Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Surface Dwellers Have it So Sweet

While I did have a restful, playful, peaceful, happy-chaos filled holiday season, I find myself sighing in resignation not even 2 weeks into the new year. Is it me or is the list of wrong shrinking while the list of "yeah, this is OK for me to do" growing?

December's obligations were abundant with the holidays to prepare for and many decisions about Addie's schooling and medical care looming. I was on my way to a meeting where one of these decisions would be hashed out, when I backed into a car parked across from my driveway. I have no excuse. My mind was on the meeting and the probable changes in Addie's life that might come of it, and not on identifying potential obstacles behind me, as it usually is when I pull out. In short, I spaced.

Let me admit that I drive a cruddy car. It's a 2000 black Toyota Camry. I never liked the car, even when it was new. It always felt too old and serious for me. I felt very middle aged driving it, even way back in my mid-thirties (the distance from them grows every day...). I prefer a car with curves and a sense of humor. Black Camrys of that year just seem so self-important and dour to me. Adding to that image, we've since accumulated a variety of dents and parts that dangle, no longer able to serve their original function: broken mirrors, window controls, etc. By no means are either of our cars something we place much value on beyond their purpose as tools to get us from A to B (or in the case of our current schedule, from B back to A then crossing over to Q for a bit, only to rush to D while expected at M, cutting my losses, skipping M and circling back to A, while thinking that I should really be at R or S, and then rushing to Q again, wishing I were already at Z, but never quite getting there...).

So I did not tarry over the state of my own machine when I heard the crunch. I looked back at Addie, who if she even noted the abrupt stop, may have considered it a pleasant departure from usual for a brief second. Not even possible for anyone to be hurt, so no worries there. Then I wondered about the victim-car itself. Oh, what a relief - it was not our neighbor friends' car, it was not the vehicle of the young couple who just moved in across the street. It was the car always parked in front of or across from our house. A silver sort of station wagon SUVish thing. The woman works at a little storefront frame shop around the corner, yet always parks somewhere within our view. And though her car is a newer one than ours, it has been plenty banged up and dented since shortly after she got it. I know this because it spent the last 2 summers in my peripheral view while my kids had a lemonade sale out front, or ran through the sprinkler or created chalk masterpieces on the sidewalk. Big dents, little dents, pretty much evenly spaced all over the mini-SUV type car. It is there for every coming and going from our home between about 9am and about 6pm, Monday through Friday.

So I didn't worry to much about that either. I'm glad I hit a hoopdee with my hoopdee, if it had to be. Nevertheless, I knew what I needed to do and flew into the frame shop determined not to miss my meeting, but clear about my purpose. The woman was with customers, but was very relaxed about it. I interrupted as diplomatically as I could and told her that I hit her car, but did more damage to my own than to hers, that I hit a dent that was already there and made it a little deeper. We quickly exchanged contact info and she said she'd be in touch as she turned back to her customer. She was pretty unfazed by it and I thanked my lucky stars that I did not hit an angry person's car, that it was not someone who put their wheels at the top of the priority list, above civility. I rushed to my meeting and shed a thin slice of stress off by making a decision then and there. I thought it may have turned out a bit of a good day for me, all things considered. I waited to hear from the car owner.

This was December 8th. I heard from her today, exactly one month later. When she did not call right after the smack-up, my husband and I figured that she wasn't concerned about it since like us, she did not fix any of the dents already there. I won't say I'd forgotten about it, but I certainly had other things to think about in the last month. She called from the body shop today asking if I wanted to involve insurance or just pay for it. It? What is it? Well, it is having the entire door replaced, of course. I hit a dent already there at about 8 miles per hour, so of course the door must be replaced at a cost of $1500, as I would later find out. Shock made my voice sound meek as I mentioned that there was already damage before my right taillight bore the brunt of the collision. She delivered a carefully prepared explanation of how no, the existing damage was on the other side, everything on that door was from my tail light. I was to understand that I hit the single spot on her car that did not have a dent in it and compromised it so much that the entire door needed replacement.

I sent an IM to my husband asking what do I do when she calls back with the estimate. I don't argue that I caused some damage, and plan to act responsibly for the damage I caused. But buy her a new 8th of her car? What could I say? 'I remember more damage being there before I hit it?' That from one trashy car owner to another, I happen to know that there were already waves, nicks, bumps and divots of varied sizes all over that door? I think she's banking on memory falling outside of the realm of evidence. And waiting a month for this alleged memory to fade a bit more was a rather clever move, too.

While I'm messaging my husband about the situation and getting unjustly frustrated with him for restating what I already knew about my not having ruined the door, Addie wakes up from her nap upstairs. I run up to grab her because Cate is expected home any minute - this is the first day of a new schedule where a friend will drive her home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I drop Addie on the couch and see the van in the driveway deliver Cate onto the walkway. I head towards the door to open it for her when there is a knock. I knew this would happen. It's the silver vanwagonsuv-driver with a stapled estimate in her hand and a grin on her face. Did I mention it was raining? And that the mailman showed up at precisely the moment I looked at the dollar amount on the estimate and gasped? Yes, well. I restated to my fellow lemon owner that there was a bit of concern that not all the damage was caused on December 8th. She recited her prepared statement and wanted me to come and look at her car, as if that would ease my mind about buying her a new door. Come gander at this car you've looked at 5 days per week for the past 2 or 3 years, in the rain, while the mailman is waiting (new guy - wanted to hand it to me for some reason), Addie is whining and has a smelly diaper and Cate is walking up the front stairs talking about a 3 third-graders play-date she has planned and that 'Jessie will call in 4 minutes about it'.

My head slipped off its perch and hung down from my listless neck. The last 3 minutes had accumulated in and weighed down my noggin so completely that my neck threw in the towel. All this stuff would need to be prioritized and hacked away at one by one. Now.

I gave my head a final heave up and testily grabbed the mail from the mailman. It was soaking wet, but I smiled a smile that I hope conveyed the message "Thanks, the mailbox is hanging there for you, only for you. No one else can use it. It's yours. Please be my honored guest tomorrow and every day after." I nudged Cate through the door, not acknowledging the grand trifecta play-date plan or the clock ticking on Jessie's call to seal the deal. I growled for Cate to keep Addie happy for a minute in spite of her fruitful and fragrant diaper.

Turning to the opportunist at my door, I explained that she could probably conclude it was not going to be possible for me to go admire the dents in her car individually at this particular moment, but that I'd talk to my husband and call her at the frame shop. I hated to do it, but I had to pull the "my husband" thing - the dreaded pretense that I dare not develop a stance on something without discussing it with my knight and rescuer. I was looking for an out that would serve at that moment and that one is particularly reliable when any automobile issues arise.

I mean, what can I say that hasn't been said? I'm not going to argue with her. She's got a smile on her face, calm is on her side. It is most certainly not on my side as I stand on the porch, dripping mail in hand, demands from the duchesses inside the house pulling me back through the door, not to mention the pending IM argument with my husband still in progress on my screen.

Her response was remarkable. I noted in the few seconds after I stopped talking, she remained completely unmoved - the smile was still there, her eyebrows high and arched to demonstrate respectful willingness and expectation at the same time. She did not take a step in any direction. She did not move an oral muscle as if to speak. It was as though I'd said nothing at all and she was still waiting for someone to answer the door. I said again that I'd be in contact with her at the frame shop. Still nothing. I realized she'd been nearly still the entire time. I ventured a goodbye and walked inside. I don't know how long she stood there. Maybe not long. Maybe she's still there.

Diaper next, then play date arrangements, then wrapping up the IM irritation with my knight and rescuer. In case you'd wondered in what order the rest of the demands were met.

