Tuesday, January 8, 2008

fear and loathing at the playground

i am half ashamed to admit that just a few years ago i was that guy on the airplane casting dirty looks in the direction of the guy trying to sooth a screaming baby. now, it's kind of funny that i cast dirty looks at cats who seem uncomfortable or annoyed at the scene my own kid tends to make in a public setting. i can't say that i abhor those without kids because everyone has their own path in this world, but i can say that i have crossed over and i relate less to what i used to be.

the other day i dabbled in the usual gray period that comes with every saturday morning. the question is always this: do i run errands all day or do i enjoy the day off and have a life? for the jackal, who has become my primary assignment while mommy tends to the newborn, the answer to this question comes easy. whichever entails adventure for him, so it matters not. still, when i spend a saturday carting him around to the dry cleaner, grocery store, hardware store, and liquor store then tell him it's nap time, i feel like i am ripping him off. and truthfully i feel like maybe i am also ripping myself off.

on this particular saturday morning, i decided lafayette park would be our destination. since it was unseasonably warm, mommy and cole came with, making it a family affair. there are three playground areas at the park, two for older kids (5ish and up) and one for younger kids or toddlers. i warmly reference the latter as the "graveyard" because it seems to be a dumping ground for dilapidated and forgotten toys. it's amazing, really. i counted 5 busted and useless toy kitchen sets, 3 broken down tool benches, 2 cars missing wheels, and a doll house that literally looked like the end result of a doll smoking in bed. it's a pretty ghastly site.

okay, off my high horse. the truth is that, as i took inventory of this scene, the thought of ditching a few of the jackal's waste-of-space toys under the cover of darkness crossed my mind, but that's neither here nor there.

the jackal opted for the "graveyard" first, which suited me fine since it's fenced in. plus, it happened to be empty of kids and parents, which appealed tremendously to my social anxiety disorder. of course that did not last, as a couple of kids and parents eventually shuffled or rolled in high end strollers to join in. the root of my aforementioned anxiety is the unpredictability of the jackal around other kids and vice versa. without fail, some kid is going to approach another and yank a toy from his/her hand, which will induce screaming and rioting and the eventual involvement of the parents, which can be completely uncomfortable, especially when i'm trying to decide if i had enough coffee to launch my day. besides, the concept of sharing twists my mind really. i mean, we tell these kids to share, yet if a stranger walked up and took my phone from me, i'd certainly not be down with it. in the end, it turned out that the kids were perfectly chill. it was a parent barking into her cell phone that rubbed me like raw denim. i couldn't quite get the gist of her conversation, but the tone and increasing volume made me so anxious that, after 5 minutes of it, i decided we had to roll. "this lady makes me want to slit my wrists, let's move on," i announced to my wife at a decibel other parents, including her, could make out clearly. one guy looked my way and nodded in agreement. my wife, she turned a shade of pink.

the next stop was the big kid playground and, as it would happen, more angst. mommy and cole chilled on a park bench while the jackal and i made like monkeys on the jungle gym. once i went down the tunnel slide backwards and on my back, the jackal treated me like a doll with a pull-string on my spine and commanded that i do it again and again and again. of course i obliged, mostly because his giggle is something i wish so badly that i could bottle and would do anything to hear again and again and again. we did this song and dance for a good 20 minutes, until i climbed the ladder and noticed a familiar face coming toward the playground with his two kids in tow. it was a former client, the creative director of an interactive agency in town. long story short -- my firm placed an art director on his team, and the guy quit a few months later, which meant we owed them a replacement, which didn't happen quickly enough for them, which led to awkward blood and a disintegration of the relationship. there's more to the story, but the gist is that there was never real closure. i should mention that i have seen this cat a few other times in the neighborhood -- at the toy store, pizza place, and liquor store -- and have successfully avoided him. while he was very cool most of the time when we worked together, he also had some hot headed moments. that said, i was not about to interface with him on a saturday morning and get that closure on the playground, so i threw a couple of armed forces style signals to my wife telling her to saddle up and we made our exit without incident.

mental note for my next playground visit: always keep the head on a swivel and come armed with a coffee traveler. morning dose of xanax probably wouldn't hurt either.

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