How I Learned to Drive

Although I had a driver’s license, I didn’t really know how to drive . . . until some Teamsters took pity on me.

Here’s the whole story. I went to driver’s ed like most other high school students, dragging myself to school very early in the morning in order to watch gruesome VHS tapes of “bad things teenagers do in cars that get them killed.” Then, after many weeks of these videos, we were split into groups, put in cars, and forced to run the gauntlet. By which I mean, we tried not to do any of the “bad things teenagers do in cars that get them killed.” Because besides getting us killed, it would get us yelled at by the high school’s Eastern European basketball coach who was doubling as our driving instructor.

After a few weeks of that, and once we’d passed the written exam at the DMV, the Eastern European basketball coach took us out individually for a driving test. I remember him telling me that if he had to use his special emergency break, I would fail. I actually yelled at him at that point. I said something like, “I am FOUR SECONDS BEHIND THAT CAR! I am NOT going to hit anything!” After that, he didn’t talk to me any more. But I passed.

Okay, so if I passed the driving test and had a license, why did the Teamsters need to teach me to drive? Well . . .

I was an adequate driver. Really, I was. But a nervous one as well. I didn’t drive if I could avoid it. In fact, I was relieved in college not to have a car, and therefore not to have to drive. The campus buses were fine for getting around the area. The city buses weren’t terribly reliable, but I made do.

So then I was working on a film set. And I didn’t have a car of my own, but I was also too young and too expensive to insure for a rental, so the production office gave me a driver. Score! His name was Charlie, and he was awesome. He had lots of great stories about famous people he’d driven for, and told me that the set we were on was “one of the worst” he’d ever been on (it was a pretty difficult shoot). He said to me, “If you can get through this, you can do anything.”

And then one day the producer had me drive her Dodge Ram truck, and that made me all nervous. So Charlie and some of the other Teamsters took it upon themselves to buck me up. And they basically re-taught me to drive.

I imagine it was something like a defensive driving course, though I’ve never taken one, so I don’t really know. But I learned to maneuver and such, learned how to watch for other drivers in ways that were effective . . . Not so long ago, my husband said something about how, when I’m driving, I “worry about other people a lot.” But being aware of the other cars is part of driving well–especially since these days a lot of other drivers aren’t watching for you.

What Charlie and his fellow Teamsters really gave me, though, was confidence and a sort of freedom. It was years before I had a car to drive, but when my boss gave me his for a week at one point, I was able to go forth with few reservations. I had survived working on that awful movie set, after all, and as Charlie had said: if I could do that, I could do anything. Even drive.

In Which I Answer Some Random Questions

1. Why did you stop liking the last person you liked?:
I’m going to assume this means romantically? I still like him as a friend, but he confessed two years in that he’s gay. Sort of put a break on things in that direction.

2. If you were dating someone seriously for a long time and were considering marriage, would them not wanting kids (or wanting kids; if you don’t want them) be a deal-breaker?:
Well, I think it’s important to have similar goals. You want to be moving in the same direction, so . . . Unless one of us could imagine a compromise, then yes, that could be a deal breaker.

3. If someone cheated on you, would you give them a second chance?:
As a rule, I’m not a forgiving person in this area. BUT–considering I’d want a second chance if it were me on the other side of it, I’d have to learn the circumstances and decide based on those.

4. Could you date someone who was a different religion than you? What about be just friends with someone of a different religion?:
Well, I *married* someone who is a different religion, so . . . Guess so.

5. Do you enjoy sexist and racist jokes?:
No. I generally find them in poor taste.

6. What about dirty jokes?:
Clever entendres. Nothing gross.

7. Do you respond to texts that just say “lol” or “haha” or just a smiley? Why or why not?:
Not usually. There’s not a rejoinder for that sort of thing.

8. Do you think you’re easy to talk to? Are you a better talker or listener?:
I’m easy to talk to, but don’t come across as very approachable, I don’t think. That’s usually the sticking point. I’m shy, but it apparently reads as “aloof” or even “snobbish” from across a room. I’ve been trying to work on that.

9. Do you think a relationship with a 16-year-old girl and a 35-year-old man would work out? Do you think age differences like that (when they’re under 18) should be legal?:
I don’t have a problem with significant age difference, but in this case I’d be concerned that the 16-year-old is still learning about herself, life, and such. Maybe there are 16-year-olds in the world mature enough for that kind of thing, but I’d guess they’d be few and far between. I really do believe a person needs to know themselves thoroughly–needs time on their own–before making a commitment.

