Friday, November 25, 2005

Mephistopheles Motors, Part I

The devil owns a car dealership.

Hell is not fire and pitchforks. Clearly, it is a car lot – a mangled mess of interest rates, credit checks, sticker shock, and hubcaps. I am in hell.

While my baby struggles with a fever at home with his dad, I have packed up my soul and headed out in search of semi-reliable transportation. I have my eye on a slightly used Mazda 3 hatchback 5-speed in orange. Yes, I am ashamed to admit that I care what color my car is. I don’t tell them this at the dealership. I carefully avoid including note of the color when I tell them which car I am interested in, but I’m sure they can read it in my eyes. I begin to see that the open-toed sandals showing off my orange toenails were a bad choice. I reassure myself that men don’t notice these things, look them in the eye and ask about the "Mazda with standard transmission." If they hear me use big, manly words like "transmission," hear me bypass the lay term of "stick shift," will I gain enough respect to be taken seriously?

Although I didn’t plan it, I had begun this dangerous adventure earlier in the day. A friend and I have been trying out a baby exchange. Once a week, her little boy comes over our house for an hour while mom takes a breather or runs some errands; and once a week, I leave Isaac with her. We pretend they will play together, making incredible advances in their development, but at this age they mostly drool on each other until they discover mommy missing, then cry until she returns. It was Isaac’s turn to cry.

I left him with a kiss and headed out to look at some apartments for rent. After driving by the first place, my faithful (read: piss-poor piece of shit) Jetta began beeping loudly at me. I noted the flashing oilcan on the dashboard and pulled into the drugstore. Hey, I needed diapers anyway. Since the Jetta has a history of oil leaks and other oil issues, I didn’t worry myself that I couldn’t find a cloth or paper towel to wipe the dipstick and check the oil level properly. I just poured in my two quarts and headed out again, determined to make a car decision soon. A quarter mile down the road, the beeping resumed. Maybe it was just hot and needed to settle down. On I drove. Beep Beep. Flash Flash. Not far down the road, I could see the giant sign for the lot where the orange Mazda we’d been sniffing around the day before lived. Reminded of my husband’s story of how his old truck died for good in the driveway of the Honda dealership, I took my cue and decided car shopping might trump apartment hunting for now. I pulled into the dealership and shut off the motor before anyone could detect where the beeping sound was coming from. I met someone named Chris and got my credit check started. I’d be back that evening.

So here I am. Driving around making small talk with Chris, my escort into Hell. He is working me, hard. I hear over and over again about his dogs, about how he hates sales pitches too. About how many hours he works. Why do people wear these things like a badge? Tell me all about how they come in on their day off? Are we giving out medals for being stupid these days? I remember reading an article some time ago about a man who had been killed. The writer had interviewed his boss from the grocery store where he’d worked. This man, who had friends, family, dreams was remembered as a "hard worker" who was "always willing to stay late or come in early." No wonder we cannot save the world.

"So, did your husband say if you liked it you could have it?" Chris asks me. So much for using the word "transmission." Though I am distracted thinking about Chris’ story of how just yesterday he told his wife he’d be "home when he was home" and finally closed his last deal at 10:00pm, I manage to focus long enough to see that I do like the car.

As much as I like any car, that is. On the phone with another dealer recently, I was just trying to find out if they had what I wanted to test drive. Jesse, my bud on the other end of the line, was working himself into an orgasmic lather telling me about some silver Pontiac Vibe with GPS tracking. "Look," I interrupted, "I hate cars, so let’s move on." "You told the car salesman you hate cars?" My husband shakes his head at me and shovels a spoonful of spinach into the baby’s waiting mouth. "Yeah, so?" I demand of him. And then, turning to Isaac, "Mommy hates cars, Little Guy! Yes, she does; yes, she does. Cars suckety suck suck, don’t they, Sweetie?" Isaac lets out a happy scream and spreads the green puree around his face.

It’s come to this. I am sitting at Chris’ desk, staring at a picture of his cocker spaniels, waiting. I wait. And I wait. And, I wait. It’s a bit like a police interrogation room – no stimuli to speak of, bright lights, mind games. Chris breezes back to tell me they almost have it – the deal. I wait some more. This must be what it feels like to be his wife. I start to read the email that is printed out and hanging next to the dogs’ photo. The subject line is "Affirmations." The body of the email includes a list of "positive" thoughts for the car salesman in your life, things like "I can sell anyone, anytime!" "Think win!!!!" and my favorite: "Fear Eroads (sic) Courage."

Another tidbit to live by, "I create positive relationships where everybody wins" is crossed out. When Chris returns again to check on me - the jackal to the carnage – I am chuckling merrily and pointing. "Whatsa matter?" I ask him. "You’re opting out of positive relationships, are you?" "No! No!" he tells me, seeming in a hurry to right my impression, "I didn’t do that. Someone else did." "You don’t have to pretend for me," I jibe him. "It’s all right there. I can read the writing on the cubicle wall." "No, no!" he repeats. "See these check marks next to each one? These are mine." He sounds so concerned. So sincere. In the back of my throat I taste something like pity. I decide to drop the joking.

This is just one example of the creepy, culty feeling I get over my time at Mephistopheles Motors. Chris tells me all about the trainings they get to go to on Fridays. How the boss, who, he reports proudly, asked him personally to take this particular job, pays for everyone to go, "even the receptionists." The latest training session was about balancing your personal and professional lives.

I am in awe of just how spot on our cultural caricatures of car salesmen are, how I can’t think of a more morally bereft and spiritually bankrupt profession.

When the numbers finally make it to paper, they begin with the original sticker price and end with a 14% interest rate for financing. If my joking hadn’t fallen away before… I’ll spare you the details and just tell you that Chris handed me over to his sales manager, who played bad cop, didn’t talk about his dogs, and after a certain amount of debate, I left in my beeping Jetta, my soul safe for another day.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be car salesmen.

3 comments:

Monterey John said...

Katty, I hate frickin' cars too. Should we start a club?

My old reliable Toyota Camry (1994) is beginning to show its age. Two weeks ago it was an air intake hose... $107. This week it was a power window regulatior, whatever the hell that is, $137. Last year it was a radiator and hoses, $400. At this rate I'll have a new car, one part at a time, by 2020.

Mephistophles Motors... loved it.

Monterey John said...

Kitty, sorry about the "Katty." Oooops.

tracy said...

hahahaha - this is so awfully true and painful to read. the last car saleman/finance guy looked at my monthly income and then looked at me and said, "wow, you don't do too bad for yourself do you?"

i visualized him getting eaten by fire ants, signed, and left with my new car.

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