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Suffering Through a Gender-Bender

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she must face up to the possibility that she is that lowest of all life forms: a woman driver. In my case, the evidence had been mounting for years. It came to a head in 1984 when I blew my first seriously paying writing job on the rear end of Jerry Garcia’s publicist’s Volkswagen.

An editor had agreed to pay me a thousand dollars for an exclusive interview with the reclusive Grateful Dead head. At the time, I was attempting to be the doyenne of the alternative press, which meant I usually commanded a salary in the low two figures.

This was my shot at the big time. Garcia’s publicist also flattered me by telling me that Jerry had passed up CBS, People and Time to talk to me, the aspiring Barbara Walters of the hip-oisie.

The interview did not begin until 10 p.m., when Jerry woke up. That was normally my bedtime. After an hour and a half of cogent yet spaced-out conversation, I followed the publicist down the hilltop in the California coastal fog, away from Dead headquarters. I put my interview tape in my tape deck to make sure I got it. As I was listening to Jerry describe the auto wreck he survived as a young man that led him to call his group “Grateful Dead,” I suddenly found the front end of my car in the back seat of the publicist’s VW bug. There went the grand and then some--to pay for the publicist’s new rear end.

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Of course, I explained to my husband, it wasn’t my fault. It was Jerry’s fault for keeping me up late. It was the culture’s fault that I suffered from fear of success and of making money. It was the aura of the Grateful Dead sucking me into the vortex of their karma.

My husband responded by forcing me to do “penance” for several years on a 1969 Chevy Nova with a leaky floor that had puddles that went swoosh when you applied the brakes in the rain. Finally, last year I was allowed to drive The Good Car.

The other day, while pulling The Good Car out from in front of a bank, I misjudged the size of a truck and somehow found its fender coming through my rear window. Since my window was, unfortunately, closed, it was soon reduced to shards of glass all across the back seat.

The worst part was having to tell my husband, having to face that confident male you-dumb-incompetent-bozo look I have seen frequently since the honeymoon was over. In addition to the accident, I’d have to deal with the insult, the insinuations, the whole male-female “who-is-really-right?” fight.

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I thought of rushing to get the window fixed, paying with the $300 I took out of the bank, and hoping to cover up. But that--as Dick Nixon and I well know--would be wrong.

I thought of blame-shifting. See, the bank was in an area where crack users are known to congregate, and surely one of them had seen me take the $300 from the ATM. Someone must have been following me. It’s society’s fault. Although society wasn’t actually driving The Good Car.

I decided I had to call the husband at work and break it to him before he saw the shattered glass. I could open with “Something terrible has happened . . . " and then pause significantly while he contemplated the prospect of death, fire or declining real-estate values in our neighborhood. Then a mere window would appear petty in perspective.

I could go bowing and mewling before him. “Oh, honey, I’m a worthless wretch. . . .” But that approach has a high failure rate. The last time I mewled, it had an incendiary effect.

So I cleaned the house. That meant I had to call him, because a clean house is secret code for something terrible has happened.

“Hi,” I said in a cheery voice.

“What’s wrong?” he said.

“I misjudged a truck and broke a car window.”

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“That’s all?” he asked.

“That’s all,” I said.

“So fix it,” he replied kindly, lovingly, even offhandedly.

And now I will have to live with the fact that this wonderful man will still allow The Once Good Car to be driven by a wretch like me.

As soon as he walks in the door tonight, I’ll force him to share his feelings about this. He’s got to confront his emotions. He’s not kidding anyone with that tolerant act.


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