I’m an Adult Who Can’t Drive

Another semi-autobiographical aspect to Family & Other Catastrophes: the fact that Emily can’t drive.  This wasn’t even intentional, but during the editing process, someone asked me why Emily is constantly being shuttled around in all the scenes and never driving herself anywhere.  My first thought was, well, she flew in to New York from San Francisco, so she wouldn’t be able to bring her car.  But then I realized that there are rental cars, or the option of driving her parents’ car.  At a certain point I realized that the book would actually be funnier if Emily (like me) literally couldn’t drive, so I went with that.


Here is my story. (cue Law and Order music.)

Occasionally, when chit-chatting with fellow adults, something will come up that prompts me to inform them that I can’t drive: a vacation recommendation that requires the rental of a car, an adulty-sounding gripe about car insurance, a party with no valid CTA route (lol just kidding nobody invites me to parties).

And at that point, I have to say “Oh, actually, I can’t drive.”

People’s thoughts, after that point, follow this structure:

  • By “can’t drive” she actually means that she’s just a bad driver.
  • Oh, like CAN’T drive?  So she can drive, but sold her car and doesn’t want to get another one?
  • Oh, like, never actually had a car?  So she has some kind of disability that prevents her from driving?  So she’s never driven?
  • Oh, she HAS driven, and has taken driver’s ed, but never passed her driver’s test, doesn’t have a functioning driver’s license and literally doesn’t know how to drive?

Ding ding ding.

Look, I didn’t think I’d end up like this.  I always assumed I’d learn how to drive at sixteen like everyone else.  But for some reason that just didn’t happen.  On the surface, the reasons seem purely logistical–I “grew up in New York City” (I actually didn’t, but close enough), I went to boarding school, I never had the need to drive, so it just didn’t happen.  More realistically, I have a very intense but latent fear of driving, and to an extent I even fear being in cars when other people are driving.  But to be clear, that didn’t immediately stop me from trying to learn how to drive.  It just delayed me, and slowed me down to a point where I was like “Why bother now?”

It started when my boarding school began hosting driver’s ed classes for students.  My mom asked me if she should sign me up.  I had a weird, but totally believable-for-a-teenager, excuse for why I didn’t want to sign up: there were no more cute straight boys in my school who I hadn’t already dated (or more realistically, who hadn’t already rejected me) so I did want to take driver’s ed, but I wanted to take it at the local public school so I could expand my social circle of perspective dating options.  (This sounds super weird to people who went to a large school, but by the time I was in my junior year, the available pool of boys was literally almost zero.  You might accuse me of “only noticing the super hot ones” but my high school dating history shows that being super hot was not a requirement.  We were literally out of boys.  Any female classmate of mine is encouraged to confirm this.)

My mom thought this was incredibly weird, but presumably had other things to worry about so she didn’t press the issue.  Only problem?  I had no idea how to sign up for driver’s ed anywhere, so I just never signed up.  And because I was in boarding school, I rarely had the need for a car anyway.  By the time I was in my senior year, I figured I’d just take driver’s ed the summer before college.

This is where I have to give myself some credit.  Between the ages of 17 and 19, I technically did take driver’s lessons.  The first ones were just in my family’s driveway, usually with some terrified family member in the passenger seat.  Once I knew enough about driving to take my written test (the one that gets you a learner’s permit), I went to the DMV, which is just as terrible of a place as every movie makes it out to be, and waited for three hours to take a disturbingly easy test (about half the questions were something like, “True or False: it’s a great idea to do meth while driving!”)

I got my learner’s permit, but I still felt horribly underqualified to be driving.  I mean, only someone currently high on bath salts would have failed that written test.  And I still hadn’t really driven outside my driveway!  Slowly I started driving with family members into town, but usually not far enough to actually have much trouble.  Eventually I started taking driver’s lessons with a friendly middle-aged man named Bill.

This is something I tend not to admit to people, although I guess now I’m admitting it to everyone, but once I figured out how to drive, I loved it.  At one point my mom sent a driver to pick me up from the airport, and I somehow convinced him to let me drive the black car around for a bit by JFK (I didn’t crash it, btw.)  Any opportunity to show off my new driving skills, I would take.

Then college started again.  I started taking driver’s classes when I wasn’t busy with schoolwork or trolling Internet message boards, but the cadence wasn’t what it should have been.  I went to school in Utica, so there weren’t that many available instructors and the ones who were available were quite busy.  But I tried.  One day, I decided enough was enough, and I was just going to take my road test.

