Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Latte, avec laissez-faire
Starbucks (do they use the apostrophe?). Tuesday, 8:39 p.m. A line of holiday shoppers snakes out toward the food court, but doesn't quite reach it, either a sign of the poor economy or the weariness of shoppers or a paucity of coffee addicts. A few slots ahead of my spot in the line (overwhelmingly populated by youngish women; why is that?) is a mother, say 28, with two animated young devils (I mean, girls), say 2 and 4. These two do not need any beverage or food with caffeine, since clearly their mother a few minutes earlier had gone into the lavatory to inject them with high-grade, imported, pure caffeine, illegal amounts of it. Oh, and Mommy appears to be pregnant, showing a roundness of belly on an otherwise thin frame. She is well-dressed, even stylish in a low-key way. Think Audrey Hepburn, on an off-day, distracted and a tad disheveled, with a stroller. The stroller is unoccupied. Mommy Dearest is either bored, tired, or else she extracted all her body's caffeine to put into the hypodermic needles for the kids. Suffice it to say she needs a pick-me-up. Something! Or maybe she is always this blase and breezy, having attended the Laissez-Faire Academy of Parenting. No ring on her finger, so perhaps she attended alone. Clearly, she graduated with high honors from the Laissez-Faire ranks, summa cum loud. The two girls may have been robots or Christmas toys. Humans do not move that quickly close to 9 p.m. The wind-up springs in them were about to snap. Like worker bees, the amphetamine-addled tots buzzed back and forth, clinking Starbucks mugs like revellers in a Holbein masterpiece, rearranging coffee packages, reconfiguring bric-a-brac on the sales shelves. Merry mayhem. I seriously entertained the fleeting thought that the tiny pranksters were not her children. I searched for the look of a concerned parent. No one. She paid them no mind. It was as if the children existed in another dimension or in another time zone or on another continent. Predictably, one of the younguns chipped one of the display coffee mugs. Uh-oh. Not to worry. Mother put the chipped fragment in the cup and took the cup and placed into the stroller. She obviously subscribed to the You Break It It's Yours philosophy that was not part of the Laissez-Faire curriculum. She took the cup from one of the little whirling dervishes! -- meaning they were her charges! She mumbled a few half-hearted remonstrances and then went back to staring off into outer space. She paid in coins, from what I could discern, so maybe she was not rich, as I had suspected. "Look at me," she said to one of the locomotives, garnering the girls' attention for a nanosecond. "I must be getting old," I said to the man around my age to my left, in back of me in line. One of the girls had wandered in back, rearranging the inventory again. Mommy Oblivious again. "Down in Atlanta those kids'd be gone," he remarked in a slight drawl. Mother went up front to await her beverages. She ambled toward the food court, sans precisely one daughter-cyclone. She exhibited no evidence of awareness that Dervish 2 (or was it Dervish 1?) was Missing in Active Animated Action (MIA3). How long would it have been until she made this discovery? I suspect cold fusion would have been perfected sooner; a new planet would have been discovered and inhabited. Atlanta Man, fortunately a kindly and good-hearted soul, steered the kid to Momma. I could neither hear nor lip-read the conversation between Atlanta Man and Mominator. "Oh!" seemed to be the word she uttered. Or: "Oh, shucks, golly, I had no idea my kid was hanging out with an adult. Oh, dear. She was probably getting references lined up for Harvard. Oh. Thanks." Oh.