There was a great episode of House, MD wherein Greg House was opining that people’s treatment of an individual lies flatly on a sliding scale related to the empathy they feel for that person. More specifically, that because he walks with a cane, he can get away with being an enormous asgard-hole and never catch crap for it. He then goes on to (deliberately) crush a woman’s toe with his cane and beams a smile at his friend, Wilson, as she apologizes to him for being in his way. Great moment, great show, at least in the early seasons (ah, television shows, why do you ever make your late seasons? Stop early before it turns to sharknado). In fact, I could go on and on about the reasons that show was tops on my list while it was on the air, and that’s even without pointing out that the entire show is inspired by Sherlock Holmes, one of the greatest fictional characters in existence.
But anyway. As usual, House was right. And not just about Lupus. (It’s never Lupus.) If people feel sorry for you, they’re much less likely to dump on you. Now, me being a heteronormative white male living on privileged white male island, what could I know about people feeling sorry for me?
I drive a minivan.
It doesn’t get talked about very much, and you certainly won’t see it in the advertisements for minivans. (Do they even make adverts for minivans anymore? What more can be said?) But in suburban America at least, the van is a stigma, and it’s a stigma that, I am learning, is almost universally recognized. The driver of a minivan is somebody who’s had a rough go of it, somebody in whose life things have perhaps not worked out according to plan, somebody who had a rough day before he even left the house that morning.
“But Pav,” I hear you cry, “that’s a haberdashery of a thing to claim. Where is your data?”
Here are a few things that prove the theory:
1. People let me out in traffic. People never let me out in traffic. I’m currently exploring a theory that stupid behavior is a constant within a bubble that follows me around during the day, and part of that — a big part — is the fact that people drive like absolute knuckle sandwiches around me ALL THE TIME. I know I’m not unique in this, so stay with me. When I drive the van, people are less dumb around me. Operative word is less, naturally. But in my Camry, or worse, the Yaris we’re selling, I could sit at the outlet by my house for three cycles of a traffic light before some kind soul would let me merge into traffic. In the van, I rarely wait more than fifteen seconds before somebody lets me in.
2. People get doors for me. Again, I’m a thirty(ish) year old white guy in probably slightly better than average health. I don’t need you to get the door for me. In fact, I’ll usually get it for you. But if I’m driving the van, and somebody sees me get out of the van, and has the opportunity, that person will usually get the door for me. I’m noticing this a lot at work, which is interesting, because I tend not to have my kid with me at work, which means that my coworkers are cueing in based solely on seeing me get out of the van. This is not to say that they don’t get doors for me outside of the van; don’t get me wrong. But it happens all the time when I drive the van.
3. Service employees want to go the extra mile for me. Case in point, yesterday at the Kroger I had to change out the propane cylinder for some good grilling fun. Dude saw me get the old cylinder out of the van, came running to meet me halfway with it, and offered to carry the new one all the way back. (I park far away, as a rule.) I’ve never had one of these guys do more than park the cylinder on the curb for me.
I could list more ways in which I’ve been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness or been cut a break since I’ve been driving the van. Suffice it to say, it’s been enough for me to notice, consider, and analyze it. To be fair, I analyzed the ways in which a four-way human traffic jam could have developed at the supermarket this weekend, so the bar for me to analyze something is not particularly high. This is the world I live in.
Anyway, how to parse this data? It’s possible that I’ve just been on the receiving end of some good karmic energy of late; however, I don’t as a rule believe in karma, especially in the little day-to-day stuff. It’s possible that there is something in my bearing that strangers can read which tells them “this is a dad, cut him a break”. I find it a little hard to swallow that, were that the case, it suddenly manifested within the last three weeks and not anytime before that in the two years and change since I’ve been a dad, ESPECIALLY when the sprout was newborn and I really could have used the break.
No, I think the likeliest explanation for these otherwise random spats of — I won’t say good luck — favorable occurrences is that people see the van and the van speaks to their soul. It says, “this guy used to be cool, but his life took a wrong turn somewhere. Go easy on him.” Or maybe it says, “he’s had enough, today. Let it slide.”
The question now becomes — how can I best turn the phenomenon to my advantage?