We’re in the car – me, my brown-eyed girl, the 19-year-old, and his girlfriend – and we’re traveling two hours to a Renaissance festival. If you’ve never been, it’s a wooded venue where everyone reverts to Middle Age dress, speech, and behavior, and you gnaw on gargantuan smoked turkey legs and eat lots of other goodies until your stomach is about to explode.
We’re barely away from home when the boy asks permission to listen to music. I’m driving, and his request causes me to jog the steering wheel just a scosche. And that causes his mother, one of the world’s premier front seat drivers, to yell, “Watch out!” and grab the door handle, as if she’s afraid I plan to run us off a steep cliff and cause the car to explode dramatically as it tumbles end over end onto the jagged rocks below.
“Relax,” I tell her, though I’m anything but. The boy wants to listen to his music in the car and, truthfully, I’d rather go over a cliff. He’s at that age where he’s settling down in many respects but satisfies his remaining rebellious inclinations by listening to music that can literally blow off your unsuspecting head if you stand too closely to the speakers. It’s like listening to continuous chainsaw murders, with an actual musical note occasionally floating by.
“Can I?” he asks again, and his mother, the blood slowly returning to her ashen face after our minor car incident, says yes. Before I can protest, she flashes me Look No. 31 of her repertoire, the one that means, “Don’t even start with me.” Despite the boy’s height and manly build she still sees the sweet, elfish three-year-old he used to be. Besides, she always tells me, try to remember that you were a teenager once.
I do remember, vaguely. I can recall the wildly curly hair, the scrawny 125-pound physique, the erratic emotions fueled by hormones the size of Buicks, and the big, toxic, know-it-all attitude that made my dad tear his hair out and my mother hide all sharp objects and blunt instruments from him for my protection.
The boy pipes the music through the car stereo system, and for several seconds there’s dead air. Just as I prematurely conclude with relief that there’s a technical glitch and it won’t work, a blast of inhuman screeching blares through the vehicle. The bass level blows my wife’s hair back, and the sudden jolt of noise makes me jog the steering wheel a whole lot more than a scosche. I see my brown-eyed girl mouth the words “WATCH OUT!” as a scream, but all I hear is a grunting voice from the stereo that sounds like a combination of agony and Pig Latin.
The car does another jig on the road, this time a bigger one that causes another motorist to lay on his horn and yell something the stereo drowns out (although I could lip-read some of the cursing just fine), then I gain control. “Isn’t this sick?” the boy yells happily over the volume. “It’s called ‘Freak On a Leash.’”
I’m not surprised, because whoever is making this unearthly sound is definitely a freak, the kind that would definitely wear a leash.
My scosching with the steering wheel has caused my wife to break into a cold sweat and shake uncontrollably, and now she’s aiming Look No. 15, which can’t be translated in a family newspaper but involves lots of blunt, colorful language we used to make the kids eat soap for using. She’s not Catholic like me, but she begins imploring St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, to bash me once or twice on the head for scaring the bejesus out of her.
After the freak on the leash stops singing I suggest it’s time to listen to some nice, inane ’80s music that won’t cause me to pile into a tree. The boy grumbles, but his girlfriend shoots him a look (not sure of her number) that says I’m a hopeless caveman who wouldn’t appreciate his sophisticated, finely-crafted musical selection if it bit my derriere between screeches.
And I saw my wife catch the girlfriend’s look, then smile. I just know she’s going to add it to her own collection.