When we're not settling into an assumed position, we scream and yell and argue and laugh our way through a game. My family's formative years were filled with some uncouth car games, where my younger sisters and I were whim to what we had available and our gross imaginations. Carolyn still recalls the time she lost a bet of wits (already unfair since she had five years less schooling than I, and three less than Abbey) and had to eat regurgitated cracker sandwiches.
"Let's say movie quotes and try to guess them," I suggested on this particular car ride, trying to deviate from the usual game of 20 Questions.
"I got one," said Dad, and, putting on a little 'tude, "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs." My mom laughed, and the back seat stared into the rearview mirror, hoping that our father would look back at us and see the blank stare we were giving him.
"You guys haven't seen the movie," he said, "but it's good."
"Oh okay. Way to play the game, Dad. God," one of us said. "What's it from?"
"Die Hard one," Mom said. The back seat as a whole came alive.
Gah! I want to see that. Live Free or Die Hard was so good! The third one was kind of ridiculous. When we get home, let's go to Blockbuster and get the first. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker! Bruce Willis is pretty hot. I love action movies.
"I wish you guys wouldn't quote so much from the movie," mom chimed in.
"Let's just play 20 Questions," Abbey said.
Dad chose, and the inside of the car became a jumble of interjections, sarcastic retorts and assertions mingled with questions.
Animal, vegetable or mineral? I think mineral. Well, we're off to a great start. Is it bigger than a bread box? Yes. Is it a car? No. Duh! Who guesses already! Good Lord. Sorry. Jesus. Please don't say 'Jesus'. Right. Okay, does it have something to do with driving? Yes... kind of. Ugg. Is it bigger than a car? Yes. Is it the Navigator? Abbey! It's bigger than a car. Is it thunder? OH MY GOD. You guys suck. Are we at 20 yet? Is it a car? YOU ARE WASTING OUR QUESTIONS. Can it kill humans? What...?
"Is it asphalt?" Abbey asked.
There was a moment of silence as we all stared at Abbey, and then Carolyn punched her, a swift cut to the stomach. Abbey gasped and ow-ed, as I told her she deserved it. Abbey reached over Carolyn, in the middle, and punched me in the arm.
"What the hell! What was that for?" I asked.
"Girls! Oh my God. I really don't like this physical violence stuff. Someone's going to get hurt," my mother said.
Our household is 2/3rds female, if you count the dog among possible factors in the estrogen-versus-testosterone race. The first time a boyfriend entered the house, we could smell his cologne from upstairs — not because it was strong, but because it was such a foreign sent in our house. His cologne conquered the roast beef cooking in the oven, the stuffing, and the bacon smell left over from the morning's omelettes. Sexual psychology studies say that people are attracted to the unfamiliar, so it's no wonder that his smell drew all of us downstairs.
Sometimes it's apparent that the overwhelming amount of estrogen doesn't jibe well with my dad. As an accountant, he is naturally conservative with his expenditures; because of him we have good paper plates for the guests (they are worth over 5 cents a plate) and bad paperplates for ourselves (they are worth less than a penny a plate), and have had to reuse brown paper bags for lunches for up to a week. Every eyebrow wax or hair alteration — treats we earn, on behalf of our mother, through good grades — earns us a half-hour plus diatribe on smart spending, and a, Do you think I'm made of money? And who cares about your eyebrows anyway? Money is just a minor part of it. Most of our friends are females, especially our closest family friends. The summer after eighth grade, my family went on vacation with the Bolasky family — Mrs. Bolasky and her three girls — and Mrs. Bolasky's sister, and her sister's neighbor Carol. That's 10 women, and my dad, on a Disney Cruise for four nights. My dad sat alone at the bar one night, drinking. A stranger came up to him and made conversation: I've seen you around the ship — are you Mormon? No? Good lord. This drink's on me.
Most times, I think he sees his women-filled world as an adventure leading him to new discoveries. During one particularly hectic Sunday, my sister and I ran from the car into the house to grab some change of clothing, leaving our makeup in the cupholder next to my dad, in the driver's seat. When we ran back out, we went to opposite sides, I to the front passenger side and my sister to the rear driver's side seat. We paused on approach, looking in the windows — my father had the vanity mirror down, and was trying to apply mascara to his eyelashes. We looked at each other, and cautiously opened the door. His explanation? I was just wondering what it was like.
Our extended family offers my father's only reprieve from a world full of women. My father was one of two children; he has an older brother. My mom was one of four children; she was the only girl. My paternal uncle, David, has two children, Kyle, and Lisa. My mom's family is a bit more complicated, and reads as a laundry list of male names: Jimmy, and his son Jimmy (and his son Jacob), Danny and his sons Danny and Michael, Tom and his sons Justin and Zach. The women's stories, in my maternal extended family, run something like this: My maternal grandmother, Mary, died in her fifties of Alzheimer's. There's an Aunt Val and an Aunt Robin in the mix — the women who married into the family — but Aunt Val has excommunicated herself from the family in favor of her other son, David.
"Going to get hurt? Mom, we already do. But we don't complain about it." We compared scars, bruises, and scabs.
"Remember that time you spit in my mouth?" The three of us laughed.
"You guys are disgusting," Dad said, "Did we really raise you like this? What happened to my little girls?" Carolyn belched. Abbey and I laughed. My parents yelled, "CAROLYN!"
"Someone has to make up for the lack of testosterone in this family," I said, “Mom, you gave birth to three boys with vaginas."
"Please no more talk about your vaginas!" my dad complained.
"I'm having my period right now, Dad,” Carolyn said.
"Hey, me too," Abbey said, earnestly.
An hour and some odd minutes later we pulled into the driveway, each member of the back seat sweaty and tired and ready to watch a Die Hard film over some red velvet birthday cake.
My neighbors, sitting around a fire in their backyard, yelled over as we got out of the car. "Kevin, Mary, want a beer?" My dad walked over, explaining it was a family movie night.
"Man, I feel bad for you," said Audrey, "The only man in a house full of women. What kind of chick flick are you watching?"
"Oh, we're watching Die Hard," explained Dad.
Tom, Audrey's husband, balked. "Jesus, Audrey, even the girls like Die Hard. We have three grown boys and I can't watch Die Hard in my own house." He turned to my dad, "Can I come over?"