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“Girls,” and The Man in the Minivan

Dunham on the cover of NY MagLena Durham, the precious, brazen media sensation behind the new HBO series, Girls, went to my high school.  And so I feel a kind of vicarious filial pride. St. Ann’s, the high school in question, is a place that stresses individuality and creativity. They also specialize in resurrecting outcasts from New York’s more traditional prep schools, myself included. Its founder, Stanley Bosworth, was a brilliant educator and provocateur, two categories he would not see as distinct. He passed away recently, though by my calculations Dunham would have been educated while he was still the headmaster, college guidance counselor, and all around Complicator-in-Chief.

But to say Dunham went to my high school is like saying Dwight Eisenhower was president of my country. Factually correct, but there is the issue of generations. And so, thinking of Dunham’s provocations, and Stanley Bosworth’s, I suddenly thought of the man in the minivan, preserved in the ember of memory, in a new light.

It was 1991. I played drums in a band. We had just played what was to be, by far, the biggest gig of our existence:  The headliners were the British rock band, Blur. The venue was The Marquee, which held about a thousand. It was sold out. Though mostly empty when we started playing, by the end it was mostly full.

Graham Coxon, Blur’s guitarist, wore a T-shirt with our band’s name that night. We watched from side stage as Damon Albarn, the lead singer, climbed the rafters of The Marquee  and hung upside down, very drunk, while shouting lyrics into a bullhorn. It seemed possible, maybe likely, that he would fall and die. This was a matter of great distress to the fans, myself included. He survived.

After the show there was some hanging out in the dressing room with Blur amidst the post-show scene. And then it was over. I stood outside in the cold air of 21st Street with the band’s bassist, Jim Merlis, looking for a cab. Jim had his bass. I had cymbals in a bag. Cabs would arrive but we kept waving them off.  Various lingering fans recognized us and said hello and other nice things. This had never happened before. We were in no rush to end the experience. Finally, when it looked as if the well had run dry, a pair of girls approached and asked what everyone asked: “Do you know Damon?” And then, “Would you sign our jeans?”

This was new. They even had a Sharpie. Jim signed a thigh. I signed what I seem to recall was an ass. Or something like that. Maybe it was an inner thigh. Her idea.

“Aren’t you guys a bit young to be out here alone?” one of us said.

“Oh, my father brought us,” was the reply. “He’s right over there.”

Which is when I saw the man in the mini-van. It sat alone about thirty yards up the dark city block. The interior light was on. A solitary figure sat in the driver’s seat. I could not make out the face in detail but I saw it was a man, and the body language, something about the way the shoulder’s hunched forward, made me think that watching his daughter and her friend get their jeans signed by a couple of slouchy guys in a rock band was not his idea of fun, to say the least. The image has stayed with me.

Now I read that Lena Dunham’s sex scenes are sufficiently graphic that her father, the painter Carol Dunham, whose work uses a lot of phallic imagery, was prompted to remark, “‘I’m proud of you, I love what you do, but it goes against the natural order of things to ever see your daughter having sex.”

Reading this quote I felt that conflicting set of wishes that ricochets through me on a daily basis regarding my five year old daughter Evangeline — a mixture of excitement at her originality and, on the other hand, a wish she conform, so as not to be vulnerable. An impatience for her to grow up into someone who can take care of themselves, have coherent conversations, and be the interesting adult or young adult I am sure she will be, and practically already is. And, on the other hand, a feverish desire to slow the whole thing down, stop it, keep her in her adorable, open, naive state forever, which one can not help but think of as a kind of purity, even if it is already unfathomably complex.

I had to acknowledge that my current point of view is situated somewhere between the girl and her father. Or, to be honest, mostly with her father. How much of the old self is one required to part with?

Recent stories on The Examined Life:

The Wife’s Life: Who’s In Charge.

The Most Infamous Nod-Offs: A Sleepy Dad’s Top 9

The Dictator Within

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