The car had spluttered and shaken on the New Jersey Turnpike. I pulled off the highway, drove around until I found a gas station. A dude looked under my hood for me. Then another dude, then another – staring at my tits, making jokes about damsels in distress. I bought a quart of motor oil and drove off, shaking, back to my mechanic.
I’ve been going to this one place for years. The guy who used to run it was great. Older guy, bristly grey beard, kind blue eyes. I grew up in the Adirondacks and he loved to hike; we’d share stories about how beautiful Lake George can be in the summertime, what the leaves look like in the fall. The garage is next to a strip club in South Philly; sometimes the older woman who ran the bookkeeping end of things would take her lunch break with the mechanics, swapping stories and shooting the shit. I loved waiting in there, spending an hour or two just existing in their universe.
The old guy retired. His son took over, a guy I also thought was great. Three kids, a wife. Shows me pictures on his phone of the newest baby. A boy. He asks me about my job, we make fun of the daytime TV that blares in the waiting room.
Except that my car started to break down more often, which I chalked up to old age. And it started to take longer to get it back – a few days, sometimes, for an oil change. Which, come to think of it, never was as simple as an oil change — there was always something wrong whenever I brought it in, some part that needed replacing. And the new guy, with the winking eyes and the flexed muscles and the smile – the new guy that reminds you of nothing quite so much as an extraordinarily handsome wolf.
It’s funny, I remember thinking, as I pulled out of the garage, my lights reflecting off the side of the building. They’ve had the car for three days and they didn’t notice that my headlight was burned out. I’ll have to bring it back the next time I see them.
I didn’t realize until I dug up my last receipt today that they had charged me for the headlight and the installation. And then just never fixed it.
I found this receipt because the car has broken down again, and I took it to the same people I have trusted for years to fix it, and they quoted me a $1600 repair fee, and I started to get teary-eyed, because that is three months of my rent that I just can’t afford right now, and I said, I suppose I’ll put it on a credit card, I don’t know what choice I have as the new guy muttered, “Well, don’t shoot the messenger,” and then about an hour after authorizing them to begin repairs, the blindingly obvious struck me and I realized in this sudden and horrifying flash that if they could charge me for a headlight that they didn’t fix, and they could charge me for a check engine light that they didn’t fix, and … oh, my god. I’ve probably been paying them for fake repairs for years now.
They must think I’m just some gullible idiot with a smile and a credit card.
Or worse. That I’m just some gullible woman with a smile and a credit card.
I made up some excuse, told them I needed to drive it to run an emergency errand, asked if they’d started working on it yet, which they hadn’t. Drove it to another garage, where another mechanic gave me a second opinion, and informed me that he was “confused and appalled” by what had been done to my car.
That he hesitated to use the word “malicious,” … but.
I haven’t felt quite this deeply stupid in a long time.
“Here’s what you do,” said the new mechanic. “I’m going to take a bunch of pictures for you, of the holes they drilled in your exhaust system. They should never have done that. I need you to go back and ask for an explanation, ask them why on earth they felt the need to do that to your car. And then we can get started on asking them to explain these other repairs they charged you for, when it seems clear to me that they didn’t do them.”
There’s a fantasy version of this scenario that plays out in my head, where I’m a lawyer from a Law and Order -type show, except I’m seven feet tall and I’m wearing these tall ass-kicking boots and there’s a trail of fire behind me and my hair is blowing in the wind, and I lay down the proof, and I know exactly the right thing to say, and I hear these men apologize – admit that they were wrong! Admit that they took advantage of me, because I’m just some girl they thought they could trick, begging on their knees for me not to hurt them, not to sue them, asking for my forgiveness.
And there’s the actual version, which is that I hate confrontation and I know that I’m not knowledgeable enough about cars to be able to separate a fact from a lie. That no matter what they tell me, I can’t argue their claims, because I just won’t be able to tell the difference.
I am by nature a really trusting person, probably to a fault. I believe that people are basically good. I’m not saying I’m perfect, because believe me, I’m not. Like everyone else on the planet, I’m deeply flawed and I know there are parts of me that are dark and terrible and ugly, and I hate that stuff about me, and I would change it if I could.
But I am saying that when I’m in line at the grocery store and I make it to the parking lot and then realize that they forgot to charge me for the sour cream that fell into the bottom of the cart, I turn my ass around and go back and pay for it. And I mostly think other people do the same thing, which maybe does make me a naïve idiot, but that’s just the only way that I can get out of bed in the morning sometimes. My belief that other people are basically good and the world is mostly pretty great.
And so when that worldview collapses around me, and I start to realize that my idealism and empathy and trust – things about my personality that I love – are being exploited … that sucks. That hurts. That HURTS.
And here’s the part that I hate about myself in all of this. I hate that my fear of going back into that garage is going to keep me from saying what I need to say, which is that I am angry and that I feel betrayed. I hate that they might not give two shits about how I feel.
And I HATE HATE HATE that all I want to do is hire some burly dude to accompany me in there. To the root of my feminist beliefs, I hate that all I want to do is, like, post this ad somewhere on Craigslist:
NOW CASTING: INTIMIDATING MAN (Any ethnicity, male, 30’s – 40’s). Fiery stare, prone to fist-pounding, finger-pointing, and irrational bursts of anger. Knowledge of automobile repair a huge plus. Must be available to accompany me to auto repair shop where I display photographic proof of damage inflicted by careless mechanic/dispute several years of unnecessary charges for incomplete work. This is a one-day job only. Improv skills a huge plus. Please prepare a brief monologue that includes the following sentence: “And just so you know, it is complete fucking bullshit that an otherwise capable and confident woman feels the need to resort to outdated gender stereotypes in order to feel that she is being treated fairly in your place of business.”
And I hate that I think that if I were a big man who walked in expressing anger, I’d get results. And that if I was to walk in and express my justifiable anger, I think I will just receive a patronizing and condescending explanation that may or may not be true. And I don’t know how to handle the gender politics of this particular situation. This garage has taken advantage of me, and I think the fact that I am a woman has something to do with it, and I don’t know what else to say about it because I don’t know what to do to move forward.
I hate that I’ve recommended this place to multiple people, and have given them business when they didn’t deserve it. I hate that I ignored my gut feeling for so long, knew in my heart that something wasn’t quite right and squashed that feeling down.
I hate that I can’t tell with certainty that I have been treated unfairly because of sexism. I hate that I can’t tell with absolute and total certainty that I’ve been mistreated at all.
I hate that I have to spend any more time and energy on solving this problem. (Which I will do, tomorrow morning, because I have no other choice. I’ll figure it out. I always do.)
But mostly I hate that I feel powerless and frustrated and stupid right now. And all I want to do is to tear shit up and yell that I deserve to be treated fairly. That my trust and my idealism and my belief that the world is a good place should be an asset, not a liability. That I hate feeling like an easy target. That I don’t need a man in my life and I’m so happy being single but godfuckingdamnit it sometimes would all just be easier with the right dude on my team and I hate that to admit this feels like a weakness.
And the minute I can, I’m going to get in that car alone, and drive and drive and drive until I find someplace to throw and kick and yell. I swear to you, I will.
The second my car is out of the shop.