Driving home from work I was stopped by some traffic lights. A car pulled up next to me and in the back was a girl of perhaps 12 or 13. She looked directly at me and started laughing.
It wasn’t just an ordinary laugh, it was a hysterical laugh. She was also pointing. At me.
‘Fair enough,’ I thought, and waited, slightly awkwardly, for the lights to change. Further down the road, the car with the laughing girl in it overtook me. Then it slowed down again until it was level with mine – just so that the girl could have another laugh. She was now grabbing at the shoulders of the woman in the passenger seat, pointing me out to her like an exhibit at a Victorian freakshow.
It was that horrible, exaggerated sort of laugh that kids force when they’re trying deliberately to make someone feel really small. It reminded me of my school days when I was young and vulnerable and desperate to be like everyone else as opposed to how I am now – old and cynical and desperate not to be like everyone else. The feeling made me want to flick her the Vs on behalf of all the kids at her own school who’ve been on the receiving end of laughs like that. I didn’t though. Fortunately my skin’s thick enough to endure the ridicule of a teenage girl. Besides, the bloke who was driving looked quite big.
However, the incident did make me wonder what specifically she’d been laughing at. The obvious guess would be my car. I get a lot of laughs from people about my car. In a perverse way, I actually quite enjoy it as I think it says a lot more about them than it does me. It exposes them as being young or dumb or downright materialistic if they don’t understand the obvious benefits of having a car like mine.
I’m happy to give them a little amusement and let them feel all superior for a fleeting moment. It might enable them to temporarily justify to themselves the vast amount of money they’ve undoubtedly spent on their own vehicles. I have sympathy for them because the initial thrill of new ownership wears off pretty quickly and that big, expensive car soon becomes just another mundane part of everyday life, just another thing. The higher the price, the more worry that comes with it – scratches and dints; car parks in dodgy areas of town, alarms, security, waxing and polishing – all those extra considerations that eat up your time and are completely irrelevant when you drive a 1984 Toyota Starlet in hearing-aid beige. Yes, they can laugh if they want. They need all the fun they can get.
I didn’t get the impression that it was the car though, the girl seemed to be laughing specifically at me. I wasn’t singing – which is usually the reason – so it must have been something else. The hair? The beard? The sunglasses? The shirt?
I suppose it’s quite pathetic that the answer’s not obvious. Maybe it says a lot about my general appearance that she was probably spoilt for choice. Then again, maybe it says a lot about my ego that I couldn’t care less.