There are very few indignities of middle age and parenting to which Dan Zevin has not subjected himself. But there is one:
“You know those milking devices they have for men–they have them in bra and vest form?” Zevin asks.
“Some fathers wear them and it’s equipped with two fake boobs,” Zevin explains, “with baby bottles in there and people nurse the infant like they’re a lactating mom. Well that’s one thing I’ve never gone for.”
I suppose every man has his limits. With Zevin’s latest offering, Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, we see how one man’s limits are relentlessly reached and reconfigured in the hilarious wake of middle age.
In the past, Zevin has regaled us with his comedic takes on post-graduate life (Entry-Level Life: A Complete Guide to Masquerading as a Member of the Real World); pre-marriage purgatory (The Nearly-Wed Handbook: How To Survive The Happiest Day Of Your Life) and his awkward transition into an allegedly cultivated thirtysomething (The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grown-up).
But even with a minivan (albeit one sporting orange flame decals), a baby backpack, a Xanax prescription and vigilant entries into his “Lower Extremity Rehabilitation Journal,” Zevin says he’ll never wear the breast vest.
Fair enough, but Zevin has certainly been dealt his fair share of middle-aged weird and wild cards. Dan Gets a Minivan is an exceedingly entertaining series of tales that reads like a kind of Electric Costco Juice Box Test. It makes sense, then, that one of Zevin’s earliest influences was New Journalism pioneer Tom Wolfe.
Zevin explains, “When I was in my early twenties, I was really into journalism. I started out as a magazine writer and I was really struck by Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff. What struck me in particular was the idea that you can put yourself into the reporting. That was very new to me. My background was rooted in the inverted pyramid style of journalism and then when I was introduced to Wolfe, I thought ‘Wow–this is so interesting.’”
Whether it’s Zevin treating us to the ontological waffling involved with giving a commencement address at a Catholic institution (“Through it all I remain a tribesman. When I am hungry, do I not nosh? When I am hot do I not schvitz? When I am considered to be a commencement speaker at Cardinal MacCauley College, do I not plotz?”), discovering the majesty of Costco with his Maimonides-quoting father or catching a leash-law case in Manhattan Criminal Court because he dropped his phone into some dog poop, Zevin is a pro at turning the quotidian into the compelling.
For Zevin, working with the comedy of everyday life provides a particular satisfaction.
“A lot of humorists are very edgy and also very funny,” says Zevin, “but edgy isn’t really my thing.” Lucky for us, funny is. Zevin goes on to explain that “I do want edge, but it’s just never been my goal–pushing the envelope just to push it. My other goal is to try and make things universally funny. If nobody else can relate to your personal stories, then keep a diary. In comedy, there’s something called the ‘laugh of recognition’ and that just means that the materially needs to be universally relatable.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote that “easy reading is damn hard writing,” and while Zevin’s work retains what he calls a “conversational and breezy” tone, sometimes the process is harder than it looks. “It’s not that easy,” says Zevin. “I do a lot of editing myself before I turn something in. You know, sometimes it can take five years to write something that looks like it took five minutes. But everyone needs a laugh and so I like to make my work as accessible as possible.”
With Dan Gets a Minivan, Zevin’s knack for universal hilarity is in fine form, as he steers us from high adventure to low ignominy as a reluctant patriarch in the “Captain’s chair” (the nom de guerre of the minivan’s driver’s seat), an hilarious vantage point for people of almost all ages. And in the event that literacy has not yet been introduced to fans of Zevin, he assures us that the appeal of his new book will not be diminished.
“You can even chew on it. Give it to your toddler and let him teeth it,” he adds.
I think he might be serious.
Tyler Stoddard Smith’s writing has been featured in UTNE Reader, McSweeney’s, Esquire, The Best American Fantasy, The Beautiful Anthology and The Morning News, among others. He is also an associate editor of the online humor site, The Big Jewel. His first book, Whore Stories: A Revealing History of the World’s Oldest Profession, was named one of Kirkus’ Best Books of 2012.