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   ghost car in an obscenity-cloaking song
Friday, June 10 2005
This evening our friends from Tillson came over for another delicious and complex Gretchen-prepared dinner. After we'd eaten we retreated to the stuffy, windowless teevee room and watched a few Tivoed episodes of The Daily Show, trying unsuccessfully to resurrect a hilarious segment poking fun at unnecessarily large SUVs and the speed with which they burn through their $400 tanks of gasoline.
Then we played a few rounds of Boggle, the first time I'd played the game since fearing my brain had fallen below peak capability (starting in March). I held out the hope that perhaps I could rally my neurons and do well, setting aside any remaining fears of premature dementia. Unfortunately, though, my Boggle scores consistently fell beneath those of both Gretchen and Mr. Tillson (though I usually scored slightly better than Ms. Tillson).
At some point we started recollecting little songs from our childhood, particularly the kind that have lines that end with mild obscenities that are immediately converted into non-obscenities in the next verse, for example:

Miss Susie had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell
Miss Susie went to heaven and the steamboat went to Hell
O operator please give me number nine
And if you disconnect me, I'll kick your behind
The 'frigerator, there was a piece of glass
Miss Susie sat upon it and broke her little ass me no more questions, I'll tell-a you no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom
Zipping up their flies are in the meadow
The bees are in the park
Miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the
d-a-r-k, d-a-r-k, d-a-r-k dark dark dark

Gretchen and Ms. Tillson both started singing this song together and what was funny was how the verses each sang would occasionally differ. Gretchen grew up in suburban Maryland and Ms. Tillson grew up in Orange County, New York, so evidently there are regional differences in the words. As for me, I remember only fragments of the ditty from my rural Virginia childhood, possibly because this song was mostly sung by girls playing jump rope, not boys. Oddly, though, the melody itself has a powerfully adhesive quality, and through the years I have found myself putting lots of different words to it, particularly when I'm using song to extoll the cuteness of a cat or a dog.

The idea that one could make a song where obscenities are immediately made clean by the flow of words around them inspired Mr. Tillson to do some just-in-time composition of a brand new song, one with modern obscenities like "nut sack" and "douche bag." It was hilarious to hear him sing something like "You are a big douche bag/...ging the groceries is a real drag" At that point Ms. Tillson observed that "bag" wasn't the part of "douche bag" that made the phrase offensive. But Mr. Tillson was undaunted, and worked on a few more lines, one of which treated the phrase "ghost car" as if it was an obscenity.
"Ghost car" is a bit of highway fun Mr. Tillson occasionally enjoys when he finds himself behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. The phrase is used to describe the activity of driving at night and suddenly switching off the headlights, plunging the car and its environment into darkness, usually to the horror of passengers. Unfortunately for Mr. Tillson's ghost car habit, the lights in his recently-purchased late-model automatic Subaru can never be turned off. Recently, though, he found he could affect a ghost car by pulling up the emergency brake slightly and this would allow him to kill the lights.

Later this evening the Tillsons went home and were replaced by Ray and Nancy, our Brooklyn friends. The plan is for us to do a brief house-swap: tomorrow night they will be staying in our house up here in Hurley while we're in the city staying in their Park Slope apartment.

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