Now, here’s one thing that totally sucks about doing your road test: you need to bring your own car.  This is easy enough if you’re sixteen and your parents are letting you borrow theirs, but when you’re not living with your parents, you need to somehow supply your own.  What’s customary is that you schedule your road test in conjunction with a driving class, so you have about an hour to “warm up” with an instructor, then you take the test using that instructor’s car, and hopefully you pass.  This means, however, that you need to make sure an instructor is available at the exact time as your road test.

Unfortunately, my go-to instructor, Frank, was all booked.  The only available car belonged to an eggplant-shaped woman in her early sixties who appeared to hate me as soon as I got into her car.  I believe this had little to do with me, and more to do with a long-standing feud with Frank’s Driving School (she knew that I had come from his school.)  She told me as soon as I got in the car “You can’t fail this test.  Unlike Frank, I have a perfect record for my students passing the road test.”  During our lesson, I made one mistake–nothing that could have killed anyone, but a mistake nonetheless.  In response, she decided the best way to drive for the next forty-five minutes would be to drape her body over my arms and steer for me.

Every time I told her to please stop steering my wheel for me, she’d back off for five minutes, grumbling “This is typical Frank.  He actually told you that you were ready for the road test?  What a moron.  No wonder he has such a terrible pass rate.  If you fail, my business will literally be ruined.  Frank did this on purpose.  And by the way, you will fail.”

I suggested that if I failed, she could just pretend it never happened, and not tell anyone, but apparently that wasn’t an option.

After about an hour of her berating me, I finally pulled over (correctly, I might add!) and burst into tears.  I told her that I was fine with constructive criticism, but she was literally just insulting me repeatedly and I couldn’t take it anymore.  Her response was to roll her eyes and say “Well I don’t know what you expected me to do–just tell you how great you are all the time?”

I practically wanted to fail, just because at that point I was totally Team Frank.

However, I was determined to pass because I was already twenty, and it was getting a little ridiculous that I couldn’t drive (haha, little did I know.)  I eventually got myself together, and Frank’s Nemesis left the car, only to be replaced by a chic fortysomething blonde woman in aviator sunglasses, who would be my proctor for the road test.

Everything seemed to be going well (I mean, except the fact that I was still technically crying about my earlier confrontation) until I eventually found myself at a four-way intersection.  For some reason I didn’t know that I was supposed to actually drive into THE LITERAL MIDDLE OF THE INTERSECTION.  Call me crazy, but that sounds like just asking for another car to hit you.  Instead, I stayed frozen at the traffic light, waiting for all the other cars to disappear so I could safely take a left turn with nobody in my way.

Even though tpasshis mistake wasn’t actually dangerous, it apparently tanked my entire score.  At the end of the test, the proctor informed me that she couldn’t approve me for a license.  I asked her by how much had I failed, assuming that my four-way intersection gaffe had been the only mark against me.  She said “Well, I don’t want you to dwell on this number but you failed by thirty-three points.”  I didn’t even know there were thirty-three points in the test, let alone thirty-three points by which I could fail.  So what was my score, in school grade terms?  An F minus?

I realized that I probably needed a lot more practice before I took the test again, but I had already done so many lessons.  And they cost so much.  I figured I’d focus on graduating from college and maybe then I’d finally get my license.

Well, at the age of twenty-two, I graduated and moved out to San Francisco (possibly one of the worst cities in which to learn driving, by the way).  My learner’s permit had either expired, or wasn’t valid out of state, so I had to take the written test again.  And I did.  But what I had forgotten was that they would take a photo of me immediately after I passed the test.

I wasn’t wearing makeup.  The photo they took of me could have passed for a photo of Howard Stern or Severus Snape.  I decided I would just wait for this permit to expire before taking any real road tests again.  I mean, I couldn’t seriously ever show this horrible photo to anyone, even a road test proctor.

And here I am, six years later, and I haven’t done anything else to learn how to drive.  My husband is banking on self-driving cars, whereas I just plan to walk or subway everywhere for the rest of my life.  On the bright side, I have an exceptionally dainty carbon footprint.


Yes, Someone Cut 4 Inches Off My Hair On My Wedding Day Without My Permission

Excuse the title gore- there was no shorter way of saying this.

I’ve echoed this event in Family & Other Catastrophes, but I might as well write about it because well..what the fuck, right?

