Whoever said that running away from problems would never solve them was wrong. The first thing I do when I'm feeling stressed is hop in the nearest automobile and rack up as many miles as I can handle. While I'm gone my head clears and it's easier to figure out who and what matter most. I've lost references, friends, and funds this way, but as a result I have less clutter in my life.
Instead of dropping out of high school in a nerve-shot fit of recklessness, I opted for a weekend rendezvous in Maryland (and told my parents I was sleeping over at a friend's house in Hoffman Estates). A year later a party in Philadelphia revived an emotionally draining New York internship. When I decided my college classes were pointless (and besides, the lighting was all wrong), I zipped out to New Orleans. After I quit school, an avalanche of menial tasks plagued me. On a busy holiday I stuck it to an obnoxious coworker: "Hi. I'm in D.C., so I won't be coming in today." While slaveworking somewhere else I tried to play it safe and just take off for the weekend, but wound up calling in sick while hitchhiking back from Vermont.
Road tripping is the ultimate freedom: no schedule, no dress code, no one to answer to. Your options are pretty much limited by the law, should you choose to heed it. Leave with a Magic 8-Ball--the fortune-telling kind if you don't know where you're going, the illegal, cocaine kind if you don't know where you're going but you want to get there fast. If you weigh your time correctly, you can disappear just long enough to have only major ass kissing to do back at work. Or take longer if the fun you're having transcends the consequences of losing the job that made you want to leave in the first place.
I was really excited when I saw The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road by Cameron Tuttle, which came out last year. Using cutesy lingo, cheeky prose, and Susannah Bettag's brilliant illustrations, the book (glove-compartment-sized and clad in a hot-pink vinyl jacket) claims to offer "everything a woman needs to know about low-budget, high-adventure, safe road tripping." It contains giddy advice on topics from changing a tire to the art of peeing outside. Tuttle suggests using "the plea to poo" to get out of a ticket--hey, lying to a cop isn't necessarily illegal even if speeding is. She gives tips for big fun in small towns: get an old lady bouffant at a beauty salon or go to a church service (always good for a laugh, especially when they collect the offering in a greasy KFC bucket). What a relief to find someone else condoning the slightly flaky self-absorption of a life full of naughty car games and travel personae. Flipping through, I thought I'd discovered the closest thing to a personalized bible.
Then I actually read the book. Tuttle's road trips are full of improbably sunny days and extraordinarily fascinating people, and her travels overflow with tongue-clucking capers straight out of a Mentos commercial. Covered in car-baked perspiration and Ho-Ho crumbs? No problem! Roll around in a cattle trough for a quick bath. Spent your last 20 bucks on fancy cake and a bottle of wine and can't afford a motel room for the night? No problem! Offer to bake some muffins for a continental breakfast and they'll let you stay for free. Now I admit I've done some pretty strange things to secure a free place to stay for the night, but juggle in a seedy hotel lounge? I don't know where in America Tuttle's getting away with that. Maybe I've calmed highway jitters with a shot of tequila or tried to change my luck by changing my panties, but I've never shut up an irascible "road sister" by hog-tying her to the luggage rack. Nor have I stopped up a muffler hole with a marshmallow, replaced a broken fan belt with pantyhose, or blown a fart to ward off an attacker.
The book lacks perspective--it's escapism in a vacuum, endorsing fantasy and denial as tactics for dealing with challenging situations--and Tuttle's new book, The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want, has a similar blind spot. Avoiding the "what you want" part of the title without explaining why, Tuttle shepherds wannabes with vague directions on what it takes to be a bad girl: "A bad girl is everybody's dream date and nobody's fool. She's attitude in overdrive, coast-to-coast confidence, and fast-forward fun. She's your boldest dreams and your inner wild....Once you light your badness fuse, you'll start to hear the muse--that sassy little voice inside your head reminding you to go for it, trust your instincts, and find the G-spot of your own life."
Sometimes her advice is truly funny. Ditch a loser by asking him if he'd like to see pictures of your Beanie Babies. Score free drinks by acting like a klutz. Gargle with whiskey before going out with friends and you'll never get pegged as designated driver. When meeting up with blind dates, tell a couple of them to show up at the same time and place, then choose the better looking or more punctual one. "Don't play hard to get--play hard to keep."
