Thursday, April 30, 2009
Asshats Beget Asshats
I was on the L train the other day, headed into the city. It was mid-afternoon, so it wasn't very crowded. Besides myself, there were probably a dozen people, including a relatively young couple and their child (I'm guessing around 5 years of age). The little boy was obviously bored...wandering a few steps from his parents, then running back, vying for a little attention. The "adults" kept yammering between themselves.
After the next stop, the little boy became a little more restless, singing/screaming to himself and wandering halfway down the car, then back to his starting point. I had settled in and was leafing through the Daily News. A glance towards the parents confirmed that they were, in fact, paying the lad no attention whatsoever. He was getting louder, and more rambunctious as the train progressed. He stopped momentarily at the next stop, as he inspected the passengers boarding, but resumed as soon as we were underway.
Now running the full length of the car and back, the boy began squealing/screaming every step of the way. He repeated this process 3 or 4 times. On the last pass, he slapped the newspaper from my hand, tearing it.
Me: (holding the torn paper up) Hey! You think you can handle your kid, guys?
"Male Parent": Eh, he's a kid, what can I do?
Me: Really? You can't handle a 5 year old for a 15 minute train ride? How are you gonna handle him for the next 15 years?
"Male Parent": Hey, don't you worry about me raising my kid. You mind your own business.
Me: You're kidding, right? (holding up my paper a little higher) When your kid runs wild and tears up my stuff, it becomes my business, don't you think? Look, I'm not trying to break your balls, bro, but if you don't lay down some rules now, he's headed for a rude awakening when he gets older.
"Male Parent": Don't worry about my kid. You just read your paper and mind your business.
Me: (once again, holding my torn paper up for him to see) Dude, if your kid's running wild, banging into people and messing up their stuff, it becomes other peoples business. Take a little responsibility before you turn him loose into the world. If he doesn't learn about rules and consequences early, he's gonna wind up beat down or in jail later. If you're OK with that, shame on you.
After pulling in to the 1st ave stop the couple gathered up the child and exited, Both "parents" flashed dirty looks, the woman scolding me "We never spank our child."
WTF? I never said a word about spanking, only bringing the kid under control...
FLASHBACK - circa 1974
While shopping with my Grandmother back in the "old country "(the old country, of course, being Smyrna). We ventured into Zayre. Being 5 or 6 years of age at the time, I began doing what any red-blooded child would do...I ran amok. After teaming with a random child in the store, we began a spirited game of tag, or some such nonsense.
Granny called to me to behave. Phhhhfffttt. Good luck with that Granny. I continued dodging in and out of the racks, laughing and cavorting without a care in the world.
Granny called me by my full name, signifying she was getting serious. My pursuer, my unknown playmate, was closing in on me. I grabbed a double-handful of clothing from a bargain-bin and threw the garments at him to facilitate my escape. In the back of my mind, I heard my Grandmother clapping her hands and making this "hoot" sound she used to do when she was trying to get the attention of the children in the family without screaming/losing her mind. Phhhfffttt. Whatever, I was having fun!!!!
I never saw the hand reach for my shoulder. I only felt the vise-like pressure from her fingers and knuckles, as she clamped down with the kind of grip that would have sent Mr. Spock screaming from the room. I knew I was in trouble.
Leaning in, she spoke, not with the loving kindness of that nice old lady that bought me ice cream on weekends, but with the authority of an adult that was absolutely in charge. Gasp! How did this transformation take place??? And where the hell was I when it happened???
She told me, in a voice barely more than a whisper, "Go outside and get me a switch".
"What?" I thought to myself. She couldn't possibly want to "switch me", and certainly not in the store...right?
Granny: Go out to the parking lot and pick me a switch, NOW!
Me: (HOLY CRAP! - or whatever the 5 year old equivalent was)
I trudged slowly out of the store. Looking over the lot, I was elated to see not a single bush anywhere. Turning, there was Granny, right behind me, pointing. "There's a bush in the planter over there."
After examining the bush, I picked a branch that I knew was suitable to bring my impending demise. Surely this insane impostor posing as my beloved Granny would attempt to kill me by means of an ass-whoopin'. After presenting the branch to her for inspection, she had me go to the curb and strip the leaves and nubs from it. I was positively bugging out.
