Road Trip Wisdom

We’re driving my older daughter’s car from Texas to New York, packed with everything that she and her sister need for their freshman and sophmore years at college. I don’t know how their Lilliputian crop tops and miniskirts can fill up so many duffles, but we can’t see out the rear window. A cave-like space is carved out of the backseat for the third passenger. We take turns switching drivers and seats every two hours and whoever’s driving gets to pick the entertainment.

In Ohio, Cita guns Annie’s old beat-up Lexus, aka La Bomba, around a curve. The road swoops down, around and up again, swirling through endless acres of trees and rocky cliffs. We’re listening to Amy Schumer on Spotify. As she jumps from blackouts to uncircumcised dicks to bleached assholes, I sideways glance to Cita to see what she’s thinking, but she stares straight ahead and we laugh together at the awkwardness.

Schumer’s irreverence is addicting; I don’t want to miss a beat, so I just hope the embarrassing parts will end soon–we’ll get through them and move on to the next, hopefully less (but often not) awkward scene. Annie puts her headphones in; she prefers Mike Birbiglia, but Cita and I laugh at Schumer, whose comedic method is to shock once and then shock harder. It’s like breaking and entering: she crashes through the morality window of my brain and then stomps around inside with no remorse.

I’m thinking, people do that? Bleach their assholes? Who? Probably only the Kardashians. Maybe it is an urban myth. But then I remember the first time I heard about a Brazilian, and consider how now even that seems outmoded; a complete bare wax is the norm today. Shades of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story come to mind, a futuristic parody in which people wear translucent jeans and get rated for their fuckability when they walk into a room (something Yik Yak may already do, for all I know).

If people bleach their assholes, that means they are looking at them, but how? It’s a perverted twist on The Vagina Monologues, that good old subversion from the ’90’s, when women used mirrors to check out their vaginas. But that was for awareness, not vanity. Or maybe all that mirror action is the root cause for such a procedure.

There was a time when I could ask for the iPhone to be turned in at night but we are long past those safe, sheltered nights. Tinder is a finger’s touch away. Entire, weird worlds await my daughters. I feel the same helplessness as when we took a hike in the mountains, and watched as my daughters stood on a cliff to take in the view. Just one mis-step…but here we all are, on solid but moving ground, zooming towards their futures.

Schumer was born when I entered 7th grade, so listening to her is like getting the chance to lift the heavy drapery of middle adulthood and peek into  youth’s lit window. Or better, peek around to the screen side of the devices that my daughters perennially hold. I get a glimpse of the late nights, covert giggles, vanishing Snapchats, everything that is unknown to a parent.

Maybe it’s a form of inoculation, this brand of shock. I don’t want to overthink it, but when I get home I read Jia Tolentino’s article on Schumer in the New Yorker. It addresses how and if she is responsible for what one of her show’s writers, Kurt Metzger, said on Facebook about rape.

“A main purpose of comedy is to cross and confuse moral boundaries; a main purpose of feminism is to establish that certain lines of respect and equity should not be crossed,” writes Tolentino. It’s a controversy, about Schumer being a feminist and a comedian, but her position feels like a setup. How can a comedian, whose job is to break these boundaries, be accountable for them at the same time? It reminds me of the old truism that drunk people speak the truth. What truth? Just because the thought pops up, and then gets spoken due to lack of judgement, doesn’t mean it’s true. How does our culture’s humor speak for our society? Schumer hovers around these boundaries and flirts with the unspeakable. It’s such a relief.

We notice that Annie’s tires look seriously low so we buy an air gauge at a rest stop and collect quarters from everyone’s purses. Then we stand around like the Three Stooges and try to fill her tires. It’s a particular sort of art, to put the gauge in and get the correct reading. Depending on the rapidity and angle, one can get a variety of levels. Does it or does it not need more air?  I’m forever haunted by a scene from Barbara Kingsolver’s early novel, The Bean Trees, when a tire explodes and kills a man, and I have made my daughter’s unnecessarily paranoid because of this scene.

We’re not fast enough and have to find more quarters. I have a tire dirt smudge on my face. A woman, who is standing outside taking a smoke break, laughs at us, and we all laugh with her. There’s so much pressure. It feels good to let it go.

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