Monday, February 25, 2008

Pity

Remember the accident? Yeah. Today was my last trip, I hope, to the body shop. My car looks great, though I've already got scratches on my bumpers, which is inevitable when you are pulling into a can't-squeeze-in-a-barbie-pin parallel parking spot on my forays into Brooklyn. So today I paid my final bill to the body shop mechanic, who happens to be frum. I noticed that he undercharged me by about $500. Very hard not to notice that. I said (words I had never expected to say to a mechanic), "uh, shouldn't this bill be more? " I didn't want to cheat the guy. He replied that he was able to save some money on the estimate and was passing along the savings to me. I said "wow, thank you, that's really very nice of you." He said "yeah, and I figured you could use the money."

Oh.

What the hell does that mean?

I get very upset by comments like this. Now granted, he is a wealthy, wealthy man. I am not wealthy, but I do okay. Of course, I bargained with him quite a bit over the repairs, as there were a few small things that the insurance wasn't covering. But you are supposed to bargain with a body shop guy, and frankly, I am a natural bargainer. I also told him I was a recent divorcee, as we were playing Jewish geog, and of course, we found mutual acquaintances, so he asked me about my life and I told him.

But what does that mean, "I figured you could use the money." Did I look like I could use the money? Lest you think I am taking it too seriously, let me assure you, his look and demeanor when he said that were charitable. Charitable!

I was wearing a skirt and top I had bought at Loehman's and a pretty expensive bomber jacket. My everyday Furla pocketbook, Ipod, GPS, and Iphone were all over his desk, the numerous times I was in his office. I mean, I really don't think I look like a welfare case. I really don't.

Once, when I was fresh out of college, I was working in midtown in the city. I found this hole in the wall kosher Israeli soupandsalad place on a side street, and I found myself going there often for lunch. It used to annoy me that every time I ordered something, it was a different price than it had been the day before. So I would question the owner, who worked behind the counter: "Why is this cup of couscous $3.35 when yesterday it was $3.15?" "Okay," he said, in heavily accented English. "I give you for $3.15." It wasn't that I couldn't afford the extra twenty cents, but I didn't understand the daily price change. I always spoke to him in English. I went there often because it was cheap and good food. Then one day, I bought a cup of soup, for which I paid, I dunno, like $2.00. The owner's wife, who also worked behind the counter, said to him:

"Shlomo, lamah nattatah lah hamarak hazeh kimat chofshi?"
(Shlomo, why did you give her the soup practically for free?)

"Shtiki. Pashut, ain lah kessef! Mah ani yachol la'asot? Ain lah klum!"
(Be quiet. She doesn't have money! What can I do? The poor girl doesn't have anything.)

Apparently they were unaware of my fluency in Hebrew.

I picked up my soup and left. I never went back to that place.

I hate pity. It is a total anathema to me. I hate it when people feel sorry for me for any reason, valid or not. For my divorce. For my childlessness. For what happened to me in my marriage. I hate it. It makes me feel horrible. It pushes a button in me that makes me insane.

These days, I am actually doing okay financially, so my shame felt even worse.

I probably won't be going back to that body shop too soon either.

9 comments:

Marni said...

Hmmm,

Well, I guess his statement could be taken either one of two ways. Either he was unaware that you actually are a successful woman who can handle herself, or perhaps, because he was made aware that you are recently divorced, he assumed the court and lawyer fees put you through the financial ringer. Either way, it's your gain so go out and get yourself something fantastic with your $500.

BTW, I have never met a Jewish, let alone frum mechanic. Is that a common phenomenon in NY...not to sound elitist...but it is a first for me.

Marni

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Oy. Listen, don't look the gift horse under the hood. (OK, I'm mixing my metaphors, but you get my point.)

One question: can you use the money? Don't bother to answer-- it's rhetorical. Of course you can use the money. who can't use money? If Uncle Sam give you a refund of like $600 in a few months, thanks to Congress passing an emergency economic stimulus bill, and says, "Dear American Taxpayer: Here's $600 of your taxes back. We're sure you can use the money," are you going to feel the same way?!

Chances are, most frum people, especially women, who are divorced, can use a little unforseen windfall. The fact that he may have seen some expensive tchotchkes of yours on his desk only makes his act of kindness even more laudable. If you had been wearing shmattes, and carrying a beat-up Nokia 6160 in an equally beat-up pleather bag and wearing tattered shoes, he would have been lambastable for not undercharging you.

Let the man have his mitzvah and just be gracious about it. If you'r really doing that well-- and this is going to sound corny-- then, like the movie by the same name, just pay it forward.

WebGirl said...

NJG,
You know what, that's what I answered him when he said that: of course I can use the money, who couldn't use the money? But the look on his face, like "you poor penniless divorced train wreck of a girl." It was awful. I know I didn't imagine it.

Of course, my roommate also told me to just shut up and take the money. She said if she had known that he would have done that, she would have told me to wear a raggedy, shleppy denim skirt, a Walmart sweatshirt and Payless flats.

I know. Take the money and run, right? But I feel crummy about it. I would have much rather he try to overcharge me, thinking "hey she can afford it, she's bright and together and probably makes a ton of money and her purse costs more than that." My self-esteem took such a beating from my marriage and divorce; I just can't deal with pity.

Marni,
I personally never met a frum mechanic before either. My ex used to change his own oil, but I assumed he knew how to do that because he was a Ba'al Teshuvah. :)

smoo said...

A major theme of the prophets is human callousness towards those in need, whether it be the widow or the orphan. One should recognize the capacity for goodness and compassion in those who do more than they are asked. Even if you don't need it, want it or even deserve it, these people are showing a very admirable side of themselves where everyone benefits. They feel good for doing a good deed (in their mind) and you get to see that there are people in this world who have really redeeming qualities.

WebGirl said...

Smoo,

Yes he did a good thing. But why did he have to make me feel crappy and suck all the joy out of it?

While I was waiting for my car to be ready, I ran out to DD and bought myself and my mechanic each a coffee. I handed it to him and he tried to reimburse me. I said, nah, don't worry about it. Imagine if I would have said, nah, don't worry about it, and I'm sure you can use the money anyway.

Giving isn't only about the transfer of something. It's also about how you give it.

-WG

smoo said...

Are you sure he meant the comments in the way you are taking it? just wondering

WebGirl said...

Yes, I'm sure. There was unmistakable pity there. I wish there weren't.

YM said...

I think you should rethink this and judge him for good.

WebGirl said...

YM, I do judge him for the good on his action. It doesn't erase how crummy he made me feel in the way he did it.