Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Not a Toy

I like children. I’m more of a dog person myself, but I can see their appeal. Sometimes they say the darnedest things, and if you are either exceptionally nice or horribly mean to them, they will be riddled with guilt and take care of you when you get old. In any event, though I don’t plan to have any children of my own, I would never kill one, at least not in public. Which is why I was so appalled at what I witnessed at the Trader Joe’s near my apartment a few weeks ago.

During the last 15 or so years that I have lived in my neighborhood, it has grown increasingly wealthy, white and straight - in every sense of the word. The Mayfair Market was long ago replaced by the Tiffany’s of supermarkets, Gelson’s. It’s parking lot, once full of old VWs and Volvos bearing bumper stickers begging us to free Leonard Peltier and Mumia, is now littered with fancy SUV’s, Lexus’s (Lexi?) and Mercedes too pristine to be sullied by arcane adhesive causes.

The owners of these vehicles are what I refer to as Bohipsterans. They are rich, but don’t like the Westside. They send their children to hideously expensive and permissive private schools where shoes aren’t required, and neither is learning. You know, if little Mabel Starlight isn’t feeling arithmetic, she isn’t feeling it. And if she hits another kid, she is expressing a healthy hostility toward our current administration and the war in Iraq. Besides, Mommy is late for Pilates and Daddy has a very important pitch meeting at Sony. They don’t have time for this shit.

So, these are the people who have co-opted my neighborhood. And, they not only shop at the Gelson’s, they sometimes slum it over at the Trader Joe’s across the street, which is where my story takes place. I walk in one weekday afternoon, pick up a basket and head over to the produce aisle. There, I see a little Bohipsteran boy, about two or three, sitting in the front of his Very Busy Yet Jobless Silver Lake Mother’s grocery cart. He is wearing the prerequisite Ramones t-shirt and he is looking right at me with a giant grin on his face. Very cute. I smile back. I start to wave, when he reaches behind him and pulls a clear plastic produce bag over his head. Ahhhh! His mother isn’t looking because she is preoccupied with selecting organic Japanese eggplant or something. By the time I realize what is happening, the kid has pulled the plastic bag back up onto his forehead and he is laughing. Oh, I get it; he’s playing Peek-a-Boo Russian Roulette. Mommy certainly won’t like this when I warn her. When the boy pulls the bag back over his head again, I start to walk over to their cart, but just then his mother looks over. Phew! Surely Mommy will rip that bag out of his hands, say something like, “Where did you get that? This is not a toy! Never, never, ever play with plastic bags like that! You could suffocate!”

Alas, no. Mommy glances over at little Eucalyptus Tree, or whatever his fucking name is, for one bored moment and casually turns back to picking through the specialized vegetables. By the way, when Mommy turned toward her son, not only was the bag still over his head, he was experimenting with the fun of gasping for air, enjoying the warm sensation of soft plastic as the bag gently encased the inside of his mouth and blocked his windpipe. What a cool mom.

I am ashamed to say that I didn’t say anything to the woman, although I did make a couple of frantic gestures at the boy, miming pulling the bag off my head, crumpling it into a ball, and tossing it over my shoulder. See? That’s fun too! I think I was just too stunned to react rationally. I didn’t believe it was really happening. Who doesn’t know you don’t let kids play with plastic bags?! It says so right on the side! I looked around and no one else seemed to notice what was going on, so I thought maybe I was crazy.

As soon as I left the store I started having visions of Little Euke toddling toward the recycling bin at home in his mid-century modern kitchen, alone, while Mommy is upstairs fucking her life coach. He opens the lid and, lo and behold! A treasure trove of his new favorite toys!

You can guess the rest.

A few days later, I was at home writing when I heard a little kid screaming and crying. I wasn’t alarmed. I knew the new neighbors in the next house over had a baby. He was probably just teething or had diaper rash or something. But then the crying continued for what seemed like a half hour. And the crying was really frantic. Remembering how mad I was at myself for not rescuing poor Euke, who was probably dead by then, I decided to investigate.

I walked down the back alley that runs between my apartment and the neighboring building. The new people lived in the smaller back house. The kid was still screaming his lungs out, so I tentatively shouted over the fence, “Is everything OK over there?” A wary male voice shouted back, “Who’s that?” “I’m your neighbor? I just wanted to make sure everything is OK?” (When I’m anxious and trying to sound non-threatening I turn every statement into a question.) A head popped over the dilapidated wood slat fence: Feckless Silver Lake Dad. Medium height, too thin, shaggy hair, scruffy beard, baggy ironic t-shirt. As the baby carried on wailing, FSLD somewhat defensively explained that the family had gotten home from somewhere late and missed the kid’s scheduled meal. The child was starving, so he was hysterical. “It happens every time.” At this point, I was done with FSLD. As I started to head home, I assured him I wasn’t complaining, just concerned, and was glad everything was ok. While his kid continued to cry bloody murder, FSLD apologized about the noise, and with a shrug concluded, “But when he gets to this point, it’s really out of my hands.”


jrockets77 said...

Just goes to show you, any moron can be a parent.

Nik said...

So feeding him was out of the question? Eeeeeenteresting.........