10. What’s one job you would HATE to have?:
Any kind of food service.

11. Be honest. When you hear someone wants to be an artist or musician, do you automatically think “Oh gawd, they’re going to fail and be a loser forever…”?:
No. But I do think, “Don’t say you WANT to be, say you ARE and make it real.” I don’t tell people I “want” to be a writer; I tell them I am one. Because I write. And I would guess someone saying they want to be a musician or artist does, in fact, actually make music or paint or what-have-you, so . . .

12. When you write, what do you usually write about?:
Depends on what I’m working on.

13. Were you ever “the other man/woman”? How did it turn out? How do you feel about it today?:
No.

14. Have you ever cheated? What have you learned from it?:
No.

15. What do you think of open relationships? If your partner suggested it, what would you say?:
Hmm. I think I have a jealous streak that wouldn’t allow for it. But I’d hear my partner out if he wanted to make a case for it.

16. Are you a party animal? Why or why not?:
No. Not my idea of fun. Much prefer something cozy and quiet, good food and conversation.

17. Do opposites truly attract, or would you rather date someone more similar to you than different?:
I think for staying power, you need to have more in common than not. It’s fun to be with someone different for a while, but I don’t think those things last; the novelty wears off, and then you just get irritated with one another.

18. Would you ever date out of your race?:
Why is that even a question? I’d date anyone I liked, regardless of race.

19. When you have old clothes/whatever that you don’t want anymore, what do you do with it?:
Donate them if they’re still useable. Turn them into dust rags if not.

20. Do you still have a landline, or does everyone in your family just use cellphones?:
We have a landline. For one thing, it’s the number to give people you don’t want to be able to reach you just anywhere, and for another, it’s good for my kids to have a phone they can call emergency on if they ever needed to (since my cell has a passcode).

21. Do you like the “guys/girls you can’t have” or would you rather have someone up front, honest, and good for you?:
I might be intrigued by what I can’t have, but I value honesty more.

22. Are any of your clocks set in the 24-hour (sometimes called “army time”) format? Do you know what 18:08 would be in “regular” time?:
My parents were in the Navy and we had a couple 24-hour (“military”) clocks in the house when I was growing up. So yes, I know 6:08 PM.

23. What are five personality traits that would make you instantly not want to be with someone romantically?:
Arrogance, self-absorption (no, those aren’t the same things), self-pity (morose), narrow-mindedness, aggression.

24. What about five traits that would immediately catch your attention?:
Intelligence, wit, curiosity, tolerance (shown as kindness perhaps), confidence (without arrogance).

25. Ever had a relationship last under a week? Do you even count those as relationships?:
Yes. And no. So I guess that technically is a “no” for the first question, since I don’t count it?

26. Do you celebrate “month-a-versaries” or do you just do it yearly?:
Yearly, but we have two: wedding anniversary and the anniversary of our first date.

27. What does your work uniform look like?:
Jeans and a sweater? (I don’t have a uniform.)

28. What’s the oldest age someone should be living at home at (if they’re NOT going to school or because they moved back in due to a divorce/lost their house/or another tragedy)?:
Depends on the situation, but as a parent I think it’s important your child(ren) know(s) they always have someplace safe to go where they’ll be welcome.

29. Is there anyone you know who hasn’t changed much (personality-wise; not maturity-wise) since middle school?:
Yes.

30. What curse words do you find to be the most offensive?:
Swearing doesn’t bother me unless it’s excessive to the situation.

31. What kinds of books do you normally like to read?:
I go in cycles: fantasy, mystery, non-fiction . . .

32. What do you put in your coffee?:
I don’t drink coffee.

33. Do needles make you pass out?:
Syringes? No. But I can’t look when I get a shot or have blood drawn.

34. Do you have any friends who spend all their time with their partner, but when something goes wrong, they come back to you? Even though they ditched you for their partner a bunch of times?:
No.

35. Do you think being gay is a choice?:
I don’t understand how anyone thinks being gay is a choice.

36. Do you think you’re good-looking? Why or why not?:
I’m average. I have nice eyes and skin but that’s balanced against terrible hair and big ears.

