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If This Van's A-Knockin'...

I’m delving deep into the archives for this one. I wrote this several years ago when driving to South Carolina with a car load of kids, who asked about these particular billboards we kept seeing… 

 

this is what they should see...
this is what they should see...

 

 

 

Summertime means road-tripping. Whether to the beach or to visit family and friends, we often find ourselves traversing major automotive arteries on a more regular basis during the summer. Maybe I get really bored on these long drives, but my curiosity has been piqued by a strange presence along the highways and byways of America. Peppering these less-than-scenic roads are enormous lurid billboards showcasing voluptuous vixens, touting the glories of Tommy’s Tittie Palace, The Topless Treasure Chest, and other charming go-to destinations such as the Triple X Porn Center. Why do the proprietors of these establishments feel compelled to blanket major highways with jumbo “Girls! Girls! Girls!”  signs promoting a smattering of sex shops of one form or another? Is there something about car trips that makes men excessively horny? Why are they so hot-to-trot on highway 40? Whose idea was it to launch screaming signage tempting the nations’ highwaymen to divert from their tiresome treks to enjoy the pleasures of Bambi, Penelope or Ginger?

I wonder about the genesis of these types of shops along major highways. Did the owners see a need, anticipate a need, or create a need for highway horndogs. Are their customers just tooling along the interstate, when the lightbulb goes on in their heads and they think, “Hmmm, it sure would be nice if there was someplace right off the road here to find me a lap dance, or cop me a feel.” Or “I’ve been meaning to replenish my supply of triple X movies, thank goodness this shop is on my way to Florida.” Which came first, the chicken or the egg (or should I say “the rooster or the sperm?”)?

Is it the vibrations of the van stirring up their libidos? Is it the bump, bump, bump of the potholes that make them want to hump, hump, hump at the first available rest site? It kind of bums me out having to explain to my impressionable children why there are so many billboards featuring unnaturally buxom blondes leering seductively down from their bird’s eye view atop the tree line along I-95.

I’m a little concerned about these roadsters whose sex drives are on overdrive. Isn’t this just as bad as drunk driving? Is a man in a heightened state of lust fully in control of his driving skills? I can see it now, the flashing red lights, the blaring sirens, as the state trooper pulls the guy over, “I’m sorry sir, but I’m going to have to charge you with driving under the influence of testosterone. You’ll have to come with me.”  Let’s hope for the sake of the cop that this command isn’t taken too literally.

This may seem counterintuitive, but perhaps we need to install more of these testosterone depots along roadways. Supposing there is an excess of horny guys behind the wheel: maybe these little stopping points could help mitigate the ongoing problem of road rage. Perhaps if these pent-up drivers lighten their loads, so to speak, the roads will be a much more pleasant place to spend your afternoon.

Nevertheless, I’m still trying to erase from my mind this image of the average patron of one of these highway happy palaces. No doubt he’s a grizzled, creepy-looking gray-toothed guy, beer gut straining for release from his sweat-stained undershirt, pack of Camels rolled up his sleeve, tongue lolling lecherously, desperate to stop at Booty Land to break up the monotony of his long drive. Man, when I get bored on a road trip, I pull out a book tape to keep me entertained.

 I’ve recently discovered that satellite radio is great for entertainment during road trips. In fact, they even offer up Playboy Radio, for a slight extra fee, to keep you from falling asleep at the wheel. Which gets me thinking, will this option eventually preclude the need for even stopping along the way, or can this business be conducted in the privacy of your very own vehicle, going 70 MPH? Does get you to wonder if someone is actually coming or going, doesn’t it?

It’s kind of funny that there’s a concerted effort now to get people to stop using cell phones while driving. Apparently road safety experts fear that phone usage while driving is distracting. Honey, that’s nothing compared to what the Playboy Channel is gonna make some folks do. All I know is this: the next time I see a bumper sticker proclaiming “If this van’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’”, I plan to take that warning at face value. I’ll be sure to steer real clear of that guy.

 

Categories: News, Parrothood: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Assets, Liabilities and Coughs. Oh My!

I remember one time years ago my four-year old daughter had an argument with her best friend over their coughs. Yes, their coughs. One claimed to have a “mommy cough” and the other one insisted that no, she had a “baby cough,” and then one staked her claim on a “daddy cough,” and then there were tears over who owned the dominant cough. At the time, I realized, wow, I really need to get out more if I’m now relegated to refereeing disputes over strange theoreticals that don’t even exist.