Like any tragic saga, there is a backstory.  This backstory began in 2007, and probably also involved a low-rise asymmetric hem skirt in chocolate brown.  Throughout this part of the story I want you to play Sean Paul’s “Temperature” on a loop because that’s what was probably playing.  I was dating a boy from my high school (who we’ll just call Steve) for two months, although to me, it felt more like two years.  I initially pursued Steve because he seemed like he’d be nice.  And by “nice,” I really meant “obsessed with me.”  See, I was tired of always being the one to text first, always being the one to care more about the other person.  A year earlier (cue Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”), I had dated a boy in the grade below me who was somehow so embarrassed to be seen with me that he asked me to hide behind a telephone pole when his friends walked by.  So naturally, after that soul-crushing experience, I was ready to invest heavily in the Nice Guy.  And back then, Nice Guy didn’t mean “fedora-wearing wannabe poet who comments prolifically on reddit’s /r/gonewild sub telling women they’re more valuable than their bodies.”  When I said I wanted a nice guy, I literally wanted a nice guy.  A guy who would be just as into me as I was into him, who would text me back (or, gasp, actually text me first!)  Enter Steve.

At first, Steve fulfilled this role quite well.  He would tell me I was out of his league, that he was so lucky to have me, he would even admit to being nervous around me…but of course, even Steve wasn’t able to match my natural level of insecurity and self hatred.  Within two months, Nice Guy Steve somehow had all the power in our relationship, and even bragged to his math class that I would “probably kill myself if he ever dumped me.”  Finally, I snapped, during a late night viewing of Sixteen Candles.  And by that, I mean that I asked him, on the verge of tears, if he even still liked me.  His answer was that he liked me, but having a girlfriend had proven too difficult for him because he wanted more time to play Ultimate Frisbee, and he didn’t want to date me anymore.

Now, looking back, this was no big deal, but I was seventeen, so everything was a huge deal.  As soon as I realized Steve and I were definitely not getting back together, I decided the best course of action would be to cut my hair off and dye it blonde.

Now, more backstory.  My identity as a long-haired brunette is, and always has been, weirdly important to me.  When other women preface their comments with “Well, as a woman,” I find myself constantly framing everything as “Well, as a long haired brunette.”  I’m not a woman in the workplace.  I’m a long haired brunette in the workplace.  I came of age in the nineties when blonde hair was a prerequisite for being a socially acceptable woman, so since then I’ve really doubled down on my brown hair pride.  And as for the long hair aspect, I wasn’t able to even grow hair until I was about two years old, and already by then I had developed a deep sense of insecurity that hair was the one thing keeping me from looking like–nay, becoming–a boy.  (To make matters worse, my brother was born with luscious black waves like Gal Gadot, and weird adults would often ask me if I was jealous of my “little sister’s beautiful curls.”)

Anyway, my decision to cut and dye my hair after breaking up with Steve was against all my better instincts.  I knew blonde wouldn’t be flattering on me, and I knew I’d regret the chop.  But I had such a strong desire to make this change that I literally found myself trying to cut my hair using my fingers as blades during class, fantasizing about waking up with blonde Meg Ryan layers and shaking my head while jumping on a trampoline, letting my hair whip around me in the wind like I was on some kind of tampon commercial.  The desire was so strong, so innate, that even I couldn’t fully explain it.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 at 2.41.17 PM

My mother knew that, left to my own devices, I would bleach my hair until it melted off and wind up cutting it with rusty safety scissors from my school’s art room, so she took me to a small hair salon in town.  The hairdresser, a middle-aged bald man with hipster glasses, accomplished exactly what I asked.  Unfortunately, “what I asked” was a pale orange soccer mom haircut (see photo).

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  It’s not that bad!  Okay, well, for me it was.  I loved it for the first month or two, but after that I felt like a sexually irrelevant piece of macaroni with a dollop of Velveeta on top.  As I grew out this chop, I looked longingly at other girls with beautiful long hair and remembered how feminine I used to feel.  And before anyone hops in with “Short hair can be sexy!”…of course it can.  But I learned the hard way that it didn’t feel that way on me.  On the bright side, I didn’t get carded much during this time.

The point is, once my hair finally grew out to its previous long brunette stage, I promised myself that I would never do something like this again.  Sure, I might dye it again, but I would never again chop half of it off, no matter how many times my friends told me it would be “funky” or “mature” or any other adjectives I’d rather not be associated with.

Fast forward to 2014.  I’d spent the past several years coddling my hair with coconut oil and protein treatments, not dying it, and growing it as long as possible.  When I returned to New York for my wedding, my mom surprised me with–wow!–a trip to my old hairdresser, the same guy with the hipster glasses.  How nostalgic!  I always loved his sense of humor, and although my previous hairstyle was horrible, it was exactly what I asked him for.  So really, it wasn’t his fault.