37. Would you have sex before dating someone?:
Uh . . . I’d like to get at least one date in first, preferably a few. But I wouldn’t rule out a surge of passion, I suppose. So long as I at least caught his name?

Magic: A Fairy Tale

I took my 5-year-old to see The Princess and the Frog back when it was in theaters a couple years ago. I can’t say he enjoyed it much, and the representation of “Shadow Magic” particularly confused and scared him a little. He asked me a lot of questions about it, and at some point I told him that the villain had been eaten by the bad magic because he had promised to feed it but didn’t. When this only caused more questions to arise, I came up with a story that went something like this:

Once there was a little boy who lived in a cabin in the woods with his mother. The boy helped his mother by doing things like cutting wood and working in the garden to make sure they had plenty of vegetables to eat. He milked the cow and fed the goat and pigs.

There were wild animals living in the woods around the cabin, and the boy’s mother often told him to beware of them. “Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. Never leave any food out where they might come to get it; we want them to stay away from the cabin.”

Because he wanted to be a good and helpful son, the boy listened to his mother. But one day while he was weeding the garden, the boy noticed a wolf standing on the hill by the trees. It was a beautiful wolf, but it was skinny too, and the boy felt sorry for it because he thought the wolf must be hungry. But the boy remembered what his mother had said and so ignored the wolf and went back to his work.

However, when it came time to feed the goat and the pigs, the boy saw the wolf was still there. And he decided it couldn’t hurt so very much to throw a little something out for the wolf to eat. So he did.

The next day, when the boy went out to chop wood for the morning fire, he saw the wolf again. This time it stood a little farther past the trees, closer to the cabin. The wolf was not really any less skinny than it had been before; the boy knew just one meal would not satisfy a wolf. But the boy ignored the wolf and went on with chopping wood, milking the cow, and working in the garden, until it was time to feed the goat and pigs again. Then the boy threw a little extra out for the wolf once more.

The next morning the wolf was halfway down the hill, sitting and waiting. The boy did just as he had before, completing his chores and then throwing food to the wolf. He began to wonder if maybe he could tame the wolf. What a splendid pet it might make! And a good watchdog as well.

The next day the wolf was right in the garden. Instead of waiting, the boy gave the wolf scraps from his own breakfast and tried to teach the wolf to sit and lie down. The wolf complied for as long as the boy had food to give, but once the food was gone, the wolf was no longer interested in learning.

On the next morning, the boy opened the cabin window and discovered the wolf sitting right beneath it. By this time the wolf was looking less skinny, and its fur was beginning to grow even more thick and lovely.

“I don’t have anything to feed you,” the boy told the wolf. “I haven’t chopped the wood yet, so there is no fire, and so no breakfast.”

The wolf watched and waited while the boy chopped wood. It watched and waited while the boy milked the cow while and his mother cooked the breakfast. But the boy was very hungry that morning and forgot to save any scraps for the wolf. When he went outside to work in the garden, the wolf followed him, growling.

“You’ll have to wait,” the boy told the wolf.

But the wolf did not want to wait. The wolf was used to being fed, and the more the boy fed it, the hungrier and greedier it became. So the wolf went to the pig sty and ate a piglet.

When the boy discovered this, he knew he could not keep the wolf as a pet, could not train it or trust it. He knew his mother had been right when she’d said he should not feed wild animals.

The boy looked and found the wolf lying in front of the cabin door. When the boy tried to step over, the wolf growled and snapped its jaws. So the boy went to fetch his axe. He swung the axe at the wolf, and the wolf jumped up and out of the way. It ran off into the woods.

Relieved, the boy thought that was the last he would see of the wolf. But the next morning it was again under the cabin window. The boy decided to ignore it. But when he went out to chop wood and milk the cow, the wolf followed. Finally, the boy told the wolf, “I have nothing to feed you, today or any day. And if you kill another piglet, I will use this axe on you for good.” Then the boy turned to go back inside to eat his own breakfast.

But as he did, the wolf lept on the boy and ate him up instead.

The idea was that dark magic might be tempting, but once you start to “feed” it, it will only want more. It will hurt the things and people you care for, and it will eventually hurt you, too. Idle threats won’t work against it; if you get mixed up in something like that, you have to be prepared to kill it outright if you want to be free. It’s an imperfect analogy, of course, but not all bad as a story.