My beloved 2005 Honda Pilot is limping toward its inevitable finish line. Although it has safely gotten my kids, my wife, and I around for the five years that I have had it, its transmission blew last year, and it seems to be struggling more than ever with the day-to-day tasks expected of it. As such, I am in the market for a new automobile.
I’ve been driving bigger vehicles for awhile now, the result of having children, but with one set to move out of the house soon, and with us already having one vehicle big enough to cart the remaining kids around in, I’m hopeful to get something smaller that will simultaneously be more economical too. This isn’t a mid-life crisis situation* so it still has to be practical. I guess what I’m saying, in a rather long-winded way, is that I’m looking for a smaller wagon/hatchback situation.
The good news is that a local car dealer here in town – the extremely casually named Larry’s Automobiles – has precisely the vehicle I am looking for: a Volkswagen Sportwagon. It’s only five years old, has low mileage for its age, and, because Volkwagen’s reputation is currently a nightmare, I think I can get it for a relatively good price. Everything is lining up.
See, the problem with Larry’s Automobiles is that it has a reputation so bad that it has earned itself the moniker, “Larry’s Lemons.” The thing is, Larry sells people cars that end up being absolute junk. My father bought a car from Larry a decade ago, and within a month, he was in the shop having to have significant repairs done to keep the damned thing running. My neighbor growing up bought a car from him, and he eventually ended up suing Larry when it was discovered that the car’s odometer had been rolled back. A few months ago, a lady I work with discovered that a car she had purchased from Larry had been badly damaged in a wreck, something he had not bothered disclosing prior to the sale. If you ask around my hometown, you can very quickly find a lot of people who will report on the dubious quality of the cars that Larry sells.
This, as you might imagine, is hugely concerning. Am I really going to give this man thousands of dollars considering his reputation as a shady, dishonest dealer? He is a man who has repeatedly put his own needs ahead of his customers; is that someone I want to be doing business with?
To assuage my fears, I went to talk to Larry. I told him I was interested in the car, but I was hugely concerned about his reputation. You don’t earn a nickname like Larry’s Lemons for nothing, I told him, and I asked him to clarify the quality of the car that I wanted to buy.
“Now, now, now, son, let me explain something to you,” Larry started. “There are two things I need you to absolutely understand before you decide whether or not you want to do this incredible deal. The first of those things is that this is a good car. I am telling you that this is a good car, and you absolutely have to believe me. My word is good, and I am assuring you that the most important thing in the world right now that you understand, that you know in your heart of hearts, is that this is a good car. In fact, I absolutely insist that you understand how good a car this is. I am promising you that I mean it when I say that the thing that is most important to me is you having this good car.”
Larry took a breath and adjusted his plaid sportcoat. A wacky waving inflatable arm tube man snapped taught in the afternoon breeze. Larry continued, “The other thing you have to understand is that you do not really have a choice here. You are obliged to believe me. Polite society, and dare I say that high-falutin intellectual society, demands that you believe me, because what I am doing here right now is telling you the god’s honest truth truth. To question me is to insult me sir. To bring my reputation up in a discussion about this particular car, which I have just assured you is a good car? For you to come onto this used car lot, for you to come into my place of business, and suggest that I might be dishonest – to even mention that vindictive, horrendous, outrageous, mean-spirited, no-good, unfair, unjust, undeserved nickname of yours, an offense so offensive that I shan’t dare repeat it myself – is simply not how we do things in polite, decent society. Whatever happened with all of those other vehicles has absolutely no bearing upon the quality of this vehicle right here, and anybody telling you otherwise is contributing to not only to a slanderous attack upon my reputation, but to our coarsening world, to frankly the decline of the intellectual underpinnings of everything that we hold dear, not merely in used car selling – that most honest of pursuits – but throughout our culture!”
Larry was pretty redfaced at this point. “You have to understand that all of those other examples are completely immaterial, do you understand? They have no bearing upon my honesty at this precise moment in time, and so, yes, perhaps, it might be possible that other customers of mine have ended up with cars that were somewhat less than ideal, but that has nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, to do with whether what I am telling you now about this particular car is an honest reflection of my understanding of it.”
Larry went on, “And frankly, I’m not even sure I want to sell you this car, what with how egregiously you have offended me on this day. Refusing to believe me, an honest man schooled in the high arts of used car salesmanship? I’m staggered that I am forced to endure such outrageous disrespect, simply because of anything that I might have been involved in long ago, simply because you decide that you want to nitpick my history for examples that have nothing to do with the situation as it stands today. Only a monster, a true monster, would have the audacity to hold a man accountable for his actions, especially when he has already told you what his beliefs are. I am offended. Offended!”
He stomped off after this, leaving me standing there beside the Volkswagen. He seemed pretty angry about the whole thing. So I am stuck not knowing what to do. It is true that his reputation has no specific relationship to the particular Volkswagen being considered – maybe it really is a good car? – but it seems awfully difficult to separate the one from all of the others, especially when he is the only person that will definitely benefit from me choosing to be willfully ignorant of what he has voluntarily done in the past. But then, he seemed so angry about being asked to account for why his voluntary actions were so different than his claimed beliefs, and I surely do not want people to be offended.
I suppose the only reasonable, and frankly intellectual, thing to do is to blindly assume that Larry is honestly accounting for his understanding of the car. It would be so damned indecent of me to account for everything else that I know about him when considering his honesty at this particular moment, even though his very long and very established history of misleading people seems particularly relevant at this exact moment in time. After all, isn’t willfull ignorance better than the alternative? Isn’t voluntarily having less information considerably better than having much more instead? Surely it makes more sense to trust the man, his reputation be damned, rather than let what I know about him lead me the astray?
So that is it then. I am off to buy a car. And I will not dare ask any more questions of Larry, what with how offensive it is to hold a man to account for his voluntarily made decisions in regard to his insisted upon beliefs! Surely everything will go swimmingly from here!
*OR IS IT?!?