Rodney Dangerfield had it right. Only he had the wrong gender.
I am now finding that being a widow at age 66 is a recipe for invisibility, especially where business dealings are concerned. Then again, maybe it’s not just widowhood, but being older in general.
The perfect example of this showed up in a scene from the Netflix original series “Frankie and Grace” starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. As the two newly divorced seventy-ish women discover, service and retail workers do not even see them if there is a younger woman or a man at the counter . . . until and unless they make a scene and demand to be waited on. Then they’re just dismissed as cranky old ladies and the subject of much eye-rolling and disgust.
Well, I joined the ranks of cranky old ladies this week as I waited at my car dealership for a simple oil change and coupon-induced free car wash. For the first hour in the “lounge,” as they call their waiting area, I entertained myself by eating my sack lunch, finishing a good book and catching up on friends’ Facebook posts. I had barely finished when the nice young man told me my car was ready. As I paid the bill I was told the car had also been subjected to some recall electrical work and that it was washed and ready just outside the door.
Well his “right outside” and my version slightly differed. I had to hike all the way to the end of the lot. There it was; my unwashed car. Only slightly agitated, I returned and informed the young man that my car had not been washed, returned my keys to him and he said it would be taken care of.
Two hours later, after being so bored I actually played a few rounds of Candy Crush on my iPad, I got up and went into the service area to see if I could spot my car. I sighed audibly when I found no sign of it and returned to the lounge. I was alone in that gray room. All the people who had come in later than I had were already long gone.
By now totally irritated, I returned to the service desk and told the young man that if my car had not been washed, I wanted to forget about it. I needed to get home and a four hour wait was long enough.
The car was not washed. He gave me some lame excuse and said they could wash it next time, but he was certainly not concerned or even apologetic. I grabbed my jacket and purse and huffed out of there without a word. But I showed those young whippersnappers at the service counter. I peeled out of that parking lot, by golly. (Too bad they couldn’t see or hear it. They have no windows in their office.)
But all the way home I fumed, recalling how nice those same guys used to be when I was with my late husband for service appointments. They were so deferential and even called him by name. They were always anxious to please because their jobs depended on us giving them a 10 rating in a follow-up email survey. Maybe they’ve done away with that survey business. And now the only service or retail person who calls me by name is the lady at the local pharmacy.
Yes, I have joined the ranks of invisible older women. We evidently don’t deserve to be treated courteously because there is no man backing us up with male firepower. Then I recalled how my late husband had helped several single women with vehicle issues—looking over a potential purchase for some and negotiating prices for others. He knew well how to get good service and was not shy about making demands and even being extra assertive when necessary.
I guess us older gals need assertiveness training, or maybe a list of men we can call on for backup in times of need. My husband used to joke about starting a “Rent a Husband” business for situations like I had just encountered. Even then he saw the need, and not just for car repairs and purchases. He saw the need for women to have some savvy while working with home contractors and for navigating complex legal and financial dealings. He ran out of health and time to follow that entrepreneurial path.
As I got closer to home, in addition to recalling the famous Rodney Dangerfield quote about lack of respect and the scene from Frankie and Grace where Lily Tomlin jumps over the convenience store counter to get a pack of cigarettes, a famous scene from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes popped into my head. You know the one . . . where Kathy Bates’s character has just been denied a supermarket parking spot for her rambling old Cadillac by two young chicks in short shorts driving a VW convertible. As the younger women laugh at besting an older lady, their cute little convertible gets rammed into oblivion by Bates’s Cadillac. And with a sweet smile, she explains “I’m older and I have more insurance.”
So after chiding myself for an un-Christian attitude and forgiving the young men for their lack of respect at leaving me in the lounge for hours unnecessarily, I decided to consider getting a little more respect by taking my business to another dealership. Maybe an old widow still has some economic power, even if she doesn’t have a man to fight her battles anymore.