The last thing the world needs is another description of a seemingly perfect date that led nowhere, so I'll limit this to the vitals: 5 1/2 glasses of Chianti, two orders of focaccia, three ignored cellphone calls. Running time: two hours, 36 minutes (and this was a drinks date). Goodnight kiss: chaste but promising peck at valet parking stand. Follow-up: none.
Months later I found myself in a yoga class with an acquaintance of his. Feeling sufficiently bonded to her by the sacred energy of those cringe-inducing partner stretches, I told her that he'd completely blown me off.
"I heard about that," she said. "He thinks you're a lesbian."
"What?" I yelped. "Why?"
"I'm not sure. He said it was something about your car."
Oh, right. You are your car. And since my car is a Subaru Outback, I must be a lesbian.
The Outback (and why do you think they call it an Outback?) has been shown by demographers to be popular with lesbians. Sometimes referred to as "Lesbarus," Subaru station wagons have not only the roomy rear cargo space necessary for transporting large dogs but also the all-wheel-drive capabilities useful for off-road trips to the Lilith Fair. A Car Talk poll rated it the No. 1 lesbian car. A few years ago, Subaru even put Martina Navratilova in its advertisements. There she was, tanned and crow's-footed and separated from fellow Subaru endorsers Paul Hogan and Lance Armstrong by nothing more than an X chromosome. "What do we know?" she says in the ad. "We're just girls."
You can say that again. I guess if I'd been thinking like a grown-up woman rather than a flighty, cargo space-loving girl, I would have known better than to buy a car that's apparently the vehicular equivalent of a plaid shirt and a subscription to Utne Reader.
But what a loss that would be! I love my Outback. It fits my lifestyle, which is to say it fits my girly singer-songwriter CDs and my 90-pound dog. Last time I checked, these are lesbian accouterments only in cases where one is a lesbian. Besides, there's an entire class of Outback drivers -- those who equip their vehicles with car seats and Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs -- who are veritable icons of heterosexual America. They pull their L.L. Bean Limited Editions into the school parking lot as though they were Crocodile Dundee ready to kick some major parent-teacher conference butt. They sing the Barney song as they grind up Santa Monica Canyon, imagining that all-wheel-drive is necessary for their rugged lifestyle, glad they sprung for the all-weather package, even though there's no weather to speak of.
You can tell by the twinkle in my eye that I'm not one of those people. Still, I like to think of myself as that rare Outback driver who is neither a lesbian nor the mother of someone named Sage. Like Cambodia during the Vietnam War, I occupy a dramatic political middle ground, caught in the crossfire between Florence Henderson and Ann B. Davis, seduced by the trappings of conventional domesticity as readily as I enjoy sitting back with an occasional cigarillo and a rerun on Animal Planet. When I step out of my Outback and feel the wind blowing through my pixie haircut, I am an independent, empowered woman, so confident in my heterosexuality that not even Rachel Griffiths swaying to the rhythm of an old Joan Armatrading song could redirect my flight path. Well, it would depend on the song. And maybe Rachel Griffiths is a complicated example.
OK, I do have an almost physical attraction to the Outback. But the seeds of this desire were planted in far-away pastures. I bought my Outback in Nebraska, where I lived before moving to L.A. two summers ago. Like many cultural artifacts (Birkenstocks, for example) the sexual ramifications of Subarus are different there. On the high plains, both the cars and the people are so much more butch than their Californian counterparts that the Outback is something of a delicate flower. In Nebraska, the Subaru sat next to my boyfriend's pickup in the driveway like his and hers hand towels. If anything, the Outback represented a vehicle that was good in the snow yet could still be exited gracefully on those twice-yearly occasions when you happened to be wearing a skirt.
How does a car become gay anyway? Is it just born that way or can it be influenced by society? If a sexually innocuous vehicle like, say, the Plymouth Neon maintained a parking space between two Subaru Outbacks for months or years, would the Neon take on lesbian qualities?