A few years back, my husband and I had to update our wills, something we’d forgotten to do following the birth of our youngest child over a decade ago; we figured it was about time. After spending a few weeks navigating the delicate avenues of will diplomacy, I finally realized why it took us so long to revisit that lovely task.

 Will-writing can be a most humbling experience, not the least of which because inevitably you find yourself fighting over theoreticals. Who currently has what money. Who will have what money. Who keeps the kids. Who keeps the dogs. Who distributes your remaining assets.

 Ah, assets. That lovely vague reference to one’s ultimate dollar value. Something that stay-at-home moms will certainly find themselves lacking in. Moms are definitely asset-less, unless you count their ability to drive one-handed while turning around to referee an argument in the backseat while changing the radio station while answering a phone call to figure out what fellow mom can pick up Susie at violin practice because Johnny’s football practice ran late, while carefully avoiding all motor vehicles, pedestrians and wayward groundhogs within a two-hundred-foot radius of your moving vehicle. Asset or skill? You decide.

Anyhow, it was fair to admit back then that as a writer in search of an agent (not too far removed from a waiter awaiting a big acting break) I qualified as one who was long on optimism, and short on reliable income (i.e. asset-less). But I found great amusement in our estate attorney’s referring to my potential future earning potential by saying: “as assets are titled in your name.” A euphemistic way to say that I wasn’t worth squat–except if someone cashed in my minimal life insurance policy. Or figured out a way to bequeath my multi-tasking skills.

[And as an aside, I need to interrupt here for this ancillary observation: wills and diets are a volatile combination when undertaken at the same time–both stir deep emotion and can lead to one saying/doing regrettable things. I should never have dealt with will-writing on an empty stomach, because it only served to make me surly.]

As we reviewed our old wills, we were slightly embarrassed to realize that the executor we’d last chosen because of the lifelong bond we shared with him was someone we hadn’t spoken to in fifteen years. So much for that irrevocable friendship. If something had happened to us, authorities would have been left to log onto Anywho.com to track the poor guy down. Imagine the surprise for him!

So after assigning an executor we actually still knew, we had to decide upon whom we would confer the humbling responsibility of raising our children. This subject alone created a family version of the DMZ: bloodlines were drawn, creating a landmine-infested zone between two warring familial factions, with my spouse and I both gently but firmly arguing who had relatives up to the job of taking over child-rearing if called upon to do so. This task required treading very lightly so as to avoid permanent hostilities.

Talk about loaded with potential for major anxieties. After all, in this situation, you’re trying to pick the replacement for you, and of course no one will ever be the same as you. So instead, you have to wrestle with finding two people who will love your children, treat them equally, and educate them in the ways of life in much the same way that you would. Do their worldly philosophies and political views align with yours? What about religion? Would your children have to move to another state? Could they keep their pets?

Say you don’t select your or your husband’s parents for the job. That leaves them with hurt feelings. But who next to choose? Your siblings are already overwhelmed with their own kids. Can you saddle them with more? Plus, what about all of those lingering sibling issues that have festered unresolved for all these years. How does that affect your kids? Will your sister be able to truly love and respect your children despite her subliminal resentment toward you?

So then you look toward friends in search of compatible potential alter-egos. What about Cindy and John? Well, they punish their kids if their rooms aren’t completely picked up every day. Our kids’ rooms are only picked up bi-annually. That won’t work. Hmmm, how about Robert and Samantha? Well, no, that won’t work; they’ve only now let their teenaged girls grow their fingernails long. We definitely aren’t that strict. Matt and Caroline are out; I think they still smoke bongs!

After all of this internal debate (and external spousal “negotiating”), I realized I couldn’t think of anyone who would do things quite the same way that we would. I couldn’t bear to assign our children to a life with someone other than us. And I know that all of this theoretical talk of assets to be determined, and money gained and money lost pales in comparison with the idea of family lost. It leaves me feeling so bereft that I think I’d better grab a cookie. So much for the diet.

I think I’d rather go back to being the arbiter over who’s got the baby cough and who’s got the mommy cough and pretend that all of those other theoreticals are just that.

 

Categories: News, Parrothood: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

INFORMATION OVERLOAD

The other night at book club my friends and I were bemoaning what everyone’s inevitably lamenting these days: the disastrous economic Armageddon plaguing the world  the solar system the universe. A few of us admitted that we’ve given up listening to the media doomsdayers who are bent on bombarding us 24/7 with tales of world demise, and instead have decided to tune it out in favor of more pleasant things.  Except that sometimes even that is hard to find, given that we are being deluged with too much stimuli from every angle.