We walked back into the store together, me carrying the instrument of my destruction. As we passed the checkout area, I felt the gaze of all the cashiers turn to us (specifically me and my switch). One gave a look of pity. Another flashed a smug look that said I was getting what I deserved. I'm fairly certain, in retrospect, that I heard the last call out "DEAD MAN WALKING".
We went back to my former play area. Until a few minutes earlier, it had been the site of unbridled childhood joy...now it was to be the place where I would be sacrificed to the retail Gods for my crimes against humanity and American consumerism. Granny proceeded to pick up the mess I had made and place the garments back on their respective racks and in their proper bins. When she was done, she continued with her shopping. I thought I could be slick and leave the switch on a table. Needless to say, this evil woman was all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake. "Oh, don't you dare put that switch down. I'll deal with you later, and you better have that switch ready when I'm ready for it." Gulp.
Having finished her shopping, we returned to the front of the store. While completing her transaction with the cashier, she asked if there was something I wanted to say to the cashier.
I apologized without making eye contact. I was totally focused on this unholy stick now clutched in two hands in front of me.
Cashier: It's OK, sweety. You know you're not supposed to act like that in public, though, right?
Me: Yes, ma'am.
Cashier: And you're not gonna make any more trouble for your Grandmama, are you?
Me - (thinking to myself - "You fool! This isn't my Granny! She's obviously a pod-person!!! Or an escaped lunatic waiting to get me alone to beat me!!!! Can't you see?!!??!?) What came out of my mouth, of course, was "Oh, no ma'am!"
We left the store without further incident. Continuing on with Granny's errands, we went to 84 Lumber. I'm not sure that she even purchased anything. I get the impression, looking back, it may have been just to drive me around town with the switch.
84 Lumber Guy: You misbehavin' boy?
Me: I was, sir.
84: Why'd you do that?
Me: (shrug) I don't know.
84: Your family's good people, you know. They don't deserve you to be acting dumb in public, ya know.
Me: Yes sir.
Back into the car and on to the next stop, Dairy Cream for a chili dog to take back to my Grandfather (yes, I mean the Dairy Queen, of course, but for some reason, Granny always did, and still does call it by the wrong name...bless her heart). In the drive-thru, I declined anything for myself. I realized at that moment that a condemned man can take no joy in his last meal. Needless to say, Granny had to explain to the lady at the drive-thru window my misdeeds, which drew clucking and tsk-tsks from her.
On to the church of my youth to drop off or pick something up. Upon arrival, the Pastor and his family were working in the parking lot and lawn with the handyman. Granny had me exit the car. The Rev. looked very disappointed. The children looked horrified.
Back in the car and back to Granny's house. Why hadn't she done the deed, yet? It made no sense, in my mind. Then, as we pulled into the driveway and I saw my Grandfather at the door, it hit me. She was bringing me back to let the old man do it. IT'S A CONSPIRACY!!! She hopped out of the car while I slowly drug my soon to be mutilated carcass from the passenger side. I slowly plod behind her, vaguely hearing my Grandfather grouse about her taking so long with his lunch and the fact it was cold from our stop at the church. "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WOMAN, DON'T ANTAGONIZE HIM!!! DO YOU WANT HIM TO KILL ME IN HIS COLD CHILI DOG RAGE????" I thought to myself. I was sweating like Patty Hearst in a closet.
Papa took the bag and returned inside. Granny turned and gently took the switch from me. I had absolutely no idea what was going on.
Granny - "I'll take this, shug, before your Papa sees it and I have to explain."
Me - (face consumed by confusion)
Granny - (breaking the switch into pieces) "I love you, shug, and I don't want to see you grow into the wrong kind of man. It'll hurt me awful to have to spank you, but I will if you ever act like that out in public again."
BACK TO THE PRESENT
She never laid a hand on me, I never again acted like a jackass in public as a child (though I did some monumentally stupid things later in life), and I learned that there are, in fact, repercussions for my actions. I've never been kicked out of or asked to leave a restaurant, bar, or place of public gathering. I've never been accused of being disrespectful of my elders or authority figures. I've never been the cause of my Mother or Grandmother being talked about for raising a shitty kid, to my knowledge. When I did the aforementioned stupid things later in life, I didn't cry, blame society, or look for a scapegoat. I owned it. That's what men do, I was taught.
I owe my Grandmother a debt I can't ever repay for that day. That was the day she started building a man from a little boy.
That's all I was saying on the train...make the boy a man, not just another asshat.