Victor loves road trips.  He finds serenity behind the wheel on a long trip, whereas I might could crawl out of my skin. The first day we drove north for about 14 hours.  It takes at least that long for my whining to manifest itself inside his tranquil bubble.

By the second day we were able to exit the car to check out Annapolis and Washington, D.C.  This trip coincided with a major heat wave.  It was 107° on the coolest day we were there. Victor likes to walk, meander, really.  The heat and the humidity don’t bother him. He’s soaking in the culture.  I’m soaking in sweat and learning just how long it takes me to develop a heat rash.  (Not long.)

I did see a wedding dress draped with a tartan plaid wool shawl and with lace epaulettes in a shop window. It looked perfect for Michael Jackson, if he had ever decided to get married in a gown.  I showed it to Victor, but he said “what?” Victor doesn’t always get stuff.

If you want to tour the Capitol, you can’t carry a purse bigger than 4 ½ by 6 by 8 inches.  You can’t hardly zip the bare essentials into something that small.  There’s a lengthy inventory of items that I really must have, because I am a prudent person. Victor says you only need your wallet and your reading glasses.  Men.

When we got to the Capitol Visitor’s Center, I really had to put my back into opening the doors. They’re blast-resistant.  Maybe we should put blast-resistant windows in our house, you know, for Armageddon. I imagine they’re quite pricey, though, and my discretionary cash is already going to replacing new sidewalks with newer sidewalks in Boynton, Oklahoma.

Quite a few congressmen and senators passed by us because they were doing that whole debt-ceiling thing.  All of them were shockingly impressive-looking people.  Way taller than regular people… stick-straight posture… lantern-jaws…quality designer suits… full heads of shiny, perfectly styled hair.  To be a politician, clearly you don’t have to be impressive; you only have to look impressive.

I do enjoy mining Victor’s head when I’m trapped in a car with him. For instance, he maintains that the most repulsive bad breath has two origins:

1. Keeping a small dead mouse between your teeth and gums.
2. Keeping a rind of a firm Swiss between your teeth and gums.

You can’t argue with him.  Just because you don’t know anyone who does these things doesn’t mean it isn’t nasty.

Victor also pontificated on the subject of prostitution.  He says if you are going to have sex with a stranger, it might as well be a rich stranger and that he hopes he taught his daughters that if they find themselves needing cash, they should not overlook this lucrative path to solvency.

To look at him, all rumpled in misbuttoned Hawaiian shirts and stained, saggy travel shorts, you just wouldn’t appreciate what a font of knowledge he is.   Victor is the anti- politician.

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IRENE ZION has been married to the same curmudgeon for 40 years. She has 5 children, none of whom sufficiently appreciates her. The one you probably know is Lenore, who frequently gives her mother hives. Irene paints oil portraits and makes her own frames. She has been described as an outsider artist. Most of her paintings creep people out, especially her family. She finds this to be greatly satisfying. She writes non-fiction for TNB and loves every minute of it. She is writing fiction now too, but is too chicken to show it to anyone. She has two golden retrievers who will inherit anything of worth she leaves behind. Her kids will delight in dividing up her famous cork collection and her notorious stockpile of bubble wrap.

77 responses to “Road Trip University”

  1. Siri Zernand Müller says:

    This made me chortle not once but at least 5 times:

    “Victor doesn’t always get stuff.” Ha!

  2. Ed says:

    We all need to take a road trip together. Not such a long one, but maybe an hour or two down to the Keys. There are always new diversions there – like holding whales so they don’t take in water and get infected, restaurants changing names like “Hideout” to “Hiddenout” so that they can avoid bankruptcy proceedings, people having heart attacks chasing lobsters, etc. I’m sure we can keep Victor amused. However, competing with the whackos in Washington might be a challenge.

  3. Irene Zion says:

    I’m there, Ed!
    Victor will have to do something else while we hold whales, since he is the last remaining adult on earth who never learned how to swim. I need to take a picture of the “Hiddenout” restaurant. Who thought of that ridiculous new name, I wonder? It’s sad about the heart-attack guy, but I’m sure the lobsters felt it was long-overdue justice. I think competing for Victor’s attention with the wackos in Washington will be simple. He wants to be diverted. It is all too painful.

