit “Love Song” isn’t actually about not wanting to write a love song to her lover, it’s about not wanting to write one for her producers. How many tens of thousands of people sing along to this every day when it comes on the radio and don’t know that subtle difference? What else in life are we missing by taking things for face value without investigation? 

I was thinking of this the other day as I sat in a Starbucks, signing paperwork for a loan refinance on my first home. A home that I bought twelve years ago because I was supposed to be a home owner. My twenties were spent stuck in a revolving track of what I was supposed to be, what I was supposed to do, without stopping for a moment to see how I really felt. And as I signed and signed paper after paper twelve years ago, I understood far less than I do today about mortgages, rates, arms, terms. Being in my business meant that I was supposed to know all of those pitfalls that “average homeowners” fell into before the crash. I wasn’t supposed to be an average homeowner while working in the industry. But I was young, fresh out of college and it was what I was supposed to do to be able to show that I was accomplishing something. 

So here I am, twelve years later, sipping a green tea frappe across from an 84 year old man who is notarizing my docs, hands slightly shaking as he points out to me what’s on each page and where to sign. He had a Cleveland Indians hat on. I wanted to ask him about it, but we were here for a purpose first. As he went through page after page (that I actually understood this time around) I couldn’t help but remember what life was like when I took everything at face value, without wanting to know the details behind them. Impression, outward view, that was what I cared about because I grew up in a place where everyone cared about what the other person had, didn’t have and if what they had was better than yours. 

Not that most did it purposefully, they were just acting in the way they were raised, making the best of the environment they were in. We perpetuated this thirst for the perfection of the outside of the package without really putting much thought into what was stuffed in and tied up on the inside. Sure, my parents tried to instill their Brooklyn “hard work equals gain” mentality (which has come to serve me well in my 30s) but as a teenager, I only cared if my shoes, my shirt, my car was nicer or newer than my friends’. But that’s pretty normal, right?

Back to Starbucks, when finally, the last page was signed. I asked him about the Cleveland hat, dying to talk baseball with someone who reminded me of my dad. See, when you’re that age, you don’t wear a team hat for the hell of it. You wear the hat because you’re proud, because you’ve spent a lifetime following and supporting that team. Because you sat next to your dad in 25 cent outfield bleachers and learned the game base by base, game by game. 

“I’m an Indians fan” he said. While I stifled the urge to say “no shit!” I told him instead that I was raised a Yankees fan. That the game is part of the impenetrable glue that holds my relationship together with my dad from little league, through high school and day in, day out today. 

He proceeded to tell me about this night in Columbus, while he and his buddies spent the evening “getting sloshed at the local pub” and arguing over who was the best ball player of all time: Babe Ruth or Jimmie Foxx. It’s cool, I’ll wait while you go google Jimmie Foxx (and try adding the word “baseball” to the end or it will ask you “did you mean Jaime Foxx?”). He was nicknamed “The Beast” and spent 20 years in the majors, retiring in 1945. 

My notary (let’s call him “Hank” for purposes of this story) went on to explain that the more the beer flowed that night, the more heated this argument became comparing Foxx to Ruth. Late that night, a man who’d been sitting at the bar listening came over to the table and said “I’ll tell you once and for all who’s the better player. Babe Ruth. Without question.” When they drunkenly asked him how he knew that he held out his hand and said “I’m Jimmie Foxx.”

He sat down with them and proceeded to tell old baseball stories. He and Hank got to know each other and Hank helped him find a job with the city of Columbus. 

Now Hank leans in and says “Do you want to know the best thing he ever taught me?” I nodded, intrigued. 

“The only thing fair in life is a ball hit between 1st and 3rd base.”

Hank went on to tell me more about his own life, how he’d had West Nile virus, how his getting cured was a miracle and how now, being a mobile notary at 84, helped give him have a reason to get out of the house. 

If I’d just taken Hank at face value, he would have done a fine job with what he was there for. But without looking deeper, I would have missed all of the knowledge he’d dropped on me that morning, in a Starbucks in Scottsdale. 

Things are rarely fair in life (aside from a ball hit between 1st and 3rd). I’m reminded of that as I see pictures of my friends in Houston cutting out saturated drywall, as I see other friends RSVPing to local protests, and as others prepare for the impending hurricane(s). And as I whine about my dream vaca to Cuba possibly getting cancelled or postponed, I have to remember that overall, life is good. That I’ve learned over the years to look deeper into things happening around me, into myself. 

And I can only hope that someday, when I’m 84, I have a little job that gets me out of the house now and then and that some young whipper-snapper will ask me about my Yankees hat.