He didn’t expect me to have such long hair.  The first thing he said to me as I sat down was, “It’s a shame how millennial women insist on long hair.  Back in the nineties, I used to style so many models and they had no qualms about a pixie cut.”  I politely told him I really loved my long hair, and wanted to keep it long.  I only wanted a trim if it was absolutely necessary to get my hair to hold style (my hair is stubborn and refuses to take curl, and it’s even harder at the ends where it’s a bit damaged.)  Throughout the cut, he continued to muse about the beauty of short hair and talk to me about how I was unnecessarily clinging to my length.  Rude, I thought.  But oh well, he’s entitled to his opinion.

He promised me he would only cut what was absolutely necessary.  The “damaged ends.”  He even showed me with his fingers how much he was taking off.  It appeared to be less than an inch.  I sat in the salon chair, staring at my phone and probably taking a quiz called something like “Which type of Sour Patch Kid are you based on your favorite sex position?”  Then, the haircut was over.  I looked into the mirror and realized he had taken quite a few inches off–at least four.  And since he had curled my hair, it looked to be about half the length it really was.  It had gone from nearly waist-length to…with the curls, shoulder length.

Screenshot 2018-01-06 at 3.02.12 PM
Photo credit: Dan Lungen photography

Again, I know it “wasn’t that bad.”  I know there are gorgeous women with hair much shorter than that who totally rock it.  But I am not one of those women.  I am a deeply insecure woman whose long hair is intrinsically tied to my self image.  And remind yourself that although my hair isn’t even really that short in my wedding photo, I had intended for it to be down to my waist.  Plus, I’ll just say it: my nose needs all the distractions and diversions it can get, and long hair is perfect for that.  Before anyone starts to lecture me about internalized misogyny or some other sociology buzzword–IT WAS MY FUCKING WEDDING DAY.  On a woman’s wedding day, she is allowed to do whatever she wants, and that includes hating herself.

I didn’t want to hurt the hairdresser’s feelings, so unlike Emily in my book, I didn’t have a full-blown meltdown at the salon.  But I suddenly regretted not investing in hair extensions before the wedding.  My husband told me he hated the concept of hair extensions, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to tell if I was wearing them.  Why didn’t I get the hair extensions?!

At the end of the day, my wedding was the best day of my life.  My love for my husband and joy of seeing my family and friends outweighed any kind of neuroses I had about my hair.  The biggest wedding problem didn’t even turn out to be my hair–it was actually a tie between the impending thunderstorm (severe weather warning- nice) and the fact that someone lost all our wedding video footage (we later recovered the videos, and discovered that they only contained my brother’s Mandarin project from eighth grade- anyone who was trying to use the cameras to record the wedding apparently hadn’t pressed the right buttons.)

But I’ve never forgotten the hair.  I would advise anyone who is preparing for a wedding (and who cares about the length of their hair) to get any kind of trims several months before the wedding–not on the wedding day in conjunction with the styling.  Because that’s more than enough time to buy extensions, or even a full wig if you need it.

I want to end this post by saying that in the end, I learned that hair and my looks aren’t important, and that it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and since then I’ve dropped my obsession with keeping my hair long.  But none of that is true, so I won’t say it.  Instead I’ll say this: if your hairdresser regularly complains about your chosen hairstyle as he’s styling it, run.


The Wedding Pressure Nobody Talks About

In Family and Other Catastrophes, I featured wedding stress heavily, partially based on my own experiences.  The protagonist, a young bride-to-be named Emily, has her hair destroyed in a salon visit gone awry (this happened to me), argues with her mother about spinach pies, and discovers that her four-year-old nephew (largely driven by his mother) has decided last minute that he wants to be the “flowerperson,” as opposed to the ring bearer.

Ask any engaged woman what type of wedding pressure she feels, and she will cite nagging advice that sounds like it came from a dogeared wedding magazine from 1955.  She will say she is tired of the pressure to have the perfect day, tired of worrying about whether the centerpieces will be just-so, and tired of all this bogus wedding planning when really what should matter is that she’s marrying the love of her life, and why can’t she just elope?!

Well, she could elope, because she’s an adult, but that aside, something about this complaint feels a bit…humblebraggy…to me.  I can’t help but feel it’s an opportunity to show just how non-materialistic and enlightened the woman in question is.  And, dare I say, there’s a whole other societal pressure that encourages her to behave this way, which nobody feels like mentioning.