  4. ksw says:

    Just be greatful Victor doesn’t have a brother and sister or he would have loaded up the AK 47’s and headed off to Colorado. It would have been cooler, and I am sure he would not have driven as disturbingly slowly as he normally does. For the amount of hours you mentioned, you should have been at least to Prince Edward Island. If the blast door weren’t present, it would be possible to mess up a politician’s hairdo. That is not acceptable.

  5. Irene Zion says:

    What’s going on in Colorado? I think something has gone over my head yet again.
    His driving speed doesn’t concern me, however regardless of the speed he is always about 12 inches from the car in front of him. We probably could use blast resistant car windows in case the guy in front has a carry permit.
    Nothing could mess up a politician’s hair.

  6. George says:

    Washington was a lot better before the invention of airconditioning. Then, during the warm months, the politicians did not meet, conspire, vote, and mess things up.

    • Irene Zion says:

      That is a very good point, George!
      I read a while ago that after 1800 when they built the Capitol in Washington DC, the weather was so hideously hot and the mosquitoes were so bad that they didn’t even try to work in the summer.

  7. MadHat says:

    How much is that wedding dress, Irene? I want it for Halloween.
    You sure are getting a lot of mileage out of Victor. Just make sure his tank is full.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Darn it, I knew I should’ve gone inside and looked at the price. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? What could they have been thinking?
      See, the keeping his tank full part? I was trying to figure out how to sabotage the tank so it couldn’t hold gas anymore. I guess we’re thinking at cross-purposes.

  8. Marcia says:

    I’m still mulling Victor’s comments on the sources of bad breath. I’ve always wondered how people in jobs where they have to get close to people’s faces — dentists, opthamologists, hair dressers, etc. — deal with stenchlike breath. Maybe that’s why Victor smoked cigars all those years– to replace the bad breath stench with one of his own choosing.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Victor thinks about the queerest things, doesn’t he, Marcia?
      His brain is a gift that keeps on giving me material.
      I’ve always held that cigar breath pretty much smells like death.
      I’m so glad Lenore tricked him into quitting years ago.

  9. Kat says:

    Loved it, as always!

    I would be tempted here to make the observation that “they all look alike”, however, Victor, for all his maleness, is not so much like Bill. Bill is the whiner in this family and he does it (mostly) behind the wheel on long or short trips at any other driver who may be 1. on the cell phone, 2. texting, 3. tailing too closely (because Bill is the only driver left in the U.S. of A. who actually drives the posted speed limit), 4. slow on the uptake at a green light. I’ve often told him he should be a part-time police officer, now that he’s retired, so he could actually take these people into custody, but he doesn’t think I’m serious. Go figure.

    Bill does share Victor’s lack of concern for his general appearance, however. Victor may misbutton, but Bill drove an entire trip with his button placket golf shirt inside out! Stopped for coffee and a hard roll, to boot!

    You could and SHOULD write volumes about the differences between us and them, and when you do, be sure to give Bill his own chapter!

    XO, Kat

    • Irene Zion says:

      How did Bill react when you told him was shirt was inside-out?
      I’ll bet anything that you had to make him switch it because he thought it was fine like that.

      Bill is 100% right in what he does and says, but so few people follow the rules nowadays that his insisting on them comes off as quaint.
      Tell Bill I said he’s quaint and tell me what his face looks like.

      • Kat says:

        Bill never realized his shirt was inside-out. He was amused and embarrassed when I pointed it out. Bill is too perfect to think that inside-out would be acceptable shirt wearing behavior. Even more disturbing to me is how he buttoned it up. You have to contort your fingers pretty seriously to button something facing in! Before you ask, he said he slipped it on over his head. Disturbing fact #2.

        And don’t encourage his “Enforcer”-like behavior by telling him he’s right and calling it quaint. Quaint? I can tell you right now he’d be proud as punch!

        • Irene Zion says:

          Victor would never purposely put his shirt on inside-out, but if he had done it by mistake, I’m pretty sure he would leave it that way even when it was pointed out to him. I can hear him in my head, saying: “it’s fine like this.”
          Talk about disturbing….

