I tend to remember my life as a collection of little stories – tidy narratives in which I am the hero.
The problem with that life perspective is that most heroes are opposed by villains. I try not to look at other human beings as megalomaniacal evildoers, but sometimes I can’t help it.
A few years ago, I encountered an actual real-life super villain. A man who was motivated by greed. A man who went on long monologues about his evil plan. A man who wanted to reshape the world to match his insane vision.
I’m talking, of course, about a car salesman.
My wife Sara and I had decided to buy a new car. We researched cars online and picked out the Toyota Yaris.
It was highly rated on fuel efficiency, safety, mileage, and all the things I knew I should care about if I wanted to continue to pretend I was an adult.
But honestly, I liked the Toyota Yaris because it looked like a cartoon character. The headlights looked like giant expressive anime eyes. I was annoyed that Toyota did not also sell giant fake eyelashes you could apply so your car could flirt with other cars.
We knew we wanted that car, so all we had to decide was the color. “This should be easy,” I said to Sara. I was a fool.
The second we walked into the dealership I felt like a piece of bloody meat splashing into a shark tank.
The fastest shark was Phil. I’m calling him Phil because that was his name. I’m not protecting him. He was not innocent. He was human evil.
Before we could even make it to the front desk, he was on us. A terrifying flash of big white teeth, firm handshakes, and business casual slacks.
He immediately—forcefully—offered us a cup of coffee.
I hated him instantly.
I understand the concept of trying to make people feel welcome by giving them coffee. But when has a free cup of coffee ever been the tipping point on selling a car? I was leaning against spending $20,000 on a new car, but then I got a free cup of Folgers Instant? I’ll take two of every Toyota! It was aggressive, annoying bullshit.
We told Phil we wanted a Yaris. He set us up with a jet-black Yaris, and Sara, Phil, and I piled in to do a test drive.
As we drove the car, Phil launched into a monologue about how great the car was and about his wise, wonderful boss. We were buying this car from a dealership owned by Rudy Luthor, so he kept talking about how much he enjoys working for “Mr. Luthor”. This made him sound even more like a super villain.
Phil said very honest, believable things, like:
“If I were buying a new car, I would definitely go with this one myself.”
“Boy, your husband’s not very talkative. Is he having a bad day?”
And the most terrifying: “I don’t care if you buy this car. Selling cars isn’t my job. My job is to make friends.”
I am not making that up. It’s an actual quote from the ravings of this madman in casual slacks. The second he said it, I looked at the dashboard to see if there was an ejector button. No such luck.
We finished the test drive. Sara and I both liked the car, but we were so rattled by the sales assault that we decided to go home and think about it.
We went back the next day and Phil was ready for us. He immediately offered us coffee. But I had purposely drunk a bunch of coffee at home, just to spite him.
We told Phil we wanted the car but had to pick the color. We asked to see a red Yaris and a blue Yaris. We had looked at those colors online and liked them. Phil whined that the blue Yaris was actually in another parking lot and it would be a lot of work to bring it over, but that wouldn’t be a problem because he knew we would love the red.
He walked us to the red Yaris, gestured dramatically like a circus ringleader, and proclaimed, “Here’s your new car!”
This car was not red.
It was a sort of fun, playful hot magenta that you don’t expect to see outside the pages of Tiger Beat.
If this color were a lipstick it would be called Throbbing Strawberry or Sudden Puberty.
This “red” car should only be sold at Claire’s or Forever 21 and come with a free ear piercing and temporary tattoos of flying ponies.
Sara said, “This is really not the color we’re looking for.”
“Because we’re not thirteen years old,” I added in my head.
What I said out loud was, “This color looked very different online. We really don’t like this color.”
And then Phil said it. The thing that made me know he was a super villain.
He said, “Actually, this is a very good color.”
My face immediately became so flushed with rage that it was probably the color of the lipstick car. I have a giant stick up my ass about the difference between objective and subjective. I don’t just have a stick up my ass, I have a whole forest up my ass. I have the entire moon of Endor up my ass about this issue.
We all conflate opinion and fact. We do it so much we stop thinking about it. Its effect is slow and insidious. It’s one thing to say, “I think the new Star Trek sucks!” It’s another thing to believe the sucking of Star Trek is a universal, empirical truth.
If I’m right, someone else must be wrong. If I’m the hero, a lot of people start looking like the villain.
Like this evil piece of human garbage, Phil, who just had the nerve to tell me to buy a car that Princess Peach would be embarrassed to drive in Mario Kart.
I was convinced I was right in this moment. I heard dramatic music swell. The Toyota dealership flag blew in the wind. I stood up straight and tall like a hero, all those cups of fuck you coffee boiling in my veins, and began my monologue.
“You don’t get to tell me that. It’s a color. It’s not a number you can measure. It’s not the circumference of the cup holders or the wattage of the headlights. I don’t like this color, because that’s my opinion and that’s how opinions work,” I said eloquently.
Something dark and angry sparkled in Phil’s eyes. But then his shoulders slumped. “Okay then,” he said, shifting the happy salesman mask back into place. “Let’s get the blue one over from the other lot.”
The blue Yaris arrived and, in our subjective opinion, it was a great color.
By the time we had signed all eight thousand pieces of paperwork, it was late in the evening. The dealership was now technically closed.
We sat in our little blue car with the giant anime eyes. Even after we signed the paperwork, even after we got the keys, after we were literally ready to drive away, Phil was still talking to us.
He was telling us about all the great features. He really did point out the number and quality of the cup holders. Twice.
I wanted to scream, “WHY? WHY ARE YOU SELLING ME A CAR I JUST BOUGHT?”
And then I remembered the horrible truth. He didn’t just want to sell us the car. He wanted to be our friend. I felt sad and guilty. I remembered that he probably dealt with a lot of jerks. I did my best to listen and smile. I politely thanked him for his time and told him we really needed to go.
There was a flurry of teeth and handshakes and business cards and slacks, and he disappeared into the night. In my mind, he retreated to his secret lair under the dealership, let his mask drop, and bellowed angrily as dramatic organ music played.
Sara and I got in our new car and drove. I told her I wanted to write this all down so I could use it in a comedy show sometime.
It was a great story. And I was the hero. Maybe I was a brave hero striking a blow against an ideological foe. Maybe I was a rude, socially challenged anti-hero. Maybe I was both. I should, at the very least, be open to the idea that I was the villain.
The only thing both Sara and I knew for sure was that we really liked that shade of blue.
We thought it was a great color.