Monday, June 19, 2006

Be careful what you change the channel to in the Curmudgeon's house

The White Sox had just finished sweeping Cincinnati and we were flipping channels to see what else was on -- a lazy Sunday afternoon in Middle America. Almost all of the family was gathered around the one-eyed monster, all except Younger Daughter. She was working at the neighbrohood hardware store. I had possession of the remote control device (a happenstance due largely to the fact that it was Father's Day and the children were humoring me -- ordinarily, they won't let me near the remote for fear I might put on an old movie, or, worse yet, an old musical).

To appreciate what happened next, it will be necessary to indulge in some backstory: Oldest Son can be the noisiest person in the world when he wants -- or doesn't want -- something. It was ever thus.

Once, when he was an infant, my late mother thought it would be a good idea to take my wife shopping. We had only two children at the time, Older Daughter and Oldest Son, and Oldest Son was still a bottle-feeding infant. I assume both of them came along, too; only Oldest Son figures in the story.

Oldest Son never ate much; as I've said before, we were convinced for a long time that he derived nourishment directly from air molecules.

But when he wanted his bottle, he wanted it. Right then. And there would be a couple of times a day where he would become most insistent about it. It didn't matter where we were; it didn't matter what we were doing. For a kid who doesn't eat much, being hungry is a need that must be attended to immediately.

Long Suffering Spouse tried to warn my mother; they were in Marshall Field's downtown which was then, and will be a few months still, a shopper's paradise. (It will shortly be re-named Macy's. Macy's may be a fine chain of stores. It figures in a great Christmas movie. But renaming Field's is a lousy idea that will only further New York-i-fy Chicago.)

And my mother was a shopper. When she died we found that she had more shoes than Imelda Marcos, many of them never worn -- and all of them purchased "on sale."

Sticking a sale sign in a pile of merchandise -- any merchandise -- was an irresistible lure for my mother. It wasn't fair. It wasn't sporting. It was like hunting deer over a salt lick.

And there were many such piles between the spot where Oldest Son first began to note that he was hungry and the 7th floor dining room where my mother wanted to do her grandmother thing. Those 7th floor dining rooms were just chock full, at luncheon, of matronly ladies, their slightly-stressed daughters or daughters-in-law, and their well-scrubbed and often bored grandkids.

I know my mother was looking forward to participating in this tradition, this rite of passage. But there were so many 'sale' signs along the way.

LSS' warnings got more urgent as the clock ticked ominously toward Oldest Son's (self-)appointed mealtime. My mother wasn't listening, though. It wasn't just the sales signs, though these mesmerized her; she was a grandmother now, a graduate mother, a fully experienced dispenser of maternal wisdom. No, she must have thought, babies fuss when their lunch is delayed. Babies always fuss, but all will be forgiven and forgotten when we get to the dining room.

LSS tried to explain to my mother the difference between normal fussing and what Oldest Son was about to do. And my mother must have thought, "Poor dear. She'll learn eventually. You just don't panic everytime a baby cries a little."

But Oldest Son didn't fuss. And he didn't cry.

He erupted! He exploded!

He had store patrons looking for the air-raid shelter signs they'd not looked for since the early '60's. And he made these deafening shrieks all the way to the 7th floor -- all the way to their table (they were seated quickly, for obvious reasons). He paused briefly when LSS stuck a bottle in his mouth. She'd had one ready; it needed only to be warmed and a staff person was only too glad to take the bottle from LSS the moment if was proffered.

But the bottle came back boiling hot, something which, in her eagerness to get Oldest Son to subside, LSS didn't notice. Neither, for a blessed silent second or two, did Oldest Son.

But he noticed then.

And resumed shrieking.

My mother had to hold him while LSS dashed off to the ladies' room to try and cool the bottle down. It must have been like holding an air horn that won't go off.

But eventually LSS returned -- and Oldest Son stopped shrieking -- and my mother never took him shopping again.

The other thing you need to know is that Oldest Son hates soccer.

He threatened to boycott ESPN when it profaned "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" by running it behind a World Cup promotion. Since he's an ESPN addict, this proved an empty threat.

But Oldest Son was far from animated yesterday afternoon. He was subdued. He was, we thought, possibly even hung over. He'd gone out Saturday night -- and come home in the wee small hours of Sunday morning. He was laying on the floor, in front of the TV, not trying to crowd anyone off the couch, as he usually would do.

So, mean old Curmudgeon that I am, possessed however briefly with the remote as I was, I flipped to ABC -- which was showing a World Cup Soccer match. And what did Oldest Son do?

He erupted! He exploded!

The windows rattled. The neighbors surely cringed.

I laughed so hard, I cried. I may have pulled a muscle.

I changed the channel quickly, however, and Oldest Son subsided. (Yes, I repeated this a couple of times, just for fun. If he was hung over, he paid a heavy price for keeping up this act....)

LSS said only, "He hasn't changed much, has he?"


Later last night, I turned on the Jack Benny Show. Hey, it was still Father's Day and it's what I wanted to watch.

Older Daughter hates Jack Benny. She tried to imitate her brother's moves.

It was just as funny -- and thankfully not as loud.

I relinquished the remote and went to bed.

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