  10. Melissa says:

    I detest road trips. I about crawl of my my skin going to Target.
    How on earth does Victor know about bad breath and rodents? Wait do not answer that.


    • Irene Zion says:


      If my children taught me anything, it was to not ask a question if you were not prepared to hear the answer.
      This is where “ignorance is bliss” came from.

  11. George says:

    No one is safe while the legislature sits. Now, Congress can sit all the time (because of air conditioning), and that is very bad.

    John Kennedy said that DC is a city with Northern charm and Southern efficiency

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh that is a delicious quote, George!

      “DC is a city with Northern charm and Southern efficiency.”
      I’m putting that to memory!

  12. New Orleans Lady says:

    “To be a politician, clearly you don’t have to be impressive; you only have to look impressive.”


    • Irene Zion says:


      It’s as though they’ve put a spell on us and we only see these majestic Greek-God-looking men while they are, in fact, WEASELS under the cloak of magic.

  13. Quenby Moone says:

    1. Keeping a small dead mouse between your teeth and gums.

    I can’t believe that Victor knows my ex-boyfriend!

    The nice thing about your travel updates is that we get the best parts, wrapped up in a perfectly brilliant 600 word package after you suffer for days on a vacation into what sounds like the road-trip version of Dali’s “Persistence of Memory,” complete with melting.

    Holy cripes, that is one helluva gown for Michael Jackson, though.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Better you’re rid of him then, Quenby!

      Love that painting. I’m in that painting.

      Thank you for noticing the gown’s specialness. It was like talking to a cat, the response I got! Pearls before swine, as they say.

  14. Cindy says:

    Car trips are like dusting…sometimes you find a treasure , but you know what they say about trash/treasure. When is the next trip? Shotgun

    • Irene Zion says:

      Was it here on TNB that I read that if you leave well-enough alone and don’t dust ever, the dust can only get to a foot thick?
      I’m fine with a foot.
      Two weeks and I’m not ready.

  15. Frank says:

    Victor drives slow? When I read your note that it took 2 days to make Annapolis/DC i thought “Victor…???”

    As Ed will attest, things are different in the Keys. So I believe that MY observations that driving there with V (it was long enough ago that it was in the Caddy, for some sort of Ed-inspired sojourn I seem to recall) would differ from your experiences and follows Ed’s Keys’ paradigm. V did not drive slow at all. It might be that he may have been envisioning/reliving/updating his days with/in the Porsche. ho knows? It was fun. Even tho’ we did not discuss putting a pinch of mouse between cheek & gum to achieve truly repulsive, hall-of-fame halitosis. We didn’t discus bad breath at all. Maybe he didn’t want to offend me.

    I did about half my growing up down here pre-AC. We joked that our air conditioner was 15X30, 6-foot at the deep end. We went to school in June, and again in late August and September. That was pretty bad -but we also lived here in late June, July, and the rest of August, and did things and wore (soaking wet) clothes. We must have been miserable -I know I was at night, trying to sleep with cloying heat and drenching humidity. But we muddled -puddled? -through.

    Too bad politicians are probably still bad weather wimps, but instead of retreating -like the rest of us, they substitute air conditioning -and then continue acting like politicians over the long hot summers.

    Victor is indeed a font of eclectic knowledge -and it’s enjoyable -nay -it’s a hoot! To explore it on a road trip would be, shall we say, interesting…

    BTW, the heat & humidity CAN affect Victor. It’s just got to be preceded by great amounts of hard work for the effects to be made manifest. And don’t knock his sartorial splendor -he dresses for wandering around in DC in the summer, window displays of tartan-sashed wedding dresses arguing to the contrary notwithstanding.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Wait. Is two days slow or fast? I only know it was endless.

      I grew up with out air conditioning too. It’s better now. They didn’t have Novocaine either. Nope, I’m not interested in going back.

  16. Gloria says:

    I appreciate Victor’s stance on prostitution and his lofty goals for his daughters. 🙂

    You guys crack me up.

    That dress is hideous. Well, the dress is okay. The tartan scarf is a fashion disaster – no offense to Brits.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Gloria? You liked the lace epaulettes?

      Victor can be lofty, but he’s also a practical person and wants his kids to be practical too.

