By Matt Gordon
Recently I visited a used car lot. I intended to trade in a vehicle, hopefully for another vehicle. But my fear was that I would trade in a vehicle for a boom box or an old shoe or some such thing. Loud and pretty as those things may end up being, anyone I showed them too would be dubious, “That’s what you got? For a car!?” My name is Matt and perhaps that is partly the reason I am a sucker. A mat is a thing to be walked upon, but not today, I thought, as I headed off to Discount Cars and More. The more did not interest me, try as they might. I was in the car business today, sir.
My resolve nearly faltered right out of the gate, as the sir I was peacocked up to do battle against happened to be a lady. My ignorance had readied me for someone young and slick. A smoker perhaps. But you wouldn’t know it for the smooth spearmint transition of gum to mouth at the approach of a dopey customer, “Well, hey there, Chief, how can I help you” he’d say in a sing-song way. Slick guys are always calling us non-slick guys “chief” or “guy” or “sport.”
I’d like to reply, “First, you twerp, quit calling me Chief. The name’s Matt, but you can call me Mr. or sir.”
But I don’t say that. I just take out my checkbook, sign away my life, and then lie on the floor so he can wipe off his fancy loafers on my cheap shirt.
But, alas, no young, slick Chief-monger awaited me—no, it was a near-retirement aged woman who likely called her grandson “Bubba” and gardened with a spade in one hand and a beer in the other. She was a combination of matronly firmness. I looked about the place at slick guys, and I knew that this woman, “Allie” she claimed her name to be, was just another Queen of Spades up their silk sleeves. And to think, it almost worked! My resolve redoubled. She held the door for me, but I refused to walk through. Not so fast, sir-ma’am.
“Well, right over here is my desk,” she said.
“I don’t care, I didn’t come here for the tour,” I tried to make my facial expressions and body language say. This equated to a dramatic slump of my shoulders and an eye roll. Trouble is I can’t roll my eyes. I try—have done for years. But for whatever reason one eye just stays fixed and focused in place. The other eye seems to try to compensate for his lazy partner, and rolls maniacally like a pinball when the bonus is lit. I looked a vengeful Quasimodo.
She offered me some water.
I stilled my excited eye and refused her offer of water—her first offer.
“Where would you like to sit?”
She had chairs in front of her desk and then a table adjacent her desk with chairs in front of that—farther away from the desk. This was to show care and concern for the customer, or so they would have me think. I knew it was a trick. They would use this to analyze me, to test my mettle and measure out my psyche.
“Where would you like me to sit?” I countered. Touché.
“Wherever you feel most comfortable, Chief.” She didn’t say, “Chief,” not really, but I heard it all the same; I felt it. She sat at her desk and challenged me to take option A in front of her or option B a bit removed.
I took a seat on the tile floor.
“Well, I ran the numbers . . .”
“I’m sure you did,” I parried.
“I did.” She countered. Oh, she was good.
“Annnnnnnnnnnd . . .”
I write the above as if I drew out the word “and” for a moment or two. But I didn’t. I drew it out for more than that. I might still be there in that office, curled on the floor, uttering it. Pronouncing it. Weaponizng it against my foe. When one shouts into a bottomless pit, does the echo go down, down, down forever? That is what I tried to accomplish with the condescension in that simple three letter word tortured out so.
When I finished, and we were both in some afterlife state for the waiting, she slid me a piece of paper. Since she was up at the desk, she just slid it to the edge, and I had to reach up from my place on the floor to retrieve it.
“Here is our initial purchase agreement,” she said matter-of-factly.
“I’m sure it is,” I replied, considering if I should try another annnnnnnnnd out.
“It is,” she confirmed.
I looked it up. Then down. Then front. Then back. I looked at its edges and corners. I examined it like it was a rare jewel and I some assaying savant. This went on for some time.
“Any questions?” she asked gently, by this time realizing that she was dealing with no dummy.
“Assburger says what?” I mumbled.
“What?” she said, leaning in.
“Exactly.” I responded.
“Um, I’m sorry I didn’t catch what you said.”
I pretended not to hear and examined some more. Finally I got around to reading the words and numbers. And wouldn’t you know it, the fix was on. I laughed. It started at a giggle of derision but it evolved into a gasping guffaw.
“If something is not to your liking, I’m happy to discuss,” she looked a little fearful now. Just where I wanted her. “Are you sure I can’t get you a drink of water?”
I was sure she could do no such thing, thirsty as I was. This just revealed even more that this oracle could see my mind and future. She was peering into my very thoughts. Yes, of course I needed water. All that laughing had hurled me into a fit of coughs. But I could not acquiesce. I fought through the pain of it all; for once I would not be cowed—I would not be defeated.
“It is a really good offer,” she soothed.
The numbers on the page actually represented a higher value than I expected to receive and a lower number than I expected to have to pay. It was, plain and simply, the best deal I had ever seen. Something was afoot. This must be some new school tactic from this old school villainess.
“Well?” she broke in again, sounding hopeful. The witch.
“Here’s what I think of this offer . . .”
At this point several thoughts converged at the intersection of action. I thought I should probably take it, but thought better of it. Which led me to think of ripping it up. I thought too of crumpling it and throwing it. A dump truck of a thought grunted to the thoroughfare to join the others, as I imagined how legendary it would be if I just up and ate the offer. Just chewed it up and spit it out right then and there. Oh, the glory of it! The rising of the commoner, up off the tile floor and finally the master of negotiations.
With all these thoughts meeting at the intersection at once, there was nothing to do but altogether yield. The result was me staring blankly ahead for quite some time, like one does when really trying to suss out the lyrics of some faint song in the distance.
“Are you sure I can’t get you some water?” she said kindly.
That was it! The third strike.
Promising, seemingly fair offer in hand, I bolted for the door and through them. I tripped a little at the threshold and the piece of paper fell with me. The wind kicked it up a little—I chased it about for a second, but couldn’t get a grasp of it. So I left it. It felt poetic, this littering of the used car world with their own filth!
I ran straight to my damaged vehicle—the one I came to leave there—and drove as quickly as possible, all starts and stops and rumbles, to the nearest refueling station. I parked, ran in, and purchased the largest water in the place. I had been so very thirsty from the start. It was like she knew; she could see inside my mind, my soul.
I returned home without boom box or old shoe, and also without a new used car. But what I had and held dear was my pride, a thing that had grown in my obvious victory. Perhaps that was the more all along? I left with no car from Discount Cars and More but nary had one negotiated a whole lot more out of nothing.