Yellow! (It rhymes with hello–get it?) Tomorrow is my little brother’s 21st birthday. My little brother is pretty great as little brothers go, and I like him well enough, so his pending birthday has me remembering funny shit that happened when we were little. Remembering it made me want to write about it, so I thought today we’d take a little trip down memory lane and I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories about my family.
Related: I absolutely adore Allie Brosh and her blog Hyperbole and a Half, and I recently got to meet her for the second time, which was kind of like my version of meeting Jesus. Don’t be surprised if this story ends up sounding a bit like a mimicry of her style, because when I like things I tend to unintentionally mimic them, and her work has been on my mind a lot recently with the release of her excellent book Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. You should do whatever is within your power to acquire a copy of this book immediately. You will not regret it. But in the meantime, here’s a story from my own childhood.
I’m the kind of person who memorizes song lyrics. It’s not something I do on purpose. If I listen to something more than a couple times–or it gets aggressive enough radio play–I will memorize it, even if I hate it. This is why I know every word to The Black Eyed Pea’s My Humps, which I still regard as something of a black mark on my soul.
As you can imagine, this made it confusing when people used the phrase “I know all the lyrics!” as proof that some particular song was their favorite. I thought everybody else memorized songs as automatically as I did. I probably thought this because my brother has a similarly freakish ability to memorize songs (though less of a penchant for singing them, loudly, off-key, at nobody’s request, which is why people know about my freakish ability and completely overlook his), and we would often memorize each other’s favorite music simply by virtue of forcing one another to listen to it, constantly. My brother and I do not have much in common, so music quickly became a touchstone of our relationship. When all else fails, we trade CDs.
But there is one other, very important thing my brother and I share, and that is an almost religious devotion to finding new and innovative ways to make fun of our mother.
It’s important to note at this juncture that my mother is a smart, assertive, outlandishly competent lady. If the zombie apocalypse strikes, I’m going straight to her house, because she’ll have that shit sorted out by sun-up the next day. But despite her undisputed badassery, my mother also has a tendency to walk directly into any trap you set for her, verbally or otherwise, which makes her an easy victim for the predatory sense of humor my brother and I inherited from our father. Family gatherings often devolve into the three of us mercilessly poking fun at her while she calls us buttfaces. Sometimes I think she got the family dog just so we’d have someone else to taunt.
Being the easy-going lady that she is, mom always let us pick the music when she was driving us around, though she retained veto power. We’d take turns plugging our iPods into the car stereo, and mom would weigh in on whether or not she liked it. One day, my brother put on a rap song that sampled Every Breath You Take, and I immediately started poking fun at how stalkery the song is. Before my brother could respond, mom cut in.
“It’s not a stalker song,” she said. “It’s a sweet love song.”
My brother glanced at her, then gave me the sideways look he always does when he suspects a taunting match is about to start. “Mom, the lyrics are, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “The whole song is just some dude listing all the things he’s going to creepily watch this girl do. You can practically see the bushes he’s crouching in.”
My mom thought about this for a second. “Oh,” she finally said. “I guess you’re right. I don’t really hear lyrics, so I didn’t notice.”
The grin that hit my brother’s face at that moment perfectly reflected my own feelings. Mom couldn’t distinguish song lyrics. It was like we’d struck gold.
For the next several days, any time we were both in the car with her, we’d take turns playing the most disturbing, offensive songs we could find. Afroman’s Colt 45, Bloodhound Gang’s Bad Touch and Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo, Lil Jon and the Eastside Boys’ Get Low (uncensored, of course), Eminem’s entire discography. It was while preparing for this game that I discovered the joy that is Hollywood Undead and their disgusting holiday number Christmas in Hollywood, which features, among other things, Santa Claus flying a sleigh full of dildos. We played the dirtiest shit we could find, and through it all, mom was oblivious. Though, she did ask us to turn off the Mindless Self Indulgence, because she didn’t like the vocals–no mention of the actual lyrical content.
Sadly, the thrill of listening to musical swears with our mother right there eventually wore off, and we started to look forward to the day when she finally discovered our plot and we could taunt her about it. We began to play songs where the lyrics were slower, more clearly defined, but to no avail. She didn’t notice the drug content in Afroman’s Because I Got High; didn’t catch the explicit sexual references in Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that a lady who thought Every Breath You Take was an endearing love song didn’t pick up on the subtler lyrical aspects of weed music, but it was frustrating nevertheless.
After three weeks, the situation finally came to a head. We were in my parents’ enormous white suburban, which we nick-named “Moby Dick” for obvious reasons. Mom was driving, while I sprawled out on the back seat and my brother sat in the passenger seat, thumbing through his iPod. Traffic was miserable, which always brings out my mother’s competitive side; she perched behind the wheel, glaring out like a pissed-off owl as she cruised down I-5, just waiting for somebody to challenge her comically large vehicle. A triumphant “a-ha!” from my brother heralded a familiar bass-and-whistle tune, and I remember thinking surely she was going to notice this time–she had to. But before the lyrics could kick in, a presumptuous hatch-back cut us off, forcing my mother to slam on the breaks, serve into the next lane, then peel out to escape a rear-ending. It was a stunt worthy of James Bond, though the string of curses she muttered probably wouldn’t have met language standards even for an R-rated film.
I looked at my brother. He looked at me. The lyrics kicked in, and we shouted along together as mom sped down the freeway:
“MOVE, BITCH! GET OUT THE WAY!”
And that’s how my mom got her driving anthem.
“I’m doin’ a hundred on the highway, so if you do the speed limit, get the fuck outta my way.” -Ludacris