  17. jmblaine says:

    I just realized
    Victor Zion
    is the secret breakout star
    of The Nervous Breakdown.

    Seriously, put “Victor Zion” in your tags
    & see what happens.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I keep telling him he should read what I write about him, but he simply isn’t interested.
      It gives me a certain latitude, knowing that he’ll never become aware of what I write.
      He has no idea how funny he is.

  18. Kate says:

    Bad breath can also be a sign of Zenker’s diverticulum. It’s not too far off from the “swiss cheese between the lip and gum” diagnosis.

  19. Sally says:

    I love road trips and don’t usually get cranky unless asked to drive at night through mountains. But I sooooo sympathize re the heat. Cold I can take but don’t tell me I’m having fun when I’m about to melt. Maybe we should do a Fl trip together. V & F could have the front seat/driving duties and we could sit in the back seat and make whatever demands suited us.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I’m down with this plane, Sally, however there may be a fly in the ointment.
      If they are in charge of driving, what’s to keep them from refusing our perfectly reasonable demands?

  20. Mary Richert says:

    There is so much nonsense in Washington, but of course I don’t have to tell you that. I know that tartan wedding gown you took a photo of, btw. I live in Annapolis! I hope you at least tried one of the local ice cream shops on Main St. Wishing you safe travels and nice breath.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I wish I had known you were in Annapolis, Mary!
      We were there for a week and I could’ve used an escape hatch from the “program.
      Annapolis is worth the visit, if anyone wonders.
      It’s historical and beautiful and the crab cakes are incomparable.
      (How did I miss the ice cream?)

  21. stephanie says:

    when working at the jm I was always curious as to the philosophy of you and victor

    • Irene Zion says:

      Heh, Stephanie,
      As you can see, the philosophy of me and Victor is the philosophy of me and the philosophy of Victor and rarely the twain shall meet.

  22. James D. Irwin says:

    You two are a wonderful comic double-act… absolutely delightful.

  23. Ben says:

    Road trips are all well and good… unless you are the youngest child and forced to sit in the middle-back seat of a thunderbird. (It is not so much a seat as the leftovers from the real seats on either side.) Why was that our road trip car, again?

    I do remember watching a lot of dad when he drove me to school. It was always way more entertaining than the radio. Of course there were the occasional lecture about driving, but I usually made sure to forget what he said and enjoy the show.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Is it only Lenore and Tim who called that “sitting bitch,” or is that an actual term out in the world?

      Being the youngest can certainly be a trial as you grow up, but when you were small, you were so in demand that your feet never touched the ground.

  24. Adam says:


    I can attest that, for whatever reason, that idiom enjoys a fairly wide currency.

  25. Irene Zion says:

    I can always count on you knowing pop culture, among other things, Adam.
    I think it’s popular because it says what it is…the most undesirable seat in the car.
    Idioms are are a jungle of magnificence.

  26. jmblaine says:

    You know TNB
    retired the Top Ten chart
    because you broke it

  27. Irene Zion says:

    I’ll admit that I’m always breaking things,
    but that just isn’t one of them.
    (Although I’m always forgetting things, too….)

  28. Dear Irene,
    You need to compile these pieces into a book titled: The Victor Stories
    Every piece is perfectly imperfect in its own way….

  29. Judy Prince says:

    Michael Jackson wedding dress—-hoot!!

    Loved your descrip of Congressmen, Irene—-after that, your conclusion that Victor’s an anti-politician’s spot on.

  30. Irene Zion says:


    It’s obvious that the mistake I made was in trying to get a reaction out of Victor.
    It appears I could have pointed it out to a random strange woman on the street and she would “get” it!
    (Not that I am implying even for a second that you are comparable to a random strange woman.)

  31. Tim says:

    It really was too damn hot. This is why I don’t go outside when I don’t have to. One day, I will find a woman who hates the sun as much as I do.

  32. Irene Zion says:

    It’s okay, Tim.
    You don’t have to like the same things to make it work like gangbusters.
    Look at us!

  33. tamara cohen says:

    hi darling since victor is my cousin i support his opinion love tamara

  34. Irene Zion says:

    I have always said, Tamara, you just can’t argue with Victor.
    You can be struck speechless, but argue?