“Sure, some women might want to wear a nice dress and take photographs next to an arch of roses,” she says, her face coated in no-makeup makeup, “but I’m a real girl and I just want to watch TV and eat pizza and who cares about weddings!”  Well, lady, I’ve got great news for you: you don’t have to do any of that!  You can eat pizza!  Nobody is stopping you!  The idea that women are being forced to have lavish weddings (which really, they couldn’t care less about) is just another trope that feeds into our unnecessary hatred of women who are actually excited to plan their weddings.  The women with the decked-out Pinterest boards before they even met their future husband.  The women who gleefully look forward to their first dress fitting.  The women who get mildly sexually aroused looking at color palettes.  You know, women like me.  (Just kidding- I refused to plan anything until my husband had proposed, but that was a wedding-obsessed superstition, which I’m sure these brides would also look down upon.)

Go to any Reddit thread that asks women about their weddings, and the top-voted comment will read something like, “My husband and I didn’t even have a wedding.  We eloped in our sweatpants and then got Taco Bell and watched Rick & Morty.”  Everyone will applaud this woman for denouncing weddings, and she will probably receive an inbox full of Imgur links. (For you non-Redditors out there who need it spelled out: they’re penises.)

Right now you’re probably thinking “Well, what’s wrong with not liking weddings?  This is the judgment they’re complaining about!”  And to you I say: that’s totally fine if they don’t like weddings.  If staying in and watching Doug reruns in a pair of ugly Christmas sweaters is what a couple really wants to do to celebrate their matrimony, that’s fine.  All the more power to them.  But let’s at least admit that there is societal pressure on women, now more than ever, to not give a shit about weddings.

God forbid you admit you tried to lose weight to fit into your dress, especially if you were already thin.  God forbid you admit you’re terrified that your skin will look like an old orange peel in all the close-up photos (just me? lol ok.)  God forbid you ask for a gluten free wedding cake (I got married in 2014 okay?  IT WAS A THING.  Also, the cake was amazing.)  Sure, you’ll have a few delusional acquaintances tell you “You can’t really find a good wedding dress for under $8,000” (actually something someone said to me) but the majority of people will shame you for caring at all, or for getting your wedding dress from anything other than your little cousin’s discarded white bedsheet (how whimsical! Look how little she cares!)

You know the “I’m not like other girls” meme that we’ve all grown to hate?  Well, for some reason it’s still allowed when it comes to weddings.

This obviously stems from the fact that every bride-to-be is afraid of being branded a “bridezilla.”  I’m usually pretty critical of myself (mostly my nose, which is another topic entirely) but I really don’t believe my behavior during my ten months of engagement qualified as bridezilla behavior.  There’s a difference between being excited about your wedding–or even caring a little too much–and screaming at your wheelchair-bound mother-in-law for wearing the wrong shade of seafoam.  Sure, I was in tears on the eve of my wedding when I discovered a “severe weather alert” was scheduled for my big day, but come on!  Am I not allowed to care that a literal blackout might happen on the day of my wedding, forcing guests to shit in the woods? (I’m not joking when I say we actually researched porta-potty options “just in case.”  As it turns out, the storm passed us, but my point remains.)

I even found myself settling into the comfortable “I’m a cool bride” mantra during my wedding planning.  I would hear stories about brides forcing their bridesmaids to pay $700 for a dress, or worse–purposefully putting them in something ugly, to not be upstaged.  It was easy to listen to those stories and tell myself that I was morally superior because my bridesmaid dresses were from Etsy and cost $80 (see?  Look how cool and down to earth I am!)  But at the end of the day, I’m also the person who called my wedding photographer ahead of time to warn him about my severe under eye circles.

At the end of the day, weddings are stressful–but it’s not really because the wrong centerpiece is going to ruin your entire life, it’s because marrying the love of your life is a big deal.  And if you signify this big deal with your idea of a perfect wedding, that wedding is a big deal, and that doesn’t detract from how much you love your spouse.  Not to mention that this is probably the only time, other than your funeral, that all your loved ones will be in one place.  How can we honestly vilify someone for caring about that?

So if any brides-to-be are reading this: have the wedding you want to have.  If that means it’s an affair befitting of the Kardashians, go for it.  If that means renting out the back room of an artisanal brewpub, go for it.  Don’t let your second cousin from East Hampton convince you that you’re less than her because you can’t afford a Vera Wang dress–but also don’t let your NPR-listening old college roommate tell you that you must not really love your spouse if you want a grain-free option at the buffet so you don’t bloat.

And speaking of bloating, drink a homemade smoothie with mint, pineapple and ginger on the morning of your wedding–you’ll thank me later.