Three years ago, we needed a bigger car because we were going to road trip the North Island with my parents who were visiting from America. The conversation between my husband and I was brief on a Saturday morning, but we were both in agreement we should look for a used car.
Next thing I knew, later that afternoon, he sent a text message saying, “I bought a car!” and a link to the ad he answered. My jaw dropped. I thought my husband’s phase of impulsive car buying had left us years earlier in Vermont. I was so mad that I could barely speak when he showed up with it in the driveway.
He, and my then three-year-old, were beyond thrilled with their purchase. He urged me to check it out. How could I not? It was massive.
It was a boat.
A shiny, silver, big-ass pontoon-boat-station-wagon that barely fit in the garage.
There was no way I would be able to see out any of the tinted windows. I could barely see over the steering wheel. On top of that, when I opened the door, it reeked of cigarette smoke.
“You put our child in this thing?”
“What do you mean?” My husband, Aaron, is known for missing out on certain details when it comes to vehicles.
“You don’t smell THAT?” I waved my hand around and held my nose.
He sniffed. “Hmm… it smells like a new car.”
“It smells like they poured perfume all over to cover up the cigarette smell! My god this is disgusting!” I slammed the door shut.
“We’ll air it out overnight,” he said.
I hated the car.
It didn’t air out.
The next day we drove to the used car dealership where he’d bought it. We were hopeful they’d exchange it for something of equal price. There was no way this was going to be our New Zealand road tripping automobile. But my husband isn’t good with face-to-face confrontation. He was unsure of what to tell the dealer, so I told him to tell the truth: he bought the car without consulting his wife, who didn’t like it. Simple.
Once there, I pushed my son in the stroller between parked cars, checking prices, inspecting details. My husband nervously rushed over, twisting the bottom of his shirt between his fingers like he usually does when feeling anxious.
“Ok, so the guy is going to come talk to us. He’s willing to exchange it for a car at equal value… but here’s the thing…” He licked his lips, hesitating. “Um, so he really doesn’t like women.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What does that mean?”
“Well, you know how you said to be honest, and tell him my wife didn’t like it? So, I said that, and uh, he really ran with it. He kept saying, ‘Fucking women ruin everything’… so…”
“Wow! Hmm…” I had to think about this. In America, car dealers had a reputation of being a bit sexist, but I expected more from New Zealand, the first in the world to give women the right to vote.
I shrugged it off, annoyed, but protected with invisible armour so that I could get out of there with few battle wounds and a decent car. Sometimes, it was just what women had to endure. Men hating women was just part of life.
The salesman didn’t make eye contact with me. He addressed Aaron when he spoke. We moseyed from car to car. Sometimes he’d wander off to other buyers, which I didn’t mind. I was uncomfortable in his presence, so preferred he gave us space. Every time he did stalk near us, he made snide remarks, “Yeah, I know what you women like”, or “It has to be the right car for you– I know you women.” My annoyance quickly turned to anger. I swallowed the hard lump in my throat, pushing the rage down deep, like I had for many years when caught in a moment where a man attempts to control the level of comfort.
When I stepped out from test driving a green Ford-whatever-it-was, it was my husband’s turn to take it for a spin. I stood to the side of the entrance with my son and waited. The salesman approached me and my body tensed.
“So you like that one?” He asked, his 1980s moustache similar to that of Marc Maron’s character in the Netflix show Glow.
“Yeah, it has a gear problem with reverse, though.”
Ignoring the issue with the car, he walked in circles, pausing every so often, then pacing around me again like I was his prey. He still avoided making eye contact. “But you like the colour? The green?”
“I like green.” I couldn’t even guess what was about to be said next…
“I mean, I know how you women are with your decorating and what not.”
I laughed. I laughed because I was nervous. I laughed because it was one of the most idiotic things I’d ever heard. I laughed because I wanted him to leave me alone. If I played along, maybe he would go. But it got much worse.
“I mean, I know how you women like to have the carpet match the drapes.” He stopped shifting and stared in my direction but not at me.
I was paralysed. Did he know what he was saying? Did he think I was stupid and didn’t understand the reference? Was he making an odd sexual remark about women’s private bodies or was I imagining this? Familiar shame that I had worked hard to heal from years past returned and I felt sick to my stomach. If it weren’t for my son being right there, I would have screamed at this slimy, creepy fuck. Instead, I said nothing. I was humiliated. My brain didn’t work; I was in disbelief. Thank god my husband drove up just then.
He left us alone to discuss what we wanted to do next, but not without first using manipulation to try and play us against one another. “This is between you two, I’m here to just help you make your decision, but this is between you. I’m not trying to start anything.” We weren’t even fighting. We had barely spoken to each other, but this creep was insisting on creating some weird dynamic between us that ultimately failed. At this point, I just wanted to leave.
I shared with Aaron what the man had said. He was in as much shock, too, and we left as quickly as we could. We decided to take the pontoon-boat-of-a-car and sell it ourselves instead of having to deal with the sexist jerk.
Before we left, though, the guy changed his tune after he found out what I used to do for a living. Upon letting him in on our decision to keep the beast, one of us had said, “it’s fine”, to which the guy remarked, chuckling, “You know what F.I.N.E means?”
I cocked my head to the side. “Fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.”
He made direct eye contact with me for the first time. “How do you know that?”
“I used to be an addictions treatment counselor. It’s said all the time.”
He reached out to shake my hand. “Oh, wow, hey, yeah, wow, that’s tough work, you know?”
I do know. And I know what women have to go through daily. Hourly, sometimes.
And you, Mr. Car Salesman, do not know women.