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Friday, March 21, 2008

Don't Smile At The Baby

When I visited my sister a few years ago in Las Vegas, I apparently said the word Sweet so much around my 7 year old Niece, that she referrers to me as Uncle Sweet. It's sweet until you consider that it sounds like the perfect name for a pimp. The last time I saw her, my niece shouted across the airport, "Uncle Sweet! Uncle Sweet! What did you bring me Uncle Sweet?"
see the problem?
On my next visit I am going to try and use the phrase, "Where's Uncle Sweets cash, little girl?" as much as possible to see what happens.
My poor niece. My poor sister. I am a corrupting influence as an uncle I guess. What do you think, should I show up with a giant hat and fur coat at the airport this time?
"What does Uncle Sweet always say?"
"Wheres my money little girl!"
"Good girl."
"Thanks Uncle Sweet! Did you bring me some sugar?"
Kid's. They say the darnedest things.
My niece was born September 12th, 2001.
That's right, the day after 9/11. It was a powerful reminder that no matter how much grief and hate is poured into the world, life will go on. She is smart, energetic and wants her own way. In short, she is a 7 year old girl growing up. I doubt she has any real idea yet of her birthday's significance. Someday she will though. After all, it's really her world now. Her generation will inherit all of this. All the trouble in the middle east, the fears of global warming, the arguments between philosophy, science and religions- it will all be hers in a future world that frightens and amazes me when I think about it. We have lost the ability to relate to each other on the most fundamental levels. It's all plastic and isolation.

I was sitting at a Borders cafe in Sunnyvale yesterday afternoon surfing the web and drinking coffee. A few tables away a mother and child sat down. The little girl looked at me over the chair and I smiled back. She smiled and ducked her head behind her mothers shoulder. Over the course of a few minuets we played the time honored game of peek-a-boo. Eventually, the mom turned around and smiled at me too.
"Do you have any kid's of your own?" She asked.
"No. Just nieces and nephews."
"Oh." She responded and turned away.
OK. I know I can be very Larry David in these situations and for some reason I always seem to get into some sort of trouble in cafes. But it felt like as soon as I said I didn't have any children of my own, the Mom just tuned me out. Not just that, but I was now someone to be avoided.
Kid's don't carry the baggage of parents at that age. That comes a few years latter. The little girl continued to play peek-a-boo and since I wasn't really doing anything but killing time, I continued too. The mom became more agitated. She turned around and looked at me.
"Could you not do that with her anymore please?"
Alright. God knows I have had enough strange shit go down in public. I simply smiled and said "Sure. No problem."
She turned back around abruptly. Well, that didn't stop the little girl. She and I were in the dark as to what the problem was, but I attempted to become very interested in CNN's top stories-a Illinois shaped corn flake sold for $1,300 on Ebay!-the little girl became upset. She starts crawling on her mom and crying. People look over in that way that says, do you really have to bring a baby in here, sort of way. I try to block it out and just as I am shutting down my lap top to leave, the mom turns around again and says to me, "Would you stop encouraging my daughter?"
"Lady. I am not doing anything. I am leaving and the only reason she is crying is because I stopped smiling and playing peek-a-boo with her."
The Mother now bounces her daughter on her knee and in a shrill voice says to her, "It's alright Ashley, the strange man is leaving. Calm down honey."
What the fuck?
Am I living in a parallel world now? How did I become the bad guy in this situation? What the hell is wrong with this woman?
Of course, this is now being over heard by other people. All they have heard is a baby crying and a woman asking me to stop. Who do you think the scornful eyes fell on?

In a night club once, a fellow comic was standing next to me. When the music paused for an instant before resuming it's normal crushing sensation on our senses, he yelled into the silence, "I'm not gay!"
As the music started up again, people looked at me like I had just made some improper pass at a straight man.
That is the worse feeling, thinking everyone now thinks your a republican.

This was a similar situation. Everyone is looking at me like an Amber Alert had just been issued. I deliberately slow down so I don't look guilty rushing to get out of there. That's my thinking anyway. The little girl is just becoming more agitated while the mother bounces her on her knee with all the warmth one might have with a hacky sack.
"Sorry I offended you somehow?" I say as I pull my bags strap over my shoulder.
The Mother, digging around in her baby bag of bottles, diapers and whatever else you require when you take an infant out, retrieves a pacifier and like a plumber removing a clog from a sink, shoves it in the kids mouth.
Silence.
Here's what happens in the blink of an eye.
The baby bag strap some how becomes entangles in my iPod head phones that are dangling from my bag. I don't notice until I feel the resistance. The Mother doesn't notice until she feels a tugging on the delicately balanced bag of stuff and the baby on her lap. She opens her mouth and says, "We don't want to encourage her to be friendly with male strangers."
That seems like the saddest thing I have ever heard and turn to respond so when my iPod comes out of my bag, hits the floor and comes apart. It pulls her bag of her lap and it too falls to the floor as the baby spits the pacifier out and starts to cry again. The mother and I both reach down at the same time and smash our heads into each other. Wincing in pain, horrified and in shock, we both pull back. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the purposeful strides of an overweight middle manager who is already fed up with whatever it is middle managers always seem to be fed up with, rounding a stack of books and making a beeline toward us.
Shit. Fuck. Damn. Why does this always happen to me?
Why do I even go to cafes anymore?
We don't want to encourage her to talk to male strangers?
What a sad sad world kid's must be growing up in when everyone is eyed as a possible kidnapper or pervert. The baby is in her Mom's lap. She is sitting in a crowded cafe in Sunnyvale. I'm not saying strange shit can't happen, the news is filled with it everyday, but teaching your kid from an early age to not trust seems incredibly wrong to me. It might just be the origin of all the wars and all the misunderstandings society deals with daily.

My mother was the same way. For years it was something of an inside family joke. Anytime we ever went anywhere, mom always had knowledge of something terrible that had happened there.
"Mom, were going to the park."
"Be careful. A girl was raped there not too long ago."
Nice.
Luckily, all of us in the family took it with a grain of salt. It just seemed like such a horrible way to go through life thinking of all the bad stuff that could happen to us. I understand it was coming from a place of concern, but when your 8 and your brother is 9, you really don't need to have rape explained to you and to be on guard against it when your go to the park to hit some balls with a bat. Do you?
This went on for years in our family until even my Mother realized how ridiculous it had become. We are now all adults, but she still reminds us of what unspeakable crime was committed at whatever location we all might be headed too. On the last family Christmas that we all went to church, Mom once again looked out the window of the car and mentioned that a young girl had been the victim of something horrible at the corner. I went into my mothers falsetto voice and said out loud to my brother and sisters, "be careful in the church. A young boy was recently molested by a priest there."
They laughed.
Mom pursed her lips in that way that says she is not inviting anymore conversation on this subject.
My poor Mom. She is not an idiot, but her kid's were always thinking too fast for her to win any of these battles of wit. It only pissed her off more when my father would laugh at something we had said in response. These events always took place in the family car. The four of us kid's would be crammed into the back seat. It was the 70's, so it was a huge couch back there with seat belt buckles that were never used and tucked into the cushion. When Dad would laugh, Mom would just turn to him and give him the look.
The look is also something of a Klocek family inside joke. We can all do an impression of my Mom's look. It lost power on us after about the age of 10. Even dad seemed immune if the joke was funny enough, but it didn't stop her from still using it still.

This manager Dude is doing an almost dead on impression of mom's deeply displeased look.
I am rubbing my head where contact occurred, annoyed pissed off and not giving a shit about how this mess resolves it's self now. The woman is crying, rubbing her head too, and the baby is waling in that way that only a baby can. A woman stands up and comes over to attempt to offer help as the manager reaches us.
"Mam. We are going to have to ask you to leave if you can't keep your baby quiet."
Well here's a turn of events I didn't see coming!
The woman who came over to help, me and the crazy lady who wants to seal her daughter in a jar till she's 18, all look up at the same time.
Yeah. I'm not the bad guy for a change but I sure as hell can't get behind being mad a woman with a baby. As I rub my hand over my forehead, I say, "What?"
"We have had a few people already complain. This is a book store and we like to maintain quiet."
The woman is just a mess now. I feel sorry for her on so many different levels. The helpful bystander has the baby in her arms and is cooing her back into calmness.
"I am sorry." He says to me, "but we do have a policy just like a movie theater."
The woman, her chin quivering, nods her head in understanding and starts to pick up her bag.
Sitting in a chair, I say to the guy, "Don't you think that's a pretty anti-family policy of kicking crying babies out of a store?"
He shrugs his shoulders. In that moment I can see the full weight of abiding by the company line this man has done for years in hopes that someday he will be made store manager. All you need to know about him is contained in that shrug. No questions or allowances for human behaviour, just a strict interpretation of corporate policy.
"You would of made a fine Nazi." I say to him.
Big mistake.
"Alright, your out too. For your information I am Jewish and that deeply offends me!"
What is he going to do? Whip the keys on his key chain at me? Sit on me with the girth that has accumulated over the years of take out food in the break room as eyes the young girls primping in the mirror?
"That's not the intended nature of my insult." I lamely say.
"I don't care what the insult is, but I am not going to have Nazi's brought up to me as I am trying to enforce the rules of our store!"
Do you see the irony, dear reader?
"That's why you would make a good Nazi, you idiot. You are enforcing a rule that has no allowances for the simplest human behaviour like a fucking baby crying!"
By this time security, or an old guy almost as heavy as Mr. Nazi middle management, enters the scene. He has a limp. He has a limp! What kind of security are you getting when your guard is overweight and walks with a limp?
This is truly amazing now. It is at this point that I laugh. I have this habit I suppose of laughing at what seems to be the worst possible moment. But that's why I laugh. This whole fucking mess is so preposterous. From the woman who is raising her new born daughter to not trust, to the manager who can't see past the letter of the law and understand the context of why I am referring to Nazi's, and now a carnival worker with a walki-talki and a limp to escort me and the woman off the premises!
What else can you do but laugh at the universes grand practical jokes?
Course, laughing in the middle of public embarrassment only makes you look more crazy. But at this point, I have abandoned all hope of anyone with reason popping up.
You know how you can pause anything on TV now? Digital recorders and TiVo has made pausing real time shows possible. God how I wish I had that for life's little moments like this so I could explain everything.
Pause-
Alright. Now that I have your attention please listen careful and thoughtfully as I explain to you how you each person misinterpreted, took offense or was just plain wrong about what is happening.
Lady with the baby, I was playing peek-a-boo with your adorable daughter in a friendly non threatening manor the way people do with a smiling bright baby. I was not planing to steal her or fill her head with beliefs that are different from the ones you will spend a life time stuffing down her throat only to come to a realization somewhere in your life that she is her own person and can be trusted to do the right thing.
Manager, first of all, loose some weight. You we feel better about yourself and probably find that once you can see your toes and dick again, you won't feel the need to exert yourself in petty displays of power. I have nothing against Jewish people or their beliefs, but when I said you would make a good Nazi, perhaps I went to far with the analogy, but simply following orders doesn't make for a better world-it makes for a world of less compassion. Babies cry Dude! Deal with it. And if your not gonna loose weight, don't tuck your shirt in. Your belt has to follow the laws of physics, but you don't have to follow the rules when it means giving up a piece of your humanity.
Strangers sitting here pretending like your not loving the hell out of this, your all dicks! This is why the world is such a fucked up place-you people! You people are the vast majority. Your the reason Jerry Springer became a huge hit and Rock of Love has an audience in the millions while PBS has to have fund raising months. You like to watch and take a perverse pleasure in others embarrassment and pain. You could step in and say something. You could come over and say-he was just smiling at your baby lady. Relax- but you don't because that would require effort, interaction, soul, compassion, understanding, and switching off your gee whiz iPhone that you bought right before they dropped the price. Last but not least, where do all these security guards come from? The people at malls and parking lots and campuses who wear a bulked up coat with a badge and drive around in golf carts, look like the very people we want security from! Besides, shouldn't a security guard be in shape if something goes down? What is a 55 year old 200 pound man with a limp going to do? Move out of your moms basement and get back on methadone my friend.
Pause off-
Me, the woman and the baby are walked to the front door. We have to go slowly, otherwise the guard would fall behind. When we get to the door, the lady looks at me and attempts a smile. I smile back and step out into the bright blue sky of suburbia America. Everything is orderly and in it's place.
The neatly parked cars shine with fresh wax between the yellow lines of the smooth blacktop parking lot. Young girls showing off slightly sun browned shoulders stride in and out of the yogurt shop. People confidently walk into the air conditioned confines of a Starbucks. Everything is perfect and everyone is right.
Plastic and isolation.

4 comments:

James F. said...

I was going to say this has happened to me a dozen times.. then I kept reading, and that is quite a row of weird luck. That has in fact never happened to me, and I live in a Sunnydale like environment.

Joe said...

I seem to just draw these things to me. Friday nights show at Rooster's was an odd one too. After the show, someone asked me why I seem to get all the nuts coming to see me. I don't know. I just know that they do=)

Brent said...

People in this country have just become too f'ing sensitive, and this story is proof of that. You just can't say anything anymore. I always feel like I have to turn on the "crude" filter in the presence of anyone who is not a close friend.

BTW, I was at the late show on Friday, sitting with the "high" guy, just behind and in between the drugs guy and the porno psychologist. Another great show. I would've said hi but I wanted to beat the crowd out of the place. Thanks for the laughs!

Dean said...

OK, forget that comment from a couple of weeks ago about wanting to hang out in coffee shops with you...

Geez, let your baby/toddler be a kid. It's the PARENT'S job to keep his/her hand on the taser hidden next to the baby wipes at all times...