  35. tamara cohen says:

    irene i love your comment

  36. D.R. Haney says:

    I bet politicians didn’t look quite so impressive in the days before TV. I mean, they probably looked impressive, but they didn’t have to appear nearly as perfect as they do now.

    To back my claim, I refer to old movies, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Old movies never lie.

    A person who is not the one true genius of TNB

    • Irene Zion says:

      It’s early and I haven’t had much sleep.
      I already amended that statement.
      Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
      If only I had editing power on other posts so I could take my foot out of my mouth.
      There is more than one true genius on TNB, and DR Haney is up there at the tippy top.

    • Irene Zion says:


      You’re right, of course. Politicians in former days didn’t even have all their teeth by the time they got into power and they probably smelled bad and without microphones, not many people could hear their blather.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Yep. Check out the grizzled goats starting around the forty-second mark:


        Old moves never lie, I’m telling you!

        Of course you realize I was only teasing you about the genius thing.

        I think my interview with the one true genius of TNB will be posted later today, and I don’t mind telling you that it’s, to me at least, hilarious.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Such a great movie!

          I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the interview of the great one by the other great one.

          You were right to call me on that thing.
          I often speak before my brain catches up to listen.

  37. I have to second J.M.’s observation that Victor is quite the star. The star in a smartly written indie comedy or something. I always love to read about your adventures together. This is yet another gem!

    • Irene Zion says:

      Except for the lack of make up, whenever Victor speaks, we’re film-ready, Cynthia,
      and yet Victor remains oblivious.

  38. Jessica Blau says:

    God, I love reading about you and Victor! I don’t like watching reality shows but if you and Victor were in one, I would watch it and even set the recording thing to record it.

    • Erika Rae says:

      I agree with Jessica. Best reality show ever. I’m so glad that TNB has the closest thing to it. Reality posts. Also, I shall ever after refer to bad breath (boring) as “having a rind of firm Swiss between the teeth and gums” (brilliant).

  39. Irene Zion says:

    Heh. You’d have to set the recording thing to watch it, Jessica Anya, if it existed, because we’re in bed by 9PM and up by 5AM. We’re doing the virtual late night show when you’re all thinking about what you might have for lunch.

  40. Amy says:

    Always enjoyable… the travels of Irene and Victor. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

  41. Irene, your essay makes me wonder what Victor said to your children during road trips. And what they would say in school about their vacation trips. “Why not have sex with a rich stranger if I’m broke?” I firmly believe that Victor must have made them into exceptional human beings, well-grounded, attuned to the weird and gentle.

  42. Irene Zion says:

    Stefan, kind words, yours.
    They are all that you said, especially the weird part.

  43. Mary Jane hill says:

    Always entertaining!

  44. Kat says:

    I! I just finished Lenore’s book (My Dead Pets are Interesting) this morning at 5 a.m. It was laugh-til-I-cried hysterical! I couldn’t wait to be able to pick it up again, and yet I didn’t want it to end. The best read I’ve had in a long time!

    A lot of it reminded me of you in college. I’m going to send my copy on to Maria, if it’s o.k. with you and Lenore. God! So many parts just made me laugh out loud—The Community Service chapter had me rolling on the floor, Lenore, Tim and Ben inventing prayer, the jellyfish incident, etc., etc. MORE! I want MORE!

    Love, Kat

  45. Henning Koch says:

    Irene, I don’t know how you do it. You keep it light and funny and somehow by the end you’ve really packed a punch! Looking forward to reading your book or whatever else you decide to write of length, I mean, maybe a travel book or something like that. Or a Portrait of My Husband, that would become an instant classic and bestseller.
    I have a memory of a piece you wrote about Amazonas, must go back to archives and find it… Did Victor keep piranhas between his teeth?

  46. Irene Zion says:

    Henning, (Lord but I love your name. It is so cerebral with a hint of the other-worldly.)
    Back in the days before Lenore backed her dad into a corner and forced him to renounce cigars, you could have easily believed that he secreted a hunk of rotting piranha between his teeth and gums. Cigar breath is the miasma of at least one of the rings of hell.

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