We Drove Each Other Nuts

In our formative years, our family came dangerously close to perfecting the art of hostility, becoming exceptionally proficient at the trade as we spent more and more time together cooped up in cars. Minivans, to be exact. We went through minivans like they were dental floss, or chewing gum, practically mutilating beyond all recognition a fleet of six of the stupid things before my brother and I were even out of high school. We tended to lose our composure in the wood-paneled walls of those Pretty Hate Machines, regularly testing both the outermost limits of our psyches and the human brain's capacity for loathing planet earth and its inhabitants in their entirety. It was our special little regimen, and our hijinks were often more reliable than the moving mechanical parts of the minivans themselves.

The (semi-) funny thing was that trip duration did not seem to affect our lack of cohesiveness in any noticeable way, which should definitely be considered abnormal. We were usually in shambles, and could set each other off just about anywhere - on a seemingly harmless jaunt to the gas station for a gallon of 2 percent milk, or on a non-stop trek from Michigan to Florida that was treated like an Olympic race yet called a "vacation." The odds were the same. The odds were pretty damn good.

Dad instigated a lot of it, he who never let anyone else drive anywhere. In his world, a man's place was on the road, behind the wheel, and a woman's place was, while not
necessarily in front of a stove or a sink, it just... wasn't on the road. It was somewhere else. And he would drive them there, the women. On paper, it actually didn't seem like a half-bad idea when he first drew it up for my brother and me late one night at the dimly lit kitchen table. Bringing the chauvinistic plan that sat scrawled in lead in flow-chart form on a yellow legal pad to fruition, however, proved to be a bit more difficult and, obviously, downright shitty for mom.

The only reasons mom still traveled with us were, one, because she needed to go places, and, two, for the off chance that dad would perform his series of habitual, verbal critiques of female drivers who obeyed posted speed limits; of female drivers who used their turn signals at any time other than the "best" time, or who neglected to use turn signals altogether; of female drivers who veered into other lanes while talking on cell phones or putting on makeup; of female drivers who cut us off or made the slightest movement that could be construed as a deliberate assault on our family; of female drivers who did not lend us a "courtesy wave"; of female drivers who drove ugly or unkempt vehicles... only to pass the car or approach a stoplight and discover that the driver was in fact a man. To say mom relished these moments would be a gross understatement. "A disgrace to our kind, boys," dad would say, shaking his head and clenching his jaw as he locked eyes with my brother and I through the rear-view mirror. The King's humiliation was not lost on us - we could sense our ilk decreasing in value in real-time. Mom would look out the passenger window, completely smitten with the revelation that dad was, for the umpteenth time, wrong. These were tiny moments of victory, or defeat, depending on the parental party.

But dad wasn't the only one to blame. Nay, we each contributed in some way to our own un-put-together-ness. The situation would then be escalated by mom in one of two forms: a retort based on the premise that dad should try listening to her on the road because she usually, despite popular family mind-share, actually knows what the hell she's talking about, or the exact statement, "You're setting a horrible example for the boys!" One of the two, and the inside of the minivan would grow so torrid that the air escaping between the windows would whistle loud enough to drown out the incessant screams and white noises that polluted our heads. There, in our very own corner of hell, aboard a piping locomotive, is where we learned each other's buttons far too well, and we did our best to push them at a frequency that would have made any of our ADD-riddled friends look like a poster child for the Kids Pausing Patiently For Patience Foundation (KPPFPF).

If dad didn't volley the hot potato mom fired into his court, my brother and I would reach out our hands. I guess you could compare our behavior to that of malevolent little catalysts, or good-for-nothing provokers. If foul language was used, we repeated it loudly and proudly to support mom's point that we were creatures learning by example, wanting nothing more than unfettered access to the dirty dossiers of known naughty words. If the driver-in-question turned out to be a woman, we found much pleasure joining in on the name-calling and applauding various theories that reached far beyond our mental grasp - ones that heralded men as superb road warriors and ostracized women, the other half of our species known as "dingbats."

This was a seminal time for our kindred unit.

If neither of these techniques garnered a satisfying response or escalated the seriousness of the argument at hand, my brother and I resorted to punching each other in the arm. Whatever it took to keep the momentum going, to introduce behavior that could be labeled as deviant, the blame of which falling upon that of our caregivers. We sought cheap entertainment, and our two favorite actors just happened to be seated directly in front of us at all times, rehearsing heated scenes in a moving contraption with their backs to their two biggest fans. What could be greater? Methinks nothing. So break a leg! We're taking this show on the road!

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