But I am so very bothered. Not so much at being presumptuously handed a bill, nor the amount of the bill. Not even at rehashing the "accident" which is a really dramatic word for what happened last month. I am bothered that this woman I don't know decided it was ok and her due to deal dishonestly with me in order to get one thing fixed on her car. I'm not that much a Pollyanna - I realize people are made suckers every single day. And it's happened to me before. But it was her smiling, childlike way. She seemed to want me to be giving her credit for bucking up and being cheerful through this heartache I've caused her. And I wondered when she decided to translate my rush into her shop, the look of concern, regret and apology on my face complementing the spoken apology, my diligence in even telling her I tapped her car in the first place (I'm not certain she'd have noticed otherwise)...when did she decide that that was worth money to her? That she could and should trade honor for a new car door?

I wonder if she remained immobile on the porch because she had prepared no part of the play beyond handing me the bill. She was waiting for her line. Perhaps she expected me to go run get my checkbook and ask her who to make it out to? She had foreseen nothing beyond that so she was not able to respond to my improv. Maybe she was having second thoughts. I don't know.

I had to go back and wonder, in the same situation, would I do that? And the answer is maybe. If I never had to speak to or see the person I was doing it to. If I could order up a new door on line and blame someone I'd never have to meet and consider it chunk out of a corporate pocketbook rather than a personal one. That's not right either, but maybe I'd do it, if I somehow cared more about cars or money. But could I go knock on someone's door, see and hear her life bubbling in and out of the crack in that door, look into her eyes, hear her say 'I am responsible for only part of it' respond with insistence that she or her insurance will pay for all of my new door, see the confusion on her face, feel her doubt about my own morals and still ask the question - when will you give me this money? Absolutely not. And I am having a hard time processing that a regular joe that works around the corner would do that either. But apparently she would.

It must be bliss to live on the surface of things. No nasty conscience or respect for humankind to get in the way of anything. It must almost feel like having magical powers.

5 comments:

Myssie said...

Oh Terri, I am so sorry that you are having to deal with all of that. I hope that you get it all worked out soon.

Anonymous said...

There are surface dwellers everywhere and I have been slammed 2 by unscuppulous insurannce scams- but I hold true to what our Father once told me, "The world is not fair, but that is no reason for you not to be". Maybe there is no Karma but there is personal honor that is irreplacable, sorry your neighbor will rtemain oblivious.

Terri H-E said...

Thanks Myssie and Karen...er, I mean anonymous. We are letting insurance investigate and hopefully be the ones to point out that her assumptions about a door on the H-E family will not come to pass. And in my mind I will silently indulge fantasies of egging the few pristine inches of the silver bullet parked out front. It'll all work out and become yesterday's drama before long.

John said...

That stinks! Now I know why you were looking for the correct spelling of hooptie. It definitely sounds like she was looking for a free ride and you were her snmall lottery ticket.

Later John

Carla said...

Aaaah, I once had a "frame shop lady" car incident. My unscrupulous offender was the son of Buddy, an elderly man who suffered from dementia and lived across the street from us. Buddy, who possessed a fondness for parking in the street, directly across from my driveway. Buddy who was a friendly and soft spoken man who I rather liked, even though his lack of parking finesse often caused me irritation when I was hurrying off to my allotted destinations each day. On this particular day Buddy had parked a little more in the street than usual and I never even saw his car in the mirror as I hurredly backed out,in the rain, four small children chattering at once, on our way to school. Buddy and his wife took the mishap in stride but it was his ill mannered son who caused me grief in the end as he hounded our insurance man for a check to "fix" the ding in his parent's old car. He finally did get his check, Buddy's car was never fixed and I also never saw him drive again. While my incurance company may have been fleeced of a shocking ammount of cash for what was clearly a run of the mill dent -- Buddy lost what was probably the last of his adult freedoms that day. If there is Karma I hope it comes around one day to repay his son for his lack of patience and kindness. He was, with out debate, one of the bigger asses that I have met in this life time.
See what you started Terri? (grin)