More often her suggestions are asinine. Make disguises and slippers out of panty liners. When talking on the cell phone, always act irritated so people think you're important. Pose like one of Charlie's angels and you'll be confident for the rest of your life. Go to traffic school, traffic court, auto repair shops, and get sentenced to perform community service in order to pick up men.
And much of the book is devoted to a meticulous charting of all those not in the club--particularly annoying given the author's incessant cheerleading for individual expression. Other women--not bad girls--are "Stressy Bessies" and "Shoppa Holiques," ass kissers, backstabbers, and "Nympho Man-haters." Men are just hopeless. A man who drives a fast red car has a small penis, and when he talks about his feelings he just wants to get in your pants. They are shallow and can't communicate, and under no circumstances will they ask for directions; they're obsessed with cars, beer, sports, and sex, and don't care who you are inside.
The only consistent theme throughout the book is contradiction. Tuttle advocates breaking and reinventing rules, then lists the ones to follow. She shuns the corporate ladder but supports climbing it. A list of other women's secret desires runs along the bottom of every page--everything from "I want straight hair, straight teeth, and big boobs" to "I want equality for all people and a down comforter." Bad girls are supposedly in tune and comfortable with their desirability, but Tuttle tells "seductive secrets" and gives advice on increasing sex appeal. She casually mentions that "if it's not great sex and it's not true love, it's not worth your time," but then explains that you actually do want a date because it "begins the unavoidable but necessary process of elimination." But if a bad girl doesn't think twice about taking herself to the movies, then why does she have nagging thoughts about becoming a lonely spinster? Would a real bad girl even need a guide book?
Tuttle's a do-badder the way Oprah's a do-gooder--the more she expounds on her discoveries, the more trivial her experience seems. If her message were supposed to be taken as lightly as the style in which it's presented, this wouldn't be so infuriating. But a quick look at her Web site (badgirlswirl.com) reveals that she thinks she's starting a movement. "I respect feminism," she writes, "but the term feminist has served its purpose and done its time. A femme realist is a woman who is into her feminine power and into reality enough to know how to use her power to get what she wants." Tuttle says that a bad girl is a freethinking, passionate rebel, but this book paints her as little more than an updated, declawed Alexis Carrington. A bad girl lives in a world littered with maxi pads, stolen office supplies, cheap mirrors, and expensive shoes. She engages in office warfare and hates her unfulfilling job and her evil bitch boss but plots to hijack her position anyway. She has a tiny apartment and eats her takeout over the sink (she dislikes cooking or is too busy to do it). She doesn't believe in bathroom scales and loathes women who "look like Barbie." Her mother disapproves and her boyfriend will never understand.
With The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want Tuttle plans to "prove to those suit-wearing, potential investor types that we've got it going on and that the Bad Girl movement actually exists and that there are bad girls everywhere who are getting sucked into the swirl and loving every minute of it." But if a bad girl also cares about corporate sponsorship, then she does nothing to subvert the very power structure she claims to detest. What sets the bad girl apart from the sheep is that should a hole appear in the sidewalk she'd rather jump in than be pushed--walking around it doesn't even cross her mind.
OK, fine--women are multifaceted, can't and shouldn't have to be consistent, and could use a few life-maintenance tips from time to time--Tuttle's right about that. But while The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road teeters between helpful and moronic, The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want completely abdicates responsibility and reason. More a life complicater than a guide, Tuttle's philosophy ensures side effects worse than any initial problem. Such reflexive derring-do generates a hollow existence that reinforces reaction instead of accomplishment. Maybe it was fun to watch the urbanites on Melrose Place pollute their lives with schemes and convoluted conversation; it just doesn't seem so gratifying to live like that.
The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want, by Cameron Tuttle, Chronicle Books, $14.95.
The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road, by Cameron Tuttle, Chronicle Books, $14.95.
Cameron Tuttle will read from her books at 5 PM Sunday, November 19, at Hit the Road, 3758 N. Southport. Call 773-388-8338 for more information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Emily Flake.