One popular escapist outlet is the myriad of social networking groups on the Internet, from that now-dinosaur/ADD nightmare, MySpace, to Facebook, to Twitter. Add to that blogs, grogs, Library Thing, Red Room, LinkedIn, Yahoo listserves, and niche chat sites that can run the gamut from professional networking to holistic parrot care. All this means absolutely no end to the realm of e-distractions that can drain your brain, and while you’re at it, every waking moment of your life as well. I actually found a social network site called VampireFreaks.com. Seriously. That I even bothered to spend the time on the Internet researching that is worrisome to me on some level. Talk about sucking your soul.

I know many sing the praises of this profusion of Internet connectivity. But one could argue whether social networking really is a boon to society, or is merely one more distraction that’s holding us back from living our lives more fully. I mean sure, thanks to Facebook (co-opted from the young, who hate us for that), you might now have re-connected with Tommy Stromboli, who sat behind you in sixth grade health class and sketched amazing pictures of Loony Tunes characters (and the occasional body part) while the rest of the class took notes. But honestly, did you need to be back in touch with Tommy? I mean, if you’d really wanted to communicate with him, would you have ever lost contact in the first place?

I have Facebook “friends” from childhood with whom was I not only decidedly not in their circle friends, I wasn’t even in their galaxy of acquaintances.  Interestingly, though, Facebook seems to be resurrecting that very social strata we all gladly left behind years ago. It’s middle school redux: the cool kids still only chat with the cool kids and the others are left out in the cold, this time from the LED screen of your computer in the comfort of your home.

Graduating on from Facebook, we have the latest rage, Twitter, a micro-blogging site. The place to be in the e-ether. If you don’t tweet, you’re so out of the loop. So everyone’s tweeting: a whole lot of blather bloating the e-waves. Twitterers can use no more than 140 concisely-constructed characters to condense their little moment in time for whomever in the world follows them on Twitter. A big New York editor recently endorsed Twitter to encourage writers to tighten their prose. Seems a stretch to me.

Now back when I was in school, I was a doodler. A doodler with absolutely no artistic ability whatsoever. So while I was stuck in classes like symbolic logic with my mind absolutely numb with boredom, I quickly ran out of things to doodle. After so many birds, sunshines, moons with faces, and garden-variety flowers, what was left to draw? But nowadays, instead of doodling with pen and paper, with Twitter you can doodle with your words. And instead of only Tommy Stromboli peering over your shoulder to bear witness to your mindless nothingness, well, hey, you have the entire e-world in which to infuse your verbal helium.

Just think of the people you can touch in the world with that 140-character tweet on Twitter, after all. A quick glimpse of tweets of folks I am following include: I need to shave my legs. Sigh. Or: Finally found a small carton of the elusive pink malted milk balls. Commence sugar shock. Lastly this: Wheat Ritz crackers are just wrong. Who wants a healthy Ritz cracker? There’s also a link to a photo of one twitterer eating her foot. She felt compelled to post it after being proven wrong about something she insisted she was right or she’d eat her foot. Okay then.

The thing is, I totally “get” Twitter and have gotten pulled under the riptide of reading and writing tweets myself. Sometimes it’s just more of a challenge to come up with something fun or stupid or entirely useless in 140 characters than it is to do something you ought to be doing. But that’s the thing of it: it keeps us—i.e. however many hundreds of millions of subscribers to Twitter, Facebook, or you name the site—from doing useful things. Like talking to someone nearby, for instance. Or conducting brain surgery. You laugh, but on the news the other day (that very news we’re supposed to be avoiding, due to its glum nature), I heard about doctors tweeting while removing some man’s cancerous tumor in his abdominal cavity. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer my doc not tweet while in my gut.

Makes me want to dial 9-1-1, stat, because I fear we have become victims of information overload, and we’re now hemorrhaging all that useless knowledge.

My tweet response to that? Remember when ignorance was bliss? Sigh.

I’m not old enough to have experienced the days when you’d pick up the phone and an operator would connect your call for you—hence adding a layer of actual human interface. But I think I miss that sort of interaction nevertheless.

Come to think of it, even more, I miss the days when social networking meant going to a really fun party.

           

 

Categories: News, Parrothood: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver