I was playing with Words With Friends when the man walked over to me.
Moments earlier, he attempted to catch my eye when I drove into the mechanic’s shop for an oil change. I immediately looked down at my phone and ignored the pudgy, middle-aged man dressed in an untucked white polo, red shorts and a sun visor who was holding a Styrofoam cup in his left hand with the prominent wedding band.
“How you like your car?” he asked.
Technically, my dad bought the land shark before he died, and I just drive it periodically. My real car is an old Saturn, which I love.
“It was my dad’s,” I said. “It’s nice but it’s not my type of car.”
“I have a smaller one and I just love it,” he said, launching into a spiel about his car and its powerful motor.
I prefer a simpler car. I’ve done a lot of tinkering with my Saturn and know a lot about it. I told the man this.
“Oh, sweetie, now don’t tell me you know about cars,” he said. “I don’t believe that for a minute.”
“Well, I do,” I said, matter-of-factly.
I hate how Southern men – and women, for that matter – often use terms of endearment to address strangers without a second thought. Such sentiments sometimes sound polite and innocent, but come on, this is the 21st century. The man babbled, and I tried to ignore him, focusing on my game that I was now losing thanks to this online guy. He tricked me by asking about my Saturn’s motor, and I fell into his trap, temporarily confused.
“See, baby, you don’t know cars,” he said.
That made me angry. Really angry. I crossed my arms in a defensive position and kept them locked for several minutes.
“Do you think just because I’m a woman, I don’t know about cars? I’m standing here in front of this one to make sure they do it all correctly,” I replied.
“Well, you’re an attractive woman. Attractive women usually don’t know much about cars.”
Was this man trying to give me a stroke?
“Here’s one that does,” I said. “I learned from my dad when I was a little girl. If I was unattractive, would it be okay for me to know all about cars because that’s what ugly women do?”
“Oh, sweetie, don’t get all mad now,” he said, walking closer to me and my face.
The three mechanics laughed. But it wasn’t funny. The shop’s manager had changed my oil for more than 10 years. I thought surely he would step in, but he didn’t.
For some reason, the man began shifted the topic to basketball, my favorite sport.
“Bet you don’t watch sports, right?” he crowed.
“I love basketball,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“You mean, you like cars and basketball? You’re so hot, sweetie. Grizzlies all the way. I’m from Memphis, lived there many years until I moved here.
You should move back, I thought.
“My mama loves the Grizzlies,” he continued. “You know the Grizzlies?”
Meanwhile, my mama was sitting in the car, clueless to what was happening because the hood blocked her view. She knows that I often strike up conversations wherever I am and didn’t pay much attention. It’s true – I’ve never met a stranger – but those strangers seldom seem as sexist as this man.
“Yes, I know them. I prefer college basketball.”
“Sweetie, you know after they leave college they go to the NBA,” he said, egging me on.
“I’m not stupid,” I countered, taking the bait. “I’m aware of that. I watched Washington and Atlanta yesterday.”
“Ooooh, impressive,” he said sarcastically.
I’ve met a lot of people in my life but never anyone quite like this. Yet, I couldn’t walk away.
“Where you from originally?” he asked
“Pine Bluff,” I said.
Granted, Pine Bluff, Arkansas isn’t the most glamorous place on the planet to call home. It’s an old Southern city with massive poverty and high crime, but it’s my hometown.
“I love driving through downtown and looking at all the buildings falling in on themselves,” he said.
Another eye roll and back to Words With Friends.
“No, seriously, one of the best writers comes from there,” he said.
He then mentioned a male journalist who I once worked with at a newspaper.
My retort? “I’m a journalist, I know him, I think he’s sexist.”
The man then continued about this writer’s fantastic attributes, but I tuned out as my anger level heightened. I wanted this man out of my personal space. I wanted him to get away from my car. I wanted him to leave the building. I needed a delete key for his mouth. I’m unsure what he said next, but the sentence definitely included “sweetie.”
“Can you please quit calling me ‘sweetie’ and ‘baby’?” I said firmly, wishing the mechanics would hurry up and finish with my car.
Anger flashed across his face. He said something about my attitude. My sarcasm exploded. I’m unsure what he said next, but he hinted strongly I was a lesbian. He made a remark about what was between my legs.
Of course, I had to be into women if I wasn’t into this hot sex machine standing in front of me, right? My head spun, and I was temporarily transported to a world where warrior women slayed men like him. Maybe I blacked out for a nanosecond as something unexplainable overtook me.
I realized I didn’t have to take this sexist crap from him. I didn’t have to play nice just because that’s what is always expected of women – especially those raised in the South. I realized that the three men in the garage weren’t going to defend me. They thought the scene, which was unraveling faster than a hurricane hitting the shore, was funny. Of course, they did. The four of them shared one thing in common – a penis.
