THE SCENE: Stuck in the van, northbound I-5, late afternoon.
THE AUDIOBOOK: Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom, by Julie Kenner, which so far had seemed pretty tame. Not likely to contain any of those scenes I couldn’t listen to with my boys in the car. You know—THOSE kinds of scenes.
PROTAGONIST: But my old life kept peeking in, and I was so afraid that Stuart would look at me one morning and catch a glimpse of my secret. Or worse, that one morning he’d wake up and catch a glimpse of a demon.
SQUIRT: (perks up) Demons? Maybe this isn’t such a dumb story after all.
BONNIE: (to driver of Honda) Just a minute, hon, while I figure out what this STUPID GUY IN THAT HONDA IS DOING!
PROTAGONIST: … I twisted in his arms and kissed him, hard at first, and then softer…
SQUIRT: (nervously) Mom!
BONNIE: (the Honda driver isn’t listening) What a NOODLE. Why is he STOPPING on the freeway? IS HE DIALING SOMEBODY?
PROTAGONIST: …until I felt him relax under me and open his mouth to mine…
SQUIRT: ARRRRGH! MOM!
BONNIE: Oh, ho! He’s PICKING HIS NOSE! Mr. Booger!
PROTAGONIST: … His hands tightened around me, and he pulled me close. I wanted to be even closer…
BONNIE: What? Oh! Ooops! Sorry!
(she looks at Squirt, who is clinging to the passenger-side window)
SQUIRT: (anguished) MOM! How could you?
Now let us compare and contrast the above with the following:
THE SCENE: Stuck in the van, northbound I-5, late afternoon, the very next day.
THE AUDIOBOOK: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison. My only previous experience with Harlan Ellison was “The City on the Edge of Forever,” an episode in the original Star Trek series which I thought was way cool.
Turns out Mr. Ellison was holding back when he wrote that episode. Little did I know that his normal output might best be classified in that genre known as “Chock Full of THOSE Kinds of Scenes.”
HARLAN ELLISON: I loved My Aunt Babe for 3 reasons. The first was that even though I was only 10 or 11, she flirted with me as she did with any male of any age who was lucky enough to pass through the heat of her line of sight.
BONNIE: Hmmm! (punches PAUSE button) Maybe I should preview this one first.
SQUIRT: Hey, Mom! I’m listening to it!
BONNIE: You are? Well, okay. I mean, Ellison wrote that “City on the Edge of Forever” Star Trek episode, so he’s probably okay. (punches PLAY button)
HARLAN ELLISON: The second was her breasts!
BONNIE: (punches PAUSE button) Maybe not okay!
SQUIRT: Don’t stop it! This one sounds a lot better than that Carpe Demon crap.
BONNIE: I think this just might be a little too adult for you, young man. Star Trek notwithstanding.
SQUIRT: Mom. I’m FIFTEEN. I hear lots worse at school.
BONNIE: Yes. Well. Doesn’t mean you’ll be hearing it in my van. But still… Harlan Ellison IS considered one of the science fiction biggies, so… (punches PLAY button)
HARLAN ELLISON: The second was her breasts! I knew them as “titties”!
BONNIE:(punches PAUSE button) That’ll be enough of that, MISTER Ellison!
Frankly, I don’t think the boys and I will ever be able to listen together to THOSE kinds of scenes, even after they hit 18.
Maybe when they’re lots older, like in their forties. And married. With three kids apiece.