Has everyone in this country gone--as my daughter Ruby likes to say--cuckoo bananas? I mean, I realize that, at times, I could make the very most of a padded room. But generally speaking, when I step back and dare to behold the belching demon that is my fellow American, I begin to feel like I'm “normal.” And I know for a fact that I'm not normal. Decent: Yes. Normal? What the hell is that?
Two weekends ago, I headed with my family down to The Valley. Apparently, it's what normal San Diego families do on weekends. They make their pilgrimage like diligent members of the herd, to the big-box stores for some good ol' contemporary consumption. King George commanded all Americans to shop after 9/11 and, by God, Sam and I haven't stopped throwing elbows over Charmin Ultra in bulk ever since. If that's not evidence of my boundless patriotism, then I might as well burn a flag.
So there we were, bumping down Texas Street after our Saturday-morning ritual at my second-favorite independent coffeehouse, listening to “The Wheels on the Bus” for the 157th time that hour. Our tiny roommate in the back seat is kept happy only by the continuous loop of this charming jingle, and so it is that we endure. She was happy, which meant we were happy, if not borderline straightjacket-y. It was warm out, the windows were down and the sun was shining. Hell, I suspect bluebirds were probably chirping, though I don't know for certain because all I could hear was “The door on the bus goes open and shut, open and shut, open and shut….”
What I'm saying is that it was a lovely day and everyone in the Belfer Bubble was copasetic as we pulled up behind the predictable line of mostly SUVs pointed toward Target, each idling patiently at the stoplight just beyond the I-8 overpass. As Sam slowed our car, I saw a ginormous soda can--because 16 ounces of poison just doesn't quench the bottomless American thirst any more--fly from the passenger window of an oversized white minivan two cars ahead of us. It hit the ground with a thunk, weighted by the evidently no-longer-wanted contents, and rolled to a lopsided stop just next to the front right tire.
“Honey,” I said, in disbelief. “Did you see that?!? Someone in that car up there just threw a pop can out the window! Like, an Arizona Iced Tea can! A huge can! Out the window!”
My husband (aka “MacGyver”) invoked his cat-like reflexes to do a seamless blind-spot-assessment-slash-lane-change combo and expertly positioned us next to the offending earth trampler. He called across to the driver, “Excuse me, but--did you drop something?” The woman at the steering wheel was on her cell phone. She leaned lazily toward us, lowered the mouthpiece of her phone below her jaw line, shrugged in the direction of the Future World Leader sitting in the passenger seat of her monstrous vehicle and with an apathetic eye-roll, explained the obvious: “She did it.”
Then she went back to her phone conversation.
Which is, of course, when I hopped out of the car, ran around to the other side, scooped up the super-sized aluminum can--all with more grace than Suzanne Farrell--handed it to the child litterer and calmly uttered, “Respect Your Mother.”
It was a moment of Super Mom brilliance. I should have been wearing a cape or, better yet, Wonder Woman's outfit. Here I was, expertly modeling appropriate behavior for my own child, as well as the trash-flinger and her mother. It was totally kick-ass--except for the fact that it's totally a figment of my imagination. But it's what I would have done had the light not changed, I swear.
Instead, I shouted in as-of-yet unrecorded decibels across MacGyver's face and above the mommies on the bus going shhh, shhh, shhh, “You should get out of your car and pick up your trash!” It was all very diplomatic and civil, which is why I cannot understand why my adversary wasn't persuaded. As we all started to pull away, the woman was flipping me off with the hand that should have been on her steering wheel and was shrieking at me to “fuck off” and to go “fuck [my]self” and offered some other specifics as to how I should best go fuck something. And she was still holding the cell phone to her ear.
Which brings me right back to my initial question: Have we all gone cuckoo bananas? I still can't decide which of the offenses is the most outrageous: That a small child was ingesting 24 ounces of high-fructose corn syrup, or that she threw trash on the ground without reproach? Was it the indifferent acceptance of this behavior by the mother--as if it were completely beyond her control--or that she didn't hesitate to eviscerate me in front of her babe with her vibrant vocabulary? Was it that she did it all with a cell phone affixed to her vacuous noggin? Or maybe it's the combination of these things that make the whole so much more ghastly than the sum of its reprehensible parts--the whole that makes me feel like I'm living in a funhouse.
Listen, if this kid is the future, we're in trouble. Not that it's her fault: Lazy momma's the kingpin here. Being a parent requires participation. You have to do stuff with your kid, like teach her things. You have to talk with her and say phrases like, “No, you may not have _______” and “Pick up your mess” and “That mean lady just told mommy to fuck off because that mean lady is a douche bag.” Not everyone is cut out for this. Certainly, I never thought I was, but in comparison to some of what's out there, I'm Carol Brady. On Ketel One. And hash. And maybe 'shrooms once a year at Burning Man, but that's it. See how normal I am?
The hardest part of raising a human--the most hair-pulling part of parenthood, which I dread even more than nursery rhymes set to xylophones--is dealing with insufferable parents. Parents like this one, who raise a generation that will buy sugar in bulk, carelessly toss what's no longer sating them, burp its disregard for anything beyond its Game Boy and then repeat. It is this that will see the nice young men in their clean white coats, coming to take me away.