“You’re the reason I can’t wait for a woman to be in the White House,” I yelled. “Hillary!”
I’m not sure what made me say Hillary. I’m not 100 percent behind her because of my love-hate relationship with the Clintons. But for some reason, I was now on the Hillary train in this greasy, hot garage, and I had to roll with it.
The man became a ballistic, raving lunatic.
“Don’t tell me you’re for that bitch,” he said. “She hasn’t done one thing to deserve to run except be married to who she is married to.”
I pointed out that she had a law degree, consistently fought for women’s rights around the world and served as Secretary of State. He didn’t care. He kept yelling and screaming, calling me a feminist bitch. To try to temper him, I told the man, who now belonged in a straitjacket, that I was about to cover a Republican presidential candidate who I liked a lot. He yelled that the man had given him a gold coin and again called me a bitch. I called him an asshole.
“What have you ever done with your life?” he asked. “Not a damn thing.”
“I’m a journalist and author,” I yelled.
“Sure, you are. Sure. You’re just another damn bitch like my first ex-wife and my second.”
“I’m not sure who would marry you,” I said.
“You women have it so good,” he yelled. “Don’t do anything.”
“Good?” I yelled back. “Really? We have to put up with asses like you.”
“Name one thing you don’t have that we do,” he yelled louder as I tried to pay and leave.
By now the garage’s manager tried to calm us both down, but I was on fire – one step away from yanking off my bra and burning it.
“Equal pay,” I said.
Those two words set him off on some insane, ignorant tirade that made no sense as he yelled the word “bitch” and “stupid” repeatedly.
“You’ve never done a thing in your life,” he said.
I flew across the garage like a witch on a broom and pulled out a copy of my recent novel.
“I wrote this. What have you done?”
“Is it called ‘Heather Has Two Mommies?’ ” he said, spewing more hate and name-calling and calling me crazy.
He moved closer, and I felt as if he might hit me. The garage manager told us to calm down.
“I do not have to put up with this,” I yelled. “I have my mom in the car. She’s 83. Settle it down.”
Mom suddenly jumped out of the car. If you know my mom, she will never back down from a fight. Up until this point, though, she hadn’t a clue what was occurring.
“My mom is 82, and she can take on your mom,” he yelled.
This conversation about car motors had devolved into complete insanity that now teetered on something that sounded like two kids on an elementary playground. However, this man was scary, incredibly frightening with raging madness in his eyes. My mom told him to be quiet.
“My mom can kick your ass,” I said, shaking and still unable to sign my name in order to complete my transaction and escape.
He yelled again.
“I’m calling the cops,” I said.
The manager, who should have already asked the man to leave, told the man that he knew me and that, yes, I was dialing 911.
“Sure, you are,” he said.
I showed him the emergency call on my phone. The dispatcher answered. I said I was a woman and a man was threatening me and my mother in this place of business. I told him the names he was calling me and that I thought he might hit me. At this point, the man yelled at my mom who yelled back that he needed to leave the premises.
“Is he Black, Hispanic or White?” the dispatcher asked.
“White,” I said, offering a description, the man’s license number and the make and model of his car.
The man realized he was in trouble. He hopped in his white truck and pulled out but not before flipping me off, which I told the dispatcher.
“What the hell?” I asked after he vanished down the street.
The manager said, “I saw that coming. He was drinking.”
Drinking and driving? This scene got worse and worse. Shaking badly, I could barely sign my name to pay as a car rolled into the garage, and a woman emerged. I was still babbling about that sexist pig. The woman seemed interested.
“What did he do?” she asked.
Of course, I spilled my guts.
“That was my husband,” she said.
Wha? My jaw dropped a foot.
“That man was your husband?” Mom asked.
“Yeah,” she said.
“I feel sorry for you,” Mom said.
“I’m not very happy with him right now,” the woman said.
“You need a divorce lawyer,” I said.
Was this some kind of feminist Candid Camera? Why had the universe put me in that place at that precise moment? Why was she even here? Was he supposed to have stayed to pay for her oil change? I got in my car as the cops were nowhere to be seen. As I pulled out, the manager smiled and said, “Calm down.”
Oh, yes, that’s what ladies are supposed to do, right? Swallow a chill pill, settle down and not a raise a ruckus. After all, we might be diagnosed with hysteria. Calm? No, I don’t think so.
Suzi Parker, TBS’ resident mixologist and cultural editor, is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Echo Ellis: Adventures of a Girl Reporter,” “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Beast, The Economist, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.